Favorite Books of 2016

Favorite Books of 2016

I’m on a roll! No telling how long these posts will keep coming, but here’s my Top 10 for 2016. Since I read 33 SFF books, this year’s list is roughly one third of everything. Maybe not the most selective I’ve ever done. Note that some blurbs were lifted whole from a post I put up a month or two ago. Don’t hate me for efficiency.

Uprooted – Naomi Novik
This ticked three boxes for me: Hugo nominee, female author, and somebody new. I loved the book, especially the way her protagonist eschews conflict as a means of resolution. We need more stories where the solution isn’t just to beat up bad guys. I also really liked the main characters, especially the relationship between teacher and student.

Europe in Autumn – Dave Hutchinson
Part near-future thriller, part spy novel, part hard SF, Hutchinson’s book consistently denies convention. Every time I thought I had a handle on things, he’d switch it all up and totally scramble my expectations. This is one of the most creative things I’ve read in years and I can’t wait to read more. Also, the European setting is a nice change from all the America-centric stuff that we get.

The Half-Made World Duology – Felix Gilman
I guess the kids these days call this “Weird West.” It’s sort of China Mieville meets John Wayne, but much better than that sounds on the surface. Gilman’s second book is lighter than the first, which can get pretty heavy at times. Taken together though, this is one of the more inventive creations I’ve seen lately. The Line and The Gun will stick with me.

The Red Trilogy – Linda Nagata
This is hard-hitting, near future military SF that everyone should read. The books are fairly short and go quickly; I tore through all three this year. Nagata combines the action and characters of standard mil SF with the cynicism and vague dystopia of cyberpunk, powering everything with an emerging AI narrative. It’s never quite what I expected, but hits all the satisfying beats of thrillers and hard SF.

The Grace of Kings – Ken Liu
My biggest blog regret of 2016 is not writing about Liu’s opening salvo. It is a brilliant book and packed full of things to talk about, especially in my political wheelhouse. Maybe I’ll get to it this year, or maybe I’ll just roll everything into a discussion of the next book in the series, which glowers at me from the library shelves. It looks heavy.

Gene Mapper – Fujii Taiyo
As I said in an earlier post, this is near the top of my Best Japanese SF list. Flawed, especially in the too-quick ending, but with a great setup and very plausible future. Updated cyberpunk from Japan – basically the best thing ever for me.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant – Seth Dickinson
Brutal, gut-punching book. I love it as an unflinching look at empire and colonialism, but it’s really hard to take that ending. Necessary, I think, but very difficult to read and process. Dickinson absolutely has to come through with the next books in the series to justify what he’s doing. I’m in line for volume two though.

City of Blades – Robert Bennett
City of Stairs was my favorite book from a couple of years ago, so I was excited to read the sequel. Blades didn’t pack quite the punch of the first, but was still one of the best books I’ve seen this year. The broader questions of conquest and empire are still at the center of the story, along with the dead gods and the messed up societies they left behind, all coming together to make these books one of the most intriguing and original series out there.

The Dark Forest – Liu Cixin
I reviewed this early in 2016, one of my last in-depth pieces before getting crushed by life. It definitely has its quirks, and must be taken on its own uncompromising terms, but there are parts that gave me chills. Can’t wait for more!

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2016 Stats

2016 Stats

I may not be capable of writing review any more, but I can at least crank out some numbers for the year! I imagine that makes everyone happy. First, let’s review a bit of the blogging disaster that was 2016.

Feb. – Switch jobs, begin a bus commute, optimism abounds for renewed reading and production.
Mar. – Stupidly agree to coach Little League. Stress rises, free time vanishes, the Spring is consumed by a very bad baseball team. (Son was ready to murder certain players by the end. Rough season.)
Aug. – Take a band on tour of Japan, also visit friends and family. Most of summer eaten up in prep. On the bright side, I did meet with blog friend Kamo, of This is How She Fight Start. Great guy and classy host. Amazing two weeks in my second home, disastrous two months for blogging.
Nov. – Wheels come off of 2016 for multiple reasons both public and private.
Dec. – Holidays commence, good bye personal time.

Missing from this year’s numbers are blog stats, because I don’t want to know. Too depressing. I had a rousing 2015, things were starting to take off, a couple of big posts went up that drew serious traffic. Then … crickets. Sorry all. Maybe 2017 will be better. I will say that I am on course to change jobs again, and back to a car commute, so I have doubts about reading numbers. On the other hand, I won’t be looking for work for the first time in several years, so that’s some time back in my evenings. (Mercifully, I should be done job hopping until the 2020s.)

Numbers!

Total: 49 books
Science Fiction – 17
Fantasy – 16
War – 9
Misc – 7

Couple of things to note here. First, I was on pace for 70+, so I’m not sure what happened. Second, this is the most even mix of SF and Fantasy I’ve had in decades. I don’t know if that means anything. Third, as mentioned in an earlier post, I hit a sudden SFF burnout around Thanksgiving, and have been reading war history books.

Women – 11
Men – 22

These numbers are only from SFF – war histories and memoirs are disproportionately male, so I threw those out. Proof once again that, if one isn’t paying attention, it is very easy to ignore the female half of our community. I’m not proud of it, but I have to make a special effort to read many women outside of matriarchs like CJ Cherryh, etc. Hopefully this year I can drag this particular number into balance.

Non-Anglo – 3

I read two Japanese books and one Chinese book, all in translation. (I have a book of Japanese short stories that I am crawling through. Maybe this year I will finally finish it.) I couldn’t decide how to break this down any further – basically everything I read was from the US or British Commonwealth, though several were black, Asian, etc. Some authors I don’t even know, so I decided not to do a racial breakdown. As far as I know, nothing from Europeans, Latin Americans, etc. I would like to branch out again in 2017, but still uncertain what my SFF percentage will be this year.