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!

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.

Interesting Books So Far

Interesting Books So Far

Life is calming down a bit and it has occurred to me that I might consider reanimating the blog. Things will never return to the two posts per week heyday of a few years ago, but I may be able to scribble on a monthly basis for the time being. (The main lesson of this year, other than the crushing reality of raising children, has been “never coach baseball.” I am still recovering.)

Anyway, with my current job cursing me with a thrice weekly bus commute across a lake, I have been able to put away quite a few more books. Writing about all of them is completely beyond me though, so I’d like to mention a few that have stood out this year. A few more will hopefully be covered individually, so this is not a comprehensive list of my favorites for the year. Please think of it as a list of books that deserve wider conversation, but didn’t spark a 1200 word essay.

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai – Brad Beaulieu

Doorstop followup to the impressive Lays of Anuskaya series, this is even more ambitious. I enjoy the fact that Beaulieu avoids both traditional epic fantasy cliché and grimdark convention in his meticulously constructed, wildly original worlds. He also manages to balance questions of representation and hierarchy, ie strong women, rulers and oppressed, and racial issues, with the demands of narrative, so things never sound preachy or hectoring. Twelve Kings reminds me a bit of Steven Erikson, but with the gonzo dial turned back down to maybe six or seven.

Wolfhound Century – Peter Higgins

This is, um, fantastical police procedural stuff in an alternate, Stalinist world. Gorky Park with aliens, monsters, terrorists, political machinations, cops, and I don’t even know what else. It’s as grim and violent as one would expect of the setting, and quite unlike anything else I have read recently. I will be continuing the series sometime in the next few months.

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.

Burndive – Karin Lowachee

The followup to Warchild isn’t quite as intense, but that’s probably just as well. (Less child abuse is generally ok with me.) It’s still a tense, claustrophobic novel in the style of CJ Cherryh that would be well served by a third book. I suppose the same realities that keep Lowachee from cranking out annual best sellers apply here, but I wish they didn’t. I’d gladly read more from her.

Gene Mapper – Fujii Taiyo

Halfway through, I was ready to declare this my favorite Japanese SF book. Fujii updates cyberpunk with biochem, substituting computer hacking with GMO sabotage. The main character uses upgraded CSS to put the aesthetic finishing touches on rice genomes and must investigate when someone cracks the design to threaten the rice crop. Smart, post-climate change futures, cutting edge gene science, eco-terrorism, and more keep things entertaining. The book is short, and suffers for it I think. I had to knock some points off for the rushed and pat ending, but for the most part, it’s an on-point, near future tech thriller. One of my top three or four Haikasoru books.

Sorceress and the Cygnet – Patricia McKillup

Anything Patricia McKillup writes is a treat. I love them all.

The Half-Made World / Rise of Ransom City – 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. (The last two in quick succession, something I rarely do.) 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.

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

I’m late to the party with Ernest Cline, but finally got to his popular debut. Entertaining, feel good stuff. While I am a touch too young to get all of it, and woefully ignorant of much pop culture of any era. I still enjoyed everything. Most of the early computer games, D&D, etc. was right up my alley of course. There is only a modest level of suspense, since obviously the hero is going to conquer everything, but I was still happy to see things move inevitably to the joyous conclusion.

The Confusion – Neal Stephenson

I picked this for the flight to Japan last month, knowing that I wouldn’t get through it otherwise. I love Stephenson’s books, but how many of us really have time to push through 900 pages? Or wrist strength, for that matter. These heavy tomes are why I read ebooks. Anyway, it goes without saying that this is brilliant and madcap. Stephenson’s unruly band of misfits stomps its way through the beginnings of the modern economy, which somehow manages to be the actual theme of approximately 3000 pages of madness that pretends to be about wars, pirates, kings, and crazy people. I most enjoyed the hidalgo with Tourette’s Syndrome, but your mileage may vary. There is certainly enough to go around.

Favorites of 2015

Favorite Books of 2015

Obligatory beginning/end of year posting time! As reading cratered to an all-time low this year, I’ve slashed the numbers on my year-end list to reflect that. No sense choosing a top twenty and only having to exclude a few. These aren’t really “best” or even “favorite” so much as, “books that stuck in my brain.” I read several things that I really enjoyed, but they kind of flowed through me like a warm river, leaving only the vaguest memories. The following have taken up residence in my SFF memory banks, even if I may not fight and die for them..

1. Ancillary Mercy – Ann Leckie
No surprises here! Everyone around me knows how much I love these books. Leckie finished things off brilliantly.

2. The House of Shattered Wings – Aliette de Bodard
Gothic urban fantasy about fallen angels wouldn’t normally be in my wheelhouse. Aliette de Bodard, on the other hand, turns everything she touches to gold. Who wins? Find out when I get around to reviewing this one.

3. Aurora – Kim Stanley Robinson
KSR is probably my favorite SF author right now, and arguably the greatest living. Best to just refer everyone to my post about Aurora, or I will natter on for hours.

4. Karen Memory – Elizabeth Bear
Here’s another surprise. Steampunk Western is also not my thing, but this is hilarious, archly political, and set in the best city in the world not named Kyoto.

5. The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison
Addison’s book barely makes the cut, as it was one of the first couple I read in 2015. It’s lovely, charming, hopeful, and a bunch of other things I don’t normally read.

6. The Three-Body Problem – Liu Cixin
I owe myself dinner for correctly predicting Liu’s Hugo victory. Thanks, Puppies! If they are good for nothing else in this world (and they probably aren’t), they at least bollixed things up enough that we got to give the Hugo to a sprawling Chinese Hard SF novel. Spoiler alert – volume two is even better.

Runners up: The Bonehunters (Steven Erikson), In Conquest Born (C.S. Friedman), Nemesis Games (James S.A. Corey), Thirteen (Richard Morgan), The Red: First Light (Linda Nagata)

Favorite Books of 2014

Favorite Books of 2014

It’s that time again, when we all gather round and report on the loot we scored during the most recent solar year. Nothing like below freezing weather to coax a Best Of post from me. (I shouldn’t complain – we’re bottoming out in the mid-20s here while my hometown deals with -40 wind chill.) I waited until the very last second to make this list, mostly because I wanted to make sure that William Gibson made it in time. As always, these are my favorites that I read during the year, not necessarily the best that were published in 2014, and of course in no particular order.

The Peripheral – William Gibson
I assumed that this would make the list, thus my wait until I finished it last Sunday. Expect a more detailed post soon, but suffice to say for now that this is everything awesome about Gibson.

Causal AngelHannu Rajaniemi
Maybe not for everyone, but I consider it a landmark release in 2014. This is a must read for anyone serious about Hard SF and where the subgenre is going.

City of Stairs Robert Jackson Bennett
I went on at length about this one, so there should be no surprises when it makes the list.

The Cusanus Game Wolfgang Jeschke
I’m not sure what the rules are on translations, but this would have been on my 2013 Hugo ballot had I read it in time. Complex and unforgiving look at both our future and the realities of time travel.

In the Garden of IdenKage Baker
Baker makes the list for the second year running. I suspect this isn’t the last time we’ll see her here.

The Future is JapaneseEd. Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington
I ran low on Japanese SF this year, to my shame, but this long awaited collection lived up to my every expectation.

The BarrowMark Smylie
I did not expect to like this book, but lo and behold, here it sits on my Favorites list. Subversive, brash, unapologetic, and huge amounts of fun. This is grimdark with an agenda, brains beneath all the blood and swearing, and surprisingly memorable. I’m lining up for part two.

The Hostile Takeover TrilogyAndrew Swann
Another surprise. Operatic pathos, desert cyberpunk, and economic treatise do not often go together, but here we are. This is a courageous and daringly intelligent trilogy that deserves wider recognition.

The Time Roads – Beth Bernobich
I’m seeing a trend here with the politico-economic SFF. Also the mind benders that drive off casual fans.

Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie
I didn’t love this like I loved the first book, but it’s still one of the best out there. More than covers in grace and wit what it passes up in audacious mindstorms.

Honorable mention this year goes to God’s War, Gemsigns, Queen City Jazz, Cibola Burn, Shipstar, The Thousand Names, and Inversions. We won’t even think about everything I missed out on.

SF Desert Nomads

SF Desert Nomads

Each week, the excellent Fantasy Review Barn presents a bit from The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. These are always informative, but skew towards (obviously) the fantasy end of SFF. Once in awhile, I see one too tempting to pass up and have to write a science fiction version of it. My first concept, Dark Ladies Who Run Hidden Schools of Magic and the Savage Northern Elvish Henchmen Who Love Them, proved to be a bit much, but this week’s list of Desert Nomads practically demands an SF answer. (For maximum enjoyment, read Nathan’s post and background explanation first. We’ll wait here while you do.) My mind is blanking on a couple of things,in particular the details of certain Jack Vance books, but here is an assortment of desert related SF.

Star Wars – Any resident of Tatooine. We all know that the Sand People walk single file, that Mos Eisley is a hive of scum and villainy, and Jedi mind tricks don’t work on whatever it is owns Anakin. I guess the Sand People and Jawas are the only nomads, but one might make a case for anyone on that forlorn rock as it wanders through the universe.

The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi – The jinn and wildcode of the desert outside Sirr. Earth has been ravaged by centuries of runaway technology, leaving the deserts overrun with mutated code.

Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds – Skullboys, Carnivorgs, and other Outzone denizens. The Outzone might not be a desert in the sense of sand dunes and camels, but it’s close. It is also full of things like carnivorgs, which are awesome incarnate.

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson – Terminator, the city on Mercury. Mercury has to be the Platonic form of desert, right? Hot, arid, lifeless, at the mercy of the sun, etc. The city itself is nomadic, migrating around the planet on rails that expand when hit by the sun and push the city onward.

Brass Man by Neal Asher – I could be wrong, but it seems like everyone ends up fighting each other on a vaguely desert planet, populated by horrifying wildlife. If this is not the case, nobody say anything.

Dune by Frank Herbert – Hard to make this list without Fremen.

Faded Sun by CJ Cherryh – (Late edit) How did I forget the Mri on my first run through? I even left them in a comment somewhere else. Argh. Not only are the Mri desert warriors, they have superhuman reflexes and bond with animals that I vaguely remember as looking like small triceratops. They are possibly the ultimate in desert nomads.

Anyone else think of some? I feel like I’m missing some obvious ones here.

Interlude

Between writing something up for another site, working on a top secret post for SF Month, and collaborating with a good friend on a hilarious and philosophical project to be named later, I am out of time to make a post for this week. Instead, I’ll just share a quick look at stuff I’ve been reading and stuff I will be reading. It’ a pretty exciting list.

The last three books I finished are:

Robert Bennett – City of Stairs (Awesome in almost every way. Look for a big time post on this soon.)
Hannu Rajaniemi – The Causal Angel (The final book of a mind bending Hard SF trilogy. I’ve already got 1100+ words on paper about it.)
CJ Cherryh – Rimrunners (The token old book, but one of Cherryh’s best. Thinking of a review for this next week.)

I am currently reading:

Stephanie Saulter – Gemsigns (More heavy stuff. Definitely not light reading here.)

On hold at various libraries:

William Gibson – The Peripheral
Ann Leckie – Ancillary Sword
Greg Bear – War Dogs
Liu Cixin – The Three Body Problem

This plus a couple of good-looking ARCs from Tor; the balance of my reading year is a very exciting place to be. I mean, look at that list of new releases! This rivals 2012 for big names. Stay tuned for good stuff on Two Dudes in coming weeks.