The Top 10 New(*) Books I Read in 2017

It’s that time of year again!  I am not a huge fan of the book I’m reading right now, and with three days left in the year it’s not likely that I’ll finish anything that merits addition to the list, so here are the 10 best new books I read this year, where “new” means “I never read it before,” and not “it came out this year.”  I read 89 books this year, a bit off my usual pace, which I blame on my job and the general “wouldn’t dying be easier?” tone that 2017 left all over absolutely every single thing in existence.  As always, once we get past the top 3 or so, don’t pay huge amounts of attention to the specific ranking.

(Also, are you my friend on Goodreads?  You should be my friend on Goodreads.)

Before we get started, though, the list from previous years:

9359808#10: THE DESERT OF SOULS, by Howard Andrew Jones.  I have a weakness for Conan books, and the sword and sorcery genre in general, and Howard Andrew Jones’ DESERT OF SOULS seriously scratched an itch for me.  I found it through Twitter, recommended by Saladin Ahmed, who tends to know his Arabian Nights-inspired prose pretty damn well.  There’s at least one more book in the series, which didn’t hit me quite as hard as the original, and some other pieces after that that I’m having some trouble tracking down for some reason.  The story is set in the real world– 8th century Baghdad, to be specific– but there’s magic and evil monsters and all sorts of fantasy fun to be had, and the voice of the main character is a pleasure to read.

07d#9: WHAT HAPPENED, by Hillary Clinton.  One thing that is sorely missing from this year’s list is nonfiction; I tend to swing back and forth on how much I’m reading (my book collection is probably at least 40% nonfiction) and this year definitely represented a marked swing away from nonfiction and toward escapist fiction.  WHAT HAPPENED was one of a very few examples to the contrary. I almost didn’t read it, as politics makes me ill enough on a daily basis without reading an entire book about the worst, stupidest election America ever had, but it turns out that Clinton is good at a lot of things, and one of those is writing books.  I would not have been strong enough to write this after going through what she did, and if I was strong enough, my book would have featured many times more uses of the word “motherfucker” than hers did.  It also would have been called “You Morons,” not “What Happened.”  There’s a good case to be made that everyone who voted for Clinton ought to read the book in the pure interest of history, but it’s still a good read on its own merits, especially if you’re able to temporarily disconnect yourself from the terrible consequences of the events it describes.

the-stars-are-legion-final-cover#8:  THE STARS ARE LEGION, by Kameron Hurley.  I keep seeing pictures of this book with LESBIANS IN SPACE as the title instead of the actual title, and I honest to God don’t know if they’re real or not.  I definitely want one if they are.  The hook of the book is pretty simple; there are no men, none at all, anywhere, and everything and everyone in the book identifies as female, but while that’s initially intriguing it’s not quite enough to hold an entire book together.  Luckily, it doesn’t need to be, as the story is typical Hurley Weird: dueling worldships hurtling through the void, decaying societies, rebirths and reincarnations, time loops, and genocide.  Y’know, YA stuff.  This book’s meaty as hell and is probably going to get a reread sometime this year.

Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 1.45.39 PM#7: KILLING GRAVITY, by Corey J. White.  This year’s winner of the Warren Ellis I Want To Eat Your Brain And Steal Your Writing Powers award, KILLING GRAVITY is the book whose pure wordsmithery blew me away the most this year.  I am admittedly mostly a story guy; I can overlook workmanlike writing if the story is awesome, but it isn’t terribly often that beauty of language can overcome a bad story.  Luckily, this book has both; the tone and voice of the book are phenomenal, and the story itself, involving psychic assassins, cloned squirrel-thingies, and a shitton of just general badassery is absolutely enough to keep me enthralled.  This is somehow the only exemplar of Tor’s novella line on the list, which surprises me, as I liked their output a whole lot, and at 160 pages it’s probably the best pound-for-pound read on the list, if that phrase means anything.

71BbpPa_l8L#6: AUTONOMOUS, by Annalee Newitz.  I’ve read one of Annalee Newitz’ books previously, SCATTER, ADAPT AND REMEMBER: HOW HUMANS WILL SURVIVE A MASS EXTINCTION.  I bought this having forgotten I’d read that book, as once an author gets slotted in my head as a Nonfiction Person I don’t always remember they exist when and if they switch to fiction.  With respect to Ms. Newitz, I don’t want any more nonfiction from her, because AUTONOMOUS is so Goddamn good and I want lots more stuff like it instead.  I wouldn’t think that patent law and pharmaceuticals would really make for one of the best books of the year, but I guess that’s why I didn’t write it.  The main character is a pirate who lives in a submarine in the bottom of the ocean and produces illegal generic versions of patented drugs.  One of her drugs goes wrong and produces instant addiction, followed by unpleasant consequences, and we’re off to the races.  Throw in a romance between a human and a war robot and one of the more subtle takes on global warming I’ve seen in a book lately and I’m a happy reader.

51s465hRHsL#5: WAKE OF VULTURES, by Lila Bowen.  Lila Bowen, also known as Delilah Dawson, is an author who I’ve read several books by and had always bounced off of me.  She runs around with a crew of other writers whose work I like a lot but after four or five of her books falling flat I was ready to declare her work Not for Me and move on.  Well, okay, maybe Delilah Dawson is Not for Me, but Lila Bowen?  I’mma read the hell out of Lila Bowen’s next book.  WAKE OF VULTURES is basically urban fantasy, but transplanted into the Old West and with a former slave as the main character.  (So, uh, okay, maybe not so urban, but I hope you know what I mean.) I’m a hard sell for urban fantasy, but the setting change makes it work, and Nettie Lonesome’s voice as a character makes for a compulsively readable book.  I took way too long to get to this book– it sat on the shelf for forever, and there are now two more books out in the series.  I’ll be getting to them soon.

9780345548603#4: A PLAGUE OF GIANTS, by Kevin Hearne.  Speaking of the cool people that Lila Bowen hangs out with, Kevin Hearne’s been on my list of faves for a while, and when I heard that he’d started work on a proper Epic Fantasy Series as a follow-up to his excellent IRON DRUID series, I was insanely excited.  A PLAGUE OF GIANTS is different enough from his previous work that I’d have been hard-pressed to identify him as the author after reading the IRON DRUID books, but that versatility is a strength, and the framing device of the story– a bard basically giving a multi-day oral history lesson to a large crowd, by taking on the appearance and speech patterns of the people talking while performing, is unlike anything I’ve ever read before.  I’m chomping at the bit for the next installment on this one; it’s getting pre-ordered the second I find it available on Amazon.

33128934#3: STILLHOUSE LAKE, by Rachel Caine.  I read STILLHOUSE LAKE in two or three huge gulps, staying up much later than I wanted to to finish it because I couldn’t stand the idea of going to bed without knowing how it ended.  I’m a big fan of Caine’s, and this is her only series without even a whiff of the supernatural about it– it’s a very 2017 type of horror novel, where the main character is both the ex-wife of a serial killer and the target of an army of relentless internet assholes who have decided she was an accomplice in her husband’s crimes and deserves to be punished for her actions.  It’s a chillingly realistic type of horror and one of a very few books that genuinely scared me while I was reading it.  I just finished its sequel KILLMAN CREEK, and while it doesn’t quite stand out as strongly as STILLHOUSE did (and also lacks that amazingly evocative cover, which would have sold me the book all by itself) it’s a great follow-up.  There’s a third book coming soon but I think the series works well as a duology.  We’ll see where they go next.

f043712f-4655-4c8a-b60f-fca1e4c6ca9f#2: THE HATE U GIVE, by Angie Thomas.  While not my favorite book of the year, I think THE HATE U GIVE is probably the most important book I read in 2017, and in particular I think this book needs to make its way into a whole lot of school libraries.  All of them, in fact.  The title is a Tupac reference; he once claimed that THUG LIFE stood for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody,” and… well, we’ll just say the book is well-named.  The story is about a young woman whose best friend is killed by a police officer, so it’s a bit triggery and, well, on point given the current fucked-up society we live in.  It’s a hell of a book and everyone should read it, or at least see the movie when it comes out sometime next year.

(SIDENOTE: I also read DEAR MARTIN, by Nic Stone, which is a very similar book in a lot of ways– in fact, the biggest difference is that DEAR MARTIN is about a male character and not a young woman.  I think DM suffered from having read THUG first, and while it’s absolutely worth your time it didn’t blow me away the way THUG did.  Read them both, but read THE HATE U GIVE first.)

30279514#1: DREADNOUGHT and SOVEREIGN, by April Daniels.  Here is the most impressive thing about DREADNOUGHT:  I read it in February, and it is still so much on my mind in December that there was no real competition for it being the best book of the year.  As much as I loved the other books on this list– and you don’t get on this list unless I loved your book– there was never anything this year that came close to how much I loved DREADNOUGHT… unless it was SOVEREIGN, the sequel, which also came out this year and was just as good.  That’s practically impossible.  Superhero prose is pretty rare in general; comic books have such a stranglehold on the genre that most people don’t even really consider superheroics as proper fodder for a prose novel.  Teen Danny Tozer accidentally inherits the powers of Dreadnought, the world’s premier superhero, and one of the first things Dreadnought’s powers do is reshape Danny’s body into his own personal ideal, which means Danny becomes Danielle.  It’s a great superhero book, a great teenage coming-of-age book, a great exploration of how society treats trans people (the main villain of the second book is a TERF) and all around a fantastic pair of novels and the best two books I read in 2017.  I finally got my wife to start reading DREADNOUGHT a couple of days ago, and she hasn’t been able to put it down much either.  Go buy this, guys.  You’ve got Christmas money lying around, I know it.

Honorable Mention, in no particular order:  DEFY THE STARS, by Claudia Gray; YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN INNOCENT, by James Duane, HAND TO MOUTH: LIVING IN BOOTSTRAP AMERICA, by Linda Tirado; FLYGIRL, by Sherri L. Smith; THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE, by John Scalzi, THE TRESPASSER, by Tana French; A SONG FOR QUIET, by Cassandra Khaw, and DOWN AMONG THE STICKS AND BONES, by Seanan McGuire.

Worst book of the year: ORIGINS, by Dan Brown.  I literally don’t think he can write a worse book than this one.  Let’s all hope he never tries.

#REVIEW: A PLAGUE OF GIANTS, by Kevin Hearne

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I’m pretty certain I’ve read, or at least tried to read, all of Kevin Hearne’s books.  His Iron Druid series is about to conclude with… I dunno, book nine or ten or something like that, and I’ve read and enjoyed all of them.  He also wrote a Star Wars book that attempted to be a first-person Luke Skywalker story, and… well, I’ll just say it didn’t work for me.

A Plague of Giants is the first book in a brand-new series.  Iron Druid was Celtic-flavored urban fantasy.  APoG is much more traditional epic fantasy, with magic and monsters– or at least some really scary wildlife– and, well, giants.  It’s also much… weightier, maybe? than his previous work, both in the literal sense (over 600 pages, twice the length of most of the Druid books) and in the sense that he’s telling a story about a world and not just a dude.  Some quick research hasn’t discovered how many books he has planned in the series (I just asked him on Twitter, too; we’ll see if he responds) but I’d be surprised if it weren’t at least four or five.  (EDIT: Found an interview, it’s a trilogy.)

At any rate, it’s a big story, with a dozen or so POV characters scattered around six countries and one large continent.  The most interesting thing about the book is the structure, actually; it does the rotating-POV thing that’s been so popular lately, but all of the first-person accounts are actually being narrated by a bard, who is speaking in front of a large crowd over the course of fourteen or fifteen days, and is using his bard magic to appear to be each of these people as they’re narrating their parts of the story.  I don’t think this is where Hearne is going, but there’s an interesting opening in here for the bard to be an unreliable narrator for some or many of these people.  Rotating POV is all over the place, but I can’t think of anything I’ve read with rotating first-person POV, and rotating first-person POV narrated by a third-person POV character?

Yeah, that’s new.

You may be able to glean an idea of the plot from the title, with one big twist: there are two different giant-plagues, or at least giant invasions, going on.  Giants (the Hathrim) and humans normally get along, but one particular group gets driven from their home by a volcanic eruption and decides to basically invade one of the other countries, set up a new city, and basically squat until their presence is accepted.  Meanwhile, across the world, an entire different group of giants from a different continent are invading and killing the hell out of everyone, and finding out who they are, where they came from, and why they’re there is one of the big threads of the book that I won’t spoil.  Toss in the fact that every country in the book has their own form of magic (the titular “kennings”) except for one, and that that country finds its kenning through the course of the book, and you’ve got plenty of intrigue and political and military machination to go around.  I like the story quite a lot but I realized partway through that the structure robs the story of a bit of its drama– one of the disadvantages of the idea that the whole story is being narrated by a bard as oral history is that at some point the story had to be told to the bard, which means that if someone is the POV character it’s safe to assume they’re going to survive their chapter.

Just look out if they happen to meet one of the other POV characters in their chapter.  That’s a bad sign.  🙂

At any rate: if you’ve read any of Hearne’s books in the past and enjoyed them, you should definitely pick this up; if you aren’t familiar with him but are in the mood for some meaty epic fantasy you should definitely pick this up, and I even think it’s worth checking out purely for the craft involved because the structure is so intriguing.  This will end up in my top 10 for the year, I think.  Go check it out.

The Top 10 New(*) Books I Read in 2016

I do this at the end of every year: the top 10 new books I read during that calendar year for the first time, where “new” means “new to me.”  That said, this list has turned out to be pretty heavy on 2016 releases for some reason; the oldest book on here is from 1989 and the second-oldest from 2005.  The order other than the top three or so doesn’t matter all that much, and had I written this on another day it might be a bit different; anything mentioned on here is gonna be a hell of a read.  I read 103 books this year, and it might be 104 depending on my free time today, so there’s a fair amount of competition.

And, just in case you’re curious, here are the 2015 listthe 2014 list and the 2013 list.

Read all that?  Okay, here we go:

10) THE FAMILY PLOT, by Cherie Priest.  I once got into a (civil) conversation on Twitter with a noted female horror writer about how there didn’t seem to be very many female horror writers.  By the end of the conversation I was convinced that the largest part of the problem was a weird definition of “horror writer” that I had in my head, one that only had room for Stephen King (notably, a dude) and no one else.  Well, fully a third of this year’s entries are horror novels by women writers, and we’ll kick it off with Cherie Priest’s The Family Plot.  This is that most simple of all horror stories: a haunted house.  It is not, I will admit, the most original thing you will ever read, although the hook of the house’s victims being pickers hired to tear the place apart to resell its guts at a profit is a nice touch.  But this book creeped me the hell out, and I stayed up much later than I ought to have two or three nights in a row in order to finish it.  It’s a nice stylistic change for Priest, too, who is turning out to be an impressively versatile author; I’d not have been able to guess she wrote this had I not seen her name on the cover.

9) DEAD SOULS: A NOVEL, by J. Lincoln Fenn.  Fenn is a new author for me this year, and I think I encountered this book through John Scalzi’s Big Idea series.  I have a second book of Fenn’s waiting on the shelf for me to get to it already.  In many ways I could write the same exact paragraph for this book that I just wrote above for The Family Plot, except that instead of a haunted house this book is about a deal with the devil, and with the added detail that this book has easily the creepiest ending to anything I’ve read in years.  I probably should have seen it coming, at least in part, but the ending catapulted the book from something I was really enjoying reading to holy shit find more books by this person and tell everyone they should read this one.  Very nicely done, and I look forward to reading more of Fenn’s books.

161308) ALEXANDER HAMILTON, by Ron Chernow.  I didn’t read a ton of nonfiction this year, and I went back and forth on whether I should rank this book or the next one on the list higher and eventually decided I didn’t care– but Chernow’s bio of Hamilton is a masterwork, and if you’re even vaguely interested in American history you should definitely make time for it.  Make a lot of time, actually, as the book’s big enough to kill small animals with.  For added fun, do what I did and memorize the soundtrack to the Hamilton musical before reading the book, as it will provide a nice accompaniment to the book in your head and will also shed some interesting light on some of the side details that Miranda included in his musical.  Most disappointing: that Alexander Hamilton did not actually punch a bursar while attempting to be enrolled at Princeton.

51ykx5hd5pl-_sx331_bo1204203200_7) AND THE WALLS CAME TUMBLING DOWN, by Ralph David Abernathy.  From biography to autobiography; I actually reviewed this after I read it, so feel free to click over to that for a more detailed look at the book, but the gist of it is this: Abernathy is doing several things here, writing his own autobiography, a history of the Civil Rights movement, and a biography of Martin Luther King, all at the same time and in the same book.  Also true about Ralph David Abernathy: he’s a bit of a dick, and uses the book for some score-settling from time to time, including with King himself, who Abernathy knew better than anyone.  It’s a reminder throughout that some of America’s greatest heroes– and Abernathy should be rightfully counted among that group, even though he’s less well-known than many of the people he discusses– were people, and not the bloodless icons that they’ve been turned into over the decades.  Very much worth reading.

256679186) BINTI, by Nnedi Okorafor.  One of the very, very few positive things about 2016 was the reemergence of the novella as a Thing that is Available to Read.  There are three novellas on this list, and a fourth that really probably ought to be.  Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti was the first I read of the bunch, and it’s a doozy: a sci-fi tale of a woman leaving her home and her culture behind to study at a prestigious university on another planet.  One problem: it’s in the midst of a war zone.  Okorafor can be a bit hit or miss for me; I also read Akata Witch and Lagoon by her this year, and I loved Akata but wasn’t too enthralled by Lagoon.  This one’s outstanding, though.  And that cover.  Damn.

114702775) GOD’S WAR and INFIDEL, by Kameron Hurley.  This is book one and two of a series, and book three is on the shelf waiting for me to get to it.  I went back and forth a bit trying to decide if I was going to include one or both and whether I liked one more than the other and my answer ended up being “Screw it, my list, my rules.”

This series is some of the most original sci-fi I’ve ever read, a story of an assassin living on a planet-wide war zone where all of the men are off fighting in a holy war, the wider culture is loosely based on Islam, and advanced technology and magic are both based on bugs.  Yes, bugs.  There’s gene piracy and organ selling and I think the main character has died three times in the space of the two books already and it’s all fucking brilliant and you should read it immediately.

268835584) THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM, by Victor LaValle.  I said already that this was the Year of the Novella, and this and the next book are both products of Tor’s new novella line– a line I have (I think) bought every single release from and which have all been uniformly excellent.  Kij Johnson’s The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe really ought to be in the top 10 as well, but three Lovecraft-inflected novellas on the same list seemed a bit much.  Black Tom is Tommy Tester, a hustler in 1920s New York, a guy who does what he can to get by, which includes dabbling in moving the occasional magical artifact.  If that setting’s not enough for you to want to pick up this book all by itself, I don’t want to be friends with you.  If you haven’t read Lovecraft’s The Horror at Red Hook, you might want to do that before reading.  Or not, I suppose it’s up to you, and it’s not one of his better stories.

301993283) HAMMERS ON BONE, by Cassandra Khaw. This book features my favorite writing of any of the books on this list, writing that makes me want to absorb Cassandra Khaw’s powers so that I can write as well as she does.  It’s another Lovecraft-flavored novella, about a private detective who is hired by a ten-year-old to kill his stepfather.  The stepfather is not what he seems.  Neither, as it turns out, is the detective.  But to hell with the plot, as I said, the writing is the star here, a bizarre Mickey Spillane/ Lovecraft/ James Ellroy-esque pastiche that stays with you for days afterwards.  I would love to be able to write a book like this.  I want to be able to write a book like this.  Cass Khaw already did, and she is awesome.  She’s also got a full-length novel coming soon and a sequel to Bone; I can’t goddamn wait.

172350262) THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, by Mike Carey. I know Mike Carey primarily from his comics work, and wasn’t aware that he wrote prose books as well.  I only found out about The Girl with All the Gifts from the trailer for the movie adaptation, which still isn’t available Stateside anywhere I can see it, which makes me very upset.

Mike Carey should write more books.  The Girl with All the Gifts starts off feeling a bit run-of-the-mill; my wife is reading it right now after being harassed about it for most of the year and just asked me today if the book was basically a novelization of The Last of Us.  But the farther in you get the more enthralling the book becomes, and by the end it’s its own thing and while, yes, it’s still a zombie story, it’s a bloody goddamned great zombie story, one that despite having a damn movie made out of it still hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention.  I didn’t know what I was getting into when I picked this up, guys.  It’s phenomenal.

189523811) THE WALL OF STORMS, by Ken Liu. This is the rarest of things, folks: a second installment in a planned long-run megaseries that is better in every way than the first book.  I liked The Grace of Kings quite a lot when I first read it, but by the end of the year the shine had worn off a bit and it only ended up (“only,” he says) in the Honorable Mention section of that year’s list.  The Wall of Storms fixes every single thing that is wrong with the first book and improves on the large quantity of stuff that was amazing.  Liu calls his China-flavored fantasy fiction “silkpunk,” and the discovery of electricity plays a big role in this novel.  So do dragons.  Sort of.  The title of the series, The Dandelion Dynasty, should also be taken seriously.  Note that last word.  It’s kind of important.  Storms doesn’t quite have the poetry of language that Hammers on Bone does, and isn’t quite as pulse-poundingly exciting as The Girl with All the Gifts, but that doesn’t keep it from being a tremendously inventive and rewarding piece of fiction from an author who keeps getting better.  It’s the best book I read this year.  You should read it.  Now.

Honorable Mention, in no particular order: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson, Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith, Invasive and The Hellsblood Bride by Chuck Wendig, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West, The Rising by Ian Tregillis, The Secret Place by Tana French, Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine, My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due, Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, and Bloodline by Claudia Gray.

 

The Top 10 New(*) Books I Read in 2015

And here we go: my list of the 10 Best New Books I Read This Year, where “New” means “read it for the first time in 2015,” not “came out in 2015.”  Although, that said, I think for the first time there aren’t any books on this list that are more than a couple of years old at the most, and the majority of them actually did come out this year.

(I know I said yesterday that this wasn’t coming out until next week.  I assume y’all will forgive me.)

Also, don’t take the rankings too seriously other than the top three or four books.  My first cut went from 21 to 14, and wasn’t all that hard, but going from 14 books to 10 was really difficult.  There will be an Honorable Mention section at the end.

And, just in case you’re curious, here’s the 2014 list and here’s the 2013 list.

So, without further ado:

2335021910) The Me You See, by Shay Ray Stevens.  This was actually the first book to be added to the shortlist, as I read it in the car on a road trip very early in January.  I read the entire thing basically cover-to-cover along the trip, so the best thing this book has going for it is that it’s a hell of a page-turner.

The premise is simple, but effectively pulled off:  the book begins at the end, with a shooting, but the identity of the shooter is obscured.  We then jump back in time to follow the story of the first victim of the shooting, with bits and pieces of her story told in first-person by people she knows and has interacted with.  The mystery unfolds effectively and the multi-narrator aspect of the story is great.  I got home and ordered the book in print immediately so that I could have it on the shelf and look at it.

Shay Ray is also an indie author and a Twitter buddy; you should be following her at @shayraystevens if you aren’t.

205188729) The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu.  This book is weird; when I reviewed it I gave it five stars, but with some reservations, and there were points during the year where Three-Body Problem could very well have been the top book on this list.  However, it is part of a trilogy, and part of a trilogy in a really clear way— it’s not one of those trilogies where the first book was a one-off that did well so they added more books; this story clearly wants the next two books to be complete.  And the second book, The Dark Forest, wasn’t translated by Ken Liu.

And the translation utterly ruins the book.  The second book is so bad and so unreadable that I couldn’t get through more than 15 to 20% of it, and that’s as the sequel to one of my favorite books of the year.  Unfortunately, the fact that the second book is a one-star at best means that I can’t recommend the first one as highly, because it  really isn’t as self-contained as it could have been.

The worst thing?  The English translation of Volume 3 comes out soon, and Ken Liu translated it.  So I’m in the position of either just trying to read Books 1 and 3, or trying to force my way through the awful second book.  Blech.

But 3BP, evaluated by itself, really is something special.

(Sidenote: speaking of Ken Liu, you might also remember me highly praising his The Grace of Kings, which also came out this year.  I loved the hell out of it while I was reading it, but it unfortunately didn’t hold up as well as I expected it to.  I still plan to read the sequels, and it’s still good enough that it’ll appear in the Honorable Mention section down below, but some of the criticisms of it I read afterword resonated strongly enough that I can’t put it in the top 10.  Dude still had a hell of a year.)

231302868) The Venusian Gambit, by Michael J. Martinez.  This book’s presence on my Best of the Year list has nothing to do with the fact that Michael Martinez specifically thanks me for some reason in the afterword.  The three books known as the Daedalus Series constitute some of the most fun I’ve had reading science fiction in years; they’re adventure books in a way that I really don’t think you see very often nowadays.  Gambit is the best of the three, taking every cool idea that Martinez could think of, throwing them all at the wall, and then writing a book out of everything that stuck.  There are zombies and aliens and the future and the past and space galleons and the French fighting the British and power armor and magic and alchemy and how the hell is this all in one book and oh there are jungles on Venus in one of the alternate realities because this series exists in two different parallel universes and Christ, how many times do I have to recommend this series before you read it?

232099247) The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi.  My favorite thing about this book is that it’s a Paolo Bacigalupi book and I liked it.  Bacigalupi is one of those authors who has gotten a lot of recognition and won a fair number of awards and whose work I haven’t previously been able to get into in a yeah, this is my fault, not his sort of way.  The Water Knife was probably his last shot; if I didn’t like it I was just going to have to put him up on the shelf with Stanley Kubrick and stop worrying about it.

But!  The Water Knife ends up being an excellent sci-fi thriller, taking what feels very much like a Clancy novel or some sort of crime book and tossing it into an American Southwest just far enough in the future that the states are starting to literally go to war over water.  It’s kinda post-apocalyptic in the sense that a bunch of terrible shit has already happened and kinda pre-apocalyptic because it’s clear that climate change is going to make things a lot worse before they get better, but once you get past the book being set in the future there’s little that’s science fictiony about it.  That’s not a complaint; “<other genre> book set in the future” is a perfectly cromulent way to write science fiction, and in fact I’d call it one of speculative fiction’s strengths, because I can recommend this to somebody who only reads, say, Clancy or Grisham and expect them to enjoy it.  This is the only book on the list I think my Dad might like; you see what I’m saying?

250670466) Lost Stars, by Claudia Gray.  I read almost all of the Star Wars books.  Most of them, lately, have been bad.  Some of them have been absolutely terrible.  And I don’t read a lot of YA unless it’s so popular (say, Hunger Games or Harry Potter) that I can’t avoid it, or it’s written by an author I’m already familiar with.  Claudia Gray writes for kids and adults, and her YA Star Wars book is good enough that I’m going to be looking for her work for grown-ups in the very near future.  This is the best Star Wars book written in a long time, and if you liked Force Awakens or the original trilogy you really ought to check it out, as this book spans the events from A New Hope through to the Battle of Jakku which you see the aftermath of in the beginning of the new movie.  Check out my review for more details, and note that of the three things I found clues to in the book, I was right about one, wrong about another, and as yet somewhat undetermined on the third.  But definitely read the book.

191618525) The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin.  I have… six books by N.K. Jemisin?  And they’re all wonderful, so you really ought to just start with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and by the time you get through to the last book in the Dreamblood duology the sequel to The Fifth Season will probably be out.  The Fifth Season is the first book in her third series, called The Broken Earth, set in (again) a post-apocalyptic world, or maybe it’s more that the apocalypse is ongoing and repeating and they just sort of have, like, apocalypse eruptions every now and again in this world.  It bounces around, Song of Ice and Fire-style, between a handful of main narrators, and all of them are compelling and interesting and there’s a big twist at the end that I totally did not see coming and was super awesome.  Like I said, she’s great; read all of her books.  All of them.

181701434) An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, by Chris Hadfield.  I didn’t actually read a lot of nonfiction this year, but you should look at the Honorable Mentions list at the bottom of this post to see three more nonfiction books that it hurt me to trim out of the final Top 10.  This is the only nonfiction book that made the list, because there was no chance in Hell that a memoir by Chris Hadfield about his life and career as an astronaut was not going to be one of my favorite books of the year unless it turned out that Chris Hadfield couldn’t put two words together correctly to save his life.

As it turns out, Chris Hadfield can write, among his many, many other skills.  You will note that the book credits no co-author.   The guy’s literally one of the most interesting people on Earth and, as I said before, the book is a mix of a self-help/inspirational title, a memoir, and an instruction manual on how to be an astronaut.  EVERYONE wants to be an astronaut.  Go.  Read.

234444823) The Traitor Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson.  This is the most recent read on the list– I just finished it a week or so ago– and I didn’t bother doing a full review of it because I knew it was going to be on this list soon anyway.  Interestingly, Traitor and the next book on the list are almost the same book in a lot of ways: both take a character from a foreign culture and plunge them into court intrigue and a position of power and then shake things around and see what’s left standing.  Also like the next book, this is a book that I enjoyed despite a couple of what are probably pretty major flaws.  Chief among them, in this case, is that the culture that Baru Cormorant comes from is vastly more interesting than the one she ends up in– homosexuality is so normalized that most people have multiple parents, and Baru herself has two fathers and one mother, and one of the conflict points of the novel is that the culture that colonizes her home and eventually sweeps her off to her “merit-based” position as chief accountant (more interesting than it sounds, I promise) of a foreign land is not so big on The Gay.

It also has the laziest map I’ve ever seen in a fantasy book.  Read it anyway; Baru is fascinating and the weight of the entire book rests on her shoulders; if she wasn’t as interesting as it is the book would have collapsed, but she’s great.

179100482) The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison.  Goblin Emperor is weird as hell; it’s my second-favorite book of the year, and it belongs here, but if you read my review you’d think I hated the thing.  It’s much like The Force Awakens in that respect.  I’ve already given you the broad outlines of the plot because they’re very similar to Baru Cormorant; the main difference between the two is that Cormorant is very low-fantasy and Goblin Emperor is very much Tolkien-esque high fantasy, with a glossary at the end and a bunch of words that you won’t be able to pronounce or spell and will probably have to look up a few times to remember what the hell they mean and goddammit I liked this book I just can’t talk about it without sounding like I didn’t.  Go read it so you know what I’m talking about.  I can’t wait for the sequel, and I’ll reread it before I read the sequel, too.

209806671) The Mechanical, by Ian Tregillis, is the best book I read this year, and the gap between it and Goblin Emperor is pretty stark.  It is set in an alternate-history twentieth century where the Dutch invented mechanical clockwork automatons called Clakkers sometime in the seventeenth or eighteenth century and then used them to take over the goddamn world.  Clakkers are sentient but have no free will, and the main character of the book is a Clakker named Jax who manages to escape his geasa and I ain’t telling you a single other damn thing about it other than that you ought to go read the damn thing right now.  The sequel just came out but my wife snatched it up before I could get to it; she told me last night that the bit that she just finished reading was the best action sequence she has ever seen in a book.  Not for nothing, this is also the most beautifully-written book I read this year; I’m typically more of a story guy than a language guy, but it’s notable enough in this book that I need to mention it.

So, what’s your top 10?

HONORABLE MENTION, in NO PARTICULAR ORDER:  Public Enemy: Inside the Terrordome, by Tim Grierson; Zer0es, by Chuck Wendig; The Grace of Kings, by Ken Liu; Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates; Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine, by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz; Abbadon’s Gate and Cibola Burn, by James S.A. Corey; Anathem, by Neal Stephenson; and The Unquiet Grave by Katherine Lampe.

In which I am way ahead of myself

510Cy7ZwEHL._SX338_BO1,204,203,200_I am telling this story primarily so that I can find the date I did this a year or so from now when I need it.

I am currently approximately one third of the way through the sequel to Skylightsa book I’m calling Sunlight.  It was originally called Starlight but I decided the new title was better so I changed it.  The series is going to become known as The Johannes Cycle (the Johannes is the name of the ship they fly to Mars on) once the second book is out.

Like I said, I have the first third or so of Sunlight in first-draft form and hope to have it finished within a month.  I also have the first few paragraphs of the third book in the Johannes Cycle written, along with the last few sentences of Sunlight.  I already know what the title of Book 3 is, too.

I still tentatively plan on Casey Heying, who did the cover for Skylights, to be doing the cover to Sunlight, provided that I can afford to pay him what he’s actually worth.  But we haven’t discussed the cover to the third book at all, and I already had a strong concept for it in mind.

Last night, in about half an hour, I sat down with an image editor and created the cover for the third book.  As in, other than some tweaks to text, it’s, like, perfect.  So I have no cover to the book I’m working on and a damn-near completed cover to the sequel to the book I’m working on.

The kicker?  I can’t tell you the title of the third book, or show you the cover, because they both constitute mild spoilers for Sunlight.  So I just have to sit on this awesome thing I did and not show anybody.

Well, okay.  I showed Casey’s wife today.  And she thought it was awesome too.  But not anybody else.  🙂