- Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett blew my mind more than most of the books I read this year. Check out my earlier review of this book. Foundryside introduced us to the world of Tevanne, the thief Sancia, and the crazy Renaissance style world where reality can be convinced it’s different than it actually is through the power of twisted logic. It’s been a long time since I really jumped into a high fantasy series at the beginning, and I’m stoked to see how Sancia deals with the spells that have basically given her superpowers.
2. Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner is this year’s underground book. I found out about this book on Goodreads, but it should have been on everyone’s radar. Chaotic Good is the story of Cameron – a cosplay genius who battles the sexist attitudes of both Internet trolls and a bully at the comic book store by dressing up as a boy to sneak into the comics shop and play D and D with the bully’s crew. Romcom shenanigans keep this book from sinking into the dark reception that Cameron has to deal with from the nerd community online. Like death threat level dark. We’ve all seen it and anybody who reads Chaotic Good is going to think twice the next time they comment (but please do. Politely.)
3. Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar combines several familiar Tidhar themes – detective stories and alternate worlds –- and tosses them smack in the middle of Africa, where the British established a Jewish state confusing called Palestina. Everything’s confusing here. Unholy Land reveals a compassion for characters who do horrible things to keep others safe, while illuminated the spider-webbing consequences that follow. It’s thought-provoking, weird, and everything we expect from Lavie Tidhar.
4. Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee provides a much-needed scholarly look the work of editor Campbell. It’s also a fascinating read. I’ve read Gunn’s bio of Asimov and I still could not put Astounding down. Astounding is the book I wanted to use for research as an undergrad and I’m so excited that I can spend all winter with it now.
5. The Infinite Future by Tim Wirkus is a strange, road trip that’s surprisingly thoughtful. Half space opera, half literary metafiction, The Infinite Future stretches across continents as well as genres, taking readers the streets of Rio de Janeiro to the desolate Idaho mountains. Throw in a cast full of loners and outcasts and you’ve got a journey to the exotic parts of the world that I never get tired of writing about.
6. All the Pieces Matter: An Oral History of The Wire by Jonathan Abrams comes ten years (!) after season five of everybody’s creative writing prof’s favorite show went off air. The Wire broke ground as a television show, with plotlines that spanned seasons and absolutely no guarantee for either survival or happy endings for it’s strongest characters. All the Pieces Matter tells the story of the actors, writers, and crew that we didn’t get to see and illuminates both film history and the storytelling process.
7. Semiosis by Sue Burke puts a strong emphasis on the science involved in settling a brand new planet. Told in succession by generations, Semiosis presents settlers learning from the mistakes of the mismanagement of Earth’s resources and attempting to create a utopia. Semiosis shows that you can take the human off Earth, but you can’t take the earthiness out of humans. The utopia breaks down, war appears, and the children of the first settlers have to cope with a completely unexpected alien presence.
8. This Body’s Not Big Enough for Both of Us by Edgar Cantero provides a much needed laugh and a sharp exploration of sleazy detective books. Cantero has proved himself a master satirist with last year’s Meddling Kids and his brings funny chops back to work here. We follow the manic methodology of Detectives Adrian and Zooey Kimrean as this pair of fraternal twins tries to share a body and survive a cartoonishly bullet-ridden, drug-soaked southern California.
9. Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams presents a bizarre technology in a near-future in a book jacket fit for your mom’s book club. The Machine tells people what highly specific thing will make them happy, but not why – from amputating a section of a finger to exploring religions to running ten miles a day. When a teenage boy’s anorexia causes his technician mother to run his DNA through the machine, it collides with his own investigation into the way The Machine is transforming the social life of his small circle of friends.
10. Space Opera by Cathrynne M. Valente answers one of life’s most pressing questions: what if Douglas Adams had lived to watch the Guardians of the Galaxy films. He would have written some as over-the-top as Space Opera. Valente has proved time and time again that she’s one of the most talented writers in the sci-fi market right now. She’s hilarious, creative, and it shines in Space Opera.
11. The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal starts a brand new alternate universe series with a bang when a meteor destroys Washington D.C. and much of the US eastern seaboard. If you thought The Cold War in our history was cold, wait until the Ice Age comes back. Or don’t, take off with Kowal’s Lady Astronaut Elma York as she races against a rapidly changing climate to escape a doomed world in 1952.
12. Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergiy Dyachenko has a scary title for English speakers, but don’t let it throw you off. This dark Ukrainian fantasy originally hit shelves in 2007, but a new English translation by Julia Meitov Hersey was published this year. This story of magical school filled with teachers punishing families instead of students for students’ mistakes has met with overwhelming welcome by maturing fans of Harry Potter and The Magicians.
13. Strange Stars by Jason Heller looks at long, fabulous relationship between science fiction and rock. Focusing on David Bowie, who saw 2001: A Space Odyssey and had his mind blown, this narrative nonfiction throws in the great including Hendrix and Pink Floyd. Strange Stars brings together a much needed synthesis of music and film, patching a wide hole in pop culture history.
14. The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay is the book about cabins to end all cabin thrillers. Who is Leonard and what are the mutated garden weasels his friends are carrying? Tremblay keeps a tight lid on the situation as he heightens readers’ fears action by action while dangling the lives of a young family in the balance.
15. Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor finishes out the trilogy that began with Okorafor’s Hugo Award winning Binti. Okorafor’s talent as a master storyteller is in rare form here. Few authors can create science fiction that closely reminds of the tragedies occurring here on Earth in countries besides the U.S., while still taking readers to the stars.
16. Destroy All Monsters: The Last Rock Novel by Jeff Jackson is this year’s most experimental read. Double-sided like a record, so Side A of the book has a different story than Side B, this slow-burn horror story focuses on the spontaneity of shootings, especially at music venues, and the way they effect the survivors and the young. Part rock saga, part neonoir, Jackson’s book takes a long hard look at national tragedy, disguised in the familiar medium of rock ‘n roll.
17. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green hit my local library with about a dozen shouts of “It’s about time!” from the YA section. The younger of the Vlog Brothers has released his first novel about robots who land to earth. Green’s interested in the power of art in an age of a science, which protagonist April May (…yeah…) uses to ride the unexpected wave of fame that follows after she documents the robots on YouTube.
18. Noir by Christopher Moore also lampoons the detective genre as only Christopher Moore can. He manages to rips apart every genre convention from old school Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett days, and still manages to take it to weird, Moorian level, with aliens. Longtime fans will be glad to know he’s back, and new fans will discover a hilarious gateway to the further Moore canon.
19. Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman walks the line between horror and weird western perfectly. Paradoxically spare and rich at the same time, Unbury Carol mesmerizes readers in gothic style while maintaining a tense Western narrative. Outlaw James Moxie rides the trail with hitman Smoke following after, intent on killing Moxie before can rescue his lover Carol from her greedy husband and his supernatural allies.
20. Heavy Vinyl by Carly Usdin collects the whole series into one slim volume about girl power in the ‘90s. Mashing together record stores, rock mythology, and Doc Martens this series about a group of vigilantes working in a record store is almost cloyingly nostalgic. But the art, the bright colors and near-manga style brings up to a level of ridiculously that only rock ‘n roll comics can attain.