Well it’s been an interesting year. I didn’t get everything blogged that I should have — 86 books as I write this, but only about 42 of those were covered by blog entries. But I did start the blog well into the year and so I guess I have that excuse, at least! Anyway, I thought I would take a few minutes and compile a best-of list from my personal 2016 reading list.
Best SF Read in 2016:
Pierce Brown’s Red Rising
I didn’t read a lot of “hard” SF this year. Most of it was like Red Rising. I mean, if you’ve got swords and strange powers then is it still science fiction? Brandon Sanderson’s excellent Young Adult series Steelheart would fall into this category too, as well as Jim Butcher’s intriguing The Aeronaut’s Windlass, which showed a lot of potential as a new series. The classic Replay by Ken Grimwood would also probably fall into this category.
At the other end of the spectrum, “hard” SF I read this year included mainly indie works. Hugh Howie’s Beacon 23 was good, as was Craig Falconer’s Not Alone. Probably the best space opera books I read this year were from Evan Currie, whose Odyssey One series is thoroughly enjoyable and a wonderful “member berries” recollection of hard SF’s past greatness. S. H. Jucha’s Silver Ships series also offered an enjoyable story, and I’m currently waiting for the audiobook version of the latest in that series.
But in the end, I’m a storytelling guy. Setting is always secondary. And in that arena, Pierce Brown really took the cake. I read these before I started the blog so they don’t have an entry here, but they really were the best SF books I read in 2016.
Best Fantasy Read in 2016:
Temeraire by Naomi Novik
With apologies to Lewis Grizzard, these books tore out my heart and stomped that sucker flat. The characters of Temeraire and Laurence, and their relationship, was one of the best things going on in Fantasy literature in recent years. The novelty of gigantic dragons crewed like sailing vessels, set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic era, was compelling and unique. The new moral quandries imposed upon 19th-century thinking were fantastic and brilliant.
There is a word that I like to use to describe a story like this that moves past its own apparent boundaries of genre and setting: Transcendent. In my review I wrote that these books would be as enjoyable to alternate history buffs as they are to fantasy fans. I think even hardcore science fiction fans would find much to enjoy here. This isn’t a made-up world of swords and sorcery, it’s OUR world. Just… slightly changed. Isn’t that a pretty good definition for science fiction? And yet this series is almost always categorized as Fantasy, presumably because of the dragons. Go figure.
Doesn’t matter. Just read it. It’s one hell of a good story.
Temeraire wasn’t the only good fantasy I read in 2016, of course. Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive may very well be the very top of the fantasy pyramid at the moment, but I think we should stop heaping accolades on unfinished stories. Those first two books are absolutely fantastic (sorry), and I await the next one as eagerly as I look forward to the next Game of Thrones and Rothfuss Kingkiller books. But they’re not finished. So it just feels wrong to pass any kind of final judgement on them at this point, even if this is just an end-of-year summary.
Michael J. Sullivan, Charles Stross, Lev Grossman and Brent Weeks also filled out the list this year with interesting and entertaining reads.
What’s Coming in 2017
It’s always hard to predict where this will go, but I think it’s worth mentioning what’s on my reading list at the moment. It might be fun to look back on this list a year from now. Some of my friends will recognize entries here from the suggestions they’ve passed along (thanks!).
Pat’s Waiting List:
Steven Erikson (The Malazan Book of the Fallen)
The Abyss Beyond Dreams (Peter F. Hamilton)
Mark Lawrence (Broken Empire books, e.g. Prince of Thorns, Wheel of Osheim)
Robin Hobb (Realms of the Underlings, e.g. The Assassin’s Apprentice)
B.V. Larson’s Swarm series
Arcadia (Iain Pears)
The Throne Conspiracy (K.M. Johnson-Weider)
Chronicles of Amber (re-read)
The Knight (Gene Wolfe)
Dark Matter (Blake Crouch)
Sleeping Giants (Sylvain Neuvel)
Pat’s “When I Get a Round Tuit” List:
(These are books I’m a little embarassed to have not read, but not quite embarassed enough to actually sit down and read them yet.)
The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi
Robert Aspirin’s Myth books
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books
Note: I’ll put up a complete list of everything I read in 2016 next week.