The year 2017. What a year, huh?
Your humble correspondent was named the 2017 Down Under Fan Fund recipient. This means that I got to go on a subsidized trip to Lexicon, the 2017 New Zealand National SF convention, and Continuum, the 2017 Australia National SF convention. I’ve talked about it here, and on the podcast, and you can always still for a $7 donation get yourself a copy of the DUFF report. All donations go to the Fund so that in 2018, a NZ/AUS fan will come to the United States in a reciprocal trip to the one I took this year.
The Down Under Fan Fund Report is eligible for nomination for the Hugo Award for Best Related Work. I myself am Hugo eligible for Best Fan Writer on the basis of that report, the reviews you read here, and the reviews and articles I have at Tor, BN Sci Fi, and elsewhere. And Skiffy and Fanty is eligible for best Fancast. (SFF Audio, which I am also on, is also Hugo-eligible, by the way.)
Thank you for your support if you choose to nominate me. I’ve done a lot this year. I’d like to think it’s award-worthy.
Also this year, I attended Worldcon in Helsinki and got to see my fellow podcast cohosts Mike Underwood, Shaun Duke, Julia Rios and Alex Acks!
But you probably thought I was talking about political events when I said this was quite a year. Sorry about that. Not the venue.
So now that I’ve discussed my 2017 and my award eligibility, let’s talk about books. I read some this year, not as many as some, but a fair few. Over 120 as of the writing of this post. So what did I hate? Not going to say. What did I like? That, I can talk about, and happily so. All of these books with the exception of the marked category were published in 2017.
Favorite SF of the year
Sf has been my core since the beginning of my reading career. Sure, fantastic lands are a thing, and I can wander those with a group of characters endlessly, but it’s the future, space, and more that really gets my juices flowing.
There was really only one logical choice, this year, though. Known far better for her fantasy, and I’ve read just about all of it, Martha Wells lifted off into the realms of Science Fiction this year with All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries. Set in a future where artificial intelligence companions are hired to aid on digs and surveys archaeological and otherwise, Murderbot has programmed themselves to not have to listen to the commands of humans. This is, of course, an act that would get it destroyed or reprogrammed if anyone finds out. And when the survey that has requisitioned Murderbot comes under attack, Murderbot must evolve through its new autonomy and decide how to preserve their lives and its freedom … and find time to watch episodes of Sanctuary Moon. Murderbot themselves is dark and dryly funny and beneath the breezy story, the novella has real questions about autonomy and freedom lurking. I adored it to pieces.
Favorite Fantasy of the year
Okay, sometimes you want to put away the rocketships for the road to Amber, or walking to Mordor, or ducking into an alley and finding a magical alley of shops. In this year of 2017, sometimes you want to go to a magical world different than our own. Luckily, a lot of authors have got us covered in that regard.
It was difficult to single out a single book here, but I am going to go with Aliette de Bodard’s second novel in the Dominion of the Fallen series. Following the success of The House of Shattered Wings, House of Binding Thorns continues that series with a focus on the Asmodeus-led House Silverspires, as it negotiates with a rebellion-wracked Dragon Kingdom beneath the waves of the Seine to prop up its power in a very precarious post-Apocalyptic Paris. Plenty of rich characters, magic, evoked locations, strong themes, diverse and interesting cast, this is a world to get lost in … even if it’s a world that is often brutal, sharp, and utterly dangerous. I’ve said before that De Bodard could write a novel set in a Zelazny House of Chaos and make it work, and this novel, on the heels of the first, proves that assertion. Sumptuous!
Favorite Near-Future book of the year:
Getting the horizon of the near-future right is tough. Technology soon makes your novel seem quaint, political events make your speculations quickly an alternative history, not a near future history and just trying to keep up with the modern day means that a lot of authors blanch at even trying.
Linda Nagata is willing to try. Set in a world even closer to our won than her fantastic Red Trilogy, The Last Good Man is a fantastic twenty minutes into the future book that is maybe liminal in its SF content, since the drone, AI, big data, and weapon technologies are probably already on the drawing board, if not already being worked on in the Pentagon and the CIA. All of the technology and extrapolations are top notch. Above, beyond and even better than that, however, is the human dimension, the human story in a story of war, and anarchy and truth. The characters, no surprise, really shine here and leap off of the page. The book moved me.
Favorite Epic Fantasy of the year
This category is in a sense lucky, because I have not had a chance to read what would, based on previous experience with the author and her world, be the runaway winner for the category. Happily, that means that Blackthorne by Stina Leicht steps up and knocks down the rest of the competition this year. The second in her Malorum Gates series, Blackthorne continues the story from Cold Iron, a flintlock fantasy with elves, a Roman-like empire conquering all about, ancient evils, Gods, fantastic characters, and an eye-appealing map worthy of the name. Cold Iron was solid and entertaining; Blackthorne is better still.
Favorite YA book of the year
Reading YA is a relatively new thing for me. It took me awhile to get into Harry Potter and I rationalized it in various ways and means, but actually delving deeply into YA was something I was reluctant to do. It felt like a completely foreign land, where I didn’t know anyone or anything and had no idea what was worth my time and could hold up as a story for me, a 46-year-old man. So, following an adult SFF writer into YA has proven to be a rather effective strategy, especially if it’s an author whose work I am a completist about, and that would be Kate Elliott. And the book would be Buried Heart. This is third and final in the Court of Fives series. The series tells the story of Jess, the daughter of an up-and-coming general and a local native with ties to the oppressed people whom her father’s people conquered and hold in submission. Add in women’s sports, magical mechanical riding spiders, adventure, intrigue, romance and that rich Kate Elliott worldbuilding concentrated into YA length. I adored this series. It just also proves just how versatile Elliott is as a writer.
Favorite Book heard in Audio of the year
I listened to a record-for-me number of audiobooks. I fell away a bit from podcasts and focused more on audiobooks. Audiobooks for SFF Audio, for Reading Rangers, and for my own reading and aural pleasure. I didn’t even have any super long driving trips to really listen to a book in one go. That’s for 2018, I think. Anyway, my favorite audiobook of the year is The Burning Page, by Genevieve Cogman.
This is the latest volume in Cogman’s Invisible Library series, where an interdimensional library’s agents roam an infinity of worlds, looking for books, even as the Fae and Dragons, the great powers amongst the worlds, the Chaos and Order in Moorcockian fashion, strive and scheme. Susan Duerden’s narration of the book is top notch. Cogman has been ramping up the conflict, building up characters and threads from previous novels, and I am increasingly excited for each volume. And I want to hear, not just read, the next book in the series, which means that this is definitely my favorite audiobook of the year.
Favorite Sequel of the Year
First novels, or first novels in a series, are easy. The second book is when things get real. Can you live up to the first book? Can you make it more than a placeholder to a presumed third? Can you not repeat yourself and make yourself a clone of that first? And if you are at a high number of a book in a series, how do you keep it fresh and new?
Two books stood out for me this year, a second novel in a series, and, an eighth.
MJ-12: Shadows by Mike Martinez is the sequel to his MJ-12: Inception. In a world (hear that in movie-guy voice) where mysterious objects at the end of WWII have imbued people with out-and-out superpowers, what do you do with such individuals?
Easy: You recruit them by various governments, primarily the Soviet Union and the USA, to become covert assets. The first novel set up the premise and showed us the origin of the Majestic program. In this second volume we get new agents, new troubles, new wrinkles, and an absolutely fascinating close-to-the-historical truth of the very weird and unbelievable events of the CIA in Syria in the 1950s. I confirmed with the author in conversation that he went for secret history of agents at the margins of very real and fantastic events. I wound up learning a lot in the midst of a strong story with deep themes of sexism, racism, oppression and much more. It’s a pleasure to see an author like Martinez go from strength to strength in this newest series.
Now, on the other hand, how do you keep a series that reaches its 8th book fresh and interesting? You have to introduce more characters and shift focuses and points of view and ideas. It’s hard to raise the stakes when the end stakes are already going to be a guaranteed-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it. But you can introduce new threats, reintroduce old enemies from previous volumes, show growth and change, and dry UK humor.
I give you Charles Stross’ The Delirium Brief, the latest in his Laundry Files novel. Things have really changed since the first novel, with Case Nightmare Green getting ever closer. And there have been weird side turns and surprises, such as an alien invasion in the previous book, The Nightmare Stacks. In this book, a certain US preacher our primary hero whom Bob Howard thought he dealt with a couple of volumes ago is back, and is helping leverage the privatization and dissolution of the Laundry itself. And the paperwork for all this is still a nightmare. As I do some internal auditing at my dayjob now, these books are more mordantly funny to me than ever.
Favorite End-of-the-Series of the Year
As opposed to a straight-up sequel, this category is for books which stick the landing on their particular series. In this series-heavy world where we now exist, getting the end of a trilogy, or longer series, is very important, and I look carefully to see if the threads from the beginning of the series come through in the end. Several series ended this year, by authors I loved. It was hard to make a single choice here.
Thus, I am most proud to hold up Horizon by Fran Wilde here. Finishing the story started in Updraft and continued in Cloudbound, she marries narrators, themes, and ideas from the first two novels, provides us a whole new playground and revelation about the origins and lives of the tower dwellers, and ultimately provides a hopeful tale for the future. Change is scary, dangerous and risky, but it can succeed. Horizon fulfills and completes the stories of revolution, of finding a new way in a society by showing the creation of building something new, and better. You stuck the landing, Fran.
Favorite Debut of the year
I read a fair amount of debuts. Publishers send me ARCs. Sometimes writers reach out to me. I get curious to get in on the ground floor with an author. I’m very willing to give an author a try, especially if a cover, an excerpt, or other ancillary matter hook me into the author and how they write and think in an appealing way.
This was a really tight category this year for me. By a hair, I am going to give this to Ruthanna Emrys’ Winter Tide. This book is part of that Neo-Lovecraftian swell that I read a bunch of during the last couple of years. A story of family, and survival, and racism, and oppression, and trying to make one’s way in the world, Aphra Marsh, a survivor of the Innsmouth raid who was years in a concentration camp in the desert west, now must pick up the pieces of her life and family even as the spectre of communism and magical secrets threatens everyone. Gorgeously written, sedately paced, this is not a thrill-a-minute book, but a quieter unfolding of character and story.
Favorite Book by an Author-new-to-me of the year
There are authors who escape my initial gaze, that I have to catch up on. A new book by that author can provide me a chance to get on a train which I missed at the initial stop, but now can start to enjoy their work.
I caught up on the work of Cassandra Khaw this year, and managed to get into “real time” with her second Persona Non Grata novella, A Song For Quiet. It is in a Lovecraftian mode similar to the previous one in the series, the 2016 Hammers on Bone (which I also read this year). A Song for Quiet mixes in music, dark doings, sacrifice, pain, moments of beauty and absolutely fantastic and evocative writing. This book also has the advantage of not quite needing the previous one, as the main character in Hammers shows up only as a secondary one here, so you could start with this to get the freshest and latest goodness from an extremely exciting writer.
Favorite Non-Fiction book of the year:
This was a tough choice. I do like to leaven my SF/F reading with some Nonfiction, but a lot of the Nonfiction I read has been out for a year or more. That does load up the next category but starves this one.
But making the leap from podcaster to author, Mike Duncan’s The Storm before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic is an eminent, erudite and readable book on the period of the Roman Republic before the famous one, with Caesar rising to power and the fall of the Republic itself. Here you will see the trends and seeds for that grand conflict and ageless story, and I learned a lot of about a period which gets relatively short shrift in histories not aimed at specialists and scholars far more knowledgable than me.
Favorite book not published in 2017:
I don’t just read books published in this year, or next year. I could cheat and give a book published in 2018 (yes, as of the time of the writing of this, I have read an ARC of a book that is not yet available, but I consider that cheating). So I am going to go with a tie here because two books rise to the top of that pile:
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (2015), by Mary Beard, here. Yes, another Roman history book. Don’t you know me by now? Anyway, this is now the go-to book I think I want to hand someone who knows little about general Roman history and wants to know more. Beard is smart, funny, sharp and illuminates the “core” of Roman history in an accessible way. I didn’t learn a lot that was new, because of my previous study, but I got to think about Rome in new and interesting ways.
Behind the Throne (2016) by KB Wagers is an exciting space opera, with a strong central protagonist, excellent worldbuilding, strong action beats, and much more. If you can’t get behind an arms smuggler expatriate princess being dragged back home to the center of a space empire she fled, to become its Heir, you are dead to me. The two subsequent volumes in the series, Beyond the Empire and After the Crown, are both out (the latter just out in late 2017). I’ve ordered them and they are on my teetering virtual TBR piles.
And there are so many books that came out in 2017 that I haven’t yet read. Which, if I continue this feature in future years, means plenty of grist for that mill.
Favorite Re-read of the year:
I do not do anywhere near as much re-reading as I used to. Way too much new stuff out there. But I do manage to expand my reading diet a little, and sometimes a book gets covered on a podcast that I have loved before.
So my favorite Re-read of the year is The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois M Bujold. I re-read this (actually listened to it in audio) for the Reading Rangers segment here at Skiffy and Fanty. This first Miles book is Miles in his early phase, running up against that wall, failing and then, by a series of audacious actions, solving each problem by making a potentially bigger one. The previous novels we covered in the series reminded me of the worldbuilding crunchy goodness of Bujold’s ’verse. This book, however, brought the character of Miles back front and center.
And now the moment you have been waiting for: My Favorite Book of the Year.
And the winner of The Waterfall Award for Paul Weimer’s Favorite Book of the Year is…
The Tiger’s Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera
Epic Fantasy, a fantastic debut novel that uses letters and second-person narration skillfully to tell the tale. Fantasy beyond the great wall of Europe, a Chinese/Mongolian flavored Epic fantasy that is also a love story between two women that blossoms and changes as they grow into their power. Skillful use of information and revelation to tell a fantastic story. Gorgeous, evocative prose. This is the kind of epic fantasy that I’ve hoped to see more of for years.
I could list a lot of books here, since I had a really good reading year. Books that didn’t quite make the cut in multiple categories include Fonda J Lee’s Jade City, a fantastic turn into fantasy in an alternate Asian city and world where Jade can provide a key to magical powers … and a drug can give that magic to more than just those of special bloodlines. It’s The Godfather meets Exalted. Foz Meadows’ A Tyranny of Queens completes the duology she started with An Accident of Stars, an fantastic multiple worlds-romping adventure. Windhome, by Kristin Landon, was excellent SF in a mode reminiscent of Eleanor Arnason. Halls of Law by V. M. Escalada (Violette Malan) is one I kind of left out of consideration because of the bias effect that I am indeed tuckerized into this fantastic epic fantasy — as a young Griffin. The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis brought alternate world steampunky goodness, with airships, to my reading delight. And many more.
Hopefully 2018 will be even better. As always, time will tell!