Though the year isn’t quite over, I think it’s safe to say I’m at a point where I can choose my top books of the year. I doubt I’m going to read something so awesome in the next 2 weeks that it will bump a title from this list.
I’m pretty thrilled to have read so many outstanding books this year. Some years it’s hard to choose a Top 10 list. Other years, I have to break it down by genre because I read so many great titles. This year wasn’t a phenomenal reading year in terms of numbers, so I felt pretty safe lumping everything together in one list, though even so, I still had to go beyond Top 10 and throw on an extra book because I couldn’t choose which book to eliminate to bring this list to an even number.
So without further ado, my Top 11 books I read in 2016. Regardless of when they were published.
Planetfall, by Emma Newman
This book had me stopping periodically to ponder the implications of what I’d just read. On the surface it’s an interesting exploration of the development of a human colony on another world, and it doesn’t have to be more than that to be a really interesting story. And then you throw in elements like how humanity relates to the idea of divinity and how that idea along can shape the development of civilization, and even there, if that was all it was, it would be a great story. But then it goes and plays right to my love of twisting classic mythic stories, in this case as a retelling of Judeo-Christian creation myths, and told from the perspective of a broken character, and I freaking loved the whole experience of reading Planetfall. Newman’s a great author, and this whole story was immensely compelling. And now that I’ve said that, I kind of want to go reread this book so that I can refresh my memory for After Atlas.
Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire
Imagine, if you will, having a dream where you were dragging outside of the reality you know, to something that’s like a pocket universe. Now imagine that you feel comfortable there, that for the first time in your life you feel like you could really be, despite any melancholy at leaving your old life behind; it actually feels comforting to imagine yourself back in that place, once you’ve woken up and have to deal with reality again. Imagine nobody understanding, and telling you that what you find so comforting is probably a manifestation of depression and of being mentally and emotionally unhealthy. Now imagine coming across a book that deals with just that issue, with people falling into their own pocket dimensions that somehow they fit into, that aren’t exactly tailor-made for them but that resonate with them in a way that nothing else has. Now imagine the author of such a thing looking at you and going, “Want an asexual protagonist so that this can seem even more like you?” and dammit, Seanan McGuire, are you spying on my life? Because seriously, Every Heart a Doorway hit me so hard because of exactly that circumstance (barring the author actually talking to me about ace protags), and I don’t think I’d ever related so hard to a character or circumstance. This novella is effing brilliant, and I love it.
Regeneration, by Stephanie Saulter
Whatever Stephanie Saulter writes, I think I’m going to read. I’ve loved the whole of the ®evolution series, and all of its commentary on discrimination and intersectionality, and its brilliant characters that are properly fleshed-out and feel like real people with all their skills and flaws. As I mention in my full review, I really enjoy books that feature fighting for the right to be acknowledged, and that involve breaking the mold of expectations. I love every concept dealt with over the course of this series, and Regeneration is the culmination of some seriously amazing stuff that definitely needs to be read by fans of social sci-fi. This series has, time and again, just blown me away.
(This is one of those things that’s hard to describe in just a short blurb without resorting to incoherent flailing over how good it is. Apologies.)
The Chimes, by Anna Smaill
This is one of those genre-defying books that’s definitely speculative, but I’m positive it could appeal to fans of more contemporary fiction. I love books that play with ideas of language, which The Chimes does amazingly by combining it with musical concepts. The writing itself is extremely lyrical, poetic, and it’s a treat to read. It’s definitely a slow-burn kind of novel, and it’s very light on the action sequences, but I really enjoy that when an author can pull it off properly. As Smaill did here. It’s evocative and wonderful and there’s possibly one of the most adorable couples ever, and I really enjoyed reading about how their relationship slowly developed. It’s a singular kind of novel that only gets encountered rarely, and it’s really worth taking your time on so you can fully appreciate all it does. If you like musical themes in your specfic, then track this one down, because it’s seriously amazing.
An Accident of Stars, by Foz Meadows
Words can’t begin to properly express how awesome Meadows is at creating complex and realistic fantasy worlds and the cultures and people that dwell within. I’m a huge culture-nerd, so I love seeing fantasy worlds that don’t fall back on the old standby of being based on Western European ideals. Plus I’m also a sucker for stories involving people traveling from one world to the next and the adjustment they have to go through as they discover how everything works; I guess I like culture shock stories. And I wouldn’t say that An Accident of Stars is just a culture shock story, but it does have elements of that in it, and I really enjoyed them. But it’s so much more, as there’s amazing political commentary, some phenomenal worldbuilding, amazing characters, and hot damn, I’m really looking forward to being able to read the sequel so I can continue the story.
The Obelisk Gate, by N K Jemisin
I have yet to read anything of Jemisin’s that I dislike. Even when her work deals with uncomfortable themes, I read on, because the discomfort is the point and there’s a reason she’s tackling difficult stuff. The Obelisk Gate is the continuation of Essun and Nassun’s stories after The Fifth Season, in a world that’s on the brink of dying due to geological instability, only that seems like a description that’s barely scratching the surface. Jemisin’s worldbuilding is never less than superb, and there’s so much amazing detail here that you can’t help but feel that it’s all starkly and dangerously real, that outside your own window might be a glimpse of what’s being described on that pages, and it’s utterly fantastic. This is another one where I’m desperate for the sequel, and I can’t wait to get my grubby little hands on it. (That pretty much holds true for anything Jemisin writes, to be honest. I need it in my collection. She’s definitely one of my must-read authors.)
Invisible Planets, edited by Ken Liu
As I said before, I’m a sucker for cultural stuff, so the chance to explore some of the best of China’s sci-fi was awesome. I couldn’t say to you what makes it different from western sci-fi, exactly, though the stories in Invisible Planets do have a different feel to them than a lot of other sci-fi I’ve read, and I can’t say if that’s representative of the genre or of the authors whose works were showcased here. Either way, this is a brilliant collection of stories that I adored reading, but not just stories, since there were some essays in here too, which provided greater background and depth to things. This is the sort of book we need to see more of, translations of non-English SFF, and I highly recommend checking this collection out if you get the chance. Totally worth it, especially if you want to broaden your horizons with some translated SF.
Fix, by Ferrett Steinmetz
Steinmetz’s ‘Mancy series has done something that’s pretty uncommon for me when it comes to urban fantasy: it made me hungry for more. UF isn’t typically my thing, and it’s tough to find stuff I like within it, but I freaking adored this whole series, and it just got better as it went on. Complex characters, moral issues, shades of grey all over the place, and nothing is what you think it is at first glance. Plus these books feature an overweight kickass woman who’s ridiculously skilled at video games, and I can relate to aspects of Valentine’s character, and to be blunt, it’s freaking nice to see an overweight character now and again when there whole of their character isn’t summed up by the phrase “weight problems.” Valentine is so much more than her body, and I love her for it. I need more characters like her in my life.
The Geek Feminist Revolution, by Kameron Hurley
It’s not often that a nonfiction book gets a highlight here, but Hurley’s collection of essays on feminism are effing amazing, and they’re sure to piss some people off, and I think that’s exactly why you should read them. They offer brutal insight into what it’s like to be a woman struggling to find respect when history and culture and all the people around you tell you that you’re not worth respecting. She pulls no punches, you makes you feel uncomfortable whether you’re male or female or both or neither, and I came out the other side of this book feeling inspired and empowered, angry and aware. It’s powerful and it’s an amazing insight into so many issues that women deal with, not just in geekdom and the SFF community (though that is a lot of the focus) but in general, and it’s an eye-opener. I shed tears while reading this. That makes it worth it, in my opinion.
The Nature of a Pirate, by A M Dellamonica
I wouldn’t have thought that fantasy based on the Age of Sail would be my thing. Then I read Child of a Hidden Sea. And now I’ve just recently finished the third book in the series and holy crap, these books are great. The dialogue’s snappy, thew characters are amazingly realistic, and Dellamonica’s world-building is top-notch. I haven’t read anything of hers that I’ve disliked; she really knows how to go all-out with creating a compelling world and great characters to fill it. I love Sophie, I love Bram, I love Garland Parrish, I love that even the characters who only appear for a short time still feel like real people. This is the kind of book — no, the kind of series — that doesn’t want to let you go once it’s had the chance to gets its hands on you, and I love the adventures that Sophie goes on as she experiences more of Stormwrack and uncovers its secrets. Damn amazing, I tell you!
The Second Death, by T Frohock
Fallen angels. And music. And the twisting of Judeo-Christian myths. And two dudes in a committed relationship and also raising a kid together. And yup, Frohock knows how to push all the right buttons, and for all that each book in the Los Nefilim series is short (they’re all novellas rather than full-length novels), they’re amazing and she crams so much into so few words. She’s a pro at playing with dark fantasy, and I’ve devoured each piece of this story that she writes, and I always want more at the end. Every aspect of this is right for what I want to read more of in my life, and if you haven’t checked out her work yet, then this series is a great place to start.