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SF I read in 2013

Started: 2014-02-22 13:53:05

Submitted: 2014-02-22 15:12:08

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator enumerates the SF books he's read over the past year

This year, Kiesa and I picked up supporting memberships to Loncon3, this year's World Science Fiction Convention. We're not planning on attending the convention due to scheduling constraints but being supporting members we get to nominate and vote for Hugo awards. As a fan of science fiction I've been following the Hugo awards for years; this is my first chance to actually participate directly. So here are my thoughts on the new novels I've read in the past year, to organize my thoughts as I prepare my nomination ballot.

(I also need to assemble a similar list of short fiction, but that's going to be far more complicated so I'm starting with the low-hanging fruit here.)

The Incrementalists by Steven Brust: I wanted to like this one more than I did. Maybe it was the setting in Las Vegas; maybe it was the fact that key plot points centered on dense symbolism that went mostly over my head. It had immortality and secret societies and conspiracies to make the world better just a little bit at a time; while I enjoyed reading the book it wasn't one of my favorites this year.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: I wasn't quite sure what to make of this book. Being a story that an adult narrator is telling of his childhood, it seemed to me to occupy a weird interstitial space between children's and adult literature. Neil Gaiman is a master storyteller but the book left me a little ... unsettled ... in a way that I wasn't expecting.

Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone: The setting sounded interesting, with the dust still settling on a war that overturned the gods that had ruled for millennia (I took it to be something like an urbanized Aztec civilization) but I got about half-way through and couldn't convince myself to read any more.

The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty: This was a fun urban fantasy novel. Chapters are opened with a quote from the guidebook-within-the-novel The Shambling Guide to New York City that variously explain the setting, advance the narrative, and foreshadow the plot. I read it just after returning from visiting New York City this spring. I think I'll nominate this one.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie: This book was fantastic, and it's on the top of my nominating list. It's jam-packed with interesting ideas about identity and gender and language and culture and rootkits with a compelling narrative driving the action forward. It's set in a galaxy-spanning empire in the far future starring the troopship Justice of Toren that shares a consciousness with all of the soldiers on the ship, with multiple overlapping layers of identity. You'll never be able to look at the pronoun "she" the same way again. Go read it now; I'll wait.

The Daedalus Incident by Michael J Martinez: This was an unusual mashup of a fantasy-based universe (in which the author takes the "age of sail ... in space!" meme one step further by putting literal sailing ships in space via alchemical magic) with a straight hard-sci-fi humans-mining-Mars universe. I found each universe interesting on its own but I found the transitions between them jarring as I had to context-switch everything I know about one universe out for the other universe. I enjoyed the inevitable collision of the two worlds but somehow the whole thing just failed to click for me.

The Human Division by John Scalzi: This book was first published in thirteen individual episodes, so it's eligible both as a complete novel and in various categories as its constituent pieces. (The author himself explains the pieces and their eligibility in his blog post The 2014 Award Consideration Post.) I enjoyed this outing in Scalzi's Old Man's War universe, but considered as a single narrative in book form, the tone is a bit uneven; some of the stories clearly contribute to the overall narrative (even if we never revisit the actual settings) but some are setup for plot developments that never come through. It's clear this is one more story (or collection of stories) inside a much larger narrative, and I look forward to future works in this story. I'll skip the best-novel nomination for this one but consider the individual stories in their respective short-fiction categories (which I'll collect in a later post).

Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross: This is a loose sequel to Saturn's Children, set a few thousand years later in the same universe. Given a loose collection of galaxy-spanning robots (humans went extinct at the bottom of our gravity well millennia ago, but our robotic children live on), bound by the speed of light, what sort of political and economic systems would evolve? We have 'slow money' that must be signed and counter-signed over interstellar distances at the speed of light, warships that have been sleeping for centuries, a massive con, and a serious disruptive technology. It's on my nomination list.

Shadow of freedom by David Weber: I'm hooked on the Honorverse but this book takes the already-diffuse narrative of the Star Empire of Manticore and spreads it even thinner by introducing a bunch of new plots, many of which aren't even addressed in the rest of the book. While I'll continue to read all of the Honorverse books written for the foreseeable future, they won't make any of my nomination lists.

2013 was a great year for SF, and I still have a few more books to read before I can finalize my nomination ballot. Which of your favorites did I miss?

(Here are two long comment threads with more works in all categories to look through: SF/F Authors/Editors/Artists/Fans 2014 Award Awareness Post and Genre award awareness.)