The Best SF I Read This Year

I was asked for my year’s-best list today, which I normally postpone because, ahem, the year is not over and, ahem, I am still reading, in fact, I do my best reading during that between-holiday vacuum of the last two weeks of the year… although, let’s be honest, I’m not really reading lately, and I’m definitely not reading SF.

But that’s another matter, and I’m hoping it will straighten itself out in time and I’ll soon be back to reading all the Silverbergs (yay) and Heinleins (ugh) and everything in between.

I love year’s-best book lists, but nothing rankles me more than year’s-best lists being published too early, without even a nod to the poor, neglected books that get stuck with December publication dates. If I remember correctly, two of 2015’s most outstanding novels, Sleeping Embers of the Ordinary Mind and The Thing Itselfweren’t even released until well into December last year. It was sad.

That’s one good reason to always read a year behind: They made it on this list. Let’s give them top billing today.

Without further ado, here’s my year’s-best-(so-far…) list, because Holly’s friends and family just don’t know what to get her, and commercial media ain’t no help at all.

Best of 2015 (in order of “these covers look prettiest arranged like this”):

Caveat emptor: Look elsewhere for cheesy, plot-driven SF. Cheesy isn’t welcome here. This is the good stuff.

SleepingEmbersofanOrdinaryMindSleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind by Anne Charnock
A subtle examination of art’s complicated present, past, and future as they intermingle in this non-linear tale.

 

 

TheThingItselfThe Thing Itself by Adam Roberts
A cosmic collage of madness, contradictions, and time travel that begins in an Antarctic research station and ends on Kant’s deathbed.

 

 

the-vegetarianThe Vegetarian by Han Kang
A woman turns away from the cruelty of humanity and attempts to become something else entirely.

 

 

SignsPrecedingTheEndoftheWorldSigns Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera
A young girl travels to the US to locate her brother and discovers that things on the US side of the border are kind of whacked out.

 

 

TheShoreThe Shore by Sara Taylor
An SFnal look at the Virginia bay as generations of an eclectic family inherit strange problems and abilities.

 

 

EuropeatMidnightEurope at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson
Fractured Europe, part two, Brexit edition. (Written before the surprise Brexit, so.)

 

 

 

images-2Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman
A NYC bartender is suddenly haunted by memories of a childhood alien encounter.

 

 

 

imagesThe Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan
The dramas of a port-to-port circus in the flooded future earth.

 

 

 

MakingWolfMaking Wolf by Tade Thompson
A man returns home and finds himself playing double agent among some of the most dangerous people from his past.

 

 

if-thenIf Then by Matthew de Abaitua
How love, community, and mid-life crisis adapt in an alienating political system based on algorithms.

 

 

book-of-phoenix

The Book of Pheonix by Nnedi Okorafor
A gene-mod “accelerated woman” escapes her government prison and attempts to overthrow the corrupt system that made her.

 

 

cladeHonorable mention: Clade by James Bradley
The cozy climate-change catastrophe (that’s not so cozy). (If it didn’t remind me so much of every variation of troubled marriage lit-fic from the non-SF section, it would easily be on this list because it is quite well done.)

 

 

Books from bygone eras (in order of “this is the order in which they appeared on my Goodreads 2016 summary list, lacking any discernable pattern”):

Caveat emptor: One or two of these books might be cheesy. I like my cheese aged.


Gormenghast2oryx-and-crakehigh-rise

Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

High-Rise by JG Ballard

Starmaker1kindredcrystal-world

Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon

Kindred by Octavia E Butler

The Crystal World by JG Ballard

DoorwaysintheSand1belovedInvisibleCities2

Doorways in the Sand by Roger Zelazny

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

MissingMan1the-affirmationTheForeverWar2

Missing Man by Katherine MacLean

The Affirmation by Christopher Priest

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

That’s it. I’m officially listed.

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26 thoughts on “The Best SF I Read This Year

  1. Holly Best says:

    HEE HEE I love you. This is awesome, and yes I agree best of lists are best in Jan. THAT BEING SAID, you totally saved me as this year was not my best regarding SF books, and was lost to what was truly going on. Now I can catch up! You are the best!

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    • Haha, you’re so funny. Glad you liked it! Glad you said something to kick me into gear. I have a few posts written up, but I haven’t been in the mood to sit in front of the puter and post them. I need to get over that.

      Enjoy your holiday reading! Let me know what think!

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  2. Joachim Boaz says:

    Are you going to review The Affirmation? If so, I CAN’T WAIT! 🙂

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    • Ummm, oh dear. I don’t know if I have it in me to do another Priest review. His books are above reviewing. I am a bit intimidated.

      If I could work out a way to write a review of me writing a review of The Affirmation, it might be funny. Or maybe I could just post a blank page…!

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  3. Holly Best says:

    I am completely still freaking out….

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  4. That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.

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  5. Tammy says:

    Really interesting to see Tade Thompson on here. I just read his latest (which I suppose could appear on next year’s list??) Rosewater, and loved it. I’d love to read more of him.

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    • I discovered him when he won the Kitchies Award this year and a recent blog post on his site really impressed me. I will have to read Rosewater, not only because I’m now a fan, but I also feel like I owe him a purchase because apparently he didn’t make a dime off of Making Wolf. It’s pretty messed up and he deserves better.

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  6. Two great pillars of British SF,Stapleton and Ballard.I wonder if anybody ever written anything like “Star Maker”,in or outside the written genre.I preferred “The Crystal World” to “High Rise”,but they’re different books,and he also had a point to raise in HR.

    “The Affirmation” was very good indeed,but it’s the only one by him I’ve read,so difficult to make any positive comments on his stuff yet.I don’t think I’ll change my stance on “The Forever War”

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    • I totally agree about Stapledon and Ballard. I’ve long thought I was born on the wrong continent, but this scifi stuff just proves it. I could live on their books alone, I think. I also kind of preferred Crystal World to High Rise (or even Drowned World), but he had a point to prove in all of them. Joachim and I were talking the other day about how he kind of bangs you over the head with it. But I like big, clunky metaphors.

      I wonder what you would think about other of Priest’s work. Inverted World is probably still my favorite, but I’ve enjoyed everything so far. I think The Glamour should be next for me.

      And yes yes yes, I know you don’t like The Forever War ;-P

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      • Being British,I suppose I should feel honoured,but you have Philip K.Dick,Ursula LeGuin,Gene Wolfe,Bob Silverberg,Barry Malzberg,ect.You have treasures that took time to be discovered by your country people,that we would envy.Yes,Ballard is uncomprimising and acerbic though,that would make him attractive I suppose to an American crowd,who are tired of so much “cosy” SF!

        I want to go for Preist’s shorter stuff next really.You like “The Forever War” so much,I feel I must be missing something.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Fantastic list, Megan… a lot of those are on my TBR list thanks to you. Namely Radiomen, Gracekeepers, and The Vegetarian, of which I’ve heard fantastic things. I had the opportunity for review copies of those but I ended up passing on all three… blurbs did not draw me in and covers screamed “mainstream fiction” so I didn’t give them a good look at the time. C’est la vie.

    I just read a novella by Tade Thompson and was very impressed, and have been eyeing Making Wolf; I was kind of surprised to see you’d picked it up, but seeing it here reinforces my interest. Also plan on reading the Okorafor series and Adam Roberts in general.

    Great list of classics, too. The Peake, Butler, and Calvino are some that I loved—Kindred is one of my tops—though I seem to be alone in disliking High-Rise (maybe I just read it at the wrong time in my life, who knows). Own the Atwood but haven’t read it. Adding the Zelazny and Maclean to my wishlist.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you like!

      The cover of Gracekeepers screams mainstream fiction, but the cover of Radiomen (and Making Wolf) looks oddly amateur self-pubbed to me. (Yet, after reading Radiomen, I find I kind of like the cover and think it suits it.) I actually think the cover of The Vegetarian looks quite elegant (which I guess is also a trademark of mainstream publishers).

      Making Wolf won the Kitchies Golden Tentacle this year, so that’s how I discovered it and I think it would satisfy your cross-sectional interests in noir crime and SF. Okorafor is hit-and-miss for me, with Lagoon being my favorite of hers, but Phoenix reminds me of that classic scifi style with big bold comic book overtones, and I liked the kind of grandstanding it did. And of course, Adam Roberts does no wrong as far as I’m concerned, so I need to read more of his backlist and prove myself wrong. 😉

      Kindred is just wonderful, though I still think Butler has legendary status with her short fic. Peake and Calvino are also legendary: prime, staple SF classics. I’ve been doing my year of Atwood, and Oryx & Crake is her best so far, fabulously dark and uncomfortable. The Zelazny and MacLean are the bits of cheese on this list, but I had a good time with them.

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  8. marzaat says:

    Good to see a new post.

    The quantity of books on this list would shame me except I don’t do shame. (I think aliens stopped by several times and all that kidnapping cut in to my reading time. At least, that’s the recovered memories suggest.)

    Anyway, look forward to your review of If Then — which I bought but haven’t read — and The Clade.

    Like

    • I might steal your excuse to explain my own lack of reading lately. It certainly *feels* like aliens might have kidnapped me. Or stole time. Or a piece of my brain. Or something.

      I will likely not review If Then or Clade. I read them so long ago, I don’t think I could do an adequate review, in fact, I’m not sure I could do them justice back when I read them. I don’t fully understand why de Abaitua isn’t a major name in SF, or at least British SF, because if If Then is any sign, he’s putting out some incredibly complex and interesting stuff. I had a hell of time coming up with one line to explain that book.

      James Bradley is thoughtful writer and I liked his approach to future climate change and how he bound it all together within the theme of “the clade.” It’s a clever, quiet book, much like Sleeping Embers– too clever and quiet for it to catch fire with a big audience. I’m sure I’ll read more from him in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Widdershins says:

    Congratulations on your list-ness! 😀

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  10. What a fucking excellent list. I am particularly interested in the first four books on it. I have been in such a fucking reading slump, and now I’m trying to put together my best reads of the year list and am just like ho hum, not much to choose from, eh? Though, don’t get me wrong, I read some amazing books this year, but I look back at my list of my best reads from 2015 and feel like there were more home runs there. This year the pickings feel a lot slimmer. In no small part because I went on a weird “I will listen to all the autobiographies about women artists and read by the author in the audio book version.” That led to a lot of stuff that was enjoyable, but yeah, more mainstream, less WOW BAM WIZZAAAHHHH.

    I have become weirdly enamoured of Clarke’s whole Rama thing. Funny thing is I had to completely restart it because for several months I just fell asleep during the same five minutes over and over and over again. Though I suppose in my sleep I’ve listened to the entire novel at least five times. Ha. But I think my enjoyment of it turned out to be weirdly situational. I listened to the last half of it while biking and I was passing all sorts of kind of weird decrepit (sp?) industrial shit that just really underlined the feeling of exploring weird metal ship on Rama that the crew didn’t quite understand. It’s similar to how I fell in love with Doomsday Book because I listeded to it with a ridiculous fever. Audio books have some weird hooks like that. Makes me unable to really judge the book based on the book. I think I would be really bad at reviewing audio books as works of literature, I experience them so differently.

    You are probably the only reason I will try The Vegetarian once I find it at the library. And also, I cant wait to get started reading Adam Roberts, I think I’m really going to like it judging by all you’ve said about his work. Bete is first, once I can make up my mind to crack its spine and not one of the ten thousand other books waiting for me on my tbr shelves.

    Anyway, getting a bit rambly here. Great list as usual, making notes for next library trip, huzzah, happy new year etc etc etc.

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    • Oh yes, you will definitely not go wrong reading the first four novels on this list; they are all pretty damn awesome. It’s been a good reading year! (even though we have both experienced a big slump.)

      I thought you had already mentioned Rama a long time ago, so I thought my mind was failing me when you mentioned it on Twitter again. I can’t blame you for falling asleep, as so many of the old white dude vintage SF narrators are so bland and dull sounding. But, as you said, it’s probably a decent way to power through Rama and ramp up the sensawunda parts, once you get past the dull narrator. Kind of makes me wish I had listened to it, instead of reading it.

      So, hello! And welcome back! Maybe we’ll hear more from you in 2017! Happy new year and all that (which it probably won’t be because politics is awful, but still)!

      Like

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