I’ve read 12 books this year. That’s probably a record for me lately. I know it doesn’t compare to Sarah’s epic number (what? 200? 300? 27,000?! more?), but, hey – for me? Pretty damned good. That’s essentially a book a month.
And, to be fair, I listened to a lot of audio books, which seems to be working really well for me. I’m happy to get back to consuming fiction again, no matter what the medium. Some of the books have been good, others fan-freaking-tastic, and some, well, left me scratching my head. Which is pretty par for the course.
Lookit me, using golf metaphors…
As part of my effort to get back into regular blogging, I thought I might talk a little bit about these books. Yes, I’ve been in a science fiction / military scifi / space opera mode of late, as reflected by this list. Yes, once I got started on The Expanse, I couldn’t stop!
Yes, despite my best efforts, there be spoilers here – so if you are thinking about reading the books of The Expanse by James SA Corey, for example, and don’t want to know too much about them before you do, then I suggest you bookmark this page and then go read the books before you come back.
Consider yourself warned.
1. Leviathan Wakes by James SA Corey
I’ve had the paperback forever. I bought the eBook some time after forever ago, and cracked it open not once, but twice, and kept getting distracted and never fully immersed in the story. And it was making me angry. Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like-okay, okay, I know – cliche. Shut up.
I only read good things about this book online, and it had great word of mouth. On top of that, Ty and Daniel are really nice guys and having met them a couple times in person, I really wanted to give their book another go. Enter the audio book. Narrated by Jefferson Mays, it quickly sucked me in and hooked me to the point where I was listening in the car, at lunch, and well into the night. Every night. Basically, any moment I had to myself, I was into this book in a huge way, and I loved it.
What do we call this? I know we have to label everything. Including the label maker. Is it space opera? I think so. I’ve tried various space operas before and they’ve been hit or miss with me. Mostly miss. This one struck a chord. You have two point of view characters switching chapter by chapter; Holden and Miller.
Holden is from Earth, former military turned essentially into a contractor on a cargo hauler. His ship, the Canterbury, hauls ice from Saturn’s rings to the belt. When that ship is destroyed, the crew murdered, Holden is left floating in a shuttle with the remnants of the crew; Naomi, Alex, Amos and Shed, and a thirst for vengeance to bring those responsible to justice. This leads him and his new crew down a dark path as they try to figure out who was behind the death of the Canterbury, and why.
Which brings us to Miller. Belter born, Miller works security on Ceres Station. Basically, he’s a cop. There’s a lot of corruption on the station. He watches as the solar system starts to tear itself apart over the death of the Canterbury, as the criminal backbone of Ceres Station vanishes inexplicably, and the Outer Planets Alliance, or OPA, moves in and quietly takes over. And all the while, a stupid, throwaway case handed to him occupies his mind. Julie Mao. An Earther from a rich family whose gone missing. Her parents want her back and are willing to pay him to kidnap her and return her home. But she’s gone, and the OPA might be involved, and then there’s Holden stirring up the whole system with his talk of Mars maybe being involved with the death of the Cant.
We get to watch as everything very slowly breaks down. Belters and Earthers and Martians, all from the same stock, yet inherently different in ways each thinks incredibly important. The whole thing starts with this explosion, and then it’s ups and downs, back and forth until the two POV characters come together. At this point, I thought I knew what would happen. The path was clear to me, and maybe that was the point and the whole reason why the authors pulled the rug out from under me and took me and the characters in wildly different directions.
I’m being intentionally vague. How I’ll manage to continue that throughout this post is beyond me given what happens in subsequent books. I love love love this book. Love the characters, the story, the way the authors delve into dark waters and bring us out the other side.
At the end of Leviathan Wakes, I was breathless and shocked and happy all at the same time. I had to have more. Luckily for me, they kept on writing…
Side Note: I have actually listened to this book twice now. TWICE!
2. Caliban’s War by James SA Corey
Two words: Bobbie Draper. Two more words: Holy shit!
Take everything in Leviathan Wakes and multiply it by awesome and you have Caliban’s War. I wondered how things were going to work, character-wise (intentionally vague!) following the events of the first book. Enter more POV Characters! And it worked so freaking well! The world gets bigger, the mysteries deeper and I still loved the characters for all their flaws. There were also as many twists and turns as the first book, which is great. You know what they say about sequels? Well, screw them. This book floored me.
War is blooming. Holden and crew are like a private army protecting the Belt. The protomolecule is up to no good. Tensions are high throughout the solar system. The authors have a fantastic ability to weave all these seemingly disparate elements together into a compelling narrative. And with the way the ‘world’ grows in this book, that’s no small feat. Again, I wonder what to really call this book. There’s political intrigue, military adventure, police procedural and more. And it works.
Once again, this book left me wanting more. And once again, the authors delivered…
3. Abaddon’s Gate by James SA Corey
Let’s take everything we know about The Expanse and flip it. Let’s add more alien crap. Let’s toss Holden and his crew into the center of everything. Oh, and, how about we haunt him with a ghost?
Everything becomes bigger. All the stakes are bigger. There’s more political maneuvering going on. More revealed about the protomolecule and the aliens who created it, and why. Add in an agenda of personal vengeance against Holden himself, and you suddenly have an incredibly intense and personal story.
Did I mention the ghost?
4. Cibola Burn by James SA Corey
What happens to the solar system when Earth and Mars aren’t the only inhabitable worlds any more? What happens when, suddenly, you have a thousand possible planets to live on?
Imagine the Oklahoma Land rush in space. With corporations and governments in the mix, and loads of politics. Against that backdrop, you have Holden and crew trying to stop people from killing each other over one such planet while discovering there’s more to the alien protomolecule than they ever thought before. A whole planet is waking up, and the consequences could be staggering.
The tension is high in this one, and I was on the edge of my seat most of the time. Plus – slugs that get into your eyes. *shiver*
5. Nemesis Games by James SA Corey
I imagine the conversation went something like this:
Daniel/or Ty: What do you want to do next?
Daniel/or Ty: Let’s really bring it down to a personal level.
Daniel/or Ty: Brilliant!
This is the one we’ve kinda been waiting for. Past books have told the story of the Rocinante through the eyes of her captain, James Holden. Now, we break out and get stories from and about that crew; Naomi, Amos and Alex, who all do a much better job, all things considered, on their own than their captain.
Throughout this book is the very real threat that the Rocinante’s crew might not survive to come back together again.
With Alex, we get a better view of life on Mars. Naomi shows us a deeper look at the Belt, their culture and the differences between them and everyone else that tends to cause so much friction. Amos is, well, Amos, and when he returns to Earth, we get a broader understanding of the planet beyond the UN facilities we’ve seen thus far.
In this book, the unthinkable happens. How the human race will survive moving forward will be a very interesting read…
*stares at them without blinking*
6. Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells
I struggled with this one. It came to me as a recommendation from Audible based on having read The Expanse books listed above.
A NASA expedition is sent to investigate a strange object in our solar system they’ve been tracking since the 60’s. In the nowish/near future, they find a ship/structure complete with an oxygen rich atmosphere and artificial gravity. Dr. Jane Holloway is recruited to be part of the mission. Her expertise? Languages. NASA believes the object to be uninhabited, but the crew quickly finds this to be untrue. She clashes with the military commander who sees the alien ship and its occupant(s) as a threat to Earth. She has allies among the crew, most especially the man who helped recruit her in the first place. Stuff ensues.
You would think, based on this synopsis, that this would be a great book. And it might be to a different reader (as is sometimes the case). I struggled with it, though, because I think it was intended as more of a romance novel with a science fiction setting. There’s nothing wrong with that, far from it, but for me, I finished it scratching my head.
7. Side Jobs by Jim Butcher
I actually have this as a hard cover, but with my recent foray into the Dresden Files Role Playing Game, I found myself wanting to hear the audiobook version, so I used an Audible credit and snagged it.
James Marsters (Spike from Buffy) is the voice of Harry Dresden. He owns that character like Conroy owns Batman, and Hamill owns The Joker. I can’t think about Harry Dresden without Marsters voice.
Side Jobs has some fantastic stories in it, including one of my favorites, told from the POV of Karin Murphy. It takes place immediately following the events of Changes, and, holy crap!
…are you reading it yet?
8. The Lost Fleet: Dauntless by Jack Campbell
I assume when people say ‘military science fiction’, they mean something like this.
Well. This was interesting. Very detailed. Reminded me of a turn by turn strategy game with relativity thrown in for good measure.
Kind of a twist on Buck Rogers, a fleet of Alliance ships moving through Syndic territory for a sneak attack come across Captain John “Black Jack” Geary’s lifepod floating in space. They snag and revive him (before the book starts, actually). When all the senior officers are executed by the Syndic, the Fleet Commander’s final orders put Geary in charge of the fleet, who now find themselves on the run.
In the hundred years since Geary went missing, his legend has grown and influenced the military culture. Now, daring and glory are more important than military discipline, resulting in the Alliance losing a war they don’t really remember why they’re even fighting any more. Geary has to reintroduce discipline and order, in direct opposition to what people expect from him, or want in general, if he’s going to see his fleet safely back to Alliance space. Every decision is questioned by his officers who are used to a more committee-like structure when it comes to command decisions.
All of which is compelling. But I found myself feeling bogged down by the step by step fleet battle stuff, and the character voices weren’t very strong. I’ve talked about this online and many people say it evens out and gets much better with the subsequent novels. I get that. Writers continue to grow over time, and often their first efforts pale compared to later works.
9. Diving Into The Wreck by Kristine Kathryn Rush
This one took me by surprise. A different kind of space opera in my humble opinion.
Our POV character, known throughout the book simply as ‘Boss’, loves to find ancient ships drifting through space, derelicts and wrecks. She dives them like people used to do with wrecks at the bottom of the oceans of Earth. She’s not particularly interested in salvage, though, on occasion, she will salvage a wreck or take tourists through one for pay. No, for her, it’s more about history.
When she comes across an impossible ship, a ship that shouldn’t be where it is, she becomes obsessed with how it came to be so far out, where it came from and how it has survived for so long. That mystery drives her actions, causing her to take risks she wouldn’t normally take and, ultimately, costs her the lives of crew members when she decides to dive into the wreck. But even that loss can’t squash her need to learn the truth about the ship, and what connects it to her own past.
I’ve known about this series for a long time, and I am kicking myself for not picking it up sooner. I love Rush, and this book is wonderful.
10. Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon
Another book that took me by surprise. Following my famished consumption of The Expanse, I was looking for something different but still scifi. I was torn between something by Kristine Kathryn Rush and Elizabeth Moon. As you can see, I ended up getting both.
This reminded me of something Modesitt would write for his Recluse books. In fact, I think he has written something like this book, but I like the way this book handles trade and the business of everyday life in a different way.
When Kylara Vatta is drummed out of the Academy and the military career she dreamt of slips through her fingers, she returns to her family and the business they have built; Vatta Transport Ltd. She attacks her new position as ship captain with the same meticulous detail drilled into her at the academy, and quickly finds herself engaging in side-contracts in search of profit. But those contracts lead her ship off course and into a war fought by revolutionaries and paid mercenaries. Cut off from her family and their business, she has to make a new deal, one that will see her ship and crew safely out of the warzone but brings mutineers onto her ship intent on removing her from command…
When I first started this book, I wasn’t sure. Wasn’t sure it would hook me, if it would be interesting. I was wrong. I fell and I fell hard. Loved that it was different, that it took a look a very practical look at what the future could be, of how things could work. Everything is connected, from the crew on your ship to the way you communicate to the planet’s you visit, and the thing that connects them is trade, commerce, profit.
Didn’t dawn on me until I typed that last sentence, but, it’s a very Ferengi way to look at things.
11. The Martian by Andy Weir
If you haven’t read this yet, may I suggest grabbing the audio book?
Because – no offense to Matt Damom, but – R.C. Bray IS Mark Watney.
Go listen now.
I’ll wait here.
Are you done yet?
Sigh. Just hit me up on Twitter to discuss.
12. Robot Uprisings edited by John Joseph Adams
I have made no secret with the fact I struggle with short stories. I struggle to write them, and to read them. With that in mind, I’m always looking for short stories that do resonate with me (no short order). One of my favorite collections remains The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by John Joseph Adams.
As such, when he suggested to me on Twitter that I give Robot Uprisings a shot, I listened.
Glad I did. Really enjoyed this one. The overall concept sets it up for you, and each story takes a different look at how robots might rise up.
Interesting stuff and well worth your time.
Okay -time for some awkward stuff. Specifically:
Books I Started But Did Not Finish:
1. Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
I am so lost. I think I need some sort of timeline or roadmap. Just as I started to get into a character, I’d suddenly be somewhere else and wasn’t sure if it was the future or the past. I haven’t given up on this, but I think I need uninterrupted time and complete quiet in order to read it well. Like a weekend in the mountains without Internet…
2. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Normally, I enjoy a densely written epic fantasy.
*points to bookshelves*
This one has been very rough for me to get through. Part of it is the head-hopping. Modern science fiction and fantasy editors frown upon it, so I don’t see it much anymore. When I do, it throws me out of the story.
I mentioned on a couple of podcasts that some muggle friends kept suggesting these spyfy thrillers they were reading. I caved and got one. The first chapter jumped pov, head to head, nearly paragraph to paragraph in a crowded room and my eyes crossed and I couldn’t read it.
Rothfuss doesn’t do that all the time, but when he does, it’s like a cold splash of water and I have to take a breath.
Haven’t given up, but this is a difficult one for me.
3. The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe
John DeNardo has talked before about the experience of reading a book, of everything going on in your life interrupting and causing you issues while trying to read a book.
That’s where I feel I’m at right now with this one.
It’s very dark, and with everything going on in my life right now, I think I need to not have darkness in my escape, if that makes sense.
So, for now, I’ve put this back on the shelf. I’ll return to it when things are a bit brighter.
4. Shadowline by Glen Cook
I started this but it didn’t immediately hook me, so I moved onto other books.
I keep it close and will probably crack it open again sometime in 2016.
Well. That’s it. Not bad for me, really. And doesn’t include all the graphic novels I read for my Kirkus column this year!
What have you read this year?