Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Top Nine Books Published in 2018

Some people do a top ten list, others do a top eleven (insert your Spinal Tap joke here), yet others may only do five. My list is 9 books long. Why? Partly to be a little bit different and partly because I want the tenth spot on my list to be reserved for that really great book which I simply did not get the chance to read during 2018. That really great book may also be something I have only heard whispers about and I may not discover for several more years. Whatever that tenth great book is, I’m holding a spot for it on my list.

Also, there is no doubt that this list, like every other list out there is built entirely on the combination of the books I've actually read with my own prejudices, taste, preferences, and the choices I made when selecting books to read across the breadth of 2018. That's really what we're saying when we say we've put together a list of the "Best Books of the Year". It's the best we've read, the best we can remember, the best based on what we appreciate in speculative fiction. One of the other best books I've read this year is Nicola Griffith's latest novel So Lucky (my review), but this is a speculative fiction blog focusing on more nerdy endeavors, so for the sake of theme I'll limit this list to science fiction, fantasy, and everything in between and around the edges. With that said, I adore Nicola Griffith's fiction and everyone should go read her 1993 science fiction novel Ammonite (my review).

This Top Nine List is more or less in order.  The top two slots are a complete lock, but ask me tomorrow and some titles may shift around a bit.  Whichever order the list is in, these are the nine novels published in 2018 which I feel were the strongest titles of the year.

1. The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor): From my review: "More than just achieving a sense of wonder, the science of The Calculating Stars is magic. Kowal brings the dream of spaceflight beyond the page and into readers' hearts."  Most years there is at least one book that becomes a novel of my heart, that engages the core of who I want to be as a reader, that thrills and delights me, and that showers me in the warmth of its wonder. This year that novel is Mary Robinette Kowal's The Calculating Stars.

Also from my review: "It's not just Elma overcoming everything stacked against her that makes The Calculating Stars such a fantastic read, it's the completely thrilling mundanity of a countdown towards a launch. It's the checklists and the waiting. It's tremendous and exhilarating. We've been on this journey with Elma for some four hundred pages and The Calculating Stars is beyond a sense of wonder. I'd say that it's magic, but it's science. It's near perfection." (my review)

2. The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager): Similar to Full Metal Jacket, The Poppy War is a novel split in two. The first part is Rin's arrival at Sinegard, her nation's highest military training school. She's an outsider, a nobody from nowhere with no family name. Kuang brings us through Rin's training, her singular drive to sacrifice anything, even herself, to survive and excel at the Sinegard. There's a very real sense of "if this is what I did to get here, what do you think I'll do to stay here?" It's brutal from the start. Kuang goes hard.  The second part  of the novel is the rumored war that everyone is training for. Kuang does not relent and it is simply excellent. (Adri's not quite a review)

3. Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga): From Paul's review: "There is plenty to love in Trail of Lighting, and Maggie as a main character is front and center the heart of the novel and she makes the novel sing. An indigenous woman granted supernatural powers that are complicated and make her an outsider by their very nature, Maggie’s life as a newly solo monster hunter is a fraught one."

Also: "The worldbuilding is top notch and a leading light of the power of #ownvoices. There is an authenticity to the myths and legends made supernatural manifest fact within the Sixth World that the author presents here. This is a post-apocalyptic world whose suipernatural denizens, threats and features felt like the author was truly delving deep into her own culture, understanding it and presenting it to us in context and the richness of what is on offer. And much of it is new to most readers and rich with details and ideas that I was very happy to have the author explore.  I particularly liked her interpretation of Coyote, the Trickster, who has an agenda for Maggie that only slowly becomes clear as the novel unfolds. But it is the things that go bump in the night, the entities that Maggic must encounter and fight, that shows the author’s invention the best." (Paul's review)

4. Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire ( Publishing): From my review: "Beneath the Sugar Sky is filled with wit and biting commentary on how children are perceived and all too often squeezed into boxes they don't belong in order to fit the ideas and dreams of their parents and other adults, and how pervasive that can be. It's also a delightful adventure story filled with charm and wonder and it's a book I did not quite want to end because I wasn't ready to say goodbye." (my review)

5. Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik (Del Rey): From Adri's review: "Despite its uncomfortable undertones, however, there's no question that this is one of the best books I've read in 2018 so far. As a technical accomplishment, it's excellent (except for the awkwardly stereotyped autistic-presenting character), hitting a perfect fairytale tone that weaves multiple character's lives together in a compelling way. There's plenty of kindness and positive relationships, especially between women and across cultures, to keep a reader company even during the story's darker turns. I recommend picking up Spinning Silver with eyes open and critical faculties engaged: much like that dark forest at the edge of the town, its not a place to be taken lightly, no matter how lovely it may look from the outside." (Adri's review)

6. Temper, by Nicky Drayden (Harper Voyager): I thought Prey of Gods was an excellent debut that showed Drayden's promise as a writer. Temper is Drayden leveling up. Everything that was good in Prey of Gods is better in Temper. In her review, Adri wrote that Temper was "a more focused story which instead channels its energy into a plot that soars precariously, like a skyscraper made out of playing cards holding up despite gravity saying otherwise. I came away from Temper entertained, impressed and more than a little confused, and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes their high tech fantasy with a heavy dose of inventive unpredictability." (Adri's review)

7. Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris): Set the third volume of a trilogy ten years after the second and have the primary viewpoint character be the resurrected famous genocidal general Shuos Jedao, except it is the significantly younger Jedao who has no memory of why he is famous, feared, or the strategies he might be expected to employ against Kel Cheris and adult Jedao with full memory. It's an interesting choice made by Yoon Ha Lee that fully pays off and makes Revenant Gun a satisfying conclusion to the Machineries of Empire space opera trilogy.

8. The Fated Sky, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor): I questioned myself whether to include The Fated Sky here. It is an exceptional novel, there is no question of that, but with The Calculating Stars already topping this list I didn't know if a second novel from the same series should take up another spot on the list.

"The Fated Sky may not have the same newness and sense of wonder that only a first book in a series can have, but it delivers in all the ways that matter. The raw joy of being in space is there. The amazement of landing on a new planet is palpable, where it doesn't matter if you are the first man or woman to place your foot on that soil. The simple fact of being there is wondrous and Mary Robinette Kowal manages to convey that emotion so perfectly the reader experiences it.  The Fated Sky stands well on its own, but when coupled with The Calculating Stars it is a masterpiece." (my review)

9. Taste of Wrath, by Matt Wallace ( Publishing): Attentive readers of Nerds of a Feather will remember how much I've loved Wallace's Sin du Jour novellas. Taste of the Wrath is the culmination of the seven volume journey that Matt Wallace has taken us own. It began with the "catering event of the week",  but built into a story of deep and wrenching emotion. Wallace has earned the ending here and Taste of Wrath is a truly satisfying conclusion to one of my favorite series. (my review)

As I mentioned in the introduction, for as many books as I read in a year, there is always something amazing that I missed and that I just didn't have time to get to. Or, as plugged in as I try to be, that I just haven't heard of (or heard enough about). As much as I wanted to, I did not read Red Moon (Kim Stanley Robinson), How Long Til Black Future Month (N.K. Jemisin), Semiosis (Sue Burke), Blackfish City (Sam J. Miller), Friday Black (Nana Adjei-Brenyah). The list of highly recommend and presumably stellar novels that I just didn't get to read this year is long and distinguished. That's the reason for the tenth spot on the list. 

Also it is worth noting the six books that just missed the list but were in serious contention: Space Opera (Catherynne M. Valente), Record of a Spaceborn Few (Becky Chambers), Armistice (Lara Elena Donnelly), Consuming Fire (John Scalzi), Mem (Bethany C. Morrow), State Tectonics (Malka Older),

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.