Thursday, January 1, 2015

The best books I read in 2014

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
My patience for epic fantasy waxes and wanes, but this one at least has a feminist sensibility and interesting treatment of gender. The conceit behind the world (different satellites rise and fall, giving different wizards powers, and also there are multiple worlds with the same people in them) are a little silly, but then again most epic fantasy has silly premises. I often heard this discussed in the same breath as The City of Stairs, but it's no contest - Hurley's book is far better.

The Blue Place, Stay, and Always by Nicola Griffith
Griffith had the excellent Hild out this year, but I enjoyed her Aud trilogy even more. It's Scandanavian noir crime, written by a Brit living in Seattle.

Cyclonopedia by Reza Negarestani
I started this book in 2012, put it down because in 2013 I was only reading books by women for a year, and finished it very slowly in 2014. It's not an easy book. The first 30 pages or so start off at a fairly brisk pace, promising you a horror novel about sentient Middle Eastern oil. Things quickly slow down and get ponderously theoretical. The theory doesn't hang together, though, and it finally becomes evident that it's a critique of postmodern theory (albeit one from a philosopher whose philosophy I haven't begun to try to understand, because there just isn't that much time) rather than a novel, per se. You have to decide for yourself if this sounds like something you'd like.

Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
Technically, I suppose this is military sci-fi, which is really not my genre. But after I read the first book, pretty much everything else in the sci-fi world feels obsolete. The narrator is a multiple-bodied spaceship, and the treatment of gender is, in some ways, even more interesting than Hurley's. (Think Left Hand of Darkness, except gender isn't even the point.)

Most trilogies suffer from the problem of second-volume let-down. The first book has it easy, in a way; everything about the world is new. It's like meeting and falling in love with a handsome stranger. And the final book has a (hopefully) satisfying conclusion, usually with plenty of action. Second books, however, tend to be characters we already know not succeeding in whatever quest they're after. Leckie gets around this, in a way, by deliberately narrowing the scope of the action. Book one takes place on multiple planets and in multiple time periods; book two is set in one place and linear in plot. By shrinking the scale, Leckie works with second-book challenges rather than against them.

Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camp and Raul the Third
I've been pushing this on a few friends. Yes, it's a graphic novel for kids: Talking animals build a lowrider that goes into space. Despite the "space" angle, it's more fantasy than sci-fi - it's no more scientific than The Back of the North Wind. It is, on the other hand, a lot more fun.

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