As my Scottish Hogmanay vacation comes to an end, it seems like a good time to make another list of my favorite reads of 2017. This time it’s science fiction novels. Remember, these are books I actually read in 2017, not necessarily published in that year, but I’ll try to include publication information for each.
- Planetfall, by Emma Newman (Nov 2015)
Though this came out in late 2015, it took me till December of 2016 to pick it up, and was one of my first reads of 2017. It took my by surprise, really, as I knew little about it except the title and that I’d been hearing about it for a while. The level of Newman’s writing is equaled by few in this milieu; the suspense wasn’t contrived and the science fictional elements really evoked a lot of classic science fiction while not feeling outdated. It was, in fact, a very sensitively written book, and the motivations of the main character in particular were a visceral gut-punch as they unfolded throughout the story. It’s a very forward-looking novel with both hope and despair, and that’s the kind of science fiction I like.
2. The Raven Strategem, by Yoon Ha Lee (June 2017)
I love science fiction that challenges me, and Lee’s work always does. This is the second in The machineries of Empire and it had just as many twists and turns, just as many hints and secrets as the first. I’ve always felt that much of good world building is in deciding what not to explain, and this series really satisfies in that way. I want to wonder, I want to use my imagination–as in horror, sometimes what gets left unsaid is the best catalyst for creativity–and The Raven Strategem really pushed me to engage with the world and the story it was telling.
3. The Wanderers, by Meg Howrey (March 2017)
This novel sort of came out of nowhere for me. It requested it through NetGalley, probably forgot about it for a while, then picked it up one day when I was looking for something to read. It really reads as more of a thought experiment, or series of short story sketches all woven together into a big I Wonder. As much as it is interested in the science of space travel, it really probes the psychology of space travel and how we engage with something so completely alien to us–namely the vacuum itself.
4. An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon (October 2017)
I’m always fascinated by fiction that explores what it’s like to live on a ship traveling through space, rather than just telling an adventure story that happens to happen in space, so this novel really grabbed me right from the first page. It took me two or three tries before I checked it out of the library, but I’m glad I did. It’s in many ways an own-voices story of the people often forgotten in mainstream science fiction–those who are not white, hetero, cis, male–and proof, if it were ever needed, that all stories can be compelling, complete, and contain multitudes with which to identify. Again, in addition to being beautifully written it challenges with all that’s left untold.
5. Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie (October 2014)
A person that’s a ship, a ship that’s a person. A person who’s a mind graft of a thousand-times cloned person hundreds of years old. An old menace, a new threat, connections made and broken. Sometimes it seems that Ann Leckie’s fiction was made just for me. I’ll never tire of a universe in which male isn’t the default, in which the definition of human is more than just meat and emotion. This time it’s not a story of revenge, but one of putting things back together, looking for a way to move on, and it’s just as compelling as Ancillary Justice.