2017 Faves: Sci-Fi Novels

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.

  1. 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wasn’t contrived and the science fictional elements really evoked a lot of classic science fiction while not feeling outdated.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.


The Tuesday List: Time for a Change

This list is about regime change in sff.  Not rebels running around torching things, or dreaming of a better day, but fiction that actually deals with what happens when the ruling order forcibly changes.  It was a hard list to compile, because most people want aspirational stories, not hard truths, even authors, it seems.

  1. Crossroads (trilogy), by Kate Elliott

Elliott is one of the best world builders in fantasy, and Crossroads does  not disappoint.  These novels deal with not only the clash of worlds, but what it means when a foreign army marches into another nation and forcibly changes the way things are done, with only the brutal efficiency that can be managed by religious zeal and desperate fear.  And also there are giant eagles.

2. Robopocalypse, by Daniel H. Wilson


In this case, the humans start out on top, until some computers achieve ascendancy and decide the humans are too dangerous to keep around.  This is the story of the survivors of the original blow out, and how they adapt to a world where every machine is a potential murderer.

3. Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch #2), by Ann Leckie


In the fallout of Breq’s mission to kill Anaander Mianaai for her role in the destruction of Breq’s ship Justice of Toren, Breq must travel to a distant system where possible rebellion brews.  A sort of peace may now exist, but ripples of Mianaai’s duplicity are sparking all sorts of problems across Radch space and Breq must find the problems and quell them–in her own, not necessarily imperial, ways–before the empire falls apart.

4. The House of Shattered Wings, by Aliette de Bodard


Selene is doing her best to hold House Silverspires together after the mysterious disappearance of Morningstar, the most powerful of all the angels who fell from Heaven, but despite her best efforts, things are falling apart.  A series of mysterious deaths and magical failures make Silverspires ripe for plucking by the likes of House Hawthorn or even houses not controlled by Fallen.  This is the aftermath of regime change in one house, but the loss of Morningstar may mean the loss of ascendancy for all Fallen in Paris if the mystery is not solved.

5. Cloudbound(Bone Universe #2), by Fran Wilde


In this second of a trilogy, Kirit and Nat must contend with the consequences of their actions from Updraft, in which they revealed how the Spire and its Singers have been hiding the truth of the city from its inhabitants.  Although these secrets may have provided some safety and kept order–important for a populace who lives in the sky and for whom any large-scale disruption to trade could prove disastrous–it may also have led to the imminent collapse of the city structure and understanding of the city’s history.  Kirit and Nat are not welcomed as heroes, but looked upon with suspicion, forced out of the society they’d hoped to save, existing on the edges of the city and down in the damp cloudbound layers from which citizens usually never returned.

The Tuesday List: Imperialism, Boo

So this week is that favorite of holidays in the  U.S., Thanksgiving.  I say favorite because, of course, it’s predicated on the successful colonization of the North American Continent by mainly Puritan immigrants from the U.K., and therefore kind of a shitty thing to be celebrating.  Nevertheless, it persists.

In response, I’m going to try to put together a Tuesday List of books in which colonialism and imperialism are critically examined and generally come out the worse for it.  So here goes:

  1. Dominion of the Fallen books – House of Shattered Wings, House of Binding Thorns, by Aliette de Bodard


The setting is Paris after a magical war that all but shatters the city, and one of the main characters is a young man brought to France from Vietnam, a victim of former French colonization of Southeast Asia.  Cultures clash in these two books, between the fallen angels of the European religious landscape and the dragons of Southeast Asia and beyond.  These books deal with many topics, from intrigue and trust, to pain and resilience, to the ways in which humans use and exploit each other.

2. Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho

sorcerer_front mech.indd

Cho’s debut novel deals not only with imperialism, but with race-based slavery, as Zacharias is a former African slave, freed by his mentor when his magical abilities are revealed and held up as a superior example of his race.  On the other hand, Prunella Gentleman is the daughter of a woman of color most likely from Southeast Asia or the Pacific islands, and a white man from Europe.  Prunella’s journey deals with finding her history, while Zacharias’ is about dealing with the past that put him where he is and the present racism that keeps him from doing his job.

3. Imperial Radch series, by Ann Leckie


In a far future universe in which humans have solved long distance space travel and invented artificial intelligence, an empire exists whose sole purpose is to concur as many human systems as it can and bring justice, propriety, and benefit to all.  Of course, to do this the Radch must assimilate, force natives to change and accept the rule of a government far away, and above all defend its interests everywhere.  Though there are some benefits to being part of the Radch, such as an end to poverty, the loss of familiar traditions and beliefs, as well as the ways in which newly conquered systems are exploited, are at the heart of the trilogy, and among the motivations for Breq, a former ancillary in a human body who must learn to function now that she is no longer part of the massive AI of her ship.

4. A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar


Samatar’s debut novel deals with the conflicting vicissitudes of imperialism, beginning with the story of Jevick, son of a rich pepper merchant on the Tea Islands.  Jevick’s life, by colonial standards, is good, as he has access to wealth and learning, as long as he plays by rules laid out long before he was born.  But when Jevick desires to move beyond the small scope of his home islands, he learns that all the education and goodwill in the world can’t protect him from xenophobia and exploitation by powerful forces on the Olondrian mainland.  Jevick must learn to see through the glamour of knowledge and power and make his own decisions.

5. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison


My favorite part of this novel is the steampunk workers’ revolt, where Maia, the half-goblin child of the dead emperor, finds out that the reason he ascended the throne was because a group of engineers tried to blow up the entire royal family and Maia just happened not to be on the air ship.  This novel is a well-written fantasy of manners about an outsider, half-goblin half-elf, trying to learn how to be the ruler of an empire of elves.  There’s plenty more going on, though, to make you want it to be part of a series.




Fall Book Store Haul, 2017

Wah, I finally got out to my indie bookstore (where I will only ever order my paper books, as long as I live close enough to the area to drive there) to pick up two books I had on order, one a new release, another the second in a trilogy I started eons ago and will finally get to finish.

So, with the books I picked up earlier this fall, I present The Haul:

Stone in the Skull, by Elizabeth Bear


The Poisoned Blade, by Kate Elliott


Buried Heart, by Kate Elliott


Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie


Binti and Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor


And I also put in an order for a book I had meant to pre-order, but somehow forgot:

Horizon, by Fran Wilde

(leaving this image bigger because that cover…!)



The Tuesday List: Across the Universe

This week’s Tuesday list features books in which characters travel across the stars, whether to seek revenge, to see what’s out there, or to recall the past.  They’re a wide-ranging lot, but that’s the best part about the Tuesday List!

  1. Radiance, Cat Valente


Radiance is one of those books that dazzles with style, imagination, and pure guts, and makes you wonder just how the author was able to keep it all together long enough to finish.  It’s an alt-universe, surreal take on a world in which space travel became possible around the turn of the 20th century, when the moon was colonized before talking pictures were a thing, and the story of a man seeking to tell the final story of his daughter, a film-maker like him, and yet nothing like him.  It’s beatiful, melancholy, and more than a bit noir, a brilliant homage to groundbreaking science fiction and filmmaking a la A Trip to the Moon, the 1902 french silent film.

2. Planetfall, Emma Newman


Stumbling forth from a near-future that is only too familiar, the characters in Emma Newman’s Planetfall have made the perilous journey across the universe to a new planet, guided by what can only be an alien intelligence.  But it’s as much a pscyhological thriller as it is science fiction, and what Renata, a brilliant engineer in the field of 3D printing technology that can meet any conceivable need, knows is at the heart of it.

3. Noumenon, Marina J. Lostetter


Taking a nod from popular hard science fiction predecessors, Noumenon is a startling speculative work while at the same time being an introspective look at humanity and our search for meaning in the wider  universe.  Told in vignettes that skip forward through the generations, it packs thousands of years of history into one epic journey to a distant, unique star.

4. Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie


Revenge is a dish best served with tea.  The Raadch have colonized planet after planet, making use not only of superior military power, but the advanced technologies of cloning and artificial intelligence.  Breq used to be an entire ship, but now she is just one humanoid, determined to make the Raadch pay for a wrong committed long in the past, but one she can never forgive or forget.

5. The Stars Change, Mary Anne Mohanraj


One’s view of the stars may change, but human life continues on.  For a university professor and others on a planet dedicated to learning and research, conflict can tear some apart, but it can also bring them together.  Humans and non-humans alike experience joy, pain, and love in a story that really puts the spec into spec fiction.


SFF Books of 2017 I’m Excited to Read

Bear with me, these may not all be from this year, but I’m still excited for them!  I’m really bad with deadlines/pub dates.

  1. The Ship Beyond Time, by Heidi Heilig

The characters of The Girl From Everywhere really stuck with me, and I loved the way she plotted this time travel fantasy (I’m kind of a sucker for time travel), so I will definitely be checking out this sequel.  Plus the cover art!

2. All Systems Red, by Martha Wells.


This novel has gotten awesome reviews from SFF fans I trust.  Plus it’s got robots, in space, with snark.  What’s not to love?

3. Provenance, by Ann Leckie.


I finally acquired Ancillary Sword, which I mean to read soonish, and I loved Ancillary Justice for more reasons I can express in this teeny space, so anything she writes is on my auto-TBR list.

4. Amberlough, by Lara Elena Donnelly.


This novel makes me think fantasy noir roaring twenties.  It came out early in the year, but crops up on my Twitter feed from time to time, and every time I’m reminded I need to read this novel!

5. The Stone in the Skull, by Elizabeth Bear


Bear is one of my favorite authors, in any genre, and this novel is set in the same world as the Eternal Sky trilogy, only taking place in a different kingdom.  Her superior skill with narrative and character make Bear both versatile and readable, as she’s published in multiple sub-genres, both in short and long fiction formats.


So that’s just a taste of what I’m looking forward to reading from this year.  I’m sure I’ll have plenty  more to add to this list before the year’s out!


Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice is downright confusing
to read for the first hundred or so pages.  And that’s entirely the point.  In a universe-spanning tale of action and intrigue, Leckie
confronts—and forces the reader to confront—the idea of knowledge, particularly
self-knowledge, and how we can truly know anything, particularly ourselves.

as she refers to herself, is a person trekking across the universe on a
personal quest.  She is also a
ship, the Justice of Toren, in the
imperial fleet, watching everything her crew does.  She is the mind not only of the ship itself, but also of a
thousand bodies who assist her officers in their duties, maintain order, and
above all serve Anaander Mianaai.           

straight over the how of creating
real artificial intelligence and giving it emotion to boot, Leckie takes up the
ethics of the act.  In putting a
ship’s ancillaries—those human bodies who have been refitted to and connected
to the greater mind of the ship—in direct opposition to the ship itself, its
officers, ad the people of annexed worlds, Leckie explores how self-knowledge
is truly created and understood. 
Do we as contemporary humans understand ourselves wholly from a
subjective viewpoint, or only as separate and opposite from those around us, be
they  either sentient or
non-sentient?  She obliquely, and
then directly through one of the characters Breq encounters, asks whether
creating intelligence also creates a soul, and a separate will.

a story in which half the characters are different iterations of the same
person, Leckie does an outstanding job at characterization, imbuing her main
characters with that something that
makes a character unique and alive. 
Other than Breq, who is the point-of-view, Leckie doesn’t attempt to get
into the heads of her characters, letting their actions and interactions tell
their stories.  As in life, what is
assumed, what is said about someone, often tells just as much as the truth.

who enjoy modern space opera and military science fiction will enjoy Leckie’s
vision of a far-future inter-galactic empire, particularly those who enjoy the
vision and knowledge that Alistair Reynolds puts into his novels but want a
little more introspection in terms of character and motivation.  Those who love the exacting
anthropology of Ursula K. Le Guin or Elizabeth Bear’s science fiction will love
the long step into a new future that Leckie takes with her work.  Readers who enjoy explorations of self,
such as those created by Toni Morrison will surely find much to love in the
more cerebral aspects of Leckie’s work.