Rapture in Everything

Books of 2016 - Fiction

zblesk

I'd decided to write up a summary of the books I've read in 2016, so I can revisit them later. I'd already written one about non-fiction, here. The structure is largely the same: the best or the most interesting books are listed, sometimes with short notes or quotes of my reviews from Goodreads. I'll try to keep it short(ish), since there seems to be a lot of them here. I've listed the most most interesting books first, and divvied the rest into categories - but don't take them too seriously. (For example, I'm putting "The Long Earth" into sci-fi, but you could also argue it's fantasy.) First up, some of my faves:

Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville.

Loved it. The world was weird and grotesque, the language sometimes seemed that way, too - but somehow, Mieville pulled it off. Some ideas that would sound absurd and silly in other books fit well in here. Many topics are hinted at and explored.
I think the climax was a bit far-fetched and wanted to give it one star less, but then I realized the entire rest of the book was excellent, so - meh.

The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson

omg omg omg
where is the next one

edit: just found out the sequel isn't out yet, not that I'd expect any different from darn sanderson, aaaargh

The God Engines, by John Scalzi. A bold, enthralling rendition of a different kind of space-faring civlillization - one that runs on gods, inquisition and secrets. Packs quite a punch, for such a short novella.

Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson. An amazing novel, as well thought out and deeply researched as any Stephenson's book. It shows a view of historical events in the World War II from the point of view of a cryptologist, and weaves it with a plot line set into the nineties. Historical fiction done very, very well.

The Diamond Age: or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, by Neal Stephenson. Just as exciting and thrilling and interesting as Cryptonomicon, but this time it's a sci-fi. I can't even count all the interesting ideas Stephenson managed to cram into the books. (Like the Neo-Victorians. That was probably my most favourite.)

The Man Who Sold the Moon, The Roads Must Roll and a few others from the Future History by Robert A. Heinlein. They were good. After Starship Troopers, which didn't live up to the hype, this one has shown me why Heinlein was so popular. Many of the ideas are outdated and seemed rusty at best, but after enduring them for a while, it got better, and I still enjoyed the stories.

Literary Lapses, by Stephen Leacock.

Great. The style reminded me of Three Men in a Boat, and I liked that one as well.

Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut. To quote my GR review:

What the hell did I just read?!

This was probably a weird point to start with Vonnegut's work, since this entire novel is his cleansing himself from the past, which was made clear right in the introduction

I don't even know how one should write about a book like this. Most of the narration is in third person, except when the author, directly entering the plot, narrates from the first person.

There is a scene where the author and all the important characters meet in a cafe. The author doesn't put down his dark glasses, because "the show is in his head, anyway." When the barman looks at him for too long, the phone rings and barman has to pick it up. The author quickly needs to make up someone who placed the call and write it down quickly, too, in order to avoid suspicion.

Then there is the whole penis size thing. At one point he kinda just decides to start stating the length and diameter of the male characters' penises. And the breast-waist-hip circumferences for women.

Let me just say, I've never before read a book where a female character is introduced and described as "She had thirty-six-inch hips, a twenty-ine-inch waist and a thirty-eight-inch bosom at the time of her death. Her husband had a penis seven and a half inches long and two inches in diameter."

Also, there are the illustrations. I guess just have a scroll through the book and look. http://irishsecure.com/books/Vonnegut, Kurt - Breakfast Of Champions.pdf

I especially liked the explanations interspersed throughout the narrative - as if the reader were an alien that might not know. Often they're just statements of facts; ofen they're scathingly cynical.

"Vietnam was a country where America was trying to make people stop being communists by dropping things on them from airplanes.""

"Most other countries didn't have doodley-squat. (...) They had too many people and not enough space. They had sold everything that was any good, and there wasn't anything to eat anymore, and still the people went on fucking all the time.
Fucking was how babies were made."

"He closed his draperies. He adjusted the heating and ventilating system. He slept like a lamb.
A lamb was a young animal which was legendary for sleeping well on the planet Earth. It looked like this: (drawing of a lamb)"

Sometimes, a point was made via a fictional book, written by the story's protagonist, Kilgore Trout. One of them goes like this:

"As for the story itself, it was entitled "The Dancing Fool." Like so many Trout stories, it was about a tragic failure to communicate.
Here was the plot: A flying saucer creature named Zog arrived on Earth to explain how wars could be prevented and how cancer could be cured. He brought the information from Margo, a planet where the natives conversed by means of farts and tap dancing.
Zog landed at night in Connecticut. He had no sooner touched down than he saw a house on fire. He rushed into the house, farting and tap dancing, warning the people about the terrible danger they were in. The head of the house brained Zog with a golf club."

Uh. So read it, I guess. Or don't. I don't know. I think I liked it.

The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.

Wow, I've just started, but I'm hooked. It's beautiful and the idea is great.

Update: it was great from start to finish. Will definitely read the rest of 'em.

Muse of Fire, by John Scalzi.

Short and excellent. Read it.

Piknik u cesty (Roadside Picnic), by Boris, Arkadij Strugatsky. I'm glad I finally got around to reading this seminal Russian sci-fi - it lived up to the expectations. (Also, if you've ever heard the term "stalker", either from games or other pop-cultural places denoting people who illegally wander danger zones - this book is where the term came from. And yes, they are actually called 'stalker' (сталкер) in the original book.)

Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven.

It has the slower pacing of the old sci-fi, and the conception of a study in apocalypse. There are many parallel storylines unfolding long before the apocalypse itself - they take up maybe a half of the book, and the authors use them to illustrate various people's stances and behaviours in the face of a possible (if unlikely) apocalypse. This is one of the stronger points of the book - the authors painstakingly show how different the behaviour of a politician, an optimistic amateur astronomer, or a thug (among many others) are.

Then, when the calamity inevitably hits, the authors describe it through the vantage points of many of the characters.

And then there is the fallout. The last part of the book is set in the immediate 'after' - people trying to survive, sometimes cooperating, sometimes competing.

So all in all, while it isn't a modern novel, an action-packed piece to plow through in a single afternoon, it is thorough in its imagery and really interesting.

(Incidentally: in the build-up phase before the calamity, it was still predicted that the Hammer will probably not strike the Earth. But it was not just a cheap, throwaway line: if it didn't hit and the book ended shortly after that, it'd make sense and it'd still be a good book.)

Dishonorable mention: Stony Man Doctrine, by Dick Stivers. This was my first, and also probably the last book from the Stony Man Doctrine series. My first association with it is the smug belief that my review is better than the book was. 😝

America is cool! Those damn ruskies spent 20 years uniting every (and I mean EVERY) terrorist cell in order to bring the US down! Protect the Democracy! America!

The plot is bland, there's tons of gunfire, each and every detail about every piece of equipment is mentioned and repeated (even in cases as "the terrorist shot from {manufacturer and name of the gun} {caliber of rounds} {type of rounds, in this case hollow point}, but they just glanced the bumper." Why did I need to know all that, if nothing happens?!)

Speaking of which - terrorists. Everywhere. In every sentence that isn't about Guns or America. There are pakistanis, israelis, japanese bosses and everything is lead by Russians, of course. One exception - there are revolutionaries in Cuba who want to OVERTHROW COMMIES and FIGHT FOR THEIR COUNTRTY AND DEMOCRACY. Those are nice.

If I hear "m16 m203" one more time I'm gonna hurl all over my camo cargo pants, tactical boots with super secret knife holster on the inside of the tigh, but I'm gonna miss the Heckler & Koch MARK 23 semi-automatic pistol with a laser aiming module and a suppressor, because I always keep it in my shoulder holster - that way it's closer to my heart.

The King in Yellow, by Robert W. Chambers.

I've read this because I've also heard it's what inspired Lovecraft. And the connection really seems obvious - from the narrative style to the themes used. There even is a forbidden book, but unlike the horrible Necronomicon, this one is a screenplay called the King in Yellow, which also serves as an element connecting the first four stories.

But as the book progresses, the themes also shift from supernatural suspense to generic-seeming romance. And most of the latter ones just weren't that good.

And now the rest of 'em, by categories. Please keep in mind that these aren't the underdogs - those didn't make it into this list. They just fell victim to my poor attepts at bringing some structure into this wall of text.

Sci-fi

Those were the books that I think deserved a special mention - and now the rest from the sci-fi category. Note this is not all I've read - just those good enough to mention/recommend.

The Vatta's War series by Elizabeth Moon. I've written about it way too much already.

That pretty much sums it up. It's a great story, set in an interesting universe. I definitely want to read more of the series.

Torchship, by Karl K. Gallagher. A well-paced space adventure. The audiobook's narrator (Mrs. Gallagher, if memory serves) wasn't much good, though.

Selected Stories of Phillip K. Dick, by - surprisingly - Philip K. Dick. While set in various settings, they deal a lot with war, its fallout, and perhaps most importatntly, issues of identity.

The Running Man by Richard Bachman/Stephen King. This is probably more of a dystopic thriller or horror than sci-fi, but never mind. It was well-paced, engaging and fun.

Starship Eternal, by M.R. Forbes. Not bad, and featuring some mysterious time loops.

Was it the best book ever? Maybe not, but I'm feeling optimistic and generous, and it really was fun. Tempted to give the highest rating for that. Not difficult, not a hard sci-fi - just a fun ride.

Voice from the Edge, vol 1: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, by Harlan Ellison. There were multiple great stories, including for example A Boy and His Dog.

Out of the Silent Planet, by C.S. Lewis.

The sci-fi parts didn't age that well. (The spaceship is imagined basically as a flying Victorian house. That gets lots of heat and blinding light from unblocked sun.)
But at the novel's core are thoughts about cultural differences and morality, and these are still interesting enough.

Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson.

For what appears to be a genuine attempt at hard sci-fi, the science at times seemed so shabby that I couldn't suspend my disbelief. For me, this was mostly prominent in the first part - the space voyage to Mars and establishment of the first colony. When you read something about how NASA prepares their astronauts, or read something like Hadfield's Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth, and see how much drilling, contingency planning, and yet more drilling they do, the astronauts in Red Mars seemed laughable.

I don't mind unrealistic sci-fi: I've read and loved many of those. What bothered me here was the arguable veracity in a book that wanted to appear rigorously scientific.

But either I got used to it, or it wasn't as prominent in the latter parts of the book. All in all, I enjoyed it quite a lot. The characters were interesting. And if I decide to read the sequel, it will be mostly to see what Hiroko will do.

Down on the Farm and The Jennifer Morgue, by Charles Stross. On GR about The Jennifer Morgue:

I still liked the book, but less than the first one. Maybe because the novelty wasn't as strong now, and I started noticing the things I forgave easily in the first one; things like too much unnecessary technobabble, et cetera.

Accelerando, by Charles Stross. The first non-Laundry book of Stross' that I'd read.

Not sure how to rate this book, really. The topics were often reminiscent of Egan's Diaspora, but somehow, this didn't work as well for me. I've expected a lot more from it, given how many times I've read how amazing it is.

There were some interesting ideas, though. In some parts, I thought I'd give it an "I really liked it" 4/5 rating, but overall, I'm not sure.

Fantasy

Skyborn, by David Dalglish. A great fantasy. And the world sounded like something I'd build in Minecraft, which is a good thing.

Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest. As good as you've heard it is.

Blue Moon Rising, by Simon R. Green

When the book started, I was a bit worried it'd just be a collection of jokes and trope subversions. There was plenty of that, but also much more.

The plot with its grand finale was pretty bland and standard, but the getting there was nice - a wannabe "Hero" prince going on quests, then losing his illusions, then going on quests because he always honored his duties. The characters were likable.

If you've read enough fantasy and want a book that'll mix up the "tried and true" patterns in new and refreshing ways, with bits of humour, a friendly dragon, a fearful unicorn, and a second son as the main protagonist (which is rare in itself), you won't go wrong with this one.

I've discovered the new novel Frogkisser! by Garth Nix this week, and the description reminded me of Blue Moon Rising. I have doubts whether it'll be as good, though.

Lirael and Abhorsen, by Garth Nix - books 2 and 3 from the Abhorsen series. I've really enjoyed them - I like the world and the characters as well. Which can not be said about:

Clariel, by Garth Nix. The fourth instalment in the Abhorsen series.

Wait, on second thought - I'm giving it one star less.
Because it sucked. Just wasn't that entertaining.
It got a bit more interesting around chapter 26 (out of 33).

Also, when I started reading, I've checked out various cover art versions. By the bye they commented on how the painter wanted to get Clariel and the mask she's holding just right.
... Aaaaand that was enough for me to figure out the ending of the darn book. WTF, dudes.

Explanation with hypothetical spoilers (but not really):
In the 2nd (and IIRC, also 3rd) book in this series, there was a minor (evil) necromancer character called Chlorr of the Mask.
This book, 4th in the series, but written as a prequel, is called "Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen". Abhorsens are the good anti-necromancers. The Lost Abhorsen, Clariel, is displayed holding a mask.
Gee, wonder how SHE will end up! Oh, will she, or will she not succumb to the temptation of dark (Free) magic? DARE I GUESS?!

Let's finish this with a quick Q&A:
Q: I really liked the first three books in the series. Should I read this one?
A: Probably not.

There is also a fifth book in the series - again about Lirael. I might read that one at some point. I'm not decided yet.

Heart of Stone, Hands of Flame, and House of Cards, by C.E. Murphy, from the Negotiator Trilogy/Old Races Universe. I've liked them quite a lot. The first one from this universe I've ever read was Baba Yaga's Daughter, it was awesome, and made even more so by the amazing voice of Anna Parker-Naples.

1:

This is the first book in the Old Races series and in the Negotiator trilogy, however, I've read Baba Yaga's Daughter and The Year of Miracles before, books 4 and 0.2 respectively, so I'd wondered how it'd influence my experience.

I'm surprised to say that it mostly just improved my enjoyment in places. For example, there was a scene when the name of Eliseo Daisani was dropped for first time, and all of the characters went "uh oh, he spells trouble." But knowing him beforehand I was in awe, thinking "you dudes have NO idea..."
And I don't think there were any surprises spoiled because of my prior knowledge.

I liked the book, but I've liked Baba Yaga's Daughter more. Maybe the author improved his writing between the books, maybe the interconnected short stories were a better form of expression, or maybe it was just because Anna Parker-Naples' narration helped a lot. :P

2:

In the end, I'm glad I've read Baba Yaga's Daughter and Year of Miracles before this trilogy. The story seemed more fleshed out (because I knew the background already) and gave it a satisfying conclusion.

The Desert Spear, The Painted Man and Brayan's Gold, by Peter V. Brett, from The Demon Cycle. I'd failed to notice that I were starting with the second book in the series - once again. But maybe I'd even liked it more this way - I think the second book was better, and it gave me a good idea about the world of the first book going in.

I really liked it. Having read the second book in the series before, I think I like that one more. But this one is still great.
Recommended to anyone who likes complex character development with deep personal histories. (All the main characters are observed from childhood until adulthood.)
There are also other "minor" things to like, such as good plot and excellent world-building.

Disarmed and Dangerous, by Tim Waggoner. A humorous story about a zombie detective in a rotting, fantastic city.

Trpaslíci (Dwarves), by Markus Heitz. The book began with a foreword about working with fantasy and creating original things, in an environment that was more or less strictly predefined by Tolkien. That introduced it quite well and, in a sense, summed up many of the points I came to like or dislike while reading it.

The first half was good, with some great parts. Then it got progressively better. And the ending was quite satisfying.

This also was one of those weird books - when I don't want to put it down while I'm reading, but once I stop, I don't feel any rush to continue on.


(Cover image stolen from here, as tradition dictates.)