A bunch of authors, editors, critics and booksellers discuss their science fiction, fantasy and horror picks of the year.
Some books got a nod from more than one panelist. This year those were Emily St. John Mandel Station Eleven, Ken Liu Grace of Kings, Kim Stanley Robinson Aurora, and Neal Stephenson Seveneves.
Below are each panelist's recommended books, and his or her comments about why they are worth reading.
John DeNardo recommends
Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Second Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois. If you don't read short fiction, here are 3 reasons why you should read this collection. 1. "The Regular" by Ken Liu. I made a mistake of starting it late at night. it pulls you in, and you can't wait to find out what happens next. The way he does it, alternating viewpoints. The way he reveals these plot twists. 2. Rachel Swirsky "Grand Jeté (The Great Leap)". A pinocchi'esque story about father and inventor whose daughter has cancer, so he transfers her memories into a lookalike automaton. It is heartbreaking, but not for a reason you think. It is very moody and emotional. 3. Nancy Kress "Yesterday's Kin", also sold as a short novel by Tachyon. A story of first contact -- a ship landed in New York, and has been there for several weeks, and nobody is able to make contact, because the ship is surrounded by a force field. A geneticist is called to make contact. She also has family issues. The aliens affect her family and relationships.
Emily St. John Mandel Station Eleven. It is is a great character study of people. For our muggle friends, who don't like science fiction, this is a very accessible book -- it is something we could share with our friends mainstream readers. (Also recommended by Justin Landon.)
Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany, edited by Nisi Shawl & Bill Campbell.
Neal Stephenson Seveneves.
John DeNardo. One of the things I like about science fiction is worldbuidling, and Seveneves is stuffed with it. I even thought there was too much worldbuilding. I never thought I would say it about any SF. But you'll learn about orbital mechanics in a way that you'll never think you are learning about orbital mechanics.
Willie Siros. It is Stephenson's best work since Baroque Cycle. It is Moonfall done right. Bad stuff happens, and mankind doesn't step up to the plate well. It's not really apocalyptic, and it ends with a more hopeful ending than you would think halfway through the book. It is amazingly well-written, very tight, more accessible than his other books.
Andy Weir The Martian. It's all about problem-solving. John DeNardo could especially relate to it because he's an engineer by day, and engineering is all about solving problems. In "The Martian" you don't feel like you're getting a science lesson. And it is very positive, at least for someone who is stuck alone on Mars. The most the character would say is "I'm not feeling up to it today", so you know what he is going through, but it's not in your face.
Justin Landon recommends
Joe Abercrombie Half a King, Half the World and Half a War (forthcoming). Justin Landon is a sworn fanboi of Joe Abercrombie. 'Nuff said.
Bradley P. Beaulieu Twelve Kings in Sharakhai -- Middle Eastern-flavored world; protagonist is 18-year-old woman who is a gladiator and a smuggler.
Becky Chambers The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. It was self-published before it was published traditionally. It's like Firefly, but better. Cleverer, more charming, more real. It is social science fiction about a family living on a spaceship, and how they deal with relationships and xenophobia.
(Forthcoming) Kate Elliott Black Wolves, coming out this fall. It is phenomenal. The protagonist is 70-year-old beaten up woman, well past her prime, and has to figure out a way to protect her father's legacy, king's legacy, her grandson's legacy. Show me another fantasy that shows a capable old woman!
Robin Hobb Fool's Assassin
Rebecca Levene Smiler's Fair. Rebecca Levene used to be a Dr Who writer. It is Night Circus if G. R. R. Martin wrote it.
Sara Lotz The Three. The story is a thriller that may or may not be supernatural -- it is up to you. Four airplanes crash around the world simultaneously. Everybody dies. But on 3 of them, a young child survives. On the fourth there is apparently no such child, but there are rumors that a child might have survived. And so the rumors start that those children are the 4 horsemen of apocalypse. The book is written as a memoir of a woman reporter.
Alex Marshall A Crown for Cold Silver. Epic fantasy but without all the stuff that we hate about epic fantasy: progressive, not sexist, without all the baggage. Very aware of the tropes in the genre, and tries to do something unique.
Michelle Muenzler recommends
Darin Bradley Chimpanzee. In an economic downturn, a professor is in danger of having his education repossessed. So he tries to give it out for free, teaching people in public parks, so he could give it away before it's taken from him. But it's not legal, so he gets caught in a revolution.
Kameron Hurley The Mirror Empire -- great worldbuilding.
John Hornor Jacobs The Incorruptibles is set on an Earth a few dimensions way over there. It has one of the most frightening descriptions of Elves. They take the place of native Americans in this weird version of a western. Is it a terrifying and wonderful story. (Justin Landon added: "And it is not available for purchase in the US, except here in the dealers' room.")
Nicole Kornher-Stace Archivist Wasp is about a girl whose job is to kill ghosts, to make them stop bugging people. But instead she decides to help one of them. She gets pulled into a weird underground world, and learns the real reasons of apocalypse.
Mary Rickert Memory Garden is about old women who may or may not be witches.
Kazuki Sakuraba Red Girls -- three generations of a family, three very engrossing narratives. It spans the time from 1970s to the 2000s.
Willie Siros recommends
Ben Aaronovitch The Hanging Tree
Paolo Bacigalupi Water Knife. Published as a trilogy, but it is not. It has a discussion of the future water wars that are coming to the US as the drought continues. An asssassin arranges for water to go from one place to another, regardless of what the people who think it's their water, think. Texas is such a wasteland that refugees who are trying to get in to Colorado and Oregon, are dismissed as Perry's ramblers.
Author Michelle Muenzler gave out cookies to everyone as a way to combat the midday crash. Next to her, fan guest John DeNardo looks on. More pictures from ArmadilloCon 2015 (37) are in my photo gallery.
James S. A. Corey Nemesis Games
(Forthcoming) Julie Czerneda This Gulf of Time and Stars. In this book, Czerneda returns to her main species universe, which was the setting of the books she wrote many years ago.
William Gibson The Peripheral. Willie said that after thinking that Gibson's best work was in the past, he was very pleasantly surprised by The Peripheral.
Peter F. Hamilton The Abyss Beyond Dreams
Robin Hobb Fool's Quest
Stina Leicht Cold Iron
Jack McDevitt Coming Home and Thunderbird (forthcoming)
(Forthcoming) David Mitchell Slade House - a much looked-forward-to novel from the author of Cloud Atlas
Michael Moorcock The Whispering Swarm
Alastair Reynolds Poseidon's Wake is part of Alistair Reynolds series that began with Blue Remembered Earth. It is set in near future and examines how society deals with space travel in various ways. A family is raising elephants to intelligence, and by the end of the third novel it seems like elephants will have surprises for us. It is somewhere between popcorn fiction and serious fiction (the same applies to James S. A. Corey Nemesis Games too).
Kim Stanley Robinson Aurora. It asks: if man in 2000 years only managed to keep things made of stone, that could last 2000 years, how are we going to keep a generation ship going? It is really well done and fabulous. Justin Landon adds: "Aurora is tols form a perspective of a developmentally-challenged person, and Kim Stanley Robinson does a very good job of putting us in this person's head."
Several forthcoming books:
John Scalzi The End of All Things
Charles Stross The Annihilation Score
Michael Swanwick Chasing the Phoenix
Robert Charles Wilson The Affinities
Gene Wolfe A Borrowed Man
Skyler White recommends
Max Barry Lexicon has system of magic that's based on language. If you're a word person, or a magic person, it is so delicious.
Elizabeth Bear Karen Memory. Steampunk-inflected western with a very interesting protagonist. It's set in a bordello. It is Elizabeth Bear's strongest novel yet. It is as conceptually interesting as her other stuff, and also has interesting relationships between people.
Karen Joy Fowler We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.
(To tell the truth, the panelists were not completely clear if they were talking about this book -- which came out more than a year ago, so technically it does not qualify for this year's What You Should Have Read -- or about We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory. No one could remember the exact title and author of the book they were thinking of. Then a brief argument broke out whether in Karen Joy Fowler's book there was mention of aliens arriving to Earth's orbit: some of us in the audience who have read it swore up and down that there were no aliens, but one of the panelists claimed that there were maybe a total of 5 lines in the book mentioning the aliens. This made it further confusing which panelists had which book in mind. -- E.)
Max Gladstone Three Parts Dead -- magic is legal-based. There is nothing boring about legal contracts.
Ann Leckie Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy (forthcoming)
Ken Liu Grace of Kings. Incredibly bold, incredibly global, has amazing ability to introduce you to a huge cast of characters, and they are each unique. According to several panelists -- Skyler White, Justin Landon, and Willie Siros -- it has an incredibly unique storytelling structure, a non-traditional, non-western narrative. If you read traditional Chinese novels, it fits into that structure. And if you haven't, it feels completely unique.
Christopher Priest The Adjacent. There is some kind of hop between times, that we don't really understand, but it has powerful applications. It's not hard SF, it is a character study of people who are wrapped up in this event. It is the impending feeling, that things will be terrible, but you don't know why.
Jeff VanderMeer Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy also has creeping dread. It is set in a postapocalyptic future of the American South. This book explores not just conceivable ways in which everything can go terribly wrong, but also impact on survivors, and the ruthlessness of the quarantine. Willingness to sacrifice a few for the good of the many.
Jo Walton The Just City. Jo Walton writes dialogue for Socrates. Just City is a utopian city created by the goddess Athene. They buy enslaved 10-year-olds, who will be become the citizens of that city.