2017 books in review

I read 55 books this year,1 plus a wide assortment of shorter works and comics, which, while not likely even close to my peak in my teens and early 20’s, is still enough to feel pretty happy with.

A deck full of series…

Looking over my list, the first thing that stands out is how there are only four books that are not part of a series, and one of those is a short story collection.2  I would say it reflects poorly on my choices in titles, as I’m sure all the thoughtful, literary books stand alone, but I think it also reflects the current state of SFF publishing (and non SFF publishing, and movies, and TV, and well any entertainment industry that relies on income)  Certainly it’s a pleasure to immerse yourself in a great series, but in the same way I like to watch a movie, it would be nice to read a book without making a several thousand page commitment.

There can also be diminishing returns: three series this year started off with books that I liked, 3 but later books in the series soured my opinion of both the series and the initial work.  Similarly, Infomocracy was perfectly self contained, and much as I enjoyed it, I’m not sure I want to read the follow up.

More selfishly, it can be difficult to say interesting things about later entries in a well crafted series –

“It’s still good, if you don’t know why you shouldn’t start here, and if you do you don’t need to read this”.

Still, the Nightmare Stacks proved that later entries in a series could do something different, or at least the same thing in a new way – it revitalised a long running series while also providing a new jumping on point.

First the bad…

Even most of the books I was disappointed with were more mediocre than terrible.  However, there were three that wound up in here be dragons territory.  The first was the Trade of Queens – what started off as an incredible look at the economic implications of magic kingdoms in parallel worlds in the Family Trade descended into shrill, Bush era paranoia4 and all sense of wonder and novelty faded away.

Next up were a pair of Hugo nominees: An Equation of Nearly Infinite Complexity, and Too Like the Lightning.  The first was what happens when satire becomes the thing satirised: a retched book full of hateful people doing vapid things.  Too Like the Lightning however has stuck with me.  Magnificently written and intricately plotted, Palmer deploys astounding talent on a story that the more I think about, the more repugnant I find.  It revels in the debauchery of the elite, lionises the erudite killer, and premises a society of lambs ruled by wolves.  I hope that this is just a set up to be torn down later, but the skill with which the book is constructed makes it very difficult to question its sincerity.  It joins the Time Lapsed Man and other stories in the pile of excellent books I wish I hadn’t read.

and then the good…

I generally liked most of the books I read this year, and if we ignore classics, 5 and series I was already a fan of,6 I’d be hard pressed to pick out a favourite.  Looking over the list however, there are three newer series that stand out in my mind as ones that I would recommend.

The one I’m most likely to recommend is the River’s of London.7  Combining urban fantasy with police procedural isn’t entirely new, but it has a strong sense of place (London), a winning protagonist,8, and manages to balance a sense of joy at encountering the unknown with genuine menace in a way that makes it a book that almost anyone could enjoy.

For people with more particular tastes, the Sandman Slim books and the Machinaries of Empire series were both excellent.  Sandman Slim is what happens if you take urban fantasy, combine it with over the top masculinity, and turn it up to 11 – it burns through plot and action without remorse, and whenever Kadrey comes to a fork in the story, he seems to ask, what would be most awesome?  Ninefox Gambit on the other hand, is what happens when you take military science fiction, and make it genuinely weird – a world where technology is basically powered by a mixture of superstition, calendars, and math.  Neither series is perfect, but both are unique.

Finally the list…

In more or less the order I read them:

  1. The Traders War [MP]
  2. The Revolution Business [MP]
  3. The Trade of Queens (Incomplete) [MP]
  4. Sandman Slim [SS]
  5. Kill The Dead [SS]
  6. Aloha from Hell [SS]
  7. Devil in the Dollhouse [SS]
  8. Devil Said Bang [SS]
  9. Kill City Blues [SS]
  10. The Getaway God [SS]
  11. Killing Pretty [SS]
  12. The Perdition Score [SS]
  13. North American Lake Monsters
  14. The Nightmare Stacks [NS]
  15. Borderline [AP]
  16. The Blue Blazes [BB]
  17. Thank You, Jeeves [JW]
  18. Right Ho, Jeeves [JW]
  19. The Code of the Woosters [JW]
  20. Joy in the Morning [JW]
  21. The Mating Season [JW]
  22. Handmaid’s Tale
  23. Among Thieves [ToK]
  24. Gridlinked [AC]
  25. The Collapsing Empire [CE]
  26. An Equation of Almost Infinite Complexity
  27. Too Like the Lightning [TI]
  28. Infomocracy [CC]
  29. His Majesty’s Dragon [TS]
  30. Throne of Jade [TS]
  31. Black Powder War [TS]
  32. Empire of Ivory [TS]
  33. Victory of Eagles [TS]
  34. Tongues of Serpents [TS]
  35. Rivers of London [RoL]
  36. Moon over Soho [RoL]
  37. Whispers Under Ground [RoL]
  38. Broken Homes [RoL]
  39. Foxglove Summer [RoL]
  40. The Hanging Tree [RoL]
  41. Ninefox Gambit [MoE]
  42. All the Birds in the Sky
  43. Raven stratagem [MoE]
  44. Three Parts Dead* [Craft]
  45. Two Serpents Rise* [Craft]
  46. Full Fathom Five* [Craft]
  47. Last First Snow* [Craft]
  48. Four Roads Cross* [Craft]
  49. Ruin of Angels [Craft]
  50. A Darker Shade of Magic [SoM]
  51. A Gathering of Shadows [SoM]
  52. A Conjuring of Light [SoM]
  53. The Kill Society [SS]
  54. The Shadow of the Torturer [BNS]
  55. The Claw of the Conciliator [BNS]

*Reread this year.

[] Denotes series.

  1. 50 new books.
  2. The Handmaid’s Tale, All the Birds in the Sky, An Equation of Almost Infinite Complexity, and North American Lake Monsters.
  3. His Majesty’s Dragon, a Conjuring of Light, and The Family Trade.
  4. Not entirely misplaced paranoia, but still.
  5. The Handmaid’s Tale, Jeeves and Wooster, The Book of the New Sun.
  6. the Craft Sequence and the Laundry Files
  7. Indeed I already have.
  8. Plus one of the best supporting characters around in the Nightingale.

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