Monday, January 04, 2016

Reading Year in Review - 2015

I’ve done this for a few years now (2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006), so in order to maintain my flailing credibility as a genre blogger/book reviewer I have, I'm doing it again for 2015. I figured the first Monday of 2016 would be a good day to post this one, so here goes.

Before I get to the book stuff, I’ll mention again the big positive change this year. As some are aware, I was toiling away at an unrewarding, futureless job simply collecting a paycheck for a few years. The pay, admittedly, was not too bad, but the future at that job was somewhat dystopic. A few months before I left, a few people in my group were "Future Endeavored" and one high up VP promised more cuts to come multiple times on multiple conference calls. Then in August, I started a new job which four or so months in, I am really enjoying. I work at a great company and work with a great team of people and the future here is very bright and promising. I’m working a lot harder than I have in recent years, but it is rewarding and foundational for my future career with this company.

OK, back to the books. I’ll start with some stats as I do every year: I read (or at least attempted* to read) 80 books in 2015, depending on how you count omnibus editions. I say attempted because a few books I simply dropped because nothing about the book compelled me to keep reading. About half of what I read were new/2015 releases. In 2015, I posted 34 reviews to SFFWorld and 3 to I did more for SF Signal in 2015, too. My Completist column slowed down in 2015 (I kind of hit a little roadblock with the number of book series I actually finished reading). Keeping with the gender theme, 6 of the 15 Completist columns featured books by women. Still short of a fair and balanced 50%. I also continued wrangling the popular Mind Meld feature, having organized about one per month in 2015. Lastly, 4 of my book reviews appeared at SF Signal.

So all of that said, I think it was a fairly productive year, in terms of what I wrote/edited and posted – a total of 57 things I wrote were posted to those three Web sites. Plus whatever I rambled on about here on my blog. Whew…

Aside from the regular gamut of current year releases, some of my ‘catching up’ reads included a couple of installments of Butcher’s Dresden Files, finishing out Elizabeth Moon’s satisfying Paladin’s Legacy. My overall reading numbers increased a bit because I joined audible earlier in the year and this gave me more leeway in choosing my next read rather than pulling from the books publishers send me for review. I caught up with some titles from previous years, I think only one of the audio books I consumed was a current year release.

Here are some stats:
  • 43 2015/current year releases
  • 39 can be considered Fantasy
  • 28 books by authors new to me
  • 41 Books by women
  • 32 can be considered Science Fiction
  • 9 can be considered Horror
  • 14 total debut
  • 6 can be considered 2013 debuts
  • 12 audiobooks
Again, I made a concerted effort to read more books by women, and on a quantity basis, I’ve doubled and almost tripled the number for past years. This year, I read a slightly larger percentage (51.25%) of books written by women. What doesn't surprise me, but frustrates me still, is that if I read solely from books sent to me for review unsolicited, I likely wouldn't have even been at 30%. I've become more proactive when I'm given the opportunity to select books sent to me and when I purchase books. I'll again call out Renay's appearance on Rocket Talk as an eye-opener for me.   All in all, 2015 was a great reading year for me.

Minimalist number crunching out of the way, on to the categories for the 2015 Stuffies (I’ve been informally calling them that for a few years now). My annual disclaimer: This isn’t a typical top 10 or 12 or anything, but whatever you want to call them, here’s a breakdown of the 2015 books  I read and enjoyed most this past year. (Plus a few non-2015 books).

Rob’s Favorite 2015 Fantasy Novel(s)

Nailing down my very favorite fantasy novel published in 2015 is a very difficult task. These are essentially the same books I mentioned in the SFFWorld Best of 2015 post, but I’ll rejigger the order here to be alphabetical by book title since I enjoyed them all nearly equally. This means means The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher gets the nominal first spot. This may have been the most fun I had reading any book this year.
I loved this book. Steampunk isn’t my go-to subgenre, when it misses, it really misses. But when it hits like this one (or Beth Cato’s debut The Clockwork Dagger link), I really love it. I think because there’s more of a mix between the Steampunk aesthetic and epic rather than what is more typical of Steampunk in world that echoes Victorian times. I remarked on twitter that the best storytellers can transfer the joy they had in telling the story to the reader, in that conversation that a book/story is between reader and storyteller. It was very clear that Jim had a great deal of fun writing this one because it was an incredibly fun and engaging story.

Have I mentioned that I like Bridget? . Gwen was a great character, too. Very headstrong and I really empathized reading the scenes written with her as the POV. I don’t think she was as frustrating to the extent that her co-characters did, I got a sense that some thought she was a bit of a nuisance but again I didn’t see her that way at all. She was just a very headstrong, youthful character who acts before thinking. Folly is a lot of fun, too, even if she was more of a secondary character. I see big things down the road for her in terms of moving up to be more of a primary player. (Or maybe if the series is popular enough, a story from her POV would be fun).

Black Wolves by Kate Elliott is up next and the one book that probably gave me the most complete and satisfying reading experience of the year...
Elliott begins her tale at the height of King Anjihosh’s reign, he has united the Hundred, has two wives (as is custom), loving children, and a devoted people over whom he reigns. His son is curious and being groomed for the throne and Anjihosh’s daughter wishes to become a reve, a scout bonded to the enormous eagles who soar above the empire carrying messages of import. Anjihosh takes a bold young man named Kellas under his employ when Kellas dares to climb the Tower of Law in defiance of the King’s edicts. Kellas becomes an integral part of Anjihosh’s power base as the highest ranking Black Wolf (the King’s elite force of spies and warriors). He learns a secret about the king and is presented with a fateful decision.

Through these characters, Elliott smoothly navigates sexual and gendered lines of power, the power of politics, the power of fables and belief, the power of secrets, and how ruler’s thoughts of “what’s best for the people” is often what is best for themselves and potentially short-sighted. The sexual power here in Black Wolves is remarkable for many reasons, the women who hold stature are not demeaned for their sexual relations, it is facet of their characters and past; it is empowering just as any other positive trait should be. One of the more brutal scenes in the novel is when a man is punished via sexual violence by other men. Admittedly, the blatant nature of the brutality arises perhaps because it is less common to see such “punishment” directed towards men, whereas women are more often the targets of such punishing violence.

Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb continues to cement her status as the wielder of the finest prose in the genre...
From Fool’s Assassin to Fool’s Quest, Fitz has been dragged through an emotional crucible, as was the Fool to an extent (both emotional and physical) in prior novels. In the Fool’s case we just get to learn more about it here in Fool’s Quest. My point is that these two characters have spent a great deal of time apart dealing with emotional and physical hardships. They both had to have their souls nearly destroyed so they could become the ideal versions of themselves through a rebirth and healing to confront their adversaries.

What also became clear to me as the novel was drawing to a conclusion, especially as the Fool wore his many guises, and revelations that came to light, is that Hobb is playing towards what I hope to be a world-capper of a novel. Without being too spoilerific, much of Hobb’s output has existed in the same world even if divided by characters, the Fitz/Farseer novels and the Liveship/Rain Wilds novels. There have been some hints from one series to the other, some crossover between characters, but each of the series have been fairly concerned with events in their parts of the world. Here, it seems, and more so than even in the finale of The Tawny Man Trilogy (Fool’s Fate), the Rain Wilds and Farseer “sections” of the world are coming together in what could be a spectacular finale.

Gemini Cell by Myke Cole is his fourth novel, but a perfect novel for new readers to pick up and read and hands down his best yet.
I have been following Myke Cole’s writing career since reading his debut Control Point, the first salvo in a brilliant Military Fantasy series and milieu. Over that time, I’ve corresponded with Myke and chatted with him at various NY geek gatherings (NY Comic Con, meet-ups) so I am readily admitting there might be some bias coming into this review…. In it, Myke introduces readers to Jim Schweitzer, a Navy SEAL, husband, and father. Like many soldiers/operators, he is torn between his military life and his family life. His wife Sarah is an artist and her career is beginning to flourish. As the novel starts, Sarah is having a major exhibition of her work and unfortunately, Jim is called away in the middle of the exhibition by the Navy for an emergency mission.

Jim wakes up or rather he is brought back from the dead by a sorcerer and learns he is not alone in his own head and body. His unlife in his undead body share space with an ancient jinn named Ninip. Jim is informed that death has not severed his service to the Navy and he is “transferred” into Gemini Cell with Gemini referring, of course, to the twin souls of Jim and Ninip inhabiting Jim’s zombie body. As Jim soon learns, sharing a body with an angry jinn is a challenging task on top of adjusting to being undead and having been told his wife and son were murdered when he was killed. Jim’s spirit and Ninip’s spirit constantly struggle for control of Jim’s body, when in stasis, training or one of the missions he is sent to accomplish. Ninip is angry, seeks blood death and vengeance while Jim tries to calm the spirit.

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Brad Beaulieu blew me away. I loved everything about it and I want more, more, MORE.
We begin in the fighting pits, witnessing 19-year old Çeda (pronounced Chayda) Ahyanesh’ala – known to many as the White Wolf – defeat a champion pit fighter, an opponent much larger and more experienced than her. An opponent of her own choosing. This opening was perfect, we get a sense of Çeda as a strong, deceptively imposing physical presence, a flavor of Sharakhai itself, and as the fight ends, a hint of her character and motivations. I dare say that if you aren’t drawn in by Bealieu’s powerful and magnetic opening, you should check yourself.

There’s also a nice interplay of fantasy flavors here, the more intimate and personal elements closely associated with Sword and Sorcery against the larger scale (worldly) elements associated with Epic Fantasy. Through Çeda’s introduction in a fighting/gladiatorial pit, the feel is initially Sword and Sorcery, something that could very easily be compared to a Robert E. Howard Conan story. I would even say you could extract that opening/intro as a complete stand-alone Sword and Sorcery story, it is a powerful, adrenalizing tale. As the story develops, we learn that Çeda’s plight and quest for revenge has more global stakes.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik rounds out my favorite fantasy only because it is last alphabetically.
One thing that struck me throughout the novel is a pervading sense of anger; it fueled much of the character interaction and pulled much of the plot along. Anger seems to be the only emotion, or a version of it such as disdain, the Dragon exhibits for much of the narrative. The prince, Marek, who visits the Dragon and later implores Agnieszka and the Dragon for their help, shows disdain and anger towards the Dragon. The other wizards introduced later in the novel seem to feel anger towards each other, while the Dragon condescends to interact with them with a great deal of spite. When Agnieszka interacts with people from her village in the middle-to-latter portion of the novel, they emanate an air of anger bordering on hatred to her. And yet, despite that anger driving many of these characters and the plot, Novik manages to overlay that anger with a sense of beauty and hopefulness; hope through the fierce determination of her character Agnieskza. Of course there are other emotions at play here, too. There’s a deep abiding love-of-friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia that provides an emotional backbone to the novel. There’s also sorrow and compassion and those come through in some of the minor characters.

Perhaps because I recently wrote about the books for SF Signal, I found many emotional and linguistic resonances with Patricia McKillip’s Riddle-Master trilogy. There’s a sense that the world in Uprooted echoes the folk tales of Europe, that it has a rich tradition sewn into the DNA of the world the characters inhabit, but we as readers meet these character at a time of Great Change, after all why else would we meet these characters?

Other 2015 fantasy books I enjoyed a great deal in 2015….
  • The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett - "…pride may be one of the characteristics or traits that does in many of the characters and can be seen as the greatest flaw a person can have in this world. Rojer, Jardir, Jayan (among others) all exhibit a great deal of hubris and pride. Some of them overcome that and don’t let the hubris consume them, but when that hubris so strongly defines an individual character here, it tends to be a fatalistic flaw. Leesha was quite prideful in her journey through to The Skull Throne, but in this third volume, her pride seems to have been quelled and as a result, she is a stronger character. I have been enjoying The Demon Cycle through the first three books and even more after The Skull Throne; I love the world building and enjoy the characters, but is also rewarding to see a writer’s skill and prowess grow from one novel to the next."
  • Chapelwood by Cherie Priest - "Thirty years after Maplecroft, the second (and at this time final) novel begins. Lisbeth is alone, her sister Emma has passed, her lover Nance has disappeared, and Dr. Seabury finally lost his battles with sanity and also passed. Lisbeth is drawn to the strange occurrences in Birmigham, AL. Though I haven’t read every Cthulhu mythos tale, for my money,Maplecroft and Chapelwood are the epitome of modern entries of that subset of horror and dark fantasy. Although there are only two novels chronicling the Borden family’s conflict with creatures out of the Cthulhu mythos, I would not mind the title of this column being invalidated."
  • The Price of Valor by Django Wexler - "…on the whole, Django Wexler manages to reveal more layers of the plot of the antagonists and more about his characters. Some closure here, but dammit, the unresolved elements and giant hints of things to come have the next installment in The Shadow Campaigns quite high on my I NEED TO READ WHEN IT PUBLISHES list. With The Price of Valor, Django Wexler continues to prove that he’s got a great story to excellent installment in a thoroughly entertaining Military/Flintlock Fantasy saga.”
  • The Court of Fives by Kate Elliott – Court of Fives is one of those deceptively simple novels in which there’s a lot to be gleaned from the page if you know to look for it, and even more happening beyond the immediate action, as little details come together to build a very sound structure of a novel. …Jessamy is an extremely well-rounded character who, for all of her love for her family and inner strength, is flawed, occasionally allowing her pride to get the best of her.

Rob Favorite 2015 Science Fiction Novel(s)

The divide between Fantasy and Science Fiction was much more even this year, but much of the SF I read was backlist like CJ Cherryh. I think the SF book I enjoyed the most was The RED: First Light by Linda Nagata. Yeah, I know it is technically an older title, but a new edition was published this year through Saga Press:

Lieutenant James Shelley is in charge of a Linked Combat Squad (LCS), who has dubbed him King David because of his premonitions which have often saved some, or all of them, from defeat or death. In this near future (probably about Twenty Minutes into the Future) members of the military wear skull caps on their heads which connect them to a cloud network. The military answers more to defense contractors than the government. The skull caps worn by the squad members also, via the cloud and their network administrator (for lack of a better term), control their emotions to ensure a more cool and calculated demeanor in the field. Ironically enough, Shelly was a war protestor and in lieu of serving out a jail sentence, he agreed to join the military. He excelled and eventually Shelly’s premonitions become more powerful, but he sustains a very damaging combat injury in the first third of the novel. What provides Shelly with these premonitions is something he dubs “The Red;” but is it malevolent, benign, or benevolent or more likely, an unknowable wild card?
A big part of what I, and many people, enjoy about SFF is seeing familiar elements spun in a new way so I guess what I’m saying is that Nagata manages to bring a many familiar elements together (and few SF frameworks are as familiar or popular as Military SF) into something that manages to echo great stories that preceded it while still engaging in a powerfully refreshing fashion. In The Red, Nagata manages one of the most seamless, enjoyable, and enthralling meldings in SF of that familiar and “new spin.” I am excited to read the further exploits of James Shelley, The Red and wherever this story goes.

Since James S.A. Corey (AKA Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) published another installment of The Expanse guess what makes my list again? Yup, the fifth installment; Nemesis Games (The TV show just launched!)

After returning from the planet Ilus at the far end of the Galaxy through the gate the protomolecule opened, Holden and crew go on shore leave in search for a bit of respite. Each has some affairs to settle or loose ends requiring tying up from prior to the series events. Naomi wants to reconnect with her son, Alex initially wants to make amends with his ex-wife, and Amos wants to settle up with a woman from his days as “Timmy” on the streets of Baltimore. Meanwhile, Holden is tasked by Fred Johnson, leader of the Outer Planets Alliance, with tracking down missing space vessels.

Each member is sort of going along on their own business when a major terrorist attack shatters the Earth. As such, we see the story through each of their personal lenses with all POV chapters from a member of the Rocinante. Each member of the crew is affected dramatically by their circumstances away from Rocinante, with Naomi a “guest” of her former lover, and Amos near one of the ground zeroes of the impact of the attack. Alex and Holden, have their own life-threatening issues to deal with after the attack, too. We’ve seen glimpses of the other characters in Holden’s presence, but never separated like this. At five books into the series, splitting the characters is a genius move to make the crew of theRocinante still seem fresh with plenty of room to breathe and develop. We knew them, sure, but we didn’t know them completely and only had glimpses or hints of their past. (At least in the novels.)

Next up is a book by an author who I first read last year, the fabulous Delilah Dawson. This is the first audio book on the list, Hit by Delilah Dawson:
It isn’t too much of a leap to think that banks own us, our debt, and everything we possess because of our debt to banks and credit cards. Take that idea one step (or leap) further – A single bank buys out all of America’s debt and America is the United States of America in name only. In Delilah S. Dawson’s dystopic tale Hit, Valor National (Bank) has done just that and owns all the debt. If you are overdue, they’ll come collecting just as they did on seventeen year-old Patricia (Patsy) Klein’s single mother (Patsy’s father left them years ago, and is only a faint memory for Patsy) with three options: pay all your debt now, die, or become an indentured servant for Valor National. In other words, become a bounty hunter for the bank and approach other people who owe Valor and offer them the same options. The indentured servitude lasts 5 days or until the 10 people on the list are killed, brought into service, or least likely, pay their debt.

The natural dystopic comparison is to The Hunger Games, if only because both novels feature a very head-strong, likable, engaging, young female protagonist. If anything, the America and world revealed in Hit could be seen almost as a precursor to the fractured and realigned national boundaries of Panem. There’s a certain South Park episode that served as partial inspiration to the novel/series/world, but the story takes off from the notion set forth in that episode with Dawson’s wonderful pacing and character development.

Planetfall by Emma Newman is a powerful and Important novel:
Let’s get this out of the way first: Planetfall is not an easy book to discuss without giving away too much about its plot and characters. So I won’t give away too many of the finer details of the plot—what can be said is that approximately 1,000 colonists left Earth, including the protagonist, Renata “Ren” Ghali, who followed Lee Suh-Mi, her lover and leader of this group, to the new planet in what can best be described as a pilgrimage of faith. Earth was not in the best of shape, but there isn’t much more elaboration than that in the plot or background details. When the colonists arrived on the new planet, Lee entered a pre-existing structure the colonists discovered and came to name God’s City. When Newman begins the novel 20 odd years later, Lee had yet to return from God’s City and she is revered as something close to a saint as the people await her return and still follow the spirit of her beliefs.

Planetfall is at once a fascinating character study through Ren’s first person narrative and a novel that examines how secrets, no matter how deeply buried they are, can be extremely damaging things…especially in a small colony in a seeming utopia. Ren spends much of her day as the colony’s printer, responsible for overseeing an advanced 3-D printer which is used to repair damaged items or create new items when necessary. Any items. Ren’s obsession with repairing things is a mask for trying to repair the damages left in the wake of Lee’s disappearance, and an attempt to bury her own guilt in the tragic events which transpired nearly two decades ago.

Other 2015 Science Fiction Novels I enjoyed a great deal in 2015….
  • Alive by Scott Sigler - "… With Alive, I feel like Scott upped his game. It isn’t always easy (at least for this relative and at the time very neophyte audiobook consumer) to get an idea of an author’s prose, listening to the book makes it a bit challenging to linger over the page and consume the prose with as much in-depth consideration. Even with that disclaimer, I think Scott’s prose here in Alive was a strength, and his use of the first person narrative was very engaging and helped me to finish reading the book in just a couple of days."
  • Zero World by Jason M. Hough - "I thought Zero World was a blast. One of my favorite Science Fictional tropes* is the Parallel Universe. Stories that feature protagonists/worlds and their mirror images which differ in only slight details, novels like The Talisman, the classic novel from Stephen King/Peter Straub, Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion cycle, or the many parallel worlds in comics, especially those of DC Comics’ Elseworlds. So you’ve got that element with Zero World and a protagonist that is like Leonard Shelby (from the film Memento) possessing the physical abilities of The Bionic Man and the tactical/combat/superspy knowledge of Jason Bourne or James Bond.."

Rob's Favorite 2015 Debut(s)

      The debut with the most hype and the one that came close to living up to it was Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings, the first installment in his Epic Dandelion Dynasty:
      Set in the Dara archipelago (an imagined world with a Asian resonances), the Emperor Mapidéré has united the many islands under one banner. Immediately, in my mind, a flag arose. This could be seen as an endgame, for an epic fantasy novel/saga – the uniting of kingdoms by an ambitious ruler. But this is where Liu launches his story, at the apex of one ruler’s conquering goals as viewed by a trickster with lofty aspirations and an orphan seeking revenge. This trickster is a young boy who often gets into trouble, would rather frolic than read, but whose mother continually holds out hope that he’ll eventually “get it” and stop his tomfoolery. This is Kuni Garu, one of the primary protagonists of the novel. We see much of the action of the narrative through his point of view, we see him grow into manhood, become a husband, father, and unlikely leader of men. Kuni joins a street gang, has many adventures until he finally appoints himself Duke Garu and grows a legion of followers who pledge themselves to him. As Kuni climbs the social strata and makes a name for himself, he falls for a woman named Jia, the woman who becomes his first wife. … The Grace of Kings is one of those books that is a major part of the ongoing “conversation” of genre, as Coode Street podcasters Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe often refer. (I –highly– recommend checking out the episode of their podcast featuring Ken Liu and Saga Press editor Joe Montias well as Ken and Joe on Rocket Talk with Justin Landon). One of those topics of the “ongoing conversation” is the treatment of women characters and gender in the genre. There’s been a fair amount of criticism about the lack of female characters in this novel, itself just the first part of a trilogy. (This raises the question, I suppose, of how to review one novel in a series, which is a large chapter in a much larger story. That topic could be an essay or podcast itself.) While I can understand that frustration – to a point – it seems to me in order to showcase an element that might be underrepresented, one must first illustrate that deficiency.
      C.A. Higgins’s, Lightless, impressed the hell out of me when I read it and I’m looking forward to my from this author
      The System is the governing body of the solar system, they have total control of the populace. One of their experimental military space vessels – the Ananke – is boarded by two hostile men. These men, Mattie and Ivanov, are known to be thieves (Space Pirates!) and are suspected to be allies of the galaxy’s most infamous terrorist. Ivanov is caught, Mattie escapes. But before he escapes, Mattie does something to the Ananke. At the center of Lightless, C.A. Higgins debut novel space is computer scientist Althea. … Higgins is an astrophysicist, having recently graduated from Cornell University. Impressively, she also wrote this novel whilst studying for her degree. While at the heart of the novel is a science fictional trope that has been part of the genre for many years, Higgins extrapolates the science of today well enough in the details to make it a plausible question to consider. Equally impressive is that, like a blanket over the hard science fictional core of the novel, is some deft characterization, plotting, and story pacing. Another element of the story that Higgins evoked very powerfully was claustrophobia – both in terms of the confined atmosphere of the space vessel and the urgency of the timing of everything. Althea is under a very imposing deadline to repair the computers of two space vessels and Ida is feeling a great deal of internal pressure from her own superiors to prove that Ivanov and Mattie are connected to the terrorist Mallt-y-Nos. Even if there isn’t a xemomorph hunting the crew of Ananke the way one hunted the crew of the Nostromo, Higgins captures that same claustrophobic, confined feeling just as well.

    Favorite Backlist / Book Not Published in 2015 Read in 2015

    As I said earlier, I started an audible subscription this year.  One of those audio standouts was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, the first audio book I snagged with my audible subscription and the bar was set very high.
    George R.R. Martin proclaimed when he stated that Station Eleven was his favorite book from 2014, it is a book that shouldn’t work. The structure is not linear, it veers all over the place and doesn’t make itself immediately clear how everything is connected. That perceived barrier is what makes this such a strong and powerful novel because Mandel so skillfully weaves these narratives and left me at each seeming halting of a specific narrative wanting so much more. So I continued with the “new” narrative in the hopes of coming to a connection point between the seemingly separate narratives only to be fully engrossed in that “new” narrative. Or, in other words, I was wrapped up in what was happening to Kirsten only for Mandel to switch over to a narrative featuring Leander’s first wife Miranda and found myself equally enwrapped in her story. … Station Eleven is also a story about the power of art and how humanity will continue to express and be mystified by art. This couldn’t be more evident with an actor dying on stage or another protagonist as a player in the Traveling Symphony. ….or where the novel gets its title, from a comic book / graphic novel titled Station Eleven depicting humanity in space as a result of a ravaged earth. We see both the creative process and energy that went into the creation of the comic book as well as its long-ranging effects as Kirsten carries a copy around as both a comfort read and remembrance of the World Before. Like the Traveling Symphony itself performing King Lear as Arthur died performing the same play, the graphic novel Station Eleven is a great mirror with which to compare the novel itself.
    I also loved the The Dresden Files installment from last year, Skin GameThe Martian by Andy Weir, and the second installment of Elizabeth Moon's Vatta's War sequence, Marque and Reprisal. She's publishing a new installment in that milieu this year so I'd like to read through the last three in the five book series. I didn’t do a formal review of these books but that is no indication of my lack of enjoyment. Both were great. Another audio book I thoroughly enjoyed was from an author I’ve been following and friendly with on twitter for a while, Miserere by Teresa Frohock.

    Lucian Negru, a Katharoi, is a disgraced (or fallen) exorcist in Woerld; one of four parallel worlds and specifically, Heaven’s primary “defensive line” between Earth and Hell. He is living on the proverbial leash of his twin sister Catarina, a dark sorceress looking to help the demon Mastema take over the known worlds. When she was at the gates of Hell years prior to the events of the novel, Lucian forsook his oaths as a man of god and to Rachel, the women he loved, in the hope that he could save his sister’s life and bring salvation to her soul. That didn’t quite work out completely, because although Catarina’s life was saved, her soul was tainted. For sixteen years, Catarina has continued to ask Lucian to open the Hellgates, despite his continued refusal. She begs him to constantly heal her wounds, which he does, but she mentally abuses him, and with some help, physically abuses him over those years leaving him a cripple with an unhealed leg. … Miserere is a novel of devotion, faith, god, demons, angels, and love. The novel utilizes Christian imagery and myth, but throughout the novel, it does not proselytize. Christian myth and biblical imagery provide the backdrop/world-building and it is handled beautifully through the characters, their actions, and the affect of the world(s) on the characters. One other thing I appreciated was the gender flip Frohock employed in the novel. When there is an abusive relationship between man and woman, the default dichotomy is for the man to be the abuser, the woman the victim. With Lucian and Catarina, Catarina is most definitely the abuser and Lucian the broken one who struggles to both remain in the relationship (for 16 years) and finally, with great difficulty and little outside assistance leaves the relationship. As the remainder of the narrative demonstrates, Lucian has a great deal of internal strength; he is saved as much by Rachel and Lindsay as he saves them both.
    MVP Author of 2015

    The criteria here is based solely on books published..since there a handful of authors who had high profile media adaptations release this year (ahem Andy Weir, James S.A. Corey). So, for me, here's what made this author my MVP author of 2015...

    I tried to narrow this down to one author, but found that a difficult task. So, I'm going to mention two and whether you want to call them co-MVPs or MVP and first runner up, that's up to you. MVP and runner-up seems OK. Then again, in 1979 the National League MVP was awarded to two baseball players. Either way, both authors deserve special mention. The first is based on how much I thoroughly enjoyed what I read from her, so let's do this.

    One author published five books this year, two of which I read. The two novels I read each launched a new series, she published a retrospective of her short fiction and a few short novels/novellas set in her existing worlds. This author was also a guest on many podcasts I listened to over the course of the year and was a wonderful voice, both from a fictional storytelling perspective and also from an Important Voice for the Genre standpoint.

    As I said above, Black Wolves was one of my favorite novels of the year, a novel that has me very eager to dive into her backlist. Elliott’s young adult debut, Court of Fives was a stunning novel, too. I recommended it to a cousin on facebook after she was looking for something new to read and she was blown away by it. I'd mentioned before (early last year and as far back as 2013) that I wanted to revisit Kate Elliott's Crown of Stars series and finally began the first volume, King's Dragon, in the waning days of 2015 and I'm loving it. I'm likely not going to post a "Anticipated Reading" post for 2016, but chances are I'm going to be reading quite a bit of Kate Elliott in 2016 and perhaps dive into either Jaran or Crossroads trilogy (Crossroads is set in the same world as Black Wolves). 

    A very strong runner-up/co-MVP is Chuck Wendig as he was nearly as impossible to ignore for all the right reasons. Chuck published a dark, near future cyber-thriller, Zer0es, a new installment in his Miriam Black series, finished out The Harvest, his young adult series, with The Heartland, self published the second Mookie Pearl novel, The Hellsblood Bride, after some build-up helped to launch a flagship comic book title (The Shield from Dark Circle Comics), and oh yeah, published Aftermath the flagship title in the lead up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I only read two of the books and the comic and enjoyed them a great deal. Chuck bore a majority of the brunt of the Sad Banthas © John Kovalic (Star Wars “fans” who are extremely vocal about their anger over everything they judge as “incorrect” in Star Wars since the Disney buy-out) and came out better for it.

    So that's my wrap-up of what I read in 2015.

    1 comment:

    1. Thanks for this! I always enjoy reading what you have to say; you and the rest of the crew at SFFWorld and SFsignal have really broadened my genre horizons, so thank you for that!

      I would also like to read more fantasy/sci-fi by women, and so in addition to Kate Elliot, C.A Higgins, and Emma Newman, I was wondering if you've ever delved into Carol Berg?

      Thanks again for all you do, sometimes a thankless job, I am sure!