Friday, January 31, 2020

Perfect Scores: My 10 out of 10 SciFi/Fantasy Books (that I've read over the past few years)

I was a science fiction and fantasy book fan growing up, but after I went to college, my reading rate really slowed in the genre.  My interest in the genre however piqued up again a little over two years ago now (oddly, it was spurned by me hearing about the Hugo problems with the puppies), and over that span I've read over 200 books in the genre from many different authors.  As I've finished each book, I've posted a review of these books on my twitter account and given each of these books a score out of 10 (well, originally it was out of 5).

I consider myself a harsh grader, and while I may give more scores of 8 or above than you'd think from chance (even assuming that I'm good at selecting books to read), I rarely give books a perfect score.  But of the over 200 books that I've read, I have given at the moment FIFTEEN books a perfect score of 10 stars.  Are these books perfect?  No.  But these are the books that I have loved so much that I consider any flaws to be so minor compared to the rest of the book as to be irrelevant.

I'm going to keep this post up top on my blog so it's easy to find (and hopefully I will update it a few more times as I find other such books, but I generally add a book to this list maybe once every three months), but here are the books that so far I've read over the past 2 years that I've considered to be absolute masterpieces.  I will update this post if I come across other books worthy of this list, naturally.

NOTE:  Each of these books earned by highest ranking, so please don't think I like any of these books more than the others just because I wrote more below on a specific book (books I reviewed on this blog will necessarily get less writing here since I've written about them before):

Thursday, February 15, 2018

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Buried Heart (Court of Fives #3) by Kate Elliott

Buried Heart is the concluding novel in Kate Elliott's Court of Fives YA trilogy, and like the first two books in the series, I have a few mixed feelings about it.  The good news is that it easily is the best of the trilogy, and pays off several of the mystery plot threads left over from the first two novels.  Whereas I felt like the first book, Court of Fives, felt like Elliott was trying to hard to fit the YA format, she's clearly come into her own here by book 3h.

That said, it's still not one of my favorite works from Elliott - there's a lot of balls being juggled throughout this series and Elliott takes a very noticeable step to simplify them early, which was a little disappointing.  Still, the book contains mostly excellent characters - after some ambivalence in book 1, I've kind of come to love series heroine Jess - and never drags, which is an improvement on the prior two books in the series.

More after the jump - Spoilers for the first two books are unavoidable:

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson

The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson is one of the harder books for me to review in a while.  Part of that is that this is a rough often brutal story (although far from the first one of those I've reviewed here) Part of that comes from the books structure, which jumps between 3-4 different storylines/timelines throughout, often without any warning (with only one of these "storylines" connecting with the others).  But really I think what makes this book a hard review to write is that the book's messages are often hard to parse, especially through the book's first half, to the point where it felt for me at least like I liked the total package despite not being sure any of the individual storylines involved in the book worked. 

You can tell how I'm rambling above how hard this is for me to review, so let's go a little more basic before the jump - 

The Salt Roads is a series of stories, each connected to real world people and events although largely fictional, of Black people around the world from various parts of history, all connected by the story of a newborn goddess of love.  One storyline features Slaves in Saint Domingue, another features an entertainer (and granddaughter of a whore) in 19th century Paris, and another features a whore in 4th century Alexandria. As you can guess from those descriptions, the book is not coddling to the reader - descriptions of the harshness of slavery, of sex - with strangers or others, and of suffering are an essential part of this book.  But if those things aren't a problem for you, The Salt Roads is certainly interesting at the very least.  

More after the jump: 

Monday, February 12, 2018

SciFi/Fantasy Novella Review: The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

Brooke Bolander's first novella takes two tragic events in American history - the tragedy of the Radium Girls in 1917-1920 and Topsy the Elephant who was electrocuted to death in 1903 - and combines them into an alternate history story that is just as tragic as its component parts....and so so moving.  This will easily make my Hugo list for 2018 next year barring some crazy good novellas coming out.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Black Star Renegades by Michael Moreci

  Black Star Renegades wears its Star Wars inspiration on its sleeve.  This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone reading it - the fact that the book was inspired by Star Wars is on its Amazon page and mentioned in the Acknowledgements as well as by the author himself on a few advertising pages (such as the post he made about the book on John Scalzi's blog).  And that's okay!  I like Star Wars and a few old EU works are some of my favorite books - so a story done in a way inspired by Star Wars but not actually in the SW universe should really be my jam.

  And to some extent, Black Star Renegades succeeds at this.  The book subverts the Star Wars theme fairly early by killing off its Chosen One character and the resultant action and characters are fairly solid.  That said, the book never really takes the leap from "solid" to "great."  It's fun for sure, and I never really felt like I wanted to put the book down, but neither did the book ever make me feel like I was desperate to find out what happens next either. 

  Note: This also clearly the first in a series, but as far as I can tell there's no date for the next book, so if you're a person who won't start a book in an incomplete series, you might skip this one.  Still, the book works as a stand alone so it could go either way.

More after the Jump:

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Will to Battle (Terra Ignota #3) by Ada Palmer

  The Will to Battle is book 3 of Ada Palmer's philosophical SciFi tetralogy "Terra Ignota," following last year's Hugo Nominated "Too Like the Lightning" and "Seven Surrenders."  The series, which features a 25th century world that has based its governments and ways of life on the ideals of Enlightenment thinkers, is one of the most unique* works I've ever read in the genre, featuring an unreliable narrator, a constantly shifting textual style between multiple formats, and frequent interjections by philosophers and a fictional reader in the middle of the story.  I'm sure such a thing has been done before (everything has) and the result is something that very likely inspires people to either love or hate the series with little in between, but for me it creates a really fascinating story.

*Yeah I know I'm using "most unique" here - I can't think of a better phrase for this, so I'm using it anyhow.  Sue me.*

  That said, The Will to Battle shares some of my complaints with Book 1 in the series (Too Like the Lightning).  TLTL was quite clearly half of a book (with Seven Surrenders as its final half) and while The Will to Battle is more of a complete story with a more logical end point, it still ends the story just before the part the reader is anticipating from the very beginning.  The result is a 3rd book that is somewhere in between the first two in terms of quality, and a not quite satisfying ending.

Note:  You CANNOT begin this series with The Will to Battle, you will be HOPELESSLY lost.  Don't even try it.  As you might imagine, mild spoilers for books 1 & 2 follow, but I've limited it as much as possible.

Monday, February 5, 2018

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

   Scythe, by Neal Shusterman, is an example of a SFF subgenre that I haven't read a lot of - Dystopian Science Fiction (it's also listed as YA on Amazon, but aside from the protagonists being in the right age group, I'm not sure the book fits what I think of as YA).  Set in a future where humanity has conquered death through technology, the book deals mainly with the ideals and actions of those appointed as "Scythes" - individuals who are empowered to kill in order to deal with overpopulation.  Our two protagonists are teens who would never want to do such a job at the start of the book, but soon learn that those who hold the position of Scythe may not be as just as one might think.

  The end result is a book that has an interesting hook and characters, but almost feels too much like setup for future works in the same universe (a sequel just came out this past month).  That's not to say that nothing happens or that the book lacks a climax - things DO happen and the book does have a climax to its main story arc - but I was honestly more interested in the status quo setup by the book's ending than in the resolution of this story arc itself.  Scythe is worth reading as an interesting thought exercise with solid characters, but it's almost too clearly the first in an arc in this world, and that made it less satisfying that it might otherwise have been.