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):

Monday, April 23, 2018

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

The term "Message Fiction" is generally thrown as an insult by people who are closed minded at best and stupid and malicious at worst.  All stories have some sort of message, whether it be heavy handed or subtly placed within the narrative, and cries of "Message Fiction is bad" or that it is ruining the genre are pretty much always sour grapes by people who don't like fiction that conforms to their own perspectives.  So yeah, you'll pretty much never hear/see me use the term in a review on this blog, as whatever valid use the term might have has long been beaten out of it.

If I was EVER to use the term, New York 2140 would be the type of book where I would do it.  The book is one part science fiction - featuring a flooded New York City after Global warming has caused the sea level to rise 50 feet in the year 2140 - and a larger part screed against the current world financial system, particularly after the 2008 financial crisis.  There is nothing subtle about this book - one of the 8 point of view "characters" who narrates each chapter is explicitly giving screeds about the financial and political system of modern capitalism, often in ways not connected at all to the main storyline, and this theme pervades much of the rest of the points of view as well.

It's certainly possible this could have worked still as a novel....but it doesn't here.  Several of the main characters are incredibly grating - though a few get better as the story goes on - and the leaps of logic needed to get from one area of the plot to the next are so large as to defy one's suspension of disbelief.  As a novel, this book is bad - the characters are at best decent (and often worse), the plot is bad, and parts of the book are so painfully written that it's hard not to skim to try and get past them.  If I hadn't wanted to read every Hugo and Nebula Nominated Work for Best Novel, I would have quit reading this book fairly quickly....instead I trudged through over 600 pages so I could make this review.  I would recommend against following my example.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra

Markswoman was yet another book I wanted to like more than I did.  The book is a postapocalyptic scifi/fantasy genre story (as is common with this subgenre, elements of SF and Fantasy are so mingled here as to prevent this book from being distinguished as one or the other) that takes place in Central Asia (here known as Asiana) in a distant future.  More importantly, it's one where the mythology of the story is based not on an all-too-common European background, but more on the culture/mythology of southeast Asia (particularly Indian/Hindu mythology).  Add in a setting featuring Orders of female assassins (the "markswomen") enforcing justice in the world, and well, I really wanted to like this book.

Unfortunately, Markswoman has a lot of flaws.  The first in a duology (whose second book's publishing date is still unknown), Markswoman features a lot of worldbuilding but a plot that is incredibly simple and predictable, with characters who are pretty shallow at heart, absent maybe one or two.  Add a cliffhanger ending which is completely unsatisfying, the end result is a book which seems to waste all of that worldbuilding that could've led to something special.  The book isn't offensively bad, but it has little to recommend as a result.

Note: I read Markswoman as an audiobook, which is narrated proficiently. But having done so, I'm almost certainly going to get the spelling of various characters/places wrong, so forgive me where I do.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

SciFi/Fantasy Novella Review: Stone Mad by Elizabeth Bear

Stone Mad by Elizabeth Bear

Stone Mad is a Novella-lengthed sequel to Elizabeth Bear's 2015 novel, Karen Memory (Review HERE).  You could attempt to read it as a stand alone, as the story is entirely self-contained here, but you'll appreciate the book a bit more (and understand the type of world we're in here) if you already have some attachment to the characters.  For that's where this novella really shines - I liked Karen Memory, but my main complaint was that the story got a little too over-ambitious with an expansion of the plot and didn't spend enough time with the main love interest.  Stone Mad by contrast, is all about the relationship between Karen and her wife Priya and is fantastic as a result.  It may still be a steampunk lesbian western to an extent, but this is a story about the two main characters and is just absolutely lovely and better for it.

More after the Jump:

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

The Queens of Innis Lear is a fantasy take (and a more feminist take) on Shakepeare's classic tragedy, King Lear (if you couldn't guess from the title).  The book is still a tragedy, but, in addition to adding major fantasy elements (magic is extremely important), the story adds a lot more depth to the story and characters from the original play.  The book takes a play with many completely unsympathetic characters - some of whom are paper thin - and makes nearly everyone three dimensional and believable - even the ones who don't get much page time.  This is a really well written book.

Did I like this book? That's a tougher question to answer - and I probably lean towards no.  The book is probably a bit too long (near 600 pages, and it feels it) and, as befits a tragedy, is not a happy one - but a lot of that sadness comes from some characters making really stupid decisions.  But it's certainly a very interesting book overall, and I'm not sorry for reading it.  If you like Shakespeare adaptations or are interested in a very well written character-driven tragedy, The Queens of Innis Lear is worth your time.

Note: I hadn't read King Lear prior to reading The Queens of Innis Lear, and that wasn't a problem in any way (I read the wikipedia summary).  Having skimmed through the original text since reading this adaptation, I would say it's not really necessary to be familiar with the story before reading this book.  Also, for this reason, I'm not going to be going too in depth in the specific changes made to the original story in this review.  

More after the Jump:

Monday, April 16, 2018

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is a short novel that tries to deal with a lot of ideas - time travel, ecological reconstruction, body chemistry manipulation, body part replacement, ethics of killing people who may not exist, issues of capitalism affecting the attempt to improve the public good, etc etc etc.  There's a lot going on in this book, and I can see how some people and some critics might really enjoy the ideas being explored here.

Alas, I'm not one of those people, as there simply wasn't enough space to put all of these ideas in this book, make a coherent plot, and get me to care about the characters enough to make me really interested in the outcomes.  It's not a bad book per se, but I wound up finishing each chapter, and eventually the book itself, and just thinking to myself "huh, that's it?"

More after the Jump:

Thursday, April 12, 2018

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Art of Starving by Sam J Miller

The Art of Starving is yet another YA genre novel that has been nominated for a bunch of awards (for both the Norton Award and for the new "Not a Hugo" Award for Best YA Novel).   The book falls into the Fantasy sub-genre of books where it's not clear how real the fantasy elements actually are - for the most part - and I don't mean this in a negative way - this is a YA coming of age story of a semi-closeted gay high school boy with an eating disorder.  The Fantasy elements come from the powers the protagonist - Matt - seems to obtain when starving himself (hence the title), but it's not even clear to the protagonist (who tells the entire story in First Person) whether or not those powers are real.

In this way, and a few others, the book reminded me quite a bit of Paul Cornell's novel "Chalk," which also featured a protagonist seeking revenge and possibly the invocation of magical powers in an otherwise normal reality.  Both books could be quite brutal to read at times, as their protagonists suffer.  Still, the books are very different, but at the same time, some of their differences I think are worth examining as a good way to show why I didn't quite love The Art of Starving - both books eventually wind up with major climaxes involving their fantasy elements, but The Art of Starving's feels less earned and then fizzles out, unlike that of Chalk.  Whereas Chalk seems to know where it was going in the end, The Art of Starving seemed to me like like it couldn't figure out how it wanted to get from it's critical plot points to its ending, and that made this coming of age story go from potentially great to something lesser.   I can see why this book was nominated for Awards, but as a result I can't quite endorse it winning those awards (though I expect it to do so).

Note: I read this as an audiobook, so if I get some names and spellings wrong, that's why.  The audiobook reader is particularly good, so it's definitely worth getting in that format.

More after the Jump: