The 2016 year brought with it many, many changes for me. I moved–internationally, back home to the United States after four years abroad–and I had an intense, hectic end to that time overseas. I don’t love change. So, when change comes as it always does, I like to retreat into the warm embrace of familiar books. To wit, 2016 was filled with rereads (some following rewatches, such as a full Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine rewatch). However, included here are no rereads, only new ones.
One of my goals for the year, which I partially succeeded in, was starting to dive into major Science Fiction and Fantasy series which I’d only read about but knew were influential: Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy, David Eddings’ The Belgariad (which you won’t find on this list), and Terry Brooks’ Shannara books, for example. I also attempted to dig deeper into The Wheel of Time series (which has taken four years to get as far as I have) and The Expanse books (of which I read four this year). Obviously, I also read as many of Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere books as I could, including the commentaries within Arcanum Unbounded.
In 2017, I hope to build upon my goal: adding to the Farseer books, maybe (but not likely) finishing The Wheel of Time, starting Michael Moorcock’s Elric series, as well as L.E. Modesitt’s Recluce books. Of course, other books will wheedle their way in, but I’m OK with that. I’m just hoping to really dig into the major influential Fantasy and Science Fiction texts
So, here goes: my Top 10 Reads of 2016.
Aurora was easily my favorite read of 2016. It presents a common enough story–humanity’s attempt to colonize another planet–in a fresh way. It’s more about the journey than the arrival, but it speaks about humanity in an honest manner, understanding and presenting our foibles in a clear way. Even more, its narration is executed uniquely, though I can’t speak more directly about that without spoilers. Suffice it to say, the point of view and the subsequent perspective is handily worth the price of admission.
It’s rare for the fourth book in a series to be the best. I know I’m likely not in the majority of reviewers who think that, but what I appreciate about this entry in The Expanse series is the tight, narrow focus of the storytelling. This is space opera, yet after literally expanding all too widely the universe of The Expanse in Abaddon’s Gate (book 3 in the series), they have almost a locked-room (more like a locked-planet) story on their hands in Cibola Burn. I read this in almost one sitting–you should do the same.
One of the Fantasy subgenres I particularly appreciate is the David Copperfield-esque narrative. Among these are The Name of the Wind and The Lies of Locke Lamora (which you’ll notice is among the top ten here). I like these because it provides shifting perspectives of whichever world the author has built: from childhood to young adult to adulthood. Each of these points of view show the readers an in-depth revelry in every nook and cranny of the worlds in which our protagonists find themselves, and I relish it as well.
Funnily enough, what made this such a great read was the opposite of Cibola Burn: rather than the tight focus on the crew of the Rocicante in one isolated location, we see them split apart across the solar system, each one dealing with his or her past. And obviously some explosive brilliance occurs.
This historian fiction doorstopper of a novel is Downton Abbey meets A Song of Ice and Fire. This was not a newly published novel, yet it was one that has fascinated me for quite awhile. I read Fall of Giants while on a short term missions trip to Borneo, and I was captivated throughout. The prose is frank, nowhere near the poetry of George R.R. Martin, and the scope is world-wide. It’s the first book in The Century Trilogy. There is a slight content warning; it’s not pervasive, but there are a few scenes of sexuality.
Like Assassin’s Apprentice and The Name of the Wind, the world Scott Lynch created is immersive and deep and a pleasure to explore. I particularly enjoyed the con artistry and the italian-leaning world-building aesthetic. I look forward to reading the rest of this series,
This is another year in which I plowed through Brandon Sanderson—this time it was his short(ish) fiction set in his Cosmere. This felt wildly different from the rest of his stories in so many ways, and it left me wanting to read more from this world. It’s about the biggest, highest stakes date on which God-Emperor Kairominas has ever gone.
I reread this in preparation for a class I’m teaching this year, and it stimulated great discussions there. What I realized, however, is that this was missing from my MA in Literature. At no point was this essential text about the creation of literary criticism included in a curriculum about literary criticism. That being said, I got a great deal out of this, and it will be required reading in any literature class I’ll teach.
This is the second entry into Terry Brooks’ Shannara universe, and it’s much more developed than the first. We’ve moved further into the timeline on Shannara and begin to understand the magic system much more. The story is also compelling and has much higher stakes. Worth it.
Originally included in the Dangerous Women anthology, edited by George R.R. Martin, this novella follows Silence Montane who must protect her family and not become a Shade. Once again, Sanderson proves himself a head above everyone else. This may require multiple readings, but it’s worth it.