Saturday, January 05, 2013

Best Books of 2012: Science Fiction/Fantasy

This is the Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Books of 2012 segment of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2012 feature. Also available are our picks for best books for children and young adults best crime, mystery and thriller fiction of 2012, in two parts: one and two. As well, here are the best cookbooks of 2012. Still to come: our contributors’ selections of the Best Fiction and Best Non-Fiction. Look for them in the coming days.

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
If you’ve ever liked anything by Kim Stanley Robinson (Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, Sixty Days and Counting, The Years of Rice and Salt, et al) you will enjoy 2312. If this is your first visit to Robinson’s terraforming worlds, you’re in a for a helluva treat. Robinson is sharp and strong and simply at his best here. Never mind dystopia: this is utopia, and it doesn’t get much better. A terrorist organization or individual has bombed a city on the planet Mercury. Uncovering whodunnit leads to a conspiracy so deep, it penetrates to the very roots of Mercurian history, right back to Earth’s own polluted history. Robinson fans will recognize his keen sense of place and value for the environment as well as his hopeful vision. -- Lincoln Cho

Hair Side, Flesh Side by Helen Marshall (ChiZine)
Sometimes you hear people talking about the new face of horror. Well huddle closer, children. Hair Side, Flesh Side is it. This is author Helene Marshall’s debut story collection, but she’s no stranger to these shores. In 2011, she published a ground-breaking poetry collection, Skeleton Leaves, that among other things was selected for consideration for the Bram Stoker Award for excellence in horror. Marshall is a Doctoral Candidate at Centre for Medieval Studies, Toronto and holds a Ph.D. in Medieval and Renaissance Studies from University of Toronto. So then when you discover stories that hinge so sharply on themes and strands garnered from Marshall’s extensive intellectual travels, it is on a certain level, unsurprising. What surprises is what she does with it. Marshall’s stories are frightening, touching, quirky, sexy and deeply lyrical. The 15 stories each seem deeply grounded in reality, making the otherworldly explorations all the more real. -- Sienna Powers

Railsea by China Miéville (Del Rey)
You can call China Miéville’s Railsea young adult fiction if you want, but I won’t, nor do I think history will, either. This is a sharp, almost steampunk retelling of the Moby Dick story, but the captain here is at the helm of a mole-hunting train. Though the story is satisfying, as always the chief delight of a Miéville novel is Miéville himself. Here again, I wonder at the YA label, as the language seems sophisticated beyond younger readers. What does remain clear is this author’s skill. Un Lun Dun, Perdido Street Station, The City & The City and on, Miéville writes beautiful, memorable books. Adventures a reader can carry through their life. Railsea is another beauty in a growing bouquet of simply wonderful books. -- Linda L. Richards

Redshirts by John Scalzi (Tor)
In a year of sharply, inventive books, Redshirts may have been the sharpest, most inventive thing I read. As anyone who has watched even a bit of Star Trek knows, a Redshirt is a character who will die not long after being introduced. It’s such a truism, the word has leaked into language. I’ve seen it on sitcoms. “He’s a Redshirt,” says one character to another and everyone knows what is meant. This cultural knowledge is what John Scalzi’s Redshirts is predicated on. It’s an idea that could have failed dismally, but he makes it work. Hell: he makes it sing. In fact, it is this cultural knowledge that Scalzi hinges his book upon, but there is so much more here than meets the eye. On one level, it is a classic old school science fiction adventure, with a highly hilarious edge. On another, we get to witness what goes on in the lives of characters we would not normally ever get to see: those bit players we’re aware of just off stage left. On still another, it’s not until after you’ve finished this particular journey that you realize that Scalzi has skillfully interwoven thoughtful comments on the very nature of death into his narrative. Bottom line: though you might like Redshirts on the first pass, you’ll realize it’s an even better book than you thought it was after a couple of weeks of thinking back. -- Lincoln Cho

Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution edited by Ann Vandermeer (Tachyon)
When Ann Vandermeer began editing an annual steampunk anthology in 2008, it didn’t create a huge ripple. I was reading steampunk at that time and had been for years, so I understand how difficult Vandermeer’s job must have been just talking about the sub-genre, let alone getting people to understand what it was. Most recently, steampunk has practically slipped into the mainstream and it seems everyone is talking about it and filming it and writing it. It’s even slipped into furniture design. And Vandermeer has the enviable position of having been in the vanguard. Her annual anthology offers up the best of the lot that seems always to be getting better and everyone who cares about such things knows it. It strikes me that this third edition is the best yet. Labels aside, Steampunk III is a strong  and sharp collection of writing. You don’t have to be a fan of steampunk -- or even really know what it is -- to enjoy this work. In any case, it collects the writing of not only the sharpest, newest voices in steampunk, but also a great many who bring their authority to all types of explorative writing. The list is deep, but we find works by Lev Grossman, Cherie Priest, Garth Nix, Bruce Sterling, Jeffrey Ford and many others. This is a great collection. -- Lincoln Cho

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter (Harper)
If nothing else, you can love this one for the beauty of the collaboration: between them, Pratchett and Baxter have both ends of SF/F pretty well covered. Baxter writes the sort of hard SF one would expect from someone with degrees in mathematics and engineering. From his debut with 1991’s Raft to his 2012 Doctor Who novel The Wheel of Ice, Baxter’s work has been informed by strong scientific research fueled by understanding of the philosophies of the human condition. Pratchett, on the other hand, is best known for his highly comedic Discworld fantasy series, which represents a different sort of world building altogether. It’s an absolute delight that putting these two together has resulted in exactly the book one would hope for from such a collaboration: The Long Earth snaps with hard science and just the right amount of humor. In the book, we discover that parallel worlds have been breached by the discovery and implementation of some fairly simple technology revolving around… a potato. Though this sounds like a silly premise, in these skilled hands it not only works, it fairly sings. Enough so that I’m looking forward to the second installment in what is being billed a two book series. -- Lincoln Cho

The Year’s Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois (St. Martin’s Press)
The 29th publication of this annual needed little announcement. Every year, this anthology rounds up the very best of SF/F from the previous year, offering readers the chance to see what genre masters are up to plus giving us a glimpse of where things are headed with the best of the best from the brightest of young things. As usual, the anthology begins with a summation of the previous year by the editor. Here Dorzois puts emphasis on the importance of the e-book on various trends in SF/F, but also the importance of magazines that publish fiction, regardless of format. “If you’d like to see lots of good SF and Fantasy published every year,” the editor admonishes, “the survival of these magazines is essential, and one important way that you can help them survive is by subscribing to them.” It’s a good point, too. Especially in this context, since almost all of the fiction in this anthology was initially published in a periodical of some description. This time out, the more than 300,000 words in the anthology includes short stories by Robert Reed, Alastair Reynolds, Maureen F. McHugh, Pat Cadigan, Elizabeth Bear and others. Gardner has a demonstrated talent for finding the best of the best and this year’s offering is no exception. -- Lincoln Cho

Triggers by Robert J. Sawyer (Ace)
Though the sharp but sadly short-lived 2009-2010 television series based on his novel Flashforward introduced Robert J. Sawyer to a wider audience than ever before, the novelist’s work has been solid, respected and awarded for over two decades. Like much of his work, 2012’s Triggers rides the edge of a couple of genres. The author seems pleasingly unconcerned about where those edges should fall. President Seth Jerrison narrowly missed assassination. In the hospital while doctors try to revive him, another doctor is experimenting with memory erasing technology. At the same time, a terrorist bomb detonates, thrusting the President into cardiac arrest. When he has a near death experience, the President is flooded with memories not his own. Not long after, it becomes apparent that the memory altering technology has somehow embedded the Presdident’s own memories in some random person: a potential catastrophe, considering the classified nature of a President’s knowledge, especially since some of it relates to a top secret military mission that could impact countless lives. It strikes me that Sawyer is at the height of his powers here. A mature storyteller, sharing his worlds with us at his own easy stride. I couldn’t put it down. -- Linda L. Richards

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

SciFi can be so diversified I have found so many good books

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 3:25:00 AM PST  

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