A summary of some of my leisure reading, mostly science fiction and fantasy. Star ratings are based on my personal enjoyment of the book, not necessarily of its literary quality… which is to say sometimes I have terrible taste.
- Rules of Redemption, T.A. White —
Seven Blades in Black, Sam Sykes —
A dark story in a brutal universe where everyone seems at least a little bit evil (or insane, or both?). Basically Kill Bill in book form, with quick-paced action scenes and a slow introduction to a complex magic system and the societal impacts thereof.
Finder, Suzanne Palmer —
Heartstrikers / Detroit Free Zone
I started out just reading Minimum Wage Magic because it was a GoodReads suggestion… and then I got hooked on this world of dragons, magic, and technology. While the DFZ series looks like it’ll stay in the far-future magi-cyber-punk style, the earlier Heartstrikers series provides an amazing backstory to how the world ended up the way it is. It’s urban fantasy at its finest, with an endless supply of lovable characters and a careful mix of classic fantasy with the modern world.
I finished this series in a weekend. Highly recommend.
- Nice Dragons Finish Last, Rachel Aaron —
- One Good Dragon Deserves Another, Rachel Aaron —
- No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished, Rachel Aaron —
- A Dragon of a Different Color, Rachel Aaron —
- Last Dragon Standing, Rachel Aaron —
- Minimum Wage Magic, Rachel Aaron —
Leviathan Wakes, James S.A. Corey —
Everyone’s been saying I should read The Expanse for years, so I figured I’d actually get a start on it. Unfortunately, I just didn’t like this book that much – I didn’t like the characters, and didn’t feel invested in their character arcs.
Ancestral Night, Elizabeth Bear —
This space opera plays with the conflict between free will and societal good. In a world where “rightminding” (aka brainwashing) is just a part of day-to-day life, one might expect the story to be about some rebellion against mainstream society… and yet, what we actually get here is a nuanced story about sentience, people, and choices.
The Praxis, Walter Jon Williams —
Overall pretty good, but I had the hardest time getting over the decisions made by the main characters, even if they made sense in the setting. It felt a bit like manufactured conflict. This may have been cleaned up in the sequels, but I’m not currently planning to read them.
Polaris Rising, Jessie Mihalik —
The Wandering Earth, Cixin Liu —
I watched the movie, so I figured I would read the short stories. Cixin Liu’s writing feels like a lot of mid-20th-century science fiction, which I haven’t interacted with in a while. The focus on the setting and environment (over characters and their interactions) makes sense for a collection of this type, and I can see how the filmmakers turned this into a blockbuster.
Fleet of Knives, Gareth Powell —
The Trouble Dog and its crew were great in the previous book, so I had no choice but to read the sequel. The story is definitely not what I expected: Embers of War was a little derivative, but Fleet of Knives turns that on its head and stomps on it a few times. If you’re not afraid of a little squickiness, this is worth reading just to see what happens next!
Poppy War, R.F. Kuang —
Oof. This was a dark and heavy read – made worse by the fact that it’s based on the real twentieth-century history of Chinese-Japanese relations. Strongly recommend (but maybe not to be read at night).
Golden Age of the Solar Clipper
I binged this entire series somehow, following the Ishmael Wang from his first, hesitant steps onto a ship through to multiple relationships, multiple ships, owning a company, and all the adventures along the way. One of the things I really liked about the series is that it’s fundamentally a story about shipping, transplanted into the science fictional world by the fact that it’s shipping in space. There’s no war here (or even really a proper military presence), just people and their paths through life.
Unfortunately, the series has a tendency early on to make Ishmael a bit of a Gary Stu (he doesn’t really fail at, well, anything…), but after a few time-skips Lowell manages to patch that up and make the later books stronger.
- Quarter Share, Nathan Lowell —
- Half Share, Nathan Lowell —
- Full Share, Nathan Lowell —
- Double Share, Nathan Lowell —
- Captain’s Share, Nathan Lowell —
- Owner’s Share, Nathan Lowell —
- In Ashes Born, Nathan Lowell —
- To Fire Called, Nathan Lowell —
- By Darkness Forged, Nathan Lowell —
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Becky Chambers —
It’s honestly refreshing to go from the classic high-stakes save-the-world tropes of most science fiction to Chambers’ Wayfarers series, which is decidedly more a slice-of-life, enjoy-the-journey type of deal. This first book brings to life a colorful, imaginative universe and characters that are easy to like and grow attached to. I kind of wish we got to know more about them in the sequels, but that might take away some of the appeal.
A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers —
This book explores some of the darker aspects of the Wayfarers universe by following a couple of the side characters from the first book. The story tugs at your emotional heartstrings from beginning to end, and the mix of a coming-of-age story with a refinding-yourself story makes for a beautiful ending.
Provenance, Ann Leckie —
A book set in the same universe as Ancillary Justice, but somehow even better? Ann Leckie delivers with a great adventure story that was a true pleasure to read. I expect this one to have broader appeal than the Ancillary series since it follows a human rather than an intelligent ship. I’m glad I got to this one befoe the end of the year.
The Spiral Wars
- Drysine Legacy, Joel Shepherd —
The Indranan War
Behind the Throne, K.B. Wagers —
Well-written and executed, but not really my cup of tea.
Yet another semi-generic military space opera. Still, I had fun – the kind of books you’ll read once but probably not again.
- Space Carrier Avalon, Glynn Stewart —
- Stellar Fox, Glynn Stewart —
- Battle Group Avalon, Glynn Stewart —
- Q-Ship Chameleon, Glynn Stewart —
- Rimward Stars, Glynn Stewart —
- Operation Medusa, Glynn Stewart —
Rejoice, a Knife to the Heart, Steven Erikson —
Read this one for the social commentary, especially if you read lots of speculative fiction.
If you liked the movie Hidden Figures, these books are for you! A heartwarming alternate history of how women might have gotten involved earlier in the space program. There’s no good-vs-evil here, just a story of people, culture, and SPACE!
- The Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal —
- The Fated Sky, Mary Robinette Kowal —
Cold War Magic
Breach, W.L. Goodwater —
Cold War alternate history with magic? I was intrigued. Recommended read if you like spy stories and/or strong female protagonists, or even just superhero movies.
A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe, Alex White —
Reading this book felt like watching a great movie: the plotting was tight, the character interactions fluid and fun, and the climax was amazing. If you like reading about ragtag groups of ne’er-do-wells fighting against insurmountable odds (aka Firefly, Star Wars, …), you’ll enjoy this one.
The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch
Despite all of the positive reviews on this book, I honestly just didn’t like it that much. I can’t point out which part it was that turned me off it, but this is one of the few series where I didn’t feel immediately compelled to go out and get the sequel.
Skyward, Brandon Sanderson —
I’m an unabashed fan of Brandon Sanderson, so when I learned he was publishing a book outside of the Cosmere and in a science-fictional universe, I knew I was going to read it. Skyward itself starts out a bit trope-y (it’s targetting a YA audience, so it’s hard not to be, I guess) but combined with the short story Defending Elysium I expect the next book is going to be wholly original. And of course, reading a “girl and her starship” story in the tradition of “boy and his dragon” is always fun in its own right.
The Murderbot Diaries
This series continues to be a great read (if a little overpriced, at novel prices for novellas).
- Rogue Protocol, Martha Wells —
- Exit Strategy, Martha Wells —
If you like reading complex space politics against a backdrop of pending doom, the Interdependency series is for you. The books aren’t quite page-turners in their middle sections, but the payoff at the end is satisfying. Further, I actually liked many of the characters, which is something that’s a bit uncommon in this genre. I’ll read the next book when it comes out!
- The Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi —
- The Consuming Fire, John Scalzi —
Super generic mil-SF. Not sure why I read as much of this as I did…
- Into the Black, Evan Currie —
- The Heart of Matter, Evan Currie —
Perilous Waif, E. William Brown —
This book feels like the novel version of manga/anime: not much of it makes sense if you think too hard, but it’s really a lot of fun to read. If you’re looking for a guilty pleasure read, this one’s pretty good.
Warcross, Marie Lu —
I’m a completionist, so I finished reading this novel, but it was honestly just sequence after sequence of YA tropes. They’re done well, but I grew out of those a while back.
A fun series of sci-fi thrillers by a (new to me) author, SL Huang. The books are fast-paced, exciting, and dark without being gritty, a balance which is pretty uncommon in the books I’ve read in the past while. Unfortunately, they are still thrillers at heart, and the character and plot development suffer for it. Great series to read on a plane, though!
- Zero Sum Game, SL Huang —
- Half Life, SL Huang —
- Root of Unity, SL Huang —
Salvation, Peter F. Hamilton —
The first book in a new series by Peter F. Hamilton, an author I’d been meaning to read for a while. This book had a bit of a Hyperion / Canterbury Tales structure, following the stories of each of the characters on their way to the climax. At this point, while not the most common literary technique, I feel like it has mostly lost its novelty… and it didn’t feel like there was much else new in this book, either. Still, as a well-executed example of space opera, I had a good time reading it. Not sure if I’ll read the rest of the sequence.
The Divine Cities
After reading Foundryside, I happened to be browsing a bookstore and realized that Robert Jackson Bennet actually has another series that he’d published (to some critical acclaim, even!). I really enjoyed the first book, City of Stairs, especially in the way that it draws heavily from Indian roots rather than the well-tread English/Western canon. City of Blades kept the stakes high, but the choice to have different protagonists in each book kept me from binging the entire series in a single weekend.
- City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennet —
- City of Blades, Robert Jackson Bennet —
Foundryside, Robert Jackson Bennet —
It’s been a little while since I’ve been excited about a new high fantasy series: as a genre, it’s hard for me to get excited when many authors repeat the same tropes with new names and slightly redrawn maps. Foundryside brings a familiar-yet-different magic system to the table, and has very Brandon Sanderson-esque vibes throughout: strong female characters, solid plotting, and a self-consistent world where the magic is as much a science as it is a plot device. Definitely a series to keep an eye on.
The Wrong Stars, Tim Pratt —
While The Wrong Stars doesn’t bring anything super novel to the table, I’m a sucker for “rag-tag band of explorers discovers a secret that could change evertying”. The book is well-written and enjoyable, and (despite some awkward prose) does a good job at immersing the reader in the characters and the world they live in. Extra props for keeping a semi-positive tone despite almost nothing going well, and for minimizing the body horror and squickiness that often comes with books of this subgenre.
Dreaming Stars, Tim Pratt —
Dreaming Stars is another success by Tim Pratt—if you liked The Wrong Stars, you’ll have a good time with this one.. While it’s got some well-worn tropes, the camaraderie between the characters is palpable, and the mix of mystery, exploration, and discovery is done well. Would recommend!
Warm Up, V. E. Schwab —
As a short prequel to Vicious, I enjoyed the context that Warm Up provides to the latter half of the first book in the Villains series. Otherwise, as a short story, not too much remarkable here.
Vicious, V. E. Schwab —
From the premise of the series, I would have expected a book or series similar to the webserial Worm, focusing on the story of a good-at-heart villain in a setting where comic-book heroism was alive and well. That might make for a fun story, but it’s definitely not the one in Vicious. Instead, we see the obsessions of two sociopaths who happen to have powers… and the effects they have on the people around them. Victor, the protagonist, is decidedly not good. And yet, you can’t help but root for the motley band he’s put together to accomplish his quest. Recommend if you’re looking for a bit of a darker read.
The Smartest Guys In The Room, Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind —
Unlike most of the books in this list, this book is a non-fictional account of the downfall of Enron in the early 2000s. It’s interesting to see the parallels between the high-risk commodities trading within Enron’s deregulated energy markets and the housing crisis of 2008, especially since it doesn’t look like the financial services industry has slowed down the rate at which they are willing to securitize new assets and develop complex, high-risk strategies for higher return.
Stars Uncharted, S. K. Dunstall —
Stars Uncharted is a fun, light-hearted book with a satisfying ending. It’s pretty different from the Linesman series, both in the cast of characters and in the premise of the book’s setting. It’s interesting to see how the prevalence of “body-modding” technology can affect how society works, and how people perceive themselves and others. The science here isn’t particularly hard (it is still space opera), but there’s plenty of thought put into the consequences of each aspect of the universe that the Dunstall sisters have created. Worth a read!
I blew through all three of the Linesman books after seeing that S. K. Dunstall had written something new coming out later in August (Stars Uncharted) which had a fair bit of positive feedback on GoodReads. The Linesman series is some pretty fun space opera, set in a world where ships travel between the stars with the help of “lines”, biomechanical components which need skilled “linesman” to repair them. The story follows Ean Lambert, a skilled Linesman from a poor background, as he becomes a major force in an interstellar conflict. The series has a good mix of politics and action, and I had a lot of fun reading it.
- Confluence, S. K. Dunstall —
- Alliance, S. K. Dunstall —
- Linesman, S. K. Dunstall —
Thrawn: Alliances, Timothy Zahn —
Okay, let’s be real. It’s a Star Wars book by Timothy Zahn, who wrote the original Thrawn trilogy that got me into the (old) Star Wars Extended Universe in the first place! Of course I was going to read it. Thankfully, this story lives up to Zahn’s standard, providing a perspective into Thrawn and his relationship with Anakin (“The Jedi”) and Darth Vader as they work together on the Outer Rim.
Machineries of Empire
This series is amazing. Full stop. You should just read it. It’s written by a trans Korean-American mathematician, with all of the little details and complex exposition that you might expect from such a background. This story follows Cheris, who joined the military branch of the Hexarchate (the Kel) to find her place in society, as she learns the true underpinnings of the High Calendar. Unlike many of the other Kel, she’s also a top-tier mathematician in a world where math and belief in mathematical patterns can warp reality.
Getting into this series does require some effort – it’s not an easy read. Despite the fact that Lee does correctly use mathematical terms throughout, it’s probably best approached more like a work of Fantasy: the reader doesn’t need to know how the calendar produces “exotic effects” to enjoy the books and to understand the characters.
Besides the prevalence of multiracial characters and the clever use of non-gendered pronouns, one of the things I really appreciated about Machineries of Empire is that pretty much every character is presented as an intelligent person who makes rational decisions within the circumstances they find themselves in – and the circumstances themselves don’t feel overly contrived, either.
- Revenant Gun, Yoon Ha Lee —
- Raven Strategem, Yoon Ha Lee —
- Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee —
Artemis, Andy Weir —
This was honestly just kind of a disappointing second work after Weir’s earlier book The Martian, which manages to create a much more sympathetic and interesting character in Mark Watney. Read it because it’s one of the better-known books to come out this year, but don’t expect too much.
Book of the Ancestor
- Grey Sister, Mark Lawrence —
The Murderbot Diaries
This series of novellas follows a newly-independent security robot (which calls itself “Murderbot”) as it explores the wider world. A surprisingly light-hearted tale, these are short reads that make you smile.
- Artificial Condition, Martha Wells —
- All Systems Red, Martha Wells —
- Embers of War, Gareth L. Powell —
I have to say – I really liked Trouble Dog’s story. Maybe I’m just a big fan of sentient spaceships, but even though this work is pretty obviously inspired by Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Iain Banks’ Culture series, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and am looking forward to the next book.
- The Autumn Republic, Brian McClellan —
- The Crimson Campaign, Brian McClellan —
- Promise of Blood, Brian McClellan —
The Lost Stars
- Shattered Spear, Jack Campbell —
- Imperfect Sword, Jack Campbell —
- Perilous Shield, Jack Campbell —
- Tarnished Knight, Jack Campbell —
The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier
- Leviathan, Jack Campbell —
- Steadfast, Jack Campbell —
- Invicible, Jack Campbell —
- Dreadnaught, Jack Campbell —
The Lost Fleet
- Victorious, Jack Campbell —
- Relentless, Jack Campbell —
- Valiant, Jack Campbell —
- Fearless, Jack Campbell —
- Dauntless, Jack Campbell —
- Into the Fire, Elizabeth Moon —
- Cold Welcome, Elizabeth Moon —
- Victory Conditions, Elizabeth Moon —
- Command Decision, Elizabeth Moon —
- Engaging the Enemy, Elizabeth Moon —
- Marque and Reprisal, Elizabeth Moon —
- Trading in Danger, Elizabeth Moon —
- A Call to Vengeance, David Weber —
- Autonomous, Annalee Newitz —
Read this because it’s well written, and read it also because it hits a little too close to home. Autonomous is as much about its own plot (action! piracy! government gone rogue!) as it is about the world we see outside (action! piracy! government gone rogue!). There’s some really interesting concepts in here, like the quasi-dystopian intellectual property rights to the quasi-utopian “free labs” in which the characters conduct their largely illegal reseach. But of course, it’s all for a good cause: drug piracy in Autonomous is much better intentioned than software and movie/music piracy in the wider world…
- The Stars Are Legion, Kameron Hurley —
This book loses a half-star because I couldn’t get over the squick factor, which is entirely my fault. Most of the time, science fiction has this problem where all of the characters are men (even the women), with a certain baseline level of machisimo and a certain kind of interaction. The Stars Are Legion turns that completely on its head with a cast of entirely female characters, and a detailed look into a world in which motherhood is a little more complicated than raising a child.
Book of the Ancestor
- Red Sister, Mark Lawrence —
- Uncompromising Honor, David Weber —