December 31, 2014: Best Books of 2014!

“Top 25?!”said Paul.  “How many books did you read this year?”

Well, after the paltry 65 I got through in 2013, I decided to make a concerted effort to improve on that embarrassing number in 2014.  My goal was a lofty 120 – which I ended up far exceeding, racking up a very respectable 180 books on the year (and I could have done even better had I not been distracted by this pesky production).

Let’s be real.  Most Best of the Year lists are full of crap, lazily lauding critical darlings or rewarding mere premise over execution (I’m tempted to compile a list of “Top 10 Worst Books That Made Everyone Else’s Top 10 Best Books”).  This, on the other hand, is my diverse list of the books that truly resonated with me this year; books I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.  And do!

So, yeah.  Top 25.  But then, after I started compiling my list, I realized I was excluding some terrific books – and so, I expanded it to a Top 30.  And, eventually, 35.

Many of these books were published prior to this year – but I’ve indicated the 2014 releases with an asterisk (*) and capped my countdown with a mini Top 10 Titles of 2014 list.

All to say – here are the books I most enjoyed reading between January 1st and December 31st (inclusive!) of this year.  It’s a nice eclectic mix covering everything from graphic novels and genre (horror, fantasy, SF, mystery) to general fiction and non-fiction.

What titles made your list?

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*35. BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman

A series of bizarre murder-suicides in Russia pique the media’s interest, but when these horrific incidents begin to proliferate and start striking closer to home, the world descends into a blind panic. Rumour spreads that people are being driven insane by the sight of some mysterious otherworldly entities and, soon, people have retreated into their homes, covering up their windows, refusing to open their eyes if they venture outdoors.  A helluva page-turner.

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*34. THE ROAD TO RECKONING by Robert Lautner

You can almost smell the gun smoke, sweat, and campfire in this gritty Western character piece about a young boy, orphaned after his father’s murder, who enlists the help of an ornery bastard to get him home.  Smart and absorbing.

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*33. FROSTBORN by Lou Anders

Award-winning editor Lou Anders first novel is a Norse-inspired, adventure-fueled tale for young fantasy enthusiasts. Karn, a young farmer-to-be, strikes up an unlikely friendship with Thianna, a half-giantess, to take on undead forces, an ancient dragon, troublesome trolls, an opportunistic uncle, and more! If you’re looking to inspire your child to follow in your Martin/Eddings/Jordan-loving footsteps, then this book is a great place to start.

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32. ANCILLARY JUSTICE – Anne Leckie

The mysterious Breq is much more (and less!) than she appears. Once a military starship possessed of Artificial Intelligence, she now exists as merely one of the thousands of former ancillaries (a.k.a. corpse soldiers) that live as extensions of her former self. Reduced to a single fragile human body, fueled by the memories of her powerful past, she sets out on a seemingly impossible mission of vengeance. Sound cool? Well, it is. And smart. I haven’t read an SF novel this engrossing in quite a while.

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31. A CALCULATED LIFE By Anne Charnock

In the late 21st century, society has stratified into the haves (genetically-enhanced individuals who live comfortable lives free of addiction and crime) and the have-nots (drudge workers who live in segregated, crime-ridden communities). Our protagonist, Jayna, is a hot up-and-comer at a corporation that track global trends. She has the perfect job, the perfect life and yet, she can’t help but feel that something is…off. Perfection aint all it’s cracked up to be and when Jayna decides to inject a little unpredictability into her ordered existence, things take a turn for the dangerous.

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30. SCHRODER by Amity Gaige

In the heat of a custody battle, a desperate father takes his daughter on an ill-advised extended road trip. It’s one of several big errors in judgement that lead our protagonist down an inevitably heartbreaking path. The fairly straightforward premise belies a surprising complexity in this touching and tragic tale. On the surface, not “the type of book” I’d enjoy – but I was thoroughly engrossed.

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29. THE INVERTED WORLD by Christopher Priest

A city moves along a railroad track in constant, laborious progress, attempting to keep up with something called “the optimum” – or risk losing pace and falling victim to a gravitational field that has warped space and time. This is a truly bizarre work of science fiction that jumps between multiple narrative styles in telling a story that is both grounded in its characters yet intellectually and creatively provocative in its conceit. At times, I felt like I was reading Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow – on acid.

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*28. TO RISE AGAIN AT A DECENT HOUR by Joshua Ferris

Online identity theft turns a middle-aged dentist’s life upside-down in this wickedly dark novel about self, faith, and the inherent dangers of not flossing.

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27. The Circle by Dave Eggers

Our young heroine lands a job working for The Circle, a cutting edge internet company that is Google, Facebook, and Yahoo rolled into one. Before she knows it, she is at the forefront of a wave of technological advancements that will revolutionize social interaction. But at what price? A smart, scary book that explores the potentially insidious consequences of our increasingly “connected” lives.  Delivers a powerful message on our increasing willingness to relinquish privacy and freedom in exchange for convenience.

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26. Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie has distinguished himself in a fairly crowded field, delivering gritty, visceral, yet darkly humorous tales that fly in the face of established high fantasy conventions. His world-building is as unique and richly textured as the colorful characters who battle and banter their way through his stories, and I list him among my very favorite authors. Period. Beginning with his first book, The Blade Itself, and continuing through five subsequent novels, I can honestly say “I’ve never read an Abercrombie book I haven’t loved.”.  Red Country is Joe at his consistent best, a story about a young girl, Shy South, who sets off to rescue her younger siblings from a group of murderous outlaws. She is aided in her quest by Lamb, her (seemingly) spineless soft-spoken stepfather, and the unlikeliest of allies in a group of risk-averse mercenaries. A hell of a lot of fun.

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*25. ANNIHILATION by Jeff VanderMeer

A team of four women set out to explore a mysterious region known as Area X. By all accounts, they are the twelfth group to journey into the bizarre amazon-like territory. All of the previous expeditions have ended badly, marked by murders, suicides, disappearances, and, in the case of the eleventh, the inexplicable return of its members, sickened and psychologically broken by their experience. Our narrator, a biologist, apprises us of her team’s progress as they venture deep into Area X, making strange discoveries and unearthing hidden agendas, all the while dogged by a creeping suspicion that all is not right…

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24. The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

A great near-future thriller that follows Detective Henry Palace in his investigation of a suspicious suicide – amidst the backdrop of societal breakdown as the world prepares for the apocalyptic arrival of Asteroid 2011GV.  While the clock ticks down toward an extinction level event, suicides abound and people abandon all to pursue their bucket lists, but Henry demonstrates single-minded focus.  The first book in a three part series, each focusing on a different investigation – and the continuing erosion of civilization.

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23. House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III

A clerical error sparks a property dispute between a former Iranian Air Force Colonel and a recovering addict, a conflict fueled by desperation and pride that eventually leads to tragic consequences. Dubus does a masterful job of presenting us with the very real and very sympathetic people on both sides of the issue. This one will stay with you.

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22. Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

Herman Koch excels at developing fascinating morally ambiguous, occasionally sociopathic characters – and his books are the opposite of feel-good summer reads.  So, with that warning in mind, prepare to be thoroughly engrossed by this novel about a physician to the stars who faces some serious legal consequences after one of his celebrity patients dies following a botched medical procedure.

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21. Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

After a series of horrific child murders casts suspicion on the local Jewish community (a valuable tax source for the English court), King Henry II brings in a brilliant coroner, educated at the school of medicine in Salerno, to lead the investigation.  The only hitch – she’s a woman.  Operating at a time in England when female doctors are about as prevalent as tennis rackets, our protagonist, Adelia, must feign assistantship to her own assistant in order to solve the murders.  A great historical mystery.

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*20. We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

A story of two sisters and their incredible bond. Nell and Layla are inseparable, the best of friends, drawn even closer by their parents’ divorce. But Nell begins to notice a change in her sister. Layla becomes withdrawn and secretive, and Nell suspects it may have something to do with a popular high school teacher. Restrained and real.

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*19. Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?  by Roz Chast

At times reminiscent of Art Spiegelman’s brilliant graphic novel Maus in its depiction of the relationship between aging parents and their middle-aged offspring, this bittersweet memoir traces artist Roz Chast’s struggles to care for her increasingly infirm mother and father as they deal with their loss of independence, their health and, eventually, each other.  At times very funny and at times heartbreaking, it’s an eye-opening account of the realities that await us all.

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*18. Afterlife with Archie (Escape from Riverdale) by Roberto Aguire-Sacasa

Archie Andrews and the gang from Riverdale face a zombie apocalypse when their high school dance is crashed by the undead, forcing them to take refuge at Lodge Manor. Surprisingly dark, this grim take on the hitherto silly comic is shockingly effective. Right up there with The Walking Dead and World War Z.

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17. N0S4A2 by Joe Hill

Hill finally comes into his own with an unsettling story about missing kids, a dark fantasy land, and a creepy yet surprisingly nuanced villain. A standout read.

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16. Going Clear by Lawrence Wright

A history of scientology and its frighteningly far reach. Terrifying.

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15. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

I generally hate blog books but this one is the exception.  Incisive, engaging, and very, very funny, it’s complimented by some perfect and perfectly hilarious illustrations.

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*14. Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

Jason Fitger writes a lot of reference letters.  A lot of woeful, meandering, passive-aggressive, unintentionally offensive reference letters that, if nothing else, offer tragic-comic insight into the world of their author, an embittered professor of creative writing at a small liberal arts school.  The book, a hilarious collection of his (un)professional missives, will have you carefully reconsidering the next time you ask someone for a professional recommendation.

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*13. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Many will no doubt draw comparisons to Kate Atkinson’s much-hyped Life After Life given the similar premise – a protagonist is continually reborn after death, reliving his/her life over and over – but whereas Atkinson’s heroine has no knowledge of her past experiences, North’s hero does and this makes for a completely different and (in my opinion) far more interesting narrative.  Armed with the memories of what came before, Harry August discovers others like him, time traveling kalachakra, who hold the secret to saving the world – and ending it.

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*12. In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides

Historical documents, journals, and personal accounts are used to reconstruct the ill-fated polar voyage of the USS Jeanette and its 33 man crew who are forced to undertake a grueling thousand mile journey across the frozen Arctic when their ship goes down in icy waters.  Harrowing.

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11. Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer

When a young American backpacker turns up dead in Capetown and her friend disappears, Detective Benny Griessel is tasked with the politically-charged job finding the missing girl.  The narrative jumps back and forth between the official investigation and the young woman on the run in this highly suspenseful, immensely captivating page-turner.  Impossible to put down, I read this novel in a single night, staying up until 2:00 a.m to finish it.

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*10. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan

It’s an going series, so I’m including it as a 2014 release.  Two former soldiers, deserters, and star-crossed lovers from opposing sides of an interplanetary conflict attempt to put the war behind them and raise their daughter with the help of some unlikely allies.  But their pasts come back to haunt them in the form of some even unlikelier enemies – and otherworldly complications.  The comic book version of an intricately plotted, character-driven cable drama.  Fiercely original.

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*9. The Troop by Nick Cutter

A field trip to an isolated island takes a horrific turn for a group of young boys when their scout leader welcomes an emaciated stranger into their camp. It’s a horror version of Lord of Flies that is at turns harrowing, humorous, and thoroughly engaging. Wonderfully written. It’s heads and shoulders above most novels in the genre.

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8. Super Graphic by Tim Leong

This visual guide to the comic book universe uses pie charts, venn diagrams, bar graphs, maps, and trajectories to highlight fun facts. Whether it’s a rundown of DC’s alternate Earths, the pizza particulars of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the alliances and connections of the denizens of Sin City, a Walking Dead kill counter, a map of Tintin’s travels, or a taxonomy of animal-named characters, there’s something here for most every fan to geek-out over. LOVED it!

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7. The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

Moorish Spain (or a fictional version thereof) is the backdrop of this sweeping historical fantasy involving sieges, warfare, diabolical plots, courtly intrigue, crosses, double-crosses, friendship, and romance. At heart of it all are three protagonists whose backgrounds and alliances lead them on intersecting paths both heroic and tragic. Brilliant world-building and wonderfully nuanced characters. My introduction to the works of author Guy Gavriel Kay novel. Highly recommended.

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6. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

When his wife goes missing, family and friends rally in support of her distressed husband – until evidence surfaces suggesting he may have had a hand in her disappearance.  As suspicion mounts and the onion is peeled on a less than ideal marriage, the reader discovers that appearances can be very deceiving.  Replete with twists and turns, a compelling read.

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*5. Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Young Prince Yarvi is son to the King of Gettland.  Born with only one good hand and no aspirations to the throne, he has grown up in the shadow of his older brother.  But when his father and brother fall in battle, it falls on him to avenge them.  His scheming uncle has other plans, however, and Yarvi is betrayed and sold into slavery.  And so, it’s from his lowly position as a galley rower riding the Shattered Sea that his quest for revenge begins, one that will see him forge alliances with reprobates and renegades, battle fierce adversaries, and, ultimately, reforge himself into a force to be reckoned with.

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4. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

To honor the memory of his recently deceased father, Judd Altman learns he must sit shiva, spending the week in mourning with his fractured family.  Disparate personalities clash as unresolved issues resurface in this wickedly humorous novel.

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3. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Don Tillman, a brilliant but socially inept professor of genetics, comes up with the optimal means to finding his ideal companion: a sixteen page questionnaire designed to weed out unsuitable candidates and zero in on his perfect match.  His scientifically sound approach to love yields unexpected results in this touching and thoroughly charming novel.

1*2. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Inspired by an experiment in the 1930’s in which a husband and wife research team raised a baby chimp in their home as a member of their family, this novel offers a fictional account of a similar experiment run some sixty years later – and its heartbreaking effects on those involved. Our narrator is Rosemary, a woman who reflects back on her childhood, growing up with a human brother and chimpanzee sister – until the dark day her sister, Fern, was taken away. The loss of their beloved family members has far-reaching consequences for all of them. Some fifteen years later, Rosemary attempts to learn the truth about her sister’s fate.  Humorous and poignant.

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1. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The book opens with our narrator, Jeannette, on her way to a New York City function, when her cab stops beside a homeless women rooting through the trash. Upon closer scrutiny, Jeannette realizes that homeless woman is, in fact, her mother. And so begins one of the most amazing books I’ve read in recent memory. The blurb on the back of the jacket does it an enormous disservice, painting it as a bleak autobiographical account of woman growing up in an abusive family. It’s actually quite touching, uplifting – and incredibly funny, reminiscent of David Sedaris at his very darkest. One of my Top 10 books of all time. Go read it!

MY TOP 10 BOOKS OF 2014

#10 – We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

#9 – Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

#8 – Afterlife with Archie (Escape from Riverdale) by Roberto Aguire-Sacasa

#7 – Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

#6 – The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

#5 – In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides

#4 – Saga by Brian K. Vaughan

#3 – The Troop by Nick Cutter

#2 – Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

#1 – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Happy New Year!

January 9, 2014: Hot chocolate! Ice cream! And books!

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It’s that time of year again!  Time for Vancouver annual Hot Chocolate Festival! From January 18th to February 14th, 24 local participants will be offering over 60 flavors.  At roughly two hot chocolates a day, I think that’s eminently doable.  Last year, Akemi and I managed to sample about half the hot chocolates being offered and, this year, we plant to do even better.  Yes, we’ll be like athletes, pacing ourselves, giving a 110% in the face of adversity except that, instead of running a marathon, we’ll be downing liquid chocolate.

There were some great offerings last year:

1Last years winner in my mind (and mouth and stomach): The Jasmine dark chocolate at Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France.

February 17, 2013: The Hot Chocolate Festival Wrap-up! And the Winners are…!

And I’m eager to get started.  I’ve started my training by consuming a quarter bar of dark chocolate every day leading up to kick-off.  Wish me luck!

Perfect timing too as, today, I received a clean bill of health from my doctor.  Well, more or less.  Essentially, he didn’t find anything wrong with me and that’s good enough for me.

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A couple of days ago, my sister sent me the following link:

The 10 Most Expensive Pints of Ice Cream

Yep, mighty expensive.  And, in some cases, kind of intriguing as well.  Double vanilla with cashew brittle?  Whiskey eggnog?  Sea salt caramel?  Hmmm.

You folks strike me as worldly in the ways of ice cream.  Ever sampled any of the mentioned brands?  Are they worth their premium price tag?  Or are we sticking with Breyers?

Did you cast your vote for our upcoming Book of the Month Club?  What do you mean you don’t have time to read?  Make the time!  I certainly will.  In fact, I’m going to read all seven contenders in the running for our next BOTMC.  They are…

P.S. FINALLY started reading Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country yesterday.  Fabulous! A wicked mix of action, adventure, dark humor, and unforgettable characters.  A very hard book to put down.

July 21, 2013: A 17 (actually, 21) Question Science Fiction Book Meme!

The gang at http://www.sfsignal.com/ have launched another one of those irresistible SF-themed memes, what they’re calling a ” 17-question science fiction book meme for a lazy Sunday”.  I wrestled over a few of my responses, struggling with the relative worthiness of some of the titles, and finally decided to solve the problem by adding four extra questions to the meme (17 to 20) to round it out to an even twenty.  Er, plus one.

What follows are my responses.  Answer as many of the following as you can, in the comments section of this blog and over here: http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2013/07/a-17-question-science-fiction-book-meme/#more-79721.  They’d love to read your feeback!

1. My favorite alien invasion book or series is…?

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The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley

It’s not an alien invasion story in the traditional sense of the term but an alien invasion does precipitate the events leading up to another (indirect) alien invasion in this thoroughly engaging novel about cloning, restored memories, and a mysterious radio signal from distant space.

2. My favorite alternate history book or series is…?

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Watchmen by Alan Moore.

To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Alt. History scifi and yet, Alan Moore’s non-linear, iconoclastic take on the superhero genre stands out as one of my favorite works crossing several genres.

3. My favorite cyberpunk book or series is…?

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Glasshouse by Charles Stross

Okay, it includes enough cyberpunk elements for me to make it my selection in this category.  A twisty, turny, scifi thriller with plenty of humor and suspense.

4. My favorite Dystopian book or series is…?

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Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.

Unrelentingly grim yet possessed of a spirit and hope embodied by its determined protagonist.  I’d recommend it over the similar-themed, better-known The Road.

5. My favorite Golden-Age sf book or series is…?

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Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

When I was a kid, my mother encouraged me to read by buying me a bunch of classic SF – Asimov, Ellison, Niven – but my favorite was Arthur C. Clarke,  and Childhood’s End is my favorite Arthur C. Clarke book.  A race of mysterious extraterrestrials visit Earth.  They bring an end to war, poverty, disease, and help usher in a golden age of peace and prosperity.  But what future plans do these alien, dubbed The Overlords, have for humanity?

6. My favorite hard sf book or series is…?

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House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

I could have just as easily placed this novel in the space opera category and Iain M. Banks’s Culture series here as the works of both authors share common elements: breathtaking narratives spanning the universe peopled with colorful characters, fantastic alien races,  and mind-bending technologies. Big, brilliant ideas.

7. My favorite military sf book or series is…?

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Old Man’s War by John Scalzi.

Not only my favorite military SF book or one of my favorite SF books in general but one of my very favorite books.  Period.  Every person I’ve recommended this novel to has become a John Scalzi fan.

8. My favorite near-future book or series is…?

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The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon.

Maybe a bit of a cheat in that it may not have enough scifi elements to please the average SF enthusiast, but it’s got enough – the near future setting and medical breakthroughs – for me to include this poignant, inspiring, beautifully written novel here.

9. My favorite post-apocalyptic book or series is…?

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The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

A “far down the road” post-apocalyptic science fiction novel in the guise of a fantasy novel chock full of allegory, literary allusions, and elusive subtext.  A challenging read, but well worth the time and effort.

10. My favorite robot/android book or series is…?

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In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker.

Not robot or androids per se but immortal cyborgs, employees of The Company, charged with the task of traveling back in time in order to locate and safeguard (read: hide) artifacts and valuable items for sale in the 24th century (when/where they will be discovered). Complications arise when our heroine, Mendoza, falls in love with a 16th century Englishman.  And mortal no less!

11. My favorite space opera book or series is…

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Iain M Banks’ Culture series.

Grand, brilliant, staggeringly inventive and, yes, operatic, the Culture Series stands out as a marvelous literary accomplishment.

12. My favorite steampunk book or series is…?

1The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

A washed-up illusionist and his imposing assistant battle to save London from dark forces in Jonathan Barnes’ witty, macabre, and all-out-bizarre novel.  There are surprises a plenty in a book in which no one can be trusted, least of all our narrator.

13. My favorite superhero book or series is…?

1The Superior Foes of Spiderman by Nick Spencer

Hmmm.  Though.  This changes week to week but, right now, coming off a highly entertaining first issue, this is the series I’m most excited about.

14. My favorite time travel book or series is…?

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The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.

An exceptional treatment of time dilation makes this one the runaway winner in this category.

15. My favorite young adult sf book or series is…?

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Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

A seminal work of science fiction whose appeal extends well beyond young adult readers, this coming-of-age tale is set at a Battle School where, amid the training, the games, and the youthful interrelations, not all is as it seems…

16. My favorite zombie book or series is…?

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Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead.

Before The Walking Dead television series became a breakout hit, there was the comic book series – smarter, grimmer and far more character-driven than the show.

17. My favorite ship-based sf book or series is…?

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The Dark Beyond the Stars by Frank M. Robinson

Having grown up on ship-based science fiction (and worked on a ship-based SF series for two years), I couldn’t help but include this category – and this delightfully engaging novel centered on a shocking shipboard mystery.

18. My favorite New Wave sf book or series is…?

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Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch

If we’re going to have a Golden Age category, I only think it fair we include a New Wave category as well and, as much as I loved Flowers for Algernon, Camp Concentration gets the nod here.  His refusal to enlist in military service lands our protagonist, a poet and pacifist, in a prison whose inmates are subjected to bizarre, brain-altering experiments.

19. My favorite Future Tech sf book or series is…?

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Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover

Science fiction AND fantasy.  Heroes Die offers the best of both worlds in a rip-roaring adventure that explores the effects of developed entertainment technology on eager consumers – and, in turn, the media conglomerates calling the shots.

20. My favorite Otherworldly sf book or series is…?

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Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

By “otherworldly”, I mean a story that takes place on a planet other than Earth – like, for instance, the colony world setting of this novel that gets taken over by the power mad former crew of a spaceship who use technological and physical enhancements to transform themselves into gods.  Fans of Stargate, take note!

21. The 3 books at the top of my sf/f/h to-be-read pile are…?

Okay.  One of each…

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The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

One of my favorite SF writers.  He’s not all that prolific but his work is consistently great.

1Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

If you like your fantasy dark, darkly humorous, and action-packed, then look no further than the works of Joe Abercrombie.

1A Terror by Jeffrey Ford.

A new release by one of the most wildly imaginative authors writing today.

Okay, those were my answers.  Let’s see yours!

August 19, 2012: Book Haul! Days of Stargate Atlantis Past! The Ark!

I know, I know.  What, you are no doubt wondering, am I doing STILL buying books – or, to quote an editor friend of mine, dabbling in “dead tree media”?  Well, truth be told, I do own a kindle which I find very convenient…whenever I travel.  But, the rest of the time, nothing beats the looks and feel of a good old-fashioned real book.  And nothing beats perusing a bookstore and picking up a title that just happens to catch my eye, something far less likely to happen when shopping online. In fact, four out of the five titles pictured above were impulse buys. The fifth was the reason I’d made the trip to Chapters in the first place, a book whose release I’d been anxiously looking forward to for months.

Crackpot Palace is the latest collection of short fiction by one of my favorite authors, Jeffrey Ford, whose work ranges from delightfully curious to mind-blowingly inventive.  I plan to ration these stories out, two a night, because this is a book I fully intend to savor.

If you’d like to check out Jeffrey Ford’s amazing work, might I suggest you start with The Empire of Ice Cream or The Girl in the Glass : A Novel or The Shadow Year: A Novel.

Hey, speaking of upcoming releases, look at what’s scheduled to hit the shelves just in time for my birthday month celebrations:

October 23rd!  Circle the date.  No one writes epic fantasy like Joe Abercrombie, delivering dark humor, colorful characters, and visceral action in novels that upend the staid genre in enormously entertaining fashion.  If you’re interested in checking out Joe’s work, might I suggest starting with The Blade Itself (The First Law: Book One).

Resuming our trip down Stargate Atlantis memory lane…

THE ARK (316)

As much as I find great satisfaction in arc-driven episodes, I love these truly SF stand-alone stories simply because they’re so hard to do. Shep and co. discover a deserted space station hidden within a moon.  Their subsequent investigation leads to a surprising discovery, a shocking double-cross, and a seat-of-your pants ride down from a rapidly deteriorating planetary orbit.  Great performances all around.

An inadvertent bit of product placement occurs in one scene, the result of  someone leaving a water bottle and Snickers bar in the shot. Nobody noticed – until AFTER the episode aired.  It has since been fixed by the VFX department.  I think.

The notes session on this script gave rise to one of the most memorable executive utterances.  Just as the conference call got underway, Brad was asked to clarify something: “So, just to be clear…is this Earth’s moon?”.  Earth’s moon?  This series takes place in the Pegasus Galaxy.  Welcome to Stargate: Atlantis, season 3.