Whelp, it’s that time of year again. Time to look back on fifty-two weeks of book reviews and decide which ones were our favorites. Not gonna lie here, this was a tough decision. Even when ruling out anything that was published before 2015, there were still more than a dozen books that fell into the “best” category, and picking just three apiece feels unfair to the ones that didn’t make it into the top three. The solution? A ton of honorable mentions and, wherever possible, cheat.
The Three Body Problem and The Dark Forest
I’m bending the rules already by counting the first two books in the Three Body Trilogy as one pick (and also because these were originally published in China in 2006 and 2008; the English versions were released just this year though, so they make it to this list on a technicality). Cixin Liu’s epic sci-fi series won a Hugo Award to the surprise of absolutely no one. The story of Earth’s discovery of an alien civilization, the description of the impossible solar system that spawned that civilization, and the desperate attempts by humanity to plan for a war that won’t start for another two centuries, it was all one of the most amazing things I’ve ever read. The entire story was a high level physics thought-experiment mixed with philosophy, violence, political maneuverings, and a touching romance with a daydream. And for all of the many times when something was completely over my head, there’d be at least one satisfying moment where I suddenly got what the author was trying to say.
Welcome To Night Vale – A Novel
The much-anticipated novel written by the creators of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast is impossible to describe, and at the same time exactly what I’d hoped for. All of the fan-favorite characters make an appearance, and the whole story is book-ended with excerpts from Cecil Palmer’s radio show, making it feel like a podcast episode in novel form. We get an entirely different perspective on the creepy little desert town from the point of view of several new characters, and we finally find out once and for all who the Man In The Tan Jacket is. Best of all though? We get to see the inside of the Library. And it’s amazing.
(The full Welcome To Night Vale review is here.)
Trigger Warning – Short Fictions and Disturbances
In the final tally for 2015 I reviewed four separate short-story collections that have been published since January, and naturally all of them made it into my list of favorites for the year. But there was never any question about which one would end up in the top three. Neil Gaiman’s first short-story collection in eight years was definitely worth the wait; twenty-five quirky, dark, funny, and as Gaiman would possibly describe “imaginatively weirdo” stories and poems covering the full range from horror to fantasy to mystery to the answers to a government questionnaire (minus the questions themselves).
The full Trigger Warning review is here.
Remember what Kathryn said above? About cheating? Well technically I’d have put Trigger Warning and Welcome To Night Vale in my top three too, but she’s already listed them so I get to include a couple different ones instead. Totally counts.
Three Moments of an Explosion
China Mieville’s writing just defies categorization, and his latest book of short stories is no exception. The themes jump from horror, to sci-fi, to steampunk, to…well I don’t know what you’d call “The Condition of New Death” but it was so awesomely disturbing it was my favorite in the whole book, even though it was just a handful of pages. But he’s also a master of coming up with some completely random idea (oil rigs that come alive and head for the shore; floating icebergs that appear for no reason over London; a painting that might or might not be alive; communicable diseases that destroy the building around you) that he makes you accept as fact so he can build up a whole world around it. He can take the most bizarre thing and somehow make it possible. Weird and madness-inducing, but still possible.
The full Three Moments of an Explosion review is here.
Rachel Hartman’s sequel to Seraphina was even more than I’d hoped it’d be. We get dragons, music, cross-breeds, secrets, battles, and romance. We also get clever writing, gorgeous descriptions, and one heck of a twist about a chapter from the end that I did not see coming. Looking back over the book I think the twist was telegraphed from the very beginning, but it still caught me flat-footed. I love it when that happens.
The full Shadow Scale review is here.
Last First Snow
With four books in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence I can now play that game that many nerds love: ranking them against each other. Last First Snow is solidly in second place, but as it was my favorite book of 2015 that’ll give you an idea of how much I love this series. Second only to the first book in the series, this one was full of everything I love about this world Gladstone’s created: sorcerers and mage-priests living in an almost modern world, trading pieces of their soul or humanity for bus tokens and rent. There’s usually a pretty good twist in the second act of most of his books, and this one yanked the rug out from under me for a second. Plus we have that unbelievably awesome and terrifying method of crowd-control that made me jump up and down going “yes! That was awesome! Do it again!” And if all that wasn’t good enough, I hear the next book in the series will feature two of my favorite characters from the first book. I’m over the moon.
The full Last First Snow review is here.