If you peruse my lists of books on Goodreads, you will immediately see a distinct preference for genre. If the world is ending, I’m reading about it. This list is heavily influenced by the Apocalypse, and certainly by Science Fiction in general, but I’m pretty pleased with the variety I managed to work in this year.
I’m going to cheat a bit in limiting myself to 10 items for this list. I’ve found it impossible to list a number of items without also including their various prequels, sequels, and so forth. I’m a firm believer in consuming the whole story!
These were my favorite reads from 2014, and I hope I inspire you to pick a few of them up.
10. Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood ends up on this list twice, mostly because I’ve been specifically targeting her books over the last few years. I’m a late comer to her work, but boy am I glad I’ve arrived. I will be sending a more complete review of Stone Mattress your way soon, but suffice it to say here that this was a lovely collection of stories. Tackling themes of aging, death, creativity, and the productive life, among so much more, Atwood brings a subtle, creeping horror and other-worldly flavor to each.
I am also a huge fan of this audiobook production. It has a fabulous cast of narrators, including Atwood herself reading the title story.
9. Lock In by John Scalzi
Even though most of the books on this list were audiobook experiences for me, I am specifically recommending the audiobook format for this one, because I’m a firm believer in the John Scalzi / Wil Wheaton partnership. Mr. Wheaton’s narration is spot-on, and Scalzi’s quick-witted dialogue is a great recipe for audio-goodness.
In any case, Lock In is a fun, fast, entertaining experience with a fascinating, high-tech, futuristic world that I would be very happy to explore in other media. (Hello, TV pilot?!) Robots, virtual environments, lots of bad guys . . . lots of fun.
8. The End is Nigh / The End is Now, Books 1 and 2 of the Apocalypse Triptych by Various Authors, edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey
It’s not often that a short story anthology captures my imagination the way this series has. Of course, they had me at “Apocalypse;” however, I was utterly intrigued by the idea of a trilogy of anthologies, containing short story trilogy arcs, and I haven’t been disappointed by the results. As with all anthologies, there is some unevenness to the degree of success of each individual story, but there is no shortage of interesting and innovative story concepts in these editions. (There are so many ways to end the world!) I can’t wait for the final installment, The End Has Come, arriving in March 2015.
7. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
I picked this book up because of its prominence on a variety of “Best Books of the Year” lists, and it deservedly found a place on my own. I ended up reading Station Eleven at about the same time I was reading Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood, and I was struck by how similar in tone these two authors are. For a story about the Apocalypse and its aftermath, Station Eleven is a surprisingly subtle book. Avoiding many of the overdone tropes found in so many horror, suspense, and survival stories of late, Ms. Mandel creates a world with a very believable society, where resolutions don’t happen in carefully crafted Hollywood climaxes, and questions are less about ultimate good and evil than the daily slog of trying to find personal fulfillment.
6. Terms of Enlistment / Lines of Departure (Books 1 & 2, Frontlines Trilogy) by Marko Kloos
I read both of these in very quick succession, because one book was just not enough to consume in this story. Marko Kloos is one of the few authors in a while to suck me into a trilogy before all of the installments have been published. I am now very impatiently waiting for the third installment, Angles of Attack, to hit my Kindle this coming April.
The Frontlines Trilogy is another story that I’d love to see up on the big screen . . . all sorts of space opera, high-tech, xenomorphic goodness. There is an infinite amount of action, a great lead character, lots of flying around in space, “away-team” shenanigans . . . it’s all good stuff.
5. Chew: The Omnivore Edition, Volume 4 by John Layman, Rob Guillory
A perfect marriage of insanely imaginative writing and artwork, it’s difficult for me to overstate how much I have loved every single edition of the Chew Omnivore Editions. Every single panel is a treasure trove of visual wonderment. I can’t begin to describe the places this story will take you . . . you would never believe me. You need to experience it for yourself.
4. MaddAddam (MaddAddam Trilogy #3) by Margaret Atwood
It took me a while to really get into the world Atwood creates in the MaddAddam Trilogy. Not because it is boring or unapproachable, but because the storyline is so amazingly off-kilter that I had to really work to get my footing. It is truly one of the most inventive and fascinating apocalyptic futures I’ve read about. A disturbing look at the extreme results of genetic engineering, and, permeated with Atwood’s dark humor and extreme imagination, the MaddAddam future gives the reader a lot to think about.
I highly recommend the whole Trilogy . . . Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and, finally, MaddAddam. Start reading now, so you’re ready for the HBO series (cross our fingers!).
3. The Reapers Are the Angels / Exit Kingdom by Alden Bell
The Reapers Are the Angels is one of my all-time favorite zombie genre stories, and I’ve wished for a long time that more people were reading it. Bell’s prose is fabulously lyrical and haunting; the kind of prose that leads you to re-read passages at random. He merges beauty and horror in an apocalypse-ravaged landscape in a way that calls to mind Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.
Exit Kingdom, which serves as both a prequel and sequel, tells the story of one of the significant side characters from Reapers, with all the same hypnotic style. I’ve read Reapers several times now and fully expect I’ll be adding Exit Kingdom to that re-reading ritual going forward.
Alden Bell is the alternate pen name for Joshua Gaylord. Reapers is available at Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback formats. Exit, published by Tor UK, is a bit more obscure find. My search for it ultimately lead to a hard copy from a brick-and-mortar bookstore in the UK via AbeBooks.com. (Used copies may also be available through Amazon.)
2. What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
Randall Munroe has long been one of my internet heroes. His regular web comic, XKCD, is ridiculously smart and challenging and regularly pushes the envelope of the typical web comic format.
What If? fully displays the insatiable nature of Munroe’s mental wanderings. It is a perfect illustration of why fiction is such a powerful tool in society . . . by examining the hypothetical, we stumble on answers for the practical. A collection of questions posed to Munroe by XKCD readers, it inadvertently turns out to be a story about the world-ending. Apparently, pushing science to its extremes doesn’t turn out so well much of the time.
Hilarious, delightfully illustrated, thought provoking, What If? is going to be a long-term fixture on my coffee table.
And finally, my favorite book of 2014…
1. The Martian by Andy Weir
Suspense, humor, space travel, impossible odds . . . and SCIENCE!! One of the most entertaining, brain challenging, engaging, well-crafted books that I’ve encountered in a long time. Andy Weir has constructed a meticulously laid out plot, about the achievement of a task so large that the mere consideration of it is enough to drive a person mad. This is a story about always looking for a solution, no matter how impossible the situation, no matter how remote the odds. And, there’s a “nerds rejoice” amount of science!
Equally entertaining and inspiring, The Martian is a love song to space exploration and the people who tackle it. It helped round out a wonderful year in which my love for all things SPACE was renewed seven-fold . . . from Interstellar to the Rosetta Mission.
Time to go to Mars, people! (Just bring lots of functioning habitats.)