Sunday, December 17, 2017

Witty's Year End Book Review 2017

For 2017, there were fewer books read than usual, but I did try to keep up with current works and refreshed memories.

Some of the rules to note: the works listed may not be new this year, but are ones I've read this year or re-read as a refresher of sorts. Thing is, you should be able to find them in your local library or at least online as an ebook for purchase. The links are to the Goodreads website where you can track your reading library for sharing with friends. That said, this is what damaged my remaining brains cells folks.

Best Fiction

Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi

A new Space Opera series by acclaimed author Scalzi (Redshirts), Empire goes into the ramifications of a change in an interstellar hyperspace system called the Flow that allowed Humanity to spread across the stars. Without it, the human empire of Interdependency falls back to sub-light travel, and entire worlds relying on the FTL trade could die.
Scalzi does an incredible job of world-building in this one, delving into how the politics of a far-reaching empire could work and how fragile such organizations would be. Dark humor abounds, and Scalzi clearly leaves a cliffhanger not because one is required in a series but because the very nature of the novel's crisis can't be resolved so easily.
One of the complaints people have is "what series can I get into" if they're looking at something that's already got 12-to-20 volumes in play. This is brand new in 2017, and now is the time to get into it.

Best Non-Fiction

We Were Eight Years In Power, Ta-Nehisi Coates

Long-time fan of TNC and third-level member of the Horde, so I'm always reading his stuff. Here, Coates follows up Between the World and Me by examining the shift in American politics from the potential of the Obama years to its dark mirror version of trumpland, where an unqualified failed businessman still convinced enough racist and angry white voters into the highest office in the land (well, that and Russian collusion, but that's on my other blog).
As important a read on the current state of American values, and the horrible track record of racism that haunts us, if you're not reading Eight Years you are ignoring your own nation's perilous end.

Best Graphic Novel (or Ongoing Series)

Mister Miracle, Tom King and Mitch Gerads

Originally part of Jack Kirby's epic Fourth World saga, Mister Miracle had retained a place in the DC Universe by positioning the main character - a New God capable of escaping ANY trap - as a standard hero-with-a-cape. Tom King's reworking of Scott Free, however, steps away from the standard Cape narrative by repositioning Free in the space opera struggle of GOOD VS EVIL between New Genesis heroes vs. Darkseid and the dread armies of Apokolips.
In this reboot of sorts, the war has taken a nasty turn: Orion succeeds in killing Darkseid (!) and Free is charged in the death of New Genesis' leader (and Scott's neglectful father) Highfather. Both worlds spiral further into war, with Free coming to terms with his role in that war and trying to figure out how he can escape his fate in it. Mixed in to all of this are early signs that Scott Free tried "the ultimate escape" of suicide... with the sneaking suspicion that the entire plot may be a Mind Screw trap of Darkseid's to trick Scott Free into revealing what he knows of the Anti-Life Equation...
What makes this series work is the no-holds-barred beatdown King delivers to the existing Kirby mythos, deconstructing most of what we know of that 'Verse and making us question just how noble the good guys are compared to the unsettling horrors of the likes of Granny Goodness. It's not a series for kids, given the level of violence, adult themes, and profanity. I'm not sure a lot of adults would feel up to reading something this disturbing either. It all depends on King's endgame of the series...

Best Work By Someone I Email, Tweet, or Chat With on a Regular Basis

And by that I mean someone who actually writes back!

Do you know how geeked I was Diane Duane replies to my Twitter?

Spock's World, Diane Duane

This one's been out a long time - 1989! - but of the Expanded Universe novels this one carries major importance to a lot of Star Trek fans. Delving into the history of Vulcan - one of the key planets of the Federation, and humanity's staunchest ally in the galaxy - Duane writes of a world on the brink of voting itself out of that Federation, driven by long-suppressed anger that the Vulcan's philosophy of Logic can no longer contain. Mixed in with flashback chapters of how the Vulcan race survived a harsh desert world - explaining many of Spock's physic and physical powers on the show and movies - are chapters covering the efforts of the crew of the Enterprise - Kirk, McCoy, and Spock who would be ruined if Vulcan did secede - to figure out who is driving the secession movement and how to save the Federation from rending in two.
What makes Duane's work here a must-read is not just her well-paced plot even as it juggles between past and present but also how it fits into both canonical and fan-based works (she reportedly based a lot of the material on the Vulcan-Romulan schism from a fan work called Kraith). Well, canonical pre-movie reboots and ST:Ent series. She draws out how a race could form a philosophy on Logic... and then deconstructs it by showing Logic can't solve everything and that "controlling emotions" can only mask some very deep hurts.
She also writes with a humorous bent, especially when she has her personal novel characters like K's't'lk - a giant glass spider - get involved in Vulcan's secession debate. The way she proves her argument with an arrogant Vulcan academic ("Tenured", McCoy quips) is both logical AND funny as hell ("Get all Zen with me..."). Any and all of Duane's Star Trek novels are must-reads: But this is where you should start first.

I didn't get much else successfully picked up by anthologies or magazines for print, so this year is a washout on that front.

Maybe next year... Maybe...