Book reviews / Opinon / Top picks

My top reads from 2016

So out of my utter annoyance from not being able to find Station Eleven in the science fiction section of a bookstore, I decided that I wouldn’t read any science fiction or fantasy novels in 2016 that were written by white men. That meant that I could read any books by women, or books by men from a non-white background.

From my reading output, that mainly meant women and apparently men of asian descent.

And it was a mostly great year of reading. I enjoyed almost all the books I read this year. I don’t entirely put this down to the fact that they were written by non-white men, as I think I spent far more time evaluating books than I normally would have.

Regardless, I completely recommend this experiment. If you can’t pick the most recent bloody Brandon Sanderson or Neal Stephenson (both of which I don’t think I’ll ever read again, because really, life is too fucking short) you have to look further afield. As well, you realise how high a percent of books in your local bookstore actually only have the tried and tested (white and male) authors on the their shelves.

These weren’t necessarily published in 2016, but I read them in 2016.

So here we go, the top 10:

  1. Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace. It was one that I read early on in the year, but I still remember how bloody good it was. I recommended it to everyone who asked me about a book to read.
  2. Infomocracy by Malka Older. It’s a political thriller taking place in an election year, but not an election as you know it, Jim. Also the second episode in my podcast Science Fiction Double Feature. It is easily the most clever and smart book I read this year.
  3. The Interminables just utterly bonkers and delightful in every way. Istvan still may be my favourite character from all the books I read this year. Also Paige Orwin was kind enough to be on episode one of Science Fiction Double Feature. It it utterly brilliant.
  4. I’m going to add both of them, but A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows by V E Schwab. Multiple Londons! Magic! The most fearsome and does-not-give-a-fuck character in Delilah Bard. Looking forward to the third book in the series in a few mere months.
  5. In similar vein The long way to a small angry planet and A closed and common orbit by Becky Chambers. I just love the universe and the characters. I also love the hope. Such a hopeful style of writing that was a balm for my non-existent soul.
  6. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. One of the longest books on the list, it was such an atmospheric and lovely read. The setting of turn of the century New York, immigrant communities and supernatural beings, finding their way in the world.
  7. The Three Body Problem By Liu Cixin. Alternating between the present and the Cultural Revolution in China, it’s a brilliant and fresh science fiction story about first contact and the consequences. It’s got a great ensemble of characters and a great story. However, it all falls apart in the sequel The Dark Forest, so much so that I can’t even bother finishing the series.
  8. Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Again, the atmosphere of the book was great. It was a great urban fantasy, set in Mexico city.
  9. Vermillion by Molly Tanzer. While I was disappointed by the ending of the book, it wasn’t the book’s fault, it was what I wanted to happen, dammit. Set in 1800’s, the main character is Lou Merriwether, a gender non-conforming psychopomp (she puts ghosts to rest) of English/Chinese descent. It’s delightful in so many ways.
  10. The book that started it all, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I think part of the reason I liked it was because it was set in a part of the world that I know well (Toronto/the Lakes region) but also because it was a post-apocalyptic world but not in soul-destroying, utterly un-fun, torturous way. Sure, the world was fucked, but some people become a travelling Shakespeare Troop rather than give into despair. A delight.

I think I’m going to basically continue in this way, restricting the amount of white-dudes I read. So, let’s say a quarter of all the fiction I read. I had too much fun reading this year and found so many marvelous books that I probably wouldn’t have picked up otherwise. I heartily recommend giving it a go.

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