At the start of 2017, I made an effort to read some self-published books (and a couple of traditionally-published I hadn’t gotten to) to see if they might be worth nominating for best SFF book of the year. (I did the same thing last year.) Here’s what I came up with this year, in no particular order:
Self-Published / Small Press
This book will get its own review here eventually. The story has a sci-fi idea at its core, which is an extreme rarity in sci-fi these days. Unfortunately, there are a few things about the book that keep it from being my favorite, including the dreaded mid-sentence ending. (That’s when, at the end of the book, I look at my device and try to figure out if I didn’t get the whole file.)
If you like pulp-style stories, this might be right up your alley. The two main characters run around doing heroic stuff in an attempt to stop the bad guys. The heroes found an AI recording of some ancient guy’s personality, and it kind of led them around and helped them through things, where I’d have preferred that they figure things out and stumble and bumble around on their own.
This book touches on something I mentioned in my last galactic empire post. Humans are third-tier, bit players in the galaxy, and the “Vultures” are humans who salvage wrecks after more powerful second-tier aliens shoot each other up. Victoria’s (Vick’s) crew gets hold of a first-tier wreck, and is hunted by one of the major powers. The book takes a while to get going, but is good fun after that. There’s some interesting tech, for example: the humans have a device that absorbs the energy from alien scanners and dumps it as heat in the ship’s interior. The first time the big dogs turn their scanners in Vick’s direction, the human crew is almost cooked.
This story takes place 100 years after HP Lovecraft’s nightmares rose from under the ground and under the sea. The world’s governments tried nuking them, which didn’t work and left radioactive deserts in addition to horrible monsters. Humans are trying to hold out in a few enclaves, but are dying out, and even have to fight crazy cultists who worship the monsters. The setting really comes through, but at times I thought the author’s heart wasn’t in the action scenes.
A washed-up space captain takes a crew of cadets, fresh out of the academy, on the final cruise of an obsolete warship before it is decommissioned. Space admirals, when will you learn? Sending out an obsolete ship results in alien invasion 100% of the time. It’s basically cause and effect.
I felt for the cadets in the story. The aliens hit the ship with an EMP weapon, so cadets have to operate everything manually. They run as messengers around a ship they haven’t had time to learn the layout of. They try to line up the ship’s weapons using their eyes, then bang on the ship’s hull with a wrench as a signal to fire. They salvage the food ingredients from a luxury space station, but not the food processor, so they have to eat a gruel made of protein/carbohydrate powder and water.
I won’t yet say I DNFed Icarus, but I put it aside when I realized it wasn’t going to get my award nomination. The crew was being threatened and forced to participate in two separate evil plans, but to me, it seemed like they were being allowed a lot of freedom to wander around and potentially upset those plans, or escape. It’s probably not true, but sometimes I felt like all of the people who came up with an evil plan were dead, unconscious, or locked up, but the plan was still going forward. People were being captured and escaping a lot, so it’s hard to say for sure.
Big Publishing House
I loved Lian Hearn’s Otori books, so I was sure I’d love this series as well. For some reason I can’t put my finger on yet, I didn’t like it quite as much. Maybe because it had more point-of-view characters. Maybe because the magic was less subtle. Maybe it was a little more grimdark. Maybe something else. Also, the book suffers from the dreaded mid-sentence ending.
This book will get its own review later. This story is set in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the late 19th century. The heroine is a young widow, Daoist priestess, kung-fu fighter, and monster hunter. The Chinese culture and Chinatown setting seem authentic. There are several interesting twists and turns. This might be my choice for best novel, but there is one problem with the writing. When the heroine was in a tense conversation with tong gangsters, shaolin monks, or monster-spirits, the author would often break in with introspective thoughts or a flashback, ending the tension. The same thing was liable to happen during action scenes. Sometimes these break-ins were long enough that I forgot where they were taking place.
I’m really stumped on which way to go for best novel, so leave me a comment and help me decide.