Book reviewer Nisi Shawl lists her favorites of the year.
Some folks have stacks of books they vow to read, but I have entire shelving units, and so I deeply empathize with the problem of prioritizing. Vita brevis, as the Romans used to say back when they spoke Latin. Life is short. Here, then, is a list of my favorite books of speculative fiction published in 2017, compiled so you can follow my recommendations when confronting your own tottering towers of to-be-reads:
“The River Bank” by Kij Johnson (Small Beer Press). A sequel to children’s classic “The Wind in the Willows” as enchanting as the original, this feminist take on Toad, Water Rat, et al., introduces us to Beryl, a “young lady mole” who’s also a novelist, and her best friend, Rabbit.
“Walkaway” by Cory Doctorow (Tor). Hope and possibility triumph in this near-future science-fiction novel of anarchist networks and 3D printers. A cast of flawed idealists and well-intentioned villains contend believably over decades for life’s twin ultimates: freedom and immortality.
“Tropic of Kansas” by Christopher Brown (HarperCollins). This wildly audacious alternate history pits a black lawyer and her semi-feral stepbrother against a paranoid U.S. government defending its ex-movie-star president, who was maimed during a foiled assassination attempt. This funny, heart-wrenching book cuts through genre expectations with the speed of a jackhammer.
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“Amberlough” by Lara Elena Donnelly (Tor). In a setting reminiscent of the musical “Cabaret,” Cordelia, a dancer moonlighting as a smuggler; a louche-looking yet disciplined drag queen named Aristide; and a rogue spy named Cyril all wrestle with the rise to power of a Nazi-like political party.
“Clockwork Dynasty” by Daniel H. Wilson (Penguin Random House). A secret society of robots originating in prehistoric China hunts down a woman versed in the art of small-scale mechanics. Wilson’s artificial-intelligence expertise makes his imaginative plot creepily plausible.
“Autonomous” by Annalee Newitz (Tor). The biohacked and hard-partying future Newitz extrapolates is full of submarine labs and designer hallucinogens. Which sounds like lighthearted fun — but then, by telling the novel’s robocentric story from viewpoints including those of two AIs, she brings into question the self’s origins.
“Latin@ Rising” edited by Matthew David Goodwin (Wings Press). Kathleen Alcalá, Junot Diaz and all the anthology’s contributors write in a variety of traditions: the magic realism for which Latin America’s famous, certainly — but when you read this book, be prepared to become estranged from the ordinary in many different ways.
“The Adventure of the Incognita Countess” by Cynthia Ward (Aqueduct Press). A gleeful mash-up of the fictional playgrounds inhabited by Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan and other pulp-fiction figures, Ward’s debut novel leaps tall literary assumptions in a single bound.
“New York 2140” by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit). In a future New York City flooded under 50 feet of water, investment bankers motorboat through city squares and develop housing projects based on the emergent properties of eelgrass. Robinson writes like a jazz musician intoxicated by improvised beauty.
“Spoonbenders” by Daryl Gregory (Penguin Random House). Charming pseudo-psychics, fraudulent government agents and hidebound crime families confuse one another mightily as they battle for supremacy during two fateful 20th-century summers. The presence of genuine precognitives and astral projectors weirdens and deepens the fun.
“The Prey of Gods” by Nicky Drayden (Harper Voyager). Examining this book’s blurbs and cover art, you may wonder exactly what kind of speculative fiction it is. The robot by the side of the little black girl on the front spells science fiction, but chapters featuring a goddess who drains her worshippers of their hearts’ blood sounds more like horror. Trust me: This stuff is good, call it what you will.