Though I do have a system for fiction reading, I can never come close to reading all the books I want to, or intend to, in any given year. My system in 2014 was to focus on quite recent titles, and to read everything (or close to it) that was nominated for the Nebula or Hugo awards. While I mainly read novels, I find that they get a disproportionate share of attention by many readers. More’s the pity, as short stories are a great way to find new writers you’ll love, and to enjoy some wonderful works that cannot be sustained at novel length. So, without more ado, here are some books that really stood out for me this past year.
Straight Up Science Fiction
The Martian – Andy Weir – It’s a tale of the competent man as a fully developed protagonist in a battle to survive alone on Mars.
Ancillary Justice – Anne Leckie – There are so many reasons this first novel has taken the major awards.
The Red: First Light – Linda Nagata – Military science fiction has to have a lot going for it to hold my interest, and this one does.
Hard Wired – Walter Jon Williams – For contrast, I re-read this cyberpunk classic to find that it’s still fresh, gritty, and gripping today.
Contemporary and Historical Fantasy
American Craftsman – Tom Doyle – Here’s a modern-day military thriller/fantasy mash-up of interest to readers of Poe, Hawthorne, and Lovecraft.
The Golden City – Kathleen Cheney – This is a thoroughly enjoyable detective story set in turn-of-the-century Porto, featuring selkies and other sea people.
The Golem and the Jinni – Helen Wecker – I loved the people and the setting in turn-of-the-century NYC, which is where my mother’s parents met and married.
Hild – Nicola Griffith – This portrayal of life, religion, and intrigue in 7th Century Britain gives us a wonderful look at just how different it must have been to live in a pre-industrial society lacking much of the knowledge of science that we take for granted.
River of Stars – Guy Gavriel Kay – A sweeping historical fantasy based on ancient China, with memorable characters
Maplecroft – Cherie Priest – Thriller in which Lizzie Borden meets H.P. Lovecraft
Shambling Guide to New York City – Mur Lafferty – What’s not to love about a travel guide for vampires, zombies, water sprites, and the like?
Short Story Collections and Anthologies
Her Husband’s Hands and Other Stories – Adam-Troy Castro – These are dark, even disturbing stories, not something to breeze through merrily.
Best of Kage Baker – The author was a remarkably gifted story teller who passed away too young.
The Year’s Best Science Fiction 29th, 30th, and 31st Annual Collections – Gardner Dozois – I’d somehow fallen behind in reading these annual anthologies of short fiction by many of the best writers in the field.
Year’s Best SF 18 – David G. Hartwell – Another great assemblage of science fiction, some of which overlaps Gardner’s, by another masterful editor.
Catfish and Mandela — Andrew X. Pham. Most of the non-fiction I read is for my own research. However, I was so taken by this part-biography, part-travel-tale written by a Vietnamese immigrant to the U.S., that I simply had to include it.
Lastly, I present you with some gender stats: The books I’ve read in 2014 (all of them, not just my favorites) are almost evenly split between male and female authors, with just one more male author than female author. While I love to read authors I’ve never tried before, I don’t systematically try to balance the number or percentage of books I read that are written by women as opposed to men. In picking out my 2014 favorite books, I only gave thought to author genders after I’d finished my list. Hence I find it interesting, and reflective of nothing other than my own personal taste, to see that my favorites this year in SF are split 50-50, and 60-40 for fantasy. My dark fantasy favorite books this year are both by women, while the single-author collections divide equally. Maybe I do have a slight preference for women authors, as the list above has 6 men and 8 women for single-author works. Having said all that, I have to conclude that a list of 14 favorite books (excluding the 4 anthologies) isn’t a large enough sample to draw any meaningful conclusions.