Monday, December 30, 2013

Best reads of 2013

The following are the best books or novellas reviewed in 2013 on Speculiction.

Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window by Rachel Swirsky  - Literary, poignant, intense, purposeful, vivid, and intelligently working with genre tropes—everything one could want in a speculative fiction story

Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem - Forget about genre boundaries, this is one of the most intelligently creative and creatively intelligent books ever written.  Science fiction, fantasy, philosophical robot tales - however you want to look at it, it's brilliant.

The Jagged Orbit by John Brunner - As America descends into deeper, darker depths of uncontrolled violence, Brunner's burning vision of a country held proverbially hostage by its weapons industry only becomes more relevant.

The Girl Who Was Plugged In by James Tiptree Jr. – One of Tiptree Jr.’s most powerful works, this story of a young woman jacked into an avatar as a living advertisement works at many levels.  Prosaically, ideologically, structurally—everything falls into place to make a strong statement regarding self-perception.

Silently and Very Fast by Cathrynne M. Valente - Poetically dressing science fiction in the colorful clothes of fairy tale and fantasy, Valente looks at the birth AI from a highly stylistic point of view.

The Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en - One of the four great novels of the Chinese canon, this episodic display of imagination is unrivalled not only in China, but in the world.  The Monkey King is literary and fantasy magic.

Wandering by Hermann Hesse - Beautifully relaxed prose pieces on the simple joys of being in nature. 

The Iron Dragon's Daughter by Michael Swanwick - A subversion of epic fantasy though a dark, bold, visual, multi-fractal coming of age of a young girl.

My Life as an Explorer by Sven Hedin - An amazing account of the great Swedish explorer’s treks through Mongolia, China, Tibet, Iran, and other locations in central Asia.  Hedin's eye for local culture and landscapes is superb.

The Book of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe - The second chapter in Wolfe's incredible Solar cycle is more accessible than the first, but loses nothing in weaving together its spiritual, philosophical, and classical elements.

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein - Perhaps the writer’s greatest novel, this retelling of the American Revolution through the eyes of lunar colonists is engaging at numerous levels.

Viriconium by M. John Harrison - The four book transition that is M. John Harrison's Viriconium Cycle (The Pastel City, A Storm of Wings, In Viriconium (UK)/The Floating Gods (US), and Viriconium Nights) is simultaneously a subversion of fantasy worldbuilding and an artistic representation of the mutability of perspective.

Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson – Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars incredible visions that present equal parts hard and soft science, it would be difficult for any writer to match or supercede Robinson's effort at portraying humanity's colonization of Mars.

Bridge trilogy by William Gibson – With the pressure on to follow up his monumental Sprawl trilogy with something better, Gibson took his time writing the Bridge trilogy.  Worth the wait, the three resulting books (Virtual Light, Idoru, and All Tomorrow's Parties) produce a more subtle look at near future tech and the society it appears that rivals his breakthrough for quality.

Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck - I dare anyone who reads this not to want to visit Baja California and the Bay of Baja.  Utilizing all his powers of writing in this travelogue, Steinbeck creates a vivid sense of place and character that will have some making travel arrangements.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - Considered the originating point of modern science fiction by Brian Aldiss, this story of man, his human creation, and its consequences is a heavy, emotional read that has no Hollywood monsters, but does indeed expose something dark.

The Wisdom of China by Lin Yutang – Simply put, this collection is all the little bits of Chinese perennial wisdom in one place.  Eminently re-openable.

Tracks by Robyn Davidson – This account of one woman’s solo trek across the Australian desert with her dog and a group of camels is one of the most emotionally powerful travelogues I've ever read.  Just superb.

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges – A ‘best of’ collection from the erudite Argentinean, it rewards, and rewards, and rewards upon multiple reads, the layers of classicism, surrealism, philosophy and other arcane knowledge slowly seeping through.

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