The Best of Bio Break 2013 is a series of “end of the year” lists that talk about various forms of entertainment that I enjoyed this year. They’re not awards, but they are ranked. Each entry doesn’t have to be something that came out this year, but merely something I encountered this year.
So let’s talk about my favorite novels! I think my reading in 2013 was down compared to 2012, although my “to read” list keeps growing. I’ve been trying to accumulate suggestions of best scifi/fantasy novels to check out, and I liked these the best.
1. The Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz
I was a bit late to this party, mostly because I’ve never been a reader of Koontz, but on a recommendation I picked up the first book of this supernatural/sci-fi/horror/thriller/comedy/romance saga and then quickly devoured the rest over vacation. A hero that can see and talk to the dead seems pretty cliche, but the path this series takes as Odd becomes a beacon of light in a very dark world is really captivating. I kind of want to read them all over again.
2. Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
Lawrence’s ultimate anti-hero, King Jorg, took me on an incredible ride for this final installment of this fantasy trilogy. Jorg isn’t a nice guy by any stretch of the imagination, but he is captivating, cunning, and occasionally sympathetic — and that is a great combination to make one want to turn pages. It’s mostly fantasy although there’s a slight sci-fi bent, as it takes place in our future after a pretty scary apocalypse happens. I really liked how the series ended and that Lawrence had the strength to just end it instead of milking it for more.
3. The Last Policeman series by Ben Winters
The Last Policeman and Countdown City are the first two parts of a trilogy about a detective who clings to his job while the world counts down the days until it is destroyed by an asteroid. Seeing the world fall down around him as he doggedly pursues his quarry makes you wonder what you would do in a similar situation, and there are times that I admire and find myself exasperated with the main character’s approach. Can’t wait for the third.
4. Third Shift: Pact / Dust by Hugh Howey
I read the final two books of Howey’s awesome Wool series this year, and while the ending lacked some of the great punches that the books provided along the way, it still did the job. So what are these about? Uh… without spoilers (and really, start with Wool) it’s about a giant silo where a contained civilization of people live after the world above ends. Although not everything is as it seems and there are secrets abounding.
5. The Thousand Names by Django Wexler
Lots of recommendations forced me to check this one out, and I couldn’t put it down once I started. It’s about a military campaign in a fantasy land, except that it’s more in the Revolutionary War/Civil War era of military technology so there’s a lot of muskets, bayonets, and cannons instead of swords and spells. I found the two main characters pretty riveting and the pace snappy. Good action, too.
6. The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
A good, solid third entry to the Gentlemen Bastards series about the adventures of a group of highly trained thieves as they seek fortune and revenge. Each book has a different focus, with this one being a battle of wits between competing thieves while flashing back to an earlier tale of romance and theatrics. I liked it a lot and it definitely made me want to go back and re-read the first book now that some facets are revealed.
7. Heroes Die by Matthew Stover
Speaking of anti-heroes (it’s a theme!), Heroes Die has a great one with Caine, a man who lives in a dystopian sci-fi future but who also travels to a parallel fantasy world where he goes on adventures that are recorded for the crowds back home. The book is about him trying to save his wife while facing threats from both worlds, and while it’s at times a little eye-rolling with the portrayal of its growly lead character, it does the job and then some.
8. Abbadon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey
Pretty cool third part of this space opera series, more concerned this time with exploring the unknown (in this case, a ring that sends spaceships to a very scary pocket of the universe). I really liked its hard sci-fi approach to how ships and their crew would function, with a special emphasis on disasters and recovery so very far from home.
9. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Yay for another Gaiman novel (man, it’s been a while!) although boo for a short tale that was more like a short story than a proper book. It’s just over too soon with too little substance too it, and that was that. There’s a clever approach to urban fantasy, however, that I appreciated.
10. Pines/Wayward by Blake Crouch
Pines was a gripping and gut-churning sci-fi thriller that put Crouch on my radar, and I guess it got enough of a response for him to turn it into the first part of a trilogy. Wayward is the middle episode, taking us back to Wayward Pines, a Stepford-like town in Iowa where the citizens are all being watched, where disobeying the rules gets you mob-murdered, and where the real terror lies beyond the electric fence that rings the town. Fewer big reveals this time and little doubt what the main character was going to do.