It's been a little while since I posted here. I may talk about why in a later post, but I thought I'd get things moving again with some words on the best books I read in 2012.
Science Fiction: Soft Apocalypse, by Will McIntosh
I read Soft Apocalypse way back in January, and it stayed with me throughout the year. Far and away the most frightening apocalypse I've ever read, perhaps because it was so thoroughly believable. My memory is of a gentle, sometimes self-deluding central character, striving for companionship during a societal collapse that is as casual as it is horrifying.
There was a lot of talk this year about science fiction losing its faith in the future. I haven't fully unpacked my feelings on that -- I probably never will -- but it is perhaps telling that Soft Apocalypse was the most convincing science fiction novel I read in 2012.
Honourable mentions: I want to call out two books for honourable mentions at more length than usual, because I didn't talk about either of them earlier in the year. The first is God's War, by Kameron Hurley. God's War is Hurley's first book, and so it isn't without its flaws. It is, however, one of the most inventive (and brutal) things I read in 2012. It felt a bit like reading Vandermeer's Finch or Mieville's Perdido Street Station for the first time -- unexpected, weird, and sort of inspiring. I look forward to reading more from Hurley.
The second book I want to mention is Jack Glass by Adam Roberts. Roberts was a bit of a puzzle for me -- in 2012 I started to notice people talking about him as if everyone already knew how good his books were. But if that was the case, how had I never heard of him?
I've since read two of his books -- By Light Alone and Jack Glass -- and he really is that good. Jack Glass, his thirteenth novel, is an impressive deconstruction of golden-age science fiction and detective stories. It's very readable, and if you wanted you could leave it at that. There's a lot more going on, though; it seemed to me that Roberts wasn't so much playing with genre tropes as he was actively interrogating them. Great stuff.
After you've read the book (and you should), take a look at this fascinating review by Jonathan McCalmont.
Fantasy: Railsea, by China Mieville
It almost feels like cheating to put a China Mieville novel in my best of the year. We all know he's good, and we all know I like his books. But Railsea was probably the most fun I had all year. It's Mieville's take on Moby-Dick: Sham ap Soorap rides aboard the moletrain Medes, hunting her captain's great nemesis, the monstrous mole named Mocker-Jack.
There's a little bit of latter-day Quentin Tarantino in Railsea, in that Mieville is being pretty self-indulgent. If that sort of thing frustrates you, so might Railsea. I found Mieville's affection for his source material, and the fun he was having, completely charming.
Honourable mentions: Dinocalypse Now, by Chuck Wending; The Drowning Girl, by Caitlin R. Kiernan. Which maybe isn't really a fantasy novel. Whatever it is, it's excellent.
Other Thing: The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
Okay, so this is another cheat. You'll find The Intuitionist in the literary fiction section of the book store, but I think you could make a very solid argument that it is equally a genre novel. Its plot is science-fictional, with a healthy dose of mystery: an ideological war between two schools of elevator repair, the Intuitionists and the Empiricists, and a search for the perfect elevator. But its prose, and its concern with race relations and social progress, are pure literary fiction.
However you want to label it -- and really, does it matter? -- The Intuitionist is a wonderful book. It may have helped that I read it while I was visiting New York (where it is apparently set), but I suspect I would have enjoyed it anywhere.
Honourable mentions: This is how you lose her by Junot Diaz; Atomic Robo, written by Brian Clevinger and drawn by Scott Wegener.