Top Ten Books of 2016

  1. Railsea – China Mieville. There are a few books clustering at the top of what was a markedly improved reading year, so this was a tricky decision, but China Mieville tops the list again for a novel about moles that swim through sand and people who live on trains and tech that’s so ancient no-one remembers what it’s for any more and goddam capitalist critique. Yes.
  2. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers. A beacon of light and sanity amid the divisiveness and hate coming out of the political scene this year: a book in which bureaucracy is still frustrating but mostly does what it’s supposed to do, in which people with different political views and outlooks on life can still be basically borderline decent to each other. We need more of this kind of fiction.
  3. Radiance – Catherynne Valente. I will admit that Radiance is very gimmicky indeed, but it’s so damn stylish in its depiction of an alt-1930s Hollywood (in space!) that I can’t not include it here. I loved it and inhaled it.
  4. Saga Volume 1 – Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. A gutsy, bold graphic novel with a fantastically sarky heroine, set in an utterly bonkers world, which yet manages to tell stories which are intimate, human and true.
  5. God’s War – Kameron Hurley. More than anything else I love the unapologetic femininity of Hurley’s characters: they are all brutal killers in one way or another, but the world they inhabit is unquestionably female. I also love the murkiness of Hurley’s worldbuilding, the way she refuses to hold your hand through its sudden alienness.
  6. Embassytown – China Mieville. Yes, Mieville gets another look-in. I have no regrets. Embassytown‘s compelling hard SF that’s doing deep, layered thinking about truth and representation and do you know how damn hard it is to find speculative fiction like this? Very hard.
  7. Six-Gun Snow White – Catherynne Valente. The best kind of fairytale retelling: angry, bleak and beautiful. Snow White’s voice is awesomely written and full of attitude; the familiar beats of the fairytale rendered in new and ever-more-dreadful ways.
  8. The End of Mr Y – Scarlett Thomas. Another flawed and quite baggy novel, and another dedicated to postmodernist/deconstructionist themes of the gap between Word and referent; but I found its spiky academic heroine compelling and its thinking about that gap (which is, let’s be honest, like catnip to me) really interesting.
  9. Lud-in-the-Mist – Hope Mirlees. An unjustly forgotten treasure redolent with the strange musics of Faerie; one that questions our ambivalent relationship with art and harks back to an older tradition of British fantasy that’s since been almost entirely erased by Tolkien’s legacy.
  10. Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter. Gods, this is difficult: I read so many wonderful books this year and I want to include them all on this last spot. Nights at the Circus nips in here by a whisker, though, because it’s steampunky and subversive and Gothicky and awesome.

 

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