Saturday, December 29, 2012

Favorite Books of 2012

As I did last year, here are my Top 5 books for this year. I should re-emphasize that these are books I read *not* books that necessarily came out this year. If you've been following along in my blog, you know what sort of taste in books I have, but if this is your first visit here (welcome!) then this summarizes what I found cool. It's interesting to note that despite my preference for fantasy, 4/5 books here fall in the science fiction category (though in my opinion the line dividing sci-fi and fantasy is blurry).

Statistics-wise I read 25 books this year, in comparison with 32 last year. Surprisingly, that's about 6,497 pages vs 13,473 pages last year, as recorded by Goodreads (I wonder how accurately it tracks page counts, though). I read mainly in electronic form so page numbers are meaningless, but if we factor about 400 words per page then that is nearly 2.6 million words this year. Clearly I read a lot, yet I was busy this year with plenty of other tasks. There's still a few more days in the year, but that will only add a negligible number of pages to the running total. I expect I'll be just as busy next year, so my goal is a modest 20 books read throughout the year.

But enough about statistics, let's see my Top 5 Favorite Books of 2012.

5. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
A novel set in a post-apocalyptic dystopian world dealing with issues like global warming, famine, and peak oil. The story is fast-paced and well-focused revolving around a young man who salvages from old ships until he finds a rich girl on a recently grounded vessel. Although the story is aimed for 'young adult' audiences, there are plenty of dark themes and violence throughout. The world is completely believable, which makes it all the more frightening: this could be us in a few decades. A new book, The Drowned Cities, exists in the same universe and is on my list of books to read.

4. Railsea by China Mieville
I eagerly read anything new by Mieville and Railsea is no exception. Though the book shares some initial similarities with Herman Melville's Moby Dick, the two couldn't be more different. This is a decently paced, young-adult novel about a young man trying to find his place in the world. A world, which curiously has no oceans: only the railsea. The setting alone can drive the story, and indeed the mystery behind the railsea is a theme in the book: imagine a world where humans live on islands and to go from one to the next they hop on the various kinds of trains available. I liked it so much I made a short, 1-minute video, which was subsequently featured in Geek & Sundry's Sword and Laser show:

3. House of Chains by Steven Erikson
This is Book 4 of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series and is one of the best thus far (I'm up to Book 6). Contrary to the other books, this one focuses on a single character for about half its length. The character, Karsa Orlong of the Toblakai, is really cool and makes subsequent appearances in other books. The change in pace, combined with a unique character, is refreshing in the series. The other half of the book continues several of the arcs in the greater story, which is typical of the other books and is why none of the others ended up in this year's Top 5. Setting-wise we also see more of the world including Hounds of Darkness, Tiste Liosan, and the Forkrul Assail. The Malazan series is, in my opinion, one of the best contemporary epic fantasies of our time.

2. Anathem by Neal Stephenson
This was an excellent book I read thanks to a recommendation. It's a bit heavy and takes a while to develop, but from what I hear that is typical of Stephenson. There is a lot of scientific discussion, including topics from quantum mechanics, consciousness, chemistry, and philosophy. They are part of the story and can slow down the uninitiated reader, though in principle you can skip some of it. To me, however, that made the book a great read. The plot and characters aren't too outstanding, but the setting for the story is fascinating. Stephenson creates a world that seems similar to ours, but also very much different. The extensive terminology and history drive that point home. That alone makes it one of my favorite books this year. A recent Locus Online poll placed it 2nd among 21st Century Sci-Fi novels, so it seems many agree with me.

1. A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
I had heard a lot about this book and finally picked it up this year. It was incredible; I can't believe I had missed reading this before. I can honestly say it feels like one of the foundations of modern science fiction. It incorporates a multitude of ideas, each of which could serve as a full-length novel, and yet all of it flows together perfectly. It won (tied, actually) the 1993 Hugo award, which is arguably the highest award for a sci-fi/fantasy book. A sequel to the story now exists (The Children of the Sky) and is on my to-read list.

The story deals with what happens when a group of scientists accidentally release a techno/biological agent -- the Blight -- that begins attacking civilizations around it. The key to saving the Galaxy lies in a ship that crash-landed on a distant world with medieval-level technology. A race to be the first to reach that world ensues amidst the Galactic-scale turmoil of the unleashed Blight. A further problem, however, is that the planet is on the verge of war as two opposing sides struggle to control the advanced technology that has fallen onto their hands, or more accurately, their paws.

Here is a 1-minute video which (tries to) summarize what it's all about:

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