The Best Of 2018

The end of 2018 is finally upon us, which means it’s time to talk about the best books of the year. 2017 was one of the best years of Sci-fi and Fantasy I have lived to talked about, so it is no surprise that 2018 had some difficulty following its incredible performance. That being said, despite being a weaker year there are still a number of fantastic books that came out this year. If you need gift ideas for a friend or family member that likes fantasy or sci-fi, look no further than any of the entries on this list. As always, I had to make a cut off for the list somewhere and I arbitrarily decided to pick 21 – but there were still a number of great authors not listed who should be proud of their books. Without further adieu, let’s dive into the panoply of good reads in 2018.

51ifgjed8sl21) The Dragon Lords: Bad Faith by Jon Hollins – When I first came across the Dragon Lords series, it was clear that I had found a diamond in the rough in need of a little polish. However, while the first book had some flaws, Jon Hollins showed massive improvement in the sequel last year, and the finale this year. Humor in fantasy is hard, and while these books might not always be perfect – I think they bring enough originality and quality to the stage to be worth anyone’s time. Bad Faith has a lot of laughs, a lot of failures, and a boatload of people learn how to be slightly less garbage. Jon Hollins is improving as an author with every book that he writes and I can’t wait to see what he gets up to next.

91mf49yikml20) The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson – A sequel to The Traitor Baru Cormorant, this unique series focuses on cultural warfare and how to crush one’s enemies without lifting a sword. Monster had some small pacing problems, but they failed to detract from the book’s increasingly complex and fascinating world and thrilling political intrigue. Despite an almost entirely new cast, Monster continues to draw readers in with characters you love to hate and hate to love. Dickinson’s prose is some of the best in recent times and his worldbuilding is both complex and compelling. The ending of Monster gives only a small hint of where the story will go next and readers will be hotly anticipating the next book until it is in their hands.

51asw0iub3l19) The Ember Blade by Chris Wooding – The only book on the list we haven’t had a chance to review yet, and one of the few non-sequels, this mammoth piece of writing is a call back to classical quest fantasy. There is little innovating about The Ember Blade. It is a coming of age story of a hero with a destiny on a quest for a magic sword. However, just because the book doesn’t have a completely original plot, doesn’t mean it is bad (there is a reason things become tropes). With a relatable cast, a surprising amount of humor, and descriptive prose that brings the world to life, The Ember Blade is an easy book to get lost in. The only thing that keeps the book from placing higher on this list is its extremely slow pacing. The Ember Blade is a fantastic tribute to classical fantasy with a Wooding twist that makes it all the better.

3552056418) A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White – Drama is the name of the game in this larger than life debut novel. Big characters, big fights, big magic, and a big plot – this book is Firefly, meets Fast and Furious, meets National Treasure. The cast starts out rough and unlikable, but is quickly chiseled down into characters you can dig into. The world is incredible, the adventure engrossing, and the combat will have you on the edge of your seat. The book is an interesting mix of fantasy and science fiction, and I wish more people would try similar genre mashups. Big Ship is the strongest debut I read in 2018 and I can’t wait to start reading the sequel, A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy, when it comes out later this month.

mealing_bloodofthegods-tp17) Blood of the Gods by David Mealing – Mealing’s massive debut book, Soul of the World, was a top contender on the 2017’s best of list. He has followed it up with an equally massive sequel less than a year later that continued to knock my socks off. Blood of the Gods continues Mealing’s philosophy of go big or go home. When Mealing first put out Soul of the World I believed he had decided to focus more on telling an imaginative story than on one that was polished and streamlined. After reading Blood of the Gods, I have realized that he was playing a long con, and that he is actually somehow doing both. With over 40 magical powers, this book is chaos incarnate and I can only imagine how much planning must have gone into a storyboard and world of this scope. Mealing has managed to get me to reassess his skill as an author with his second book, Blood of the Gods. While I initially thought he was a crazy imaginative author who might need a little polish; now I think he is a crazy imaginative author who clearly knows what he is doing. You won’t find another author who can pack more magic into a page than David Mealing.

port-of-shadows_full16) Port of Shadows by Glen Cook – This might be a controversial pick, but I can’t help who I am, and who I am is a massive The Black Company fanboy. Glen Cook is one of my absolute favorite authors, and his newest entry into his pivotal The Black Company series is a welcome one. A book for longtime fans of the series, Port of Shadows answers a number of lingering questions leftover from the plot of the original books. It adds a layer of depth to characters I already loved, and I really appreciate that his book exists. Port of Shadows has all the hallmarks of a Cook classic: an unreliable narrator, a visceral brutality, a depressing tone, and more mystery than a cryptogram inside a labyrinth. Those of you who haven’t read The Black Company will likely want to steer clear of this one, but those of you who have – welcome home.

3592153615) The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso – This book guaranteed itself a spot on this list by making me say the words “I really liked the love triangle”. I don’t even know where to start with The Defiant Heir. The sequel to The Tethered Mage, Caruso’s second book surpasses its predecessor in every possible way. It has a great cast, intrigue that will keep you up late reading, and a world full of magic that is fun to explore. However, what elevates The Defiant Heir to one of the best books of 2018 are two things. First, a dedication to a theme that we don’t see enough of in the fantasy genre – the idea that with power comes responsibility (#spiderprincess?). And second, a love triangle that I an genuinely invested in (something that has never happened before) and that explores the first theme I just mentioned. The two men in the triangle represent marriage for love and marriage for obligation, and Caruso gives equal weight to both. It was a bold choice on Caruso’s part that paid off in spades and made this one of the best reads of 2018.

3888951014) Charmcaster & Soulbinder by Sebastien de Castell – Fun is king. One of two double entries this year, de Castell managed to put out two books in his Spellslinger series that claimed a spot together. There is really nothing more to say about these books than reading them was some of the most fun I had this year. The series continues to be charming, imaginative, engrossing, and easy to read. Reading these books gives me the same cathartic rush that I felt when reading Harry Potter as a child, and there are very few books that can come close to that feeling. De Castell has continued to prove that he is one of the best fantasy authors of this generation and that anything he touches is almost guaranteed to be worth your time. If you haven’t managed to get your hands on Spellslinger yet there are now four great books to dig into, but be prepared to stay up all night reading them back-to-back.

51iif0eja4l13) Last Dragon Standing by Rachel Aaron – Speaking of fun. A large chunk of my free time this year was spent burning through all five Heartstriker books by Rachel Aaron. Although only Last Dragon Standing can make it onto this list (due to when it was published) collectively reading this series was one of the best parts of my year. Aaron has made a fun urban fantasy that moves at breakneck speed and has more delicious family drama than a soap opera. Unfortunately, a large part of the appeal of these books is their fun plot – making them very hard to review or talk about. However, take note of the fact that Last Dragon Standing managed to claim the spot 13th best book in 2018 and use that as a guide as to whether or not it is worth your time.

81s4snnvywl12) Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha LeeRevenant Gun closes out one of the weirdest science fiction series I have ever read. While the first two books in the series were extremely confusing fun, Revenant Gun finally takes us behind the curtain in Oz and shows the reader what is actually going on in the books. Lee has proven that there is method behind the madness and you can trust him to deliver an incredible reading experience, even if you don’t quite understand what is going on. Revenant Gun gives a great send off to some of the most interesting and lovable characters I have read about in the last few years and solidifies The Machineries of Empire series as a top pick in the science fiction genre.

veil-of-spears-front-cover-sm11) A Veil of Spears by Bradley P. Beaulieu – The Song of Shattered Sand is shaping up to be one of my top epic fantasies ever. Every year Beaulieu puts out a new gargantuan book and each year it delivers an excellent read. A Veil of Spears has every strength of its predecessors but builds a bigger and better story. The stakes are getting higher, the world is getting cooler, and I am growing more and more attached to the characters. The conflict has grown, new players have joined the board as both protagonists and antagonists, the scope and rules of the conflict have changed, and changed, and changed again. A Veil of Spears feels like some sort of bizarro Matryoshka doll, where every time I open it up and look inside I find an even larger space and story.Veil is book three of six in this giant sandy epic, and the series really feels like it has hit its stride. There is no better time to jump into Beaulieu’s incredible series and I will continue to advertise it for free until everyone picks up a copy.

512phkhzbnl10) Rogue Protocol & Exit Strategy by Martha Wells – Welcome to the top 10 of 2018. Up first we have everyone’s favorite AI finishing out her last two novellas. I love Murderbot. I love her… them… it… you get the idea. Last week when we were making out list of our favorite female protagonists there was a serious discussion if Murderbot counted, because she is one of our favorite protagonists of all genders. The Murderbot Diaries have just been one delightful surprise after another. Novellas this short have no right being as powerful, fun, and poignant as full length novels – but they are. Wells has a real talent for characters, and her murder and media-loving AI is still one of the most relatable characters I read about this year. Murderbot is now getting full length books due to their rampant popularity, so if you haven’t checked out these novellas yet you are doing yourself a grave disservice.

9781101988886_GreySister_FCOmech.indd9) Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence – Grey Sister had huge shoes to fill following our #3 pick from last year, Red Sister. While this less vibrant sequel did not quite live up to its predecessor’s glory, Grey Sister still continued the Lawrence tradition of delivering pulse-pounding action in an enigmatic and engrossing world. Grey Sister has a laser-focused plot and the pacing of a dragster with an open throttle. It introduces us to new POVs, such as Abbess Glass, that do a lot to expand the scope of the story and help the reader grow closer to the collective cast of the book. I tore through this stellar sequel in less than two days and I am counting the hours until I get my hands on the final book in the trilogy.

a19o2yo0d2bl8) The Empire of Ashes by Anthony Ryan – All of the top ten books this year were hard to place, but The Empire of Ashes was a particular thorn in my side. Ryan has been slightly controversial for a number of years due to the ending of his Raven’s Shadow series. However, I don’t think there is a single reader who will argue with me when I say Ryan absolutely nailed the finale of his second trilogy. The Empire of Ashes delivers an unbelievably climatic end to a series that has been a rollercoaster from start to finish. Lizanne might be the most badass protagonist I have ever read about and she is only one of a number of brilliant characters that litter this series. Each book in the Draconis Memoria has expanded the scope of the world. Waking started on a single island, Legion expanded to the major continents/empires, and Empire shows the you full world that Ryan has crafted. Ryan’s ability to paint a huge sweeping living world with tons of different governments and peoples, while also losing none of the pacing and immersiveness of his plot, is a step up from his past work. The Empire of Ashes is a phenomenal conclusion to a series that has only gotten better in each book, and that’s after it started off strong.

tumblr_oi336wcpw81vla796o1_5407) Persepolis Rising by James S. A. Corey – As always, I like to roll the December Expanse books over into my next years list, as they are definitely one of the best books of any year they come out in, but have a hard time making it onto lists due to their release dates. Persepolis Rising marks the start of the final story arc in the Expanse series, and despite still being two books away I am not ready for this ride to end. Persepolis Rising was one of the most emotionally stressful books I have ever read. I have been reading this series close to a decade now and I am heavily invested in the characters and plot. Watching this behemoth of a series slowly maneuver into its final arc is like watching the health of a loved one slowly deteriorate. The book is amazing, but it is starting to feel like I am saying goodbye to a lifelong friend and I am just not ready yet.

eames_bloddy-rose_pb6) Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames – It takes a lot of guts to take a tried and true cast of characters and throw them out the window, but that is exactly what Nicholas Eames did with his second book Bloody Rose. Eames decided to ditch his characters from his previous novel, Kings of the Wyld, in favor of a fresh cast and a new story. It is a true testament to his skill and imagination as an author that Bloody Rose is just as good as its hugely popular predecessor. Bloody Rose once again demonstrates Eames supreme talent for weaving themes into books. Each of the characters embodies a different form of relationship with their parents and they collectively speak to the many flavors of hardship that arise between parent and child. All of this is done in a magical setting, with charismatic characters, satisfying combat, and an engrossing plot that will keep you reading late into the night. With two brilliant books out in two years, I think it is safe to say that Eames is one of the best up and coming authors and a man you will want to keep an eye on in the years to come.

288110185) Wrath of Empire by Brian McClellan – Another year another step closer to the top of a best of list. Wrath of Empire shows McClellan continues to improve with every book he writes. This book is the realization of all the potential that the Powder Mage Trilogy had and hopefully a herald for a new caliber of McClellan books. Wrath has flawlessly completed the baton pass of excellence from Sins of Empire and has helped Gods of Blood and Powder eclipse the already stellar Powder Mage Trilogy. The action is exciting, the plot is gripping, and the themes are deep and thought-provoking. You can’t ask much more of Wrath of Empire, and it is one of the strongest books of 2018.

Foundryside RD4 clean flat4) Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett – I feel like it should surprise no one that Foundryside, by Robert Jackson Bennett, is a sensationally good book. Ever since I stumbled onto City of Stairs, Robert has been a fixture of my yearly best books lists and has never disappointed. The first book in a brand new series, Bennett introduces readers to a new cast to fall in love with and a host of new imaginative terrors to keep them up at night. The world is cool, the magic is cool, and the plot is amazing. Foundryside is a really good book, and effortlessly slides into the number four spot on my top books of 2018. Robert Jackson Bennett is a writer of supreme talent and imagination, and has once again proven that his work is worth everyone’s time. If you like politics, action, intrigue, engineering, heists, humor, fun, happiness, heartache, or lovable characters – Foundryside has it all. I honestly can’t imagine who wouldn’t like this book, so sit down, dig in, and have a good time.

202009_13298883) Circe by Madeline Miller – For anyone who knows about Circe, its high place on this list should be no surprise. I have read a lot of Odysseus books, many of them incredible, but Circe is likely the best. Circe is the kind of book that hits cult popularity on its quality alone. The power of this book is in the prose, which might be some of the best I have ever read. Miller’s language is on par with the best prose writers of all time, and who you think is best will honestly come down to personal preference. She manages to hit the perfect combination of both flowing flowery language and a lack of pretentious writing. Her vivid descriptions will pull you in, and flood you with empathy for every character so that you feel as if you are living the book. The pacing is fast and exciting, and her take on all the myths is original and refreshing. Circe has no flaws that I could find, and the only way I could imagine someone disliking this book is if they hated the subject matter. Madeline Miller is an once-in-a-generation talent who I will now be following closely for the rest of her career.

51ydnovnysl-_sx328_bo1204203200_2) The Will to Battle by Ada Palmer – Smart, imaginative, otherworldly, and a perfect commentary on society today – The Will to Battle is my second favorite book to come out in 2018. The Terra Ignota books are the fastest to rise to my tier 1 recommendation list, and each new book has only reinforced my decision to place the series that high. The plot of these books is like a 20 dimensional onion, each new layer revealing new concepts and ideas that I have to sit down and work to grasp. Reading The Will to Battle felt like going to a job, but one that I loved and was wildly passionate about. The characters are complex and one of a kind. The politics are complicated, fascinating, and engrossing. The prose and writing is top tier. The book is constantly surprising and delighting. The Will to Battle sets up the series perfectly for an explosive conclusion and I have no doubt that this unique science fiction series will be considered a inspirational classic in years to come.

y6481) Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers – If I am being honest, 2018’s competition for best book wasn’t even close. It was always going to be Record of a Spaceborn Few. I really don’t have the space to express how much I loved this book in this huge list, so I implore you to please take a moment to read the review in the link. Record is a quiet, contemplative, and slow story about people who make their lives in space. The book moves like a beautiful symphony, each character telling a personal story that weaves together into a beautiful whole. It is a book that broke my heart, then pieced it back together stronger than it was before, and it is one of the best books I have ever read. There are no end of the universe threats lurking in this book. Instead, Record speaks to struggles all of us have gone, and are going, through and sets them in a wildly imaginative and engrossing science fiction setting. It has the wonder and creativity of any of the best sci-fi books I have read, with a cast of characters that rival any of the best traditional fiction I have read. This book affected me more emotionally than anything else I have read this year, smashing my heart with character tragedies and stitching it back together with victories. Record of a Spaceborn Few is The Quill to Lives’s #1 book of 2018 and I urge you to all go find a copy.

-Andrew

Advertisements

Every Sky Is Full of Stars – Blog Guest Post By Yoon Ha Lee

81s4snnvywlWhen Ninefox Gambit came out, I remember the consternation of some readers that starships were called “moths,” and not just “moths” but different kinds of them, everything from the big cindermoths to the logistical support ships called boxmoths and later the stealthed needlemoths and shadowmoths.  Why moths?  Why not just call them ships like everyone else?

I had a couple reasons for this.  The first was pure convenience on my part.  I can barely tell left and right apart in English, let alone port and starboard.  (This certainly made things interesting when I read Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander years ago, excellent book though it is.)  The thought of having to spend an entire book figuring out nautical terminology filled me with horror.  I wanted to refer to floors and walls, not decks and bulkheads.  So I didn’t call my starships “ships.”  Problem solved!  I figured that given that the hexarchate’s denizens aren’t actually speaking English anyway, I could justify this as a reflection of their own terminology.

Why “moths” instead of some other creature?  I wanted something that flew, that had a name that was one syllable long in English, and that had a group name (e.g. herd of cows, pack of elephants) that sounded sufficiently warlike.  I made the mistake of relying on a glorious Tumblr picspam for my information (protip: don’t do this!) and thought that moths came in “swarms,” which sounded perfect for an analogue to “fleets.”  This is probably incorrect, though, sorry!  I can’t seem to find a definitive answer to this on Google (one site suggests a group of just moths is a “wainscot”); anyone?

The other big reason was that my ships were living ships.  Specifically, as if the hexarchate weren’t awful enough as it stands, they’re enslaved cyborged aliens from a shadow dimension.  This isn’t really brought up in the first book because none of the viewpoint characters really know or care about it.  In hexarchate culture, they would no more think about moths as potentially having autonomy than I would think about whether my socks have opinions.  They’re just tools for the humans’ convenience.

But the moths aren’t just enslaved aliens, they’re enslaved sentient aliens.  This fact comes into play at last in Revenant Gun, when the titular ship, the Revenant, begins talking to Jedao.  The Revenant has definite opinions about what it wants to be doing with its life, which do not include being a slave for the rest of its life.  And it’s not incapable of making plans or gathering allies in support of those plans.  To find out how those plans go, you’ll have to read the book!

Revenant Gun – Interview with Yoon Ha Lee

81s4snnvywlThe incredible author of Revenant Gun, Yoon Ha Lee, agreed to answer some of questions of our about his complex and gripping The Machineries of Empire series. Thank you again Yoon for taking the time to talk to us, and everyone else enjoy our questions and answers below! Revenant Gun comes out this week and you can find our review of it here. There also is a blog tour happening right now, so be sure to be on the lookout for other interviews and articles about Yoon.

I deeply admired your ability to world build in the first book in a way that relied on the reader’s engagement and willingness to accept the gaps. How hard was it to leave a lot of the stuff open ended to the reader, while still getting general idea across?

Honestly, while I had an outline and a bunch of notes, in writing Ninefox Gambit I made up a lot of stuff as I went!  Patricia C. Wrede makes an interesting distinction between what she calls “iceberg” worldbuilders and “bubble” worldbuilders, and I definitely tend toward the latter.  “Iceberg” worldbuilders are people like Tolkien–they come up with the deep history of the world and its cultures and maps and everything.  “Bubble” worldbuilders make up things as they go and everything is on the surface–there may be hints but there aren’t 500 pages of backstory lurking in the background.  Of course, she says–and I discovered it to be true–that “bubble” worldbuilders turn into “iceberg” worldbuilders when they write a longer work like a series, because you start actually having to keep track of what you’ve said and you need to keep your world consistent within itself.  Leaving a lot of things open-ended was a natural side-effect of the way I built the world.

How did you elevator pitch this story to your publisher? I have been asked to give a short description of the series before and completely failed so I would love to steal your answer.

Fortunately, I was able to look up my query letter to agents, which is probably pretty close:

Captain Kel Cheris is ordered to recapture a space fortress whose takeover by heretics my disable her nation’s advanced technologies, which depend on the state religion.  The weapon given Cheris is a dead tactician, Shuos Jedao.  Jedao may be the only one capable of outthinking the fortress’s defenses.  But he went mad during a former life, massacring his own soldiers, and while he seems sane now, no one knows how long that will last–least of all Cheris, who has been made host to his spirit.

Um.  I’m not going to pretend that’s the best pitch in the history of pitches; it’s very definitely a skill I’m still working on!

What was your inspiration for the series? Was there some external force or did all of this series majestical weirdness solely come from the depths of your mind?

There were several inspirations!  First let me talk about Legend of the Five Rings (L5R), a collectible card game/roleplaying game originally created by Alderac Entertainment Group (it has since been bought out and rebooted as a Living Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games).  I started playing it in college, and one of the things that sucked me in was the lore.  Its setting, the land of Rokugan, is a sort of fantasy feudal Asia (mostly Japan) and one of its key features was that you could join one of several clans, each with its own specialties–for example, the Lion Clan was known for its honorable warriors and tacticians, the Crane Clan for its elegant courtiers and duelists, the Scorpion Clan for its ninjas and seductresses.

Fast forward a number of years.  A man named Rich Wulf wrote a modern-day, cyberpunk-influenced fanfiction series about the setting called Rokugan 2000.  Inspired, some friends and I conceived of a space opera version of L5R called Rokugan 3000.  (A number of people around the web had the same idea–we were hardly alone.)  I was really excited about writing fic for samurai in space.

There was a catch, however.  AEG was looking for another writer for its official Story Team, and I wanted to apply.  And I knew that if by some miracle I succeeded and joined the Story Team, I would have to stop writing fanfic for the setting.  As luck would have it, Robert Denton III and I were both selected for it (Robert is currently writing for FFG now, as it happens, among other things).  So I shelved Rokugan 3000.

I still wanted to write space opera, though.  I had a great experience working with folks at AEG but ended up leaving after a year, and decided that it would be a good time to try to write a space opera in a setting of my own devising.  The hexarchate has influences from Rokugan–the factions were loosely inspired by the clans.

There were other influences.  In high school I read Jack L. Chalker’s Spirits of Flux and Anchor series, and one of its features is magic-like effects caused by manipulation of math and computers, as well as areas where magic doesn’t work.  I’m not sure I would recommend the books to a modern reader, as they have some notable flaws (Chalker’s portrayals of female characters and sex changes were sometimes odd), but Chalker was a history teacher and I was fascinated by his explorations of historical processes.

Finally, there was ethnomathematics, which I learned of through Marcia Ascher’s Mathematics Elsewhere.  I never had the privilege of meeting Ascher during her life, but it turns out it’s a small world–I found out later that she was the godmother of a college friend’s brother.  In any case, the whole idea of calendars affecting the laws of physics in a magical fashion came both from Ascher’s writing and from reading Harlan Ellison’s “The Paladin of the Lost Hour,” which was the first time I really thought about differing calendar traditions in the context of fiction.  In real life, of course, I was used to lunar calendar celebrations vs. the Western calendar in South Korea (fun fact, you get to celebrate New Year’s twice!).

Considering there was so many cool and weird things in this series, I want to know, what came first, Jedao as a shadow, or the calendrical system?

The calendrical system.  Jedao as a shadow I made up on the spot.  I will own that as I approached the scene where he’s initially attached to Cheris I felt a stab of panic wondering how to make him sufficiently interesting…

The idea of the Hexarchate is extremely intriguing and the sort of weird self-propagation of its values through factional competition and prejudices feels very natural. The whole thing always feels like it is teetering on the edge, but manages to remain in control. Where did the Hexarchate/Heptarchate start for you? Why did it feel important to have separate factions as a coalition instead of a sole ruler with a feudal duchy like system?

See above about being inspired by clans in Legend of the Five Rings!  I admit that my feeling is that a system that precarious should only have lasted a couple centuries, tops, but I decided that strict plausibility was less important than having fun, especially in a space opera.  I went with coalition rule because I thought that had more potential for exciting infighting and also because I’m a little burned out on evil empires with sole rulers, so I wanted to do something a little different.

Of the six factions in the world, which do you see yourself belonging to?

I took the faction sorting quiz that Solaris came up with (http://www.solarisbooks.com/post/2065) and came out as a Nirai.  Since I have a B.A. in math, I suppose that tracks, although I didn’t pursue math further (ironically because I didn’t want to give up writing for six or seven years while doing a doctorate).  In real life, I see myself as one of the masses of unaligned citizens, a redshirt sort of person.

You decided to expand a lot of the world building and explain a lot of the science in the final book as opposed to the first (which I loved). Why keep your readers in the dark so long?

It was a controversial decision!  I often enjoy that kind of storytelling, though, so I wanted to give it a go.  One of my favorite examples of it is C. J. Cherryh’s The Faded Sun, where you learn about the different aliens (especially the mri and regul) as you go on.  (Obviously, I’m nowhere near as skilled a writer as someone like Cherryh!  But one ought to aim high, if one is going to do things at all.)

As for explanations in book three, one reason is that it seemed cruel to leave readers hanging in the last book of a trilogy.  The other reason has to do with choice of viewpoint characters.  In Ninefox, Cheris doesn’t really think about how things work if they’re a part of her everyday ordinary existence; when I read a book set in the modern day and someone turns on a light switch, I don’t need two paragraphs explaining power generation and distribution to me, I just need to know that flicking the switch makes light appear.  Even in a fantasy, if someone throws a fireball, I don’t need to know the grand unified theory of how fireballs happen; the name of the spell tells me it’s a ball made of fire, so why belabor the obvious?

In Revenant Gun, on the other hand, the main viewpoint is that of an amnesiac Jedao.  Not only that, but he’s a few centuries out of date.  So I explain things when Jedao learns about them, because it’s part of his process figuring out the world around him and what to do about it.

Not to spoil anything, but the conclusion to Revenant Gun leaves Jedao’s fate very open ended, would you consider doing another series about him or is this the end for your grand tactician?

Actually, I’m at work on a collection of stories set in the hexarchate, part reprints and part new materials, and one of the stories picks up after the end of Revenant Gun, with Jedao and Cheris going on an adventure together, quarreling all the way.  So stay tuned?  I’m not sure I have another series in me–I think I need to do something different for a bit, next–but I won’t rule it out.

What are your favorite sci-fi and fantasy books? Who are your favorite strategists in fiction and why?

Oh, you’d ask the hard question!  Iain M. Banks’ Player of Games, which I loved so much with its game-playing and metacommentary and double-crosses that I’m afraid to read more Culture books because how are they going to live up to it?  Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs is a fantastic exploration of magic, gods, and colonialism married to a spy thriller.  Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, of which my favorite is Memory, although you need to read the others first for it to make sense.  C. J. Cherryh’s Cyteen with its brilliant and disturbing exploration of nature vs. nurture and genius characters everywhere.  Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant, which has an antihero protagonist who weaponizes economics, although it’s not for the faint of heart.  For something completely different, C. S. Pacat’s Captive Prince trilogy, which is erotic fantasy.

And just because I’m a tease, Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire, which I read in ARC and which is coming out in 2019, in which an emissary from a tiny space station takes on a hungry empire based on a mixture of the Aztecs and the Byzantines; and S. L. Huang’s Zero-Sum Game, a near-future thriller about a female mercenary who is so staggeringly good at math that it’s essentially a superpower.

Favorite strategists or tacticians in fiction who we actually see doing their thing include Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan, who terrifies the spit out of me.  If Miles were real, I would make it a point to live the next galaxy over because he’s dangerous.  Baru Cormorant from Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant, one of the rarer female examples.  There’s also a great female chessmaster in Ilana C. Myer’s Fire Dance.  If you allow anime, then Lelouch Lamperouge from Code Geass and Kaizuka Inaho from Aldnoah.Zero, and if you allow kdramas, Misil and Seondeok from The Great Queen Seondeok.

What is up next for you now that Machineries is done?

I have a middle-grade novel coming out from Disney-Hyperion in January 2019, Dragon Pearl.  It’s a space opera based on Korean mythology–you should have heard my mom’s ? response when I asked her for help researching pungsu jiri, the Korean version of feng shui!–in which a teenage fox spirit goes on a quest to clear her brother’s name after he allegedly deserts from the Space Forces to search for a powerful magical artifact that can change worlds.

Currently, I’m wrapping up the hexarchate short story collection, and after that I’ll be writing a novel for Solaris inspired by the curious story of the paint pigment PO49 or Quinacridone Gold.

Often in military science fiction I find a lot of the writing transfixed by the technology of war, without considering the consequences of using it. However, a lot of the technology in your series was showcased with a sense of wonder, followed by an incredible feeling of foreboding before the full brutality of it was revealed. Was this a deliberate effort on your part? And if yes, why did you feel the reader should go through this realization with each new weapon?

I know that brutal depictions of violence and carnage are not for every reader, but that was deliberate.  I feel that the effects of terrible weapons should not be shied away from.  While I do not have a military background, my father spent some years as a surgeon in the US Army, so I grew up with an awareness that when people go to war, someone has to stitch the survivors back together.

Some people have stories of war veterans in their families.  I don’t have that, really.  But I’m Korean-American and we do have stories of the Korean War.  The one that I remember most keenly is the one my mother told me. Her mother–my grandmother–already had two small children plus a baby, and she was evacuating Seoul with her family a couple months after the war broke out.  Grandma made the hard decision for the family to abandon the baby by the side of the road so that the other children would have a better chance of survival.  But another woman picked up the baby and brought her back to Grandma and said, “You forgot this.”  Grandma didn’t have the heart to abandon the baby again.  That baby was my mother, and it is because of that woman, whose name we don’t know, that my mother survived, and that I am here today.  So I always try to remember that war has a cost, not just for the soldiers but the civilians, even though in this trilogy I chose to focus on the soldiers, who are no more and no less human than the people they are fighting for.

Thanks again Yoon, and be sure to check out The Machineries of Empire if you haven’t already!

REVENANT GUN BLOG TOUR -Poster

Revenant Gun – A Puzzle In Reverse

81s4snnvywlThis year closes out one of the most original and batshit crazy series I have ever read, The Machineries of Empire, by Yoon Ha Lee. The final book in the trilogy (I assume), Revenant Gun, wraps up our current story impressively well. If you haven’t read the first two books you should, and you can find their reviews here and here. The running theme in the series so far is having absolutely no idea what is happening in the book, but still having a good time anyway. I would say I understood approximately 10% of what was happening in The Ninefox Gambit, and maybe 20% in The Raven Stratagem. This is switched up in Revenant Gun, as Lee open the floodgates of knowledge and everything that has happened in the series becomes clear and understood.

I have already seen a few reviewers complain about this dynamic shift in Revenant Gun. They feel that a large part of Machineries’ charm is being completely lost, and don’t like that the third book pulls back to curtain and shows you how everything works. I feel the opposite. Machineries’ to me is a narrative masterpiece where Lee somehow found a way to do all the world building in the back third of the series, and make it work. His decision to show us how his tech works didn’t detract from its wonder, but instead shows that there was a method to the madness all along and helps provide context to appreciate the earlier books more. It also creates a weird reading experience, where I only understood the beginning of a series after I had read its end, and I always value weird reading experiences.

As for the quality of Revenant Gun, it still has all the good things that made its predecessors great. Strange characters with a lot of personality and depth to fall in love with, an exciting military plot that somehow feels brilliant despite you not understanding why it is, and a cool world with odd technology that makes you want to unlock its secrets. The plot follows a final stand off between all the parties that have been established in the previous books, as the three factions all look to defeat the others.

There was only one real negative in the book and that is there is simply not enough screen time of the best character: Mikodez. The perspectives that the book follows are spoilers, so I won’t announce them, but suffice to say none of them are Mikodez and I am outraged. Lee, you can’t just give us one of the best POV ever in book two and then take him away from us in the final book. I need my fix. Really though I don’t have anything negative to say about Revenant Gun, it was a very solid book.

If you liked the other two books, you will like this one. If you are a holdout on this series, you now know it ends strongly and should definitely pick it up. Revenant Gun, and The Machineries of Empire, and some of the best science fiction books in the last decade and will likely make it into my all time favorite books. You are doing yourself a great disservice by not reading this weirdness, go check it out.

Rating:
Revenant Gun – 9.0/10
The Machineries of Empire – 9.0/10
-Andrew