Having trouble deciding what to get that special person in your life this holiday? Books are my favorite of all gifts to give. Finding a book someone will appreciate isn’t always easy, but it is rewarding. Fear not, for I have a list of books you should consider wrapping up to put under your tree…or menorah…or whatever. These were some of my favorites of 2013!
[Excerpts from my reviews are taken from SF Signal and Elitist Book Reviews and Goodreads]
Miles Cameron’s The Red Knight was the best fantasy novel I read all year. If you need to purchase a gift for someone that is getting pumped for the release of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug or perhaps impatiently awaiting the release of George R.R. Martin’s next A Song of Ice and Fire book, Cameron’s The Red Knight might be the perfect present.
Here’s an excerpt from my review here at SF Signal, “The plotting is dense and intricate – without sacrificing pace. The exposition is brief but effective, the rising-action is gripping, the climax is powerful…he fighting is vicious and varied, the lulls in combat provide opportunity for character development, and there is even a complex and believable romance angle. The Red Knight is a gratifying standalone but there is a lot of foundation set for the forthcoming sequels in The Traitor Son Cycle.”
Will Ludwigsen’s In Search of and Others is a standout short story collection. There are a lot of powerful stories within the collection, all penned by Ludwigsen. There are a lot of deep questions asked and a lot of weird/eerie/whimsical answers provided. I didn’t skip a single story, and that’s a habit of mine when it comes to reading collections and anthologies. If your gift recipient is still watching reruns of The Twilight Zone then this is the closest they’ll find to new episodes.
A brief excerpt from my review over at Elitist Book Reviews, “It made me nostalgic for a time when I believed in the Bermuda Triangle and other supernatural phenomena. It was a time right before the Internet became so commonplace and there was a bit less transparency in the world. Ludwigsen puts it far better than I ever could in the foreword, but it tugs the intended heart strings. In Search of and Others left me with a mixed bag of emotion and a satisfying feeling that there are mysteries out there and it’s up to us to “peel back the edges.”
Chuck Gannon’s Fire with Fire could have easily made the Gift Guide under the sci-fi category, but at its heart Fire with Fire is about espionage and politics. In space! It’s also a believable first contact story, as well as the precursor to all out galactic war (or so I assume). I haven’t been reading as much sci-fi as I used to so this was a real pleasure. It’s like Robert Ludlum meets Robert Heinlein. If your gift recipient loves Bond, Bourne, or Bauer then Fire with Fire should make Holiday.
An excerpt from my review over at Elitist Book Reviews, “Fire with Fire is a first contact story overflowing with espionage, politicking, diplomacy, and problem solving…There are moments of thrilling action, including narrow escapes and botched assassination attempts, but the real excitement comes from the human-alien interaction…There are big, big things on the horizon as the book closes.”
Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names is my other favorite fantasy novel of 2013, though I suspect it will appeal to a slightly different crowd. Wexler has crafted a familiar yet interesting world and populated it with strong characters. His truest strength however, is in writing warfare. In an interview I learned that Wexler is a tabletop war gamer and by his writing it’s obvious that he knows a thing or two about armed conflict. If your gift recipient has some minis set up in a firing line at home The Thousand Names will provide some new material for matches.
An excerpt from my review here at SF Signal, “Another major triumph of Wexler’s is his ability to write convincingly from the military perspective. This is an author that really seems to have a grasp on strategy, tactics, and the psychology of battle…I would wholeheartedly recommend The Thousand Names, not only to fans of fantasy but also to fans of military fiction of all types. Fans of Steven Erikson, David Drake, Glen Cook, Naomi Novik, Tom Kratman, Jack Campbell, David Weber, and John Ringo take note.”
Larry Correia’s Warbound ties up this three part arc of urban fantasy/alternate history Grimnoir Chronicles, but there are plenty of stories left to be told in this universe. If you thought the action in the previous two entries was impressive just wait until you reach Warbound’s finale. I’d hate to ruin anything so I’ll just say this, magical power armor. Oh and guns. Lots of guns. Fans of Correia know what to expect. Those yet to give him a try are in for a treat. If your gift recipient likes to play Historical, What If? then this should keep them occupied a while.
An excerpt from my review at Elitist Book Reviews, “With Warbound Correia takes urban fantasy into all out war. No other author I have ever encountered writes action quite like Larry. If you have ever wanted to read about a soldier and a samurai, each encased in Power enhanced armor, engaging legions of warrior-magicians with heavy firepower and explosive magic as an entire city devolves into chaos around them…well here you go! I love the magic system of The Grimnoir Chronicles.”
Zachary Jernigan’s No Return is certainly the least conventional book I read all year. Is it science fiction? Is it fantasy? Who knows! Actually I know, it’s probably best described as space opera. If the recipient of your gift is interested in super cool imagery, vengeful gods, original magic systems, and eroticism then No Return will be right at home on their book shelf. Is it difficult to pin down exactly what the gift recipient is into? No Return has a little bit of something for everyone.
An excerpt from my review here at SF Signal, “No Return is a beautiful novel, especially for a debut. It is weird yet digestible. There are shades of Herbert’s Dune and Richard K. Morgan’s The Steel Remains, and even a hint of K.J. Parker’s Sharps. Most of all though, this is a book all of its own. The world is colorful and weighted, the characters faceted, and the ideas wicked cool. It would take a truly visionary director to craft a film that would do it any justice.”
Samuel Sattin’s The League of Somebodies was the most memorable superhero novel I read all year (and I read quite a few). It’s a novel that could be considered literature, without being accompanied by a sneer. It’s a book about relationships and the deconstruction of masculinity. It’s an origin story unlike any other. It’s poignant and funny and rather quite clever. A suitable gift for more complex relationships.
An excerpt from my review here at SF Signal, “It’s a powerful story that examines the age old tale of fathers trying to prepare their sons for the world, and sometimes irrevocably damaging them in the process. It is a story of expectations and actualities, generational gaps and the progression of the 21st century man. The characters are larger than life, but undeniably down to earth.”
James Marshall’s Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies has landed him on the TSA’s No-Fly List. He’s made the FBI’s Most Wanted. The Vatican has denounced Marshall and the Westboro Baptist Church wants his head. Well, at least that’s the reaction I imagined he would get. This is a book with a laugh a page (at the very least) though I guarantee some of them will have you cringing! I bet you know just the right person to get this for.
An excerpt from my review here at SF Signal, “If you’re an emotionally disturbed, mentally deranged, easily suggestible, troubled teen…go ahead and buy a copy of Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies. Place it on your bookshelf between The Anarchist Cookbook and The God Delusion, below the shelf sagging with the weight of Machiavelli’s The Prince, The Communist Manifesto, and Trey Parker’s Orgazmo.”
Ramez Naam’s Crux, sequel to the techno-thriller Nexus, pushes the boundaries of cyberpunk into startlingly plausible territory. I fully expect what Naam has written to come to pass within my lifetime. Naam’s tech is cool, his character believable, his action top-notch, and his message accessible yet mature. When it comes to likely successors to Crichton’s throne, my bet’s on Naam. Get this for the technosexual (or luddite) in your life.
An excerpt from my review here at SF Signal, “Crux is filled with bounty hunters, terrorists, hired guns, enhanced special agents, and more…Crux is a model sequel, a novel that builds off of the success of the original rather than trying to imitate it. Naam is writing one of the most exciting thrillers I have ever encountered – crafting a near future that holds as much promise as it does menace.”
Peter Stenson’s Fiend is one of the most brutal books I have ever read. It is a gut wrenching tale of drug addiction, love, and the zombie apocalypse. Zombies bore me to (un)death and yet Fiend was riveting from the beginning to the end. And that end! Even now it’s difficult to think about. The prose is fast and sharp and the content is not for the squeamish. Now that The Walking Dead is taking its mid-season break and Breaking Bad is over, Fiend can be a substitute for both.
An excerpt from my review over at Goodreads, “It’s Stenson’s ability to make you care about what would otherwise be utterly unsympathetic characters that sets Fiend apart from the competition. Reading Fiend will likely cause you to consider what you know about drug addiction and the people afflicted by it. It will also haunt you with some super creepy zombies.”
M.L. Brennan’s Generation V is the most enjoyable urban fantasy book I’ve read all year. Well, that is until I read the sequel, Iron Night, which won’t officially release until January. With lovable characters, an new take on the vampire mythos, solid supernatural investigative work, and a complicated family dynamic Brennan’s American Vampire series deserves its own dramedy detective procedural. Buy this for the gift recipient that doesn’t think vampires can be cool (and then shove it in their face when they love the book).
An excerpt from my review here at SF Signal, “Generation V is unexpectedly awesome. Fortitude Scott manages to confront the issues of life after college and the struggle against genetics in entertaining ways. He’s not your average, hard-boiled urban fantasy protagonist. He’s not your average vampire either.”
Jason M. Hough’s The Darwin Elevator is a thrilling and distinctive sci-fi debut. Fortunately for those who love the book the next two in the series are now available! It has been compared to John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War and the cult hit show Firefly. It’s fun an iconic, with lots of action and gripping imagery with potential for a franchise well beyond books. Buy this for the space junkie in your life instead of naming another asteroid after them.
An excerpt from my review here at SF Signal, “The characters are colorful and varied and there is enough action, suspense, scheming, mystery, and wonder…There is so much wonder, it is like this cool kind of science fiction that takes Earth and makes it alien. Earth is the final frontier in The Darwin Elevator.”
John Hornor Jacobs’s The Twelve-Fingered Boy is a really fun, slightly dark YA adventure. Like all good YA it is accessible to young adults and adults alike, telling the story of two boys with unique abilities that force them to run for their safety. It reminded me a lot of Louis Sachar’s Holes mixed with the superhero flick Chronicle, and I mean that in the best possible way. Get this for the younger gift recipient that might be hiding the power of telekinesis from you — after all you wouldn’t want to anger them would you?
An excerpt from my review over at Elitist Book Reviews, “The Twelve-Fingered Boy is a fast read, packed full of action and humor and a splash of darkness. It’s not an average YA novel.”
I didn’t get to do as much reading in 2013 as I would have liked. What I did dedicate a little more time to instead, was writing. I got my first ever publishing credit in 2013, for my short story “Toejam & Shrapnel” which can be found in Angelic Knight Press’s Manifesto: UF, edited by Tim Marquitz and Tyson Mauermann. I’ve plucked an excerpt of a review by Mihir Wanchoo that I’m most proud of…
“What can I say about this story, simply other than this story was best in terms of fun and subversion of urban fantasy tropes. Beginning with a quirky title, the author neatly lays down a clichéd story about a writer named Cathan Keene who is trying to write his new mystery while being in a locked room of sorts. Pretty soon he finds out that things are going south at a rate he can’t manage and thus he finds himself in the company of our titular characters. What happens next is something that you will have to find out yourself as after finishing this story, I proclaimed myself (with the blessings of the author) as the first T & S fan. A highly enjoyable story that mixes fun, intrigue, death & Middle eastern mythology in a combination that is almost unheard of. Very highly recommended and possibly one of the top three stories in this collection.”
Self promotion aside, I do encourage you to check out Manifesto: UF. There are a lot of great authors represented in the anthology, such as Jeff Salyards, Zachary Jernigan, Teresa Frohock, William Meikle, Kenny Soward, and more. Thanks for reading my 2013 Holiday Speculative Fiction Gift Guide and have a happy holiday folks!