My top books of 2017

‘Cos all the cool kids are doing it. Mind, just because I read it this year doesn’t mean it was written this year. And I’ve mixed up fiction and nonfiction just for giggles.

shelf of books: Daughters of the Witching Hill, The Darling Strumpet, Hanging Mary, Marlene, Ghost Stories of Oregon
I even got through most of this year’s HNS haul!

Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly: described as “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” by way of “Cabaret” and it is, in all the best ways. Follow the denizens of Weimar Germany-like Amberlough City’s fringes as they navigate the perils of the hyper-conservative “Ospie” takeover.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn: based on the real WWI network of women spies in occupied France. I love the characters, especially the retired spy Evie, busted hands and all. It’s cliché but this really is a page turner, with a satisfying finish. Run, do not walk.

The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff: recommended for the prose alone-I didn’t know small details could show subtext and stretch tension like this! The story unfolds slowly and is less about Einar/Lili’s transition and more about the supportive marriage that made room for such transition. So very recommended.

Forbidden Science: The Journals of Jacques Vallée 1957-1969: Vallée came in on the ground floor of two mid-century developments: computer programming and government research into UFOs. His journals document a moment in which the government took UFO research seriously while questioning the long-term utility of computer programming – oh have times have changed!-and how he manages to hold both the scientific and the mystical in equal regard. I’m definitely picking up the next volume.

Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in the Digital Age by Kristen Lamb: if you’re an author who’s scared of social media, fear no more. Connecting with readers and potential readers is easy, and [gasp!] fun! Though fluent in Twitter and Facebook this book still provided some good ideas and is a good primer for newbies overall.

The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin: come for the fully formed, Ancient Egypt-inspired fantasy world but stay for the murder mystery and conspiracy. A thriller/fantasy in a ‘verse quite unlike any other.

A Song of War: A Novel of Troy by the Historical Fiction Authors Co-op (Kate Quinn, Christian Cameron, Libbie Hawker, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Russell Whitfield, Stephanie Thornton, S.J.A. Turney, Glyn Iliffe): how these folks keep taking known stories and infusing them with crazy tension I will never figure out, but every one of these collaborations keeps me on tenterhooks until the very last page.

Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, from the Seventies to the Twenty-first Century by Simon Reynolds: I’ve always known more about glam fashion than music and I sought to rectify that. I’ve enjoyed Reynolds exhaustive, entertaining work on rave culture and early 80’s post-punk and this tome (and it is a doorstop) did not disappoint. If you want history and discography and dirt and analysis, this is your one stop shop. Reading it only a year after David Bowie’s death (and Reynolds included a nice eulogy for Bowie in his final edits) made it all the more timely.

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Allison Thurman

Allison Thurman has always made stuff: out of fabric, metal, beads, even exaggerated fencing moves. Of late she makes stories out of weird history, with fragments of pop culture, unsolved mysteries, and science fiction mixed in for texture. She lives in a galaxy far, far away (well, the DC metro area) with too many books and swords.

3 thoughts on “My top books of 2017”

  1. I read some good stuff this year (which, like you, doesn’t necessarily mean published this year): Alex Shvartsman’s “Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma”, Nalo Hopkinson’s “Brown Girl in the Ring”, Brian Stableford’s “Sheena”, Nnedi Okorafor’s “Binti”, Mike Resnick’s “Oracle” trilogy, Paul Cornell’s “Chalk”. Was primarily on fiction, as you can tell, due to the unpredictability of this year’s overtime not allowing me to have the focus I needed for nonfiction.

    The standout for the year has to be “A Closed and Common Orbit” by Becky Chambers. Not saying it’s the greatest novel ever written, but any book that has me reading the final page, sighing in both satisfaction at how the story went and in distress that now it’s over, and then turning back to page one and starting to re-read it again immediately … well that’s special. Review here: https://aux.avclub.com/becky-chambers-universe-gets-smaller-in-a-closed-and-c-1798189333

  2. Thanks for the recommendations, Allison! Here are “Badger’s Best Reads of 2017”:

    The “city” trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett: City of Stairs, City of Blades, City of Miracles. What happens to gods when their peoples are conquered? Colonial administration is a bitch when you have to suppress not only culture, but all–too–real religions. Complex world-building and compelling characters.

    Provenance, by Ann Leckie. Set in the same universe & time period as her Ancillary trilogy, following a story peripheral to the events in that saga. I continue to enjoy the way Leckie makes gender fluidity and ambiguity an unremarkable but central part of the cultures she invents. And as a museum geek, I have to love a plot that hinges on provenance research: if cultural icons like the Liberty Bell or the Betsy Ross flag turned out to be fakes, would that change how Americans see themselves?

    Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, set in a near-term, post-apocalyptic future. I was impressed by how deftly Mandel wove together seemingly disparate characters and plot threads. Normally I have limited patience for stories that follow multiple main characters & jump back and forth through time, but in this case, trust the author.

    And on my “just don’t” list: the Rise and Fall of DODO by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland. (Huge plot holes and internal inconsistencies. Also, devoting a whole chapter to making fun of corporate jargon and PPT presentations is taking a joke about 20 pages too far.

    1. Oooh, thank you for the recommendations! Leckie, in particular, I’ve been dragging my feet on. Perhaps it’s time to pick up the first of the “Ancillary” series.

      And thanks for the tip re: D.O.D.O. The premise looks fantastic, but a chapter making fun of PPT and corporate jargon is not only 20 pages too long, but also probably 20 years too late…

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