I chose to read 25 books for my Goodreads Reading Challenge of 2017 but ended up reading 36! I’m proud of myself. Pretty sure that is the most I’ve read in a year. I plan on upping my goal to 40 for 2018. Soon I want to be able to read 52 books in a year, which is a book a week. Before creating my 2018 challenge though I want to commemorate my favorite books that I read in 2017.
1. ‘Leviathan Wakes’ by James S. A. Corey
This is the first book in The Expanse sci-fi series. I first caught wind of this series after discovering the TV adaptation which aired initially on the SyFy channel. I loved the first season, and after hearing that it was based on a book series I knew I had to read them. Shortly after finishing the first season I purchased a three-book box set online. At the time of purchasing, 6 books had actually been released, and the 7th book was just released last month. There will be 9 books altogether.
This book takes place a century or two in the future (it’s not officially mentioned what year it takes place in). Much of the solar system has been colonized by humanity, most notably Mars and the asteroid (or dwarf planet) Ceres. The plot centers around Earth, Mars, Ceres, and the rest of the outer colonies as they interact in the same economic and political fashion you’d find on Earth today in real life. Tensions between these various factions are rising, and a small group of asteroid miners find themselves at the center of the greatest war the solar system has ever seen; secrets will be revealed that take everyone by surprise.
What did I like about this book? Well, as the series title suggests, this book is far-reaching and mind-expanding. The delivery of these far-reaching ideas come packaged in extremely vivid writing with substantial — and sometimes lovable — characters, all the while remaining almost disturbingly realistic. The main strengths of this book are the world-building and character development. Since the book takes place in our own solar system, the writing will make you feel as if this is the way things already are in real life. If that is not how you feel after reading this book, then it will most likely make you wish our actual future contained some of the ideas featured in it, which I’m almost positive they will. I highly recommend this book if you are looking for a refreshing sci-fi novel published within this decade. If reading isn’t really your thing, then definitely check out the TV adaptation which is streamable on Netflix. And also, fun fact: the books are actually a collaboration between two writers; one of them having been mentored by George R. R. Martin himself.
2. ‘The Three Body Problem’ by Cixin Liu
Here is another sci-fi book that was just so refreshing to me. The reason it was so refreshing was probably due to the fact that it was originally written in Chinese only to be later translated by the author’s son for a wider release. Chinese history and philosophy are strewn throughout the book, and this is a welcome relief from the characteristically Western novels I’ve read up to this point. If you enjoyed the movie Arrival which is based on a short story written by another Chinese author, then you may very well enjoy The Three Body Problem. This book has the same surreal, enigmatic feel as Arrival that reminds me of thick fog and vast, empty landscapes. It is full of desolation, which I almost found off-putting at first, but the fluidity of the writing kept me engaged. Also, this book references and relies heavily on real science. Any layman science enthusiast will quickly catch on to the concepts frequently discussed, but this book will probably be most appreciated by anyone with a physics degree. The book could very well be considered historical fiction in a few decades, because like I mentioned before, it is also based on Chinese history in the mid-1900’s.
The plot focuses on the past and present lives of a few scientists affected by the Chinese Cultural Revolution. These scientists (as well as a few other characters) are unknowingly involved in a mystery of interstellar proportions, and an ominous video game seems to be at the center of it all. The video game has users attempt to solve the Three-Body Problem, which is an actual scientific conundrum involving the dynamics of massive celestial objects in a trinary gravitational system. The plot may seem slow at first, but the payoff is well worth it! The Three Body Problem is the first in the series called Remembrance of Earth’s Past.
3. ‘Watchmen’ by Alan Moore
“But, but… Watchmen is a graphic novel!” I’ve debated with myself for months whether or not I should include graphic novels in my reading challenge, but after reading Watchmen I finally made my decision. I had seen the movie adaptation when it was first released in 2009, and finally, in 2017, I decided to read the original (at the urging of a friend, no less). This probably isn’t a book you can read in a day like typical comic books. This novel took me just as long as an average book. Why? Because there is depth to it beyond pictures and captions. Each scene is packed full of subject matter that takes longer than a few seconds to digest. The plot is also complex and requires some thought to really connect the dots. There are also intermediary, epistolary sections that explain backstory and help to enhance the realism of the novel.
Having watched the movie multiple times before reading the graphic novel, it was hard for me to put myself in the mindset of someone picking this up for the first time in the 80’s. But every once in awhile I would reflect on what I’m taking in and would think to myself, “wow, this is seriously some next level shit relative to the time it was released.” Even though I pretty much knew the outcome of the story, I was still actively connecting dots, and at the end, I was left with a mixture of existential dread and awe at the plot twist. I even went back and watched the movie a few weeks later. I have to say, the movie did a great job at recreating the graphic novel, but the big changes they made to the plot really made a difference. Overall the graphic novel is more worth the read.
4. ‘City of Bones’ by Cassandra Clare
I didn’t think I’d like this book. I bought it back when the movie trailer was first released around 2013 and I thought it looked kinda cool. Unfortunately, the movie flopped so the book remained on my shelf. I feared that I had another Twilight Saga on my hands and was almost ashamed to have purchased it. But since I was determined to tackle my reading challenge this year I went ahead opened it up. Naturally, I was pretty critical of it as I coasted through the initial chapters. I chuckled at the characteristically Young Adult elements of the introductory scenes, but the more I read the more I saw the author’s intent. It turns out, this book is filled with awesome lore that draws from ancient mythology, urban legends, and whatever world-building the author tried to create herself. I also found the female protagonist to be somewhat like-minded, both in her interests and her behavior. I didn’t love the character, but I thought we’d be pretty good friends if she were real. The book had plenty of cheesy moments, however. Young Adult books just can’t seem to escape certain tropes. I frequently rolled my eyes at the protagonist’s thoughts towards her love interest, and unfortunately, this book also features the dreaded love triangle (I was however somewhat relieved at how that love triangle played out).
Overall, City of Bones left me with feelings of nostalgia due to its inclusion of mythology and colorful symbolism. I’m excited to read the rest of the series and am disappointed that I don’t already have them on hand.
5. ‘Accelerando’ by Charles Stross
This was actually my second time reading this book, but a second read-through was necessary because this book is admittedly a bit convoluted. Accelerando is yet another sci-fi novel which starts out in the very familiar early-21st century but quickly accelerates into far-future awesomeness (hence the title). Even though I found the book to be very convoluted my first read-through I greatly enjoyed it, mostly because of its techno-optimism and humor. Charles Stross deals with some mind-blowing concepts in this book, sometimes bordering on the absurd and often times seemingly plausible (possibly inevitable). If you are at all interested in the deep future of technology, are entertained by the idea of the technological singularity, and can handle some hard sci-fi then this book is for you.
Honorable Mentions: ‘Snow Crash’ by Neal Stephenson; ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J. D. Salinger