I’ve fallen way behind on quick reviews, but I’m trying to catch up. Here are three favorite SFF novels from last year.
I avoided reading The Martian, by Andy Weir, for a long time for fear it would be depressing. An astronaut abandoned alone on Mars with limited supplies and no hope of rescue? Hey, I’ve read some pretty depressing science fiction in my time. Unlike romance, SF doesn’t come with the guarantee of a happy ending. But after a couple of friends recommended it, I picked up a copy.
And I loved it. Mark Watney, the protagonist and narrator (through his log entries), is a wonderful character, optimistic, determined, and endlessly ingenious. His specialty in botany comes in surprisingly handy on the dead red planet, and (since astronauts always have more than one specialty) being a mechanical engineer and general fix-it guy is even handier.
Although Mark and his adventures (if it can go wrong, it does, of course, but that’s just another challenge to Mark) hold center stage through the novel, we also, in due time, meet the earthbound NASA folks struggling to rescue him, as well as the crew of the Ares 3, now on their way back to Earth without him.
Draw your own conclusions from the fact that I enjoyed this book (and marveled at the author’s scientific knowledge and research) right down to (and including) the last page. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, too, but they had to leave out a lot, of course. If you liked the movie, read the book, too.
Voyage of the Basilisk is Marie Brennan’s third Memoir by Lady Trent. I love this series, at least in part because Brennan and I share a background in anthropology, archeology, and folklore, which she puts to wonderful and detailed use in constructing Isabella Camherst’s pseudo-Victorian world. In this volume, set several years after The Tropic of Serpents, Isabella sets off with her colleague Tom Wilker, her son Jake (now nine years old), and Jake’s governess aboard the research and trading ship Basilisk in search of new dragons to investigate and record.
Along the way, Isabella and her friends meet sea serpents, fire-lizards, dragon-turtles, and even a very angry Komodo dragon, are expelled from one territory and shipwrecked in another, and make some new discoveries about dragon bone and fire stone. Isabella includes in this memoir a good many things she did not send home to the Winfield Courier (one of the sponsors of her expedition), including her friendship with an attractive Akhian archeologist who joins her party.
Voyage of the Basilisk answers some questions and raises new ones. The next volume, In the Labyrinth of the Drakes, will be out (and on my doorstep) on April 5.
Naomi Novik’s Crucible of Gold is the seventh installement in the saga of the Napoleonic Wars and Dragons, another series I love. While Marie Brennan’s dragons are wild animals of interest to her naturalist heroine, Novik’s dragons are intelligent and participate in society in a wide variety of ways.
Temeraire and his captain, Will Laurence, are respectively the dragon and human protagonists of Novik’s series, and this volume finds them pulled out of retirement and disgrace in Australia and sent to aid the Portuguese Royal Family, besieged in Brazil by African and French forces. Most of the novel follows their journey across the Pacific and South America, meeting one disaster after another. The book felt a bit like a long transition between book six (Tongues of Serpents) and book eight (Blood of Tyrants), but the writing is so good and the dragons so charming that I didn’t mind. Temeraire continues to refine his view of dragon/human relations as he meets new species and cultures, and the alternate history becomes more and more complex (the Inca Empire holds more than a few surprises). The ninth (and last) Temeraire novel (League of Dragons) will be waiting for me on June 14.