I read about as much science fiction this year as I did horror, with some history, politics, and a few other genres thrown in. Picking favorite books from a list is, of course, a subjective sort of enterprise; how I feel about a book after I read it sometimes changes over time as I consider the quality of writing and story. I can tell if a book’s going to be worth my time from the blurb and the Amazon “Look Inside” feature. If the blurb’s substandard, the book is going to suck. If the first paragraph sucks, the rest of the book is going to suck worse. It’s axiomatic.
Reading book reviews is a secondary criterion for book selection at best, particularly in the indie horror genre: many “great” books have been shopped around to fellow writers and hangers-on for review who are eager to maintain a friendship instead of providing genuine (and necessary) critical feedback.
With that in mind, here are the five books that I enjoyed the most in 2016.
- 5. Mortal Gods: Ignition by Paul Hair: A short, punchy anthology of superhero stories that hint at a terrible, dystopian America, and the lengths some superhumans will go to change it, or at least survive. Highlights the ugliness of modern warfare.
- 4. The Ember War Saga by Richard Fox: Comprised of nine (!) books, this military sci-fi series was a lot of fun to read. I didn’t write an “official” review, but if blowing up aliens is your thing, these nine short novels will keep you entertained.
- 3. The Well-Built City Trilogy by Jeffrey Ford: A surreal fantasy series about memory, ethics, beauty, and a number of other themes that sometimes made sense and sometimes didn’t. Despite their density, fans of Jonathan Carroll (like me) will enjoy all three books immensely.
- 2. Dark Gold by David Angsten: I met David online and was impressed by how thoughtful he was, so I picked up a used copy of Dark Gold from Amazon (it’s out of print and not available as an e-book). Some weeks after the purchase, I figured I’d just read a couple pages here and there as time permitted, as I read everything else on my Kindle. It didn’t happen: I was drawn in and wound up spending several hours in a world of cocaine piñatas, bikini bottom-hidden gold coins, and a gigantic sea creature that’s as disquieting as anything I’ve ever read. A fun, fast-paced novel that reminded me of Eric Van Lustbader’s work (without the ninjas and communist apologia).
- 1. The Final Cut by Jasper Bark: In 2015 I picked Jasper’s Stuck on You and Other Prime Cuts as my favorite read of that year, so I know how it must seem to pick another Jasper Bark book as this year’s favorite. Still, I have to do it because The Final Cut is just so damned good. It’s deep, disturbing, and meaningful, written by someone who’s expert at making you feel what he wants you to feel: a rare skill. It’s not just horror, though it’s horrific. It’s not merely urban fantasy, though it’s fantastic. What it does is straddle the genre line, keeping you turning the pages even as you cringe.
If you’d asked me at the end of last year that I’d be picking these titles as my favorite of 2016, I’d have called you crazy. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2017.