At a time when people refuse to believe in science, facts, reason, or the experts, a new book by science writer Mary Roach is just what her fans need right now. Especially since her newest, Fuzz: When Nature Breaks The Law (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook) seems like it could be her funniest one yet. But as she explains in the following interview, while Fuzz has her usual mix of information, insight, and humorous observations, it’s not like watching videos of bear stealing food.
Since people liked this story, I decided to repeat this process for 2016.
So, here’s a look at the best novels, poetry collections, and other books I read in 2016.
Ann Leckie: Ancillary Swordand Ancillary MercyLike the first book in this trilogy, Ancillary Justice, these novels expertly mixed hard sci-fi with a dash of cyberpunk, and the results were not only original but also compelling, like if Iain M. Banks had watched Ghost In The Shell before sitting down to write Consider Phlebas. Granted, Ancillary Mercy wasn’t as strong as the other two, especially at the beginning, but it it got much better during the second half, and was ultimately a fine ending to this epic sci-fi saga.
Henning Mankell: Firewall While the last couple Wallander mysteries have all been good, this one stood out as the best since the first. Not only was it actually mysterious, but it had a rather intricate plot that kept making me think I had figured things out, only to realize later that no, no I hadn’t.
José Saramago: The Stone Raft In a lesser writer’s hands, a story about the Iberian Peninsula breaking off and floating away would’ve been a predictable disaster tale or sci-fi novel. But like many of his novels — especially Blindnessand Seeing — Saramago takes this idea and turns it into a beautifully written and lyrical fable that’s somehow both immensely personal and totally universal.
John Irving: A Prayer For Owen Meany Part of me is sorry no one ever told me this engaging novel was Vonnegut-esque; I would’ve read it sooner. But part of me also not sorry because I think if I had gone into this expecting it to be Vonnegut-esque, I would’ve been disappointed because it’s only somewhat Vonnegut-esque.
Lauren Holmes: Barbara The Slut And Other People: Stories I’ll admit, it was the title that first caught my attention. But even before getting to the titular story, I was hooked by this collection and knew Holmes would be a writer I’d be following for a long time. Her characters are layered and flawed but likeable and unique, while the situations they find themselves in are just slightly skewed.
John Scalzi: Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, Zoe’s Tale, The Human Division, The End Of All ThingsLike the Ann Leckie novels, Scalzi’s Old Man’s War is also an inventive, clever, and ultimately fun sci-fi series. But it’s also rather funny, totally gripping, thoroughly inventive, smartly political, and even, at times, a bit ribald. And while The End… does seem to be the end of this thing, I really hope it isn’t. Or that Scalzi starts another series that’s just as inventive, clever….
Sylvain Neuvel: Sleeping Giants It’s funny, a copy of this book was sitting on my desk for nearly a year, but it wasn’t until I read a review of it in Entertainment Weekly and then interview Neuvel myself (which you can read here) that I finally read this sci-fi novel. And then felt like an idiot for waiting. Reminiscent of both Max Brooks’ World Was Z in structure, and Andy Weir’s The Martian in humor, this book was gripping, funny, and really intriguing.
Claudia Gray: Star Wars: Lost Stars While I read a bunch of Star Wars novels this year in an attempt to catch up — including Gray’s Bloodline and Greg Rucka’s Smuggler’s Run — this was easily the most interesting, as it followed an Imperial and an Imperial-turned-Rebel through the events of the original trilogy. Sure, at times it was a little too convenient in a movie kind of way, but getting to see the events of the films from the sidelines, and having it not be so black & white, made this really engaging. As for the others, Smuggler’s Run was also really good, Bloodline and Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath: Life Debt both picked up half-way through (you can read the review of the latter book here), James Luceno’s Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel was solid and made me even more excited for the movie, while Jason Fry’sThe Weapon Of A Jedi and Moving Target by Fry and Cecil Castellucci were fun, fast reads.
Daniel H. Wilson: Robopocalypse I’m the first to admit that I put off reading this novel because of its silly name and well-worn premise. And the first to admit that I was an idiot for doing so. A fictional oral history of a Terminator-esque human/robot war, this novel was such a fun read, so clever and gripping, that I ordered the sequel, Robogenesis, before I even hit the half-way point. Unfortunately, the second book wasn’t as fun or intriguing, and while I did enjoy it, I didn’t like it as much as the original.
Haruki Murakami: The Elephant Vanishes: Stories Much like I did with Kurt Vonnegut and his Bagombo Snuff Box, I thought the best way to introduce myself to Murakami would be through this collection of short stories. So far, so good. Though obviously very different from Vonnegut, Murakami is an equally vivid and interesting writer, and thus someone who I’ll be reading again some day.
Mike Brooks: Dark Run This sci-fi novel is for anyone who loved the TV show Firefly and its cinematic counterpart Serenity, as it has a similar mix of the Wild West and Star Trek, complete with a Han Solo-esque captain leading his crew on an Oceans 11-y mission. If you want to know more about it, you can read my interview with Brooks by clicking here.
Blake Crouch: Dark Matter While this novel about dimensional portals and the multiverse seemed like it was going one way — and it was a good way, but still one way — this sci-fi novel has a really clever twist towards the end that really threw it, and me, for a loop…in a good way. I even got to interview Mr. Crouch, which you can read here.
Drew Magary: The Hike Though just as much of a mindfuck as Dark Matter, this equally freaky novel — in which a guy goes for a walk in the woods and ends up in an alternate and often surreal dimension that seems hellbent on killing him — also went weird, and even a bit silly, though always in interesting ways. For more on this book, you can read my interview with Mr. Magary by clicking this link.
Jon Hollins: The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold Yet another book I tore through like a rabid weasel in a tissue factory, this fun novel not only sets an Oceans 11-style heist in a Lord Of The Rings-ish world, but it also injected just enough Douglas Adams-esque humor into the proceedings to make it light-hearted and a little funny without becoming jokey or a parody of the fantasy genre.
Mickey Spillane: The Mike Hammer Collection: Volume 1 As a fan of Jim Thompson, Richard Stark, and pulpy crime novels in general, I am embaressed that I’m only now getting to the Mike Hammer novels. Especially since I was such a huge fan of the TV show back in the day.
Joe Haldeman: The Forever War In reading all of the Old Man’s War novels, this predecessor kept coming up, and after reading it, I know why. Though grittier, it is every bit as inventive and immersive and gripping, especially when it comes to how moving through space impacts relativistic time.
Erica Jong: Fear Of Flying While this wasn’t the erotic classic I was expecting — it was started off being more Woody Allen than Anais Nin before ultimately becoming rather Catcher In The Rye — it was still a great, insightful, and often funny read that, yeah, sometimes got nice and dirty. Though it didn’t hurt that reading any book about mentally and sexually strong women feels like a rebellious act these days.
Anthony Bourdain: Kitchen Confidental: Adventures In The Culinary Underbelly While I was a fan of Bordain’s Parts Unknown when it started, I lost interest early in the second season. But I thankfully can’t say the same for this book. Though there were a couple parts that didn’t grab me, most of this memoir did for much the same reason I appreciated Parts Unknown: Bordain, for all his bravado, can be rather funny and insightful when he wants to be.
Patti Smith: Just Kids This is going to sound like a back-handed compliment…because it is. While I’ve never been a fan of Smith’s music, and have only a passing interest in Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography, I really enjoyed this revealing and uniquely poetic autobiography, memoir, remembrance, what have you. Not only did it make me want to read Smith’s other memoir, M Train, but it also made me want to read more Jean Genet, Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again, and some of the other novels that Smith talked about in this great book.
Daniel Khalastchi: Tradition While I liked his slightly humorous, often surreal narrative poems — in part because they reminded me of another poet I like, Hal Sirowitz — I do wish there had been one or two more along the lines of the longer and more serious “Poem For My Father.” Still, I liked Tradition enough that before I even finished reading it, I ordered his other collection, Manoleria.
Nick Flynn: Some Ether Much like Khalastchi, Flynn also has a slightly skewed, narrative style, though without the silliness or satire. As a result, this mostly solid collection will not be the last of his I read.
Ayad Akhtar: Disgraced I don’t remember where I first heard about this play, in which an American Muslim struggles with religious politics and self-image, but reading it was a rather powerful experience. Besides not going where I expected, it also tackled a rather tough subject both bluntly and honestly. Which is why I then got his other play, The Invisible Hand, which was just as compelling, though was more about modern economics than personal identity.
Danai Gurira: Eclipsed Like Disgraced, this play — about women being held as “wives” during the Liberian Civil War — was also a compelling and thought-provoking experience. While I know little about what women in war-torn African countries have gone through, save for some superficial details, that didn’t prevent me from appreciating, and being emotionally impacted, by this play.
Anton Chekhov: The Plays Of Anton Chekhov Smarter people than I can explain the importance and influence of his plays. All I’ll say is that I thoroughly enjoyed reading them, especially “Uncle Vanya” and the short ones, even if it did take me a moment during the comedic ones to remember why the humor seemed familiar.
Brian Wood: Starve: Volume 1 This is going to sound like hyperbole, but really, no one but Brian Wood could write a comic about a famous chef with a drug problem who returns from a self-imposed exile to star in a cooking show while dealing with his psychotic ex-wife, a daughter he doesn’t know, and an impulse control problem he has no interest in combating. Or, to be more accurate, no one but Wood could write such a comic and have it be so compelling and engrossing.
Inio Asano: A Girl On The Shore While you could dismiss this manga as just being about two kids who are fuck buddies, there’s layers of awkwardness and uncomfortable feelings that make it so much more. Which is what I was expecting, given that this was written by the same guy as the similarly multilayered Solanin.
Scott Snyder: Superman: Unchained, Batman: Volume 7: Endgame Snyder has done a lot of good work with Batman, but he really nailed it with those this smart Superman story, one of the best I’ve read in a long time, in part because he was willing to show the cracks in the armor. And then I read this epic Batman tale, which was equally as well-crafted and thoughtful.
Stjepan Sejic: Sunstone: Volume 4 Basically, everything that I said aboutVolume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3 in my “Best Books Of 2015” piece applies to this volume as well. Like them, this new collection is still sexy, well-written, deliciously filthy, beautifully drawn, and full of likable and complex characters. Which is why Volume 4 nearly broke my heart when it made me think Ally and Lisa might’ve fucked things up.
Dennis Hopeless:Spider-Woman: Shifting Gears: Volume 1: Baby Talk While Spider-Woman has never been one of my favorite superheroes, her recent adventures have actually been rather interesting. That’s especially true for this super clever and funny book, in which she goes to a space hospital to have her baby, but ends up going all Die Hard when the place gets taken over by alien terrorists.
G. Willow Wilson: Ms. Marvel: Volume 5: Super Famous After coming into her own with Volume 2: Generation Why, Kamala Khan’s stint as Ms. Marvel has consistently made for some of the smartest, funniest, and most clever superhero comics in recent memory, and this collection continues this tradition. Sure, watching a teenage superhero try to juggle school, home life, and superheroics isn’t new, but Wilson does it better than anyone since Stan Lee first forced a radioactive spider to bite some nerd with a camera.
Mike Johnson: Star Trek: Volume 12and Volume 13 While it didn’t work as well in the movie Star Trek Into Darkness, I’ve really enjoyed the clever way that Johnson’s Star Trek comics have retold the adventures of the original Enterprise crew but with the new versions of Kirk, Spock, and pals, which is what he does in this volume’s first story of Volume 12. Though his best Trek comics are actually the ones where he either continues narrative threads from the movies (which is what he does in the first story of Volume 13) or fills in some of the blanks in the film’s plot (Volume 12‘s second story).
Mark Millar:Huck: Book 1 Millar has been one of my favorite writers for the last few years, and this semi-superhero story is a good example why. Imagine if Superman was a little dim, and used his powers to do favors for people. Well, until someone exposes his secret, and then some bad people come looking for him. It’s a rather clever idea, one that works really well. Though I am wondering where it might go in Book 2; it seems rather complete as is.
Kengo Hanazawa: I Am A Hero: Omnibus 1and I Am A Hero: Omnibus 2 While it is interesting to see a Japanese comic book version of the zombie apocalypse, this series is even more interesting for showing how a Japanese comic book artist, i.e., the book’s main character, would handle being caught in a zombie apocalypse.
Brian Michael Bendis: The United States Of Murder Inc.: Volume 1: Truth Aside from Goodfellas, mobsters usually aren’t that interesting to me. But I was really grabbed by this comic, in which the mob has taken control of the East and West Coasts, as well as Vegas, much to the chagrin of the U.S. government, even though the politicians signed a treaty with the criminals.
John Lewis & Andrew Aydin: March: Book Three It is a testament to both Lewis’ life in the civil rights movement, and the way he, Aydin, and artist Nate Powell work together, that this is one of the more interesting books of the year. It really is a stunning conclusion to what they started with March: Book One and continued in March: Book Two. But it’s also the most infuriating given how this is really what happened, and how recent events have shown how far we still have to go.
Jonathan Hickman: Secret Wars While most of the spin-off books were just okay, the main book in this, the latest of Marvel’s big events, was the most epic and exciting of these kind of things since Marvel did the first Civil War saga ten years ago. The way they tore apart the Marvel Universe, recast so many of the characters, and then stitched it back together, was inventive and compelling.
Berkeley Breathed: Bloom County: Episode XI: A New Hope Part of me still can’t believe that Bloom County is back after being away for twenty-six years. But reading this collection, it really does, no exaggeration, feel like no time has passed. The strips in this book feel like, well, not like they were written in 1989, of course, but what they would’ve been like had Breathed not taken all that time off. Your move, Gary Larson.
Frank Tieri: Catwoman: Volume 8: Run Like Hell It’s been a while since Catwoman has just been a cat burglar. But if the two stories in this collection are any indication, she hasn’t lost any of her skills. That said, the first was better than the second, though only because of how the intricate story weaved in and out of the Bat-verse.
Warren Ellis: Trees: Volume 1: In Shadow and Trees: Volume 2: Two Forests In this intriguing sci-fi comic, aliens have dropped gigantic pole-like structures onto the Earth…and that’s it. For ten years, they didn’t come out of them, they didn’t use them to enslave humanity or take Earth’s resources…nothing. It’s like they don’t even care that these poles are in the middle of Manhattan and other places around the world. Weird.
Chris Hastings: The UnbelievableGwenpool: Volume 1: Believe It Between Ms. Marvel, Thor, Captain Marvel, and Spider-Gwen, it’s been a good year for the woman of Marvel Comics (and a bad year for sexist comic book fans, but fuck those guys). And now we have Gwenpool, who’s not to be confused with Lady Deadpool or Spider-Gwen, though comparing her to Harley Quinn isn’t entirely inappropriate. Granted, a comic book in which the hero knows they’re in a comic because they came from a dimension where people read comics isn’t wholly original, but Hastings does a good job with this meta tale. As for those other ladies, check it out, they got their own pinball tables!
Robbie Thompson: Venom: Space Knight: Volume 1: Agent Of The Cosmosand Venom: Space Knight: Volume 2: Enemies And AlliesAs someone who remembers when Flash Thompson was a dick and Venom was a supervillian, it’s odd how both managed to turn their lives around by teaming up. But it really worked out well in these two volumes, in which they’re fighting bad guys in outer space. While the first volume slightly edges out the second, both are smartly written, clever, and just ever so weird, making for some fun adventures in space.