I’m a creature of habit, and I know it. I love my pork roll, egg and cheese sandwich for breakfast, my Mets baseball, and X-Men comic books.
In the summer months, this manifested as kicking back with a new Lost Fleet novel by Jack Campbell, an Expanse book by James S. A. Corey, and a stack of Hellboy/B.P.R.D. novels.
Except this summer … I’ve got a problem. There is no new Lost Fleet novel, and the traditional summer Expanse book — Babylon’s Ashes — originally scheduled for June slipped to November 2016. The loss of two books may not seem like a big thing but I love space opera. Starships tearing through the cosmos, cunning stratagems executed by steely-eyed missile men, strange new worlds — it’s an itch I love to scratch … and now I have to find a new way to scratch it.
To that end I’ve been wandering the my local bookstores and surfing the Web looking for possible books to add to the list. I’ve been slowly writing this column for the last month, thinking that it’d be a good way of soliciting new books, but what started as a spitballing exercise has turned into a pretty compelling list. I’m still looking for feedback and suggestions — leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org — but I’m feeling pretty good about what I’ve found.
Arkwright by Allen Steele: (Amazon) Steele’s new novel is about Nathan Arkwright, a wealthy author who dreams of interstellar colonization … and puts that dream in motion. I’ve never read any of Steele’s stuff, but this hard SF novel sounds like it’s in my wheelhouse. (Updated 8/27/2016) I decided not to read this this one. Revised indicated that it takes about 2/3rds of the book before they actually get to the science fiction bits and that’s not the sort of slow build up I’m looking for this summer.
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer: (Amazon My replacement for Arkwright is a LOST-like weird tale of nameless scientists exploring a land filled with geographic and temporal anomalies. Great beach reading.
Dark Run by Mike Brooks (May 24): (Amazon) Brooks’ debut novel is a space western featuring a crew of smugglers and con artists who need to sneak their cargo to Earth on a “dark run”. Although I loved Firefly, I haven’t actually ready that many space westerns. This might be a good place to start.
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear (Amazon) You had me at “a story of the Old Steampunk West”.
I’ve enjoyed Bear’s Vatta series, and this story of a young woman in late 19th-century alternate universe Seattle sounds awesome. (Updated 7/16/2016) I’m an idiot — Vatta’s War is by Elizabeth Moon, not Elizabeth Bear. This was the first time I’ve read something by Bear, but the rest hold’s true — the premise is awesome.
Dark Intelligence: Transformation Book One by Neal Asher (Amazon) Space opera meets cyberpunk as a rogue AI is hunted down by a man intent on vengeance. I’m on the fence about this one; the book gets good reviews, but Asher’s known for his violent, dark universes. That’s not really what I’m looking for this summer; it might be more of an autumn read.
Fortune’s Pawn (Paradox Book 1) by Rachel Bach: (Amazon) The promo for this reads “If Sigourney Weaver in Alien met Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica, you’d get Deviana Morris — a hot new mercenary earning her stripes to join an elite fighting force. Until one alien bite throws her whole future into jeopardy.” It’s military sf/space opera in which its hero — the aforementioned Morris — is a mercenary who’s afraid her career has stalled. She signs up with the Glorious Fool, a ship so prone to upheaval and surprises that serving on it for a year counts as five for those in the know.
Shooting the Rift by Alex Stewart (Amazon) An outcast who gets caught up an interstellar war? This has “Ken” written all over it.
Impulse (The Lightship Chronicles, Book One) by Dave Bara (Amazon) The book’s blurb advertises “ancient technologies, age-old rivalries, new cultures, and unexpected romance”, which strikes me as exactly the sort of book I’d like to read on vacation.
Devour by Kurt Anderson (Amazon) (added 6/26/2016) This book was an impulse by at Barnes & Noble; it’s all about a giant monster that awakens in the depths of the North Atlantic and starts preying on surface ships. It will fit in nicely should I get around to doing a Monster Week series in 2016.
I knew the day would come when I run out of Expanse and Lost Fleet novels, so for the last few summers I’ve been trying out new series in an effort to expand my speculative fiction library and find new space operas to keep me moving. This summer I’ll be reading the next installments in the following series:
Crusade (Destroyermen, Book 2) by Taylor Anderson: (Amazon) An ancient World War I era steam-driven destroyer fighting during World War II finds itself in an alternative reality after traversing a strange storm. In Book 1, we met the world and its primary species: the Lemurians (monkey-like sentients) and the Grik, reptilian hunter-killers. The ship found tantalizing hints of those who’d been lost in this world before, but they’ve got bigger problems: A missing sister ship, the possibility of a Japanese vessel having followed them through the vortex, and angry Grik looking for revenge. It’s fertile ground for Book 2, and the sort of nautical fiction I enjoy on vacation.
Command Decision (Vatta’s War, Book 4) by Elizabeth Moon: (Amazon) Kylara Vatta got kicked out of the Space Academy, then her shipping magnate family took pity on her and gave her a job as captain of a broken down scow on its last run. Vatta parlayed that into a real ship just as her family came under attack by an unknown enemy. The last few books have been about Vatta struggling to deal with the devastating attack and to rebuild what Vatta resources she could. Now she’s in a position to take the fight to the enemy. I like these books; unlike Jack Geary in The Lost Fleet, Vatta isn’t always right. She can make the right tactical decisions without seeing the human implications.
The Far Side of the Stars (RCN Series, Book 3) by David Drake: (Amazon) The fact that this space opera was inspired by Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series was enough to get it on my list. It follows its namesake Lt. Daniel Leary as he rises through the ranks of the Republic of Cinnabar Navy accompanied by his librarian/spymaster companion Adele Mundy. The title of this book is a clear nod to O’Brian’s The Far Side of the World and sees its protagonists figuring out how to survive the peace that’s erupted between Cinnabar and its nemesis, the Alliance.
The Vital Abyss (The Expanse, Book 3.5) by James S.A. Corey: (Amazon) (added 6/26/2016) There’s no new The Expanse novel this summer but this may be the next best thing: a new novella that tells the prehistory of the protomolecule.
Imperfect Sword (The Lost Stars, Book 3) (Amazon) and Shattered Spear (The Lost Stars, Book 4) by Jack Campbell: (Amazon) There’s no Lost Fleet book this summer, but I do have two more books to read in its companion series, The Lost Stars. The books take place in the aftermath of the century-long war that was concluded in The Lost Fleet novels. The rulers of the independent star system of Midway, once part of the cruel and corrupt Syndicate Worlds, are struggling to maintain their freedom while simultaneously figuring out how to rule justly. The books aren’t as good as The Lost Fleet, and the endless scheming can be a bit much, but it shares the earlier series’ penchant for well-executed space battles.
The Spider’s War (The Dagger and The Coin) by Daniel Abraham: (Amazon) I’ve been waiting for this one for a while, and I’m forcing myself to wait a bit longer. The Spider’s War is the final book in Abraham’s The Dagger and The Coin series, which has seen a world plunged into war by priests who think they know the truth that lies with in men’s souls … but that truth can vary greatly.
Shadows of Self (Mistborn 4) by Brandon Sanderson: (Amazon) (Updated 8/27/2016) My Audible subscription hadn’t renewed in time for me to purchase Calamity, so I read this book instead, which was already queued up in my audio library. Like it’s immediate predecessor, this book is set several hundred years after the events of the original Mistborn trilogy. It features noble lawman Waxillium “Wax” Ladrian hunting down an assassin who seeks to undermine civilization itself.
Calamity (Reckoner’s Book 3) by Brandon Sanderson: (Amazon) The third book in Sanderson’s super villains trilogy, in which every day humans have been infused with super-human powers. Those self-same powers, however, seem to have driven them mad. I read the first book as part of my Winter 2015 Reading list, and I’m listening to the second in May; the third is a logical choice for Summer 2016.
As far as graphic novels go, I plan to go with my staple series: Hellboy and B.P.R.D., plus one new graphic series, Kabuki
- Hellboy, Vol. 5: Conqueror Worm (Amazon)
- Hellboy, Vol. 6: Strange Places (Amazon)
- Hellboy, Vol. 7: The Troll Witch and Other Stories (Amazon) (added 5/26/2016)
- Lobster Johnson, Vol. 1: Iron Prometheus (Amazon)
- B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth, Vol. 7: A Cold Day in Hell (Amazon)
- B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth, Vol. 8: Lake of Fire (Amazon)
- B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth Vol. 9: The Reign of the Black Flame (Amazon)
- Kabuki, Vol 1.: Circle of Blood (Amazon) (added 6/26/2016)
Looking back, looking ahead
Looking back over the last few year’s reading lists, I’ve been trending slowly upwards:
- 2015: 15 books, 9 graphic novels
- 2014: 13 books, 5 graphic novels
- 2013: 11 books, 5 graphic novels
- 2012: 5 books, 1 graphic novels
- 2011: 11 books, 0 graphic novels
Last summer was an exception. I was working on a major project, and concerned I wouldn’t have a proper summer. I made a concerted effort to make sure I read my books, and by summer’s end I’d blown past last year’s total. This year I’m looking to read about 14 books and 6 graphic novels. That’s one fewer books that last year, but that gives me some wiggle room to add a book or two as the summer progresses.
Some other possibilities based on my browsing for space opera books turned up a few other ideas:
- Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch) by Ann Leckie
- A Culture novel by Iain Banks
- Conquer’s Trilogy by Timothy Zahn
- Unbreakable (Chronicles of Promise Paen) by W.C. Bauers
- Too Like The Lightning by Ada Palmer
- Empire of Dust by Jacey Bedford
- A Talent for War (Alex Benedict, Book 1) by Jack McDevitt
- The Icarus Hunt by Timothy Zahn
I’ve made a few additions to my summer reading list. The first was Kabuki, Vol 1.: Circle of Blood, which was an unplanned addition. My 13-year-old daughter (aka StarGirl) saw the graphic novel while we were shopping at our local used bookstore and was intrigued by the artwork as well as the premise: elite Japanese assassins fight to maintain the balance between the political and the criminal in Japan’s the darker corners. We bought it with the understanding that I would read it first to see if it was appropriate. The artwork is fantastic, but unfortunately I’m thinking it’s more of a “Rated R” type graphic novel, mostly for violence, sexual assault, and sexual themes.
I added Hellboy, Vol. 7: The Troll Witch and Other Stories to my list because not having it there was making the completist section of my geek brain itch; adding that book completes my run of the Hellboy graphic novels. I’m considering letting StarGirl read the first few Hellboy volumes – while it certainly has its share of violence I think she’ll really enjoy the mythology that’s intrinsic to those stories.
While there’s no new book in The Expanse series this summer I did find a new novella set in that universe: The Vital Abyss. It was released in October 2015, which is why it wasn’t part of my The Expanse novella binge during last year’s summer reading list. It’s touted as a prehistory of the protomolecule, the alien mutagen that wrecked havoc on the solar system.
Finally, there’s Devour by Kurt Anderson. As I wrote earlier, the book is about a giant monster preying on ships in the North Atlantic. I’ve never read anything by Anderson before nor did I see out any reviews — I’m adding this one simply because I love the premise and it appeals to my inner 12 year old self.
The new tally for the summer reading list is 15 books, 1 novella, and 8 graphic novels. Of these, I’ve finished three books: Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher, Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach, and The Spider’s War by Daniel Abraham. It’s certainly a big list and if it ends up being more aspirational than realistic, I’m ok with that. The point is to have fun … and I’m certainly having plenty of that.
I dropped Arkwright and added Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson and Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. The new tally for the summer reading list is 16 books, 1 novella, and 8 graphic novels.