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You know, I more or less enjoyed every one of these. This is the best novel harvest we've had in quite a while. Is it the new rules we have to thank?

6. A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
Entwined stories of a ship's AI trying to get by in an illegal android body, and an escaped slave girl being raised by an AI on a broken-down ship.
This is a sweet-natured book, though rough around the edges. It didn't get on my good side very quickly, since (A) the premise seems like a cheap knock-off of Ancillary Justice, and (B) it wastes no time in explaining the power systems of the android as a perpetual motion machine, and the scientific sophistication didn't improve much from there. The escaped slave arc was much stronger than the fugitive android arc, which tended towards the uneventful and the head-scratchingly info-dumpy [1]. The book also seemed to have some problems with leaving guns on the mantel. But in the end, it has a good heart, which makes it hard for me to stay annoyed at it.

5. Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
Captain Cheris becomes host to the shade of an infamous general in order to wage a war on behalf of her superiors.
This struck me me as fairly standard military SF, though with some particularly mind-bendy and horrific weapons. It grew on me over the course of the book, to the point where I'm considering reading the next book in the series, but in general this sort of thing isn't quite what I'm after in my fiction. It is interesting how close a resemblance this bears to the sorts of things the Puppies traditionally like, except in having a brown-skinned lesbian as the main character. Odd how what seems to me to be such a superficial aspect of the story seems to flip it from one side of the culture war to the other.

4. The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin
As the worldwide disaster worsens, Essun learns more about the mysterious obelisks, while her daughter faces her own struggles on the other side of the world.
The sequel to The Fifth Season, last year's winner. While the Stillness isn't really a nice place to visit [2], there was a pleasing familiarity in coming back. It does suffer a bit from middle-of-the-trilogy disease. It lacks the sprawling backstories that filled the first installment, and comparatively little happens plot-wise. It does deepen our understanding of how the world works (even if the characters in the know (and, by extension, the author) continue to be frustratingly coy about it), and lays the groundwork for a spectacular conflict that will presumably be the focus of the third book.

3. Death's End by Cixin Liu, Ken Liu trans.
A timeless love story: he gave her a star, and she cut out his brain and launched it into deep space.
The final entry in the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, the first of which won two years ago. The second installment didn't make the nomination list at all last year, which is frustrating because it was my favorite of the three [3]. It has better characters than this one, and it provides a perspective on the universe and how it works (specifically, on a solution to the Fermi paradox) that makes so much sense it's hard not to take on that same attitude. Death's End has lots of cool ideas, but they're all contingent ideas- IF X is true, THEN mind-blowing conclusion Y must be true. But we have no real reason to suspect X. It's also pretty info-dumpy, which is interesting, but it reads like non-fiction in many places, and it bordered on work sometimes to get through it. All that said, this is top-notch science fiction, and there's not much in the English language that can match it.

2. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
The love-hate relationship between a witch and a mad scientist turns out to have big implications for the future of humanity.
The way I described this book is factually correct but seems wrong somehow. This is a book that's hard to pin down, and I love that about it. I wasn't sure about it at first. It didn't seem to know what it wanted to be. Having finished it now, I see that clunkiness as artfulness. It's like the genre of the book not only morphs between the two characters but over time as they grow up. The book managed to keep me guessing in a way that few others manage. In particular, a lot of books strongly telegraph what the ending will be, or at least whether it will be happy or sad. I still had no idea which one it was going to be until it got spelled out in the latter half of the last chapter. A clever and thoughtful book, with great characters, plus my new favorite koan. Well done.

1. Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer
In the year 2454, a high-profile break-in leads to worries that the global but decadent utopia may be fraying.
I've never read anything quite like this. It has its antecedents– flaunts them, in fact– but can't be equated to them any more than a finger or an ear can be compared to a human being. It does ask a lot of the reader and is not for everyone. Key plot developments are left to be worked out by the reader, just as the characters must. I frequently found myself heading off to look up something on Wikipedia and then having the jarring realization that this is not a real history I am reading. I despised most of the characters, the narrator (who insists he is not the protagonist) very much included, and yet I love them, the narrator very much included. The narrator is a wonderful and horrible enigma; I don't think I've read a book where the clear withholding of key information by the narrator/author was so deftly and cunningly deployed. (I could Go On about him further, but let's move on.) I love the way it plays with gender, in a way that is reminiscent of Ancillary Justice but pushes in completely different directions. I love the neologisms; "vocateur"/"voker" is my favorite. I kind of hated the ending for making me feel absolutely desperate to read the next book (it does not end so much as make a 90-degree turn on the last line). The word "masterpiece" is definitely on my mind.

[1] "Oh look, now she's run into an alien who is just itching to explain in excruciating detail the mating habits of its species, despite it all being completely irrelevant to either plot or characterization."

[2] Given the choice between living in Westeros and the Stillness, I'd choose Westeros.

[3] Maybe it was the fact that Ken Liu's name wasn't attached that torpedoed the second book for nomination. I do find that the second installment in a trilogy tends toward being the worst or the best of the three. When it's the best, the first and last installments can seem like an extended prologue or epilogue; when it's the worst it seems to be killing time between the setup in the first and the payoff in the last.

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