Every year I like to take a moment and call out some great works. As an author, I know how soulless it can be sitting alone and writing and wondering if you're not writing crap. As narcissistic as we are, we are also terribly afraid that we're only an inch deep. So I want these folks to know how good I think they are. I want them to know that they need to keep writing because they're terrific. I'm sure they already know it, but now it's my turn to lend my old raspy voice to the chorus. So in no particular order, here are my top three of 2014.
THE SHIBBOLETH by John Hornor Jacobs. Now Jakes and I go way back. I remember when he hadn't even penned his first work, Southern Gods. So far, everything he writes is gold. So when I had the chance to read the first two books of his new YA trilogy, I leaped at it. This fits nicely in the YA kids with super powers subgenre. But the narratives doesn't rely on the characters strengths. Instead, it relies on their weaknesses. I read this as a 49 year old adult and loved it. You will too.
Here's the starred review from Booklist: *Starred Review* Jacob’s The Twelve-Fingered Boy (2012) was exactly what the teens-with-powers subgenre needed: a full-body beat down that reminded us that having such powers would really, really suck. This hefty sequel follows 16-year-old delinquent Shreve, who can possess people’s bodies, as he shifts from juvenile facility to psych ward to, at last, the Society of Extranaturals, a boot camp of sorts for “post-human” kids run by the highly untrustworthy Mr. Quincrux. Their (supposed) goal: to destroy “the elder” that is causing a nationwide wave of deadly insomnia. This is a dyed-in-the-wool middle book—filled with training, planning, and sinister omens, its chief achievement is to foment excitement for the finale. And in that it succeeds splendidly, courtesy of new friends and new foes, none of whom exist in either camp comfortably. As before, Shreve’s appealing truculence is weighed down by the anguish of sharing the memories of too many damaged people. Jacobs works his ass off here; that’s the best way to put it because you can feel the work, in the best of senses, to make each paragraph a battling push-pull of bruising toughness, electric wit, and dazzling metaphysicality. This fits uncomfortably in every box in which you’d try to put it—in other words, it’s totally unique. Grades 9-12. --Daniel Kraus --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
RED RISING by Pierce Brown. When I saw the cover, I thought to myself, oh, another book about angels, and I passed it by. Not that I dislike angels, I just wasn't in the mood for angelic-inspired-starring fiction. But when I asked Pat Heffernan at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego what the best book he'd read recently, he pointed to that one. So I bought it sight unseen. I picked it up the next morning and finished it that night. It's not about angels. It's a far future story about caste systems, bio genetics, and intergalactic posturing. What's stunningly unfair is that it's Pierce's first book. Worse yet he's a good looking and likable guy, so I can't even hate him for his incredible success. Instead, I'm super happy for him and hope that he has a long successful career.
Again I'll let Booklist tell you what they think: A lot happens in this first installment of a projected trilogy. Darrow, living in a mining colony on Mars, sees his wife executed by the government, nearly dies himself, is rescued by the underground revolutionary group known as Sons of Ares, learns his government has been lying to him (and to everybody else), and is recruited to infiltrate the inner circle of society and help to bring it down from within—and that’s all inside the first 100 pages. This is a very ambitious novel, with a fully realized society (class structure is organized by color: Darrow is a Red, a worker, a member of the lower class) and a cast of well-drawn characters. Although it should appeal to all age groups, there is a definite YA hook: despite being a veteran miner and a married man, Darrow is 16 when the novel begins. If told well, stories of oppression and rebellion have a built-in audience, and this one is told very well indeed. A natural for Hunger Games fans of all ages. --David Pitt --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
SODA POP SOLDIER by Nick Cole. This is a truly awesome book. I actually reviewed it on my site, which I rarely do. But I was so engrossed in the book and loved it so much, I just had to say something. Here's what I said.
Nick Cole's new Soda Pop Soldier is as different from The Wasteland Saga as Skyrim is to Donkey Kong. Not that The Wasteland Saga is as emotionally bankrupt as Donkey Kong. It's not. And it's awesome. It's just so different it seems as if someone else wrote it. In a way, it was. It's clear that John Saxon wrote this book while Nick Cole wrote the other one--John Saxon being both an actor who starred in Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon as well as being the nom de guerre of the main character of Soda Pop Soldier. And Nick Cole can level up with 10,000 cool points for channeling the great unsung pop-culture icon of the 1970s.
The great great grandchild of Neuromancer (Gibson), Soda Pop Soldier shares its inventiveness, themes of moral bankruptcy and greed, and isolationism with it's siblings Reamde (Stephenson) and Ready Player One (Cline). But it achieves more. I'm not sure if John Saxon used these as stepping stones, or came up with the premise whole cloth in the vacuum of his shag-carpeted, spinning disco ball, scotch soaked mind, but whatever +5 Potion of Inventiveness he sucked down, it worked. To read the rest of the review, you can go here.
OUR LOVE WILL GO THE WAY OF THE SALMON. I know I said my top three, but I think one more shout out is necessay. There's a guy living in the Pacific Northwest I want to give some literary love to... a fellow authorly high five and a backslap. His name is Cameron Piarce. I was able to pre-read Our Love Will Go the Way of the Salmon before publication. Cameron sharpened his blade on the bizzaro grindstone, so I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into. As many of you know, bizarro fiction can take you to places you've never gone, never thought of going, and in some cases, never ever EVER want to go again (much love Carlton!). There's a hint if bizarro in this collection of short stories. But the stories also contain a literary sensibility that I appreciate. The writing is as lean and spare as Raymond Carver, who described his own style as "inclined toward brevity and intensity." I loved this book. I'd like to see more of Cameron's fiction. In fact, and I told this to Cameron, I'd like to see the first story wholly fleshed out and made into a novel. I want to visit that world again and not just with the tip of my toe. I want to swan dive into Desolation Lake so I can swim with the memories of when there were Salmon.
I actually blurbed this book. Here's what I said: "Part Terry Bisson, part Cormac McCarthy, part rocket launcher--Pierce's Our Love Will Go the Way of the Salmon brilliantly uses the fishing prism to examine loss, living without, and never having had."
You can order these books from Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore at this link