Following on from my Top 14 Books for 2014, here's this year's post.
First, here's my Goodreads graphic. It's slightly incorrect, because I recorded one book on New Year's Day which I'd finished the previous day, and even though I changed the date the graphic won't update. So it should read 101 books, not 100. The extra book (John Varley's Persistence of Vision) got four stars.
Another good year, in which I read no fewer than 11 books that won five stars from me, out of my total of 101. Last year, only nine books out of 104 made it to five stars.
A five-star book is one that I enjoyed very much and which I also consider particularly well done. One or other of those things will get a book four stars, and this year I awarded four stars to 68 books (70 in 2014).
Three stars from me means that the book was either basically competent but only moderately entertaining for me, or basically entertaining despite not being all that competent, or somewhere in the range between the two. I had 19 three-star books this year, compared with 23 in 2014.
Thanks to continued good filtering, I again kept the number of two-star books down to two, the same as last year. Two stars means significant issues severely impacted my enjoyment of the book. I seldom finish a book like that. One was in a free box set I picked up, and lacked a middle; the other I bought, in part, based on an Amazon review that said there were few editing errors. (That reviewer was mistaken. There were at least 90.)
There's one book I didn't rate: In Memory, an anthology in honour of the late Sir Terry Pratchett and in aid of Alzheimer's research. That's because I was a contributor, and rating it would be against my policy. Other people have rated it, though, and done so very highly; it was the highest-rated book I read this year.
Let's go to the rankings. The top four four-star books first.
15. Ithaka Rising, L.J. Cohen. YA space opera with a brain and a heart. Sequel to Derelict, which took spot number 13 in last year's roundup. Full review.
14. Orconomics, J. Zachary Pike. Combines satire on current economic and political issues with a sword-and-sorcery/D&D setting, and makes it work. Full review.
13. The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison. Beautiful and intricate, the opposite of an action thriller, and filled with names that become confusing at times, but for me an enjoyable read. Full review.
12. Ten Thousand Devils, S.A. Hunt. The adjective "towering" might have been coined for Hunt's genre-mashing Outlaw King series, and this volume has all the virtues of the earlier ones. Full review.
Now the five-star books, starting with three nonfiction volumes I read in order to improve my own writing:
11. Creating Short Fiction, Damon Knight. The wisdom of a long-time writer and writing instructor on the special strengths and requirements of the short form. Full review.
10. Beginnings, Middles and Ends, Nancy Kress. Clearly laid out, and full of insights into the process of writing both novels and short stories. Full review.
9. Scene and Structure, Jack M. Bickham. A classic of writing instruction, it takes the reader clearly and thoroughly through how to structure a novel that will make sense and keep up the tension right to the end. Full review.
8. A Sip of Fear, Brian Rush. Brian died in December, a sad loss to contemporary fantasy, as this book abundantly proves. Spirituality seamlessly combines with a compelling plot. Full review.
7. Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie. Impeccably written, with masterfully drawn characters in a fascinating and thought-provoking setting, its only fault is a slight lack of clarity about the protagonist's goals. Full review.
6. The Martian, Andy Weir. A classic "clever engineer" SF story told with humour, verve and heart. Full review.
5. Three Parts Dead, Max Gladstone. Commercial lawyer/adepts investigate the murder of a god through a DDOS attack. The sheer audacity of the ideas is fascinating, and the plot lives up to them. Full review.
4. Book of Iron, Elizabeth Bear. More audacious ideas, grand characters and tense adventures from a master wordcrafter; like Jirel of Joiry by way of Roger Zelazny. Full review.
3. Hot Lead, Cold Iron, Ari Marmell. A flawless blend of noir detective with urban fantasy. Full review.
2. The Alloy of Law, Brandon Sanderson. An exuberant mashup of supers and Western with a touch of steampunk, this is also a sequel to the Mistborn trilogy - itself a glorious reimagining of the epic fantasy, blended with postapocalyptic and (again) supers. Full review.
1. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman. Nobody else writes quite as resonantly as Gaiman, turning childhood memories into the stuff of myth and legend. Full review.
Apparently I like genre mashups, and also books that refer to metallurgy in the title. Who knew?
More seriously, what I love is original, audacious, exuberant ideas, well executed in a gripping story with well-intentioned characters who I care about, and backed up by highly competent prose. If you can write like that, I don't care what your title is.
I look forward to reading many more such books in 2016.