Welcome to Smugglivus 2017! Throughout this month, we will have guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2017, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2018, and more.
Smugglivus continues with our next guest: the-needs-no-introduction author Chuck Wendig, who debuts this year as a Smugglivus guest!
It is the holidays. Which means, regrettably, I have no –
What’s that thing called? The thing. Inside the other thing. The skull. The thing inside the skull. It’s a fleshy, blobby, pudding-like thing? It does all the thinky-thoughts? Whatever. It’s the holidays, which means I have no thinky-thought pudding-blob, and as such, I can barely parse together three good sentences much less try to remember the books I read this year. I can barely remember what I did yesterday. My skull is like a mouse-eaten shoebox. Everything goes in and out, the wind whistling through the gaps, so when I’m summoned to talk about the books of 2017 and actually recall them, ha ha ha, oh no.
Like a fool, I have failed to mark down the books I wrote, be it on Goodreads or scratched into the cave wall where I do my writing. Just the same, I think I have managed, over the course of many agonizing days, to pluck ten names of ten books I read and loved in 2017 out of the ambrosia salad that gently quivers inside my skull.
These won’t be deep dives. They’re shallow, tweetable reviews, because shallow tweetable reviews is all that my head-ensconced treacle-lump can manage.
Let us begin.
VACATIONLAND, John Hodgman
A book of essays by master of quirk and irony, John Hodgman, sometimes about vacations, sometimes about Maine, often about family and anxieties and life and boats and hipsters and privilege. It is also sometimes even about death. It made me snort laugh. The kind of laugh that is embarrassing. It is also melancholy, with moments of genuine sadness. It pauses from the mirth as if to whisper quickly in your ear: “Life is often awkward and people die.” It is very good and you must read it.
MEDDLING KIDS, by Edgar Cantero
Imagine the Scooby Gang all grown up – and, as a result of their childhoods, all fucked up, to boot. A jar of broken cookies from a life of solving mysteries as children. Now they’re back, reconstituted from their shattered lives, to solve one mystery they couldn’t quite solve. Also maybe Cthulhu is involved. Sort of. Whatever. You’ll see. It is very good and you must read it.
PHASMA, by Delilah S. Dawson
I don’t know if you know, but once upon a time there were these movies called “Star Wars Movies,” and they were very popular, and I’m told they’re making new movies now? That sounds nice. What’s definitely true is they’re making new novels, and one such novel is the backstory of the tenacious, brutal survivor known as Captain Phasma, handled with Mad-Maxian flair by Dawson, who is one of my favorite writers. It is very good and you must read it.
SUNBURN, by Laura Lippman
I don’t want to give too much about this book, except to say it’s a noir of dueling, damaged characters – Polly, the cipher who up and left her family behind, and Adam, the man who is following her, and neither expects to be drawn into the other’s gravity, but they are, and, well, after that it’s all sex and suspense and muuuurrrrdeeerrrr. Once I said this book was as sharp as a pin but that’s not it at all – it’s sharp like a screw, and every page is another savage turn as it twists deeper. The prose is elegant and spare. It is very good and you must read it.
SIX WAKES by Mur Lafferty
Cloned humans awaken on a ship in space to find everything in ruins: floating blood and wreckage and, oh, yeah, a little something about dead bodies. Dead bodies that belong to the previous generation of clones. Why? Who did this? One or several of them must have. Murder? Suicide? Something far stranger? Lafferty’s locked-room murder-mystery-in-spaaaace is lean and searing like a laser beam, and it presents a wonderful, addicting puzzle. It is very good and you must read it.
A PLAGUE OF GIANTS by Kevin Hearne
I have become burned out by epic fantasy for a lot of reasons – the love affair with grimdark, the tropes, the toxicity, the books-so-big-you-could-use-them-to-bludgeon-a-bison. But Hearne’s A Plague of Giants breaks that. It’s a more hopeful book and sheds many of the patterns and tropes, while still presenting a world in chaos, a world on the edge, where refugees form part of the narrative thrust. Plus, it has eleven point-of-view characters and somehow he makes them all distinctly their own. It is very good and you must read it.
AUTONOMOUS, by Annalee Newitz
Books about the future are never really about the future and this one is no different: though it puts us in a post-21st century world, it also challenges our current ideas about health care, robots, artificial intelligence, big pharma, sex, and the instability of capitalism. It’s a book about big ideas that focuses them with intimacy and grace. It is very good and you must read it.
THE STARS ARE LEGION, by Kameron Hurley
Kameron is one of my favorite writers because I don’t think she gives a fuck what you think. And that frees her to tell a ragged, toothy story about women enduring a body-horror like recycling process – think some twisted deep space Groundhog Day – to try to reclaim an organic ship-planet world called the Mokshi and – okay, yeah, no, I hear how that sounds, but trust me. This is big, bold, unfuckwithable science-fiction. It is very good and you must read it.
SIN DU JOUR SERIES, by Matt Wallace
Chicken nuggets made of angel meat. David Bowie as literal Goblin King. Holiday monsters and government conspiracies and infernal caterers and – okay, I’m cheating in that this is a series of nearly-complete novellas, and not one novel, but I refuse to play by your callous rules. Wallace has given us a series about a group of LA-based caterers who tend to cater functions for the supernatural class of the city. It’s cheeky and absurd, but grounded because the characters are great and Wallace writes with a lean and mean forthrightness. It is very good and you must read it.
THE ONLY HARMLESS GREAT THING, by Brooke Bolander
Bolander is a master of smashing together strange ideas – here, Topsy the Elephant and the Radium Girls – and infusing them with a botanical blend of lavender and licorice, love and rage, sorrow and madness. This novella doesn’t just tell you the story, but gives you the pieces, and you move through the shattered remains of the narrative and these characters and this bit of alternate history, and it’s really something special. It is very good and you must read it.