2015 is starting to look like it’s well underway. And may it live up to the best of all our hopes!
When it comes to thinking about books, though, I haven’t quite caught up to the new year yet. I’ve spent the past little while, in fact, dwelling on the kinds of books I’ve read (and reread) in the last year, and considering the kinds of books I would give a wisdom tooth to see more of.
When I like space opera, I really like it. But I’m picky. I love Ann Leckie’s books so much I’ve reread them at least five times each already, but apart from them, Elizabeth Bear’s Dust (which is only arguably space opera), and a couple of books in Susan R. Matthews’ rather harrowing Andrej Kosciusko series, the only novels I’ve reread to anything like the same degree are David Drake’s RCN series (With the Lightnings, etc). Every year around December for the last several years, I’ve reread that series, and wanted more like them.
With the Imperial Radch books, Leckie is using space opera to examine—in many ways quietly and intimately—questions of identity and relationships of power, and doing it with appealing characters and shiny Cool Shit ™. Drake is explicitly writing in a setting that uses the social mores of a combination of Roman and early modern Europe, telling stories that take a lot of their inspiration from swashbuckling naval exploits of the Napoleonic Wars and classical bits of political chicanery.
Drake’s books have their issues, and I perpetually want to argue with the way they present the world. But they’re about an extremely competent naval officer and an extremely competent librarian/spy kicking ass and taking names.
And I would really like to see more books like these. Because both Leckie and Drake have a narrative drive and energy, and a vibrancy of characterisation, that makes these novels a joy to return to again and again. (And they both, in their very different ways, portray a future with a more egalitarian approach to gender than the present.)
I’d especially like to see more books like these, because it seems to me as though there’s a dearth of space opera that’s really interested in taking on an operatic canvas—or in really swashing its buckles like Space Hornblower.
But like I said, I’m picky.
I’d give more than a wisdom tooth to see more novels like Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor. In a fantasy landscape that seems increasing filled with Crapsack World settings inhabited by people who must be ruthless simply to survive, reading about Addison’s protagonist is like getting… a hug from a friend. A warm blanket on a cold evening. A breath of fresh air in a stuffy room. Because here’s a protagonist who’s suffered cruelty in his life, and yet it has only made him determined to be kind, and to use the power that has come to him justly. He’s the opposite of vengeful, and it makes for an incredibly satisfying read.
I found it personally satisfying in much the same way as Lois McMaster Bujold’s Paladin of Souls is satisfying, as the kind of story featuring the kind of protagonist that so rarely crosses into my orbit. An emperor who’s decent without being unbelievably naive. A MATURE WOMAN doing things without being a caricature.
Stories in which I enjoy spending time with the protagonists. I don’t insist every book I read be filled with “likeable” people—but I’d like to have a larger array of fantasy novels whose main characters are decent people doing the best they can.
I would also like to see: more books like Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra series, more books with queer people, particularly queer women, and more good caper plots, and oh, yes, more queer relationships in SFFnal books. And more female main characters doing interesting things, always, even if I do already have quite a lot of those.
I want more of everything I like. Terrible craving, that.