Ranking recent fantasy/scifi reads (from this spring)

The past three months I’ve had a fantasy/sci-fi kick. I staked out Goodreads, Reddit, and few other sites for recommendations, and came out with some great books and experiences. Here is my contribution back to society – a real-ass ranking to granulize the 5 star Goodreads ratings every good book gets.

  1. Words of Radiance (#2)(Sanderson)
  2. Death’s End (#3)(Liu)
  3. Snow Crash (Stephenson)
  4. The Dark Forest (#2)(Liu)
  5. Way of Kings (#1)(Sanderson)
  6. Leviathan Wakes (#1)(Corey)
  7. The Innovators (Issacson)
  8. The Three Body Problem (#1)(Liu)
  9. Name of the Wind (#1)(Rothfuss)
  10. Ancillary Justice (#1)(Leckie)
  11. Homo Deus (Harari)

Many currently popular books revolve around modern sociopolitics, dystopias, investigative journalism/biographies, and ideas about the world. However, all this Fantasy/Scifi offers an escape, a series of thought pieces of what a world would look like with completely different variables, social structures, rules of science, and decision making criteria. Even though a lot of the genre is targeted towards young adults, here are some works I could wholly appreciate as an adult:

1 – Words of Radiance

Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive, #2)Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

When I think fantasy, this is what I have in mind.

A whole new world. A patchwork political system showing its cracks through narrators of various sociopolitical classes. Novel concepts of magic, energy, and the dark underworld are never explicitly explained – you learn along with the characters.

What else? I loved the witty dialogue. The plot is unpredictable with lots of red herrings, false leads, and crushed hopes. All this is mixed in with satisfying vindication alongside shades of hopeful uncertainty.

This book is hilariously thick, but worth it from cover to cover. Also you can’t tell on Kindle 🙂

2 – Death’s End

Death's End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #3)Death’s End by Liu Cixin

Death’s End doesn’t have much relationship romance, but it is beautifully romantic novel. When everything seems to be going wrong, there is an out against all odds. When humanity is but a bug in the grand scheme of the dark forest universe, we do not lose the glimmer of hope.

What a grand fucking finale to Liu Cixin’s “Three Body Problem” series. The series is one that just gets better and better, and this is what really got me into my reading binge this Spring.

3 – Snow Crash

Snow CrashSnow Crash by Neal Stephenson

First published in 1992, Snow Crash beautifully extrapolates the hacker, punk, pizza delivery suburban culture to their imaginative extremes. Started getting really interesting 1/3 into the book and the action just never stopped. Brilliantly sarcastic writing and loved Stevenson’s ability to take ridiculous puns from corporate marketing to the next level.

There is a bit of suspension of disbelief required with all the pseudo history and linguistics, alongside lots of crude humor and shenanigans. I can see how it’d be a turnoff to some but I loved its crass, deadpan tone.

4 – The Dark Forest (REP #2)(Liu)

In a fully rational world where the optimal decisions still result in certain defeat – what do you do?

The Dark Forest is the second book in the “Three Body Problem” series. Liu Cixin explores a story of individual ingenuity, subterfuge, mutually assured destruction, and a bit of luck in a Earth 5headed towards a dangerous future. It keeps you guessing all the way to the end, where the “Dark Forest” theory of universe (a la Fermi Paradox) does not disappoint.

5 – Way of Kings (SA #1)(Sanderson)

The first of the Stormlight Archives, the Way of Kings kept me coming back with it’s mysterious world, vague politics, and spicy characters. I didn’t exactly know where things were going, and yet I knew something crazy and relevant was just around the corner. On Kindle, you can’t tell, but this series has the fattest books in the fantasy section and I loved every word from cover to cover.

6 – Leviathan Wakes (Exp #1)(Corey)

In this book, Corey explores some seriously weird ideas but with great writing and a host of really interesting characters. It has a pretty viable future with Earth/Mars/Outer Belt solar system politics. All in all, I think this ranks pretty low in sci-fi world building, but it was really action packed and could not stop reading.

On the downside, you knew exactly what was going to happen at the end, so minus points for suspense.

7 – The Innovators (Issacson)

(This isn’t fantasy/scifi, but whatever) I think the history of modern computers and internet is wildly interesting and a must-read for Silicon Valley techies. What brilliant things can be done when the government/military, corporations and academics collaborate! What brilliant things can be done by individual hackers in their garage! There is no one place where innovation takes place, and here are some stories of that diversity.

The book is well researched, and has a similar style to Issacson’s popular “Steve Jobs” book. Unfortunately the writing can get very repetitive, with Issacson is constantly rehashing the same point every other chapter. This bumps it to the lower half and a 4*.

8 – The Three Body Problem (REP #1)(Liu)

I enjoyed this book a lot in its own right. To be honest though, books #2 & 3 (Dark Forest, Death’s End) were so good that I barely remembered what happened in this one. However, this book is critical setup for the series so I recommend the whole series wholeheartedly.

This has a “Chinese” social perspective, which might turn some people off. Many American books revolve around individual heroism, while this entire series seems to promote optimal decision for the greater good. However, that’s just the setup, and we find throughout the series that the winner doesn’t come from collective thinking at all 🙂

9 – Name of the Wind (KK #1)(Rothfuss)

Beautiful writing, beautiful poetry and songs, beautiful descriptions.

Pretty slow plot. A fallen hero recounts a story of his his precocious yet rogue-like youth. Do something dumb but calculated, get in trouble, get out of it, rinse and repeat. Each arc is very interesting, but I don’t think I will read the rest of the triology.

10 – Ancillary Justice (IR #1)(Leckie)

Ancillary Justice has a great ideas, but mediocre execution on a thinly built world. The main character has an intentionally robotic dialogue, and there is little character development or depth across the board.

It seems like Leckie built a world around her desired plot, and nothing more. There are components of tiered sociopolitical systems, religion, power dynamics, aliens, and personalities, but it all feels very artificial. All that being said, a lot of sci-fi is about interesting ideas and thought exercises. I enjoyed the read and it is great food for thought.

11 – Homo Deus (Harari)

Bringing the rear guard of a highly curated list is Homo Deus. A successor to the popular “Sapiens”, this book has great ideas on how humans are have gone from religion to “Humanism” (a Nietzsche’ian influenced idea of “God is dead, we are our own gods now”). The future, Homo “Deus”, is all data driven decision making as humanity optimizes itself for the future.

All this is great, but Harari just *has* to make constant inane, sweeping statements devoid of any nuance. He then bases his theories on these flimsy arguments, and expects the reader to blindly believe his theses. A damned shame, because so much content seems well researched and with potential to be taken for serious discussion. Instead, this becomes yet another pop culture book about humanity and its future.

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End. Would love thoughts and more book suggestions!