Top 5 Books of 2016

Once again, I did not manage to read 100 books this year. And I didn’t even get close! Technically I reached 50 and that counts things like Calvin and Hobbes and Roald Dahl books.

But the thing is I probably read more than ever, just fewer novels. I continue to read slush for a specfic journal, and there was a period of a week or two that I was reading 50K words a day for them. I am now reading novel slush for them and in terms of words it’s probably altogether another twenty books.

In addition, I’ve read a lot of RPG books. A LOT. A few thousand pages worth, I’d guess. Another 30 books easily, I’d guess. This broader reason is reflected in my top 5 list this year, which I just realized has no novels at all on it for the first time ever.

As always, these are books that I read this year not necessarily that were published this year. (Only one was published this year, I believe.)

5. The One Ring RPG

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One Game to Rule The All

Considering how much of a debt D&D has to the trappings of Middle Earth, it’s remarkable how thematically it’s nowhere close. I had some friends who played MERP in high school and from afar it seemed cool, but having got my hands on this book really shows an attention to Tolkienian themes and structures. The journey is now a key part of the game, and Shadow can fall upon the brightest of hearts. I have yet to play this, but have read through it more than once and the terrific art is worth noting as well.


4. Neonomicon

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The Horror! (No, seriously.)

I need to preface this by saying this is Moore at his most provocative. For those who are easily offended, this book is offensive. I loved it though–Lovecraftian themes explored with the languid freedom of no restrictions at all. 

 


3.Jagganath

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That’s one horny deer.

Straight outta Sweden is this stupendous collection, which oft times feels to me like a Tove Jansson story standing on its head. There is distant sadness that permeates these tales,  which are distantly beautiful and distantly evocative of a distant place. Some of the stories start to feel the same and due to the fairy-tale like narration (otherwise certainly a strength) many stories lack narrative tension.  But the last two stories were exceptionally exceptional and the entire collection is worth a read for any spec fic fan.


2. World of the Lost RPG

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Laser Rifle 1, Dinosaur 0

It’s a hex crawl, and a city generator, and a dungeon set in something like 17th century Nigeria. Complete with time hazards, dinosaur people, robots, and just so much more stuff, it might be hands-down the best Role-Playing supplement that I’ve ever read. 


1. Going Solo

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Just your hilarious and moving story of a man fighting an entire army.

This bit of nonfiction is as engaging as any novel. Dahl is of course a master story teller, and this story of time in Africa and signing up to fight in WWII is captivating and stupidly addictive.

RELEASE DAY – SHAOLIN VS VIKINGS

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So if I had known how much time it would take, I might not have gone ahead and made this book, which I’ve been working on since February. Not even counting the writing, I’ve probably put 100 inefficient hours into this, and honestly it’s probably closer to 200.

But I’ve learned a little bit of formatting, some Photoshop, some patience (probably the most important thing of all) and overall it was probably a worthwhile process.

And now it’s done. Over 70,000 words, 20 stories written in 12 different countries, and each story comes with an original illustration. I really owe a lot especially to Wind Lothamer, who allowed me to use that amazing image for the title plus provided the art for the title story, and to Nahid Taheri, who hand-painted so many of the great images.

And it’s entirely free!

The PDF is free/ PWYW on Gumroad and totally free on Smashwords. In the next coming days, hopefully, it will appear for free on Amazon and B&N and Itunes, etc.

Top 5 books for 2015

Unlike 2013 but just like in 2014, I did not manage to read 100 books this year. I will end up at around 70, which isn’t bad but I could have read a lot more.

I also don’t really have any good excuses. I had a kindle this year, and Seoul has a couple of good English language book stores. Both What the Book and Aladdin always have books that I want to read.

As always, these are books that I read this year not necessarily that were published this year.


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5. The Water Knife

Think Margaret Atwood meets Michael Crichton. A scarily realistic future where the American southwest is ravaged by lack of water. Vegas mafia and California syndicates and others battle for the ultimate commodity: water.


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4. Shaman

A slow book where the first half is really only setting and characters. Several hundred pages later, the plot kicks in. But for anyone interested in prehistoric times, this is as good as it gets. Such a rad book; it’s one of my favorites of all time but it’s not higher on this list because for many it will be too slow.


 

lexicon

3.Lexicon

Barry here presents an exploration of topics like the power of language, identity, suggestibility or privacy. There is so much to like here: great characters, fascinating world-building (the Poets!), thrilling action sequences, plot twists galore, settings ranging from the PDX airport to the Ozzy outback. Overall, it’s a book that’s too smart to be a good thriller and yet so thrilling that the thought-provoking elements fade to the background. It’s really an exception to all the rules and maybe my favorite book by Barry.


 

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2. At Home

It should be called Bill Bryson goes on 1000 different rambling tangents. Not every chapter will speak to everyone but this is one of the most interesting books I have read in a long time. It’s filled with awesomely interesting facts, such as:

To avoid smacking into the unyielding, or being waylaid by brigands, people often secured the services of linkboys—so called because they carried torches known as links made from stout lengths of rope soaked in resin or some other combustible material—to see them home. Unfortunately, the linkboys themselves couldn’t always be trusted and sometimes led their customers into back alleys where they or their confederates relieved the hapless customers of money and silken items.
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Within the animal kingdom only humans and guinea pigs are unable to synthesize vitamin C in their own bodies. Why us and guinea pigs? No point asking. Nobody knows.
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Thomas Coryate, an author and traveler from the time of Shakespeare who was famous for walking huge distances—including once to India. In 1611, he produced his magnum opus, Coryate’s Crudities, in which he gave much praise to the dinner fork, which he had first encountered in Italy. The same book was also notable for introducing English readers to the Swiss folk hero William Tell and to a new device called the umbrella.
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Bats are also critical to the survival in the wild of avocados, balsa, bananas, breadfruit, cashews, cloves, dates, figs, guavas, mangoes, peaches, and saguaro cactus, among others. The world has far more bats than most people realize. In fact, about a quarter of all mammal species—some eleven hundred in all—are bats.
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People who drank milk in America sometimes grew delirious and swiftly died—Abraham Lincoln’s mother was one such victim—but infected milk tasted and smelled no different from ordinary milk, and no one knew what the infectious agent was. Not until well into the nineteenth century did anyone finally deduce that it came from cows grazing on a plant called white snakeroot, which was harmless to the cows but made their milk toxic to drink.

That is only a very small sampling of a most interesting book. Highly recommended.


 

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1. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

This book for me ranks just under Kafka and Windup Bird in the Murakami canon. I think this is the most emotionally charged of all his works, as the theme of loss of friends and growing old and lonely is more universal than the suicide of close friends.  (Though that crops up too, of course). Others have been less impressed, but for me the experience of reading this was superb, as I read this on a weekend visa run to Japan and finished it in an overnight Manga Cafe.