- To stargazers and techies,
- To book grazers and skimmers,
- To starship and AI dreamers,
- To E.T. chasers and time travelers,
- To warp engineers and string theorists,
- To black hole and Higgs Bozon scholars,
- To dark matter and dark energy ponderers,
- And to all of us, awe struck with the science and poetry of the universe, dedicated.
What was the year 2015 like for the new Sci Fi novels? With hundreds of books published every day, it is difficult to keep track with the new releases in you favorite genre. The idea for the Jalapeno Fiction 2016 Award came to me when I realized that I would like to get way more systematic about the genre of my passion and to stay on top of the trends in the publishing industry. I read a lot of stuff during the year, and not all of the reading I’m doing comes hot from the press. Also I am crazy excited about new authors who make it big, like Andy Weir with his hit “The Martian” (2014), featuring 24.5K reviews on Amazon as of Jan. 12, 2015, and a blockbuster movie under his belt.
I decided to apply a [almost] scientific methodology for picking my nominees for the Jalapeno Fiction 2016.
- First, I looked at 2 major data bases: Barns and Noble and Amazon Kindle.
- Second, I selected the items published strictly in 2015.
- Third, I looked into the Sci Fi & Fantasy sections, and selected what seems to be purely Sci Fi (Look here and here for the discussion on the genre boundaries)
- Fourth, I am going to review all of these items during 2016 according to an established format (coming soon).
- Fifth, I am going to score nominees on the Jalapeno scale and thus create a list of finalists.
- Finally, I will offer a pole to the blog followers to vote their favorite novel, which will add extra crucial Jalapeno points and may very well decide the destiny of the winner.
Thus, If nothing else, the Jalapeno Fiction 2016 Winner in the Novel Category may boast being the best 2015 Sci Fi novel based on scientific criteria. Without further ado, I provide the list of 2015 Strictly Sci Fi novels, with their official plot descriptions taken from B&N and Amazon Kindle websites respectively.
[If you are curious, who pays me for the reviews, the answer is: NOBODY. I also have not received any free books for the review, nor was I asked to review any particular book. All of the reviewed books I purchased myself, thus none of my posts are intended to be promotional.]
Barns & Noble Features
Barnes and Noble offers the list of Books published in 2015, however they do not separate it by the Sci Fi and Fantasy genres. Reading through the comment thread to this B&N page, you can see that a lot of people actually complain about this:
I went ahead and sifted through the list. And I tell you, Sci Fi fanciers, it is bad news for us, because out of 25 featured novels on that list, only 5 of them cut it as a Sci Fi genre. That is only 20%, statistically speaking. These are the reviews provided by B&N:
Dark Orbit, by Carolyn Ives Gilman
This thoughtful first contact story will delight anyone with a longing for a fresh example of ’70s-era social science fiction the likes of classics by Ursula K. LeGuin. Rootless exoethnologist Sara Callicot tags along with a group of researchers on a 58-light-year trip to a newly discovered planet. Ostensibly she’s there is case they make contact with any new cultures—and oh boy, do they, discovering a group of apparently human settlers who live underground and are completely blind, yet perfectly fluent in a common tongue—but also secretly to keep tabs on Thora, another member of the expedition, and one with political connections that could hold the key a conspiracy involving unexplained disappearances, deaths, and a paranoid security officer”.
Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie
The sci-fi series that turned space opera on its ear and won all the awards along the way comes to an end, wrapping up the story of Breq, once the artifical mind inhabiting a vast starship and a network of mine-wiped human bodies, now confined to a single, frail human form. The action is set largely upon a remote space station in orbit around an unremarkable but strategically located planet that could be a crucial outpost in a brewing intergalactic civil war between the divided halves of Anaander Mianaai, the once-human, many-bodied Lord of the Radch. Exploring complex themes of gender, sexual, and cultural identity, Leckie’s trilogy tells an unusually thoughtful story that’s also immensely satisfying when it comes to blowing stuff up real good, and with this final installment, she totally sticks the landing.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers
Originally self-published, Chambers’ buzzy debut was acquired by Harper Voyager for a digital release this year, with print to follow in 2016. But don’t wait ’til next year: this addictive, expansive, character-based tale reads like a Netflix binge of your new favorite space opera series. Spend a year with the crew of theWayfarer, a deep-space mining vessel tasked with punching through dimensional barriers to create wormholes that act as interstellar highways, a job that’s as exciting as it sounds, but only for the scant minutes it actually takes to accomplish. The rest of the time is spent traveling at sublight speeds across vast distances—though that does leave plenty of time to get to know your crew and have adventures along the way. There’s more character here than plot, but when the characters are this lived-in, that’s a feature, not a bug, and the sci-fi trappings (from truly alien aliens to a fascinating exploration of the ethics of creating artificial intelligence) are first rate.
The Drafter, by Kim Harrison
With a brilliant, punchy premise and plenty of action,The Drafter is a thriller with a sci-fi edge that will push buttons for both newcomers and fans of Harrison’s Rachel Morgan urban fantasy series. Peri is a Drafter, someone with the ability to rewind time 30 seconds and change the past. But every time she Drafts, her own memories are muddled—a confusion Jack, her lover and partner at Opti, the secret government agency they are both a part of, helps her muddle through. When Peri discovers her own name on a list of corrupt Opti employees, she suddenly has reason to doubt Jack—and herself, as she realizes her entire existence has been manipulated.
Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson
After a detour into prehistory with Shaman, Kim Stanley Robinson returned to widescreen space exploration with a full-throated, believably science-y novel that turns one of sci-fi oldest tropes—the generation ship—on its ear. As a deteriorating vessel nears its destination after a centuries-long journey, we follow a cast of compelling, flawed characters trying to stave off a death of a thousand loose screws, as witnessed via one of the most unique narrators we’ve ever encountered: the ship itself, an artificial intelligence still struggling to understand humans even after hundreds of years spent ferrying them across the stars.
I haven’t read any of these five yet, and they are on my to-do list for 2016. My picks mostly come from the Kindle, and some of the hot 2015 releases were quite good. However, I made a wide search of the Amazon Kindle library and picked the Sci Fi listings that complement the B&N list. Energize! (sorry, couldn’t help it).
Amazon Kindle Features
Decisively Engaged (Warp Marine Corps Book 1), by C.J. Carella (276 p.)
They picked a fight with the wrong species.
A NATION AT WAR: The United Stars of America. Born in the conflagration of unprovoked alien attack, the newest entrant to galactic politics took the few crumbs of hypertech gifted to it and ran with them, soon expanding over dozens of star systems and establishing a wide trade network, protected by its powerful Navy and the dreaded Warp Marines. A FIGHT TO THE DEATH: A single Marine platoon, tasked with protecting an embassy on a hostile alien planet. An embassy – and the human enclave around it – that soon finds itself surrounded by armed mobs. Can the Marines and a ragtag band of civilian and Navy personnel survive long enough to be rescued? (WARNING: Contains violence, strong language and adult content)
Ep. #15 – “That Which Other Men Cannot Do” (The Frontiers Saga), by Ryk Brown (523 p.)
New forces grow… Old friends are lost… New alliances are forged… Old weapons are made new… With political unrest growing, the Alliance must rush to rebuild their fleet and expand their ‘sphere of influence’ before their support runs out. But when the Jung up the ante, the Alliance must turn up the heat. Captain Nathan Scott and the Sol-Pentaurus Alliance must put everything on the line to save the Sol sector once and for all. “That Which Other Men Cannot Do” is a 156,000 word novel, and is the 15th and final episode of Part I of The Frontiers Saga. Part II of the Frontiers Saga is coming soon!
Dark Deeds (Class 5 Series Book 2), by Michelle Diener (340 p.)
Rescue might just be the death of her. Far from home . . . Fiona Russell has been snatched from Earth, imprisoned and used as slave labor, but nothing about her abduction makes sense. When she’s rescued by the Grih, she realizes there’s a much bigger game in play than she could ever have imagined, and she’s right in the middle of it. Far from safe . . . Battleship captain Hal Vakeri is chasing down pirates when he stumbles across a woman abducted from Earth. She’s the second one the Grih have found in two months, and her presence is potentially explosive in the Grih’s ongoing negotiations with their enemies, the Tecran. The Tecran and the Grih are on the cusp of war, and Fiona might just tip the balance. Far from done . . . Fiona has had to bide her time while she’s been a prisoner, pretending to be less than she is, but when the chance comes for her to forge her own destiny in the new world she’s found herself in, she grabs it with both hands. After all, actions speak louder than words.
Infinity Lost (The Infinity Trilogy Book), by S. Harrison (246 p.)
In the near future, one corporation, Blackstone Technologies, has changed the world: no disasters, no poverty, and life-altering technology. Blackstone has the impunity to destroy—or create—as it sees fit. Infinity “Finn” Blackstone is the seventeen-year-old daughter of Blackstone’s reclusive CEO—but she’s never even met him. When disturbing dreams about a past she doesn’t remember begin to torment her, Finn knows there’s only one person who can provide answers: her father. After Finn and an elite group of peers are invited to Blackstone’s top-secret HQ, Finn realizes she may have a chance to confront her father. But when a highly sophisticated company AI morphs into a killing machine, the trip descends into chaos. Trapped inside shape-shifting walls, Finn and her friends are at the mercy of an all-seeing intelligence that will destroy everything to get to her. With no hope of help, Finn’s dream-memories may be the only chance of survival. But will she remember in time to save her own life and the lives of those around her?
Subterrestrial, by Michael McBride (339 p.)
An accident during the construction of a tunnel beneath the Bering Strait leads to the discovery of a network of caverns and evidence that hints at the survival of a primitive human species. Led by DARPA technologist Reinhard Thyssen, a team of experts from around the globe is dispatched into the subterranean maze to discover all they can before the caves completely flood. Something lurks in the darkness, though…a creature that has evolved into a predator unlike any the world has ever known, and it’s up to the scientists to make sure that it never reaches the surface. If they can survive that long.
Not Alone, by Craig A. Falconer (850 p.)
Aliens exist, the government knows, and Dan McCarthy just found the proof. When Dan McCarthy stumbles upon a folder containing evidence of the conspiracy to end all conspiracies — a top-level alien cover-up — he leaks the files without a second thought. The incredible truth revealed by Dan’s leak immediately captures the public’s imagination, but Dan’s relentless commitment to exposing the cover-up and forcing disclosure quickly earns him some enemies in high places. For his whole life, Dan McCarthy has searched for a reason to believe. Now that he finally has one, he might soon wish he didn’t… Not Alone is a standalone tale of contact and disclosure for the 21st century.
The End of All Things (The Old Man’s War series, Book 6), by John Scalzi (381 p.)
Our fate is in their hands. . .The Colonial Union’s Defence Force was formed to save humanity when aggressive alien species targeted our worlds. Now Lieutenant Harry Wilson has an urgent new mission, as a hostile universe becomes ever more dangerous. He must investigate a sinister group, which lurks in the darkness of space playing different factions against one another. They’ll target both humans and aliens, and their motives are unfathomable. The Defence Force itself is weakening as its soldiers fall – without recruits to replace them. Relations with Earth have broken down and it will send no more troops, even as human colonies become increasingly vulnerable to alien attack. Lieutenant Wilson and Colonial Union diplomats must race to keep the peace, seek reconciliation with an enraged Earth, and maintain humanity’s unity at all costs. If they don’t, it will mean oblivion, extinction and the end of all things.
Fluency (Confluence Book 1), by Jennifer Foehner Wells (377 p.)
NASA discovered the alien ship lurking in the asteroid belt in the 1960s. They kept the Target under intense surveillance for decades, letting the public believe they were exploring the solar system, while they worked feverishly to refine the technology needed to reach it. The ship itself remained silent, drifting. Dr. Jane Holloway is content documenting nearly-extinct languages and had never contemplated becoming an astronaut. But when NASA recruits her to join a team of military scientists for an expedition to the Target, it’s an adventure she can’t refuse. The ship isn’t vacant, as they presumed. A disembodied voice rumbles inside Jane’s head, “You are home.” Jane fights the growing doubts of her colleagues as she attempts to decipher what the alien wants from her. As the derelict ship devolves into chaos and the crew gets cut off from their escape route, Jane must decide if she can trust the alien’s help to survive.
Nemesis Games: Book 5 of the Expanse, by James S.A. Corey (544 p.)
A thousand worlds have opened, and the greatest land-rush in human history has begun. As wave after wave of colonists leave, the power structures of the old solar system begin to buckle. Ships are disappearing without a trace. Private armies are being secretly formed. The sole remaining protomolecule sample is stolen. Terrorist attacks previously considered impossible bring the inner planets to their knees. The sins of the past are returning to exact a terrible price. And as a new human order is struggling to be born in blood and fire, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante must struggle to survive and get back to the only home they have left.
[TO BE CONTINUED. LOOK FOR UPDATED LIST]