As you may have gathered, I’m an avid reader, particularly of fiction. 2012 has been a year full of particularly interesting reads. According to my handy-dandy Goodreads tracker, I’ve read 26 books this year. Not too shabby. In this post, I’ll recap my favorites. If you haven’t read these books and are looking for a last minute gift for the book lover in your life — even if that’s yourself — this is for you.
Favorite Novel of 2012: Hard Magic, by Larry Correia
Some books, you hear about once and you find that you just have to track them down and read them. Hard Magic was not one of those books. No, this masterpiece of “Epic Fantasy” instead came looking for me, again and again, through my Audible.com account. Every time I was on Audible trying to figure out where to spend my credits, Hard Magic was there being recommended by some inscrutable algorithm that had decided this was the book I most needed to read.
And every time I looked at it, there were two things I couldn’t get past:
1.) This cover:
(You want to see an amazing cover for this book that fits the way it actually feels? Check out the French version by illustrator Vincent Chong.)
2.) That the audiobook version was read by Balki Bartokomous. I shit you not. I saw Bronson Pinchot’s name, and I was immediately transported to my days as a child watching Perfect Strangers.
Finally, with credits I needed to spend and time running out, I went for it. And I let it sit for two months. Which was stupid, because it was the best damn book I read all year, and Bronson Pinchot does an absolutely amazing job bringing the characters to life. He is — hands down — the most talented audiobook narrator I’ve heard yet. And folks, I’ve listened to a lot of audiobooks. If you buy only one book this year, this is the one.
So how do I describe Hard Magic? Well, it’s a mix between The Maltese Falcon, the X-Men, Alphas, some kind of Steampunk, and The Rook. (More on The Rook in a minute.) It’s totally unique. It’s noir, it’s alternate history, it’s fantasy, it’s sci-fi, it’s magic and alien forces and ninjas and pirates and sweet guns and superweapons and people with amazing powers and every fun theme you can think of to put into a novel all rolled into one. To me, this is a whole new genre. I don’t even know how to define it.
What I do know is that Larry Correia is a flipping genius. His books are entertaining as hell, and that’s just how I like them. Since Hard Magic, I’ve also read Spellbound (the sequel to Hard Magic) and Monster Hunter International (from a different series and his first published book) and both were excellent. Reading Correia’s books makes me want to write, and I can’t think of a higher compliment to give than to say that an author inspires me to hone my craft and get out there and produce something even fractionally as good.
Hard Magic is good guys vs. bad guys in a world-spanning battle that takes place on a grand scale. Both the heroes and villains have super powers, and they’re not afraid to use them. On the one side is the Grimnoir, a secret society of heroes that is dedicated to protecting the world from evil and using their superpowers for good; on the other, the Imperium, lead by the mysterious and indestructible chairman, conduit of unimaginable connection to the inscrutable power that has altered lives and changed the course of history.
Favorite Novel of 2012 before I read Hard Magic – The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley
In what seems to be a theme this year, my two favorite books are both Sci-Fi with a twist into the realm of almost paranormal fantasy. The Rook is Australian writer Daniel O’Malley’s debut novel, and it’s an absolutely stunning first outing.
At turns laugh-out-loud funny, suspenseful, confusing, and awe-inspiring, The Rook is the first book of its kind I’ve ever read. It paved the way for me to enjoy the work of Larry Correia, pulling me out of my usual hard Sci-Fi rut and into something more imaginative and fun, but no less engaging.
From the book blurb:
Myfanwy Thomas awakes in a London park surrounded by dead bodies. With her memory gone, her only hope of survival is to trust the instructions left in her pocket by her former self. She quickly learns that she is a Rook, a high-level operative in a secret agency that protects the world from supernatural threats. But there is a mole inside the organization and this person wants her dead.
As Myfanwy battles to save herself, she encounters a person with four bodies, a woman who can enter her dreams, children transformed into deadly fighters, and an unimaginably vast conspiracy. Suspenseful and hilarious, THE ROOK is an outrageously inventive debut for readers who like their espionage with a dollop of purple slime.
Once again, I owe a debt of gratitude to Mitch Kelly at Hachette Audio for sending me a copy of the audiobook version of The Rook, which I was supposed to review months ago but never got around to. Susan Duerden’s reading took some getting used to — she has a sing-songy quality to her voice and a slightly unusual cadence that is at first off-putting — but once I was used to it, I thought she did a fantastic job.
To describe The Rook, imagine an amnesia story about a super-powered government secret agent who is part of an organization that is filled with people of extraordinary abilities whose job it is to quietly deal with outbreaks of monsters, mysteries, and the paranormal, all while someone on the inside is trying to kill her. I love the characters, which is such a critical part of every good story, and Myfanwy is someone you just can’t help rooting for as she tries to uncover who she was — and has become — while fighting some of the nastiest villains this side of the X-Files.
I enjoyed The Rook so much that even though I had a promotional copy of the audiobook, I went out and bought the Hardcover too. I haven’t seen it since, incidentally, as it’s been making the rounds through my family members. One of these days I might even get it back. Which would be nice, because I’d like to read it again.
Best Hard Sci-Fi Novel – Caliban’s War, by James S.A. Corey
Do you like space battles? Creepy alien threats? Interplanetary incidents? Massive conspiracies? Then read this book. The sequel to the excellent debut, Leviathan Wakes (which I reviewed here), Caliban’s War is way, way more intense. I couldn’t put it down. One night after work I clocked in 175 pages before I had to force myself to go to bed. It’s absolutely gripping.
Buy it. Buy it now and read it until your eyes bleed.
Best Novel Not Involving Aliens, Demons, Monsters, Spaceships or Super Powers – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a beautiful and heartbreaking book. (And it’s so wonderfully English, too. At times it made me feel like I was reading Roald Dahl for grownups.) Though it ultimately fails to attain deeper meaning in its search for answers, there is an earnest, salt-of-the-earth yearning present that makes me feel as though with a little push, this could have been so much more.
All the same, I am rarely moved to tears while reading a story. This one brought me there several times, and stirred in me certain aches that will not easily subside. You don’t read about Mr. Fry’s pilgrimage, you live it, and all that goes with it, and you will, like Harold, be changed by the journey.
Best Nonfiction Book – Ghost in the Wires, by Kevin Mitnick & Bill Simon
I’ve been fascinated with the Kevin Mitnick story since I was a kid. Reading about his exploits was part and parcel of the emerging world of technology, BBSes, and the nascent Internet I was fascinated with as a teen.
Ghost in the Wires is Mitnick’s memoir of his hacking, cracking, and phreaking days. He recounts in detail his thirst for knowledge of source code, operating systems, and internal phone company workings. He talks social engineering, dumpster diving, and the means by which an otherwise unassuming guy could take control of highly sensitive information and use it for his own purposes. Mitnick also talks consequences, speaking about the dark days he spent in solitary confinement, his cloak and dagger escapes (and eventual captures) in his encounters with law enforcement, and the criminal activities (and media exaggerations) that made him infamous, and ultimately led to him being known as “The world’s most wanted hacker.”
The book is fascinating, if a bit self-serving (he clearly attempts to paint himself as a much better guy than earlier accounts would have led you to believe – it’s up to you to decide who is telling the truth) and I recommend it to anyone interested in Mitnick’s life, or the subjects of social engineering, hacking, or phone phreaking.
Steve Skojec is a storyteller, writer, blogger, photographer, designer, and sci-fi fan. He is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. He lives in Arizona with his wife Jamie and six of their seven children.