Coming out of book reviewing retirement to post my Top Ten of 2020! Like many people, 2020 hit my reading numbers hard, as I lacked brain power much of the time. Still, I finished 108 books. I felt like there were few books that really set me on fire, but I'm very happy with the Top Ten.
10. A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
I wasn't entirely in line with Hugo voting this year, as this came about half-way down my ranking for best novel, but that's really a reflection of how strong the category was. This interstellar look at colonialism, peripheries, and belonging (and identity and a bunch of other things) was very intriguing and had great political tension. The main character is sent from her unannexed home to the seat of Empire and finds herself pulled into immediate jockeying for the future in a culture she loves and doesn't quite belong in.
In a corporate-controlled future that relies on colonized and segregated planets for essential crops, having ships move at light speed to collect the goods at the cost of the years of the lives the crew could have had with their loved ones, the creator of the system tries to remember why she's so dissatisfied with why it's the way it is, a young child has the ability to jump instantaneously between worlds, and a ship captain takes him in and wants to protect him like family. The Vanished Birds is beautifully written and engrossing.
The alchemical tale of separated twins/principles Roger and Dodger and their attempts to find their way back to each other are thwarted by parents, friends, and the master alchemist who created them and wants to sacrifice them on the altar of his power. Seanan McGuire's writing is always entertaining, and this tale is satisfyingly twisty and emotional both.
7. Before Mars by Emma Newman
I read several books from this series this year, and there were almost two on this list. Before Mars was the one that made it through, an examination of memory, amnesia, dissatisfaction with being a parent, art, and corporations that are perfectly willing to sacrifice many to save the members of their boards. The main character is sent to Mars to paint landscapes (and do science), but finds eerie relics that suggest she has been here before. But it could be suspended animation psychosis. Or?
Seanan McGuire was the one author who did manage to appear twice on this list. I've enjoyed all the Wayward Children books, but this is one of my favourites. We follow Lundy, who we met previously as an adult, through her childhood in and out of the Goblin Market, where everything is about giving fair value, and the Market takes any imbalance out of those who try to cheat the system, one way or another. Somehow, this made me feel like curling up in a cozy library and never coming out.
Oh fuck, this was good, a glorious angry rampage through a timeline that is under attack, where women and non-binary people fight off time traveller excursions from the worst bros you could imagine, who want to twist the world to a point where women have been robbed of virtually everything you can imagine. (The details are truly terrifying.) Centered around Comstockery and the Chicago World's Fair, as well as the riot grrls of the 1990s, it's also about the main character seeing how her life became what it is, in the midst of a war where everything is on the line.
What the hell even was this book? Lesbian necromancers in space, in the rotting remains of recognizable technology, holding themselves together by the skin of their...bones. Narrated by an opinionated, profanity-prone narrator. It shouldn't work. It's such a mishmash. And yet somehow it does, held together by sheer force of the author's will. Follow Gideon as she goes with the head of her house and arch-nemesis Harrow to answer the call of the Emperor and try to become one of his Lyctors. Oh yeah, it's part murder mystery as well. I mean, what genre isn't it?
It's no secret that I'm not that fond of a lot of YA fiction. Well, this year I found one that I wanted everyone to read, no matter their age. It's just plain good science fiction, the teenagers at the centre are believable and face real problems about sexuality, family, and being pursued by a non-custodial parent. Oh, and there's a cat-picture-loving AI who has been keeping tabs on the people who frequent their website. It's just delightful and satisfying, and one of the most interesting examinations of digital sentience I've read, full stop.
A young woman takes a road trip with the Lord of the Underworld through Jazz Age Mexico, in search of a way to save herself and him both. Look, if that description doesn't get you on board, I don't know what will. The characters are great, the mythology compelling, and Moreno-Garcia interweaves mythological concerns with real-world ones just beautifully. I want everyone to read this one.
If you know me in real life, this should cause negative amounts of surprise. I loved this book, I fell in love with this book, I've read it twice this year and both times found the precise point past which I could not put the book down until it was done and could not stop crying. It's beautifully written, it's just everything I want a book to be. Two opponents in a time war, Red and Blue, correspond over multiple strands of the potential timeline, finding more in common than they expected. I want everyone to read it.