2022 in Reading
Here’s what I read in 2022.
- Standalone Novels
Here’s most all the books I read in 2022:
- Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Search by Gene Luen Yang (graphic novel)
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (audiobook)
- Homeland by Cory Doctorow
- Moonstruck Vol 1: Magic to Brew by Grace Ellis and Shae Beagle (comics)
- Dwarf Stars 2021: The Best Very Short Speculative Poems Published in 2020 edited by Charles Christian (poetry)
- Moonstruck Vol 2: Some Enchanted Evening by Grace Ellis and Shae Beagle (comics)
- Moonstruck Vol 3: Troubled Waters by Grace Ellis and Shae Beagle (comics)
- Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow (audiobook)
- The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham
- The King’s Blood by Daniel Abraham
- Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (audiobook)
- The Tyrant’s Law by Daniel Abraham
- The Widow’s House by Daniel Abraham
- The Spider’s War by Daniel Abraham
- The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood (audiobook)
- The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
- The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu
- The Veiled Throne by Ken Liu
- The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry (audiobook)
- Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
- Speaking Bones by Ken Liu (audiobook)
- Star*Line 44.2 ed F.J. Bergmann (poetry)
- Yotsuba&!, Vol. 1 by Kiyohiko Azuma (manga)
- Yotsuba&!, Vol. 2 by Kiyohiko Azuma (manga)
- Yotsuba&!, Vol. 3 by Kiyohiko Azuma (manga)
- The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (audiobook)
- Zoned in the USA: The Origins and Implications of American Land-Use Regulation by Sonia A. Hirt
- A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
- Chokepoint Capitalism: How Big Tech and Big Content Captured Creative Labor Markets and How We’ll Win Them Back by Rebecca Giblin & Cory Doctorow
- A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers
- Yotsuba&!, Vol. 4 by Kiyohiko Azuma (manga)
- Dedicated: The Case for Commitment in an Age of Infinite Browsing by Pete Davis (audiobook)
- Unicorn Famous: Another Phoebe and Her Unicorn Adventure by Dana Simpson (comics)
- Star*Line 44.3 edited by Jean-Paul L. Garnier (poetry)
- Unicorn Playlist: Another Phoebe and Her Unicorn Adventure by Dana Simpson (comics)
Next, I shall squee about my favorites.
Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
Light from Uncommon Stars is a fascinating, inventive, unique, bold, and modern novel. It’s about a trans girl, violin competitions, deals with demons, family heritage, donuts, interstellar refugees, kindness, community, and attempts toward redemption. There is a lot going on in this book, and it both hilariously clashes and ties together spectacularly. If you are looking for modern, diverse SFF, read this. If you are looking for something different, or if you want to be surprised and inspired, read this.
The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood
To me, The Unspoken Name feels like a classic fantasy novel reinvented for the present, modern day. It’s creative, compelling, queer, and gritty. It’s a good book, and I recommend it, particularly for fans of classic secondary-world fantasies who are looking for something new and modern.
The narrative is tightly focused on the characters, their struggles, and their journey. The world surrounding the characters is fun, fascinating, and believable, but it is never spelled out in the level of detail I would have liked. I personally would have welcomed some worldbuilding infodumps, but we never got them. I can’t fault the novel for this though — I received enough information about the world to envision fantastical settings, understand the characters, and follow the plot.
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
This book is often pitched as “Pride and Prejudice with magic.” That’s definitely a fair pitch, and I enjoyed it for being that. But it has some notable divergences as well. Shades of Milk and Honey is shorter, simpler, and more accessible than Pride and Prejudice, and I appreciated it for all of those reasons. It’s also Mary Robinette Kowal’s debut novel, and it does feel like a debut. There was one (more action-oriented) scene near the climax where it was challenging for me to clearly understand what was going on, and the conclusion made sense but also felt somewhat jolting.
If you like Jane Austen or regency romances and want more, I’ll definitely recommend this book/series, especially if you are a younger reader. If you want to try a regency romance but want something easier to read, I would also recommend Shades of Milk and Honey. I fell in this second camp: I read it because I wanted to try something different, and I quite enjoyed it for that.
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
The Goblin Emperor tells the story of Maia as he unexpectedly becomes emperor and navigates the intrigue of court. Maia is a competent and thoughtful protagonist, but he is not prepared for the world of court etiquette, politics, and intrigue that he is thrust into. This is a smart book with wonderful worldbuilding, filled with politics, power, and intrigue — and those are honestly executed with excellence — but at it’s core, The Goblin Emperor is a heartwarming book about kindness: Maia’s internal struggles to act charitably to those who have wronged him, Maia’s care and attention for the common people, and the bridges (both literal and figurative) Maia is able to build with those in his court, across his kingdom, and beyond.
I did find this to be a challenging book to read on two counts. First, a few of the characters are on the receiving end of nasty violence. This was handled thoughtfully, but you should be prepared for this before reading the book. Second, it was hard for me to keep track of all of the character names and special terminology used to illustrate this fantasy world. I was able to follow along well enough through context clues, but I do feel like there was quite a bit I may have missed or been unable to appreciate fully. I listened to the audiobook, and I didn’t have the capacity to listen quite as closely as I would have liked, so a good chunk of this is on me, not Katherine Addison. But this is a relatively demanding novel. If you’ve already got some reading momentum built up, this isn’t a concern, but if someone is trying to get back into reading after a break, this probably isn’t the first book you should pick up.
Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother series
Cory Doctorow has published three novels in this series: Little Brother, Homeland, and most recently Attack Surface. Little Brother and Homeland are both young adult novels centered on the character Marcus Yallow, but Attack Surface is an adult novel centered on a different character. Little Brother is very much a post 9/11 novel, whereas Homeland is a Snowden-era novel and Attack Surface engages with more recent (and evergreen) topics including protest movements, authoritarian regimes, zero-day vulnerabilities, and shady defense contractors.
Attack Surface was my favorite, largely because I prefer adult over young adult reads and because the themes and technologies in Attack Surface feel more contemporary and relevant, but these are all fun, interesting reads. This series is centrally concerned with technology, activism, and politics — if those topics don’t get you excited, this series probably isn’t for you. But if you do enjoy those topics, I’d easily recommend this series. It’s well-plotted and paced, and it has interesting, likable, and fun characters.
Becky Chambers’ Monk and Robot series
I deeply appreciate Becky Chambers’ Monk and Robot series, which thus far consists of two novellas: A Psalm for the Wild-Built and A Prayer for the Crown-Shy.
Practically, these books are about a nonbinary tea monk who befriends a robot, the first robot that humans have seen in at least a generation. Thematically, these are quiet, introspective books about ecological and social sustainability, spirituality, purpose, and robot consciousness. There are four things in particular Becky Chambers is doing with this series that I love.
First, this series depicts a radically different society, one fundamentally designed around sustainability. Humans have confined themselves to only half the world, leaving the other half alone for nature. Computers are designed to be repairable and built to last decades. Buildings and plastics are designed to biodegrade when they are no longer used, rather than stick around for centuries. This world is hopeful, cozy, and inspiring.
Second, these books are deeply concerned with the very meaning and purpose of life. The main characters are relatable and likable, and they are asking big, deep questions and searching for answers. These books offer both wisdom and serious prompts for reflection.
Third, Becky Chambers depicts an interesting, fun, and thoughtfully-designed religious tradition. The religious tradition centered in this series is at once wonderfully original and strangely familiar. I hope Becky Chambers publishes more material set in this world so that I can explore more deeply this tradition, but for now, I’ll just say that I genuinely love the idea of tea monks, and we need more of them.
Fourth, the series includes fun and interesting robots and, through them, intelligently explores consciousness and personhood. If I had to use one word to describe the robots in this series, I’d say: naturalists. They are fascinated with watching, participating in, and stewarding the natural world. They are also distinctly different from and weird in comparison to humans, in ways that are both fun to read but also poignant. For example, as I recall in one scene, the robot Mosscap tells the monk Dex that it uses “it” pronouns. Dex finds this surprising, but Mosscaps reminds Dex that we don’t need to think we are the same in order to recognize that we have equal value. That’s such a good point! We should have more respect for (rather than superiority towards) the world around us, in particular when it comes to our differences.
Becky Chambers’ Monk and Robot series is delightful, intelligent, and life-giving. It’s not exactly a thrilling or exciting read, but rather it’s quiet, thoughtful, hopeful, and feels quite a bit like home.
Daniel Abraham’s The Dagger and the Coin series
The Dagger and the Coin is an epic fantasy quintet distinctly set in the Western fantasy tradition. Although it takes place in a secondary world (not our own), the fictional continent where the story occurs bears a striking resemblance to Europe, both in terms of geography as well as culture and politics. This is intentional. In interviews, Daniel Abraham has noted that one of his aims with this series was to tell a more typical Western fantasy and to explore this sub-genre. But that doesn’t mean this series is unoriginal. For example, there are no dwarves or elves in this series, but there are several different distinctive sub-races of humans. And the main magic in the series isn’t your typical wizard who can shoot fireballs but rather a group of characters who can tell truth from lies and who can be impossibly convincing. This is a Western epic fantasy, but it’s not derivative. Rather, it’s intentionally and creatively engaging an established genre and an ongoing conversation. And it did that very well.
As the name of the series implies, The Dagger and the Coin is centrally concerned with war, militarism, and violence on one hand and with economics, finance, and banking on the other. One of the main characters in the series leads a nation on a campaign of conquest, while another (a banker) attempts to use the power of her bank to resist that militarism. If either of those topics sounds interesting to you, you’ll likely enjoy the series. I appreciated the “dagger” side of the series for the social commentary, and I enjoyed the “coin” side of the series because, as it turns out, medieval banking is fascinating and fun! I also appreciated exploring how commerce can be a force for peace, countervailing against war. In our capitalist world, commerce so often feels like a force of violence, so I appreciate how this series intelligently contrasted the two.
As with The Expanse (which Daniel Abraham co-wrote), this series is well-executed. The characters felt like real people and had good arcs. I really enjoyed and appreciated most of the characters, even and especially the villains. The world was immersive, interesting, and realistic, down to the last chamber pot, but the focus is always kept on either the characters or the plot, which was fun, engaging, and dynamic. The chapters are a perfect length. Each book in the series is satisfying, and the series as a whole is particularly fun and powerful.
The series tells a complete story, has a strong conclusion, and wraps things up quite nicely. But it does, very intentionally, leave one plot thread open at the end. As a reader and reviewer, I am perfectly content and happy with how the series ended. But as a fan, I want more. Daniel Abraham, if you are reading this, please know that I will gladly and excitedly pay for another book set in this world exploring this plot thread you left unfinished.
Ken Liu’s The Dandelion Dynasty series
This series is an extraordinary achievement, and I loved it. These books are fun, immersive reads that are deeply layered with meaning. I enjoyed the plot, savored the characters, and fell in love with the world. I don’t think I have encountered worldbuilding so rich and detailed as this before. The world even has ancient sages and an intellectual history that I truly wish I could take a college course exploring.
This is an epic fantasy series that has the mindset of science fiction. That is, this is a world that’s home to gods, dragons, and the impossible, but it’s also filled with scientists and engineers, characters who believe the universe is knowable, who attempt to make sense of it, and who build things of wonder. For example, this series depicts the most believable dragons I’ve ever encountered, and one scene during a cooking competition depicts a pressure cooker through a science fictional lens.
If science isn’t your thing, what about politics and justice? The central characters in this series all struggle in their own (sometimes divergent) ways to bring about a better world, even and especially when it’s hard, unclear, or requires sacrifice. The central characters are — indeed, the series itself is — deeply concerned with morality, ethics, and character.
After reading The Dandelion Dynasty, I better understand why people were so impressed and shaped by Lord of the Rings. To me at least, this series is a revelation, something foundational. I’ve never read anything so immersive, unique, and powerful. I will definitely be returning to re-read this series for years to come, and I hope I can read more stories set in this world sometime in the future.