DeFlip Side #133: Best (and Worst) Reads of 2012

DeFlip Side #133


Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.

Dust off your library cards, because it’s time, once again, for DeFlip Side’s annual Best Reads segment, where I outline the best and worst genre books I’ve read in the past year.

As always, the books featured weren’t necessarily published in the last year; that’s why I call it “Best Reads” instead of “Best Books.” And some of you may experience déjà vu, since one of the books featured tonight has been reviewed on a previous DeFlip Side segment. Now, on with the list for 2012!

(Click the book covers to get your own copies!)

Book 5) The Apocalypse Codex (A Laundry Files Novel) by Charles Stross

Stross brings us the fourth outing of computational demonologist turned quasi-reluctant spy Bob Howard.

While working with a super-secret arm of the Laundry to investigate suspect members of the British government, Bob stumbles upon an American televangelist’s plot to usher in a reality-shattering catastrophe.

Though The Apocalypse Codex veers slightly into been-there-done-that territory—as the extra-dimensional threat Bob faces is one we’ve seen in a previous Laundry novel—the book is most notable for bringing Bob—and the Laundry series—to the next level. These changes should make Bob a somewhat different character moving forward, and I look forward to the new and interesting Laundry stories this portends.

Book 4) What I Found at Hoole by Jeffrey E. Barlough

What I Found at Hoole is volume seven in Barlough’s Western Lights series. Upon arriving at Hoole to claim an inheritance at the upland estate of his late uncle Henry Clement, narrator Ingram Somvervell sees a mysterious light atop Cowdrie Beacon, the peak that looms above the great house. Sir Henry was excavating ruins at the site, which he believed to be a grave-mound of the mysterious and supernatural elds.

Soon Sir Henry’s ghost starts angrily imploring Ingram to inspect the estate’s dilapidated chapel; what’s more, Ingram discovers facts suggesting that Hoole’s rustic residents are not what they appear to be.

What I Found at Hoole is a tangential follow-up to my favorite Western Lights book, The House in the High Wood, and they share a kindred, horrific spirit. The dark tone and haunting outcome of What I Found at Hoole makes it an eerily wonderful addition to the Western Lights canon.

(Read my full review of What I Found at Hoole here.)

Book 3) A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

This long-awaited fifth volume of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy saga does not disappoint! Which is good news for fans like me who found the fourth volume, A Feast for Crows, somewhat lacking. But A Dance with Dragons gets the story back on track, bringing Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen firmly back front and center, showcasing Martin’s talent for characterization and suspense.

Though A Dance with Dragons doesn’t pack the narrative punch of A Storm of Swords, it does lead the story and characters in some unexpected directions, and is a fine entry in the A Song of Ice and Fire series overall.

I’m looking forward to the next volume, The Winds of Winter. So get writing, George!

Book 2) Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are by Sebastian Seung

I bought Connectome shortly after producing a DeFlip Side episode in which I explored the process of tissue plastination, and its implications for achieving immortality. A key component of that process will be the ability to map your connectome—much like your genome—creating a model of how every neuron in your brain connects to and interacts with every other neuron.

In Connectome, author Sebastian Seung recounts how he and other scientists are undertaking this daunting task, hoping to learn how the brain really works and ushering in cures to Alzheimer’s, autism and schizophrenia.

Connectome is an interesting, informative and accessible read about the current state of brain science. Seung has a good sense of humor, and his fascinating research into the brain’s wiring tells us just how little we really know about how the mind works. But it tantalizes us with the seemingly limitless potential to enrich our lives and increase our longevity once we finally crack the code.

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for. The best read of the year is…

Book 1) Railsea by China Miéville

In this reimagining of Moby Dick, Miéville trades the whaling ship for a train traversing the railsea—a jumbled landscape of rails extending to the horizon in every direction.

Riding this tangle of tracks is Sham ap Soorap, apprentice on a mole train in pursuit of Mocker-Jack, a giant ivory-colored mole. Sham dreams of becoming a salvager, searching the railsea for discarded technology from aliens who once used Earth as a waystation. But when Sham discovers a bit of salvage the likes of which no one has ever seen, he is thrust into a series dangerous exploits that span the railsea and beyond.

Railsea is a rollicking, swashbuckling adventure book for boys, that sings with Miéville’s unfettered and playful prose. He’s clearly having a ball as the omniscient narrator here, and I was swept away by his creativity and craft. Engaging, funny and thoroughly charming, Railsea easily stakes its claim as my best read for 2012.

(Read my full review of Railsea here.)

Which brings us to what is undeniably the oddest worst read of the year I’ve ever picked, since I love the book, even though the story was lousy. This literary contradiction is none other than:

Worst Read) Shatnerquake by Jeff Burk

A reality bomb is detonated at the first-ever ShatnerCon, bringing to life every TV character William Shatner has ever portrayed: Captain Kirk, T.J. Hooker, Animated Series Kirk, Denny Crane, Rescue 911 Shatner, Priceline Shatner—and they’re all intent on killing the real William Shatner!

How can you go wrong with a premise like this? Sadly, author Jeff Burk fails to do anything even remotely interesting with this brilliant idea. He never even attempts to capture the unique voices of Shatner’s many characters and play them off one another. Instead they all go on a murderous, one-note rampage that makes even a meager 82 pages seem like too much.

But I still love Shatnerquake as an object unto itself, because the fact that the book even exists trumps anything as trifling as what’s actually inside it. It’s a tribute to a celebrated Science Fiction legend and a conversation piece that’s genuinely wacky and arresting, at least on the surface—exactly like William Shatner. And because it so perfectly captures and emulates the essence of the man it sets out to lampoon, it ceases to be a book and becomes a piece of genuine pop art, legitimate in its own right and something to be sought after. This is one you should definitely judge by its cover. Just don’t venture beyond that…

(Read my full review of Shatnerquake here.)

So there you have my year in reading. It wasn’t a remarkable one, truth be told, which is why this list is clogged with middle volumes from various series I like. Sorry about that. But, as always, if you read any of these books based on my recommendations, tell me what you think in the comments section below.

And if you have any titles of your own to recommend, I’m all ears. There’s always room on the shelf for one more!