Welcome everyone, I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.
Buff your bifocals, because it’s time for my annual Best Reads show, where I tell you about the best genre books I’ve read in the last year. As always, the books featured weren’t necessarily published in the last year. Hence the title “Best Reads” instead of “Best Books.”
Now, on with the list for 2017!
Book 5) Star Trek: Deep Space 9 Relaunch Series edited by Marco Palmieri
After a recent Star Trek: Deep Space Nine rewatch I was eager to keep the story going. So I dove into the DS9 Relaunch series, which brings readers up to speed with Kira, Nog, Quark, Jake, Cassidy, Julian and Ezri post-series finale — and introduces a host of new characters, including Ro Laren as the station’s new security chief.
I read 10 of these serialized novels in 2017, and enjoyed just about all of them. But I’d say the best of the bunch so far is A Stitch in Time by Andrew J. Robinson, which chronicles the life of one of my favorite characters, Elim Garak. Robinson is the actor who played Garak on TV, and he imbued the enigmatic Cardassian spy-turned-tailor with just the right amount of dark mystery. And I’m happy to say his book does that wonderful performance justice, adding even more complexity and sympathy to an already fascinating character. And if you like it, check out the first four books in the Relaunch series below:
Avatar Book 1 / Avatar Book 2 / Abyss / Demons of Air and Darkness
Book 4) (TIE) The Nightmare Stacks / The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross
Stross’s Laundry Files series is a DeFlip Side Best Reads perennial, and here I go again, with the two latest volumes in the ongoing saga of Bob Howard, an increasingly major player in a super-secret British spy agency that protects against occult threats from beyond spacetime.
The Nightmare Stacks is actually somewhat of a departure, replacing Bob’s first-person account with that of rookie Laundry recruit Alex Schwartzman, who also happened to turn into a vampire a couple of books back. Anyway, nerdy Alex has his hands full when he discovers that his new girlfriend is actually the vanguard of a dark elven army preparing to invade Leeds.
But Bob is back big time in The Delirium Brief — and honestly the events in this book are so tied to the larger series that a plot summary makes no sense. Let’s just say that even after eight books, Stross keeps the comically bizarre turns and wonderful character beats coming. I’ve been telling you to read the Laundry series for years. What are you waiting for?
Book 3) The Green Mile by Stephen King
I read and talked about King a lot in 2017, thanks to my Castle Rock TV Podcast. And after revisiting such dense King classics as It and ’Salem’s Lot, the relatively breezy and streamlined Green Mile was a breath of fresh air.
As most of you probably already know from the Tom Hanks movie, the book is about 1932 death row prison guard Paul Edgecombe who takes charge of an odd inmate named John Coffey, convicted of brutally raping and murdering two white girls. But Paul soon discovers that the gigantic but gentle black man has an incredible supernatural gift — and that he may be wrongly accused.
Now this book is not without its problems — the aforementioned “Magical Negro” being chief among them. But The Green Mile is an amazing read. My biggest issue was that I had seen the movie, so I knew how it was going to end. Had I gone in without the spoilers, I’m sure this book would have placed higher on the list.
Book 2) Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson
Wilson has become one of my go-to hard Science Fiction authors, and this foray into time travel and alternate universes doesn’t disappoint. Last Year is told from the point of view of Jesse Cullum, an 1876 Ohio native working security in the City of Futurity, set up by time travelers from the 21st Century.
After Jesse thwarts an assassination attempt on President Ulysses S. Grant, he’s granted behind-the-scenes access to the City’s time travel secrets. And he soon discovers that the visitors from the future are not as benign as they seem.
The idea of time travel branching off into different dimensions isn’t new in Science Fiction, but Wilson tames this big SFnal trope by grounding his story in the growing relationship between Jesse and his 21st Century partner Elizabeth. There are corporate bad guys and hidden agendas, but in the end, the book is most memorable for small, personal story beats that explore bigger questions, making Last Year exemplary of traditional Science Fiction.
Which leads us to book number one. The DeFlip Side best read of 2017 is…
Book 1) Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb
This is a completely self-indulgent and kinda redundant choice for my top pick, but I just don’t care. Robin Hobb dominated the 2016 best reads list after I binged on more than a dozen novels in her Realm of the Elderlings Fantasy series. And 2017’s Assassin’s Fate wraps up the story of that series’ two main characters — Fitz and the Fool.
As with the Laundry series, a plot summary makes little sense at this stage of the game. Suffice it to say that if you’re familiar with the story, Assassin’s Fate brings the saga of royal assassin FitzChivalry Farseer to an epic and satisfying conclusion, while leaving the door open for further related adventures.
And if you’re not familiar with the story, get reading. Fans of Big Fat Fantasy won’t find any better than Robin Hobb.
Honorable Mention) The Madonna and the Starship by James Morrow
The Madonna and the Starship is set in the Golden Age of live television, where Kurt Jastrow — Science Fiction author and head writer on the NBC kiddie serial “Brock Barton and His Rocket Rangers” — is contacted by actual aliens that look like 7-foot-tall blue lobsters, and unwittingly drawn into a deadly showdown between facts and faith.
Morrow uses a hearty mix of philosophy and gags to focus his keen satiric eye on science, religion, and the uneasy intersection of the two.
The Madonna and The Starship is in keeping with Morrow’s recent string of novellas that send up 20th Century pop culture. Others include Shambling Towards Hiroshima and The Asylum of Dr. Caligari. They’re all smart, thought-provoking and tons of fun — classic Morrow, through and through.
Best Graphic Novel) The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, art by Robert Hack
After reading and loving Afterlife with Archie — which brings a zombie apocalypse to Riverdale — giving The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina a go was a no-brainer. Written in the same horrific vein, the book is a 1960s period piece that plunges everyone’s favorite teenaged witch into a dark world of dangerous powers fueled by Satan worship and human sacrifice.
Oh, great, you’re thinking. Subversive exploitation of a beloved character for ironic hipster consumption. But the book goes far beyond that, with compelling stories that balance horror, family drama and teen angst. And if some of your favorite Riverdale characters make some unexpectedly shocking cameos, what’s the harm?
Now let’s talk about harm. Because this is the part of the show that’s traditionally reserved for my “Worst Read” of the year. And you know what? I’m not doing it. Consider the “Worst Read” portion of the show officially retired.
Why, you ask? Well, it might have something to do with the fact that I didn’t read anything especially slam-worthy in 2017. But honestly, there’s already too much divisiveness in the world, and I no longer see any benefit in crapping all over someone else’s work. Kumbyah, snowflakes.
So let’s sum it up. I read 22 books and three graphic novels this year, and gave myself permission to stop reading two books that I just wasn’t enjoying — which is another milestone in personal growth for me. For all that 2017 was pretty amorphous, bookwise, because I was so preoccupied with work and podcasting. Here’s to hoping for a more compelling 2018.
As always, if you read any of these books based on my recommendations, let me know what you think. And if you have any titles of your own to suggest, I’m all ears. There’s always room on the shelf for one more.