Robert Batten

Sci-Fi and Fantasy Author

Tag: recommendations

2018 in Books

2018 was a good year for reading. As they do every year, Goodreads have started generating member’s “year in books” reports, and it’s always fun to dive in and remind yourself what you read (you can view mine here).

The Stats

This year, I finished 65 books, which is way up for me, but is also deceptive, as that includes children’s books I read with my son. If I remove those 31 short stories, that means I completed 34 novels in 2018.

In total, I read approximately 13,000 pages, with the shortest book being only 16 pages (Stephen Biesty’s Trains) and the longest book coming in at 768 pages (The Fireman by Joe Hill).

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Redshirts by John Scalzi

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that:

1. Every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces.
2. The ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations.  
3. At least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.

Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

I listened to the audible rendition of this novel, which is narrated by Will Wheaton. I mean, how could I not? It’s a comedic spoof of Star Trek narrated by Will Wheaton. It lived up to my expectations.

Redshirts is a send up of the sci-fi trope regarding crew members in red shirts dying on away missions (which originated with Star Trek). Whenever an adventure required someone to die for dramatic tension, you could be guaranteed an inconsequential character in a red shirt with minimal backstory would bite the bullet. In Redshirts, Scalzi digs into what might happen if the hapless souls became aware of their precarious existence. It’s a great concept and sets up some fantastic hijinks. I took a little longer to settle into this story, as I adjusted to the tack it was taking (after all, the entire point of this novel is poking fun at cliches), but I soon found myself absorbed with the characters and the mystery of, “What the hell is going on with the Intrepid?”

You’ll like this if…

If you love classic sci-fi like Star Trek and don’t mind making fun of it a little, or if you’re a fan of other send-ups like Galaxy Quest, then you should enjoy this novel.

Finding Redshirts

You can find Redshirts on Goodreads here, or pick up a copy on Amazon here. If you want the Will Wheaton audible version, that's over here.

If you liked this recommendation…

Why not check out my others? Each is for a book I enjoyed and would happily recommend to a friend.

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Leviathan Wakes by James SA Corey

I don't really do reviews here, but I do write recommendations for books I love. Enter Leviathan Wakes by James SA Corey.

My introduction to this world was The Expanse TV series. I hadn’t heard of the books before then, but thought the show looked cool from the previews and jumped in as soon as it came out. I wasn’t disappointed. The show quickly became one of my favorite sci-fi series and I knew I would need to read the books. I've now read the first installment and am hooked.

"Humanity has colonised the solar system - Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond - but the stars are still out of our reach."

Leviathan Wakes is the first book in the Expanse series, written by a duo under the pen name James S.A. Corey. The first thing that jumped out at me as I dove into its pages was the science. This is HARD sci-fi in the best way. I mean, check out this post on the mechanics of railguns in space. Couple that attention to detail with an epic plot and engaging, broken, beautiful characters, and you have an amazing novel on your hands. I devoured this book and have high hopes for the rest of the series.

"Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for - and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations - and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe."

Finding the book

You can read about Leviathan Wakes on Goodreads here, or pick up a copy from Amazon here.

While you're here...

Like my taste in books? Check out my other recommendations. I add to the collection regularly.

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Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

My audiobook this month has been Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi and narrated by Bahni Turpin. The novel is a fantasy that draws on African culture to give us a beautiful new world to explore, full of beautifully realized people and places. It tells us the story of Zélie Adebola, a young Diviner whose birthright was to become a powerful magi — until magic inexplicably left the world. Read the official synopsis:

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for an enemy.

Everything about this novel is captivating. The characters are deep and complex, the world is detailed, and the plot sings. This is further enhanced in the audiobook by Bahni Turpin’s narration, which is flawless. Children of Blood and Bone has already earned a lot of hype and been optioned for a motion picture, so you’ve likely heard the title before. If you haven’t read it, I recommend picking up a copy.

You can add it on Goodreads here or order it from Amazon here.

Before you go

If you enjoyed this recommendation, why don't you look at what else I've recommended?

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The Seclusion by Jacqui Castle

This month, the the Writing Bloc's Best of June post, I recommended The Seclusion by Jacqui Castle. Read all the recommendations by Writing Bloc contributors here.

The Seclusion is the debut novel from journalist Jacqui Castle and it’s a ripper. The story is set in a dystopian future America that has been twisted into an isolationist authoritarian nation, separated from the rest of the world by the enormous Northern and Southern Security Borders. All history predating the walls is banned and information is tightly controlled. In this new America, the people are ruled by a faceless board and mindless patriotism is favored above all else. Into this setting we meet Patricia. As an environmental scientist, she’s one of the few people permitted to roam beyond the city walls. It’s while on one of these research trips she stumbles upon a trove of forbidden information that triggers a harrowing sequence of events.

In the year 2090, America has walled itself off from the rest of the world. When her father is arrested by the totalitarian Board, a young woman sets out to escape the only country she’s ever known.
While on a routine assignment scouting the viability of dwindling natural resources outside the massive urban centers most American citizens call home, Patricia ’Patch’ and her co-worker Rexx discover a relic from the past containing dangerous contraband―unedited books from before The Seclusion. These texts will spark an unquenchable thirst for the truth that sees Patch’s father arrested by the totalitarian Board.
Evading her own arrest, Patch and Rexx set out across a ruined future United States, seeking some way to escape the only home they’ve ever known. Along the way, they learn about how their country came to be this way and fall in love. But their newfound knowledge may lead to their own demise.

There’s no pretending The Seclusion isn’t political. It was written before the election of Trump, but many will see it as prescient, with the world it paints an extreme conclusion to the right-wing populism currently sweeping not just the USA, but many other countries as well. Basically, if you’re a racist, right-wing conservative who doesn’t believe in human rights, you’re probably not going to enjoy The Seclusion. Suck it.

I loved this novel. Patricia is a great protagonist who grows throughout as events spiral out of control. The world, though extreme, is well realized and the journey from present-day to dystopian future all too believable.

Disclaimer: The author and I are both contributors to the Writing Bloc. I read an advance review copy of this novel. However, I had already pre-ordered and paid for a retail copy before receiving the version I reviewed.
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The Seclusion is out now, you can look it up on Goodreads or order it from Amazon. If your local bookstore doesn't have a copy, ask them to order it in for you!

Before you go

If you enjoyed this recommendation, why not see what else I have for you?

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The Fireman by Joe Hill

Over on the Writing Bloc we’ve kicked off monthly book recommendations from contributors. Our first post is up, covering our recommendations from March. My recommendation this month is The Fireman by Joe Hill. You can find the recommendation below, or read all the recommendations over on The Writing Bloc.

The Fireman by Joe Hill

My book of the month is The Fireman, by Joe Hill. It came to me as a recommendation from one of my editors, which is high praise in itself. The Fireman is an apocalyptic horror by best-selling author Joe Hill. It takes us to a version of our world that is burning. Literally. A mysterious disease, known as dragonscale due to the markings it creates on the body, is causing mass spontaneous combustion. With the sheer number of people catching fire, almost everything else seems to be going up in flames too, including civilization. Into this setting we meet Harper, an uncompromisingly positive nurse with a fondness for Julie Andrews. Harper is amazing. She’s a charming mix of innocence, courage, and intelligence. Experiencing the world through her point of view is a delight.

“Harper put the novel back on his desk, cornering the edges of the manuscript so it stood in a neat, crisp pile. With its clean white title page and clean white edges, it looked as immaculate as a freshly made bed in a luxury hotel. People did all sorts of unspeakable things in hotel beds.”

The story is a slow burn, building the intensity as the disasters mount. The world is well-realized and the dragonscale fascination, but throughout it’s the characters and the prose that shine. The novel telegraphs each of the disasters and betrayals beautifully, letting you stress as the tension builds without spoiling the moment when it finally arrives.

“Almost as an afterthought, she put a box of kitchen matches on top of it as a paperweight. If her Dragonscale started to smoke and itch, she wanted to have them close at hand. If she had to burn, she felt it only fair that the fucking book burn first.”

If you enjoy dystopian / apocalyptic fiction, you should absolutely read The Fireman. You can find it on Goodreads here or Amazon here.

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