Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie: Sci-fi novel in the space opera tradition which swept all the major sci-fi awards last year and is, I think, the first book to do so. All the critics are comparing her to Ian M Banks, or ‘the successor to Banks’, and that’s fair enough, but I also think there’s a lot of Ursula Le Guin’s influence in there (most of the characters are members of an ungendered humanoid race). Highly recommended. My only criticism is that in sci-fi/fantasy books with exotic character names I find it really hard to keep track of everyone.
American Prometheus by Martin J. Sherwin and Kai Bird: A biography of Robert Oppenheimer. The science writing isn’t as good as I’d like. (The gold standard of science biographies is, for me, James Glieck’s book about Feynman). If you don’t already know a lot about quantum physics then the story of Oppenheimer’s contributions to it won’t mean much. The sections on Los Alamos are excellent. I’ve wanted to read a good nonfiction account of the Manhattan Project for a long time and this was it. Oppenheimer was under FBI surveillance for much of his adult life, and his biographers had access to the FBI archives, so the level of insight they have into their subject is almost unprecedented. This could be an unexpected side-effect of the modern surveillance state: our ancestors will get really kick-ass biographies.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: My wife enjoyed it. I started but didn’t finish it. I didn’t like Atkinson’s superior, sneering attitude towards her characters, which the reader is supposed to share. Also I’m really sick of British writers writing about World War II.
Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle: Not for everyone but I loved it. NYT review here. If you describe the book in terms of plot it sounds banal and weird, but it’s an example of how clever story-telling and great prose can transform something simple into something dark and complex and brilliant.
The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrère: Carrère wrote a biography of Phillip K Dick called I am alive and you are dead. It’s my favorite literary biography; I’ve reread it a few times and always felt bad for the author that this book wasn’t better known, and that he hadn’t made it as a writer (because if he’d published more books I would have heard of them, right?) Then I stumbled across this Paris Review interview with Carrère and learned that he’s one of the superstars of contemporary French literature. (I assumed he was a Hispanic writer working in the US.) Anyway, The Adversary is his best-selling true crime novel. It is amazing. I’m going to read everything else he’s written.