2022 was a pretty good year for me, reading wise. I managed to hit my desired goal of reading over three hundred books. I admit, I cheated with this quite badly by reading a huge ton of comics on Kindle Unlimited and Comixology. Honestly, outside of Roy Thomas, I may now be the world’s greatest expert on Red Sonja. However, I still managed to read a lot of books that I had on my reading list before today.
Unfortunately, I’m absolutely terrible at narrowing down my lists so I’ve ended up with no less than four categories of top five books I’ve read this year. I hope you’ll take a moment to read my comments on the ones I’ve enjoyed the most.
You’ll note it’s a mix of classics, oldies, indies, and new releases.
Mickey Spillane remains one of the controversial big names in Detective fiction. Mostly because he does the hard boiled thing of Chandler and Hammett then amps up the sex as well as violence to the 11. He’s more the Punisher than Magnum PI. I, The Jury is the best of his novels and the most entertaining of his cases with Mike still being probably the worst PI ever. Don’t worry, he eventually figures out who did it after the rest of the cast is dead.
4. The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
James Ellroy is the master of recreating 1940s LA in a hyper-stylized ugly but entrancing image. It is a racist, misogynist, classicst corrupt city that is, nevertheless, full of beautiful women as well as manly men (as well as how those categories limit people). Centered around the real-life murder of Elizabeth Short, it is actually the story of two cops with one significantly more corrupt than the later. It’s a shame the movie version cut out so much of the book because it’s a really fascinating tale from beginning to end.
3. The Law by Jim Butcher
I know, it’s actually urban fantasy but I have to say The Law is probably my favorite Dresden Files book in years despite its short length. While a lot of fans were happy when Jim Butcher tried to move away from noir detective fiction to high stakes urban fantasy. Here, it’s trying to help an ex-prostitute turned school teacher and all the better for it. I wish Jim Butcher would do more stuff like this. It’s why I love his anthology books.
2. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
The classic book that helped start it all, The Big Sleep is the best of Raymond Chandler’s work. If you’ve seen the Humprey Bogart adaptation, you’ve seen a 75% faithful reproduction but I think the book works better. Well, ignoring there’s a lot less sexual chemistry in the book. Phillip Marlowe is almost celibate in the books, disgusted by all the sleazy goings on around him. He’s a much nicer private detective in this book than the others in my list and, ironically, more so than in his later novels.
1. The Maltese Falcon by Dashielle Hammett
The actual detective novel that started the hardboiled genre, I’m a much bigger fan of Sam Spade than I am of Phillip Marlowe. Part of it is the fact that Sam is significantly more mercenary than Phillip. He’s certainly after justice for his dead partner but he also wants to make a profit from it as well. I’d say the movie version is actually 99% accurate and the few changes are almost incidental versus The Big Sleep.
Space Opera/Military Sci-Fi
5. Intersellar Gunrunner by by James Wolanyk
I really love anti-heroes, I know, how could anyone tell? However, I think Bodhi may be the worst of them all. An arms dealer who liberally sells to both sides during the various civil wars populating the galaxy, he’s also someone who tampers with forces beyond human comprehension with the casualness of a used car salesmen hocking lemons. I just found this book and its sequels consistently entertaining. It’s also a series with a definitive end.
I love big heroic space opera stories about guys (or gals) who are on the political outs but rally their crew to pull off some miracle that gets them restored. In this respect, the Grimm’s War series is similar to Honor Harrington by David Weber’s On Basilisk Station. Jacob Grimm tried to heroically save the day during a mission and a bunch of children were killed as a result (what they were doing there in the first place never answered). However, he’s moved to a problem area with slavers and a corrupt local government that is just in need of his touch.
3. Columbus Day by Craig Alanson
The Expeditionary Force series is a drug that I just can’t quit. It’s the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of wise-cracking protagonists making constant pop culture references while coming up with ridiculous but effective plans. It’s a book series that I read pretty much straight through and with fifteen books as well as an audiobook drama, that’s impressive.
I really enjoyed this book because it was remarkably low-stakes compared to the normal space opera I read. That changes in subsequent volumes but I loved how the story is essentially about military embezzlement. Jack Romanoff has been assigned to the last Hunter dreadnought, ships in service a century ago, that receive massive budgets every year to maintain. Except, someone has been siphoning off this one for decades. Wouldn’t you know that now would be a very good time to have a mile-long starship?
1. The Terran Privateer by Glynn Stewart
Glynn Stewart is another comfort food space opera for me. In this case, the Terran Privateer is about a young plucky heroine who is determined to liberate Earth from a conquering space empire. Except, well, the space empire isn’t that bad and the alternatives were far worse. It’s an interesting political thought experiment I very much enjoyed.
5. The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison
I was a huge fan of The Goblin Emperor and very eager to see what else she might come up with in the same steampunk fantasy world. What I got was a fascinating noir detective story set in a fantasy world with a medium that just so happens to be gay. I really enjoyed the opera singer murders and all of the crooked blackmail as well as necromancy around it.
4. Azure Bonds by Kate Novac and Jeff Grubbs
The Forgotten Realms are not quite as famous as it’s most famous resident in Drizzt Do’Urden but it has plenty of other heroes. My favorite of these is Alias, a beautiful redheaded swordswoman and her dinosaur man, companion, Dragonbait. It is a hilarious off-kilter fantasy story and I really enjoyed it from beginning to end.
I’m a huge fan of Matthew Davenport’s cheeky fun Andrew Doran novels. Basically, Indiana Jones versus Cthulhu cultists teamed up with Nazis. However, I think I prefer this book tremendously more. A group of college students at Miskatonic University are gathered together to prevent the apocalypse through the power of their plucky heroism! It’s a lot like Super Powereds by Drew Hayes but with a bunch of mythos jokes. Urban fantasy rather than horror and all the better for it.
2. The Cape is a Lie by MK Gibson
MK Gibson is someone I’m terribly biased toward as a fellow indie author. Confession, I love his books and he loves mine to the point he gave me a cameo appearance in Agents of Mortal (before I was arrested for Cthulhu worship). However, I think The Cape is a Lie is a great superhero novel parody. A social media influencer figures out that a lot of superhero fights are faked and wants to know how deep it goes.
Possibly the biggest winner among indie novels for 2022, Legends and Lattes came at the right time and was just a fantastic book all round. An orc barbarian wants to open a coffee shop and slowly develops every single trick that modern ones has. It has a Discworld sensibility but less cynical (as well as humorous but that’s not what this book is about). I loved it and so does everyone else I know who has read it.
5. Auxillary: London 2039 by Jon Richter
A detective novel in the age of public surveillance and an AI that manages everything for the police. I really enjoyed this one because it got surprisingly dark and the author is primarily a detective novelist and thriller who just so happens to have written a cyberpunk novel. It’s also interesting to see a Chandler-esque story from across the pond. The ending is easily the best part and genuinely shocking.
4. The Big Sheep by Robert Kroese
A delightful cyberpunk parody of detective fiction. In the future of LA where a good chunk of the city has been walled off and left to its own devices, two private detectives are hired by a genetics corporation to recover a missing genetically engineered sheep. They’re also hired to protect the star of a popular TV show who thinks she’s going crazy with missing time as well as people spotting her in multiple places. Yes, the foreshadowing is thick here but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a fantastic ride. I loved the crypto-currency themed sequel, The Last Iota, too.
3. The Blueprint by Wesley Cross
What if Tom Clancy wrote cyberpunk? Combining a technothriller with a cyberpunk novel is an interesting premise as this shows the downfall of a modern democratic state into becoming a megacorp dominated cyberpunk one. It’s interesting because our heroes really do want to save democracy, Jack Ryan, style but in the end only end up creating their own megacorp. That’s not a spoiler but the premise. Some of it is silly but I really liked this one.
2. Tronik by Rosie Record
California is walled off from the rest of the country and while I question the logistics of that, I absolutely love Fiona Tronick as a character. A spy for the police while keeping all of the punk attitude in public, she is torn by her own hypocrisy and the fact she hates the system but is caught up in it. This is some gritty well-designed cyberpunk and I absolutely loved it.
1. Nephilim: A Behind Blue Eyes Origin Story by Anna Mocikat
I’m a huge fan of Anna Mocikat’s indie cyberpunk series, Behind Blue Eyes, and was interested when she decided to start releasing novellas detailing elements of the series past. Having read the collected version all at once, I actually think it works really well as a horrifying dystopian novel. A young girl has her family killed and is forced into a training school for cyborgs ala Black Widow’s Red Room. It deals with a lot of horrifying adult topics of violence, politics, and sexuality but in a mature well-written way. We follow her to adulthood, knowing she’s going to become another cog in the fascist corporate machine.
Special Award: Best Superhero Novel
I’ve already given twenty novels but it’s my list so I can add one more.
The Vilification of Aqua Marine by Megan Mackie
I only read two superhero novels this year but loved both of them. The Vilification of Aqua Marine is the story of a young woman who is the daughter of a Catwoman-esque villain who has a really, really crappy power of water manipulation (as in a cup’s worth). After discovering that she can use it to kill people and nearly doing so, she decides to retire as she’d rather be nothing than a supervillain. Unfortunately, her dancing archnemesis who seems to want to date her and mother refuse to leave matters be. Lots and lots of fun.