The Bakka-Phoenix Books 2017 Staff Picks, Part 1: Adult Fiction

We’re running out of 2017, which means it’s time for the Bakka-Phoenix annual staff picks: a shoutout to some of the books we loved this year. Between the award-winners, bestsellers, and marquee series, we found a double handful of reads that made us laugh, think, and go what if…

We’ll be posting our staff’s favourite 2017 reads over the next few days, starting with Part 1: Our adult fiction faves.


Our fiction picks of the year!


Ben’s pick: Valiant Dust, Richard Baker

Like most modern military SF, Valiant Dust owes a debt to David Weber, but quickly establishes its own identity. Featuring a diverse cast living in a truly multicultural galaxy—Sikh officers serving in a Roman republic, on a moderate Muslim planet!–this is military SF that grasps the nuances of living in a truly cosmopolitan culture, plus intrigue, investigations, ground support, and the obligatory space battle. Also: space Montreal. Space Montreal!

Chris’s pick: Winter of Ice and Iron, Rachel Neumeier

The gods may be unknowable but the Immanent spirits interact with provincial rulers, influencing and being influenced by the families they bond with. Kehera’s family’s Immanent is known for its patience and fecundity. The Immanent that suffuses Innisth, the infamous Wolf Duke of Eanete is cold, ambitious, and even cruel. But when the dragons of midwinter force Kehera and Innisth to work together, they both discover truths about themselves they could never have imagined. This is not the book you’re thinking it will be from that description… It’s so much more. The magic is dense and complicated, and unwinds slowly: so do the characters. As always, Neumeier delivers an original and compelling story, full of gorgeous language and complex emotions.

Leah’s pick: All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault, James Alan Gardner

With that title, it was basically impossible for All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault to be anything but slyly, goofily, exuberantly fun. Gardner writes a diverse group of undergrads who find themselves superpowered after a very Canadian sort of lab accident with humour, humanity, and flair, and provides real stakes–both in Kim’s relationships and the fate of the world–without ever losing that sense of buoyancy.

Michelle’s pick: The Stone in the Skull, Elizabeth Bear

Set in the universe of Range of Ghosts, this features new characters; knowledge of previous books not required. Put a man who swore an oath to protect a ruler who no longer exists beside a man who agreed to become a beating heart in a brass body in order to live long enough to take his revenge—which he’s done. Set adrift by the absence of purpose, they take the usual odd jobs as guards or messengers, and one of those jobs sends them into kingdoms almost at war. There, caught up in the hostilities, they might find the purpose that their lives have lacked: a lord to serve until death; a person to possibly love.

Rebecca’s pick: The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland

Sci-fi meets fantasy in this story of time travel and witches. Told through a series of reports, letters, interoffice communications, and memos, The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. tells of a secret government entity working to restore magic that starts out as two individuals in a cramped office translating shreds of old documents that rises to a fully functional time traveling bureaucratic entity. Perhaps due to Galland’s influence, this novel isn’t as sciency, info-dumpy and technical as you might expect from a Neil Stephenson novel. Don’t go into this expecting a hard sci-fi novel. A lot of the science works with a bit of hand-waving Schrodinger’s cat explanations and the occasional deeper foray into many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. D.O.D.O. is a funny and ludicrous novel involving everything from the fall of Constantinople, Elizabethan England, and Viking epic poems about raiding Walmart.

Kristen’s pick: River of Teeth, Sarah Gailey

The Unforgiven. With hippos, not horses. Wait–hear me out.

In the early twentieth century, some bright spark had the idea of farming hippos for meat in the Louisiana bayous. Saner heads prevailed, but Sarah Gailey has taken this idea, pushed it back 50 years, and given us a story of hippo-riding cowboys, questionable loyalties, revenge, riverboats, and a vast lake full of what is, pound for pound, the most terrifying of invasive species–feral, man-eating hippos. Short, punchy, and adrenaline-charged.

Bonus multi-staff favourite: Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee

Although this was a 2016 title, we’re loving Lee’s Machineries of Empire novels. Sharply written, absolutely involving, and deeply innovative in its exploration of consensus reality, history, culture, war, and regret, they’re readable, moving, and brilliant at the same time. Start with Ninefox Gambit.

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