Best New Books of 2013: Dan B’s Picks

It’s no surprise that my favorites of this year include some really great Science Fiction novels, as well as a nonfiction selection.  From a modern speculative fiction edge-of-your-seat thriller to a post-apocalyptic dystopian tale of survival; and from two different action packed stories of outer space and aliens to a great history of the longest running comic book character, here are some of my favorites from 2013:

Lexicon by Max Barry
I was hesitant to read this book because the publisher’s description made it sound too literary. However, Barry has developed a world much like our own, except with a secret organization that influences people to shape world events though a hidden language, and he’s written it as a fast paced futuristic thriller. Emily is an orphan who has survived by hustling marks on the streets until she is given a simple test to determine her abilities and she is soon admitted into the highly secretive and rigorous school for these “poets.” Emily is one of their most persuasive students in years and is able to wield great power, but things go wrong thanks to one simple occurrence: Emily falls in love. Love does crazy things to normal people, what will it do to one of the most powerful members of this secret organization?

Wool by Hugh Howey
Howey originally self published this story as eBook short stories and when they caught on and started topping lists of eBook best-sellers, they were then published in one volume. In the story we learn that everyone lives underground in a huge silo hundreds of stories deep after some unknown apocalypse. Different levels in the silo are responsible for specialized tasks (manufacturing, farming, administration, and I.T. – where the real power is). When someone decides that they “want to go out” they are sent on a one way mission out of the silo in an unknown landscape never to return. One day the Sherriff cracks from life underground, and after he leaves the new Sherriff develops suspicions about what’s really going on. A powerful story of class and freedom and one of the best dystopias I’ve ever read.

The Human Division by John Scalzi
Scalzi often likes to experiment with his storytelling, and he originally released this story in serialized eBook format with each “episode” standing on its own, yet also forming a larger narrative arc. It is part of his Old Man’s War series, although those main characters aren’t in this book. The humans of Earth have learned that the Colonial Union has been keeping some pretty big secrets from them, and now that the manure has hit the fan, humanity needs to decide if it will still follow the CU or join with an alliance of alien civilizations. When their top team of diplomats are no longer available, the CU puts “the B team” on the job. Now they must figure out how to balance the wishes of a divided population on Earth with the oh-so delicate relations with the many hostile alien races we’ve encountered out in space.

Superman: The Unauthorized Biography by Glen Weldon
This year marks Superman’s 75th anniversary, so I decided to “get my geek on” and read this history of the last son of Krypton as told by NPR’s pop culture correspondent and blogger, Glen Weldon. Starting with the young creators Shuster and Siegel, Weldon takes us year by year through the comics, radio, television, and movies that have brought Clark Kent and his alter ego to life. From the 1950s TV series and George Reeves’ suicide to the recent, long running Smallville TV series – from Richard Donner’s 1978 movie starring Christopher Reeve to this year’s newest film starring Henry Cavill – this is a well written, thoroughly researched biography of the original comic book superhero that is also fun to read.

Star Wars: Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn
This heist/caper story is highly reminiscent of the movie ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ with Han Solo & Lando Calrissian in roles similar to those played by Clooney & Pitt. Both the positive and negative reviews by readers claim the similarity to that movie as the reason for why they did or didn’t like it. But, this novel is also great Star Wars story in its own right, taking place just after the events of Episode IV: A New Hope, when Han Solo helped defeat the Empire to save the Galaxy. Scoundrels mixes familiar and new characters in a job involving stealing a hefty sum from one of the richest and most powerful crime lords. There’s action, humor, witty dialogue and even a surprise twist at the end to satisfy Star Wars fans.

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