These reviews were posted for Facebook friends, they're my picks for Best novels of 2016 which I nominated for the Hugo and Locus awards.

It's that time of year when science fiction fans do their 2nd favorite thing (following reading): voting for best of the year. Since I hold several memberships, I'm compiling a list of novels and stories, some of which I'll share this week for the few sf fans on my FB (the rest of you, ignore me as you usually do). First on my list is a novel by British hard sf writer Alastair Reynolds: "Revenger." I agree with my long-ago English professor that sf contrasts with other fiction by setting being the most prominent element, and in this novel it's spectacular. At a far distant future, familiar bodies of the solar system are gone, a white haze of artificial human habitats orbits the sun, survivors of cycles of alien occupations and perhaps a Dyson sphere which was destroyed. Thus people live on island like habitats plying space in solar sail ships trading and, yes, pirating. A young woman escapes her fate- - having her father give her anti-aging treatments and marrying her off to a lecherous old man -- by hopping on a pirate ship. Oh, dates are figured from the last occupation, so it's the 1700s - you get the idea. The young woman gradually evolves into a classic ruthless "rrrr" pirate. Although she doesn't get an eyepatch, she does acquire an artificial limb. Interestingly, the majority of pirate characters are, without author comment, women, including a nemesis who is (spoilers) basically the Dread Pirate Roberts (a la Princess Bride). If this description has raising your eyebrows and smacking your lips - get this book.

It’s Hugo awards time and I’m continuing my recommendations to you FB followers who care. For the first time I think I’m going to do something I said I would never do, nominate a horror novel for a science fiction fantasy award: “Hex” by Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt. I had the pleasure of meeting and listening to the author read at a conference last year (he’s about 12, ok he’s in his 20s but I swear he’s 12 - hey I got a signed copy!). The novel originally appeared in Holland in 2015, but instead of just translating it, Heuvelt decided to rewrite it so it’s set in the Adirondacks in New York State, and to be sure he was accurate, he came and stayed in the area for while to do his changes. Dedication itself. (The author studied English in college and speaks it flawlessly, as seemingly most Netherlanders.) This novel, part “Cabin in the Woods,” part “Headless Horseman,” and part Stephen King novel, is hard to describe. A town lives under a dreadful curse from a wronged colonial era witch, who eerily shows up in town, with residents unperturbed by this, nevertheless they use high tech monitoring to shield the supernatural from the rest of the world, with the cooperation of the US military. Chaos ensues as adolescents decide to upset the status quo. Olde Heuvelt came to the genre’s attention in 2013 with a story “The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” a beautifully written award winning allegorical tale about how society mistreats people who are different (read: LGBTQ). Now, another robustly written (and translated) story - but this time - a pure weird ghost story. Fans of Stephen King - right up your alley. Others, like me, surprise: yes, also.

I’m working through science fiction stories to put on my nomination ballots, as per my post on Monday morning, and my third novel recommendation from 2016 is Charlie Jane Anders’ “All the Birds in the Sky” a first novel by an author well known for exceptional short fiction (her multiple award winning “Six Months Three Days” was rumored to be a pick up for a movie or mini-series). This novel  fits into a new trendy category now being called “science fantasy” which mixes the tropes of science fiction (spaceships, gadgets, science speculation) with fantasy tropes (wizards, demons, magic) in one work. (Yeah, Warhammer 4000 fans  will no doubt balk at the adjective “new” here.) But in this novel, Anders personifies this dichotomy: one character is a science nerd who becomes a Heinlein style multi millionaire science inventor, whereas the other becomes part of a Harry Potter style shadow magical school and back alley world that protects us from magical bad things. The protagonists fall in and out of love through the course of the story, reuniting as friends to save the world. But this doesn’t do the story justice, the notable thing about Anders’ writing for me is her ability to write phrases which you like to say over and over again in your head, and her, at times, uncanny observations on young human relationships. Anders falls a tiny tiny bit into a stereotype of millennial writers I have: that of actually writing a series of quips and sarcastic observations, just  conveniently connected together by a plot line (epitomized by the author Seanan McGuire). But, that’s not fair, either.  Anders has a magic ability to make you care about her characters, a lot, whether you want to or not. And that’s good enough for a nomination.

OK, I’ve posted 3 recommends for science fiction novels here on FB (check my wall if you care, I know 1 person does, but FB’s algorithm for choosing which posts to send to people is inscrutable). I have 2 more slots, and I’ve not yet had firm choices. My 4 th slot might go to Allen Steele’s “Arkwright” just because each year I want to nominate at least one classic, recognizable space yarn, because that’s science fiction’s soul, like it or not. Steele writes this kind of traditional interstellar travel sf story, is knowledgeable about the science, has a dedicated following, but not a lot of recognition in the awards sphere. (Ironically, he’s also invisible to the counter-movement of Sad and Rabid puppies, putting the lie to their cover story that they just want old style fun sf stories, i.e. they’re supposedly not political.) Well, “Arkwright” takes the classic sf plot up one meta-level, it’s the story of a cantankerous and reclusive but phenomenally successful mid-20th century style sf author (fill in the name of your favorite classic author here), who has a secret. Disappointed with the failure of the real world (NASA etc.) to realize the dream of space exploration, the author creates a private, sort of secret, group, using the author’s wealth to start a long-haul plan of building an interstellar spaceship to colonize another planet. In the final section we make a return visit to that planet, with its genetically engineered inhabitants. Yeah, so it’s a wish fulfillment dream/story extraordinaire for the sf writer & fan. Talk about meta, this novel is also nostalgic because it is a classic “fix-up” novel (which is a novel consisting of previously published short fiction, slight modified and pasted together into a novel).  This was a common practice in classic sf days, now anachronistic (Asimov’s “Foundation” and Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles” are both fix-ups). Steele’s novel contains novellas which appeared over the course of 2015 in Asimov’s magazine (itself a “legacy” of an older era). Meaning, also, the novel is easy to read in independent & digestible bite-sized chunks. It’s got enough meta- and nostalgia to make it attractive. So, if you enjoy the likes of Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein, give this one a look.

I’ve made a couple posts of interest only to my couple of buddies who like sf. I have 5 nomination slots to use for my pick of best sf novels from 2016, look at my old posts for the first 4. Slot 5 is still uncertain (any suggestions??) but right now I am going to pick Yoon Ha Lee’s “Nine Fox Gambit,” a science fantasy meets military sf mash-up, mixing up magic and galactic empire space battles, with a complexity, intricacy, and such novel vocabulary to learn, that it rivals “Dune.” This book asks a lot of the reader, especially at the outset, you want to phone the author and ask “ok what the heck is going on?” You have to learn things like a moth is a starship and a servitor is a robot (and those are the easy ones) and suspend your disbelief that exotic weapons are the result of “calendrical math” (aka magic). But it rewards perseverance. And I have a soft spot for wild creativity and challengingly intricate worlds. (@Sharon Carter, not teen material, I don’t think, also war violence, if that counts.) Other contenders for this last slot are Israeli sf writer Lavie Tidhar’s “Central Station,” a fix up novel of his William Gibson like stories of super artificial intelligences (who sometimes are metal replacement thumbs on people), virtual reality, and fascinating social factions often set in a future Arab-Israeli border zone and spaceport. Maybe I should take the high road and choose real literature with Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” but, alas, it’s still on my to-read stack. Or maybe I should take the low road:  “Dark Matter” by Blake Crouch, a novel which I immediately thought ‘wow this has the cardboard characters, male pissing matches, pseudo profound marriage philosophy, sinister amoral corporations, and script like action sequences of a current B thriller science fiction movie’ and sure enough it was originally written as a movie script, and now it may in fact be taken up by no less than director Roland Emmerich. If nominate that, I could later pat myself on the back for predicting a pop culture winner, eh? Ok, the fast pace of “Dark Matter” was fun, if you want a good fast thin read that flows like a movie, and don’t mind tv tropes, then go for it.