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Favorite Books of 2021

28 Jan 2022

23 books, 8500+ pages. That’s about half of what I read last year. While writing the 2020 post, I noticed that I was reading a lot more fiction since the pandemic began, and that has continued in 2021. Here are some books that stood out.

Fiction

The Poppy War (RF Kuang)

A fantasy reimagining of the Sino-Japanese wars of the early 1930s, with shamans with incredible magical powers thrown into the mix. One event in the book is based on the rape of Nanjing, and is one of the most gruesome representations of war and genocide I’ve ever read. This book is fantastic, but also dark enough that I decided to wait a bit before picking up the sequel.

Caliban’s war / Abaddon’s Gate (James S A Corey)

After reading the excellent Leviathan Wakes last year, I continued with the Expanse series with these two books. Set in the future, in the midst of a cold war between the governments of the Earth, Mars and the outer planets, this is an action packed sci-fi series with breathtakingly fast paced plot.

The Obelisk Gate / The Stone Sky (N K Jemisin)

For three years in a row, every single instalment of Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy won the Hugo award for best novel. I loved the first book, and it made my list in 2020. I was able to finish the series this time around. The series is a must read for fantasy lovers.

The Rhythm of War (Brandon Sanderson)

Another solid entry in the the Stormlight Archive series. When Sanderson is done with these books, it will probably end up near the top of my favorite fantasy series list. Mental health is front and center in this book - the depression of one character, the multiple personalities of another, and the PTSD of the soldiers. Unlike the previous entries, where the characters and stories tend to be spread out all over the planet, this book brings together most of the characters into one or two storylines. Sanderson has set up an exciting finale for the first half of the series.

Hyperion (Dan Simmons)

Mimicking the structure of Canterbury tales, Hyperion is set a few thousand years in the future. Seven pilgrims are heading towards the mysterious time tombs of the planet Hyperion, where time seems to flow in reverse. Each section of the book is one pilgrim telling a story from their past, detailing their connection to Hyperion. This structure works really well - it feels like a collection of short stories set in a common sci-fi universe, but with each written in a different style.

A Memory Called Empire (Arkady Martine)

A space opera, written by a historian who specializes in the Byzantine empire. It’s no wonder that the empire at the center of this story is modeled after the one she studies. This was part science fiction, part mystery, and part political thriller. Although the plot is slow paced, I really enjoyed the book’s focus on worldbuilding and exploration of colonialism.

The Dispossessed (Ursula K Le Guin)

Set in a two planet system orbiting Tau Ceti, this story contrasts an anarchist utopia on one planet with a capitalist society on another. This book raises so many interesting ideas - about governments, sharing of knowledge, the idea of ownership. It’s a brilliant book, but an extremely slow read that takes its time to tell the story - I had to skim through some parts of it.

The Relentless Moon (Mary Robinette Kowal)

The third book in the Lady Astronaut series. There are saboteurs on a lunar colony, and the astronauts need to find them. This gave the book a whodunnit feel. I didn’t enjoy this as much as the first two books in the series, but it’s still pretty damn good.

This Is How You Lose the Time War (Amal El Mohtar, Max Gladstone)

Beautifully written epistolary novella, which tells the story of two time traveling agents, on the opposing sides of a war. They travel through time, changing the course of strands of time to give their sides a win. The authors do a splendid job of building this relationship between two characters that never actually meet, but who turn from adversaries to friends, and eventually that friendship turns to love. The writing has a poetic quality, and genuinely enjoyable to read.

Programming

Production Ready GraphQL (Marc-Andre Giroux)

A great introduction to GraphQL. My team picked this up for our book club, and it generated a lot of interesting discussions, The author previously worked on the same GraphQL API codebase that I work on now, so a lot of the ideas were familiar, but I wish I had read this when I started working with GraphQL APIs. This should be required reading for anyone working with GraphQL for the first time.

Distributed Systems for Fun and Profit (Mikito Takada)

A very short and densely packed introduction to distributed systems. I found this extremely useful to get a sense of what concepts Highly recommend it to anyone writing software, and especially useful for someone looking for an intro to distributed systems.

2022

With 23 books read, this was the worst year of reading since I began writing these lists in 2013. Hopefully I’ll be able to read more regularly this year.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been making my way through Hugo and Nebula award winners, and I’ll probably read a few more in the coming months. But now I find myself in the middle of a few too many series. This year, I’m hoping to finish a few - Poppy Wars, Hyperion Cantos, Dune, and The Expanse, as well as read more non fiction.

Nithin Bekal
Hi, I’m Nithin! This is my blog about programming. Ruby is my programming language of choice and the topic of most of my articles here, but I occasionally also write about Elixir, and sometimes about the books I read. I'm @nithinbekal on Twitter.