Welcome to my favorite reads of 2009! Below is a list by category of the books I most enjoyed reading in 2009. Obviously, this a list based on my personal tastes (which often clash with the accepted preferences I’ve found) and does not mean that other 85 books I read in 2009 are no good, only that these were the ones I liked best. These books were not necessarily published in 2009, they just happened to be read by me in this last year.
Best Epic Fantasy Novel
Since I read a lot of epic fantasy (it is my favorite subgenre after all) I had to go with a tie in this category.
“Brett is a spectacular writer. He writes unhurriedly, building his story and characters piece by piece, but he never lacks for action or human interest. Arlen is a character every young boy wants to be, strong and brave and willing to fight for what he believes. As the reader watches him grow and change into a man out of legend, the reader will become thoroughly invested. The dangers of the night keep the level of suspense high for the entire book. As each night falls the reader is left to wonder if the protagonists will survive. It is an edge-of-your seat sort of excitement, and Brett maintains that suspense level, without feeling the need to top previous encounters with an even more exciting one.” (continued)
“Sanderson weaves a complicated plot in Warbreaker. Through the use of multiple perspectives and a well-designed magic system Sanderson grounds his story in concrete details even as he weaves a narrative of many opposing and in some cases subtle elements….Sanderson is an excellent worldbuilder, but he also has that necessary spark to create compelling characters. That combination is what makes him a master epic fantasist… (continued)
Best Science Fiction Novel
I had a lot of opportunity to read a variety of science fiction style novels, and this is a broad category on purpose. I wanted to highlight the book I felt best encompassed the future-focused, science based novel I read this year. And the award goes to…
“Beckett is every fiction fan’s ideal philosopher, the type of writer who entertains as much as he questions. Fans of Vernor Vinge or Isaac Asimov will enjoy Genesis. The creative construction of the novel should delight students of literature, as it will readers who enjoyed dystopian novels like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Kit Reed’s Enclave.” (continued at Tor.com)
Best Adventure Novel
This particular category is designed to be broad, focusing on the adventure aspect of a story, not its setting per se. I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight the book that had a similar effect to the watching of an action movie. That is not to say that there was not more to love in this novel, but it is the one I can best see being turned into a great science fiction movie.
“Diving into the Wreck is a flawless adventure, being both extremely exciting in plot and populated with interesting characters….Like the protagonist, the novel is no-nonsense, eventful, occasionally mysterious narrative that contains all the best dialogue of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, the adventure of an Indiana Jones movie, and the philosophical and scientific chops of Isaac Asimov himself.” (continued)
Best Humorous Novel
This particular choice will once again get me vilified by Douglas Adams purists, but my favorite humorous fantasy novel has to be…
And Another Thing… reads, feels and satirizes like an Adams novel. Colfer continues the fast-paced tale, and reboots the story in such a way that he comes to own The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy mythos as his own….While maintaining the best of Adams, it charts some new territory, allowing Colfer to put his own stamp on the universe without compromising what made The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy such great reading in the first place. (continued)
I read more collections this year than I ever have, so this was a hard decision to make. Do I pick The Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford – which garnered several awards – or do I pick We Never Talk About My Brother by Peter S. Beagle which is is chock full of previously award winning tales? In the end, I decided on neither of those, but still had to go with a tie.
“David Falkyn: Star Trader continues the epic adventures of Nicholas Van Rijn and David Falkayn….This is space adventure for grown-ups. A great book for fans of 60’s- and 70’s-era pulp fiction and those who like truly science-based fiction. The stories are full of witty characters and exciting adventure that makes the reader nostalgic for the so called “Golden Age” of SF.” (continued at Sacramento Book Review)
Though I have not yet completed reading this collection, it is undeniable on of my favorites of the year. Never before have I seen an author so thoroughly introduce his stories – so much so that an aspiring writer could learn a lot just by reading the introductions. The stories themselves, from the early days of Drake’s career, show just how skilled an author Drake is. Though I enjoyed reading the award winning collections mentioned above, Drake’s collection was the most entertaining, hands down.
Because I read so many collections and anthologies this year, I wanted to differentiate the categories.
“By mixing writers with great experience in with newer authors, Adams captures both the feel of the old pulp magazines and the practical elements of the ever-changing science of astronomy and space travel.” (continued at Sacramento Book Review)
Best Steampunk Novel
Though in truth this is a novella, not a novel, I still felt I had to make this my favorite steampunk read of the year. I didn’t read a lot of steampunk (I wish I had read more) so I’m not sure how much this is an honor to win this category, but this was certainly my fave.
“It reads quickly and easily, flowing smoothly from one chapter to the next. The mystery aspect of the story reminds me of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, though with a SF twist. The fact that the tale is about female protagonists in a man centered world allows little bits of humor in, ‘Life for the ladies of Nell Gwynne’s was, placed in the proper historical, societal and economic context, quite tolerably nice.’” (continued)
Best Shared World Novel
When it comes to shared world fiction, I have a definite bias in favor of the Forgotten Realms.
“Although the story is simple in its plot construction, there are subtleties of characterization that make the tale unique. Her tale of an ordinary young woman seeking her family’s best interests is exciting and out of the ordinary…” (continued)
Best Urban/Paranormal Fantasy Novel
Technically, this book should probably be put in the humorous novel category, but And Another Thing… trumped it. So I put it here, as it certainly qualifies for this category as well.
“Though the plot is simple, i.e. a young man meets girl with strange powers, it is the plausible world and humorous dialogue that makes this story fun to read….The narrative moves quite quickly, moving from action sequence to action sequence. The story is be no means character driven, although Monster is quite a character.” (continued)
Best Unable to Categorize Novel
Sometimes I come across a work that fits many categories or none at all. This is one such that still deserves to be listed on my favorite reads of the year list.
“This is great fiction, and highly enjoyable for its complexity, its originality, and its humor. Fforde is a wonderful writer, a real pleasure to read, and Shades of Grey is as beautiful as it is funny.” (continued)
Best SF/F Nonfiction
I like reading biographies/autobiographies of people in fiction and although my reading of Neil Gaiman’s bio of Douglas Adams was good, this autobiography/memoir was too funny, clever, and entertaining not to win this category.
“The View from the Bridge is a great insider’s view to the industry of Hollywood, its ups and downs, the hows and whys and wherefores that is approachable and humorous. From the very first page, I was hooked on Meyer’s life story. The fact that there was some affiliation with Star Trek became tangential. Meyer is what interested me, the who and what of the person. The man who took it upon himself to become a screenwriter, but who was also a novelist, a film director, and who always, always sought the story.” (continued at Tor.com)
Most Surprising Novel
Some novels are surprising, and I never would have thought that the art of wine making could be turned into an epic fantasy.
As Gilman states in my interview of her “The classic epic fantasy is good versus evil, underdog against power. I wanted to play more with cultures in conflict, and equal power in flux.” (continued at Publisher’s Weekly)
Best Novel of the Year
This was a hard one to choose, as I read a great many good novels this year, but the one that I could not put down, that I read from cover to cover in a span of just a few days was…
“In reviewing a novel in a series as popular as the Wheel of Time, a reviewer faces a dilemma: Does the reviewer toe the party line and sing its praises as a fait accompli? After all, a worldwide bestselling series is unlikely to be poorly written, and even its flaws can be glossed over in view of its successes. Or does the reviewer take a different tack and go for the heart, pointing out its flaws in relation to other books in the series and the genre in general, a factor complicated by the fact that the original author is dead and a new author is bearing the torch? Or does one simply seek a balance between the two, neither highly praising nor highly vilifying the novel?” (continued)
Best Fan Blog of the Year
No one, and I mean no one, does as much writing in the genre as Charles Tan. His Bibliophile Stalker blog puts me to shame, and I see all the work he does on his own and I just sahke my head and wonder how he does it. From weekly essays, interviews, and reviews coupled with daily link lists of what is going on in the genre, – plus editing Philippine fiction – I just don’t see how he finds the time. Hat’s off to you Charles, and thanks for all the interesting and wonderful reading.
Best Author Blog of the Year
Of the author blogs I read, (and I admit to not reading nearly enough) my favorite has been John C. Wright’s Livejournal. Though Wright is still an up and comer in the genre, he is highly intelligent and comes from a philosophical base that is in complete opposition to the majority of SF writers. That makes his writing interesting, if only because he thinks and responds differently from most of the other writers maintaining blogs. I certainly don’t agree with everything he says, but to be sure, what he says is usually fascinating, well-written and researched, and often funny. If you are of a liberal or agnostic bent, I freely admit that John C. Wright’s rants may anger you, but even in disagreement, you must admit that most of his writing is intelligent and cogent.
Publisher of the Year – Small Press
It is not fair at all to try and stack small presses up against larger ones, so I decided to give out two awards for publisher of the year. I get lots of requests for review from several of the smaller presses. This year, my favorite small press would have to be Nightshade Books. Though some might argue that Nightshade is a larger or medium sized press, I consider it small, due to its lower output and its small operations (as compared to say DAW, Tor, or Del Rey). It does not have a large backer like Penguin or Macmillan behind it and so should be considered a small press in every way. I chose Nightshade because it produces the absolute best new anthologies on the market today (e. g. the work of John Joseph Adams), great collections like David Drake’s Balefires, and new editions and original works in fantasy and science fiction. They also keep close tabs on reviews, announcing at their website reviews by even small reviewers like me.
Publisher of the Year – Large Press
This is always a hard decision to make, because all of the publishers work hard to send me review material, work with my individual foibles, and in the last year have had to change my address 4 times as my unemployment forced me to keep moving from place to place! But beyond my personal gratitude, I have to look at which publisher produced the best work in the last year.
This year, the award for best large press goes to Tor. They have produced a body of work from multitude of authors in a wide variety of genres. My best book of the years is published by them, as well as one of the best epic fantasies. Tor is the premier publisher of science fiction and fantasy for the year 2009.