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Inside the Blogosphere: Best/Most Interesting novels or short story collections since May 2010

This particular edition of Inside the Blogosphere is both announcement and brain-picking. I have been commissioned to write a singular piece for a biweekly print magazine (large subscribership) on speculative fiction for their annual books issue. To that end, they have asked me to write just seven 100 word reviews on the best and/or most interesting/influential novels or short story collections from May of 2010 to May of 2011.

Not having read everything, I turned to my fellow reviewers (and you, in the comments below) to answer the following question:

What are the seven best and/or most influential books published in the speculative fiction genre since May of 2010 and why?

Neth @ Neth Space:

Wow, this something of a pretentious question (I know it’s not from you John). By whose standards/definitions are we going by? Mine? I’m hardly reliable since I have only read a small fraction of the books published since May of 2010.

But, in order to answer the question, I will provide the standards I will use to address the question. They are twofold – books that I think will be perceived as the best and influential and books that I think should be considered the best and most influential. And these are going to be limited to the few that I have read, so I’m sure to be missing a few.

King Maker by Maurice Broaddus – While flawed this is very creative and even important addition to the SFF landscape.

From time to time any avowed escapist such as myself needs a shock to the system – and King Maker provides just that. The wonderfully creative premise and horrific reality make it a book that should be read. Unfortunately, it is a flawed work that undermines the weight of the powerful punch it should deliver. But even with its flaws, even if it stays true to Arthurian myth, giving me the knowledge of how things will end, The Knights of Breton Court is a series I will continue reading. (full review)

Kraken by China Miéville – Miéville is a master, pretty much anything he writes is an immediate contender for a list like this.

Kraken is the latest from the highly decorated China Miéville and a return to London. It’s a story of religious, cultist and criminal fanatics, it’s the story of a young man awakening to world around him, it’s a story of loss, it’s an apocalyptic, action-packed thriller, it’s magical, it’s squidpunk, it’s all a bad joke…and it’s simply an example of a master at work. Highly recommended. (full review)

The Passage by Justin Cronin – This one is the new hot thing. I liked it, I liked it a lot. But will it have the staying power?

So, the buzz surrounding The Passage is already huge and I see it only growing. It’s a genre book from a literary writer with potential appeal to a much wider audience than either alone. For us genre readers, a vampire apocalypse novel may not seem like it should be the next great book, but as always, it’s all about the execution – and Cronin executes The Passage with near-perfection. This book earns the buzz, this book should be read and discussed widely, this book is both literary and genre, this is a book I highly recommend. (full review)

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald – I include The Dervish House because it’s sure to be a favorite one award or another, though I’m not convinced it should be.

McDonald’s tried and true strategy of exploring the people of emerging economies in combination with the implications of technology on society in a near-future setting succeeds once again. While I found The Dervish House to be a bit uneven at times, an unevenness that once again holds back what could be a truly great novel, I still expect to see it on the short list for multiple awards. It’s at times powerful, informative, and fun and another example of science fiction alive in our world. (full review)

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson – This is the first book in the multi-volume epic fantasy series that will possibly come to define epic fantasy for the next decade or more.

The Way of Kings is Sanderson’s most recent original work and the first book in a planned massive series. It’s his best book to date and the start of something very promising. The world is wonderfully creative with a deep history and uncertain future, the characters draw you in and make you care, and it all combines into something very special. Sanderson’s name may have leaped into the spotlight on the coattails of The Wheel of Time (though he was certainly on his way up already), but The Way of Kings proves that he belongs. This is a book that all fans of epic fantasy need to read and it could serve a great introduction for new fans to the genre, both young and not-so-young, as long as they can get past intimidation of 1000+ page book. My final thought can only be this: Brandon, when do we get book 2, because I want it now! (full review)

How to Live Safely in a Science Fiction Universe by Charles Yu – Another example of an ‘outsider’ utilizing SF and producing a really good book, though hardened genre fans may not be so accepting.

So, was my own time loop self-realized? Did I like How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe because I knew I would? Did I like it because of its own merit? Did I break the loop by only liking it with a few reservations? Will this paradox send me into a parallel universe very similar yet strikingly different from this one? A blogger could get confused trying to be this clever (especially one with a relative lack of pedigree in the realm of hard science fiction). But I do know that How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is a fun, entertaining, depressing, and uplifting story of father and son, a mother and son, and a son and himself wrapped in a bunch of interesting science fictional ideas, full of clever homage and sarcastic, yet touching humor. The book is a paradox, literary and genre, and at least for me, a self-fulfilling time-loop – sort of like review blogging in the SFF world, though that is a different discussion that I’ll try not to have another day. (full review)

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor – This novel blew me away. Seriously, I hope it wins all the awards this year.

As I keep getting at, Who Fears Death is a lot of things, but most importantly, it’s a beautifully written book in a setting can only be considered unique in the world of fantasy. Okorafor’s writing magically reveals the story, effortlessly endearing characters to the reader, and engineering a story that simply must be read. The African feel of Who Fears Death may be what sets it apart from its contemporaries, and it may be the reason many choose to read or pass it by, but the timeless, human story within is the real reason to pick it up.

The bottom line is that Who Fears Death is the chance that readers should take. It celebrates the true diversity of SFF literature and reveals the struggles of a part of the world often overlooked. It’s a timeless, human tale that I highly recommend. (full review)

The Mad Hatter @ The Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf & Book Review: This is a tough one especially since the publication months run into two years. There were a lot of amazing books published during this time and here are what I think could prove to be the most lasting.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman – Grossman made a grown-up version of Harry Potter and filled it with a sense of realism.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest – Hands down one of the most entertaining Steampunk books in years. It has heart, action, mad scientists and a strong female lead.

The Sad Tales of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington – Bullington’s style hearkens back to the folk tales of the 1600s and 1700s, but feels so right for the times we’re in. In a way this is the New Weird taking over the old weird.

Horns by Joe Hill – Perhaps the best horror novel I’ve read in a decade. Hill’s characters are so well realized and the story just grabs you and won’t let go.

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis – Alternative History with Nazi Supermen and British Black Magic. A combo that could go wrong, but does everything right.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi – Although I didn’t rate this high in my review it is a book that has stuck with me. The melancholy side of the book makes the problems of our world seem all too feasible.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray – The lone YA on the list although Boneshaker could apply as well. Bray is the female John Hodgman effusing humor and intelligence with a wit not easily matched.

Eric @ SFFMeta: I sadly haven’t had time to read that many books, so I will simply go by the scores on my website.

1: The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (92) (Currently reading it, interesting start)
2: Who Fears Death by Nnede Okorafor (89)
3: The Third Bear by Jeff Vandermeer (88)
4: The Black Prism by Brent Weeks (86)
5: Kraken by China Mieville (84)
6: Antiphon by Ken Scholes (84)
7: The Fall by Guillermo Del Toro (83)

Jackie @ Literary Escapism: First off, can I say how hard it is to come up with the seven best/most influential novels that have been published since May? Aside from the fact that my criteria for a great novel probably vastly differs from someone elses, I just haven’t read seven novels that were published in this time frame. I will say though, there are two that totally stand out in my mind – Hunted by the Others by Jess Haines and Grave Witch by Kalayna Price. Both of these novels are so fabulous that I simply can’t wait for their sequels. They definitely add some fresh blood to the speculative fiction genre with their intriguing characters, worlds that are unlike any I’ve read lately and chemistry that keeps drawing the reader in. However, that isn’t to say that I haven’t picked up a few because I believe they’ll be great reads.

I’m a huge fan of anthologies, especially when they involve authors I want to try, and a couple came out this summer that I can’t wait to open – Warriors, The Dragon Book and Swords and Dark Magic. These novels have a fabulous collection of authors, some of which I know, but many I don’t and have been told I must try. I don’t know how their stories will be, but I can’t see myself being disappointed.

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