SFFWorld Favourite Books Review 2008 (Part 2)

It’s that time of year again. Last year’s review seemed to have been fun, so we thought we would do it again!

So, joining us this year, around the SFFWorld Christmas tree, are Aidan (known as Al’Kael from A Dribble of Ink), Graeme (known as Deornoth fromGraeme’s Fantasy Book Review), Ken (known as kcf and also as Neth from Neth Space) and Pat (from Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist) as well as Rob Bedford and myself.

I’ve colour coded the answers.

Part 2 looks at our SF book and Comic Book favourites for 2008.

The first part (LINK HERE)  looked at Fantasy books. Part 3 will be Films & TV and our usual look forward to 2009.

Mark / Hobbit


  1. SF

Again: last year we thought SF was currently going from strength to strength: have our hopes been realised?

Rob: As with previous years, I read more fantasy than science fiction, though the margin betwixt the two is shrinking (I may have used these words last year, too).  From what I’ve seen published in 2008 and what I read in 2008 I would say Science Fiction did pretty well new releases from perennial favourites like Iain M. Banks, Jack McDevitt, Alastair Reynolds, and Peter F. Hamilton, to arguably the best SF novel of the year Little Brother by Cory Doctorow and MultiReal David Louis Edelman’s follow-up to his highly acclaimed debut.

Short fiction continues to strive, despite many naysayers.  Granted monthly print arenas for short fiction may not seem as abundant as they once were, but there’ve been quite a few anthologies.  Perhaps the two most prominent are Lou Anders Fast Forward 2, the second in his annual anthology from Pyr and Jonathan Strahan’s Eclipse Two from NightShade Books. Both the Anders and Strahan are on my to read pile and will probably be covered early in 2009 in the form of a review. Strahan also published a great looking (and also on my to-read pile) young adult science fiction anthology The Starry Rift Anders kept himself busy with not only Fast Forward 2 and his duties as Editorial Director of Pyr, but also an alternate history-themed anthology Sideways in CrimeAlso from NightShade books was John Joseph Adams’s The Living Deada must have for fans of Zombie fiction.  The tome was massive and every story was terrific and was just one of three very good anthologies from Adams including the equally solid Apocalyptically-themed Wastelands  as well as Seeds of Change. For anybody thinking original short fiction is dying, I’d suggest checking on Jonathan Strahan’s all-inclusive listing of 2008 anthologies of Original Fiction.

Aidan: One of my big resolutions last year was to read more SF this year. So it’s hard for me to compare the two head to head, but I’ve certainly loved what I’ve found in the genre this year. From John Scalzi to Tobias Buckell to Richard Morgan, I’ve been trying to catch up on some of the more recent ‘classics’ of the genre.

Scalzi is a blast and more than worthy of the popularity he’s gained.

Morgan wasn’t exactly what I was expecting and I’m curious to see how he handles Fantasy.

Buckell is a scholar and a gentleman and writes damn fine swashbuckling space adventures. Every time he puts out a novel it seems to be better than the last, I can only imagine he’ll continue to make waves for years to come.

Graeme: There wasn’t anything that really stood out for me (although I did enjoy what I read), this year, but then I didn’t read anything truly awful (apart from Paul of Dune…) so it really felt like things had hit a plateau as far as I was concerned. Hopefully there’ll be a bit of an upturn next year.

Ken: I’m just not well-read enough in SF to have a handle on this, but it does seem that the cries about the death of SF have been rather loud this year.

Pat: I believe so, mainly because nearly all the sci-fi big guns have released new titles in 2008. Any year that sees authors like Iain M. Banks, Greg Bear, Alastair Reynolds, and Peter F. Hamilton publish a book, well, it’s bound to be a good year.

Mark/Hobbit: This has been the surprise for me last year: though I have read comparatively less SF, the SF I have read has been very good indeed. So much so that if I had to reduce my best of list to five, more would be SF than Fantasy. Though the numbers of SF books published are considerably less than Fantasy, the quality this year has been superb. This was the list I had problems reducing to five most.

What has surprised you this year in SF?

Rob: I wouldn’t say anything surprised me all that much.

Graeme: I wasn’t sure how Scalzi’s writing was going to work outside the Old Man’s War universe but Agent to the Stars ended up being a real joy to read. It’s not often that a book makes me laugh out loud these days but this one certainly did.

Ken: I can’t really point to anything that did surprise me in SF, of course I tend to lump SF and Fantasy into SFF and treat them essentially the same in my head.

Pat: Tor Books had high hopes for Orson Scott Card’s Ender in Exile, but from what I hear the book is said to be kind of weak. Having said that, the novel spent the last 4 weeks on the NYT bestseller list, so sales appear to be very good.

Mark/Hobbit: See my comments above: the consolidation of quality by a number of authors this year: I think that Iain M Banks, Ken MacLeod, Paul McAuley, Neal Stephenson, Peter Hamilton, Neal Asher, Alastair Reynolds, Stephen Baxter and others have produced some of their best work (so far) this year.

I think the thing that surprised me most personally though, was my reaction to the loss of Sir Arthur C Clarke, which affected me much, much more than I thought it would. And to finish on such a strong note with The Last Theorem (admittedly a collaboration with Frederik Pohl) was a bittersweet surprise.

What would you recommend as your “favourite new  five SF” you’ve read this year?

Rob: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

MultiReal by David Louis Edelman

The Devil’s Eye by Jack McDevitt

The Dreaming Void by Peter F. Hamilton

Neuropath by Scott Bakker (marginally an SF novel)

Graeme: Agent to the Stars, John Scalzi

Prador Moon Neal Asher (Giant Galactic Space Crabs! Toting machine guns!!)

Sly Mongoose Tobias Buckell (Space Zombies!)

The Mirrored Heavens David Williams

The Digital Plague Jeff Somers (Proves that The Electric Church wasn’t just a one-off, I’m very much looking forward to The Eternal Prison.)

Ken: Hmm… I’ll name three that stand out.

The Martian General’s Daughter by Theodore Judson. This SF re-telling of the fall of Rome reminds us of the old saying, those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. But it’s more than that, it’s also the story of a man and his daughter.

Neuropath by Scott Bakker. Bakker branches out into the near-future thriller world with Neuropath, and I have to say that he does so in a big way. The disturbing audacity of this book alone is enough for it to appear on this list.

Zoes Tale by John Scalzi. Scalzi cracked into the list with his best written book to date. Zoes Tale straddles the line between YA and adult-oriented fiction and has all the usual charms of a Scalzi book, with a bit of something extra.

Pat: Kay Kenyon’s The Entire and the Rose series, David Louis Edelman’s The Jump 225 trilogy, David J. Williams’ The Mirrored Heavens. Sorry, that’s all I’ve got…


  1. The Quiet War by Paul McAuley

A good space opera which was complex, deep and chock-full of great SF ideas. Starts very slowly, which I think may put some off, but when it gets going, it’s great. Broad canvas, a good range of characters. Very British, and one of the best this year for me, amongst also-good books by Banks, Baxter, Hamilton and Reynolds.

  1. Matter by Iain M Banks (Review HERE)

A pleasant surprise, this one. A little long for some, but I enjoyed this mixture of SF and Fantasy. I did say earlier in the year when I reviewed it that it would be in the “best of”‘s’ at the end of the year, so it shouldn’t really be a surprise here. A pleasing return to SF, of a sort, by Mr Banks.

3. The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod (Review HERE)

I could have just as well put Ken’s other book I read this year, The Night Sessions (review here) too, but this one was the greater surprise to me. Politically savvy, nicely relevant, deeply paranoid, set in a near alternate future. Britain’s future has rarely looked so scary to me.

4. The Last Theorem by Arthur C Clarke and Frederik Pohl (Review HERE.)

Another surprise this one, especially when it shouldn’t have worked: two writers, both in their late 80’s or early 90’s and in poor health, collaborating on a novel? Alarm bells did ring, but in the end this was a much, much better book than I hoped it would be. Though the writing was mainly Pohl’s, the ideas and the humour are most definitely Sir Arthur’s. This book showed me how much I love his work and how much he will be missed.

5. Neuropath by Scott Bakker (Review HERE)

Literate, intelligent, spectacularly creepy (if not to say icky.) It does get a little over-complex for some at the end, (and some might say too-self-important), but I found this was a deftly written analysis on the importance of the individual and the nature of human relationships, disguised as a near-future thriller. Not for the faint hearted.

I must admit that I still have Neal Stephenson’s Anathem on the go (What is there to say about this one? Far too long, complex, meandering, a book that required discipline to get started with, never mind finish. And yet, the ideas inside are colossal, not to mention audacious. Still not sure totally what it was about. A book that you can lose your life to. One of the current ‘big-brains’of SF, for me) and Peter Hamilton’s Temporal Void, both of which could (if they keep it up!) have gone in that list above.

3. Comics (and Manga)

Seems to continue to grow. Strengths and weaknesses this year?

Rob: DC Comics taking steps to bring out some of their “modern” classics in quality hardcover editions, like Starman and Y: The Last Man. Both major publishers had very long “events” in Final Crisis and Secret Invasion, me being a DC-guy I stuck with Final Crisis and enjoyed.  Grant Morrison put Bruce Wayne to rest in the mildly disappointing though still entertaining Batman R.I.P.  Finding out Neil Gaiman is writing a two-part Batman story.

Graeme: I’ve been trying to pick up new stuff this year just to get a feel for what’s out there. It’s a huge marketplace so what’s on offer will invariably be hit and miss in quality… The Walking Dead is still my favourite “must read” comic but some of the other zombie comics that are springing up around it are looking pretty decent as well (XXXombies is the most fun I’ve had with a comic book in a long while). The series that has really stood out for me though has been The Goon, great art and laugh out loud funny.

Ken: I don’t really read comics or manga, not enough time.

and that’s it for Part 2.

Part 3 will look at our favourite Films and Television in 2008, as well as our hopes for 2009

Leave a comment