SFFWorld’s SF Review of 2009

SFFWorld Best of Science Fiction 2009

It’s that time of the year again: this is where we mention books we’ve liked (or not liked!) over the year, and try to point out those we’ve most enjoyed.

Please note: there’s always a grey area between those pesky US/UK publication dates, and so we may mention books that were released where you live last year and vice versa. Apologies if that upsets you, but it may give you something to look forward to next year!

This year we’ve gone back to basics: mainly just me and Rob, with a few of the SFFWorld crew we’ve dragged in kicking and screaming from their places of hiding.

Please note also that is not intended to be, nor ever has been, a definitive ‘best-of’ list. It’s just what we’ve come across through the year, things we’ve noticed, books, comics, films etc that we’ve really liked, or in the odd case, disliked.

OK? So: to battle!

1. Fantasy. Usually the biggest section of the review, it is available for you to read HERE and discuss HERE.

2. SF

The SF review is not usually as lengthy an article as the Fantasy. In its December 2009 issue Locus says that in the US whilst there were 162 SF books published (to October 2009), there were 294 Fantasy, 159 Horror and 220 Paranormal Romance novels, 673 in total.

Whilst the genre definitions may get a bit grey in places, even if not precise, it does show you the relative difference between the genres. By my Maths, that’s about four other genre books for every SF one.

To the yearly review:

In January there was the publication of CJ Cherryh’s much-awaited sequel to CyteenRegenesis.  Richard (K.) Morgan’s The Steel Remains (which some regard as SF, others Fantasy) was released in the US by Del Rey to as much equal parts praise and confusion as it did when it was released in the UK in October 2008. Adam Roberts’s Yellow Blue Tibia was published in the UK in January too, and seems to have been much praised.

In February Subterranean Press released the hefty Jack McDevitt short story collection, Cryptic. Mark liked it, even though he’d read a lot of it before in earlier collections. Mark also liked Mike Cobley’s Seeds of Earth, (LINK: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/521.html) which was an interesting new take on space opera.

In March, also critically praised, was Ian McDonald’s return to a future India in Cyberabad Days albeit in short story collection form. Rob really liked S. Andrew Swann’s Prophets, and reviewed it at SFFWorld in June (LINK: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/548.html) describing it as a space opera tale of colonial recovery ‘with flavors of heist thrown into the mix”.  Kay Kenyon’s third story in her Entire and the Rose series, City Without End (http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/545.html), was also liked a great deal. Rob said that it was “Lush, captivating and entrancing.”

In April there was the US arrival of Peter F. Hamilton’s The Temporal Void. Rob reviewed it for SFFWorld and was impressed. (LINK:http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/535.html) Mark appreciated the shorter novella of Neal Asher’s Shadow of the Scorpion, a prequel to the increasingly popular Agent Cormac tales (and released in the US by Night Shade Books back in 2008.) (LINK: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/529.html)  We also in April sadly saw the death of JG Ballard, of which more later.

In May we saw the arrival of Robert J Sawyer’s latest, WWW: Wake, (http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/552.html) which Rob enjoyed. In the US we had the publication of Stephen Baxter’s Flood, (released in the UK June 2008) which had an SFFWorld review quote on the front cover. Flood’s sequel, Ark, was released in the UK in August to much praise. This was a more space-based sequel, with events now moved to the solar system rather than Earth.

On the reprint front in May, Haffner Press began its publication of SF pulp superstar Edmond Hamilton’s short stories with two volumes (and others to follow later.) Like the Jack Williamson collected volumes before them, these were quality books (although a little expensive for many) that republished many early space opera stories long out of print. Mark liked these a lot, and spent much of the year dipping into these tomes.

June saw the US release of Alastair Reynolds’s House of Suns (which Rob really enjoyed, one of his favourites of the yearhttp://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/559.html), though in the UK Alastair was most known in the year for the announcement in the same month that he had signed a new contract with Gollancz for ten books over the next decade with the payment of a ten figure sum, of around 1 million. (Link:http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/jun/22/alastair-reynolds-million-pound-deal)

Rob thought Robert Charles Wilson’s Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd America (http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/553.htmlwas very entertaining. Mark enjoyed one of the most entertaining books he read this year, Chris Wooding’s Retribution Falls, an exciting and not too serious SF caper, though he was disappointed by the number of reviews that seemed to lazily refer to it as a Firefly rip-off.

July saw the arrival of Charles Stross’s story collection, Wireless. Including the novella Missile Gap, (originally published by Subterranean Press in 2008) it was a diverse collection that summarised Charles’ eclectic writing. It was also July when we suddenly lost Charles N. Brown, editor of Locus Magazine. A long-time editor and fan, it was the end of an era, though thankfully the magazine goes on.

To August. Mark enjoyed Poul Anderson’s latest collection by NESFA Press, The Collected Short Works of Poul Anderson, Volume 2: The Queen of Air and DarknessVolume One being published in February. Another series recommended, though the similar Baen collections are just as good, and cheaper. And whilst we’re talking story collections, on an alternate note in this month, editor Mike Ashley was in a storm over his story collection for Robinson, The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SFMany rather vocal critics noted that the collection, although quite well liked by some reviewers (such asLocus), was not as mind-blowing as some would’ve preferred, especially as the book contained no female writers. Also of note in August (December 2009 in the US) was Kim Stanley Robinson’s Galileo’s Dream, which was Kim in time travel / alternate history / Neal Stephenson-land.

In September, whilst most of the reading world wrestled with Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, we saw Margaret Atwood’s novel of ‘not-science-fiction’ sneak in, The Year of the Flood. We also saw Iain’ Banks’s latest, Transition, which had a rather mixed response on the whole. Too science fiction for some of the mainstream, not SF-nal enough for the Culture fans. Dan reviewed it at SFFWorld (http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/584.html) and generally liked what he read.

More positively, in the US Norton published a hefty tome of The Complete Stories of JG Ballard. Expanded from the UK edition, this major work was an exhaustive, if fitting, summary of the author’s work after his death in April.  Paul McAuley’s The Quiet War was published in the US with a fabulous cover by Pyr. Rob didn’t like it, though he really wanted to, whilst it was one of Mark’s favourites of 2008. The sequel, (or rather, the second part of the novel), The Gardens of the Sun, was published in the UK in October.

Also in October we got Paulo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, which Rob reviewed (http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/575.html) and thought was OK, but he wasn’t as impressed as many other reviewers. We also had the arrival of Eoin Colfer’s sanctioned Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sequel, And Another Thing, which was released to a general feeling of ‘not anything like as bad as it could have been.’ (See also Brandon Sanderson /Robert Jordan’s The Gathering Storm in the Fantasy Review.) Tachyon published The Secret History of Science Fiction, edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel. Pointing out SF that might not be seen as others as SF, it was published to critical acclaim.  Rob also really enthused about Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan, a steampunk tale of clanking robots and Darwinism. (LINK: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/573.html). Another British author doing very well this year was Neal Asher, who released his second book this year in September. Orbus, a sequel to The Voyage of the Sable Keech, was Neal’s second book of 2009 and his third in very quick succession, following the UK release of the Shadow of the Scorpion in April, and a short story collection concerning Asher’s Frankensteinian prodigy, the Gabbleduck, in The Gabble and Other Stories in November 2008. Neal has found himself to be very popular this year, with his blend of advanced technology, strange aliens and violence.

In November, Cory Doctrow’s Makers seemed to cause a stir. Rob reviewed (and liked) Jack McDevitt’s Time Travelers Never Die at another venue. (LINK: http://sanfranciscobookreview.com/science-fiction-fantasy/time-travelers-never-die/ )

Lastly, December. Rob reviewed Taylor Anderson’s Maelstrom and liked it. (LINK: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/592.html )   Similarly, Daryl Gregory’s Devil’s Alphabet was liked by Rob, who said it was very strong (http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/591.html).

Mark:  Last year I felt that though there were less SF books about, I felt that my selection of ‘best’ SF was clearer and stronger. This year, much less so. I’ve not read as many good SF books this year, though that may be due to my reading habits more than the fact that there is less ‘good’ SF out there. I suspect this will be reflected in our usual SFFWorld ’Best of’ from our members, with less clear-cut obvious winners.

SF books I have enjoyed this year have been (in no particular order), Seeds of Earth, JG Ballard’s Complete Stories, Retribution Falls, The Shadow of the Scorpion, Flash forward and The Gabble and Other Stories.

Rob: Science Fiction gains momentum every year and this seems no exception as a number of books rose to the top of my personal ‘Best of the Year’ list.  Robert Charles Wilson published Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd Century America that defied genre classification but was one of the more critically acclaimed novels of the year.  Though a year behind the UK publication, Alastair Reynolds’s House of Suns and Peter F. Hamilton’s The Temporal Void were terrific far-far-far future epics.  I also like Robert J. Sawyer’s latest, Wake, the first of his WWW trilogy.  Daryl Gregory’s second novel, The Devil’s Alphabet was very strong, though it again could be classified in any of the genres of SF. I also enjoyed S. Andrew Swann’s Prophets and after reading Kay Kenyon’s City Without End, I’m eagerly anticipating the fourth and concluding volume of her series.

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