SFFWorld Review of the Year 2010 Part 2

So here we are again: our usual review of the year. (This is something like our eighth, I think!)  The snow’s deep around Hobbit Towers but you’re welcome to pull up a chair near the fire while we chat.

For the uninitiated, this is where Rob Bedford and I try to pull together what we see as key genre books from the previous twelve months. I should really point out before we start that there is always some slippage here, as books get published in different places around the world at different times.

Putting it simply, some books may reappear even though they were mentioned previously. At the moment this seems to be a ‘UK first, US later’ thing, but by no means always.

At the end, Rob and I will try and mention our year’s favourites. We try and limit it to five each, but it doesn’t always happen that way.

Right: with that over, let’s get started.

Part 2: SF

According to Locus Magazine there have (at least up to the point of writing this in December 2010) been 159 SF novels published this year, of which 60 were stand-alone and 99 either sequels or part of ongoing series. That is still quite impressive (though rather dwarfed by the 335 Fantasy and Horror novels.)

January started relatively quietly, with the publication of Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson: at times a history novel but with added science; Rob thought the premise interesting, but had difficulty finishing the book. (The book was published in the UK in August 2009.) Dan reviewed Connie Willis’Black Out, the first part of her split book this year of which more later. (Mark caught up with it later in the year.)

In February, Dan liked The Quiet War, Paul J. MacAuley’s first part of his latest Space Opera. The second part of this tale, Gardens of the Sun, was released in the UK in August. This is where McAuley does big Space Opera, stretching across the solar system. Some felt it started rather slowly but once it got going it was impressive.

In March we saw the concluding volume in David Louis Edelman’s Jump 225 trilogy, Geosynchron, which Rob really liked. Alastair Reynolds’ slightly delayed Terminal World appeared, and many seemed to appreciate it also, with its mix of steampunkery and – dare we say it – Wolfe-ean fantasy SF. March also saw a Ray Bradbury collection by Subterranean Press. Called A Pleasure to Burn (based on a phrase from the Fahrenheit 451 novel) it was a collection of Fahrenheit 451 stories, some well known, some obscure. Dmitri Glukhovsky’s METRO 2033, set in a future Moscow, also had some interest, as well as being the source material for a simultaneously released game.

April saw Adam Roberts’ New Model Army: though a little too forced for Mark, there were resonances with Cory Doctorow’s latest YA series (see May). Mike Cobley’s The Orphaned Worlds, the second book in his Humanity’s Fire series, appeared. A Mighty Fortress, the fourth book in David Weber’s increasingly popular Safehold series was released this month, debuting at the #9 spot on the NY Times Bestseller list and to a great deal of positive buzz.  Rob is a big fan of this series, but has only made it to the third book thus far.

 

In May, having mentioned it in April, Cory Doctorow’s For the Win was released and seemed popular. Stephen Baxter’s sequel to FloodArk, was also released in the US and was felt to be more SF-nal than Flood, being mainly set in space. Ian Whates’ The Noise Within was a solid SF release from Solaris.

June saw the ‘Mike Ashley The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF debacle’ which had great stories but no women authors, an issue which upset a few on the interwebs. At SFFWorld, less controversially, Mark liked David J Williams’ second novel in the Autumn Rain series, The Burning Skies with a cracking cliff-hanger ending.

Whilst we’re talking of cliff-hanger endings, Mark also caught up with the first part of Connie Willis’s Black Out, which Dan reviewed earlier in the year. He liked it, but then he has been a Willis fan for years.

Rob claimed that Ian Tregillis’ debut alternate history novel Bitter Seeds was likely to be ‘very close to the top of my best of 2010 list.’ (Guess we’ll see that later.) Magic, superheroes, alternate history, and SF mixed together in a tasty blend.

July saw the release of Charles Stross’ latest in the Laundry series, The Fuller Memorandum, which was as witty and as full of the usual mind-bending trickeries as any of the previous Bob Howard tales.  Mark reviewed and liked it. The release of Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House in August, set in Istanbul in 2027, was also well received this month. It was released in the US (by Pyr) and in the UK (by Gollancz.)

Also in the same month was the UK release of Chris Wooding’s second Ketty Jay TaleBlack Lung CaptainMark thought it was brilliant‘If you’re thrilled by tales of betrayal and revenge, space pirates, incredibly fast spaceship chases, great character repartee and steam punk sensibilities… this one is a great read.’ It also allowed us at SFFWorld to create, with Chris, the term ‘bucklepunk’. Rob is looking forward to these books coming to the US in the summer of 2011.

Neal Asher’s latest Polity novel, The Technician, was released in the UK and was liked for its usual Asher action and violence.

On the non-fiction side of SF, August saw the arrival of Volume One of Tor’s authorised biography of Robert Heinlein by William H. Patterson, Jr., Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1 (1907-1948): Learning Curve. Whilst hardly unbiased, (Patterson being the Founder of the Heinlein Journal in 1997 and a consultant with the Heinlein Trust), and questioned by some on some of its facts,  it was a fulsome account of the extremely private Robert’s early life. The second volume is due out in 2011. We also saw Tor in the same month place posts from lots of SF authors who told of the importance of Heinlein in their formative years.

September’s joint Hugo win at the Australian Worldcon, for China Mieville’s The City and the City and Paulo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, caused a bit of a stir, as it’s not too often there are joint winners (the last time was in 1993.) The general feeling was that they were both worthy winners, (though the UK had to wait until December of this year to be able to read The Windup Girl!) Paulo’s Young Adult novel, Ship Breaker, was released in August.

Furthermore in September, Peter Hamilton’s Evolutionary Void, the third in the latest series of hefty doorstops, was released in the UK and the US to generally positive reviews. We were also pleased that the US had an almost simultaneous release, as they caught up with one of the UK’s best-sellers for years.

Similarly, Iain M Banks also had some of his earlier Culture books released in the US, perhaps in preparation for the release of Surface Detail later in the year.  Consider Phlebas and The Player of Games were both released in March, Use of Weapons and Look to Windward in August.

In the UK the re-release of the hefty Helliconia omnibus by Brian Aldiss allowed Mark to reassess his opinion of the books twenty-five years on.

The release in September of The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi seemed to cause a stir. Many felt that this debut novel was quite special: Charles Stross, for one, was quite impressed. We suspect it will be seen in next year’s Award lists and discussed again in this review in 2011 when it publishes in the US. William Gibson’s Zero History was also released: less SF-nal and more contemporary than many of his previous works, but still often liked.

Similarly, October’s publication of Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe seems to have both impressed and bemused readers. For similar reasons as above, we suspect it will also be seen in next year’s Award lists.

Cherie Priest’s Dreadnought seemed to be a popular steampunk novel in a popular genre. What with this and Scott Westerfield’s Behemoth this month, the visibility of steampunk was noticeable. It was also reflected in the September edition of Locus Magazine being dedicated to the subgenre.

David Weber’s Out of the Dark, an intriguing mix of SF, vampires and aliens (first encountered in George RR Martin and Gardner Dozois’ excellent story collection, Warriors, in March) seemed to keep many of his fans happy, despite not being an Honor Harrington or Safehold novel.

November was the UK and US release of Iain M Banks’ Surface Detail, which was generally well received and seen by some as a return to form. Mark liked it anyway: lots of big Banksian ideas and cool characters in a hefty yet entertaining tome. Greg Bear’s Hull Zero Three was released in the US and was seen as a return to form by some. Orson Scott Card’s time travel novel, Pathfinder, was also released.  Tor re-released the first of George RR Martin’s Wild Cards series, after being very hard to get since about 1993.

December saw us review McMaster Bujold’s Cryoburn: a welcome return to Miles Vorkosigan, though for Mark, sadly, a rather underwhelming one. More impressive to him was the second part of Connie Willis’ All Clear, which despite its overworked plot in places, was a very satisfying conclusion. The UK also had the release of Paulo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl (at last!) which seemed to show them what everyone else had mentioned when released in the US in 2009: nice worldbuilding, reasonable plot, concern about whether the sex in it was appropriate or exploitative. (Rob reviewed it in October 2009.) Continuing our steampunk theme through the year, Ann VanderMeer & Jeff VanderMeer’s Steampunk Reloaded collection was released by Tachyon Press. Subterranean Press released The Best of Larry Niven, a large tome which gave nothing new, yet Mark enjoyed revisiting.

To finish the year, Rob reviewed The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. A ‘post-apocalyptic, dystopic future’ YA novel, this has been quite popular this year. The sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay are also available. Art reviewed another George RR Martin/Gardner Dozois collection, The Songs of the Dying Earth, a collection of stories written as a tribute to Jack Vance’s original tales first started in the 1950’s.

 

Mark: Once again, though there is less SF about than Fantasy, I felt that the SF was for me, at least, stronger.  If I had to narrow my ten favourite books of 2010 to five, the majority would be SF.

Mark’s favourite five SF of the year, in no particular order:

Paulo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl

Iain M Banks’ Culture novel Surface Detail

Peter Hamilton’s Evolutionary Void

Chris Wooding’s Black Lung Captain

Connie Willis’ Black Out/All Clear

Heads up also for a great series of reissues this year: Helliconia has been already mentioned, but also H G Wells’ The Food of the GodsJack Finney’sThe Body Snatchers, M J Engh’s shocking Arslan, and Greg Bear’s Forge of God. Very, very pleased at the rerelease of George RR Martin’s Wild Cards,Volume One in November by Tor: been wanting to read that one for ages! Honorary mentions also for the continuing re-releases of Poul Anderson’s ‘old stuff’ by Baen and NESFA Press, and Haffner Press’s old Henry Kuttner collection of tales (Detour to Otherness), both of which I’ve loved dipping into throughout the year.

Rob does some manoeuvring with his list since a couple were originally published in previous years, but here it is:

Geosynchron by David Louis Edelman

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis (This is the most impressive debut of the year for Rob, too.)

The Passage by Justin Cronin (The SFnal nature of the vampires and post-apocalyptic setting squarely place this book in the SF camp for Rob)

Jump Gate Twist by Mark L Van Name – Rob is breaking Mark’s rule of reprint/omnibus volumes because he liked this book so much and the book does have a 2010 copyright.

By Heresies Distressed by David Weber – The Mass Market Paperback was released in 2010 so in Rob’s mind, this qualifies the book.

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