SFFWorld Review of the Year, 2011: Part 2

So here we are again: our usual review of the year. (This is something like our ninth, I think!)

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.  (In fact, it never does, but the intention is always there….!)

Right: with that over, let’s get started. In this second part we look at Science Fiction books.

2: Science Fiction

As we’ve said in the Fantasy review, the global recession has clearly affected the publishing world. According to Locus Online at the time of writing (beginning of December) there have been 76 SF novels published this year. Compared with Fantasy’s 172 books in 2011 this is a much smaller number, and this is significantly down on the 159 SF of 2010.

Again, like Fantasy, many of the year’s releases were sequels or continuations of series.

In January, in the usual post-Christmas lull we had a couple of releases, most notably Gene Wolfe’s Home Fires, a typically complex tale involving SF elements as well as pirates. Justina Robson had the latest in her Quantum Universe series, Down to the Bone, published. At SFFWorld we reviewedDemi Monde: Winter by Rod Rees, a debut which Mark liked but not without some concerns. We also reviewed Horus Rising by Dan Abnett, which Rob enjoyed as part of his recent testing of the waters of the Warhammer universe.  Mark reviewed a non-fiction book, Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1 by William H. Patterson, Jr., which was part of his Christmas haul (and was nominated for a Hugo Award later in the year.)

In February Rob reviewed Out of the Dark by David Weber, which he enjoyed but was not without its faults. Mark was very excited about Son of Heaven by David Wingrove, the first in an ambitiously rewritten twenty volume Chung Kuo series. This was a completely new book in the series, a little uneven, but a very pleasant return. Rob’s review of State of Decay by James Knapp involved the phrase ‘Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep meets zombies’.

March saw the release of a novel Mark read, and enjoyed, the re-released The Prestige by Christopher Priest and, a little less so, Jack Campbell’sDauntless.

In April we had the release of The Company Man by Robert Bennett, an alternate history which impressed Mark very much. Rob reviewed Prince of Stormsby Kay Kenyon, the conclusion of the Entire and the Rose sequence, and found it was ‘something I recommend without hesitation’. Dan Abnett’s novelEntangled, set outside his usual Warhammer remit, was also well received by many.

May saw the re-release of Brian Aldiss’s Greybeard, which was, in Mark’s words, ‘ amazing achievement. It is brilliant and highly recommended. Definitely a book for grown-ups.’ Rob began reading the Honorverse with On Basilisk Station by David Weber, and could see why the series was popular, saying, On Basilisk Station turned into a truly entertaining, engaging, and addictive novel.’ The month also saw the release of China Mieville’s perplexing SF novel of human/alien communication, Embassytown. John Scalzi’s reimagining of H. Piper Beam’s Fuzzies in Fuzzy Nation was also released in May, which was a lot of fun.

June saw the release of Mira Grant’s Deadline, the sequel to the Hugo award-nominated Feed, which was released in the UK and the US. Both of theseRob liked very much. Also liked by many, including Rob, was the Space Opera Leviathan Wakes, by S.A.Corey (aka Daniel Abraham & Ty Frank.) Markrevisited an old favourite on a rerelease: City by Clifford Simak. Rob reviewed Alastair Reynolds’ Terminal World. Our SFFWorld SF favourite of the month though was Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown, which Rob said was ‘SF of the topmost order – inviting to readers who may be wary of the genre while also highlighting the greatness of the genre thus appealing to long time readers of SF.’ Mark read it later in the year and was equally impressed.

July was the month for Rob to review Dreadnaught by Jack Campbell, the first of a sequel series to the author’s popular Lost Fleet Military SF/Space Opera saga and Destroyermen: Distant Thunders, the fourth book in Taylor Anderson’s universe hopping military SF/alternate universe hybrid. Kathryn reviewed Bioshock:Rapture for SFFWorld. Mark reviewed an old classic in Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, which he realised was a new adult version he’d not read before. He was impressed, but preferred the older version.  Mark also reviewed a long-awaited art book of one of his favourite SF artists: Hardware: The Definitive SF Works of Chris Foss by Chris Foss and Rian Hughes, which included many of the SF book covers of his youth. The month also saw Charlie Stross return to the world of Halting State in a sequel, Rule 34.

In August we had the release of Final Days by Gary Gibson, which Mark thought was a credible take on alien invasion and the best this author has written so far. Rob thought that the US release of debut novel The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi was ‘just the beginning of strange and interesting things to come from Rajaniemi.’ The month also saw the release of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One which was well received by readers at SFFWorld when it was a Book of the Month in October, but left Mark feeling decidedly underwhelmed. Also underwhelming (but others really liked it) was Adam Roberts’s By Light Alone, released this month. At the Hugo Awards this month Connie Willis’s Blackout/All Clear won the Best Novel, to not-a-lot of surprise. Mark enjoyed it a lot, but really read it last year.

September saw the release of Neal Asher’s The Departure which was his first non-Polity novel for a while, and was more political yet no less violent than the Polity novels. Mark reviewed it HERE. He also reviewed a rare event – a short story collection from Peter Hamilton, Manhattan in ReverseA welcome read, though rather slight in comparison with the usual backbreaker expected from Peter. Rob’s review of SUPERGODS by Grant Morrison said that the book was ‘a must read, must have, historical love-letter to superheroes as they’ve lived and breathed in our world for just under 100 years.’  Mark also reviewed REAMDE by Neal Stephenson, a hefty-sized technothriller tome that was, in Mark’s opinion, more accessible than many of Neal’s earlier books.

October saw some great releases. The UK release of Captain Nemo by Kevin Anderson, was a Jules Verne steam-punk tale that Mark enjoyed much more than he thought he would. Rob enjoyed the novel Germline by T.C. McCarthy, a bleak yet impressive debut. (Mark also read it during the year but found it too bleak for him.) David Wingrove’s second Chung Kuo novel of the year, Daylight on Iron Mountain  was much more consistent than the already-mentioned Son of Heaven and was jawdropping in its development, not to mention its violence.  October also saw the release of Chris Wooding’s thirdKetty Jay novel, The Iron Jackal, which was reviewed by Mark as ’ another winner’ in terms of its characterisation and sparkling dialogue.  In the US we saw the release of Chris’ second Ketty Jay novel, The Black Lung Captain, which Rob reviewed and liked. The month also saw the release of A Beautiful Friendship, David Weber’s YA prequel to the Honor Harrington series, this time around involving Stephanie Harrington.

November now. Ian Whates’ edited collection Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction was quite well received. Mark was very favourable about Stephen King’s time-travelling 22.11.63, which he said was ‘an engaging and, most of all, entertaining read. It’s the best King I’ve read in a while.Rob really liked Hell Ship by Philip Palmer. Mark enjoyed the UK re-release of Stark’s War by Jack Campbell.

Rob continued his reading of David Weber by reviewing two: in November the most recent (How Firm a Foundation) and in December the first novel (Off Armageddon Reef) in David Weber’s epic Safehold saga, which is a hybrid far future military SF/Epic Fantasy.

December saw Mark review the rerelease of John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There? and Rob reviewed Mira Grant’s Deadline (mentioned earlier.) Mark also caught up with Paul Malmont’s The Astounding, the Amazing and the Unknown, released in July, which was a mixture of fact and fantasy from the 1940’s involving Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, L. Ron Hubbard and other SF writers.

OK: to favourites.

Mark:  Always difficult to reduce, in no particular order, my five SF for 2011 would be

  1. Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown
  2. The Astounding, the Amazing and the Unknown by Paul Malmont;
  3. Daylight on Iron Mountain by David Wingrove;
  4. The Iron Jackal by Chris Wooding;
  5. Hardware: The Definitive SF Works of Chris Foss by Chris Foss and Rian Hughes

Must also say that, like Fantasy, I have spent the year reading lots of ‘old SF stuff’: things I’ve not had chance to catch up with before, or rereleases and rereads. Many of my reviews have been part of the Gollancz SF Masterworks series. Of particular merit from this year I would suggest The Prestige,Greybeard, Hyperion and purely for nostalgic reasons, City. Congratulations, Gollancz, on reaching 50 years young in SF publishing…

I would also recommend (again) Haffner Press’s collections of Edmond Hamilton’s, Leigh Brackett’s and Henry Kuttner’s work this year. Undeniably pulp, and not to everyone’s taste, but with that ‘one bound and he was free’ style, great sensawunda reading. Not to mention world-smashing…


It looks like Mark and I will agree on our top SF novel of the year, on the one hand, but on the other, the top three are relatively interchangeable here in SF as they were for my top 5 fantasy novels. Here’s the top five:

Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (The pen name for the author team of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck)

Deadline by Mira Grant

Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

The Black Lung Captain by Chris Wooding

Some interesting things coming out of Nightshade Books in the US, lots of near future SF from new voices like Kameron Hurley, Katy Stauber, and Rob Ziegler.  Other new voices (not from Nightshade) that caught a foothold for readers this year seemed to be T.C. McCarthy, Hannu Rajaniemi and Dan Abnett’s first non shared world SF. Towards the end of the year, I acquired a Kindle so I’ve been on the hunt for free SF eBooks and have found tons over at the Baen CD Web site.

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