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Editors' Choice - The Official SF Site Best SF and Fantasy Books of 2009
by Neil Walsh

Here we are at the SF Site's 13th annual Editors' Choice Best Books of the Year -- our official Best Reading recommendations from everything we read in 2009.

As our stable of editors, reviewers, columnists, interviewers, and other contributors continues to grow, our choice of reading material likewise continues to expand. This year it seemed more than ever that there was very little overlap in our reading selections, so the results of our Best of the Year list are even closer than ever. With our history of allowing ties to stand, our top 10 lists of the past have frequently had more than 10 titles -- the Readers' Choice list for 2009, for example, has 13 books on it. But this time, beyond the top 5, there were just too many ties on our Editors' Choice list. We would have had a top 10 with over 20 titles on it. So instead, we're giving you our top 5 picks plus a whole raft of other recommendations. These are all books worth checking out. Enjoy!

[Editor's Note: Where possible, links lead to SF Site reviews of the books. You can find links to other Best of the Year columns here.]

   No. 5
The Devil's Alphabet The Devil's Alphabet by Daryl Gregory
(Del Rey, November 2009)

Gregory's second novel is a Philip K Dick Award nominee. It's "a story about quantum evolution, murder, and what it means to be human." A small town in the mountains of Tennessee suffered an epidemic some 13 years ago, leaving hundreds dead and many more transformed into one of three bizarrely alternate forms of humanity. No one ever discovered what caused this unprecedented disease or why it never spread. Eventually the quarantine on the town is lifted, and Pax Martin, who lived through and apparently was somehow immune to the Changes in this strange little town when he was only 15, has now returned for the funeral of the girl he once loved. Pax soon discovers that his hometown is not the place he remembers and the changed have some mysterious secrets which could have profound impacts on the future of humanity.

   No. 4
Julian Comstock Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson
(Tor, June 2009)

This book is also #4 on the SF Site Readers' Choice list for this year. Expanded from his 2007 Hugo-nominated novella, Julian: A Christmas Story, the novel is a story of a future America in which technology and values have reverted to those more closely resembling the 19th century. Religious freedom is severely limited, state censorship is the rule of the day, indentured servitude is the new norm, representation in the Senate is based on wealth and property, and the presidency is now hereditary. Julian Comstock is a free-thinking radical, who also happens to be the nephew of the current president. He befriends a young writer, and the pair travel, adventure in and explore the world, while Julian strives to make it a better place than he found it. Many years later, his writer friend will recount all these adventures -- but how much is truth, and how much is fiction?

   No. 3
Destroyer of Worlds Destroyer of Worlds: Kingdom of the Serpent, Book 3 by Mark Chadbourn
(Gollancz, July 2009)

This is the final book in a trilogy of trilogies, following the Dark Age and The Age of Misrule series, as well as books 1 & 2 of the current Kingdom of the Serpent series, Jack of Ravens (2006) and The Burning Man (2008). It is now the beginning of the end, for men as well as gods. Ancient prophecies are coming to pass and the final war is being waged in all realms -- Earth, Faerie, and the land of the dead. Jack Churchill, Champion of Existence, with an army of gods from all the pantheons of all the world's greatest mythologies, must bring battle to the gates of the Fortress of the Enemy in an effort to finally defeat the Burning Man. Or will this great endeavour cause the ultimate end of everything -- the very thing that Jack is trying to avert?

   No. 2
The City & the City (Macmillan/Pan) The City & the City (Del Rey) The City & the City (Subterranean) The City and the City by China Miéville
(Macmillan / Pan / Del Rey, May 2009 /Subterranean Press, August 2009)

This book handily captured the #1 spot on the Readers's Choice list this time, and only very narrowly missed that same honour from the SF Site Contributors. The City is Beszel and the City is Ul Quoma. The two cities overlap physically, but are in different nations with different languages, customs, styles and laws. The ultimate crime in either city is to Breach -- to cross illegally from one to the other. But since citizens of each city may find themselves walking down two different streets that are in reality only one street, Breach could happen simply by acknowledging a citizen of the city you are not legally in. And acknowledgement can be as simple as reacting to a car backfiring, smiling at someone, or even to be caught seeing them. Life in this environment is very stressful, and particularly challenging for outsiders. Investigating a murder in which the victim is found in Beszel is complicated when it is discovered that the murder itself took place in Ul Quoma. Things get even more interesting when the victim is found to have been a foreigner researching the existence of an alleged third city that exists (if it exists at all) only in the in-between places, those zones that Ul Quoma and Beszel each believe to belong to the other...

   No. 1
Dust of Dreams Dust of Dreams Dust of Dreams: Malazan Book of the Fallen, Volume 9 by Steven Erikson
(Bantam, August 2009/Tor 2010)

Erikson has never yet disappointed. He set out with an ambitious plan for a 10-book series and his world-building, characterization, writing style, and publishing schedule have never faltered. This is the first book in the series to end without a proper ending. He has the good grace to apologize for this fact in an author's note, explaining that the present work is really only the first half of the final book, which will be completed in The Crippled God. Even though it was a close race this year, I think it shows our great faith in Erikson and the Malazan series that the SF Site Contributor's chose this half of a novel as the best book from 2009!

In this book, we return to the Letherii continent where the exiled Malazan army undertakes a gruelling march into the Wastelands. They're heading for what might be the fight to end all fights for the Malazans, although no one seems to really understand why or what to expect from their enemy -- except perhaps their leader, Adjunct Tavore Paran. Events "are drawing to a close in a distant place, beneath indifferent skies, as the last great army of the Malazan Empire seeks a final battle in the name of redemption. Final questions remain to be answered: can one's deeds be heroic when no one is there to see it? Can that which is unwitnessed forever change the world? The answers await the Bonehunters, beyond the Wastelands."

If you haven't already, pick up this series, starting with Gardens of the Moon (1999). It's certainly one of the best fantasy series you'll read.

Additional Recommendations
The Quiet War Clockwork Phoenix 2
Odd and the Frost Giants Cloud and Ashes
Daemon In Great Waters
Genesis The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction
The Witnesses Are Gone Army of Shadows
War and Space The New Space Opera 2
Galileo's Dream Cold to the Touch
Best Served Cold We Never Talk About My Brother
Muse and Reverie Fragment
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland

As I mentioned, the SF Site editors and reviewers were reading all over the map last year. So here are some further SF Site recommendations from 2009...

  • The Quiet War, by Paul McAuley (Gollancz, October 2008 & September 2009 / Pyr, September 2009) -- chosen as #6 on the Readers' Choice list.
  • Clockwork Phoenix 2: More Tales of Beauty and Strangeness, edited by Mike Allen (Norilana, July 2009).
  • War and Space: Selected Short Stories, Volume 1, by Lester Del Rey, edited by SF Site's own Steven H Silver (NESFA Press, August 2009).
  • The New Space Opera 2, edited by Gardner Dozois & Jonathan Strahan (Eos, July 2009).

  • Odd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman (Bloomsbury, March 2008, with illustrations by Mark Buckingham / HarperCollins, October 2009, with illustrations by Brett Helquist ).
  • Cloud and Ashes: Three Winter's Tales, by Greer Gilman (Small Beer Press, May 2009).
  • Galileo's Dream, by Kim Stanley Robinson (HarperVoyager, August 2009 / Ballantine Spectra, December 2009) -- #7 on the Readers' Choice top 10.
  • Cold to the Touch, by Simon Strantzas (Tartarus Press, July 2009).

  • Daemon, by Daniel Suarez (Dutton, January 2009 / Quercus, April 2009 / Signet, December 2009).
  • In Great Waters, by Kit Whitfield (Jonathan Cape, March 2009 / Del Rey, October 2009).
  • Best Served Cold, by Joe Abercrombie (Gollancz, April 2009 / Orbit, July 2009) -- #3 for the Readers' Choice.
  • We Never Talk About My Brother, by Peter S. Beagle (Tachyon, March 2009).

  • Genesis, by Bernard Beckett (Longacre, May 2008 / Quercus, January 2009 / Harcourt, April).
  • The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction, by Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr. (Wesleyan University Press, December 2008).
  • Muse and Reverie, by one of our favourite authors, Charles de Lint (Tor, December 2009).
  • Fragment, by Warren Fahy (Delacorte, June 2009 / Harper, July 2009).

  • The Witnesses are Gone, by Joel Lane (PS Publishing, April 2009).
  • Army of Shadows: Orcs Bad Blood, Book 2, by Stan Nicholls (Orbit / Gollancz, October 2009).
  • The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne Valente (Published online by the author, serially 2009) which has also been nominated for the Andre Norton Award.

    In recent years you may have noticed that comics have done fairly well on the Best Read lists from the SF Site contributors. Once again this year we's like to recommend a few series to you, some ongoing, and some completed. Here they are:

    Buffy Season 8, Vol 5 I Kill Giants Girl Genius 8 Girl Genius 8 Goats: Infinite Typewriters Sugarshock

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8, by Joss Whedon et al. (ongoing series from Dark Horse; collected in trade, volume 4 Time of Your Life was published in April 2009, and volume 5 Predators and Prey in September 2009) -- the series won an Eisner Award in 2008 for Best New Series.
  • I Kill Giants, by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura (Image, May 2009) -- critically acclaimed and definitely worth checking out, particularly if you enjoyed Kelley Puckett & Warren Pleece's Kinetic, which was #6 on the SF Site Editors' Choice for books from 2004. Not that it's at all like that book; I just think the appeal would be parallel -- and both are excellent.
  • Girl Genius, Book 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones, by Phil & Kaja Foglio (Airship Entertainment, May 2009 -- also on ongoing series as an online comic). This series has won 5 Web Cartoonists' Choice Awards and the present volume, Book 8, won a Hugo for Best Graphic Story. If this series wasn't completely engaging -- which it is! -- it would be worth reading for the Jägermonsters alone. They're hilarious.
  • Umbrella Academy: Dallas by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse, September 2009; 6-issue series from November 2008 to April 2009) -- this is the second volume of the Umbrella Academy series, which won an Eisner Award and is being translated into a feature film.
  • Goats: Infinite Typewriters by Jonathan Rosenberg (Del Rey, June 2009) -- effectively the 5th Goats collection of the long-running online comic, which is smart and funny.
  • Sugarshock, by Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon (Dark Horse, 2009) -- also originally an online comic, and winner of a 2008 Eisner Award.

Best Read of the Year in Science Fiction and Fantasy: Previous Years
Readers' Choice: Best Read of 2009           
Readers' Choice: Best Read of 2008           
Readers' Choice: Best Read of 2007           
Readers' Choice: Best Read of 2006           
Readers' Choice: Best Read of 2005           
Readers' Choice: Best Read of 2004           
Readers' Choice: Best Read of 2003           
Readers' Choice: Best Read of 2002           
Readers' Choice: Best Read of 2001           
Readers' Choice: Best Read of 2000           
Readers' Choice: Best Read of 1999           
Readers' Choice: Best Read of 1998           
           Best Read of the Year: 2008
           Best Read of the Year: 2007
           Best Read of the Year: 2006
           Best Read of the Year: 2005
           Best Read of the Year: 2004
           Best Read of the Year: 2003
           Best Read of the Year: 2002
           Best Read of the Year: 2001
           Best Read of the Year: 2000
           Best Read of the Year: 1999
           Best Read of the Year: 1998
           Best Read of the Year: 1997
Of course there are plenty more excellent books out there which we neglected to mention, and I'm sure we'll all encounter plenty more in the year ahead. Happy reading for 2010 and we'll be back again next year with our top picks -- and yours!

Copyright © 2010 Neil Walsh

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