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Editors' Choice - The Official SF Site Best SF and Fantasy Books of 2011
by Neil Walsh

This is Year 15 of our annual SF Site Editors' Choice Best Books of the Year, the SF Site official Best Reading and Top Ten (...er, 11 this time, due to a tie) recommendations from everything we read in the previous year. The voting results were extremely close this time, which I shall take to mean -- even more so than usual -- that absolutely everything mentioned below is worth seeking out and reading, if you haven't already done so.

I also invite you to compare these results with the Readers' Choice Top Ten which was chosen by the SF Site readership. There's quite a bit of variety between the two lists this year, so you should find plenty of recommendations to inspire you to pick up something good to read.

[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. 10
Palimpsest Palimpsest by Charles Stross
(Subterranean Press, October 2011)

This Hugo Award-winning novella was first published in Wireless: The Essential Charles Stross (Ace, 2009 / Orbit, 2010) and reprinted last year by Subterranean, well known for producing beautiful limited edition books. The protagonist, Pierce, is a newly-recruited agent of the Stasis, a time-travel organization dedicated to the preservation of human history. Pierce stumbles into an event that give every appearance of having been specifically designed to kill him. But who wants him dead, and why? Stross is an accomplished author who can take a tried and true science fiction trope like the time travel paradox and revitalize it with fresh perspectives.

   No. 9
Kafkaesque Kafkaesque edited by John Kessel & James Patrick Kelly
(Tachyon, November 2011)

Kafkaesque, according to the Oxford: "impenetrably oppressive, nightmarish, in a manner characteristic of the fictional world of Franz Kafka." This collection features stories inspired by Kafka, from the likes of J.G. Ballard, Jorge Luis Borges, Paul Di Filippo, Carol Emshwiller, Jeffrey Ford, Theodora Goss, Jonathan Lethem, and many others. And if you've read much Kafka, you'll note that beside being rather dark, his work is also darkly humorous. Many of the works in this fine collection include that Kafkaesque spirit of dark comedy to be found in the broodily surreal. All in all, a noteworthy collection that would have made Franz Kafka, himself, blush with pleasure.

   No. 8 (tie)
Among Others Among Others by Jo Walton
(Tor, January 2011)

This novel is up for this year's Nebula Award. It's a story of a teenaged girl growing up in late 1970s Britain. Following an accident in which her twin sister is killed and she, herself, is left with a permanent injury to her leg, Mori runs away from her mother to live with her estranged father. She is placed in an elite girls' school, where she quickly finds herself to be something of an outsider. The novel is riddled with references to science fiction books and authors of the era, and includes some elements of what may or may not be urban fantasy magic. But what makes it one of the best books of the past year is Walton's compelling storytelling.

   No. 8 (tie)
The Islanders The Islanders by Christopher Priest
(Gollancz, September 2011)

Here the author revisits his Dream Archipelago of previous works. The present book at first appears to be a collection of "non-fiction" accounts, letters, travelogues, etc. of Priest's fictional world. However, as you meet the characters populating the Dream Archipelago, and read their accounts of themselves and each other, the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fall slowly into place until you realize you are, in fact, reading a cleverly conceived and marvellously executed novel about murder, art, and the creative process.

   No. 7
The Silver Wind The Silver Wind by Nina Allan
(Eibonvale Press, October 2011)

Five interconnected tales are drawn together here to create an overarching story. It is, however, a somewhat complicated story as it is based in several parallel realities. Martin Newland is a rather bland estate agent who is fascinated by timepieces. In each of the five stories, a timepiece is key. In the title story, and the key to the overall work, Newland discovers the inventor of the Silver Wind, which has the function of "stabilizing" reality -- and allowing him to slip from one timestream to another. Martin makes use of this device to escape the dystopian Britain he has been inhabiting into a more palatable parallel world. Short-listed for the BSFA Awards.

   No. 6
Hodder & Stoughton - UK Viking - North America One of Our Thursdays Is Missing: Thursday Next, Book 6 by Jasper Fforde
(Hodder & Stoughton, February 2011 / Viking, March 2011)

Sixth in the delightful series of Thursday Next, literary detective, who physically delves into works of literature to ensure that they are not tampered with unduly or unlawfully. In this book, Thursday's special skills are needed to avert a genre war in Bookworld, but she is discovered to be missing with only a week to go before the Peace Talks are scheduled to begin. Jurisfiction contacts the written Thursday Next in an effort to enlist her aid. Written Thursday somewhat reluctantly begins to investigate and is soon entangled in someone's plot to have her killed. But whose plot is it, and can she save both herself and the real Thursday Next?

   No. 5
The Children of the Sky The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge
(Tor, October 2011)

This book is a direct sequel to Vinge's Hugo Award-winning novel, A Fire Upon the Deep (Tor, April 1992). The human survivors on Tines world, far from accessible contact with advanced civilization, are mostly children and young adults. Ravna is the one adult remaining. Her authority is usurped by a faction of the children who believe her agenda to upgrade the Tines civilization is misguided. But Ravna truly believes this is the one chance her and her fellow humans here have to avert the Blight that is coming to Tines world.

   No. 4
The Bible Repairman The Bible Repairman and Other Stories by Tim Powers
(Tachyon, September 2011 / Subterranean, December 2011)

The title story was first published in a 28-page chapbook (Subterranean, January 2006). The present collection also includes five other previously-published stories by this master of dark fiction. My personal favourite is "The Bible Repairman" in which a man picks up part-time work ritually customizing bibles with his tainted murderer's blood. He'll excise the passage you don't want to have to apply to your life, and use holy water to re-validate your new custom bible. Powers' stories are brilliantly creepy and often come with a truly chilling ending. This short collection is definitely worth your time.

   No. 3
A Dance With Dragons A Dance With Dragons: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 5 by George R.R. Martin
(Bantam/HarperVoyager, July 2011)

Fifth in a planned seven-volume series, begun with A Game of Thrones (Voyager, August 1996 / Bantam, September 1996) recently made more popular by the TV series of the same title. As readers have come to expect from this series, the present novel is full of intrigue and scheming, myriad characters and plotlines. The primary stories revolve around threats of invasion in the far north, guarded against by Jon Snow, and the expedition of Daenerys Targaryen to disrupt trade while her dragons grow stronger...

   No. 2
The Crippled God The Crippled God: The Malazan Book of the Fallen, Volume 10 by Steven Erikson
(Bantam/Tor, February 2011)

The preceding volume in this series, Dust of Dreams (Bantam, August 2009), was the number one book chosen by the SF Site contributors two years ago. With hundreds of characters and countless plotlines and subplots, Erikson has managed to provide a very satisfying conclusion to this massive, long-running and much beloved series. To effectively tie up a work of such depth and complexity is a wondrous feat of literary dexterity. There are some revelations in this final book that should be encountered through reading, and therefore I will refrain from talking about the plot. I cannot recommend this series highly enough -- but start at the beginning, with Gardens of the Moon (Bantam, April 1999, and reprinted as recently as 2009 in a special 10th anniversary edition). You won't regret it.

   No. 1
Embassytown Embassytown by China Miéville
(Del Rey, May 2011)

The favourite book of the year for the SF Site contributors and reviewers was Miéville's Embassytown. It's also up for the Nebula. It's a bold and challenging work. The characters are fascinating and complex, although it's primarily the ideas the author presents about language and how it shapes our relationship to the world that makes this an important and interesting work of science fiction.

Embassytown is the name of a human-inhabited section of an alien city on a distant and somewhat isolated world. The native inhabitants have two sets of vocal apparatus, meaning that their complex language is comprised of two voices speaking in tandem. They only understand language when it is spoken in this way, and only when they can also recognize the sentient mind behind the sounds. This has meant that humans have had to develop a way of communicating with them that does not use artificial voice synthesis. The humans have developed special ambassadors who are cloned individuals with cybernetic mind links.

Interestingly, the locals can only use language to express truth. The concept of lying had been entirely foreign to them before contact with humans. Now that they are beginning to learn how to lie, things are changing in Embassytown...

Honourable Mentions
Midnight Riot Rivers of London
The Dragon's Path A Tangle in Slops
Hull Zero Three Pogo
House of Fear Mrs Midnight
Dark Tangos Murray Leinster
Rule 34 Count to a Trillion

As is often the case, the voting results were quite close. And, since we're happy to recommend more than a mere 10 (or 11) good books, here are the ones that very nearly made our annual Top Ten list for this year, in alphabetical order by author:

  • Midnight Riot (Del Rey, February 2011) which in the UK edition was called Rivers of London (Gollancz, August 2011) by Ben Aaronovitch
  • The Dragon's Path: The Dagger and the Coin, Book 1 by Daniel Abraham (Orbit, April 2011)
  • A Tangle in Slops by Jeffrey E. Barlough (Gresham & Doyle, January 2011)
  • Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear (Orbit, November 2010 / Gollancz, November 2011)
  • Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips, Volume 1: Through the Wild Blue Yonder by Walt Kelly (Fantagraphics, November 2011)
  • House of Fear edited by Jonathan Oliver (Solaris, October 2011) - 19 new stories of haunted houses and spectral encounters
  • Mrs. Midnight and Other Stories by Reggie Oliver (Tartarus Press, December 2011)
  • Dark Tangos by Lewis Shiner (Subterranean Press, August 2011)
  • Murray Leinster: The Life and Works by Billee J. Stallings & Jo-An J. Evans (McFarland, July 2011)
  • Rule 34 by Charles Stross (Ace, July 2011)
  • Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright (Tor, December 2011)

Best Read of the Year in Science Fiction and Fantasy: Previous Years
Readers' Choice: Best Read of 2011           
Readers' Choice: Best Read of 2010           
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: 2010
           Best Read of the Year: 2009
           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
While we are happy to recommend all of the above-noted works, we also recognize there are a great deal more books we could have brought to your attention. We encourage you to read widely and voraciously. Happy reading, everyone!

Copyright © 2012 Neil Walsh

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