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Best SF and Fantasy Books of 2001: Readers' Choice
by Neil Walsh

Last issue, we showed you the results of the Top 10 list for the SF Site Contributors' Best Read of the Year: 2001. And now here are the results of the Readers' Choice Top 10, as selected by SF Site readers. Thank you to everyone who voted!

This is our 4th annual Readers' Choice list and, just as in years past, you'll notice some similarities and some differences between what you, our readers, have selected and what we the SF Site staff and contributors selected as our top recommendations.

Last year, both lists were very heavily weighted towards the fantasy end of the speculative fiction spectrum; this year, both lists include a better mix of science fiction and fantasy. Also, last year the #1 Readers' Choice book was the runaway lead, with the top 3 being quite far ahead of the pack. This year, on the contrary, votes were rather closer all the way down the line.

[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
Strange Trades Strange Trades by Paul Di Filippo
Golden Gryphon
Golden Gryphon has been putting forth some top notch single-author collections in recent years, and Strange Trades is certainly one of them. Paul Di Filippo is very comfortable writing short fiction; his stories have appeared in most major and many lesser genre magazines and websites, and this book is his 5th collection. The focus here is, as the title suggests, on people with unusual jobs or working in strange surroundings.

Rich Horton, in his SF Site review, gave this book a high recommendation: "Di Filippo is a compulsively engaging writer -- witty and imaginative, and fond of his characters, so that they are fun to spend time with, and fun to root for (mostly!). This book delivers on its implicit thematic promise, offering a nice distribution of SFnal explorations of people at work, even while collecting stories from all phases of the author's career. Excellent stuff."

   No. 9
Memories of Ice Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson
Bantam Press
Last year, Deadhouse Gates, the second book in Erikson's monumental Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, captured the #10 spot on both the SF Site Readers' Choice and the Editors' Choice Top 10 lists. This year, the latest addition to this series has landed in the #9 spot on both lists. I think that's pretty significant, considering these 2 factors: 1) Memories of Ice only appeared in stores in December, so it didn't leave a whole lot of time for readers to race through it and decide it was indeed one of the best books of the year; and 2) both this year and last year, Erikson's votes were split because many readers voted for the previous novel in the series, which is eligible on the SF Site Top 10 because of the mass market release in the same year as the new novel.

In his SF Site review, William Thompson says: "If any work is truly deserving of the accolade epic, it is the writing in Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen.  Vast in scope and imagination, spanning continents and cultures as diverse and multifaceted as any to be found in fantasy, the author readily towers over every other author writing military fantasy today, or for that matter, from the past.  Possessing in a single volume the equivalent storylines and action found elsewhere within a trilogy or three, events happen here with such kinetic energy, so compellingly and dramatically rendered, that the senses threaten to become overloaded with a surfeit of vivid imagery and deed."

But if you don't mind risking sensory overload, this is a trip well worth taking. So don't wait for the whole series to be in print before diving into this world; you'll want to take the time to savour and digest each episode.

   No. 8
Fool's Errand Fool's Errand by Robin Hobb
HarperCollins, Voyager (UK) / Bantam Spectra (USA)
In his SF Site review, William Thompson says that "Robin Hobb may well be the best author today writing traditional high fantasy." No doubt many would agree. The concluding volume of Hobb's Liveship Traders series was #4 on the Readers' Choice Top 10 last year; this year, she brings us back to a familiar setting with the first novel in a new series called The Tawny Man. In Fool's Errand we learn that it has been 15 years since we left things at the end of the Farseer trilogy, and events now conspire to bring Fitz out of his quiet, comfortable retirement.

William Thompson goes on to say that, "For fans of the first series, this will seem like a fond reunion with old friends, a revisit to a world already familiar and grown comfortable through reacquaintance.  However, neither Fitz nor the reader is allowed to simply revisit the past, regardless of how tempting, and the author uses this return to old ground to expand upon the magic and history of her realm, exploring both the Wit and Skilling in ways only glimpsed in previous books." Hobb is undoubtedly a masterful writer, and this first novel in a new trilogy promises as solid a series as her previous books have delivered.

   No. 7
Declare Declare by Tim Powers
Subterranean Press / William Morrow, HarperCollins
Once again, the SF Site Readers and Contributors are virtually in agreement: this book was #6 on the Contributors' Top 10 list. I remember seeing the promotional material for this novel some time before it was released. It was being billed as Powers' "breakout" novel, aimed at a more mainstream audience. Well, if Tim Powers has reached a wider audience, he certainly hasn't been forgotten by the fantasy-reading public, since Declare was the winner of last year's World Fantasy Award (co-winner, actually, along with Sean Stewart's Galveston).

Nick Gevers, in his review, says: "It's obvious that Declare is an homage to the spy novels of John Le Carré... but its added freight of the supernatural takes it in tantalizingly different directions from those of its models. Certainly, the expected pleasures of suspense are abundantly present in Declare: the perilous ventures behind enemy lines, the decryption of elaborately coded messages, the vertiginous glimpses of what motivates the despised other side, the conflicted love and respect of fellow agents for one another, the contorted double double-crosses, the delicious sense the reader can acquire of knowing more than anybody else; but when the antagonist is immortal and immortally evil, much more than ideology and life are at stake..."

   No. 6
Kushiel's Dart Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey
This debut novel is a fantasy epic of adventure, intrigue and eroticism, set in a world with obvious parallels to Renaissance Europe. Best of all, it's a finely written work, so that scenes and themes, which might have fallen flat in the hands of a less skilled writer, are here artfully presented and developed.

In her SF Site review, novelist Victoria Strauss finds much "to praise in Kushiel's Dart: the vivid cast of characters, the exciting plotting, the carefully-wrought details of culture and legend, the polished prose style (oh, what a rare treat it is to read a really well-written epic fantasy novel!)... This is a really superior debut, integrating original themes, intelligent world-building, and skillful writing to an extent all too rare in today's fantasy market. It should immediately establish Carey as one of the most interesting and talented of the current crop of rising fantasy stars."

Certainly it has captured the attention of readers everywhere. It will be interesting to see what Carey offers next...

   No. 5
Stranger Things Happen Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
Small Beer Press
Small Beer Press is the publisher of a magazine with the unusual name of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet; recently they've been publishing collections from some of their contributors, including this one and Ray Vukcevich's Meet Me in the Moon Room (see #11, below). Kelly Link's short fiction has appeared in LCRW and other venues. Judging by the response to this collection, Kelly Link's work will likely be garnering even more attention in future.

From the publisher's website: "This first collection by award-winning author Kelly Link, takes fairy tales and cautionary tales, dictators and extraterrestrials, amnesiacs and honeymooners, revenants and readers alike, on a voyage into new, strange, and wonderful territory... These 11 extraordinary stories are quirky, spooky, and smart. They all have happy endings. Every story contains a secret prize. Each story was written especially for you."

   No. 4
Nekropolis Nekropolis by Maureen F. McHugh
Eos, HarperCollins
Ranked #5 on the SF Site Contributors' list, this novel boldly tackles a number of controversial issues, including gender and genetic bias, fundamentalist religion, slavery (bio-chemically enhanced), religion and government, faith and despair, etc.

In her SF Site review, Lisa DuMond writes: "McHugh has a clear eye and portrays the possible future with unflinching honesty. Fans of her work know not to expect Hollywood-happy endings; McHugh writes to explore truth and reality, even if that truth doesn't exist quite yet... Always expect the very best of Maureen McHugh; she delivers every time -- even if it isn't the package we envisioned."

   No. 3
American Gods American Gods by Neil Gaiman
William Morrow
Neil Gaiman is no stranger to awards and accolades, and he's no stranger to the SF Site Top 10 lists: this novel was chosen as #2 this year by the SF Site Contributors; Neverwhere (1997) was chosen as the #1 book of the year on our very first SF Site Best of the Year list; Smoke and Mirrors (1998) was #1 on our first Reader's Choice list; and Stardust (1999) was #7 on the Editor's Choice list for that year.

American Gods is Gaiman's latest novel, set in a modern day America populated by gods. Well, sort of. These gods, if indeed that's what they are, live side by side with the regular folks. They drive taxis, live in dingy apartments, and pine for the good ol' days when blood flowed freely over the altars. But now there's a new set of gods who want to put paid to the old gods once and for all. And, of course, there's some poor mortal schmuck stuck in the middle of this power struggle.

In her review, Lisa DuMond, says: "Hard as it may be to believe, Gaiman has managed to top himself with a story that merits the label of classic."

   No. 2
Perdido Street Station Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
Del Rey, Ballantine (USA & Canada) / Macmillan (UK)
This is the book that the SF Site staff chose as the #1 book of the year. Last year it ranked #11 on the Readers' Choice Top 10 list for the UK edition, but was only released in North America in 2001. Perdido Street Station was also the winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and a nominee for the World Fantasy Award.

From Hank Luttrell's SF Site review: "Perdido Street Station is an unrelenting, marvellously imaginative stew, suggesting Mervyn Peake with astonishing invention, the diverse, sometimes ornate architecture of the city/state, and black humour. A fantasy epic with [an] assembly of colourful locales and magical, energetic, appealing characters..."

David Soyka, in his review, speaks of the "interesting collection of sentient beings [who] inhabit New Crobuzon, a squalid metropolis whose sprawl serves the intersecting interests of various criminal and fascistic governing authorities. A world, in other words, beneath its fantastic trappings somewhat like our own." I'd have to agree; in fact New Crobuzon reminded me very much of London. Maybe even too much. But in any case, it's a brilliant book, well worth reading.

   No. 1
The Curse of Chalion The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
HarperCollins Eos
Bujold is a Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author and one of the most highly regarded novelists in the realm of SF. Two years ago, her novel A Civil Campaign was #7 on this Readers' Choice list. Her latest has obviously captured a bit more attention, as this is the book that SF Site Readers voted as the #1 most recommended book of 2001.

In her SF Site review, Lisa DuMond says: "As one would expect of Bujold, she has created lively, animated characters that move through her strong plot with hard-headed minds of their own. From stable boy to mad consort, the cast rings with life, determination, and constant surprises... From the light-speed of her space vessels to the mysterious powers of her array of gods and their mixed-blessings, Bujold can handle the demands of her wide-ranging universes with the lightest, surest touch. It's no amount of publicity or push of undeserved popularity that keeps her name appearing year after year on the Hugo and the Nebula ballots. Talent and the pure pleasure of her voice hold a spot for Bujold, right where she should be: among the heights of the master storytellers."

The Very Near Misses and Other Honourable Mentions
The results this year were so close that the following runners-up were never too far from actually making it onto the top 10. And considering just how close the votes were, it's interesting to note that there were no ties in the top 10, but plenty in the 11-20 slots (no explanation; merely offering an observation).
  • #11 saw the first tie, between Meet Me in the Moon Room by Ray Vukcevich (Small Beer Press, USA, trade, August 2001) and Pilots Choice by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller (Meisha Merlin, USA, hc & trade, February 2001);
  • #12 was Passage by Connie Willis (Bantam Doubleday Dell, USA, hc, May 2001 / Voyager, UK, trade, June 2001), which also received an honourable mention from the SF Site staff;
  • #13, Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks (Orbit (UK) mm, August 2001, hc, August 2000 / Pocket Books (USA), hc, August 2001), was tied for the #9 spot on this year's staff picks;
  • #14 was a 3-way tie between Issola by Steven Brust (Tor, USA, hc, July 2001), Law of Survival by Kristine Smith (Eos, USA, mm, October 2001) and another honourable mention on the staff list, Wooden Sea by Jonathan Carroll (Tor, USA, hc, February 2001 / Gollancz, UK, hc, May 2001);
  • #15 was another tie, this time between City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer (Cosmos Books, Wildside Press, USA, Canada & UK, trade, August 2001), which was #4 on the SF Site staff list, and Graveyard Game by Kage Baker (Harcourt Brace, USA, hc, January 2001);
  • #16 saw Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space (Gollancz, UK, trade, May 2001 / Ace, USA, hc, June 2001) tied with Sean Russell's The One Kingdom (HarperCollins, USA, hc, January 2001, mm, February 2002);
  • #17 was a tie between Ventus by Karl Schroeder (Tor, USA, hc, December 2000, mm, November 2001) -- also an honourable mention on the SF Site staff list -- and Antrax (Voyage of the Jerle Shannara, Book 2) by Terry Brooks (Del Rey, USA, hc, September 2001);
  • #18 was another 3-way tie: C.J. Cherryh's Defender (Signet, US, hc, November 2001) which captured the #11 spot on the staff Top 10 list, Dune: House Corrino by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson (Bantam Spectra, USA, hc, October 2001), and Return to the Whorl by Gene Wolfe (Tor, USA, hc, February 2001 / St. Martin's Press, UK, hc, May 2001), which was #3 on the staff list;
  • #19 went to Cosmonaut Keep by Ken MacLeod (Tor, USA, hc, May 2001 / Orbit, UK, mm, November 2001, hc, November 2000), which made it to #8 on the staff list;
  • #20 was Steven Erikson's Deadhouse Gates (Bantam, UK, mm, October 2001/trade, September 2000), and if votes were combined for both this and Memories of Ice (#9 above), then the Erikson's series would have ranked #6 on this Top 10 list!
And that's it for the SF Site Best of the Year for another year. Keep track of what you enjoy reading in 2002, because we'll be back in 2003 to ask for your recommendations once again.
Best Read of the Year in Science Fiction and Fantasy: Previous Years
Readers' Choice: Best Read of 2000           
Readers' Choice: Best Read of 1999           
Readers' Choice: Best Read of 1998           
           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

Copyright © 2002 Neil Walsh

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