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SF Site Best SF and Fantasy Books of 2005: Readers' Choice
by Neil Walsh

In past years, there has frequently been considerable overlap between the SF Site Editors' choices and the Readers' choices for the best books of the year. This time, however, I was surprised to find that the top two books chosen by the SF Site Readership hadn't even made it at all onto the Editors' Choice top 10, which we presented last issue. Oh, your top 2 choices received votes from the Contributors and Editors here, but they just didn't make it onto our Best of the Year recommendations -- and not because we don't think they're excellent books. Perhaps it was simply because there was just too much to choose from. At any rate, I'm glad the lists are a little different from each other this year, because it gives us an opportunity to highlight an even wider array of great books. Read on to see what you and your fellow SF Site readers considered to be among the best books of 2005.

[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 (tie)
Someone Comes to Town Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow
(Tor, July 2005)

A delightful, unconventional novel, full of memorable passages and vividly conjured images. This is science fiction of the absurd, with something enjoyable about it for nearly any reader, regardless of what you may or may not be expecting when you first approach this book. It may not be a flawless novel, but perhaps that only adds to its overall charm. In any case, it is a story that keeps you reading, with characters you want to spend time getting to know.

   No. 10 (tie)
Hallowed Hunt Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold
(Eos, HarperCollins, June 2005)

This Chalion novel doesn't necessarily require having read the previous books, Paladin of Souls (2003) or The Curse of Chalion (2001), the latter having attained the #1 spot on the SF Site Readers' Choice list for 2001. Although the world is the same, the characters and the location are different. With a comprehensive and vividly imagined fantasy world, strong and emotionally-engaging characterization, solid writing and good dramatic flow -- one way or another, you'll be caught up in this tale.

   No. 9 (tie)
Olympos Olympos by Dan Simmons
(Gollancz, June 2005 / Eos, HarperCollins, July 2005 / Subterranean, August 2005)

This is the conclusion to a two-volume saga begun with Ilium (2003). It's a vast, sprawling project -- and particularly entertaining if you're at all familiar with the works of Homer, Shakespeare and/or Proust, as well as being a fan of epic, world-spanning sf. There are nods to other authors as well, either implicit or explicit, so the more widely you've read before, the more you'll appreciate the scattered references. It's also a solid bit of storytelling in its own right.

   No. 9 (tie)
Melusine Mélusine by Sarah Monette
(Ace, August 2005)

This novel is an extraordinary fantasy debut, featuring a city, Mélusine, that is both beautiful and ugly, proud and yet thoroughly corrupt. In this wondrous place, two unlikely characters are thrown together. These two are an elite court wizard (formerly a prostitute, currently mad) and a lowly cat burglar (formerly an assassin, currently down on his luck). These characters are very different and both are brought to life in these pages. However, some matters not resolved in this novel will undoubtedly be resumed in a future sequel.

   No. 9 (tie)
River of Gods River of Gods by Ian McDonald
(Pocket Books, April 2005 / Simon & Schuster, June 2004)

This novel interweaves the stories of 10 very different people in India on the eve of that country's 100th anniversary in the year 2047. These people include a non-gendered person in a soap opera with hundreds of millions of viewers, a stand-up comedian with a powerful father, a street thug, a Krishna Cop trying to track down a rogue AI, his estranged wife, an advisor to the Prime Minister, a genius AI researcher, and an American scientist working frantically to understand an orbiting alien artifact. Definitely a worthy choice, this book won the BSFA Award for best novel.

   No. 8
Looking for Jake Looking for Jake by China Miéville
(Macmillan / Del Rey, September 2005)

Novels and short stories are very different forms; not every novelist can write short fiction well, and not every short story writer can produce a good novel. Miéville, already an award-winning novelist, has demonstrated with this first collection of his shorter works that he has notable talent for both media. Whether his stories takes place in modern-day London or Miéville's own New Crobuzon, there is generally a sense of grim, oppressive and frequently squalid existence set against occasional flashes of heart-aching beauty and wonder. The longest work in this collection, "The Tain", was previously granted the Locus Award for Best Novella.

   No. 7
Thud Thud! by Terry Pratchett
(HarperCollins / Doubleday / Transworld, October 2005)

Terry Pratchett is a perennial favourite with SF Site readers and reviewers. If you like to read and you like to laugh, you can't help but enjoy any one of Pratchett's Discworld novels. Thud is more of what you've come to expect from a Discworld novel: belly-laughs and joyfully witty satire. This time, we're on the eve of the anniversary of a battle that occurred several millennia in the past between dwarves and trolls, each group claiming to have been viciously ambushed by the other. There can be no moral high ground here, although each group claims to have just that. Commander Sam Vimes of the City Watch in Ankh-Morpork is caught between these two opposing forces, trying to prevent a rematch from taking place under his watch.

   No. 6
Warrior-Prophet The Warrior-Prophet by R. Scott Bakker
(Overlook Press, January & October 2005 / Orbit, July 2005)

If you like good fantasy, or even if you just like good writing, The Prince of Nothing series, of which this book is the second volume, will not disappoint. It is well plotted, with a creative setting and genuine characters. The depictions of battle are vast and can only be read with the heart-racing vigour of the events they describe. It's a fascinating world Bakker has developed, with some obvious parallels to areas and eras of our own world that will lend a vague and friendly sense of familiarity. It still isn't precisely clear what the impending apocalypse may entail, but Bakker obviously has more ground to cover in this well-crafted debut series.

   No. 5
Magic For Beginners Magic For Beginners by Kelly Link
(Small Beer Press, July 2005)

Link's first collection, Stranger Things Happen (Small Beer Press, 2001), forced readers of short fiction magic realism to sit up and take notice -- and coerced everyone else to become a reader of short fiction magic realism. Apparently her second collection is also refusing to be ignored. The title story from this collection is on the preliminary Nebula ballot for best novella, and is also a BSFA Award nominee for best short fiction. Link's style is dark and humorous, charmingly engaging and utterly original. Some of these stories will conjure echoes of tales you think you may have heard before, but guaranteed these are fresh takes on what may feel vaguely like traditional themes and tropes.

   No. 4
Accelerando Accelerando by Charles Stross
(Ace, July 2005 / Orbit, August 2005)

Accelerando has been nominated for both the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the BSFA Award. It may well represent the best of post-human SF currently being written. Manfred Macx trades sure-fire business models in exchange for favours that grant him great wealth and power. And this is happening in the context of a massive transformation of the Solar System into a single, vast group consciousness. Some, however, are still clinging to their individuality. AI, bio-tech, nano-tech and aliens. It may all sound familiar to you, but aside from being a tremendously entertaining book, this is also a novel that is just ahead of the razor-sharp cutting edge of SF.

   No. 3
Spin Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
(Tor, April 2005)

One night the stars go out. The earth has been enveloped in some kind of cosmic sack, while sunlight is somehow artificially simulated and the influence of the moon on the tides is still in effect. Soon enough we find that time outside this mysterious barrier is passing at a vastly different rate. In fact, we seem to have only about 40 years left before our sun will expire. How do we deal with what may be our final years on Earth? Wilson examines this apocalyptic scenario by focussing on three characters whose lives are inextricably entwined. One seeks solace in religion; one seeks answers from science; the other, the narrator of the novel, loves, admires and lives always in the shadow of the other two, even while the shadow of the end of the world looms over them all.

   No. 2
A Feast for Crows A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
(Voyager, HarperCollins, October 2005 / Bantam Spectra, November 2005)

I suspect many people voted for this book, the fourth volume in the series A Song of Ice and Fire, simply because they were so grateful to have a new installment to read after such a long delay. Picking up where he left off, Martin feeds us more of his sprawling fantasy epic, involving magic, war and intrigue. There is a huge cast of characters in this book, and many key characters from previous books in the series haven't yet been dealt with in this latest volume -- so the next installment will probably have to cover much of the same timespan from other perspectives. Martin's fans are already awaiting the continuation of the story with eager anticipation.

   No. 1
Anansi Boys Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
(William Morrow, September 2005)

Like much of Gaiman's work, this novel is largely a story about storytelling. Gaiman often displays a wicked sense of humour, but in this novel there is, more than ever, a real sense of fun on display, too. Fat Charlie Nancy is the son of Anansi, the trickster spider god first encountered in Gaimain's previous novel, American Gods (2001), which is not necessarily required reading to gain full enjoyment from the current book. (That novel, by the way, was #2 on the SF Site Editors' Choice list for 2001 and #3 on that year's Readers' Choice list.) Fat Charlie only finds out about his divine heritage at his father's funeral. And he's not entirely convinced. Then he meets the brother he never even knew existed, who seems to have inherited their dad's trickster nature and supernatural abilities. Fat Charlie's brother moves in to stay, throwing life into turmoil for Fat Charlie and putting at risk his job, his freedom, his relationship with his fiancée, and his life.

Near Misses and Honourable Mentions
    And, as usual, there were many more good books that the SF Site readers wanted to recommend than our top 10 (or so) will allow for. Here are some that came very close to making it onto the list:
  • The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach, translated by Doryl Jensen (Tor, April 2005), which was in the #6 spot on the Contributor's Top 10;
  • Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip (Ace, June 2005);
  • Vellum: The Book of All Hours by Hal Duncan (Macmillan, August 2005), #8 for Contributors;
  • Crystal Soldier by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller (Meisha Merlin, February 2005);
  • Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz, October 2005 / Ace, June 2006), #5 for Contributors;
  • Designated Targets by John Birmingham (Del Rey, October 2005);
  • Godslayer by Jacqueline Carey (Tor, August 2005);
  • Burn by James Patrick Kelly (Tachyon, December 2005), also a near miss on the Contributors' list;
  • The Summer Isles by Ian R. MacLeod (Aio Publishing, June 2005);
  • Fledgling by Octavia Butler (Seven Stories Press, September 2005);
  • Shaman's Crossing by Robin Hobb (Voyager, HarperCollins, July 2005);
  • Counting Heads by David Marusek (Tor, November 2005), another near miss on the Contributors' list;
  • A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park (Tor, September 2005).
Best Read of the Year in Science Fiction and Fantasy: Previous Years
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: 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
Thanks to everyone who participated in the voting. If you want to see how the Readers' selections compare with the SF Site Contributors' selections for this year, check out
The SF Site Best Read of the Year: Editors' Choice for 2005

Copyright © 2006 Neil Walsh

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