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Editors' Choice - The Official SF Site Best SF and Fantasy Books of 2008
by Neil Walsh

Welcome to the SF Site's 12th annual Editors' Choice Top 10 Best Books of the Year -- our official Best Reading recommendations from 2008!

As the votes came in for our official best read of the year, it seemed that our reviewers and other contributors were not reading very much of the same thing -- our tastes and preferences vary widely. In consequence, the results were very close. Nevertheless, I think you'll find that what we've come up with is a set of recommendations that will be sure to please.

One thing you'll notice is the high number of graphic titles on our list this year -- no less than 4 comics made it onto our Top 10 for 2008. That's pretty significant, and it's a clear indication not only of the increased exposure of comics and graphic novels, but also of their quality. If you aren't already a fan of the graphic format, check out some of the ones recommended below and see what it is you've been missing. I've always considered comics to be the television of literature: they don't require as much focus and effort on the part of the reader/viewer, but there's still some amazingly good stuff available if you surf through enough channels.

[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
City at the End of Time - Gollancz City at the End of Time - Del Rey City at the End of Time by Greg Bear
(Gollancz, July 2008 / Del Rey, August 2008)

This is perhaps the most ambitious novel to date from one of science fiction's more highly acclaimed authors. In this novel, Bear brings together hard science fiction, mythology, dreams, literature, and all of time, history, existence and meaning. Not a light romp, then, but a ponderous novel of conundrums -- something bigger than all of us.

Do you dream of a city at the end of time? Maybe it's not a dream...

   No. 9
Busted Flush - Tor Busted Flush edited by George R.R. Martin
(Tor, December 2008)

The Wild Cards series saw its genesis more than 20 years ago, and Martin has enlisted the support of a variety of talent to keep the UN Committee on Extraordinary Interventions fresh and alive today. Contributors to this latest superhero collection are Melinda Snodgrass (whose "Double Helix" binds the other characters and stories into a coherent whole), Caroline Spector, Carrie Vaughn, Walton Simons & Ian Tregillis, John Jos. Miller, Victor Milan, Stephen Leigh, and Kevin Andrew Murphy. Busted Flush will delight fans of the old Wild Cards books and engage new readers as well.

   No. 8
Screamland - Image Screamland - issue 1 Screamland by Harold Sipe & Hector Casanova
(Image Comics, November 2008 / serially from March to July 2008)

The stars of the old B-movie horror classics were actually real-life monsters. And now washed up, has-been werewolves, mummies and vampires are trying to make it in present day Hollywood. Then they have an opportunity to jump onto the nostalgia bandwagon and make a new movie -- but do they still have it in 'em, or are their mundane problems too much for them now? And will the public still take them seriously in a world where special effects and computer animation have made monsters and viewers both very blasé?

   No. 7
Little Brother - Tor Little Brother - HarperVoyager Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
(Tor, April 2008 / HarperVoyager UK, October 2008)

Doctorow's Orwellian vision rings frighteningly true. Four high school students are apprehended after a terrorist bombing of the San Francisco Bay bridge, because they happen to be in the area. They are held as enemy combatants based only on the flimsiest evidence. The Department of Homeland Security has effectively revoked the Bill of Rights, and San Francisco has become a police state. It's up to Marcus Yallow, student and suspected terrorist, to fight for freedom and liberty using his technological know-how and natural cleverness.

   No. 6
Girl Genius, Book 7 Girl Genius, Book 7: Agatha Heterodyne and the Voice of the Castle by Phil & Kaja Foglio
(Airship Entertainment, Studio Foglio, May 2008 / ongoing)

This series is certainly not new to the SF Site staff. Book 5, Agatha Heterodyne and the Clockwork Princess appeared on our Top 10 list for 2006. We've been closely following the story of gas lamp adventure, romance and mad science -- and so should you. Girl Genius is also a webcomic available at http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/.

In Book 7, Agatha, sole heir to the Heterodyne legacy, returns to reclaim the family castle -- but she must compete against a clever impostor, defeat the many traps of the castle, and uncover the secrets of her ancient family home.

   No. 5
The Graveyard Book - Bloomsbury The Graveyard Book - Children's The Graveyard Book - Subterranean The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
(HarperCollins, September 2008 / Bloomsbury & Subterranean, October 2008)

Gaiman is no stranger to SF Site contributors -- and readers. He's a universal favourite, and his latest is a young adult fantasy that is cleverly constructed to parallel Kipling's The Jungle Book. The crucial difference is that instead of being taken in and raised by animals in the forests of India, Gaiman's orphan child is adopted by the undead inhabitants of a graveyard. The US editions are illustrated by Dave McKean, who has collaborated with Gaiman on many past projects. If you haven't already, you should read this book before they make the film version of it.

   No. 4
Toll the Hounds - Bantam Toll the Hounds - Tor Toll the Hounds: Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, Book 8 by Steven Erikson
(Bantam UK, August 2008 / Tor, September 2008)

With each new volume in this series, Erikson's world grows more complex and more real. In Toll the Hounds we return to Darujhistan, where we began in Book 1. But going home again is never easy. So discovers the heartbroken Cutter, formerly Crokus Younghand. And the surviving Bridgeburners, who set out to open a tavern and live peaceably. (This book boasts one of the most brilliantly-described battle scenes, involving retired Bridgeburners and the unlucky assassins hired to kill them.) Meanwhile, the city of Black Coral, occupied by Anomander Rake, Son of Darkness, is enshrouded in permanent darkness, with evil brewing in the form of a plague of addiction and insanity, courtesy of the Dying God's blood. And inside Rake's cursed sword, Dragnipur, the wagon of eternal torment is running out of road. What will the dead do when eternity ends?

   No. 3
Echo: Moon Lake Echo, issue 1 Echo: Moon Lake by Terry Moore
(Abstract Studio, September 2008 / ongoing series)

Moon Lake collects the first 5 issues of this ongoing series, which débuted in March 2008. Julie Martin is a photographer, taking some shots in the Arizona desert when a secret experimental battle suit explodes high above, killing the woman who was testing the suit. Debris rains down in the form of what appear to be tiny pellets, which adhere to Julie's truck and, unnervingly, to her skin. Soon the residue coalesces into a sort of living breast-plate, partially replicating the battle suit, which Julie cannot remove. Now the government is on her trail, someone is trying to kill her, the breast-plate is demonstrating disturbing powers which she can't control, and it seems that the person who could help her most is already dead.

   No. 2
Buffy, Season 8, Vol 2: No Future for You Buffy, Season 8, issue 6 Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8, Volume 2: No Future for You by Brian K. Vaughan, Joss Whedon, Georges Jeanty, Cliff Richards, et al.
(Dark Horse, May 2008 /ongoing series)

Volume 1, The Long Way Home, was #3 on our Top 10 last year, and Volume 2 (collecting issues 6-10 in the ongoing series) only narrowly missed the #1 spot this year. Eisner-winning writer Brian K. Vaughan is a worthy successor to creator Joss Whedon, as he demonstrates in his handling of this section of the Buffy saga.

Giles recruits Faith for a dangerous mission, namely to take out a rogue slayer. Interesting proposition, in view of Faith's personal history of rebellion and redemption. But some people are simply unredeemable -- the problem is recognizing them. This comic is easily as complex and sophisticated as the TV series was, and it's a fine substitute. If you were ever a fan and you hunger for more slayage, check out Season 8.

   No. 1
Anathem - Wm Morrow Anathem - Atlantic Anathem by Neal Stephenson
(William Morrow / Atlantic Books, September 2008)

OK folks, this is it: if you're only going to read one novel from 2008, it should be this one. In this ambitious novel, Stephenson playfully tackles philosophy and physics, and wrestles them into a plot of adventure that rivals the best thrillers. It is, simply put, a demonstration of the highest standards that science fiction can achieve.

Arbre is a world not so different from our own, except that there's a sort of monastic system in place which shuts its members off from the rest of society to maintain and to further all knowledge. Once per decade, the monks of all knowledge open their doors and interact with the rest of humanity. This time, however, it's not just the rest of humanity, it's also aliens -- leading our protagonist, Fraa Erasmus, into great adventure, mystery and sophisticated debate, interspersed with healthy doses of humour. Stephenson really outdoes himself in this one -- it's not to be missed.

Near Misses and Honourable Mentions
As I mentioned, there seemed to be very little overlap in what the SF Site editors and reviewers were reading last year. So here below are some further SF Site recommendations from 2008, presented in no particular order.

Umbrella Academy
Dragons of Babel
The Terror
The Sweet Scent of Blood
The Other Side of Magic
The Angel Maker
Sharp Teeth
I Was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates From Outer Space, issue 1

  • The Dragons of Babel, by Michael Swanwick (Tor, January 2008 & mm in April 2009);
  • The Terror, by Dan Simmons (Little Brown & Bantam UK, 2007 / Bantam, January 2008), which was #4 on the Readers' Choice list last year -- thanks for the recommendation;
  • The Sweet Scent of Blood, by Suzanne McLeod (Gollancz, September 2008);
  • The Other Side of Magic, by Michael Lingaard (Double Dragon, Summer 2008);
  • Foundling: Monster Blood Tatoo, Book 1, by D.M. Cornish (Putnam, 2006 / Speak & David Fickling, 2007 / Corgi, May 2008);
  • The Angel Maker, by Stefan Brijs (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, July 2008 / Penguin, December 2008);
  • Sharp Teeth, by Toby Barlow (William Heinemann, August 2007 / Vintage, August 2008 / Harper, February 2008), a novel in verse about werewolves (or weredogs?) which is surprisingly clever;
  • Jhegaala, by Steven Brust (Tor, September 2008), the latest in his Vlad Taltos series;
  • Ghost Realm, stories by Paul Finch (Ash-Tree Press, 2008);
  • Thunderer, by Felix Gilman (Spectra, December 2007 & September 2008);
  • Gods of Manhattan, by Scott Mebus (Dutton, April 2008);
  • Dangerous Laughter, stories by Steven Millhauser (Potter Style, February 2008);
  • The Courts of the Crimson Kings, by S.M. Stirling (Tor, March 2008).

    And if you're looking for more comics, here are a few other notable ones that the SF Site reviewers and editors would recommend:

  • The Umbrella Academy, Volume 1: Apocalypse Suite, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse, July 2008), which won the 2008 Eisner Award for Best Finite Series/Limited Series;
  • Final Crisis, by Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones & Carlos Pacheco (DC Comics, published serially in 2008, hc from DC coming in 2009);
  • I Was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space, by Megan Rose Gedris (Platinum Studio Comics, serially from May to October 2008) and first made available as a webcomic.

Best Read of the Year in Science Fiction and Fantasy: Previous Years
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: 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
Check back with us next issue to see how you and your fellow readers voted in the
SF Site Readers' Choice Top 10!

Copyright © 2009 Neil Walsh

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