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SF Site Best SF and Fantasy Books of 2010: Readers' Choice
by Neil Walsh

Every year SF Site asks you, our readers, to tell us what you felt were the best books you read from the year that just ended. For the past several weeks, we've been reading your recommendations with keen interest, and tallying your votes for the best of the best. What follows is the list that you and your fellow readers have chosen as the best books from 2010.

[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)
Changes - Roc edition Changes - Orbit edition Changes: The Dresden Files, Book 12 by Jim Butcher
(Roc / Orbit, April 2010)

Butcher is still going strong with his series The Dresden Files. This one represents the 12th book following the adventures of your favourite wizard detective, Harry Dresden. It features explosions and vampire kidnappers, crime lords and Mayan elder gods, dimensional rifts, wizard duels, and a giant regenerating centipede. The ending is quite a shocker (to Harry as much as to the reader) leaving us all clamouring for the next volume, which is scheduled for release in July 2011.

   No. 10 (tie)
Saltation Saltation by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
(Baen Books, April 2010)

Liaden is an ongoing space opera series, popular since its inception in 1988. This is the 10th book in the series, and focuses on the character of Theo Waitley in her training to become a starship pilot. It's a direct sequel to Fledgling (Baen, 2009) and is clearly the middle book in what will be a trilogy of books in the overarching series. Lee and Miller have previously shown their talent for writing characters to keep the reader engaged, and Theo's ordeals at the academy are more than enough to maintain interest that will carry readers into the next book.

   No. 9
Bitter Seeds Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis
(Tor, May 2010)

An impressive first novel, beginning a new series: The Milkweed Triptych. During the Second World War, British secret agent Raybould Marsh discovers the Nazis are making use of people with unusual abilities, including a man who can walk through walls, a woman who can turn invisible, and another who can see into the future and use that knowledge to influence the present. Marsh enlists the aid of the secret warlocks of Britain to counter the planned Nazi invasion, but magic never comes without its price. And in this case, the price might just be higher than the price of losing the war...

   No. 8 (tie)
Cryoburn Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold
(Baen Books, November 2010)

Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga has been enormously popular for more than 20 years. In this latest addition to the series, Miles Vorkosigan is tasked by the Emperor to investigate the expansion of a cryogenic facility franchise into the Barrayaran Empire. What he finds is bribery, corruption, conspiracy and kidnapping -- all in the name of attempting to cheat death. And during his visit to New Hope, the planet where they routinely freeze sick and dying people, Miles must himself cheat death in order to get to the bottom of what's really going on -- and to get out again.

   No. 8 (tie)
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
(Pantheon, September 2010 / Atlantic/Corvus, October 2010)

Another first novel on our top 10. This one is about a guy whose father walked out years ago, and who's now stuck in a dead-end job as a repairman for time machines. Until he gets caught up in a time loop, striving to avoid a paradox in which he may cease to exist. At the same time, he strives to repair -- or at least better understand -- his relationship with his father, who turns out to have been instrumental in the development of the time machine.

   No. 7
Blackout All Clear Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis
(BO: Spectra / Subterranean, February 2010 / AC: Spectra, October 2010 / Subterranean, January 2011)

This longer work was published in two parts, as a pair of books which, together, tell a complete story. The Oxford University time travel program was established by Willis in her previous novels, The Doomsday Book (Bantam, 1992) and To Say Nothing of the Dog (Bantam, 1998). This time, time-travelling historians visit London during the Blitz, where they become stranded. The level of historical detail included in these two novels brings war-time London vividly to life for the reader, even as the historians from the future struggle to find their way out of their predicament.

   No. 6
Half-Made World The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman
(Tor, October 2010)

Gilman's third novel is a weird western, with an edge of steampunk. In this world, a gunslinger is only as good as his gun. And if your gun is inhabited by a demon, that can make you supernaturally good at beating the other guy to the draw. This is the story of a land torn apart by war between two factions: the Gun, a cult of terror and violence, versus the Line, paving the world with industry and enslaving the population in the process. A doctor of psychology, the new science, travels to a spiritually-protected mental institution in the wilderness of the west to learn the secrets of how to fight the Gun and the Line from those already driven mad by the attempt.

   No. 5
The Quantum Thief The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
(Gollancz, September 2010)

Yet another notable debut novel for our top 10. Jean le Flambeur is a criminal and con artist, whose various selves are serving sentences for past crimes, undergoing the endless mental torture of the Prisoner's Dilemma -- forced to play that cruel game with copies of himself. One day, Jean (or at least one version of himself) is offered the chance to win his freedom. To do this, he must return to the moving cities of Mars to complete the heist that ended his criminal career in the first place.

   No. 4
Surface Detail Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks
(Orbit, October 2010)

The latest in Banks' long-running series of The Culture follows a war in heaven. Some civilizations in the galaxy have created a simulated afterlife in which the mind-state of the deceased is tortured. There are pro- and anti-hell worlds. While The Culture is opposed to the notion of hells, they have agreed to abide by a ruling to be determined by the outcome of a war-game in a simulated environment between pro-hell and anti-hell factions. But the pro-hell faction is cheating to gain the upper hand, and plans to bring the war into the real world.

   No. 3
Under Heaven - Roc/Viking edition Under Heaven - Harper/Voyager edition Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
(Viking Canada/Roc/Harper Voyager, April 2010)

Kay's latest is set in a fantastical version of 8th century China. At the passing of his father, a great general, Shen Tai sets out to lay the ghosts of 40,000 dead to rest by burying the bones of soliders from both sides of a battle, left unburried for 20 years. A princess, in recognition of his efforts to honour the dead, gifts him with 250 of the finest horses the world has seen. This overwhelming gift catapults Shen Tai into the middle of a complex tangle of political intrigue, dynastic struggle and military rebellion, all of which will challenge his personal desires and obligations to his family.

   No. 2
Kraken - Del Rey edition Kraken - Subterranean edition Kraken by China Miéville
(Macmillan, May 2010 / Del Rey, June 2010 / Subterranean, August 2010 / Pan, November 2010)

For Billy Harrow, a curator at the British Museum, his pride and joy is a 40-foot specimen of a giant squid which the public loves to gawk at. Until one day it is mysteriously, impossibly gone. Then a human corpse is found folded and preserved in a smaller version of the squid's bottle. London is a far stranger place than Billy every realized, and someone or something is willing to kill in order to liberate the Squid God, or keep it hidden. What follows is a strange and dangerous chase through London, with Billy variously running from and aligning with cultists, ghosts, supernatural criminals, London's version of the X-files agents, ancient deities, the ordinary police, and some people or beings who defy explanation.

   No. 1
The Dervish House - Gollancz edition The Dervish House - Pyr edition The Dervish House by Ian McDonald
(Gollancz / Pyr, July 2010)

This is a novel of near-future Istanbul. It begins with a suicide bomber on a crowded tram, and follows the lives of 6 very different people whose lives are all affected by this incident, and whose paths intersect. One witness to the bombing thereafter begins to see djinni and saints; a young invalid witnesses the event through the eyes of a BitBot monkey, and witnesses someone else also spying remotely; this boy shares his concerns with a disgruntled professor who has been forced into retirement; another woman is delayed by the blast in her effort to get to a job interview and consequently takes a job that involves her in a nanoware company; an antique dealer is set on a quest to find a man mummified in honey -- something that may exist or may be mere legend -- while her boyfriend is planning a stock-market scheme of unprecedented proportions. The tightly plotted story takes place over a brief period of time in a confined setting, the sprawling metropolis of Istanbul. But it is McDonald's writing and his handling of character that led SF Site readers to choose The Dervish House as the best book of 2010.

Honourable Mentions
Many of you who contributed your votes the list above commented that there were too many good books last year, making it difficult to limit your choices to only 10. Well, if we were to have compiled a top 20 list based on your input, here's what the rest of the list would have looked like:

#11 Dust of Dreams by Steven Erikson (Bantam, August 2009/May 2010 / Tor, January & November 2010), which was the SF Site Editors' Choice top pick from last year;

#12 (tie) Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little Brown, August 2010);

#12 (tie) Watch: WWW Trilogy, Book 2, by Robert J. Sawyer (Gollancz/Ace, May 2010);

#13 The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer (St. Martin's Press, March 2010);

#14 The Way of Kings: The Stormlight Archive, Book 1 by Brandon Sanderson (Tor, August 2010 / Gollancz, December 2010);

#15 (tie) Horns by Joe Hill (PS Publishing/William Morrow, February 2010 / Gollancz, March 2010);

#15 (tie) Mouse and Dragon by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller (Baen, June 2010);

#16 Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (DAW, June 2010);

#17 The Third Bear by Jeff VanderMeer (Tachyon, August 2010);

#18 (tie) Carousel Tides by Sharon Lee (Baen, November 2010);

#18 (tie) Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord (Small Beer Press, August 2010);

#18 (tie) The Sorcerer's House by Gene Wolfe (PS Publishing, March 2010 / Tor, April 2010);

#19 The Black Hills by Dan Simmons (Little Brown/Reagan Arthur, February 2010 / Subterranean, March 2011 / Quercus Publishing, April 2010);

#20 Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz, March 2010).

    With all the ties, we have 26 books to mark this year's top 20. If this doesn't represent enough recommendations for you, come back and have a look next time when we'll show you the SF Site Editors' Choice best books of 2010.

    Thanks very much to everyone who participated. Happy reading for 2011!

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: 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

Copyright © 2011 Neil Walsh

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