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SF Site Best SF and Fantasy Books of 2011: Readers' Choice
by Neil Walsh

Welcome to the results of our annual SF Site Readers' Choice Top Ten Books. Every year we ask our readers to vote for their favourite books of the preceding year. What follows below are the results of that voting. I want to thank everyone who participated, and I invite you all to compare the Readers' Choice Top Ten with the Editors' Choice Top Ten to see where our reading interests and yours differ and overlap.

[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
Vortex Vortex: The Hypotheticals Trilogy, Book 3 by Robert Charles Wilson
(Tor, July 2011)

This novel concludes the Hypotheticals trilogy begun in the Hugo Award-winning Spin (Tor, April 2005) and continued in Axis (Tor, September 2007). Turk Findley has been transported to the far future by the mysterious Hypotheticals, where he finds that human life is maintained on several planets connected by Hypothetical gateways, while the original Earth is a quarantined world in its death throes. Findley discovers a passage home to the dying Earth in an attempt to fulfill a prophecy that will take him to the end of the universe. While this is a novel and indeed a series about big ideas, Wilson seems to have a great understanding of what it is to be human, which enables him to portray characters who are both convincing and compelling.

   No. 9
Leviathan Wakes Leviathan Wakes: The Expanse, Book 1 by James S.A. Corey
(Orbit, June 2011)

Corey is actually the collaboration of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Their novel represents the first book of a new space opera series, and will be followed up this year by the next volume, Caliban's War (Orbit, June 2012). The solar system has been colonized, but we still lack the technology to get beyond our home star. While war is brewing, an ice-mining vessel discovers a derelict ship with a secret on board that may get them killed. Meanwhile, a detective has been hired by wealthy parents to find a lost girl. Clues lead him to this same derelict ship. Detective and miners find themselves in an uneasy alliance against governments, revolutionaries, and corporate interests in a dangerous game that could alter the destiny of the human race.

   No. 8
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. 7
Ready Player One Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
(Crown Publishing, August 2011)

This novel is a real treat for gamers, geeks and pop culture aficionados. In a near-future dystopia, billionaire game designer James Halliday bequeaths his vast fortune to the player who can solve a series of riddles and puzzles inside a virtual reality game world he helped to create. The race is on, and the prize is significant. Wade Owen Watts is a teenager with enough knowledge of the late 20th century geekdom and pop culture of Halliday's youth to have a shot. But can he win through to the final Easter egg before Halliday's rival game company? And can he survive their unscrupulous ambition, because it looks as if they'll stop at nothing to win.

   No. 6
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. 5
Naamah's Blessing Naamah's Blessing: Kushiel's Legacy, Book 9 by Jacqueline Carey
(Grand Central Publishing, June 2011)

Final book in the Moirin trilogy within Carey's greater Kushiel's Legacy series. In the latest volume of this alternate historical fantasy, supernatural sex priestess Moirin is entangled in court intrigue on Terre d'Ange before she joins an expedition to the jungles of Terra Nova. It's a dangerous new world, made more dangerous for Moirin by the presence of a former lover and long-lost enemy. This novel provides a satisfying conclusion to this trilogy.

   No. 4
The Crippled God The Crippled God: The Malazan Book of the Fallen, Volume 10 by Steven Erikson
(Bantam/Tor, February 2011)

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. 3
Wise Man's Fear - Gollancz Wise Man's Fear - DAW The Wise Man's Fear: The Kingkiller Chronicles, Book 2 by Patrick Rothfuss
(Gollancz/DAW, March 2011)

The first novel in this series, The Name of the Wind (DAW, April 2007 / Gollancz, September 2007), was the SF Site Readers' number one pick from 2007. Obviously the continuation of the chronicles has not gone unnoticed. The story picks up where it left off, continuing the adventures of Kvothe, notorious wizard and true Renaissance man. The result of Rothfuss' straightforward storytelling of Kvothe's spectacular escapades is a wonderfully entertaining story. The next book is eagerly anticipated.

   No. 2
Embassytown Embassytown by China Miéville
(Del Rey, May 2011)

This Nebula-nominated novel is an exploration of language and how it shapes our relationship to the world. Embassytown is the human-inhabited section of an alien city on a distant and 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. The locals can also 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...

   No. 1
Ghost Ship Ghost Ship by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
(Baen, August 2011)

From everything read in 2011, this is the book most beloved and recommended by readers of the SF Site for that year. As well as being the 14th novel in the Liaden Universe series, this is also the 3rd book in the Theo Waitley series, following Fledgling (Baen, September 2009) and Saltation (Baen, April 2010). Further, it serves as a sequel to Lee & Miller's I Dare (Meisha Merlin, February 2002) -- so there's a lot going on that readers unfamiliar with the Liaden series will not likely be able to follow. But if you have been following this series, you won't want to miss the ongoing adventures of Theo Waitley, as she learns how to relate to a sentient spaceship, as well as learning a bit more about what it means to be a member of Clan Korval. The story is clearly not over, however, as this space opera epic continues...

Near Misses and Honourable Mentions
As the results this year were quite close, I would also like to highlight some books that very nearly made it onto the Top Ten. Here are the Near Misses:
  • The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie (Gollancz, January 2011 / Orbit, February 2011)
  • Ghost Story by Jim Butcher (Orbit, July 2011) - latest in the Dresden Files
  • The Islanders by Christopher Priest (Gollancz, September 2011)
  • Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente (Tor, March 2011)
  • The White Luck Warrior: The Aspect Emperor, Book 2 by R. Scott Bakker (Overlook Press, April 2011)
In addition to those that only narrowly missed the Top Ten, there were several other good books from last year that received many votes from the SF Site Readers. Here are some of those, that we shall designate as Honourable Mentions:
  • Reamde by Neal Stephenson (William Morrow/Atlantic Books, September 2011)
  • Pale Demon by Kim Harrison (HarperVoyager, February 2011)
  • The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson (Tor/Gollancz, November 2011) - a new novel of Mistborn
  • Wonder: WWW Trilogy, Book 3 by Robert J. Sawyer (Ace, April 2011)
  • The Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown (Solaris, April 2011)
  • Across the Great Barrier: Frontier Magic, Book 2 by Patricia C. Wrede (Scholastic, August 2011)
  • Hex by Allen Steele (Ace, June 2011)
  • The Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan (Night Shade, June 2011 / Gollancz, September 2011)
  • By Light Alone by Adam Roberts (Gollancz, August 2011)

    Thanks again to everyone who voted. Enjoy your reading for 2012, and remember that we'll be asking you for your favourites and your top recommendations again next year.

Best Read of the Year in Science Fiction and Fantasy: Previous Years
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: 2011
           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

Copyright © 2012 Neil Walsh

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