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SF Site's Best Read of the Year: 2012
by Neil Walsh

This is Year 16 of our annual SF Site Editors' Choice Best Books of the Year, the SF Site official Best Reading and Top Ten recommendations from everything we read in the previous year. This time you may find it interesting to see the variance in what SF Site Contributors and Readers have been enjoying by comparing the present list with our Readers' Choice Top Ten as chosen by the SF Site readership. I was surprised to see how little overlap there was between the two lists this year. In any case, between both lists, I'm sure you'll find plenty of worthwhile suggestions for further science fiction and fantasy reading.

[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
Empty Space Empty Space: Kefahuchi Tract Trilogy, Book 3 by M. John Harrison
(Gollancz, July 2012)

This novel follows James Tiptree Jr. Award winner, Light (2002), and winner of the Arthur C. Clarke and Philip K. Dick Awards, Nova Swing (2006). It's a fitting conclusion to the overall story arch of the Kefahuchi Tract Trilogy, written in Harrison's mind-altering style, with humour, darkness, contemporary commentary, haunting imagery, and literary panache. Hard to nail down, this work crosses noir, near-future SF, space opera, and more.

   No. 9
The Fractal Prince - Gollancz The Fractal Prince - Tor The Fractal Prince: Jean Le Flambeur, Book 2 by Hannu Rajaniemi
(Gollancz/Orion, September 2012 / Tor, November 2012)

Jean Le Flambeur was introduced to readers in The Quantum Thief (2010) and now he's back again, in stories within stories within strange loops, as told in Rajaniemi's latest novel. With more than a nod to the Book of a Thousand Nights and a Night, the author rockets his readers a quantum leap beyond the realm of Arabian mythology into a world of nanotech, Schrödinger's Cat, string theory, and viral software that can recode the human mind.

   No. 8
Caliban's War Caliban's War: Expanse, Book 2 by James S.A. Corey
(Orbit, June 2012)

James S.A. Corey is the pen name for collaborators Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. This book is the sequel to their first Expanse novel, Leviathan Wakes (2001). Jim Holden & his crew search for a lost child on war-torn Ganymede, breadbasket of the outer planets. Meanwhile, an alien protomolecule on Venus is at risk of spreading throughout the human-inhabited solar system. And on Earth, political battles threaten to erupt into the next interplanetary war.

   No. 7
Red Country Red Country by Joe Abercrombie
(Gollancz/Orbit, October 2012)

This book is a stand-alone novel set in the same world as Abercrombie's First Law Trilogy, this time with a distinctly western flavour. Shy South had hoped her bloody past was behind her forever. But when she returns to the family farm to find the old homestead destroyed, and her brother and sister stolen away, she sets off in pursuit with her meek stepfather, Lamb. Turns out, Lamb has some bloody secrets of his own. Together they trek across barren plains, lawless frontier towns, and unmapped mountains, encountering hardened prospectors, duellists, murderers, and lawyers.

   No. 6
Hide Me Among the Graves, WM Hide Me Among the Graves, Corvus Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers
(William Morrow, March 2012 / Charnel House, April 2012 / Corvus, September 2012)

This novel represents a long-awaited stand-alone sequel to The Stress of Her Regard (1989), winner of the Mythopoeic Award and nominee for the World Fantasy Award. John Crawford, son of the protagonist from the previous novel, is drawn into struggles similar to those of his father against vampiric forces. His colleagues in this battle are the Rossetti family, including Dante (Pre-Raphaelite painter) and Christina (poet). Their enemies include the Rossetti's uncle, John Polidori, who also featured in Powers' previous work. With an atmospheric portrayal of Victorian London and a unique treatment of vampirism, there's plenty to recommend this book.

   No. 5
The Dragon Griaule The Dragon Griaule by Lucius Shepard
(Subterranean Press, May 2012)

The first story of the Dragon Griaule was a novelette, "The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule," in 1984. It introduced readers to a 6,000-foot long dormant dragon in a remote valley in Central America. Over the years, Shepard has revisited his Griaule world several times with renewed perspectives, writing styles, characters, and stories. The present work represents a collection of all six Griaule stories, including a brand new one. As a whole, the book is an impressive oeuvre of imaginative prose style.

   No. 4
Bowl of Heaven Bowl of Heaven by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven
(Tor, October 2012)

This book is the first installment of a new series of interstellar adventure. The starship Sunseeker is on a decades-long trek to a new galaxy, headed for what is the most viable planet for human habitation yet detected, when an anomaly is found to be on an identical course. The anomaly is inconceivably huge. It appears to be a bowl-shaped spaceship the size of half a solar system. A landing party is sent from Sunseeker to investigate. What they discover may necessitate humanity's reassessment of their place in the universe.

   No. 3
Forge of Darkness Forge of Darkness: The Kharkanas Trilogy, Book 1 by Steven Erikson
(Bantam, July 2012 / Tor, September 2012)

This book is a return to the Malazan world, although events depicted here take place long, long before the stories already told in Erikson's Tales of The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Here we see the origins of Anomander Rake in the Age of Darkness, and the forging of a sword that will change the course of history. Civil war, family rivalries, personal betrayals, and the story of a goddess who abandoned her people.

   No. 2
Railsea, DR Railsea, Mm Railsea, SP Railsea by China Miéville
(Del Rey/Macmillan, May 2012 / Subterranean Press, June 2012)

In a bizarre homage to Melville's Moby Dick, Miéville has created a world where a vast tract of barren land, cris-crossed by a chaotic sea of rails, is inhabited by burrowing creatures like the vast (but otherwise mole-like) moldywarpe. Trains traverse this sea of rails in search of commercial opportunities, trade, salvage, and piracy. Young Sham ap Soorap signs aboard an honest, hard-working train whose captain is obsessed with finding the giant white moldywarpe who took her arm.

   No. 1
2312 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
(Orbit, May 2012)

This is the only book that appears on both the SF Site Readers' and Editors' Top 10 lists this year. This should be an indicator that if you haven't already checked it out, perhaps you should think about it. Robinson's vision of our future includes technological advances like extended human lifespan and colonization of our entire solar system. Even on Mercury there is a human habitation, Terminator, which is a perpetually moving city designed to stay forever out of the direct sunlight that would otherwise prove deadly. In the year 2312, an unexpected death at Terminator leads a former designer of worlds, Swan Er Hong, into the discovery of a plot to destroy them.

Honourable Mentions

Once again the voting results here were quite close. And so once again we're happy to show you (in no particular order) some of the great books that very nearly made our annual Best of the Year:

  • American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s edited by Gary K. Wolfe (The Library of America, September 2012)
  • Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce (Gollancz/Doubleday, July 2012)
  • The Complete Rainbow Orchid: The Adventures of Julius Chancer, Volumes 1-3 by Garen Ewing (Egmont Books, September 2012)
  • Bread and Circuses by Felicity Dowker (Ticonderoga Publications, June 2012)
  • Cinder: Lunar Chronicles, Book 1 by Marissa Meyer (Feiwel and Friends/Puffin, January 2012 / Thorndike Press, March 2012)
  • Osama by Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing, August 2011 / Solaris, October 2012)
  • Raven Cursed: Jane Yellowrock, Book 4 by Faith Hunter (Roc, January 2012)

Best Read of the Year in Science Fiction and Fantasy: Previous Years
Readers' Choice: Best Read of 2012           
Readers' Choice: Best Read of 2011           
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
I hope you all find plenty of great books to read between now and next year, when we'll be back again to look at what we thought were the highlights.

Copyright © 2013 Neil Walsh

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