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Best of 2004
by Greg L. Johnson

2004 was a good year for science fiction, with more worthwhile titles than will fit comfortably into a top ten list. Still, with the usual caveat that the choices were limited to books I have actually read, here is such a list. None of us can read enough to definitively declare what constitutes the best, but out of what I read this year, these are the books I enjoyed the most and would heartily recommend to readers of science fiction.

Editor's Note: Links lead to SF Site reviews of the books.

Light Light by M. John Harrison
You know how it is, you hear for a year or more about how great a new record, book, or movie is, but it's not immediately available where you live. Then, when you finally do get to hear, read, or see it... It's even better than you expected.

Stable Strategies and Others Stable Strategies and Others by Eileen Gunn
It's one of the virtues of science fiction that the short story remains alive and well. So alive, in fact, that a writer like Eileen Gunn can have a career, and a substantial impact on the field, by specializing in short fiction. Of course, it helps when the stories are as well-crafted and individually memorable as the stories in this collection.

Iron Sunrise Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross
It was a good year for space opera. Two of my top three, three of the top ten are modern-day space operas. It was also a good year for Charles Stross. Iron Sunrise is only one of three books he published in 2004, all of which received much praise.

The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust
The most fun I had in a book this year.

White Devils White Devils by Paul McAuley
An intense, near-future bio-thriller with literary allusions. While the references to Heart of Darkness at times threaten to derail the story, in the end McAuley's artistry raises White Devils well above the average thriller, more like, say, SF.

Heaven Heaven by Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen
Wild technology, inventive aliens, and a serious discussion on the rightful place of religion in society make Heaven a top-notch science fiction novel.

Forge of Heaven Forge of Heaven by C.J. Cherryh
Once you get past the info-dump that starts the book, what you find is another C.J. Cherryh novel with intensely portrayed characters locked in a struggle not necessarily of their own making. Forge of Heaven builds on the universe created in Hammerfall, and continues Cherryh's exploration of the relationship between individuals and political and economic power structures, while adding a new insight; pop culture can also be a power center.

Crucible Crucible by Nancy Kress
While Cherryh explores the consequences of power, Kress continues her interest in strong, but flawed characters faced with difficult moral decisions. Crucible brings a satisfying conclusion to many of the story-lines begun in Crossfire, it's a prime demonstration of the fact that you can have your hard SF, and real characters, too.

Eastern Standard Tribe Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow
An original look at a near-future society becoming dominated by tribalism. The combination of corporate intrigue with characters who feel loyalty not to a geographic locale but instead to the cultural aesthetique associated with a particular time zone makes Eastern Standard Tribe feel like one of these SF novels that you could wake up one day and find yourself living in.

Banner of Souls Banner of Souls by Liz Williams
Lix Williams' novel is a flawed look at a post-human future, but has a stylish atmosphere and characters that feel at home in a future far removed from our time. Each of her novels has been truly different than the one that came before, and Banner of Souls is further evidence that here is a writer who intends to keep exploring new worlds.

Copyright © 2005 Greg L. Johnson

Greg L. Johnson reads and lives to write about it in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In addition to the SF Site, his reviews appear regularly in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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