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Best of 2005
by Greg L. Johnson

Getting ready to make my best of the year list for the SF Site, I take all the books I've read in the last year that qualify and pile them on top of one of my bookcases. It gives me a good look at them, and also is a good way to get an overall impression of what kind of year it was for readers of science fiction, fantasy, and all the related fictions that appear in the space of a year.

This time, two observations were readily apparent. First, for science fiction it was a very good year. So good, that I read almost no new fantasy this year, with one notable exception, which appears on the list. Second, for me at least, this was The Year Of The Post-Human Novel. Six of the books on my list, and the one novella, could be described as such, and there were others deserving of making it. This may, in the long run, turn out to be an infatuation with a certain style, but right now I would argue that what we have here is the first recognizable literary movement within science fiction since cyberpunk. Post-human SF is, at its best, a truly avante-garde off-shoot of hard science fiction and space opera that is pushing the boundaries of SF from within. And, in the process, telling some great stories.

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

Accelerando Accelerando by Charles Stross
Not just this year's finest, but one of the best SF novels of recent years, Accelerando ranks with Greg Egan's Schild's Ladder as the most uncompromising expressions yet of the post-human aesthetic. The story in Accelerando leaps up, into, and through the singularity, in prose that delights and often astonishes. (Check out the passages early in the novel where Manfred Macx, disconnected from the AI that feeds and filters information to him, wanders the streets in search of the reality he knows is there.) A must read for anyone interested in the cutting edge of literary hard SF.

Spin Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
An elegant, moving look at the lives of a generation of friends growing up on an Earth suddenly and mysteriously cut off from the rest of the universe. Robert Charles Wilson artfully creates a realistic portrait of flawed human beings confronted with a bleakly dangerous landscape, then connects it all to the romantic tradition of classic science fiction's hopeful, optimistic future.

Magic For Beginners Magic For Beginners by Kelly Link
Start reading anywhere in this collection and it quickly becomes apparent why Kelly Link is being feted by such publications as Salon and Time. Think Philip K. Dick with the paranoia replaced by an impish sense of humor that skews everything it touches, and a prose style that, at times, forces the reader to stop in sheer wonder at the magic of it all.

Counting Heads Counting Heads by David Marusek
David Marusek's first novel is another look at the post-human future, and comes as close as an SF novel can to reading as if it's a contemporary novel from the future, 2134 A.D., it describes. It also features what may be the most provocative look at a society built on the labor of cloned humans since C.J. Cherryh's Cyteen.

Lady of Mazes Lady of Mazes by Karl Schroeder
Set in the same universe as Ventus and Permanence, Lady Of Mazes is a subtle look at the problems of a society based on the consensual use of virtual reality. While Livia Kodaly and her friends look for help in returning to their invaded home, they are confronted by the problem of dealing with people who are accustomed to having reality altered to suit their needs, and not ever the other way around. Add in the irony that the home Livia is seeking is yet another virtual reality and the layers and depths of Lady Of Mazes start to become apparent.

The Well Of Stars The Well Of Stars by Robert Reed
Another novel that reads as if it could be an artifact of its own fictional future, The Well Of Stars continues the story of the crew and passengers of The Great Ship. Sailing through the dangers of the Ink Well Nebula, the characters blithely make plans for millions of years, their motivations and emotional responses convincingly rendered as either alien or belonging to beings descended from, but beyond human.

Fifty Degrees Below Fifty Degrees Below by Kim Stanley Robinson
Kim Stanley Robinson's version of the political thriller, set in a near-future Washington D.C. undergoing rapid climate change is actually a close, personal look at a character who, while playing a central role in efforts to understand and possibly reverse the approaching Ice Age, is poised on the edge of sanity. The tension in Fifty Degrees Below is real, not because of what's happening in the story, but because of Robinson's ever-present ability to make us care about the people in his books as much or more than the dramatic events of which they find themselves a part.

Burn Burn by James Patrick Kelly
A novella, published as a stand-alone hard-cover, Burn looks at the post-human future through the eyes of a young man living on a planet dedicated to preserving the true "simplicity" of humanity. James Patrick Kelly's story deftly allows its characters, both human and post-human, to question their society without arriving at any easy or simplistic answers. And in these days of long novels and longer series, Burn is a welcome reminder that bigger is not always better.

Godplayers Godplayers by Damien Broderick
Though not without its flaws, Godplayers is a wild romp through a universe of infinite possibilities. The problem is, they all seem to lead to a bad ending. Human, super-human, and post-human characters careen from one universe to the next, trading quips and alternate explanations for what's really going on. It doesn't always make sense, but never ceases to entertain.

Heart of Whitenesse Heart of Whitenesse by Howard Waldrop
Any year with a Howard Waldrop collection is a good year.

And because it was a good year, here are some Honorable Mentions also worth reading:
Cowl Cowl
by Neal Asher

The Emperor Of Gondwanaland The Emperor Of Gondwanaland
by Paul Di Filippo

Natural History Natural History
by Justina Robson

The Hidden Family/Accelerando The Hidden Family
by Charles Stross

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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