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Best of 2008
by Greg L. Johnson

2008 may not have been the greatest year ever for science fiction and fantasy, but even in a down year there are plenty of good books to read, and when narrowed down to the choices of a top ten list, the quality and state of SF and fantasy look as good as ever. There are also a couple of trends that appear characteristic of the last year. 2008 was a year where writers tackled large questions of philosophy and history, and usually did so in novels that were every bit as big as their themes. In science fiction, it was also a year which saw a revival in writing for young adults, a form that in years past drew many a young reader into the fold of SF, and never let them get away. It was also a good year for first novels, in fact, a third of this year's list are books that qualify as first novels, young adult novels, or both. That speaks well for the continued creativity and health of the field, and gives us all reason to look forward to the future.

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

City at the End of Time City at the End of Time by Greg Bear
City at the End of Time is a prime example of the big novel that tackles big questions. It may not have always succeeded in answering them, but the novel is filled with brilliant visions of a universe and characters extending through time in all its immensity.

Dogs Dogs by Nancy Kress
Nancy Kress takes a small American town and turns it upside down in a science fiction thriller that escalates the tension and suspense with every turn of the page.

Singularity's Ring Singularity's Ring by Paul Melko
Paul Melko's first novel is a coming-of-age story that melds one of the latest big concepts in SF, the Singularity, with elements of classic science fiction, worthy of comparisons to everyone from Theodore Sturgeon to Vernor Vinge.

A World Too Near A World Too Near by Kay Kenyon
The second novel in Kenyon's series The Entire and the Rose avoids the middle novel blues by focusing in on character, and turning up the tension.

Pandemonium Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory
Daryl Gregory's first novel is a wild trip through an alternate America possessed by demons straight out of its own pop-culture subconscious.

Matter Matter by Iain M. Banks
Iain M. Banks once again shows us life inside and out of the Culture, in this story of a family, first separated, and then re-united by tragedy.

The Gone-Away World The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
The third first novel on this list, Nick Harkaway's The Gone-Away World is a Catch-22 for the post-apocalyptic age, an often hilarious satire that revolves around the observations of its narrator and his hidden past.

Implied Spaces Implied Spaces by Walter Jon Williams
Walter Jon Williams takes every trick in the modern SF writer's bag, and mixes them into a grand stew that, in the midst of an adventure story that cuts across universes and risks the fate of humanity, dares to ask the question of not just how the universe was created, but why. It's the year's best space opera.

Little Brother Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
After a terrorist attack in San Francisco, high school students fight back against the tyranny of Homeland Security. In addition to the memorable cast of characters and their thrilling story, Little Brother leaves the reader contemplating just how close this novel came to being reality instead of fiction.

Anathem Anathem by Neal Stephenson
The biggest novel of the year, both in number of pages and the scope of its ideas, Anathem avoids being preachy or dry by mixing its philosophy and history into a story driven by interesting characters inhabiting a living, breathing world. A sterling example of everything science fiction can, and should be.

Copyright © 2009 Greg L. Johnson

Greg L Johnson lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota and reviews science fiction and fantasy for the SF Site and The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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