And so, my favorite books of the year. Unlike other listings I have done, or need to do, this one is very simple: What books did I enjoy reading the most this year?
I considered discussing all sorts of other books – Dan Simmons’ Olympos, Joe Hill’s very fine 20th Century Ghosts, or even Ian Macleod’s The Summer Isles (which has stayed with me as much as any book I’ve read this year). I also considered the books that are still in my too-read pile that I’ll read before doing my write-up for Locus (Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin, Paul Park’s A Princess of Roumania, and David Marusek’s Counting Heads prominent amongst them). But at the end, this was the list. Ten books – eight novels and two collections – that were amongst the brightest spots in my reading year.
1. Magic for Beginners, Kelly Link
This was the book I was most looking forward to reading in 2005, and it managed to be better than I’d hoped. Funny, sweet, strange, it collected nine stories, three original to the book. It’s impossible to pick a best story here. I think “Stone Animals” is a masterpiece, and like “Magic for Beginners” almost as much, while “The Faery Handbag” enchanted me from the moment I first read it. If we were in Library Stadium, Iron Writer Link would be victorious (!!) with my book of the year.
2. Mister Boots, Carol Emshwiller
To be clear about this, even though they changed the cover from one I loved, this is my favorite Carol Emshwiller book ever, and a strong contender for my very favorite book of the year. The story of a horse that turns into a man and saves a family, Mister Boots is the kind of fantasy that doesn’t seem overmuch concerned with ‘fantasy’, and the kind of ‘young adult’ novel that understands that there’s a lot more ‘adult’ in young adults than we allow. Written beautifully, economically, it addresses love, family, the abuse of power in relationships, personal freedom and other such weighty matters, yet is never weighty, never didactic. If it’s not a perfect book (and it might be), it’s certainly a perfect Christmas gift.
3. Laughin’ Boy, Bradley Denton
Dark, disturbing, even a little scary, Bradley Denton’s Laughin’ Boy the best and blackest black comedy to be published in the field in the past decade. Written before September 11, and possibly unpalatable to American readers afterward, it is a viciously funny dismantling of American media culture set in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. John Clute said it “rubs our ears in the junk noise and anguish of America” and is “one of the funniest novels of the past decade”. Magnificent stuff, and one of the novels of the year.
4. Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys is a light-hearted novel that manages to be both enchanting and affecting, while still evoking a belly laugh. Echoing Thorne Smith, but written in Gaiman’s wonderfully inviting voice, it’s the year’s perfect confection.
5. Accelerando, Charles Stross
From the opening line of Accelerando, you know you’re in bleeding edge SF territory, every page seemingly packed with some eyeball kick or other. Manfred Macx is on the road, making strangers rich, in a world poised on the precipice of a coming Vingean singularity. Accelerando is the story of that singularity and how it affects three generations of Macx’s family, possibly told from the viewpoint of his cat. You can read Accelerando here.
6. The Girl in the Glass, Jeffrey Ford
The Girl in the Glass is deceptively simple. A con man who conducts fake ‘spiritualist’ seances in order to separate the rich from their riches encounters what may be a real supernatural event. Along with his young immigrant assistant and muscleman helper Antony Cleopatra, he pursues the unbelievable, all the while laying bare the politics, the racism, the society of the North Eastern US ’round the time of the Great Depression. It’s a breathtaking work.
7. Thud!, Terry Pratchett
By now it should be straightforward, dull even. After thirty-some other ‘Discworld’ novels, Pratchett still isn’t done with the civilising of his creation, bringing Ank-Morpork and the Discworld itself into modern society, all the while skewering the very thing he discusses. With a name like Thud!, one could expect some heavy-handedness, and there is a little of that, but it’s still funny, sharp and brilliant.
8. Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, Cory Doctorow
It’s simple. A man whose mother was a washing machine and father was a mountain, and whose brothers are respectively dead and a set of Russian nesting dolls, tries to escape his strange origins into normalcy, but becomes involed with a girl who, periodically, cuts off her wings. I don’t think it’s SF, but it may not be fantasy. It’s also not easy or simple or neat and tidy. In fact, like a lot of Doctorow’s best work, it’s a lot like life, seeped in the stuff of tomorrow. As with Accelerando, you can read it online, but will end up wanting the book. Lovely, weird stuff.
9. Heart of Whitenesse, Howard Waldrop
It’s not his best collection, but it’s Waldrop. Nuff said.
10. Rocket Science, Jay Lake
Forget the Campbell Award, forget the hundreds of short stories, forget everything else: Rocket Science is where Jay Lake showed that he could write, and write damn well. Rocket Science is the story of a young man, crippled by polio, who didn’t get to serve in World War II. Instead, he worked for Boeing, working as an engineer, helping produce aircraft. That changes when a school friend returns from service in Europe with a UFO discovered by the Nazis, buried under polar ice. Sharp, concise, it’s a fine first novel.