23 December 2014

Books I Liked in 2014

Looking back at 2014, I see that I read 70 books (using my Amazon/ Goodreads reviews to keep track: I haven't posted everything to this blog).  Which was the best?  I'm undertaken an unscientific enquiry.  First I've arbitrarily divided these according to genre/ sub genre (based on my own judgement - not necessarily how they were marketed) purely to help with this assessment.  That gives the following.

Then, I have chosen the best/ my favourite in each category, and finally, picked an overall winner.

The categories are

The Book of Strange New Things (Michel Faber), Firefall (Peter Watts), Bete and Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea (Adam Roberts), Extinction Game (Gary Gibson), The Long Mars (Pratchett/ Baxter), The Burning Dark,  Hang Wire and Brisk Money (Adam Christopher), Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation/ Authority/ Acceptance) (Jeff VanderMeer), Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome (John Scalzi), Descent (Ken Macleod), Resonance (John Meaney), Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above (Apollo Quartet 3) (Ian Sales), A Highly Unlikely Scenario: Or, a Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World (Rachel Cantor)

The largest category.  I'd been waiting for something new from Faber for years, and Strange New Things didn't disappoint.  Similarly, Firefall followed and completed (or did it?) Watts' earlier Blindsight (strictly, Firefall contains two books, Blindsight and its sequel, Echopraxia but I've treated as if it was just the latter).  Adam Roberts books are always readable and challenging and I enjoy seeing him find new ways to trash the Thames valley.  Extinction Game was immense fun.  Long Mars was slightly disappointing.  Adam Christopher had clearly been very busy and I found his books engaging and fun.  Descent was challenging and satisfyingly labyrinthine.  The third part of Sales' Apollo Quartet was a slight change in tack from the previous ones, and I didn't enjoy it quite as much, but it was still excellent and I'm looking forward to the final part. Rachel Cantor's book was manic, exciting and fast-paced.

My favourite? Taking them together, the VanderMeer Southern Reach trilogy which combined beautiful writing with a creepy vision of an alien incursion which was nevertheless so "thisworldly" that I half believe it's true.  Favourite individual book would be Ken Macleod's Descent which does something similar for a new-future Scotland - and that book has my very favourite scene of the year, where the combined armed forces of the civilized world invade and suppress every tax haven.  I can dream.

City of Stairs ((Robert Jackson Bennett), Europe in Autumn (Dave Hutchinson), Smiler's Fair (Rebecca Levene), Broken Monsters (Lauren Beukes), The Boy with the Porcelain Blade (Den Patrick), Plastic Jesus (Wayne Simmonds), A Different Kingdom (Paul Kearney), Bone Song (John Meaney), Liminal States (Zack Parsons), A Man Lies Dreaming (Lavie Tidhar), The Islands of Chaldea (Diane Wynne Jones), The Murdstone Trilogy (Mal Peet).

City of Stairs for the way it tackles a post-colonial world (involving dead gods, of course) in a truly original and yet believable way. Also for one of the best fantasy hero(ine)s I've ever read.  (But Liminal States pushes it close for sheer verve and use of multiple genres in one book and A Man Lies Dreaming for audacity.  And Europe in Autumn has taught me to persist longer when I'm not getting engaged - it blossomed so much in the final two thirds that I nearly missed something very, very special indeed.)

Urban Fantasy
The Ghost Train to New Orleans (Mur Lafferty), Vicious (VE Schwab), Banished (Liz de Jeger),
Something More Than Night (Ian Tregillis).

Vicious, which was violent, refreshing and original. (Actually, they we all violent, refreshing and original, it's just that Vicious was slightly more so...)

Apocalyptic/ Dystopian
Red Rising (Pierce Brown), The Chimes (Anna Smaill), Station Eleven (Emily St John Mandel), Astra (Naomi Foyle), Bird Box (Josh Malerman)

I give up on this one.  They were all so good I can't decide. Perhaps Station Eleven for sheer humanity and a new angle on post-apocalypse. Or Astra for politics.  Or...

Horror/ Ghost stories
Revival (Stephen King), No-one Gets Out Alive (Adam Nevill), Touched (Joanna Briscoe), The Unquiet House (Alison Littlewood), Murder (Sarah Pinborough), The Voices (F R Tallis), Rooms (Lauren Oliver), The Supernatural Enhancements (Edgar Cantero), Blood Kin (Steve Rasnic Tem).

No-one Gets Out Alive.  Left me feeling grubby, and listening for creaking sounds in the night.

Supernatural crime/ espionage
Foxglove Summer (Ben Aaronovitch), The Rain-Soaked Bride (Guy Adams), The Rhesus Chart (Charles Stross), The Severed Streets (Paul Cornell).

The Severed Streets, not only for audacity in use of a real person as a character but also for a well realised and menacing alt-London.  Looking forward, though, to the next Laundry book, which is apparently told form the point of view of a different character...

The Informant (Susan Wilkins), Dark Tides (Chris Ewan), Twist (Tom Grass), The Silkworm (Robert Galbraith), Mr Mercedes (Stephen King), The Girl in 6E (A R Torre), The Axeman's Jazz (Ray Celestin), Glow (Ned Beauman), The Burning (MR Hall).

The Axeman's Jazz was simply in a class of its own, not only in its language and the portrayal of the characters but also in its humanity.

Anthologies/ Short Stories
Dead Funny (ed Robin Ince and Johnny Mains), Dark Entries (Robert Aickman), Rags and Bones (ed Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt)

Dead Funny - horror stories by practising comedians sounds like it ought not to work, but most are brilliant, subtle and some deelpy human and touching.

The Table of Less-Valued Knights (Marie Phillips), Crooked Heart (Lissa Evans), Everland (Rebecca Hunt), Nunslinger (Stark Holborn).

Crooked Heart, for its different take on the myth of the Blitz and the deeply human portrayal of two characters on the edge.

Retreat (Liza Costello), Ajax Penumbra: 1969 (Robin Sloan), Tigerman (Nick Harkaway).

Hardly fair, this one, as the first two are both shorts, and the Harkaway really outguns them, but it's my catch-all for realist, non crime, you know, what might be called "literary", perhaps.  Arguably Book of Strange New Things might go in here as it's not actually very SFnal in feel?)

And my overall winner?

As my favourite over the year, City of Stairs. As the best done, probably No One Gets Out Alive, but it's hard to say a book that creepy is the one you loved most!

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