Friday, November 17, 2006

The Best Books of The Millenium (Thus Far)

Granted, we're not yet 7 years into the 2K's, but inspired by Jay Tomio's Best 100 Books of the Past Ten Years (Which he has no intention of ever completing, I'm quite certain.), I've decided to do something similar. Spanning the time period from January 1, 2000 unto the present day, these are the best speculative fiction works released thus far this decade. They are in descending order, based solely upon my opinion of their merit, with the briefest of descriptions as to why.

50. Knife of Dreams byRobert Jordan: It appears that Jordan has finally righted this tottering behemoth of a series. KoD is a return to the highest quality of the heyday of The Wheel of Time, and it's noteworthy and commendable after the travesty that was his last few volumes.

49. Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey: Sexy and exciting, Carey's first foray in the world of Terre d'Ange is also her best novel to date. The rest of the books are worth reading, however.

48. The Merchant Princes by Charles Stross: SF wunderkind Charlie Stross's fantasy epic which combines equal parts Zelazny's Amber, the Medici family, and James Bond.

47. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold: Tragedy and hope; a wonderful and moving ghost story.

46. The Mount by Carol Emshwiller: No one is weirder than Emshwiller. A boy is the horse of a soon-to-be Emperor of an alien species that has conquered Earth.

45. Infoquake by David Louis Edelman: Perhaps the best recent take on the dangers of widespread capitalism. A wonderous and scathing debut novel.

44. Smoking Poppy by Graham Joyce: Graham Joyce is the best fantasy author you've never read. Fix that failing.

43. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke: Incredibly overrated, this Hugo and World Fantasy Award winner is still a pretty damn fine novel.

42. Black Juice by Margo Lanagan: It is impossible to read this short story collection for children and remain unmoved.

41. Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay: Kay's first urban fantasy, and his best novel in over a decade.

40. Fables by Bill Willingham: A comic book series telling the story of fairy tale legends in New York. Winner of multiple Eisner Awards.

39. War Stories by Joe Haldeman:
an omnibus edition of Haldeman's Vietnam novels and shorts. A wonderful companion piece to his SF mega-novel, The Forever War, and perhaps the most important book published thus far from Night Shade Books.

38. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde: The first book of the dazzlingly addictive Thursday Next SF mysteries.

37. Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds: Space opera meets mystery in Alastair Reynolds finest novel to date.

36. The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon: Science fiction featuring autism and futuristic corporate politics. Winner of the Nebula Award

35. Galveston by Sean Stewart: Galveston, Texas is split between a world of magical ever-lasting Mardi Gras and the mundane normal city. World Fantasy Award winner.

34. The Fantasy Writer's Assistant by Jeffrey Ford: A deeply affecting short story collection from one of the finest short story writers in the world, in any genre.

33. Camouflage by Joe Haldeman: Haldeman's Nebula Award winning novel of shape shifting.

32. GRRM: A Rretrospective by George R.R. Martin: An amazingly complete collection of the Martin's short work. It contains some of the best short fiction of the 70's and 80's, along with newer work. Published in the UK as Dream Songs.

31. Vellum by Hal Duncan: This novel will confound or enthrall you; there is no third option. A fine debut novel, not easily topped.

30. Accelerando by Charles Stross: Stross's most important work thus far, but I expect more from him based upon his evident abilities. I have no doubt he will fulfill this demand.

29. White Devils by Paul McCauley: A post-apocalyptic techno-thriller set in Africa. Think Michael crichton, if he were, you know, a good author.

28. A Year in The Linear City by Paul Di Filippo: The story of a city betwixt heaven and hell.

27. The Last Hot Time by John M. Ford: Simply the finest urban fantasy I have ever read from an author we lost this year.

26. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: Six fantastic viewpoints weaved together to form a dreamlike whole. A marvel of a novel.

25. Temeraire by Naomi Novik: A wonderfully enjoyable amalgam of McCaffrey's Pern and O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin novels.

24. Kalpa Imperial by Angelica Gorodischer: Stories of a fictional empire. Absolutely stunning and moving. It's the best book you've never heard of.

23. City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer: A similar theme: VanderMeer's collection of stories set in Ambergris. His latest novel, Shriek, I have yet to read, and so was unable to judge if it was fit for inclusion in this list. A fault I will shortly remedy.

22. Air by Geoff Ryman: The story of a provincial woman trapped in the quantam realm of a futuristic internet. James Tiptree Jr. Award Winner

21. The Facts of Life by Graham Joyce: Joyce's best novel in a handful of years. That's high praise, people. World Fantasy Award winner.

20. Spin by Robert Charles Wilson: a great science fiction yarn about big ideas and full of that good old fashioned 'sensawundah.' Hugo Award Winner

19. American Gods by Neil Gaiman: Gods exist because we believe in them. The story of Shadow and Wednesday is the pinnacle of Gaiman's stories career, and an excellent novel. Hugo Award winner.

18. Magic For Beginners by Kelly Link: Kelly Link bends structure and warps expectations. Her short fiction is like nothing else, and that's a good thing.

17. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch: I have not read a more enjoyable book in years. Lynch is the future of high adventure fantasy.

16. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan: Simply the best science fiction comic book currently being produced, by a wide margin. Yorick must survive in a world where he is the last living male. Eisner Award winner

15. The Road by Cormac McCarthy: 've sat down three times to review this novel, and I am at a loss as to what to say. I was decimated, mind and body, by this tale of hope and horror.

14. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: Booker prize winning author's take on cloning and human engineering.

13. The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach: Orson Scott card has not done much worthy of mention since Speaker For The Dead, but I thank him heartily for bringing this epic tale into print in the United States.

12. Blindsight by Peter Watts: Next years Hugo Award Winner. This is the SF novel of 2006.

11. The Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford: This volume deserves to be ranked with The Rediscovery of Man, Deathbird Stories, and The Jaguar Hunters, as one of the best genre fiction collections in history. It's almost as good as Number 6.

10. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville: Perdido ushered in the New Weird, and Mieville is one of the finest young writers in speculative fiction today.

9. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore: Without a doubt, the funniest book ever penned. Terry Pratchett and Tom Holt ought to take notes from this master.

8. The Prince of Nothing Trilogy by R. Scott Bakker: This is the best epic fantasy trilogy since The Lord of The Rings.

7. Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan: Until Number 5 came along, this was the best SF novel of the burgeoning decade. A page turning noirish cyber-mystery, that will have you buying the sequels before you're done with the first. Phillip K. Dick Award winner.

6. Story of your Life and Others by Ted Chiang: The best SF collection since The Rediscovery of Man. An absolute must-read for lovers of the short form.

5. River of Gods by Ian McDonald: The veritable proof I was searching for that science fiction is not dead.

4. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski: The reinvention of the horror novel. The book itself is a work of art, and Danielewski is an absolute madman -- but you'll enjoy the ride.

3. The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe: This dualogy is the pinnacle of Wolfe's Grandmaster level career. This dream induced fantasy is about as good as fantasy can possibly be.

2. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon: The story of cousins, The Holocaust, comic books, love, and courage. Pulitzer Prize winner.

1. A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin: The single best fantasy novel ever written.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Collector by John Fowles

The Collector was the first published novel of John Fowles, one of the great British authors of the 20th century. While not pertaining to the supernatural in any manner, The Collector is a foundation of modern horror writing, and so I am able to massage defnitions a bit and allow for this commentary here at Speculative Reviews.

In a word, this novel is creepy.

The Collector tells the story of Frederick; (but call him Ferdinand!) a lonely, socially retarded young man who wins the lottery. He collects butterflies; hunts them, breeds them, is meticulous in his care and treatment of them. With his lottery winnings, Frederick buys himself an old cottage in the country outside of London; a cottage with a secret room beneath the cellar.

And then Frederick kidnaps the object of his infatuation -- Miranda Grey, beautiful young art student., and places her in this secret room.

After the abduction, the narrative is told by Miranda herself, who details her capture and confinement, and the terror that defines her waking moments. But by the end, we are returned to the point of view of the sick collector of butterflies -- and women.

According to documented evidence, (and a fascinating article in Maxim Magazine, found here) The Collector has acted as inspiration for at least five serial killers and 40 murders, and most certainly was an inspiration for Thomas Harris's The Silence of The Lambs.

Fowles maintains that his novel is about class warfare, and how the best and brightest are too often snuffed out by the mediocre majority, but The Collector is also an incredibly disturbing horror novel in and of itself. One that I can't force myself to reccomend to anyone but those who find this sort of thing fascinating. It was entirely too upsetting to me.

But then, it was supposed to be.


Collectors Notes:

First editions of The Collector are incredibly valuable due not only to its cult status, but also because it Fowles first novel, and there are signifigantly less copies in circulation than of his later novels. A signed first (1963, Jonathan Cape, London) can bring upwards of 2000 dollars. The US First (1963, Little & Brown, Boston) is worth ~500 dollars, and a signed Franklin Library edition published in the late 80's is worth ~200.

The cover of the true (UK) first edition is shown in the picture above.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Ian McDonald Interview

Pat from Pat's Fantasy Hotlist was kind enough to allow me to add a few questions to his interview of Ian McDonald. (River of Gods)

The interview can be found here. McDonald is incredibly witty, and the interview is amusing and interesting. He even gives a few book recommendations, which is always a high point for me.

Thanks, Pat.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay isn't flying under anyone's radar. A modern master of the fantastical, his resume includes the masterwork Tigana, the thrilling historical fantasy The Lions of Al-Rassan, and he is responsible for turning The Silmarillion into a masterwork from the notes and files of J.R.R. Tolkien. (For any who have The Silmarillion and then the other texts compiled by Christopher Tolkien, it is easy to see that Kay is responsible for making this volume readable.)

Recently, Kay has concentrated solely on historical fantasy, and so it was with great surprise that I cracked open Ysabel to find that this book was set in the present day.

Ysabel is a story of love, the idea of love, and the lengths that people will go to for the chance of it. It is a coming-of-age story set in the south of France; a location with millennia of blood soaked history -- all of which can be explained by Ysabel herself, and the men that love her.

What surprised me most about this novel was the wit and candor in the dialogue. It was literally hilarious at times, and I laughed aloud in more than one instance. There is also sexual tension between many characters, and while there is no sex to speak of in the text, there are many scenes which are erotically stimulating. And the mystery of Ysabel and the adventure she prompts are quite absorbing as well.

I believe Ysabel to be Guy Gavriel Kay's best novel since The Lions of Al-Rassan, and it just may be one of his signature works.


Collector's Notes:

This book is released in February 2007, but feel free to order now. This is one you'll want in your collection.

Kay's Ysabel Journal is online here.