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Jay Tomio’s Top 100 of the Last Ten Years

Light by M. John Harrison

A book in a long line – throughout my life – that I hated when I first started reading it that ended up being among my favorite books of all time. Reading a Harrison book offers that rare transition readers of SF/F go through, where each and every time we start reading a book we have that moment we switch switch gears when we realize (or not) – holy shit this writer has talent! Or as B & B would have said, ummm…like this guy can write and stuff.

This is essentially a grand Space Opera that doesn’t seem like a Space Opera, only because it’s good, and our perceptions of the term hasn’t dug itself out of the stigma even with the best efforts of others like Reynolds, Wright, and Macleod among others. Go visit the Circus of Pathet Lao and tell me Harrison isn’t the best SF writer in the field – either that or he is thumb wrestling Gene Wolfe for honors.

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang (2002)

Lack of ability by myself, just makes me want to use the word ‘perfection’ for all of these. For me, this is the standard for SF collections in the last ten years. It balances being accessible because the stories seem to adapt and speak to the individual. This collection had garnered incredible praise before I read it, and while I certainly agreed with the conclusions, I found my own attachments the stories for different reasons. It’s the best of literature, everyone is invited, all you have to do is bring yourself. This is the book I use when trying to explain to others (who may indeed be passive fans of SF or not at all ) what type of SF I enjoy – and none have read it and could muster dispute afterwards. It’s a collection that exceeds the most lavish possible expectations granted to it beforehand.
A Dictionary of Maqiao by Han Shaogong (1996 – in English in 2003)

This book at times take the form of a fictional dictionary, but is the ultimate view of an outsider of the fictional village of Maqiao. It reminded me of reading a book by Pavic who was passing through Macondo – which is probably enough to get anyone who knows what I’m talking about to pick the book up today.
The Troika by Stepan Chapman (1997)

If you read my blog, no doubt you already know I’m a simple person who just reads a lot of books, and my highest compliment after reading a book by an author I had not previously read is – after reading the last page – is, “This guy is a gangster” (I tend to go with more formal – some say gangsta, I say gangster). Stepan Chapman is a gangster. The method to attain this status varies but Chapman merits top shelf because he spins a tale that logically defies logic, and then when it stop spinning it makes even less sense so he gives it a twirl the other way just to let the reader catch up and we find out we are still running the wrong way.
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville (2000)

The book most responsible for expanding my own reading in SF/F and redefining my own view of fantasy. I have no delusions, this type of works existed before – and perhaps even better examples of – but the assumption that Mieville’s ascension to semi-rock star status in the field didn’t introduce more people than myself to greener pastures is – I think – a sound one. There are a lot of authors who are getting new readers try out their work because they saw this new author on the shelf a few years ago being published by the same publisher who published a known quantity (even if in negative fashion) like a Terry Brooks.

I love the big ideas (The Weaver) and the quite moments (Lin why did you look?).

Observatory Mansions by Edward Carey (2000)

Speaking of gangsters. Carey is the last of the authors on my list that was what I call my Vandeermeerian File (not to be confused with Zamilon File). Dude has indirectly led me to some great reads. In recognition to that, the best person to tell you about the novel is Jeff himself – and it kills two birds with one stone, as linking to Locus is the little guy giving thanks to the godfathers of the online SF/F world letting the little guys like myself (and FBS) eat (sometimes).
The Cave by Jose Saramago (2001)

The artisan in a world that being such is no longer viable in the face of technological advancement, and even worse it’s called progress. In every work Sarmago bring the human being to the forefront, and it begs the reader to ask the question why is this notion nothing more than a political punchline in our own society? Fiction that make you ponder the world you live in – I like that gimmick.

The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia (2005)

If I’m not mistaken (someone please correct me if I’m wrong) this is Plascencia’s debut which seems almost impossible. I read this, put down my pen, and went back to practicing my origami, because if people are writing debuts like this, people like me need to find our real calling because we are unworthy (although this hasn’t stopped numerous others – so maybe I still have a chance). A lot of people see the term experimental fiction and turn away but this experiment was a success. You will laugh, you will cringe, you may even catch a contact buzz from flipping the pages, but like all of the best works of fiction – particularly Science Fiction and the Fantastic – the liberal use of the absurd, weird, and fabulous, aren’t so thick to hide the penetrating themes that all of us recognize as part of any reality even in the midst of Rita Hayworth, paper people, Baby Nostradamus, mechanized amphibians, and something close to nacho libre.

After reading this book, when someone threatens to paper cut you – you will run – or shank them first.

All the Names by Jose Saramago (1997)

Every now and then even Harold Bloom is right. Who is to say who the best author in the world is? Certainly not me, but I’m in the Saramago line. More than anyone else Saramago is able to get to the heart of a character, the heart of the man, not relying on the crutch of where the character lives or what bubble he fills in on his standardized test denoting his origins even while writing a book that studies one’s life and the proof of one’s life and the loneliness of both.
Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson (2001)

A bit of a surprise choice but shouldn’t be if you read my ode to Erickson, I often debate (okay not often) myself in which i prefer the most in the series, either this or the second book Deadhouse Gates. Ultimately this become my choice as it becomes the book where the patient reader finally gets a bit of a stop in the 1000 mile per hour sprint Erikson begins with the flawed (but one I still enjoyed) Gardens of the Moon, without actually slowing down. We learn more about the nature of the warrens that have fanboy magic-system junkies weak in the knees, we learn more about the nature of pantheon, the power of Quick Ben, and the humanizing (but still alien) of Anomander Rake via talk with Whiskey Jack adds to both characters.

Plus, a guy carries around a hammer that can end the world – how cool is that?

Absolute Planetary by Warren Ellis featuring art by John Cassaday (2004/ individual issue started in 1999)

You know I was sitting here thinking what comic have I really enjoyed reading the most in this timeframe,and I think it’s vogue to try to find the msot obscure title nobody has ever heard of to annoint in this field lately, but for me it really came down to a few possibilities like DC’s Hitman, Vertigo’s Preacher (both by Garth Ennis) and Planetary, which offers the convenient-for-my-purposes Absolute Editon which is the best comic book format idea ever. Besides being a slight pain to locate, what you will find here is the first 12 issues of Warren Ellis goodness featuring a trio of super-folks who investigate mysteries and phenomena. Okay, sounds like superhero X-files, but what makes this fun is its use of bizarro-recognizable figures from comics and popular culture in general, which makes it almost impossible for a comic fan or anybody who has been alive for thw last 40 years not to enjoy – which is a mean trick Warren.

Cassaday’s pencils are simply sublime.

Tainaron by Leena Krohn (2004)

This is a book I have to credit reading the Mumpsimus for drawing my attention to it. First I might get some hate mail here: this is just over 120 pages and broken down into over two dozen stories (Letters), which would lead people to ask me why I didnt include some novellas that may be only slighlty less in size, and I’d lose that argument (as there is at least a Lethem work I know I’d like to include in the same mold).

This (overall the other books here) gets my vote as the one book you can recommend to that person you know who truly believes in the concept of fantastic literature and you will get a call back (not an email – a real call, ringing and everything – I promise) of appreciation. Damn bugs.

The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe (2004 – later collected)

It’s strange, I think I underestimated these books when I first read them (first released separate as The Knight and The Wizard but since collected and both were released the same year so cut me some slack). The title and the synopsis imply conventional, the name of the author screams that’s not possible, the writing whispers the truth.

A prime example that what elements -no matter how traditional or cliche – an author uses doesn’t have to indicate quality. A master is master, and Wolfe is wolf even in sheeps clothing.

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (1999)

You can’t read this book and forget about Lionel, Lethem’s tourettes suffering protagonist that serves as an incredible vehicle for Lethem’s exploration of language hiding behind a whodunnit.

Jack Faust by Michael Swanwick (1997)

I’m a big Swanwick fan and this book strikes me as a glorfied Faust, SF stylw that not only reworks the various well known tales of Faust, but in it’s glory gives a message about the nature of Science Fiction itself, it’s fictional martyrs, and the end game represented.

Or, I can be taking books too seriously again…

The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F. Hamilton (1996)

The start of one of the great space operas that suffers a bit from an ending that made the term deus ex machina vogue in the SF/F community.

The Darkest Part of the Woods by Ramsey Campbell (2002)

Simply an ideal modern horror novel for those that still like the idea that comedy isn’t synonymous with horror. For horroe writers who don’t know about atmosphere in writing read this book – quiet can be loud.
Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian (2000)

First, I don’t know anything about the politics surrounding the author, and more importantly I don’t care, what we have here is kind of a Nobel laureate’s post modern, version of Queen Latifah’s movie Last Holiday (U-N-I-T-Y!). The narrator(s) travels, a semi-autobiographical account at times surreal, both physically (some 15,000 mile journey) but the meat is the journey to self, which really has no destination (but thankfulky is full of women).
Shriek: an Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer (2006)

I think the presence of three Vandermeer efforts may be a surprise to some, but I mentioned Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora on this list (which came out in 2006 as well), and Shriek has to be included, because it’s the single best book I have read this year. Read the interview I conducted with Jeff earlier this year for all things Shriek.
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (1996)

The third book in the series (A Storm of Swords) is already on the list as what I feel is the best epic fantasy book I have ever read. In all honesty this series probably kept my love for the medium (epic fantasy) alive. I was entering that stage where I (like many others) were getting tired of reading what was essentially the same story over and over from thirty different authors and not only did this book buck that status quo it really is more than that, it’s not just the best epic fantasy of the 90’s, it’s really one of the best series I have ever read period, and its achieved a rare combination of being extremely popular (a best seller) and actually being good. This is the book that introduced me to the cast of characters – that have not only for me, but also for a mob of others – defined 90’s fantasy.

Epic fantasy can not only be good, it can rival the best stuff being written, and it’s nice of Martin to supply me with something tangible to point to when saying that.

Letters From Hades by Jeffrey Thomas (2003)

I’m a big fan of just about everything I have read from Thomas (and looking forward to his next effort) and one might just want to consider this entry a dual entry with his Punktown. Jeffrey Thomas gives us a view of a man who wakes up in hell, falls in love, and starts a life in hell (after graduating) and even has time to hope to be able to be able publish his book. That’s a dedicated writer.

I take solace that if I don’t make it the other way, there are small presses in hell. By the way, if I didn’t stress it enough, Punktown kicks all kinds of ass – that’s a quality purchase that will have you searching for other Thomas efforts in that setting.

The Inflatable Volunteer by Steve Aylett (1999)

I thought Aylett’s Lint was one of the better books I read last year, but this probably my favorite book by Aylett who has crafted wonderful locales like Beerlight in the past. What draws me to Aylett is that although many describe his work as surreal and over the top, Aylett’s characters do and act in a manner that I relate to, which may man I’m a sick bastard, or everybody else is just lying. Probably the latter.

Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk

27. Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk (1999)

That guy who wrote Fight Club. This is his best book.

What? That should be enough…

Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk (1999)

That guy who wrote Fight Club. This is his best book.

What? That should be enough…

The Crook Factory by Dan Simmons (1999)

As I pondered this list I was sure it would be Simmons’s Ilium that would be on this list. I found that I thought less of it after reading its sequel Olympos, which I enjoyed but failed to live up to promise of Ilium. Simmons remains one of the more versatile writers out there, and his Hyperion Cantos was one of the reads that really turned me on to Science Fiction, and this book, a historical/fiction that actually makes Ernest Hemingway interesting (no small feat) is representing Simmons on this list.

Excession by Iain M. Banks (1996)

I love Culture – Use of Weapons is one of the best damn SF books I have read, and this my second favorite (I’m also a fan of Bank’s non-Sf work). Making humans a secondary, or at least not the sole primary perspective of Space Opera is ballsy – making it great might make you the subject of SF fan boy admiration.
Time’s Hammer by James Sallis (2000)

I’m quite proud of this find as I have been looking forward to some mystery books beyond the classics that I’m most familiar with (Stout, Christie etc) and this collection by Sallis (who I am otherwise not familiar with) makes me feel this is a great author to start with.

In short, I don’t know much about mystery, but I like this book.

Finding Helen by Colin Greenland (2003)

For a while (last couple of years) it seemed Colin Greenland became the name mentioned along with Susanna Clarke, which speaks volumes about how well received Clarke was for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, because this guy is talented. I actually first read Greenland via a short story contribution he did in Book of Dreams, an anthology containing stories pertaining to Neil Gaiman’s Dreaming which featured authors like the aforementioned Clarke, Gene Wolfe, John M. Ford, Tad Williams, Steven Brust, Lisa Goldstein, Caitlin Kiernan, and George Alec Effinger among others. Greenland just gets it with Finding Helen; he doesn’t as much take you on a journey to his conclusion as much as he guides you to make your own (a novel idea in some fantasy corners).

It’s just a wonderful example of SF/F being the tool and not the product itself (another idea that is lost in many corners of SF/F).

Bible Stories for Adults by James Morrow (1996)

Okay, I’m lame, the title first made me to examine this book, but my lameness proved fruitful on this occasions as this is wonderful collection of smart satire of events not just involving the Bible, but also in regards to stories about Helen (of Troy) Ebenezer Scrooge, and Lincoln. Christopher Moore’s work never really appealled to me in the manner this effort by Morrow did.

…and God narrating a story just tickled me.

Endland Stories by Tim Etchells (1998)

One day I was reading an interview being conducted by some guy named Gabe Chouinard (you may have heard of him – more likely you have heard him, as Gabe is one of those personalities who seem to be able yell at you through the screen). He was interviewing M. John Harrison, and as he was asking a question he mentions Etchell’s name sandwiched in-between China Mieville and Kelly Link when referencing writers who are drawing on their own lives to create works that transcend ‘normal’ genre conventions. At the time I hadn’t read Link so the implication wasn’t as staggering as it is now, but I have one of those odd minds that recalls and ponders things of no consequence to others (like how Squirrel Girl beats the hell out of every major Marvel character – or why Condor Man didn’t become the next huge super hero after his film).

So…who the hell is Tim Etchells?

I still have no damn clue, but this collection is an intriguing and nifty cynical (which in the 21st century means realistic) look at modern values in England.

The Monstrous and the Marvelous by Rikki Ducornet (1999)

A few months ago in a post at FBS Victoria asked me about current female writers I enjoyed, who I thought were also among the best writers currently in fiction. I really drew a blank (although I did mention L. Timmel Duchamp). It’s not a question I’m asked a lot, but the one should have mentioned (quickly) was Rikki Ducornet – who really represents for me the ideal ‘artist’ that I like to think is at the core of every writer. This is a set of essays by Ducornet, a journey into the mind of an artist while regarding art (and other things).

Alas, the other Ducornet works I have read were written before a decade ago (her Phosphor in Dreamland is an all time favorite of mine) – and a list like this that doesn’t include her would have very little validity.

The Scar by China Mieville (2002)

Reaction to The Scar has always been one of the most interesting things to observe for me in genre circles. Perdido Street Station gave Mieville a bit of rock and roll star status and this follow-up had as many people anticpating it for its possibilities as it had people waiting for a fall. I think there was a fall, personally I prefer Perdido Street Station, but I think Mieville had enough seperation to fall and still remain above the pack. The Scar is one of those books that on retrospect it’s not too hard to find points of frustration with text or angles to disect and improve upon it, yet these aspects never occured to me while I actually reading the book – I think this was one of the great pure adventure novels in recent memory! The high seas, leviathans, vampires, alientech-swords, spies, pirates, mosquito people, groovy mystical artifacts – and social commentary wrapped in one of a kind Mieville prose. What else can one ask for? Is there anything else?

I’m think I’m going to change my name to Japan H.P. Kafka.

Words Are Something Else by David Albahari (1996)

A collection from an author who has recently received some acclaim for Gotz and Meyer (which I haven’t read – I have never really been too fascinated with Nazi/concentration camp related fiction). A local here actually put me on to Albahari, and whoa! Highly introspective, but from different sources, at the same distant but in front of you. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but it’s also a deep one, where Albahari spins personal, and regionally relevant fiction with equal skill using the surreal or mundane. It’s one of those books that later made me mroe wary of the person who recommended it than I was before – the person was smarter than I first realized.
Minions of the Moon by Richard Bowes (2000)

First, shadow/doppelgangers are very cool. Whether as recently in Park’s A Princess of Roumania or works by Auster, Chabon, Nabakov etc, The Bodhisattva likes Doppelgangers and Bowes’ Fred is no exception. In fact a doppelganger named Fred might be the epitimy of cool. More than that, Bowes lay the groundwork for what we later come to know him far – tacking real life not with fantasy, but tackling fantasy with real life, emphasizing real. I mentioned this in my review of his From the Files of the Time Rangers – but nobody puts you in setting like Bowes, he doesn’t just take you there – this guy is like walking on to a holo-deck.
Black Glass by Karen Joy Fowler (1997)

A collection that conveniently includes some stories from Fowler’s earlier collections. I think John Clute just says everthing you need to know about Fowler:

Her stories are not snapshots. They are what happens to snapshots.

If my name was Japan H.P. Kafka I think I could say something deep like that to.

Leviathan III by Forrest Aguirre and Jeff Vandermeer (2002)

This is my favorite anthology, and bless it’s heart because I can get away with a brief reasoning: Jeffrey Ford, Zoran Zivkovic, Michael Moorcock, Tamar Yellin, Rikki Ducornet, Carol Emshwiller, Stepan Chapman – and more all in top form.

There aren’t too many geat anthologies anymore. Remeber all the hype for the Legends stuff? I liked it because they had some necessary reads from authors like a Martin in them (Martin fans will buy anything that includes something aSoIaF related – and rightfuly so), but they define uneven stories. Most of them were big names, who never could write anyway and were out of element in the short form. With Leviathan you have collected some of the best in the business.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch (2006)

Let’s ruffle feathers! A caper novel? A fun novel? Wait a minute, isn’t this an adventure? What is this, an enjoyable read that can have wide appeal?

Fuck that!

If you think those are actual detractions than you’re an idiot. I don’t know about anyone else but one of my main goals – a daily goal – is to maximize my enjoyment and have fun. This is Fritz Leiber after watching Reservoir Dogs and that can’t possibly be bad.

The Gentleman Bastards are an institution – someone give me an official T-Shirt.

The Chess Garden by Brooks Hansen (1996)

Conspiracy! There is some possible fudging here, I am told this could have been written in 1994-1995, but my edition says 1996 and it’s close enough (and damn straight it’s worthy enough) to get a pass. The Bodhisattva took one year of meditative hibernation thus it becomes the 10 year + 1 list. I was browsing Amazon one day and for some reasons I clicked on one of those Listmania links accidently and it leads me to a list by some guy named Jeff VanderMeer. This list would eventually lead me to some damn good reading (some on this list like Cisco). The gem on the list is this work by Hansen. Many books purposelly attempt to involve and manipulate emotions, other try to appeal to intellectual sensibilities – Hansen does both while exhibitnig the capabilites of fantasy we all have and never allowing that fact to unties itself from reality. I think this books is 10x better than Crowley’s Little, Big which I view as a fundamental cornerstone of modern fantasy.
Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield (1998)

My historical fiction taste is something I can’t really define. I could never get into Cornwell because I couldn’t shake the feeling I was reading the the David Webber or Terry Brooks of historical fiction (for those needing clarity – not a good thing). It could be said I’m not very current with my knowledge when it comes to historical fiction, but I do know I enjoyed this effort by Pressfield, a soldier’s perspective of Thermopylae.
Air by Geoff Ryman (2004)

If you are a fan of SF/F and have been alive in the last year you have heard of Air, it was the winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the James Tiptree Jr. Award, and the British SF Award. It’s a book that may not have been everyone’s first choice, but one nobody can complain about after the fact. Ryman’s evaluation of a third world nation’s – real people not a term most just hear on CNN – and the effects of a technology that it literally the global tsunami of popular culture is perhaps his best book yet (and that’s not a marginal statement, as he also wrote The Child Garden, Lust, and Unconqured Countries) and who doesn’t like a talking dog?
Travel Arrangements by M. John Harrison (2001)

Forget Science Fiction or Fantasy, one of the most worthwhile writers in fiction – as gifted as anybody writing today (that I have read) or in the last couple of decades. China Mieville, who is often remarked upon for overstatement on subjects was actually being conservative when he said, “That M. John Harrison is not a Nobel Laureate proves the bankruptcy of the literary establishment”.

When he writes a book the genre is better and worse – better for his latest inclusion, but looks worse in comparison. This collection, a laid back shot to the soul is classic Harrison – it’s not a performance, it’s an experience.

Wild Life by Molly Glass (2001)

We all have those books that somebody demands we read, and knowing the person you put it off for awhile, until one day you find yourself on the throne with no reading material and take a chance (literally shitting on your friend’s recommendation).

This is a journey via a fictional woman’s diary that carries a historical authentic feel of the turn of the century NW U.S., while the protagonist begins a (sometimes fantastic) adventure into the woods to search for the child of one of her employees. This is mysterious, adventurous, and presents one of the more enjoyable decidedly feminist characters I have read.

Strange Travelers by Gene Wolfe (2001)

If you are around genre communities enough you will begin to find that while many authors are lauded, the name Gene Wolfe is given an added reverence among living SF/F authors that that only a handful of other receive. His name attached to seminal works like The Book of the New Sun and the Fifth Head of Cerberus, in such a manner SF fans and Fantasy fans fight over who can claim him but along with that he has one of truly great bodies of short fiction work over the last couple of decades.
A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge (1999)

In 1992 Vinge wrote a great book called A Fire Upon the Deep which won the Hugo and was a hell of a book, 7 years later this – a loose sequel – would also win the Hugo and actually (while certainly debatable) the better of the two books. What Vinge does successfully (which isn’t exactly common) is humanize a story, finding the combination that make a story both personal, yet still working with big and expansive ideas, which for me are the ingredients of quality Science Fiction – one that’s universally known, but the talent is in the chief, not recipe book, and Vinge cooked up one of outstanding arcs of the 90’s here.
Ghostwritten by David Mitchell (1999)

Cloud Atlas was a bit of a hot book a couple years ago in genre circles and kudos for that since it led me to Ghostwritten. I finish reading novels like this and I’m left wondering why other author debuts aren’t more like this. Here is a debut that has obvious nods (to talented authors as well – it always baffles me how some are inspired by those who haven’t written anything worth reading, much less acknowledging) yet is ambitious. This is a book that received lukewarm response, Salon called it perhaps a bubblegum DeLillo – and considering what I view as the negative elements in some of DeLillo’s work that maybe more of a compliment than first intended.

River of Gods by Ian McDonald (2004)

There may not have been a more lauded book this side of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in the last couple of years than this and like Clarke I think McDonald delivers. McDonald delivers a connection with a near future SF novel centered in India – and how can one not like Shiv? You can’t, he’s too gangster – easily one of the best SF in recent memory (of a pothead).
Tumbling After by Paul Witcover (2005)

The artisan in a world that being such is no longer viable in the face of technological advancement, and even worse it’s called progress. In every work Sarmago bring the human being to the forefront, and it begs the reader to ask the question why is this notion nothing more than a political punchline in our own society? Fiction that make you ponder the world you live in – I like that gimmick.

The Wooden Sea by Jonathan Carroll (2002)

Talk about under mentioned. This book was written just last year. Do I have the only copy? This should not have snuck up on anyone after Witcover’s Waking Beauty. How does Jack and Jill, one for all and all for one, a quest, and paper and dice make for SF/F worth reading? Ask Witcover – he seems to be the only one who knows.
Stable Strategies and Others by Eileen Gunn (2004)

Carroll was so good even before it was vogue to make fun of fantasy they were putting his books in the regular fiction section – it was just different, which was bit of a novelty in fantasy in the early 90’s. By the time other authors were screaming for equality, Carroll was chillin’ already done with 5-6 pieces of art. I always group Carroll with this group of authors who have been around for a while that simply do nothing but make up a huge portion of the really great fiction of the last 10-15 years in fantasy. Like a Joyce, a Blaylock, a Powers, a Shepard, they just seem to quietly (okay maybe Shepard isn’t that quiet) go about their business and every so often they write something like Wooden Sea, that makes simply trying bury your 3-legged dog the spark of…something deliciously weird.
Carter Beats the Devil by Glen Gold (2001)

If I had to pick one book where the good guys win and we like it to be on the list – this is it. Before I read it I thought I was to find it Thraxas stupid (which is just above Newcomb-stupid they aren’t similar at all but the reading experience that was Thraxas had me wary of any books for a few months). This is a fun little mystery/alternative history with enough SF thrown in that we can certainly claim it (which we love ala Never Let Me Go). and ultimately we love bootleggers and it has Philo Farnsworth in it who we all owe a hell of a lot more to than you would realize going by the number people who actually know who he is.
Secret Life by Jeff Vandermeer (2004)

Wonderful introduction into VanderMeer’s work, and more than his other works shows the wide range of his story telling. At the same time, it’s a startling reread of some earlier works that gives hints to works to come – I never knew a short featuring a refreshingly intrusive vine could be at the same time more entertaining and more telling than the contents of some multi-book sequences.
Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link (2005)

Yes, I’m one of those people that you probably have seen a growing number of on the net in recent years that just love Kelly Link. There are certain writers who come around (too infrequently) that present a body of work that one simply cannot deny; as if doing so would be a denial of SF/F itself. To not savor Link is to tarnish Science Fiction – I’m sticking to that.
The Thousandfold Thought by R. Scott Bakker (2006)

You get those rare moments when you read multi-book sagas, treasured moments that you become conscious of and yet do not disappoint. This is a unique moment, and one that only occurs when reading series that’s books are closely linked – true continuances of each other, where an author brings satisfaction to the end of not just one book, but a series and with that several hours of your life – and the waiting in-between releases. The Thousandfold Thought was like this; perhaps not since reading Mckillip’s poetic conclusion to The Riddlemasterr, have I experienced this. Bakker closes the door on his debut sequence, and kicks down the door leading to the next level of epic fantasy – the one the majority of other authors were scared to venture to.
The Onion Girl by Charles De Lint (2001)

De Lint is the author everyone knows, everyone mentions, but nobody really talks about. You will find some reference to him as spearheading ‘Urban’ fantasy, but you don’t see a particular surge of conversation about him that came with the recent popularity of the form. China’s massive appeal may have busted a whole in wall to shine a spotlight on the other side, but amongst what they found was Newford already there, and De Lint spinning his tales of Urban Folklore.
The Phoenix Exultant by John C. Wright (2003)

I can’t say Wright isn’t recognized because he certainly is, but I find it to be minor miracle how many times on online message boards when the common thread pops up asking for a recommendation in the ’space opera’ mold (usually by a fan of Hamilton) pops up and I have to be the one that introduces Wright into the equation. His Golden Age trilogy is simply beautiful and a read I enjoyed more than other works I find outstanding by the likes of Macleod, Hamilton, or Reynolds. This is the second book in the trilogy and where the journey of Phaethon increasingly becomes one of the most interesting in recent SF, but at the same time Daphne may indeed steal the show.

Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan (2002)

Richard Morgan was on fire for a little while, his Takeshi Kovacs books a buzz everywhere, but I think this one – his first – is still his best work to date. The mixture of SF and hard boiled detective work isn’t new, but this remains an example of the success of cyberpunk, not existing viably on it’s own any longer, but imbedded as a influence on a generation of writers.
Luminous by Greg Egan (1998)

Fans of ‘Hard Science Fiction’ have read my list and given up. It’s no huge secret, I’m not a scientist, and where some people hate reading Tolkien’s over description, or Wolfe’s unreliable narrators, I don’t give a shit how scientifically plausible an element of a book is (unless an instance is beyond absurd like instances in KJA’s Saga of the Seven Suns), and if I did, I don’t want the technical readout of it in the novel I’m reading. It’s not a condemnation, I simply just don’t care. I don’t read authors like a Baxter for the science behind the fiction, I read them for the fiction (admittedly found many times behind the Science). Strangely enough, I enjoy Egan who may be the #1 culprit! I’d be the first to admit I probably wouldn’t be able to stomach a novel length effort by Egan, but I greatly enjoy his short fiction. This collection and his earlier Axiomatic are must haves for SF fans – collections of the mind bending variety.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)

Ishiguro is one of my favorite authors, and probably on many people’s short list of authors who they would consider among the best in the world. This is not his strongest novel, but was a subject talked about in SF circles due to minimal SF elements present that allowed the community to claim it. I think how one reacts to this book is based on how one takes to the ending, and sure this is (as many have mentioned) a story in the mold we have read before particularly in SF in various degrees of quality, but I’m not convinced it’s been written by a more gifted writer.
If Lions Could Speak and Other Stories by Paul Park (2002)

I read Park’s A Princess of Roumania last year and was introduced to a writer that I was previously unaware, a situation that needed to be fixed. These lions need to speak, and after reading these stories you may want to tackle some and beat the truth out of them – this is one of the finest collections in recent years.
The Limits of Enchantment by Graham Joyce (2005)

We will start to see my spacing problems arise as I try to smartly spread out the listings of the multiple authors with multiple-worthy books. Joyce is among authors like a Carroll, Shepard, or Ford who apparently have this gift of not even knowing how to write sub-par fiction. These are writer that after reading their books I have to ask (in the complimentary U.S. way), “what’s wrong with this guy?”, and why aren’t the rest of us this right? Joyce not only writes about elements we thought had reached their fictional limits – he redefines them, whether dealing with a tooth fairy or witch.
Breathmoss and other Exhalations by Ian R. Macleod (2004)

I was trying to decide which Macleod book really represented my favorite by him as I have enjoyed both his novels and short fiction. It came down to his two collections for me (and both are outstanding) and I ultimately chose this one because the table of contents reads like a roll call of some of the best SF/F short fiction in recent years with stories like the title story, The Summer Isles (which in novel form is highly recommended as well), The Chop Girl, and New Light on the Drake Equation.
The Knife Thrower and Other Stories by Steven Millhauser (1998)

Millhauser won the Pulitzer for his novel Martin Dressler, which I haven’t read (yet) and is a collection I too often forget to mention when people ask for recommendations. It’s a collection of the fantastic that doesn’t take us to new worlds and asks us to believe, it takes us and forces us to ask why not.
Hidden Camera By Zoran Zivkovic (2005)

The first author to show up twice on the list in a story that shows the concept of reality television can actually be interesting, even if only in under-appreciated, absurdist SF novels.
Thirst by Ken Kalfus (1999)

A collection of travelers, with great stories like Invisible Malls, a story that Polo would have told the Khan if he came to the west generations after and The Joy and Melancholy Baseball Trivia Quiz that any baseball fan will enjoy among others made this one of the most surprising pick-ups for me. I was expecting Cunninghamish airport reading and what I got instead was quality.
The Labyrinth by Catherynne M. Valente (2004)

In times when it’s hard to differentiate one writer from another, there is something to be said about writers who write frame-worthy pages. There is a tendency for people to comfort themselves in thinking writers of unique quality are in fact hiding inadequacies in skin deep luster, but the problem itself is that they can see beyond the surface regardless – clever is not clever unless they can perceive it (which in most cases wouldn’t make it very clever at all). Sometimes not knowing what the hell is going is not only the point of fiction, but truth of reality – and often times these are the most enjoyable times. The Labyrinth is a journey, and while some great authors shows us wonders, the ones I truly enjoy also don’t forget to make us wonder.

Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson

Disregard all (the rightfully positive) reviews that want to act like they are championing some social cause for recommending this book and Hopkinson. Read the book because Hopkinson has three novels and a couple of collections to her credit and there isn’t one (okay, I haven’t read Under Glass) that shouldn’t be on your shelf for the good old fashioned (and only pertinent one I’m aware of) reason that they are simply damn good reads by an author who demands your attention.
London Bone by Michael Moorcock (2001)

Why aren’t more people talking about this gem?

Moorcock is an author who transcends. As every time one wants to use him as a standard he goes off and establishes new standards, some of which we don’t realize until decades afterwards. Moorcock is in my mind the soul of SF/F – one we don’t know if is ascending or descending, but are assured no one better can chronicle that journey in-between.

For now we simply behold the man.

Stories like The Clapham Antichrist and The Cairene Purse shows an author not on top of the game, but playing one we aren’t invited to yet.

The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant by Jeffrey Ford (2002)

The list is collection heavy (reflecting the amount of short fiction I have read recently) and this is another favorite. The first author I interviewed for FBS told me I need to be reading Jeffrey Ford and to start with this collection. It’s perhaps the best single author recommendation I have received.
The Sea Came in at Midnight by Steve Erickson (1999)

No, not the author of the Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence (which I enjoy).

This is a case of seeing an author mentioned enough times by other authors (that write work I enjoy) that motivated me to make a purchase. My favorite is his Tours of the Black Clock, and you simply have to love a author always worthwhile and most of the times outstanding fiction in a lean package around 300 pages long that never lack for content. In some 2500 some-odd pages (or 2-3 epic fantasy tomes) he has put out eight books worth putting on the shelf that might be among the best in the last couple of decades. Frankly, I enjoy his body of work more than I do Pynchon’s (who I’m also a big fan of).

Beluthahatchie and Other Stories by Andy Duncan (2000)

With the exception of belles and fried chicken, Southern-anything isn’t my cup of tea (although I do like ice tea in the south – and I’m becoming a fan of Cherie Priest), but don’t be fooled, Andy Duncan has written one of the strongest collections on this list.

Stories like The Pottawatomie Giant make Duncan just as astounding to me as the Links and Chiangs – which is the highest praise I can think of.*

*Note – I corrected this, after rereading the passage it seemed to infer that the story was in the collection, it’s not, I just wanted to give a sample of Duncan’s writing that is available online.

Blade of Tyshalle by Matthew Stover (2002)

The fact that some Star Wars fans actually didn’t like Stover’s adaptation to Revenge of the Sith answered a lot of questions I had about the popularity of some of their other titles. Out of all the books yet to be released and promised to us in the near future, I am most anticipating the third Caine Book, Caine Black Knife.

Blade of Tyshalle goes away from the more and more common narratives where power is born through subtlety, yet it never falls into the gratuitous pits that many authors mistake as more relevant. I reviewed this book here (one of my first review attempts).

In the end it’s 800 pages that never fail to hold interest, something not even the much-lauded Susanna Clarke pulled off in her most excellent debut – and honestly not many do. It’s good to see smebody still writing books that both kicks ass and features a character who kicks ass.

The Life of Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd (1998)

Sometimes Amazon reviews tell the story:

“However, most people (including myself) are of average intelligence and Mr. Ackroyd does not seem to have written this book with us in mind. Mr. Ackroyd’s use of the English language is polished but too intelligent for the average person to understand. He should have written at a more mainstream level.”

Ignorance is not a problem it seems, people seem to know they are indeed rather daft, and in this case are proud of it? I don’t know, I have to admit I was rather ignorant of More and found it informative (admittedly I have no reference to question veracity), I tend to read biographies to find out about a subject and Ackroyd accomplishes that and does so in a manner that I found entertaining as well.

City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer (2002)

I think VanderMeer’s recent Shriek: an Afterword is probably his most accomplished work, but this is still my favorite VanderMeer novel. My introduction to Ambergris, along with Mieville’s Perdido Street Station perhaps impacted what Fantasy I read afterwards more than any other books, and even more, was fundamental in my growing appreciation for short fiction.
Trujillo by Lucius Shepard (2004)

Isn’t Shepard one of the best writers in America? This collections contains some great stories like Only Partly Here , Jailwise and the title piece itself, and is really quite a massive collection.

While most consider page turners to represent the best of reads, this is a collection one has to savor and take a break in between the stories as Shepard packs this collection with some of his emotionally exhaustive work to date, each lush in content as any novel.

I’m not going to make a habit of linking reviews, but Niall Harrison reviewed this collection story by story and does it justice.

Voice of Fire by Alan Moore (1996)

TI love Neil Gaiman’s work, but not only does Moore supercede him in the comic industry, this book is more worthwhile than any novel Gaiman has ever written.

Girl in Landscape by Jonathan Lethem (1998)

Lethem is a favorite of mine, and it would not be hard to believe this is many people’s favorite book. It’s an assured effort by somebody we expect such from; a prime example of SF and Westerns mixture in a tale of survival.

Lethem has stood the test of time, and enough so he is no longer just stylish, he has become a standard.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (1996)

This is an interesting book as not only doesn’t qualify as novel of ideas, it’s beautifully written and is an alarmingly capable candidate as an introduction to SF, much the way Card was 20 years ago. Inherent with such a claim it has it’s opponents concerning the actual science behind the fiction, but the overpowering characters, and the themes they lead us through make this a novel impossible to ignore in the given time frame.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (2004)

There has to be something said for a book that came out with this much hype (from both inside and out of the genre) and for the most part delivers, and in my mind did so exceedingly well. If we consider debuts, this effort by Clarke makes dogs out of the overwhelming majority.

More than any other novel of 2004 it captured place (like Bowes did in 2005) for me, I wasn’t told where I was, I was transported there, and after he last page I still miss it.

The Garden of Secrets by Juan Goytisolo (1997)

This is the first (and thus far) only Goytisolo work I have, something I have to remedy very soon. Eusebio’s story is told by twenty eight completely different story-tellers with equally diverse methods of narration – this is the Spanish multiple POV Chess Garden, or is the Chess Garden (which is on this list as well) the diluted Garden of Secrets?
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (1999)

I have a weakness for books that have Japanese characters (Goto Dengo), however this books belongs. It’s better than a book than a simple book you enjoy, it’s a book that introduces new elements to enjoy. This like his Baroque Cycle could be maddening at times, but maddening in a confusing and exciting way not based on tedium – well not much anyway.
Nekropolis by Maureen McHugh (2002)

McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang is one of the best Science Fiction offered us in the 90’s, and while Nekropolis isn’t quite its equal, this books casts a tangible funereal aura while still promoting a habitual desire to read.
A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin (2000)

The gall of somebody putting an epic fantasy on the list! To be frank, anyone who tries to put such a list together that has particular attachment to SF or Fantasy and doesn’t include George R.R. Martin would be highly questionable. It’s arguable that Martin has been the most important author (regarding adult fantasy) in the genre over the last decade in terms of having a calculable impact on elevating reading expectations in fantasy; it’s not the only step on the staircase, but it is one that many actually took.

This book represents the pinnacle of epic fantasy in my mind; Martin is just showing off here, complete mastery of POV and perspective, and juggling them by the dozen, 98% of the authors who snicker at epic fantasy could not have pulled this off. The Red Wedding is one of the all time classic chapters in fantasy.

Queue The Rains of Castamere…

The San Veneficio Canon by Michael Cisco (2005)

This collects Cisco’s Divinity Student and subsequent novella, The Golem. Cisco is the writer who illuminates by making the vivid obscure; this is a completely bizarre trip into the halls of language where there are no dividers between reality and the fantastic. The Golems is a chase for love in an underworld of Cisco’s devising. A 200+ page book that has as much to remember than most multi-sequence tomes

The world needs more books by Cisco.

Alva and Irva: the Twins Who Saved a City by Edward Carey (2003)

This is not the only Carey entry on the list, but our opportunity to visit Carey’s Entralla in a book that the term world building takes on new and actual meaning. Churchill said, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” Alva and Irva represent that to the fullest.
The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster (2002)

Auster is one of the few authors who have written mulit-book sequences that should be read by everyone (his New York Trilogy). Auster’s other books – while all worth reading – prove to be difficult to disassociate from that sequence as he tends to pull key elements from the series that take prominent roles in the books. This could possibly speak on how far reaching his trilogy is, but regardless it took me time to step away from that work and fully enjoy his subsequent work.

This is a book that replaces the tree nobody here’s falling with people nobody ever hear.

Dark Property by Brian Evenson (2002)

Powerful writer whose doesn’t shy away from pissing people off, and while the latter is terrific, he is on this list for the former. Thematically extreme and almost impossible not to go through the book without adding some new words to your vocabulary. If an American would have wrote Ballard’s Crash it would have been Evenson.
The Insult by Rupert Thomson (1997)

I feel the same about most of Thomson’s work (even when they are all widely different), one lately they have a tendency to lose their legs in some portion of the novel, but even with that in mind I never stop buying his books (haven’t read Divided Kingdom yet which I heard may be his best work – I think The Five Gates of Hell is his best that I have read).

Thomson’s story about a man turned blind regaining his vision threatens to give the term thriller some sense of respectability.

The Nightmare Factory by Thomas Ligotti (1996)

Ligotti is the best horror writer currently living that I am aware of. That’s not to say there are other outstanding writers in the field but I associate his work with ideal horror, and this collection is not only among the best collections of horror in the last ten years it’s in my mind one of the dozen best ever. While his most recent effort, The Shadow at the Bottom of the World is an excellent introduction for the new reader (and has many of the stories), it is Nightmare Factory that will hold a spot in the Horror pantheon.
Perfect Circle by Sean Stewart (2004)

Most people who have read Sean Stewart probably have read his Star Wars effort, Yoda – Dark Rendezvous, making Stewart one of the most talented authors to write in that setting. They do themselves a disservice by not reading his other books, like Galveston Mockingbird, and Perfect Circle – who can actually make Texas seem interesting with his blend of magic realism/ghost story.
My Happy Life by Lydia Millet (2002)

A striking emotion-eliciting tale, as we are taken into the mind of a mentally troubled patient left behind when her asylum closes down.

It’s a mixture of melancholy and beauty, and I will be damned if one can be unmoved by the reading.

The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque by Jeffrey Ford (2002)

I view Ford as a writer who has perhaps strung together the most enviable body of work in the last couple of years when regarding both novels and short fiction. This is my favorite of his novels. Fantasy authors (authors in general) have an understandable attraction to artisan characters and Piambo is the most memorable in recent years for me. At the heart of it, it’s really applying fantasy to survey fantasy – and that’s damn cool.
The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (2000)

A quintessential example of a book that if one completes their reading of it, it’s very difficult not to admire on some level. It’s different, which doesn’t necessitate quality, but for me this is how horror (and that is an extreme over simplification of what this book is) should be. Demanding, not cheap; indeed it feel like an accomplishment after reading it like it did when I finished Eco’s Focault’s Pendulum in high school. It feels oddly like Borges and Joyce at the same time, and that’s a combination that merits a read.

Has become the standard I gauge subsequent horror against.

The Fourth Circle by Zoran Zivkovic

What do you get when you have a book with Sherlock Holmes, Archimedes, Arthur Conan Doyle, Nikola Tesl and Stephen Hawking among others in alternate worlds with Buddhist temples and feminist, self-aware computers?

One of the best SF novels in recent years.

The Complete Short Stories by J.G. Ballard (2001)

This is not a comprehensive collection but it does have 90+ stories by an author who gets slighted (along with Moorcock) by being called among the best SF writers of the all time – they are in fact among the best writers of fiction of the second half of the 20th century.
King of the City by Michael Moorcock (2000)

The loose sequel to one of the best novels I have read (Mother London), it doesn’t reach near the heights of its predecessor. It probably suffers from being episodic, perhaps too real in this regard but this is an idea book Moorcock is known to write every decade or so to show us what will be standard a decade or later by the best young writers.

Meet Me in the Moon Room by Ray Vukcevich (2000)

This is a collection that until recently I was unaware of. Surreal, absurd, and most importantly he knows when a story is done. Vukcevich plays with the entire emotional spectrum with a collection that I wish I had lauded when it came out – as I could probably claim brilliance now.
Move Underground by Nick Mamatas (2004)

On the Road and Lovecraftian Cthullu. No, no, no! This is Kerouac and Lovecraftian Cthullu – a much more admirable accomplishment, and as the Kerouac title suggest these elements are just the means not the goal, something other Cthullu inspired writers should take note of.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (2000)

Anytime a guy (or a girl) writes a book about comic book creators and it wins the Pulitzer we owe it to our ourselves to talk about it as much as possible. So I did. Everybody knows about this book already so next…
The Facts of Life by Graham Joyce (2002)

One can almost pick any Joyce novel written in the allotted time period (and perhaps I did), this one happens to be one of my favorites. Something one would think would be standard in a skill set for a writer is to be able to write characters of both sexes with some degree of diversity and believability. This isn’t the case (particularly in Fantasy), but Joyce is an absolute master at this and shown so in several novels. If you slapped some frames on this bad boy you would have an acute picture of life on the wall.

Joyce never disappoints. When I was in high school we called people like this fiends.

My Life as Emperor by Su Tong (2005)




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