Thursday, December 30, 2010

Best Releases of 2010

I've read eighteen books released this year. Of those, four stood out as head and shoulders above the rest.  Each of these books is something I would recommend to any genre fan.

So let's get to some books, shall we?

Review here.

The Halfmade World excelled in just about every category I can think of to judge fiction. The world is immersive, well thought out, and interesting, and the characters that populate it are both larger than life and crippled by flaws. Liv is ineffective and, for much of the novel, incapable of surviving on her own. Creedmore is narcissistic and self pitying. Lowry is an automaton, unwilling to acknowledge that he’s walking right off a cliff. Gilman's created a focused work that feels epic, a fascinating cast of characters, and a gripping plot. I’d compare The Halfmade World to the other releases of the year, but there’s really no need. 2010 has a clear winner, and it’s standing right here.

Review here.

Like The Halfmade World, Terminal World uses a personal struggle to illuminate vast, world changing events. Admittedly, none of Reynolds’ characters here have the sheer power of Gilman’s in the above book. But Reynolds has never been a character writer, even if his characters have grown immeasurably. I read Reynolds books to be wowed by concepts and shifts in scale, to be awed by creations I could never have conceived of. The ideas in Terminal World will blow your mind. The Spire’s varying levels of technology allow clear demarcations within the text, and Reynolds gets to play in a half dozen different playgrounds. Every level is exquisitely rendered, from the opening to the steampunk to the endless wastes. Reynolds’ tone is no less variable, ranging from pure fun to awe to terror, and all in the same ten pages. If he’d wanted to end the book with the characters’ view of the Swarm below them and call it a day, I think I would have still walked away trying to pick my jaw up off the floor.

Review here.

The Folding Knife shares a limited cast with the prior two books, but it differentiates itself by not really being about the imagined world at all. Oh, Basso is in charge of the country, but we really only care about the Vesani as far as Basso feels like being compassionate that day. Parker’s newest novel is cynical, witty, and incredibly deep. It would be easy to make a novel about a single, narcissistic antihero who gets his way and have it be off putting and tensionless, and it’s true that the secondary characters here show a disappointing lack of depth, but Basso himself is humanized by his flaws and fascinating for his peculiar morality. If I were to pick an Epic Fantasy read of the year, it’s undoubtedly this.

Review here.

Apartment 16’s cast is uneven, and the climax is ultimately disappointing. On the other hand, the book’s atmosphere is oppressive enough to smother you on a sunny beach in Florida. Nevill invites the reader along as he splits his characters’ world in two and sends Seth down the dark path. Watching the main character gradually recede from humanity is a painful experience, and it’s only made more so by his occasional intersections with the world that we recognize. This is a dark and uncompromising read that will stay with you long after you’re done with it.


Review here.

Abraham's short fiction proved as multifaceted as his novels. Leviathan Wept is a varied and powerful work, capable of terrifying you with one story and warming your heart with the next. The collection was brought down slightly be a few slightly weaker stories as it went on, but this is still an essential read.

Review here.

Thomas Ligotti's first nonfiction work is as insidious as his short fiction. The ideas presented in The Conspiracy Against the Human Race are interesting and well argued, if not always persuasive. I didn't put this in the upper list because I've no idea how one can conclusively state that a book of philosophy is "better" than a book of fiction, but this is a work that had to be mentioned in any proper summation of the year.

Habitations of the Blessed is a stunningly original novel that's atypical down to its very structure and framing. This is very much the first book of a longer work, and it's difficult to draw conclusions about Valente's world and its ramifications from just what's here. Still, the barrage of exquisitely bizarre imagery that Valente unleashes makes this a must read for any fans of fantasy fiction or gorgeous prose.


Some people seem to have a rather skewed impression of what Best Of lists actually are. I know that it says Essential Reads on top of this post, but you know what? I’m aware that those are not necessarily the ultimate, objective books of 2010. They are simply my favorite released books of 2010. That does not mean that I have read every book released in 2010 (or even every book I want to read in 2010), or that I have used some sort of unbiased criteria to determine these. The complete list of 2010 releases I've read is as follows, provided to give my picks context and to explain the absence, of, say, That Book You Love That I Haven't Read on my list.

Daniel Abraham – Leviathan Wept
Iain M. Banks – Surface Detail
Justin Cronin – The Passage
Ian C. Esslemont – Stonewielder
Felix Gilman – The Halfmade World
N.K. Jesmin – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
China Mieville – Kraken
Adam LG Nevill – Apartment 16
K.J. Parker – The Folding Knife
Alastair Reynolds – Terminal World
Patrick Rothfuss – The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle
Brandon Sanderson – The Way of Kings
Brandon Sanderson/Robert Jordan – Towers of Midnight
Cathrynne M. Valente – Habitations of the Blessed
Jeff VanderMeer – The Third Bear

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