Some people do a top ten list, others do a top eleven, yet others may only do five. My list is 9 books long. Why? Partly to be a little bit different and partly because I want the tenth spot on my list to be reserved for that really great book which I simply did not get the chance to read during 2008. That really great book may also be something I have only heard whispers about and I may not discover for several more years. Whatever that tenth great book is, I’m holding a spot for it on my list.
This Top Nine List is sort of / kind of in order. The first two on the list are very much in their proper order, but after that things get a bit trickier. Whichever order the list is in, these are the nine novels published in 2008 which I feel were the strongest titles of the year, popularity be damned.
1: The Stratford Man, by Elizabeth Bear: Comprised of two novels (Ink and Steel, Hell and Earth), Bear brings readers of her Promethean Age to Elizabethan England in this tale of theatre, magic, poetry, faerie, and politics. Beautifully written, as is everything Elizabeth Bear puts her pen to. I cannot imagine this list, or any year's best with Elizabeth Bear's Promethean Age novels not at the top.
2: Caine Black Knife, by Matthew Stover: Even had Scott Lynch and George R. R. Martin delivered the next volumes in their respective series, I have a difficult time seeing how either would surpass Matthew Stover publishing his third Caine novel. Beautifully brutal and profane, Matthew Stover writes fiction that will kick your ass and not bother to take your name.
3: Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow: While occasionally slapping readers upside their heads with the message of this YA novel, Cory Doctorow tells both an engaging story as well as gives readers (young ones especially) a call to action to protect their privacy and that of others, to question and not accept. He just happens to do so in a borderline brilliant novel that may become a classic of YA lit in the future. It's damn good.
4: Wastelands, by John Joseph Adams (editor): A reprint anthology consisting of stories about life afte apocalypse, the stories contained within are some of the best SFF has to offer. From Octavia Butler's "Speech Sounds" to Elizabeth Bear's "And the Deep Blue Sea", Wastelands probably has something for all readers and enough post-destructive goodness to make this a standout for any year.
5) Zoe’s Tale, by John Scalzi: Revisting the Old Man's War Universe and telling a parallel story to The Last Colony, Zoe's Tale was a risky venture for Scalzi. Told from the perspective of a teenage girl, Zoe's Tale is an absolute winner.
6) Fast Ships, Black Sails, by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer (editors): Pirates, pirates, pirates! Space pirates, ice pirates, and pirates who actually sail traditional ships. With Rachel Swirsky's story as one of the highlights, this is one anthology not to be missed.
7) The Best of Lucius Shepard, by Lucius Shepard: A career spanning retrospective from one of the masters working today. I'm not sure what more needs to be said. The man writes serious fiction and any story he publishes should be considered for year end awards.
8) Before They Are Hanged, by Joe Abercrombie: Depending on how you count, this could be a 2007 release, but Pyr released it in America in 2008. So damn it, that's my count. An improvement on an already excellent first novel in The First Law, Abercrombie is writing a damn fine trilogy. The characters here shine and Abercrombie keeps up the entertaining brutality of this world. Abercrombie makes his characters suffer, and the reader is the beneficiary.
9) Order 66, by Karen Traviss: I flipped a bit between whether to include this or Traviss's final Wess'har Wars novel, but ultimately Order 66 was the novel I felt was stronger. It's a Star Wars novel and rounds out the Republic Commando quartet of novels featuring elite clone commandos with the inevitable Jedi Purge looming large. Traviss is fantastic. I would almost follow her anywhere she wrote, given that her shared world and original world stuff are equally outstanding. This one is worth the look.
Links are to the original reviews.
Honorable Mentions: Judge, by Karen Traviss; Kitty and the Silver Bullet, by Carrie Vaughn; The Born Queen, by Greg Keyes
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