Monday, December 20, 2010

The Top Nine Author Discoveries of 2010

The year is coming to an end and it’s time to reflect on all of the good stuff I’ve read in the last twelve months. This is going to come up again when I talk about the Best Books Published in 2010 (that I’ve read), but 2010 has been something of an off year in regards to the number of books that I’ve read and also with the number of new books and authors I have encountered for the first time. There are reasons for that, none of which I’m going to get into right now, but the pool of newness isn’t as deep this year. Happily, the quality is just as strong.

Here then, are my top nine author discoveries of 2010. In the spirit of acknowledging that there is always something or someone I’ve missed, either by a slip of memory or just lack of opportunity, the traditional tenth spot on my list remains blank.

1. Jeff VanderMeer: I’ve read VanderMeer before, the occasional short story (including his excellent novella The Situation last year), but Finch was a revelation that just blew me away. I felt like I wanted to be John Cusack in Say Anything, standing in the world’s driveway holding Finch above my head. I never did work out how the copy of Finch would play “In Your Eyes”, especially since it’s more a Murder By Death book, but there you go. Since Finch, I’ve picked up copies of some of VanderMeer’s other work.  I think that counts as "discovery".

2. Molly Gloss: One theme of this year’s list is that most of the authors will be here on the strength of just one novel. For Molly Gloss, that novel is The Dazzle of Day, a fantastic novel focusing on the quiet lives aboard a generation ship traveling to a new world. While I haven’t yet picked up another one of her books, I will. The Dazzle of Day was simply beautiful.

3. Kristine Kathryn Rusch: One novel can be enough to make you want to read everything else the writer has done. With Rusch, that novel is Diving Into the Wreck. There’s a sequel coming, but I’ve also picked up the first book in her Retrieval Artist series. Rusch has been around for a while, has won a host of awards, been involved in both ends of publishing, and is all around a recognizable name. Turns out she’s a heck of a writer, too. I only wish I read her sooner.

4. James Barclay: The only writer on the list where I’ve read more than one book. In Barclay’s case, I’ve read four. Barclay writes the sort of secondary world quest fantasy so chock full of action and ass kicking that I would have absolutely LOVED as a teenager / twenty something, and which I still quite rather enjoy today. In my review (of sorts) of The Chronicles of the Raven I wrote about how Barclay was something of a bridge between the more standard fantasies of the 80’s / early 90’s and the nastier / in your face stuff like Joe Abercrombie is writing today. This is good stuff.

5. Aliette de Bodard: Do you know anyone else writing historical fantasy set in Aztec times with the High Priest of the Dead investigating crimes that may involve the very real gods? Neither do I. Also, Servant of the Underworld was an excellent novel. Want. More.

6. Ian Tregillis: I knew the name from the Wild Cards series, but the first volume of the Milkweed Triptych, an alternate WWII tale with very broken super soldiers and secret histories, is one heck of a debut novel. Bitter Seeds isn’t nearly as lurid as all that, but it is a well told story with genetic manipulation and a breeding program by the Nazis. This is a writer you want to watch (I suppose, by virtue of being on this list, I think these are all writers you want to watch)

7. George Mann: Mann is probably best known for his highly praised debut novel The Affinity Bridge, but my experience is with Ghosts of Manhattan, which harks back to the radio pulp heroes (think, The Shadow). It's a lot of fun and sold me on George Mann as a storyteller I wanted more from.

8. Wen Spencer: A Brother's Price is a Regency Romance with the gender roles flipped and there is a serious gender imbalance in the world. Spencer's novel is good enough that I might be willing to read a standard Regency novel, and I wish she wrote more stories (Regency or not) set in this world. There is so much more to explore here. I'm overdue to read more of Spencer's work.

9. Bernard Beckett: Beckett is the author of Genesis, a slim post apocalyptic dystopian novel where we are given so much social and personal history in info-dumping explanations (the protagonist is facing his entrance examinations to the “Academy”. Genesis should stagger under the weight of exposition, but instead it shines. Genesis is smart fiction. It's enough to recommend seeking out more of Beckett's work.

Previous discoveries can be found for 2007, 2008, and 2009.


Chad Hull said...

I always enjoy your list; both for content and your resistance to conformity in the numbers. I've never seen a "Top Ten" or "Best Five Blahs of the Year" It makes me smile.

Joe said...

Hey, thanks! I think it started with a desire to be slightly different, but I also believe that all lists like these are somewhat artificial and forced, so the conceit of leaving a tenth spot open acknowledges that there are so many books published and we read so few of them.

Carl V. Anderson said...

Interesting list, Joe. I discovered Jeff Vandermeer by reading Finch earlier this year as well. If memory serves it was because of something you wrote about it around that time, so kudos to you. Kristine Kathryn Rusch via Diving Into The Wreck was also one of my discoveries this year, and one of my favorite reads of the year. I've read a couple of Rusch's novellas this year too and enjoyed them every bit as much. Can't wait for the novel coming out next year.