Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Nine Best Reads of 2010

As I've mentioned elsewhere: 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 2009. 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.

Unlike my list of the top books published in 2010, this list is for the top books I read in 2010, no matter when the book was published.  This post would have been up earlier, but last week I was in the process of reading a book which I knew would make the list, which it ultimately did at #4.

1. Finch, by Jeff VanderMeer: Finch is not simply a noir detective novel, but to attempt to talk more about the core plot and betrayals and rebellion and fear and mysteries of Ambergris would be folly and miss the mark. Finch is not simply anything. It is a mystery that begs for unraveling, though unlike the hypothetical onion, readers are not likely to see all the layers they peel away and they may not recognize the core. That’s okay. There are plenty of different ways to read Finch and all of them are wholly satisfying. There is Finch for the Vander-neophyte, which is semi-straight forward in the detective tale. The ending is less important than the journey.

2. Flood / Ark, by Stephen Baxter: In a very real sense, Flood and Ark are hopeful novels. The promise implicit in Baxter’s story is that humanity will ever strive to survive as a species, and even in the most impossible conditions that have eliminated so much life, a remnant will adapt and survive and find a new way to persevere. Ultimately, it is a beautiful sentiment if one can get past the billions who have perished.

3. Dust / Chill, by Elizabeth Bear:  The first two volumes of a trilogy set aboard a derelict generation ship where there are angels and aspects of God and it is all tied together as science fiction.  It works.  The two novels together are much stronger than the two excellent novels are on their own.  There is a richness of characterization that builds across the novels, and as always, Bear's fiction is not to be missed. 

4. Slow River, by Nicola Griffith:  Lore was a scion of a wealthy family, but is found at the beginning of the novel naked, hurt, and alone.  She was kidnapped, escaped, and rescued by a woman named Spanner.  The novel traces multiple paths: Lore's childhood, her attempts to live a clean and honest life, and the time from her rescue to when she wants to go clean.  Slow River is not an easy novel and it's not always a pleasant one, but Nicola Griffith is one hell of a writer.  This is the story of a woman trying to create her own identity, and it is the story of recovery and pain.  It's a hell of a novel. 

5. Regenesis, by C. J. Cherryh:  Regenesis is a novel of conversation about power, about genetics, about family, and about ambition (among other things). The most thrilling passages were long conversations between two characters (often Ari and Yanni) that could come across as massive info dumps but still manage to convey tense political drama and danger. Because Cherryh frequently presents the third person limited perspective of Ari, the reader knows that a wrong answer could lead Ari down a path where she needs to eliminate (in some manner) the other person. Tense.

6. The Dazzle of Day, by Molly Gloss:  This isn't a novel so much about the destination as it is about the life of the people who will be the ancestors and first wave of the colonists of a new world. It's about the people and very much not about the journey or the science or the discovery. It's about the people and the more emotional challenges they face as the journey nears its end, not so much the physical challenges.  The Dazzle of Day is a beautiful novel about the quiet lives of thoughtful people.

7. Eclipse Three, by Jonathan Strahan:  Despite the subtitle of the Eclipse series, the stories of Eclipse Three are generally not heavy on genre elements. Most of the stories are set in a version of the real world, just with elements of magic or impossible technology. The genre elements are seamless parts of these stories about character, about people. The tech and the magic are never the point. The stories here are beautiful, heartbreaking, thrilling, moving, and hopeful - each in their own way.

8. The Unforgiving Minute, by Craig Mullaney:  Mullaney is a West Point graduate, a Rhodes Scholar, and an infantry officer.  This soldier's memoir is subtitled "A Soldier's Education", and it is exactly that.  It is the story of a man learning how to lead, about combat, about life.  Inherently, this memoir is about Mullaney, but it also about the men that he led and the overall sacrifices of war.  This is an outstanding memoir. 

9. Horns, by Joe Hill: Sometimes a novel is just so twistedly dark and funny that you can't help but love it. That's Horns, a novel featuring a protagonist who has, overnight, grown horns that nobody can see but which can lead to people to tell him exactly what they are really thinking - to absurd and heartbreaking result. After Heart-Shaped Box and now Horns, the world needs more novels from Joe Hill.

Previous Best Reads


Chad Hull said...

You've made me curious as to Stephen Baxter and I'm usually hesitant with science fiction.

I recently discovered Joe Hill via 20th Century Ghost. He's a badass so Horns is certainly on my list.

Joe said...

Horns is a badass novel.

redhead said...

I really enjoyed Finch, and am very curious to try the Joe Hill as well.

Weston Ochse said...

I thought Finch was wonderful too. Victoria Blake did an awesome job with it, and of course Jeff's writing is just brilliant. I too am interested now in Stephen Baxter's book. Thanks for pointing it out. He never disappoints.

Nat Howler - Author on a Journey said...

Have you ever read anything by Elizabeth Haydon? I love all of her books, especially the attention she pays to character development and the richness of the world she creates. Her first book was Rhapsody and the latest is The Assassin King. I'm sure another one should come out soon.