Dec 30, 2010

Recommended Reads for 2010

Disclaimer - This is not a "best of" list. My reading in 2010 was mainly directed toward short fiction and titles that weren't released in the past year. Taking that into account, I don't feel justified in calling anything the "best" of 2010. I can judge whether a book is worth reading or not (that doesn't really change) but ranking these titles against other 2010 releases I haven't read doesn't seem fair.

That being said, here are several books that I read in 2010 that I strongly recommend and would most likely have made a "best of" list if I felt I had read enough to make an informed decision.


The Way of Kings - Brandon Sanderson

High fantasy at it's finest, Sanderson definitely delivers with arguably the most hyped new series of the year. Despite a kilo-class page count, Sanderson barely scratches the surface of his new world. While it's not terribly unique, there is seemingly no flaw in Sanderson's execution. He hits the fast paced action and adventure hard with scenes that stuck in my mind even after dozens of books. At the same time, Sanderson weaves a delicate tangle of foreshadowing, prophecy and intrigue that begs for dissection and additional rereads. The Stormlight Archives looks to hit many of the same notes (mysterious events, prophecy, the rediscovery of forgotten powers) as The Wheel of Time and I wouldn't be surprised to see the fanbase migrate once A Memory of Light concludes Jordan's classic series. (My Review)

Bitter Seeds - Ian Tregillis

Many authors will not attempt a project as ambitious as Ian Tregillis. Even fewer would try it in their first novel. And almost no one would hit it out of the park like Tregillis does. Bitter Seeds reimagines a version of World War Two where The Nazis have super powered soldiers and the British have to conspire with demons to combat them. Despite the pulpy premise, Tregillis transcends mere escapism with a complex work painted entirely in shades of grey. I won't give any spoilers but there is a reason why it's a triptych instead of a trilogy and I can't wait to see what happens in The Coldest War and Necessary Evil. (Review Forthcoming)

Zoo City - Lauren Beukes

I don't know how Beukes does it. She takes a blender and fills it with ideas - music, video games, technology, spammers, African history, corporations, and just a dash or two of magic. She crams it all in there, hits liquefy, and while the result should be brown sludge and borderline toxic, the output is absolutely delicious. I was blown away by her debut, Moxyland, back in 2009 and her sophomore effort is a repeat performance. Zoo City sees a ex-journalist/sometimes-spammer/finder-of-lost-things with a monkey on her back tries to track down a missing music tartlet. And it's not a literal monkey on her back. It's a sloth. Trying to accurately relate Beukes's fiction in a few words is almost impossible. But you should check her out, particularly if you are a fan of Stross or Doctorow's near future work. (Review Forthcoming)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - N.K. Jemisin

The other contender for debut of the year, N.K. Jemisin kicks off a trilogy that at first glance looks to be another Twilight knock-off featuring a young girl attracted to a dangerous lover. Luckily, that's only one aspect of the book and where the Twilight similarities end. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a book of opposites - gods and mortals, night and day, life and death, love and logic - but at the same time one that demonstrates that the world is not limited to absolutes. With unreliable narration, a unique power structure, and a fast pace, Jemisin's debut has established her as a name to watch. I haven't be able to get to The Broken Kingdoms quite yet but it's at the top of my list to read. (Review Forthcoming)

Short Fiction Collections

Scenting the Dark and Other Stories - Mary Robinette Kowal

I liken Kowal's first collection to a featherweight champion. It's quick and light but packs one hell of a punch. It shouldn't take longer than a few hours to read but the stories will stick with you for much longer, particularly "Death Comes But Twice", "Locked In", and the titular "Scenting the Dark." Kowal is another burgeoning writer who appears destined for greatness. She took home the 2009 Campbell Award and based on Scenting the Dark it's hard to argue with their decision. (My Review)

Occultation - Laird Barron

As the dark and dense as the forests that serve as his settings, the stories in Occultation are some of Laird Barron's finest. Barron continues the Lovecraftian tradition of incomprehensible horror with rich fiction that reward multiple re-readings. Of course, you'll have to wait until after you've finished the story the first time as Barron's suspenseful buildup carries you through the story at a relentless pace before plunging you into the abyss. It's intelligent "literary" horror that is a challenging as it is disturbing. Standout stories here are the linked trio of "The Forest", "Mysterium Tremendum", and "The Broadsword" as well as the seriously disturbing "Strappado." (Full Review)

Lesser Demons - Norman Partridge

The ying to Barron's yang, Norman Partridge's horror is less literary and more raw. If Barron is the football player who studies the finest QBs and demonstrates text book mechanics, Partridge is the pure gamer, the kind that learned the game in the vacant lot, the kid that beats the odds time after time. His fiction is pulpy and raw, full of overambitious simile and metaphor that shouldn't work but always does. He writes about sheriffs and soldiers, the kind of hard nosed men who do what needs to be done because, hell, someone has to do it. Lesser Demons is his latest collection from Subterranean Press and it features more strong work particularly "Lesser Demons", "Durston", and "The Iron Dead". In the afterword, Partridge promises us more of Chaney in the future and I for one can't wait. (Full Review)

Young Adult Books

Behemoth - Scott Westerfeld

The sequel to last year's Leviathan, Behemoth is more of the same - alternate history World War I wrapped in a steampunk shell. Add in a liberal helping of Keith Thompson's absolutely gorgeous artwork and I just can't get enough of this series. Alek and Deryn arrives in Turkey only to find that the political situation has changed and they might be in the wrong place at exactly the right time. Westerfeld may be a YA writer but his work transcends age groups with pure unadulterated adventure. (Review Forthcoming)

Ship Breaker - Paolo Bacigalupi

Bacigalupi is one of the genre's newest darlings. He has picked up a great deal of shiny hardware over the past twelve months, mostly for his stellar The Wind-Up Girl. Bacigalupi follows up that masterwork with Ship Breaker, a YA novel that continues his penchant for environmental themes albeit somewhat toned down. The bad stuff is only implied rather than shown. Mostly. Ship Breaker chronicles the fortunes (or misfortunes) of Nailer, a teenager working salvage on beached Gulf Coast freighters in a future America devastated by an energy crisis and corporate greed. Nailer discovers a treasure that may free him from his desperate life, if he can only keep his abusive father from stealing it first. It might be a little bit more adult than most YA but Ship Breaker is going to make you (or your teenager) think a lot more than whatever vampire suckfest is most popular at the moment. (Full Review)

Kid Vs. Squid - Greg Van Eekhout

More middle-grade than YA, Kid vs. Squid is a quintessential summer novel. Van Eekhout manages to be infuse his work with humor and adventure without being cliche or immature. Kid vs. Squid depicts a smartmouth on summer vacation who happens to get involved in an ancient grudge between a Sea Witch and some cursed Atlanteans. Eekhout uses a fairly aggressive vocabulary for a middle-grade novel and his protagonists are good role models. This is a book I would have no qualms giving to my kids (if I had any) and one I would expect them to enjoy greatly. It's adventurous, original, and intelligent. (Review Forthcoming)

Graphic Novels

Fables - Bill Willingham, Lan Medina, Mark Buckingham, Matthew Sturges among others

If you thought you were too old or too good for Cinderella, Snow White, and the Big Bad Wolf, think again. In Fables, Bill Willingham reinvents the Fairy Tale with a cast of complex characters whose former exploits accross a number of linked worlds inspired the children's tales we've come to know and love. Now a mysterious Adversary has conquered all but a few of these far off lands and the Fables have come to reside in Fabletown, a magical neighborhood in New York City that hides many secrets behind its bricks. It may sound strange, but believe me, there is a reason why it's earned so many Eisner Awards (13 and counting). Fables (and the related Jack of Fables and Cinderella books) stands at over 20 graphic novels and counting and if anything it's only getting better. The first two books (Legends in Exile and Animal Farm) are solid but things don't really start to pick up until Storybook Love once the characters are fully established. Each TPB presents a mostly contained story but unlike most comics the overall plot continues to move forward and evolve at a rapid pace. It's an amazing blend of world building, complex characters, action, humor, and romance that always seems to surprise. Not to mention the gorgeous cover art. Each issue is worth collecting for the cover alone. If you think comics are nothing more than superheroes and movie tie-ins, give Fables a chance. You won't regret it.

Locke and Key - Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

After I caught up on the Fables graphic novels (about 120 issues in a month and a half), I thought that it couldn't be beat. Joe Hill proved me wrong. Locke and Key is the story of a family tragedy which returns a mom and her three kids back to her husband's childhood home of Keyhouse in Lovecraft, Massachusetts. Keyhouse is a mysterious mansion filled with locked doors and hidden keys. But some doors are locked for a reason, and as the keys are slowly discovered, life for the Locke family only continues to get weirder. I'm a sucker for magical artifact stories (The Lost Room anyone?) and the way the locks and keys work with each other is well thought out and compelling. Hill is a seriously talented writer, and anyone who has enjoyed Horns or Heart Shaped Box is doing themselves a serious disservice by skipping Locke and Key because it's "just a comic book." I read all three of the TPBs in the course of a day and I can't wait for the fourth volume, Keys to the Kingdom to come out this spring. The art is also impressive, and there are more than a few instances of visual foreshadowing that I can't wait to see pay off. Can I have more now?

Atomic Robo - Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener

Less of a serious comic than the first two, Atomic Robo features a sarcastic automaton and the Action Scientists of Tesladyne as they battle the strangest foes science fiction can offer from Nazi robots to dimension hopping vampries to a time-independent Lovecraftian beastie. Part Hellboy and Part MST3K, Atomic Robo is absolutely hilarious as he questions the sheer logical voids in the world he inhabits. Throw in evil Thomas Edison on a quest for immortality and a sentient dinosaur whose backstory evolves more than those pesky mammals and you won't stop laughing. This may be the most severely underread and under-appreciated comic out there right now.

And that's it. I'm not going to rank anything (it's too close to a best of list as it is) but I would expect you will enjoy anything I've recommended here. Sadly (or fortunately) I still have some catching up to do, namely The Dervish House, The Half-Made World, Who Fears Death, Kraken, Under Heaven, among many many more. Here's to some good reading in 2011!

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