May 23, 2011

For The Win: A Guide To 2011's Best of the Best

The world today is a terrible place. Poverty is rampant. The economy is falling apart. The rapture is coming The Situation is poised to make $5,000,000 next year. Everything causes cancer. Bees are dying. Transformers 3 is a real movie...

And of course, the most lamentable of them all - the lack of a single, definitive award for speculative fiction.

As it stands, there's a heaping handful of awards, each award with it's own handful of categories, and each category with it's own handful of nominations. That's a borderline Cthulu number of hands. Good luck comprehending that, spellcheck certainly can't. And to make matters worse, each award maintains its own eligibility, nomination, and voting criteria. Some prizes are only for works by US authors, others for those books unlucky enough to be published in paperback only. A few selections are made by informed but potential biased juries. A few more honors are awarded by the masses. The same slavering masses that decided that Twilight was okay for a ten-year-old girl. But don't worry, they can only vote if they buy a voting membership to last year's conference's cousin's friend's book signing. Or click a button online. And everything depends on how many words are in the story to begin with. In fact, the length of the story is inversely propotional to how many people will read it and the how long the word used to describe it is. And god help us if Neil Gaiman, Ted Chiang, China Mieville, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Connie Willis ever end publishing a novelette in the same year. That's a true end-world scenario.

Never re-examine your childhood.

Needless to say, it's a mess.

Trying to figure out what is clearly the best book is like trying to collect all the Pokemon - just when you think you've got a handle on it, there's a brand new batch of innocent creatures to enslave for forced gladiatorial combat books to read. Which is where the calculus comes in.

By deriving the mathematical mean of the page counts of each book's negative inverse matrix within three standard deviations and then integrated the eigenvectors with an acceleration vector aligned to a rotating coordinate frame, I was able to prove what the best books were as well as recalculate the timing of the much discussed rapture event. It's a Thursday. Oh, that bullshit you say? Did you forget to carry the one?

Suck it, Newton.
What I really mean to leverage from calculus is the Leibniz-Newton model, the core premise of which is if multiple people come to the same conclusion independently, it's more likely to be true.

To support this hypothesis, I compiled a list of every nominated work for every major science fiction, fantasy, and horror award I could find and combined them into one glorious glut of celebrated fiction, conveniently sorted below for your perusal. Every novel, novella, novelette, and short story on this list (told you the words get longer) received at least two major award nominations which, in my mind at least, is a sign that they are worth taking another look at.

Note: This list is currently is based on the 2011 nominations for Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Philip K. Dick, Andre Norton, BSFA, Arthur C. Clarke, Gemmell, Bram Stoker, and Shirley Jackson awards. World Fantasy nominations are not currently available. Feel free to suggest other awards in the comments.


The Dervish House - Ian McDonald [4 Nominations: Hugo, Locus, BSFA, Arthur C. Clarke]

It begins with an explosion. Another day, another bus bomb. Everyone it seems is after a piece of Turkey. But the shockwaves from this random act of 21st century pandemic terrorism will ripple further and resonate louder than just Enginsoy Square.

Welcome to the world of The Dervish House; the great, ancient, paradoxical city of Istanbul, divided like a human brain, in the great, ancient, equally paradoxical nation of Turkey. The year is 2027 and Turkey is about to celebrate the fifth anniversary of its accession to the European Union; a Europe that now runs from the Arran Islands to Ararat. Population pushing one hundred million, Istanbul swollen to fifteen million; Turkey is the largest, most populous and most diverse nation in the EU, but also one of the poorest and most socially divided. It's a boom economy, the sweatshop of Europe, the bazaar of central Asia, the key to the immense gas wealth of Russia and Central Asia.

Gas is power. But it's power at a price, and that price is emissions permits. This is the age of carbon consciousness: every individual in the EU has a card stipulating individual carbon allowance that must be produced at every CO2 generating transaction. For those who can master the game, who can make the trades between gas price and carbon trading permits, who can play the power factions against each other, there are fortunes to be made. The old Byzantine politics are back. They never went away.

The ancient power struggled between Sunni and Shia threatens like a storm: Ankara has watched the Middle East emerge from twenty-five years of sectarian conflict. So far it has stayed aloof. A populist Prime Minister has called a referendum on EU membership. Tensions run high. The army watches, hand on holster. And a Galatasary Champions' League football game against Arsenal stokes passions even higher.

The Dervish House is seven days, six characters, three interconnected story strands, one central common core--the eponymous dervish house, a character in itself--that pins all these players together in a weave of intrigue, conflict, drama and a ticking clock of a thriller. (Pyr)

Blackout / All Clear - Connie Willis [3 Nominations: Hugo, Nebula, Locus]

Oxford in 2060 is a chaotic place, with scores of time-traveling historians being sent into the past. Michael Davies is prepping to go to Pearl Harbor. Merope Ward is coping with a bunch of bratty 1940 evacuees and trying to talk her thesis adviser into letting her go to VE-Day. Polly Churchill’s next assignment will be as a shopgirl in the middle of London’s Blitz. But now the time-travel lab is suddenly canceling assignments and switching around everyone’s schedules. And when Michael, Merope, and Polly finally get to World War II, things just get worse. For there they face air raids, blackouts, and dive-bombing Stukas—to say nothing of a growing feeling that not only their assignments but the war and history itself are spiraling out of control. Because suddenly the once-reliable mechanisms of time travel are showing significant glitches, and our heroes are beginning to question their most firmly held belief: that no historian can possibly change the past. (Spectra)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - N.K. Jemisin [3 Nominations: Hugo, Nebula, Locus]

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the debut novel from a major new voice in fantasy fiction. (Orbit)

Ship Breaker - Paolo Bacigalupi [2 Nominations: Andre Norton, Locus]

In America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota--and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life. . . .

In this powerful novel, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers a thrilling, fast-paced adventure set in a vivid and raw, uncertain future. (Little, Brown)

The Reapers Are the Angels - Alden Bell [2 Nominations: Philip K. Dick, Shirley Jackson]

Zombies have infested a fallen America. A young girl named Temple is on the run. Haunted by her past and pursued by a killer, Temple is surrounded by death and danger, hoping to be set free.

For twenty-five years, civilization has survived in meager enclaves, guarded against a plague of the dead. Temple wanders this blighted landscape, keeping to herself and keeping her demons inside her heart. She can't remember a time before the zombies, but she does remember an old man who took her in and the younger brother she cared for until the tragedy that set her on a personal journey toward redemption. Moving back and forth between the insulated remnants of society and the brutal frontier beyond, Temple must decide where ultimately to make a home and find the salvation she seeks. (Henry Holt & Co.)

Zoo City - Lauren Beukes [2 Nominations: BSFA, Arthur C. Clarke]

Where no one else date venture...

Zinzi has a Sloth on her back, a dirty online 419 scam habit – and a talent for finding lost things. But when her latest client, a little old lady, turns up dead and the cops confiscate her last paycheck, she’s forced to take on her least favourite kind of job: missing persons

An astonishing second novel from the author of the highly-acclaimed Moxyland. (Angry Robot)

Cryoburn - Lois McMaster Bujold [2 Nominations: Hugo, Locus]

Miles Vorkosigan is back!

Kibou-daini is a planet obsessed with cheating death. Barrayaran Imperial Auditor Miles Vorkosigan can hardly disapprove—he’s been cheating death his whole life, on the theory that turnabout is fair play. But when a Kibou-daini cryocorp—an immortal company whose job it is to shepherd its all-too-mortal frozen patrons into an unknown future—attempts to expand its franchise into the Barrayaran Empire, Emperor Gregor dispatches his top troubleshooter Miles to check it out.

On Kibou-daini, Miles discovers generational conflict over money and resources is heating up, even as refugees displaced in time skew the meaning of generation past repair. Here he finds a young boy with a passion for pets and a dangerous secret, a Snow White trapped in an icy coffin who burns to re-write her own tale, and a mysterious crone who is the very embodiment of the warning Don’t mess with the secretary. Bribery, corruption, conspiracy, kidnapping—something is rotten on Kibou-daini, and it isn’t due to power outages in the Cryocombs. And Miles is in the middle—of trouble! (Baen)

Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins [2 Nominations: Andre Norton, Locus]

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bloody arena alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what’s worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’s family, not her friends, not the people of District 12. Powerful and haunting, this thrilling final installment of Suzanne Collins’s groundbreaking The Hunger Games trilogy promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year. (Scholastic)

Feed - Mira Grant [2 Nominations: Hugo, Shirley Jackson]

The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beat the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED.

Now, twenty years after the Rising, Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives-the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will out, even if it kills them. (Orbit)

Shades of Milk and Honey - Mary Robinette Kowal [2 Nominations: Nebula, Locus]

Shades of Milk and Honey is an intimate portrait of Jane Ellsworth, a woman ahead of her time in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality. But despite the prevalence of magic in everyday life, other aspects of Dorchester’s society are not that different: Jane and her sister Melody’s lives still revolve around vying for the attentions of eligible men.

Jane resists this fate, and rightly so: while her skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face, and therefore wins the lion’s share of the attention. At the ripe old age of twenty-eight, Jane has resigned herself to being invisible forever. But when her family’s honor is threatened, she finds that she must push her skills to the limit in order to set things right--and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

This debut novel from an award-winning talent scratches a literary itch you never knew you had. Like wandering onto a secret picnic attended by Pride and Prejudice and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Shades of Milk and Honey is precisely the sort of tale we would expect from Jane Austen…if only she had been a fantasy writer. (Tor)

Who Fears Death? - Nnedi Okorafor [2 Nominations: Nebula, Locus]

The critically-acclaimed novel-now in paperback.

In a far-future, post-apocalyptic Saharan Africa, genocide plagues one region. When the only surviving member of a slain village is brutally raped, she manages to escape, wandering farther into the desert. She gives birth to a baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand, and instinctively knows her daughter is different. She names her daughter Onyesonwu, which means "Who Fears Death?" in an ancient African tongue.

Reared under the tutelage of a mysterious and traditional shaman, Onyesonwu discovers she possesses a remarkable and unique magic. The journey to fulfill her destiny will force her to confront nature, tradition, history, the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and eventually to learn why she was given the unusual name she bears: Who Fears Death? (DAW)

I Shall Wear Midnight - Terry Pratchett [2 Nominations: Locus, Andre Norton]

It starts with whispers.

Then someone picks up a stone.

Finally, the fires begin.

When people turn on witches, the innocents suffer. . . .

Tiffany Aching has spent years studying with senior witches, and now she is on her own. As the witch of the Chalk, she performs the bits of witchcraft that aren’t sparkly, aren’t fun, don’t involve any kind of wand, and that people seldom ever hear about: She does the unglamorous work of caring for the needy.

But someone—or something—is igniting fear, inculcating dark thoughts and angry murmurs against witches. Aided by her tiny blue allies, the Wee Free Men, Tiffany must find the source of this unrest and defeat the evil at its root—before it takes her life. Because if Tiffany falls, the whole Chalk falls with her.

Chilling drama combines with laugh-out-loud humor and searing insight as beloved and bestselling author Terry Pratchett tells the high-stakes story of a young witch who stands in the gap between good and evil. (Haper Collins)

A Dark Matter - Peter Straub [2 Nominations: Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson]

On a Midwestern campus in the 1960s, a charismatic guru and his young acolytes perform a secret ritual in a local meadow.  What happens is a mystery—all that remains is a gruesomely dismembered body and the shattered souls of all who were present.  Forty years later, one man seeks to learn about that horrifying night, and to do so he’ll have to force those involved to examine the unspeakable events that have haunted them ever since. Unfolding through their individual stories, A Dark Matter is an electric, chilling, and unpredictable novel that proves Peter Straub to be the master of modern horror. (DoubleDay)

Lightborn - Tricia Sullivan [2 Nominations: BSFA, Arthur C. Clarke]

Lightborn, better known as 'shine', is a mind-altering technology that has revolutionised the modern world. It is the ultimate in education, self-improvement and entertainment - beamed directly into the brain of anyone who can meet the asking price. But in the city of Los Sombres, renegade shine has attacked the adult population, resulting in social chaos and widespread insanity in everyone past the age of puberty. The only solution has been to turn off the Field and isolate the city. Trapped within the quarantine perimeter, fourteen-year-old Xavier just wants to find the drug that can keep his own physical maturity at bay until the army shuts down the shine. That's how he meets Roksana, mysteriously impervious to shine and devoted to helping the stricken. As the military invades street by street, Xavier and Roksana discover that there could be hope for Los Sombres - but only if Xavier will allow a lightborn cure to enter his mind. What he doesn't know is that the shine in question has a mind of its own ... (Orbit)

Behemoth - Scott Westerfeld [2 Nominations: Andre Norton, Locus]

The behemoth is the fiercest creature in the British navy. It can swallow enemy battleships with one bite. The Darwinists will need it, now that they are at war with the Clanker powers.

Deryn is a girl posing as a boy in the British Air Service, and Alek is the heir to an empire posing as a commoner. Finally together aboard the airship Leviathan, they hope to bring the war to a halt. But when disaster strikes the Leviathan's peacekeeping mission, they find themselves alone and hunted in enemy territory.

Alek and Deryn will need great skill, new allies, and brave hearts to face what's ahead. (Simon & Schuster)


Haunted Legends - Ellen Datlow & Nick Mamatas, eds. [2 Nominations: Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson]

Darkly thrilling, these twenty new ghost stories have all the chills and power of traditional ghost stories, but each tale is a unique retelling of an urban legend from the world over.

Multiple award-winning editor Ellen Datlow and award-nominated author and editor Nick Mamatas recruited Jeffrey Ford, Ramsey Campbell, Joe R. Lansdale, Caitlin Kiernan, Catherynne M. Valente, Kit Reed, Ekaterina Sedia, and thirteen other fine writers to create stories unlike any they've written before. Tales to make readers shiver with fear, jump at noises in the night, keep the lights on.

These twenty nightmares, brought together by two renowned editors of the dark fantastic, are delightful visions sure to send shivers down the spines of horror readers. (Tor)

Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery - Jonathan Strahan & Lou Anders, eds. [2 Nominations: Locus, Shirley Jackson]

Seventeen original tales of sword and sorcery penned by masters old and new

Elric . . . the Black Company . . . Majipoor. For years, these have been some of the names that have captured the hearts of generations of readers and embodied the sword and sorcery genre. And now some of the most beloved and bestselling fantasy writers working today deliver stunning all-new sword and sorcery stories in an anthology of small stakes but high action, grim humor mixed with gritty violence, fierce monsters and fabulous treasures, and, of course, swordplay. Don't miss the adventure of the decade! (Harper Voyager)


Occultation - Laird Barron [2 Nominations: Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson]

Laird Barron has emerged as one of the strongest voices in modern horror and dark fantasy fiction, building on the eldritch tradition pioneered by writers such as H. P. Lovecraft, Peter Straub, and Thomas Ligotti. His stories have garnered critical acclaim and been reprinted in numerous year's best anthologies and nominated for multiple awards, including the Crawford, International Horror Guild, Shirley Jackson, Theodore Sturgeon, and World Fantasy Awards. His debut collection, The Imago Sequence and Other Stories, was the inaugural winner of the Shirley Jackson Award.

He returns with his second collection, Occultation. Pitting ordinary men and women against a carnivorous, chaotic cosmos, Occultation's eight tales of terror (two never before published) include the Theodore Sturgeon and Shirley Jackson Award-nominated story "The Forest" and Shirley Jackson Award nominee "The Lagerstatte." Featuring an introduction by Michael Shea, Occultation brings more of the spine-chillingly sublime cosmic horror Laird Barron's fans have come to expect. (Night Shade Books)

What I Didn't See: Stories - Karen Joy Fowler [2 Nominations: Locus, Shirley Jackson]

In her moving and elegant new collection, New York Times bestseller Karen Joy Fowler writes about John Wilkes Booth's younger brother, a one-winged man, a California cult, and a pair of twins, and she digs into our past, present, and future in the quiet, witty, and incisive way only she can.

The sinister and the magical are always lurking just below the surface: for a mother who invents a fairy-tale world for her son in "Halfway People"; for Edwin Booth in "Edwin's Ghost," haunted by his fame as "America's Hamlet" and his brother's terrible actions; for Norah, a rebellious teenager facing torture in "The Pelican Bar" as she confronts Mama Strong, the sadistic boss of a rehabilitation facility; for the narrator recounting her descent in "What I Didn't See."

With clear and insightful prose, Fowler's stories measure the human capacities for hope and despair, brutality and kindness. This collection, which includes two Nebula Award winners, is sure to delight readers, even as it pulls the rug out from underneath them. (Small Beer Press)

The Ones That Got Away - Stephen Graham Jones [2 Nominations: Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson]

These thirteen stories are our own lives, inside out. A boy's summer romance doesn't end in that good kind of heartbreak, but in blood. A girl on a fishing trip makes a friend in the woods who's exactly what she needs, except then that friend follows her back to the city. A father hears a voice through his baby monitor that shouldn't be possible, but now he can't stop listening. A woman finds out that the shipwreck wasn't the disaster, but who she's shipwrecked with. A big brother learns just what he will, and won't, trade for one night of sleep. From prison guards making unholy alliances to snake-oil men in the Old West doling out justice, these stories carve down into the body of the mind, into our most base fears and certainties, and there's no anesthetic. Turn the light on if you want, but that just makes for more shadows. (Prime Books)


"The Lifecycle of Software Objects" - Ted Chiang - Subterranean - Read Online [3 Nominations: Hugo, Nebula, Locus]

"The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window" - Rachel Swirsky - Subterranean Press - Read Online  [3 Nominations: Hugo, Nebula, Locus]

"The Sultan of the Clouds" - Geoffrey A. Landis - Asimov’s September 2010 - Read PDF [2 Nominations: Hugo, Nebula]

"Troika" - Alastair Reynolds - Godlike Machines [2 Nominations:  Hugo, Locus]


"Plus or Minus" - James Patrick Kelly - Asimov’s December 2010 - Read Online [3 Nominations: Hugo, Nebula, Locus]

"The Jaguar House, in Shadow" - Aliette de Bodard - Asimov’s July 2010 - Read Online [2 Nominations: Hugo, Nebula]

"The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains" - Neil Gaiman - Stories: All-New Tales - Read Online [2 Nominations: Locus, Shirley Jackson]

"That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made" - Eric James Stone - Analog September 2010 - Read Online [2 Nominations: Hugo, Nebula]

Short Stories

"The Things" - Peter Watts - Clarkesworld January 2010 - Read Online [4 Nominations: Hugo, Locus, BSFA, Shirley Jackson]

"Booth’s Ghost" - Karen Joy Fowler - What I Didn't See: Stories [2 Nominations:  Locus, Shirley Jackson]

"Ponies" - Kij Johnson - - January 17th, 2010 - Read Online [2 Nominations: Hugo, Nebula]

All in all, a pretty good list, no? I'll try to keep this up to date as further nominations and winners are announced.


  1. There are some who call me TimMay 24, 2011 at 11:19 PM

    That was hands down the best introduction to SFFH award-dom contained within a blog posting ever. You win.

    Especially delicious was this sentence: "And god help us if Neil Gaiman, Ted Chiang, China Mieville, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Connie Willis ever end publishing a novelette in the same year. That's a true end-world scenario."

    Truer words have never been spoken.

  2. I just finished the Connie Willis most recent 2-book series ("Black Out" and "All Clear"), and I ended up enjoying it over all. I had the foresight to wait for the second book to be released before starting the first one because I hate cliff-hangers.

    I think this duology would have been better considerably shortened, since so much time was spent with the characters whining and obsessing and being completely self-absorbed -- plus one frustrating near miss after another -- enough already! It was particularly annoying to read of their endless frustrations and ruminations when they were surrounded by the people actually living through World War II who were in much worst shape than they were but handling their circumstances much more gracefully. I frequently wanted to slap some sense into the main characters.


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