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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Fantasy Book Critic’s 2008 Review/2009 Preview — Gary Gibson


I've read a lot of books this year, but it's only now I realise how few of them were actually published this year. These are the ones that stood out for me.

The following aren't in order of preference, but are rather in order of 'as I remember them'.

1)Anathem” by
Neal Stephenson. I'm sure this is at the top of a lot of people's lists, but I was waiting for this one for a long time. It's unbelievably dense, but rewarding enough that one of these days I'll have to make time to re-read it. Neal Stephenson is one of those few authors of whom I can say I've read and re-read almost everything they've written at some time or another. Not for the weak-hearted, mind—there's a dinner-table conversation about philosophy and classical platonic ideals that lasts for what might be a hundred pages (I read it on a Sony Reader, so can't estimate precisely, but believe me, it was long) that I skipped large portions of it, only to find out reading the bits I skipped were absolutely essential to understanding the book's conclusion. But I came away from the book satisfied nonetheless—it's good, intelligent writing that fills you with sufficiently interesting questions that you know you want to experience again with a depth of understanding gained from the first encounter.

2)Implied Spaces” by
Walter Jon Williams. A terrific post-modern space opera that's as playful as it is inventive. Strangely reminiscent of Roger Zelazny in certain respects. It's a post-singularity novel, but one that refreshingly doesn't rely on the kind of heavy exposition that can make a reader feel like they need to wire their brain into Ray Kurzweil's and take a crash course in half a dozen different fields of developmental and informational technology before they can begin to understand the story.

3)Armed Madhouse” by
Greg Palast. Excoriating trip through the halls of neo-conservative US politics under George Bush Junior as they turn post-invasion Iraq into a sandbox for their lunatic economic fantasies of building a mini-America on the Euphrates. Indeed, everything you want to know about the War on Terror is summed up on the book's first page in only the first of a series of highly evocative images.

4)Little Brother” by
Cory Doctorow. Absolutely one of the most entertaining and informative and fun books I've read in a long time.

5)Seeds of Change”. A neat little package of an anthology from anthologist
John Joseph Adams.

6)The Turing Test” by
Chris Beckett. Chris strikes me as the quintessential British sf writer in temperament and tone, and the nearest thing we have to a 'new' Christopher Priest.

7)The Terror” by
Dan Simmons. I was a bit disappointed by Ilium, so I was glad when “The Terror” proved to be a quite gripping read. Like some of Simmons' horror novels from the Eighties and late Nineties, this drew inspiration from real events—in this case two exploration ships of the mid-19th century trapped in dense pack ice while attempting to find the then-non-existent North West Passage (recently opened up and made real by global warming). Both ships and crew were lost forever, but Simmons includes something that might be a vengeful spirit, or might be an undiscovered throwback to some earlier evolutionary period that is stalking and killing the crewmen, one by one. If you want a book that's going to completely draw you in, this is it.

8)Black and White” by
Lewis Shiner. Lewis Shiner was one of sf's great hopes in the Eighties, when hardly a month passed, or so it seemed, without another of his stories in Asimov's SF. His profile has been somewhat lower over the past decade. Nonetheless, his non-genre novel about racism and family secrets was one of my favourite reads of the year. It's a relentlessly gripping narrative, flipping between the viewpoints of the main character—a comic-book artist—in the present, and that of his father, an architect in the Sixties responsible for designing a motorway system intended to cut straight through the heart of—and thereby destroy—a thriving black community. Highly recommended.


I'm looking forward to reading “The Quiet War” by
Paul McAuley, which should be out in the UK in paperback in 2009. Apart from that, I never seem to know about books until about two weeks before they get published. I knew nothing about “Little Brother” by Doctorow until it was out, which is my way of saying, I'd tell you what I was looking forward to in 2009 if I knew what was coming out.

But one book I'm certainly observing with interest—and which looks to be high fun—is “Escape From Hell!” by fellow Glasgow sf circle member
Hal Duncan.

Another long-time member of the same writer's group,
Mike Cobley, has the first in a space opera series—Seeds of Earth—coming out in the UK from Orbit in March of 2009, marking a comeback after his adventures in sword and sorcery in the earlier years of the century (the Shadowkings trilogy).


On my own part, the sequel to “Stealing Light” is coming out in hardback in the UK in September 2009; it's called “Nova War”. I'm busy writing the third in the series just now.


Gary Gibson is a Scottish science fiction author with three novels published by Pan Macmillan/Tor UK including “Gravity”, “Angel Stations” and “Stealing Light”. He is also a member of the
Glasgow Science Fiction Writer’s Circle (Hal Duncan, Neil Williamson). For more information, please visit the author’s Official Blog.

NOTE: For more author responses, please visit Fantasy Book Critic's 2008 Review/2009 Preview index


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