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Sunday, July 19, 2009

The First Half of 2009 Part 2: SF and Mainstream Fantastic (By Liviu Suciu, Robert Thompson and Cindy Hannikman)

Introduction: Here we present the sf and mainstream fantastic books we read and loved. As noted in the earlier fantasy/mainstream post, all the links to reviews not yet posted will be updated as those reviews appear on FBC. Unless noted otherwise the FBC reviews are done by the contributor selecting the books in cause as notable 2009 releases.

As mentioned in the previous post, the split into genres/categories is mostly utilitarian, functioning as a first filter considering the mind-boggling number of books released each month.

While varied in style and subject all the books below have one thing in common, each was a five star book for at least one of us and we recommend them.

Fabio Fernandes chimed in here too with his opinions on books read so far and we are happy to add his selections in what follows.


Liviu (23)

A quick note: since last year in my "best of 08" post I had trouble ranking books and deciding what is 2 vs what is 3 and such, I decided that from now on I will have three tiers: co-#1, co-#2 and notable.

co-#1 Land of the Dead by Thomas Harlan (FBC Rv)
The third book in his Mexica/Japanese human empire in space and the first of the heavy-hitter core-sf (ie dealing with the mysteries of the universe in a way or another) novels to be published in the second part of 2009. It can be read as a standalone from earlier novels representing a crucial turn in the series, the back-story is presented and it actually makes a great novel to start this superb series...
Twists, turns, lots of Mexica folklore complemented by snippets from Musashi' story in this alt-Earth and his struggle to overthrow the Mongol dynasty in Japan (that is the branch point, no Taifun, Japan conquered, refugee Japanese fleet washes out in Central America, allies with the incipient Mexica empire in the late 1200's) that fit perfectly in the "struggle against barbarians" theme that is part of the story. Has anything you want in large scale sf...

co-#1 In the Courts of the Sun by D'Amato, Brian (FBC Rv)
Sense of wonder, gonzo narration and the best description of an alien civilization/secondary world fantasy in a while; it just happens to be the historical Maya civilization cca 650's AD!

In order of reading:

Consorts of Heaven by Fenn, Jaine (FBC Rv)
Fantasy like novel with a superb heroine who is as un-glamorous as it gets

co-#2/Top Debut Ice Song by Kasai, Kirsten Imani (FBC Rv)
Lyrical, emotional and great

co-#2 Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Wilson, Robert Charles (FBC Rv)
If it were core-sf like the Hugo winning Spin it would have been a co-#1; this way it is a faux alt-hist with one of the most endearing narrators in recent memory written in the superb author style I love so much; great stuff

co-#2 By Heresies Distressed (Safehold, #3) by Weber, David (FBC Rv)
Second part to the superb By Schism Rent Asunder, less flashy but with great re-read value

co-#2 Yellow Blue Tibia by Roberts, Adam (FBC Rv)
Very entertaining and uplifting, this tale set in the former Soviet Union in 1986 (and a bit in 1946) showcases Adam Roberts' versatility at its best.


Notable sf books in order of reading:

Hitler's War by Turtledove, Harry (FBC Rv)
WW2 starts in 1938 in Munchen when the "peace at all costs" mission of Chamberlain fails.
Could be Turtledove best so far and I am very curious where the series goes; based on real history with lots of twists and told only from "regular" people - mostly soldiers but some women too - perspective.

The New Space Opera 2 by Dozois, Gardner, Strahan Jonathan ed (FBC Rv)
Superb continuation to The New Space Opera 1; all new line-up, same excellent mix of stories

The Osiris Ritual by Mann, George (FBC Rv)
Maurice Newburry super-steampunk secret agent and plucky assistant Veronica Hobbes on the trail of serial killers, rogue agents and much more

Death's Head: Day of the Damned by Gunn, David (FBC Rv)
While Sven still beds or kills everything in sight, we get to see other characters in great scenes too; the series takes an unexpected turn which I found great and refreshing

Age of Ra by Lovegrove, James (FBC Rv)
Mil-sf with a twist. Or is it? Transcends the sub-genre and a deeper than expected read with enough action for everyone too.

The Grand Conjunction by Sean Williams
(FBC Rv)
Grand finale to the Astropolis series and it is grand indeed; the book plays with both genre conventions and gender and it works; the drawback are the huge time-scales involved objective - no ftl means that by necessity - and while subjective they are not so daunting, being in the thousands of years rather than millions, they still make for an emotional disconnect

Earths by Gevers N, Lake, J. ed (FBC Rv)
Great anthology with an outstanding novella by L. Shepard that is 1/3 of the book

The Unincorporated Man by Kollin, Dani (FBC Capsule Rv tbp)
A weaker second half though with a superb great ending that made the sequel asap made this just miss my co-#2 spot, but a superb debut set in a future that could become all too real.

Prophets: Apotheosis: Book One by Swann, S. Andrew (FBC Capsule Rv)
Moreaus, killers, AI's and prophets; what's not to like?

Dark Matter by Ahmed, S.W. (FBC Capsule Rv tbp)
While clearly in the 50's pulp-sf tradition with Arabian Nights sensibilities (Roc birds in space!!) this is a fun debut with a very diverse cast and the Islamic-like "wise-ones" get to save the day to boot...

The Third Claw of God by Castro, Adam-Troy (FBC Capsule Rv tbp)
Andreea Cort gets a personal invitation; it may just prove too personal; another superb sequel with a great heroine and great world building

Solaris SF 3 by Mann, George ed (FBC Rv)
The only thing to say is : I really hope Solaris will get a buyer that will continue this superb anthology series

Overthrowing Heaven by Name, Mark L. Van (FBC Rv)
Jon and Lobo find out about Lobo's past; when "real cards" are on the table, it is time for bullets and not for tranks!

The Accord by Brooke, Keith (FBC Rv)
Man, woman and husband; an eternal triangle, this time with cosmic implications

The Seeds of Earth by Cobley, Michael (FBC Rv)
A bit too many costume aliens for a co-#1/2 rank, but a very promising start to a true space opera epic

Storm from the Shadows by Weber, David (Honorverse Overview tbp)
And when you thought you knew the villains in the Honorverse! Only a third of a novel in 600 pages of course, needs
Torch of Freedom and Mission of Honor for complete assesment...


Fabio (6) :

“Fast Forward, Vol. 2”, ed. by Lou Anders (FBC rv)
An above average anthology, with plenty of stories ranging from good to excellent, some of them nominated for several awards – deservedly.

“Plague War”, by Jeff Carlson (FBC rv)
This intense, gripping novel is the second installment of Carlson´s Plague trilogy: a fast-paced technothriller on the dangers of post-holocaust due to nanotech experiments run amok.

“Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait”, by K.A. Bedford (FBC rv)
A retro-chic time-travel novel, with lots of humor and reminiscent of Fredric Brown or William Tenn. Fun to read and full of pretzel logic adventure.

"Terminator: Salvation [The official movie novelization]", by Alan Dean Foster (FBC rv)
Alan Dean Foster´s books are always worth their money. Even though the movie isn´t so good, the novelization is a page-turner, creative adaptation. Foster knows his job. Good reading.

“Terminal Mind”, by David Walton (FBC rv)
A cyberpunk novel which is literally late in time, as much in its basic tropes as in characterization. Not the most satisfying read in 2009 by a long shot.

“Emissaries From the Dead”, by Adam-Troy Castro (FBC rv)
One of the most pleasant surprises of the year, Castro´s mix of SF and whodunit novel introduces us to Andrea Cort, a very vivid character who already won my heart and mind.


Mainstream Fantastic:

Robert (6):

“Twelve” by Jasper Kent (FBC Rv)

Not just one of the best debuts that I’ve read this year, but one of 2009’s best books period.

“Afraid” by Jack Kilborn (FBC Rv)

A non-stop horror/thriller joyride. I simply loved every second I was reading the book!

“Patient Zero” by Jonathan Maberry (FBC Rv)

Another non-stop joyride. Offers about as much fun and excitement as a book can hold...

“The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death” by Charlie Huston (FBC Rv)

My favorite Huston novel so far, which is saying something considering how brilliant the author’s work has been...

“This Is Not A Game” by Walter Jon Williams (FBC Rv)

Smart, engaging, and skillfully written, “This Is Not A Game” is a nearly flawless book.

“Genesis” (sf) by Bernard Beckett

“Genesis” may be short—clocking in a little over 100 pages—but it packs quite a wallop led by the unique presentation of its narrator, the thought-provoking subject matter, and jaw-dropping twists.


Liviu (10)

In order of reading:

White is for Witching by Oeyeyemi, Helen (FBC Rv)
Girl, boy, girl and (co-narrator) house (!) in an extension of a (non) traditional triangle of affection and love with some twists

co-#1 Jasmyn by Bell, Alex (FBC Rv)
Black Swans fall from the sky and Knights ride in the night; a superb fairy tale for adults, uplifting and to be read when sad or depressed since it's guaranteed to cheer you up!!

co-#1 Babylonian Trilogy by Doubinsky, Sebastien (FBC Rv)
A 3 inter-related novellas book, English language debut and first in a planned series of imaginary cities in our time, this is a gem; the first two novellas are *perfect*, while the third is a bit short but segues into the next novel of the author
Absinth (to be published in 2010 but I was privileged to get a pdf manuscript)

The Manhattan Prophet by Packard, Jake (FBC Rv)
In a 2047 New York city-state vassal to the North Atlantic Alliance in a world in which nuclear disaster struck in 2026 and then 10 years later, with environmental damage doing the rest, 21 year old Salem Jones is to emerge for the first time from the prison in which he was born and condemned to die by incurable sickness of which he cured himself and others as well as spreading a message of hope and love modeled on Jesus Christ but for the 21th century. Main hero Herbie Lipton is a cameraman with a tragic past and a strange personal history that will be recounted and give insight into the present story; explicit, very explicit and not for everyone but powerful, emotional and great this is a debut to remember.

Notable mainstream fantastic novels in order of reading:

Library of Shadows by Birkegaard, Mikkel (FBC Rv Liviu + Cindy)
Books as magic and some readers as magicians; enough said!

Raven: Blood Eye by Kristian Gilles (FBC Rv)
Blood and guts in a Norse setting with a hint of the fantastic

Twelve by Kent, Jasper (FBC Rv Robert)
War and Peace with vampires; just joking but it's still Napoleon against Mother Russia and there are vampires indeed...

Daemon by Suarez, Daniel (FBC Rv)
Dead genius' soul embodied as an AI wants to take over and even finds a prophet!

The Dakota Cipher by Dietrich, William (FBC Rv)
Ethan Gage comes home - not really willing, but dallying with Napoleon's favorite sister which is the wife of a top general to boot, has consequences; from luxury to wilderness, but Ethan finds good friends though the book turns much darker than the rest of the series in the last part

Drood by Simmons, Dan (FBC Rv)
Dickens as seen by Wilkie Collins


Calibandar said...

Genesis & Julian Comstock are the most interesting books for me out of this list, have both of them on the shelf.

Liviu said...

Personally I think that one's reaction to Genesis depends on how much sf shorts one has read; if like me you read lots and lots, hundreds if not thousands including Ted Chiang who is (imho) treating the topics in Genesis much better, Genesis will be a "four star nice but I saw it done better" with nothing special and serviceable but not great prose; if you are new to sf short form, it is a great place to start and a wow book...

Cindy said...

Looking at some of the books I see that I forgot a few! Guess that's what happens when you read so many in 2009 :). I can't imagine what the end of the year will be like for me.

The Reader said...

Since noone mentioned this book & because of it US release date. I think The Painted/Warded Man by Peter V. Brett qualifies for this list

Liviu said...

Painted Man is a very good book - I reviewed and it made my notable list in 2008 since I read it on UK publication last fall.

For me the hard one to leave was Spirit (G. Jones) which is a Dec 30/08 pub date though it may not have appeared on sale until Jan 09 but I read it in 08 (it was my #2 sf for 08 and with the new ranking it would have been a co-#1)

I read some of the above in 08 as arcs but anything with 09 pub date I included here

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