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Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Best of 2007 Essay compiled by Justin Allen

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Remember when I mentioned HERE that I was working on something a little special for the End of the Year festivities… Well, included below is a little preview of what you can expect. It wasn’t what I had in mind when I asked Justin Allen—author of the debut novel “Slaves of the Shinar” (Reviewed HERE)—to participate, but I was so impressed with the article that I decided that it deserved its own post. So thank you Justin for going over and beyond what I asked of you, and I hope readers will appreciate your efforts. If not, at least give his books a try ;)

A Best of 2007 Essay compiled by Justin Allen

That any ‘Best of’ list, no matter how carefully constructed or meaningfully considered, is by its very nature subjective in the extreme, is a fact so well-known, so already discussed at nauseating length, that to dwell long on the subject would be to shout into the cacophonous blur of a battle already well into its waging. Such lists inspire venom. They boggle the mind, distress the stomach and trouble the soul. But they also sell newspapers and magazines, invite readers as surely as a free bowl of ice cream, and inspire heated (if ultimately pointless) discussion. So, my dear friends, get used to them, because ‘Best of’ lists are here to stay.

The above are all excellent points, and their compiler should be congratulated both for his insight and frankness. However, there remains yet one other fact about ‘Best of’ lists that really ought to be pondered. They are so dreadfully OBVIOUS. Most lists are constructed of books we have heard so so so so much about already. “Hey, did you hear? The New York Times has chosen Beloved as the Best novel of time period x….” Let’s be honest, shall we? If Oprah’s having selected it for her book club, the creation of a positively horrendous movie, and reams of prostrating press ink, have not already induced us to lap up that bit of tasty cream, is its placement on a “Best of” list likely to do the trick?

Worse yet are those cowardly folks (I am ready to be blasted, so load your pistols) who choose Harry Potter. My God! How does such a choice help anyone? Is there one single individual in the entire universe who has not read a review of the latest Potter? And this goes, by the way, within the fantasy realm at least, for any mention of a book by that most discussed author of 2007, DurhAberRothLynch. As good as his work is – and it is good – it has been mentioned more than enough I should think.

So, as I have been invited to offer my opinions as to the best books of 2007, by that noble and oh-so-organized Fantasy Book Critic, I have elected to do something slightly different. I am simply going to tell you about a handful of books I thought were great, but which you may have missed, this being a fantasy site and all. They are, in very particular order:

05. Empire of Blue Water, by Stephan Talty – Actually, many of you may have heard of this. It is a book about the famed pirate Captain Henry Morgan. Rollicking good fun, historical, and fantastic in a most human sense. My only quibble is that the author told far too little about Captain Morgan’s wonderful rum, which I very much like to add to my eggnog this time of year.
04. The Communist’s Daughter, by Dennis Bock – I think it was SQT over at the Sci-Fi Fantasy Lovin’ blog who observed how much of our fiction concerns itself with war. Well, so does this. But it is a startling view of a surgeon and soldier who was involved in many of the major political clashes of the twentieth century. And he really lived. So check it out.
03. The Book of Joby, by Mark J. Ferrari – ‘Woah there, bucko,’ I can hear you saying. The Fantasy Book Critic has been praising this book to the moon. Doesn’t this defy your DurhAberRothLynch rule? Maybe it would, if more of us would actually PAY ATTENTION to the good press this book has gotten. As of the writing of this, The Book of Joby was ranked at Amazon…… Well, let’s just say the ranking was much too low for a fantasy novel of this quality. It is better than any other book out this year, according to many, and they are absolutely right. You should be embarrassed, you readers, you harbingers and discussers of speculative literature. How have you not pushed this to the forefront? I am beginning to think that the principal strike against this book is that it is complete in one volume. And we fantasy folks are known for demanding to be allowed to pay for our books at least three times. Sometimes many more than three times. Well, if this is the case, shame on us. That’s just the devil winning his latest bet with God.
02. Deep Economy, by Bill McKibben – In a way, this book could be of particular interest to Science Fiction fans. A couple of years ago, Bill (yes, I am on a first name basis) wrote a simply amazing book called Enough, about the nightmare of our post-human future. It was scarier than any cyberpunk novel as it was REAL. Now he has given us the antidote. Here is a book offering answers to the nihilism and hopelessness of the modern world, and to global warming and the rising need for community. It is about ETHICS, which I have always taken to be the science of living a better life. And as with everything Bill writes, it is freakin’ awesome.
01. On the Road: The Original Scroll, by Jack Kerouac – The best for last. Here’s the deal. This is one IMPORTANT book. And it just happens to blast right along with the sort of stuff we fantasy lovers like best. Let me put it to you this way – it’s about a pair of guys on a spiritual journey. They are looking for IT, the magic of human connection in a world in which Sauron and Gandalf (read Stalin and Eisenhower) each wound up with half of the One Ring (read A-bomb) and plan to blow everything all to hell. Theirs is a quest for meaning as real and moving as any I have read. PLUS, and this is why it is on this list, Kerouac’s scroll manuscript shows the attempt on the part of a great American artist to construct a new American Novel form. This speaks to me as a fantasy fan, as I am obsessed with the idea of creating a new type of AMERICAN LITERARY FANTASY. In essence, I am willing to acknowledge that Tolkien has won. He has taken over the world, and there’s nothing more we can do about it. But as for me, I just want to play a new non-British, non-European game. There has to be something beyond elves, orcs, dwarves and those innumerable rehashings of the Knights of the Table Round, doesn’t there? Maybe not. But I’m willing to hope.

That’s my list. I know – You HATE it. Well, so do I. First off, that last one is an obvious cheat, important though I believe it to be. What’s more, there were so many great books out this year – both those we all know, have read, or at least have heard about, and those that have skillfully flown in under the radar – that it makes me feel guilty almost to the point of shivering to have to name just five.

So I say let’s look ahead. I’m in no position to guess what the ‘Best Books’ of 2008 will be, and I won’t even try. Nope. Been burned that way once too often. Typically, whatever book I am looking forward to as the middle third of a trilogy will be a source of great sadness. Usually these come off as what they are, books without beginnings or endings – two things I generally like in a book. And they never charge us a penny less for these partial novels, do they? Nope. They do not.

What I am looking forward to is next year’s campaign for the presidency. And in that vein, I just want to take this moment, here and now, to announce my own intention to run. My platform will consist of my forthcoming novel, The American. It is an American Literary Fantasy (see how that comes around? Devious, no?), chuck full of gunfighters, cowboys and Indians. And a few classic literary characters come along for the ride. I know what you’re thinking. ‘But Justin, you’re too young to run for president, and a novel’s not a platform.’ True enough. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last sixteen years, it’s that neither laws nor rules apply to the president. And at the very least you ought to READ The American before you entirely discount it as my platform. Sheesh!

In signing off, let me just say that I am praying for a happy and healthful new year for each and every one of my fellow Americans. And I’ll see you from the campaign trail.

Vote Allen in 2008!


SQT said...

Okay, I know I should make some intelligent comment about this post. You know, comment on its insightfulness or something along those lines.

But I'm just so ridiculously flattered that I was mentioned in this article that I can't concentrate on anything else. :)


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