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So I managed 74 books this year, a lot better than usual. And as usual the ones worth reading are in bold.

1: The Rapture by Liz Jensen –- reviewed at SF Site
2: Slightly Behind and to the Left by Claire Light – I really didn’t like this, the writing was thin, I felt uninvolved (actually I felt like the characters, often first-person narrators, were uninvolved), and the situations were not explored to any degree that felt satisfactory.
3: The Secret History of Science Fiction edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel –- reviewed at Strange Horizons
4: Geosynchron by David Louis Edelman –- reviewed at SF Site and in Interzone
5: Finding Words by Karen Anne Mitchell –- occasionally fine writing put at the service of a schematic plot with a penchant for soft porn that the author seems to have explored in several books before this. I was distinctly underwhelmed.
6: Lifelode by Jo Walton –- reviewed at Strange Horizons
7: Ooku, volume 1 by Fumi Yoshinaga –- the joint Tiptree winner, and well worth it.
8: Ooku, volume 2 by Fumi Yoshinaga –- the joint Tiptree winner, and well worth it.
9: Ice Song by Kirsten Imani Kasai –- starts well, but gets progressively weaker as it goes along, becoming overly dependent on chance and coincidence to move the plot along. And to be honest I never believed in the sub-arctic setting or any of the characters, it seemed mostly an excuse to use fairy tales as a model for a non fairy story, and those sorts of things take a lot more skill to pull off than Kasai displays here.
10: Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts –- I’m not a great fan of Adam’s fiction, and though I enjoyed this a lot more than I usually like Roberts’s fiction, I still had major problems with it, mostly with the characters. There is one major character who suffers from a curious mash-up of asperger’s syndrome and obsessive compulsive disorder; yet every character talks as if they have the same problem. There are no conversations in the book, people talk to display their own ironic cleverness not to listen to what anyone else has to say. And everything is over-emphasised. We have the central character going on with some variant on the excluded middle argument so repetitively that when the multi-worlds twist comes the reaction is not: oh, that’s a neat twist, but rather: oh, that explains why he was going on about excluded middles at such tedious length.
11: Under the Rose edited by David Hutchinson –- reviewed at SF Site
12: Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon – reviewed at SF Site.
13: Cold Earth by Sarah Moss –- reviewed at Strange Horizons.
14: Makers by Cory Doctorow – reviewed at SF Site.
15: The Utopian Vision of H.G. Wells by Justin E.A. Busch – and
16: The Time Machine by H.G. Wells –- jointly reviewed at SF Site.
17: The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe –- reviewed in Interzone (along with an interview with Wolfe). Not, by any means, as bad as some of the early reviews have made out, but Wolfe is certainly going through a fallow patch at the moment.
18: Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson –- reviewed at SF Site.
19: Point Omega by Don DeLillo –- which I wrote about at Big Other.
20: Solar by Ian McEwan –- personally I prefer McEwan when he’s doing this stuff seriously (Enduring Love, Atonement, Saturday) than when he’s repeating it all for laughs, mostly because McEwan is no more a natural comedian than I am.
21: Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt –- a pedestrian re-working of familiar time travel paradoxes.
22: Mind Over Ship by David Marusek –- which I wrote about here.
23: Wake by Robert J. Sawyer –- which I wrote about at Big Other.
24: Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction edited by Mark Bould and China Mieville –- reviewed at SF Site.
25: A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration by Jenny Uglow – in the end I think it revealed a man who was able, adept, and quite as clever as I had always imagined.
26: Pinion by Jay Lake –- reviewed at Strange Horizons.
27: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest –- covered in these posts at Big Other.
28: Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds –- reviewed at SF Site.
29: Cheek By Jowl by Ursula K. Le Guin –- and
30: Imagination/Space by Gwyneth Jones –- reviewed jointly at Strange Horizons.
31: Into Your Tent by John L. Ingham –- revied for Vector, I begin my review by asking do we need a biography of Russell, and if so is this the review we need. Let’s say I’m undecided on the first part and very decided on the second.
32: Steal Across the Sky by Nancy Kress –- It starts out derivative but interesting, then all the interest is frittered away.
33: Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson –- which I wrote about in these posts at Big Other.
34: News of the Black Feast by Brian Stableford –- and
35: Jaunting on the Scoriac Tempests by Brian Stableford –- and
36: Gothic Grotesques by Brian Stableford –- jointly reviewed for Science Fiction Studies, poorly proof read or copy-edited collections of often over-wrought reviews.
37: Metrophilias by Brendan Connell –- which I wrote about at Big Other.
38: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi –- which I wrote about in these posts at Big Other.
39: The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang –- reviewed at SF Site.
40: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell –- which I wrote about at Big Other.
41: The Rocket’s Red Glare by David M. Peak –- which I wrote about at Big Other.
42: Selected Stories by Fritz Leiber –- reviewed in Interzone, and a reminder of just how good Leiber could be.
43: Mad Madge by Katie Whitaker –- a biography of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, practically the first woman in Britain to have books published under her own name, constant critic of the Royal Society, instigator of a rather eccentric theory of knowledge and author of the very eccentric science fiction novel Blazing World (1666). One of the more colourful characters from that extraordinarily colourful period the Interregnum and the Restoration, she was also highly intelligent and yet had to spend her whole life battling against the conception that as a woman she really couldn’t be that intelligent. Although not quite the groundbreaking proto-feminist that some modern commentators describe, she is still a fascinating person to read about. This biography (clearly based on a thesis) is rather pedestrian in its account of her life, but very good in its account of her ideas and her writing.
44: Wolfsangel by M.D. Lachlan –- reviewed at Strange Horizons.
45: The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi –- reviewed for Vector, and a book I didn’t like anywhere near as much as everyone else seems to have.
46: The Legions of Fire by David Drake –- reviewed for Bull Spec, okay-ish but very predictable fantasy redeemed by a quite well done setting in a version of early 1st century Rome.
47: The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon –- I enjoyed (with reservations) his previous novel, but this one is rather too obviously trying to pull the same trick. It even has a return visit to that wonderfully Borgesian invention: the library of lost books. It’s a mixture of grand guignal and spirit of place, with the now rather commonplace conceit of being all about writing a mixture of grand guignal and spirit of place. In sum: it’s about 100 pages too long (the middle section in particular drags in places and could profit from trimming) but at its best, especially the first section, it is every bit as good as its predecessor.
48: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel –- which inspired this post at Big Other.
49: Sunnyside by Glen David Gold –- the long-awaited follow-up to Carter Beats the Devil, and I found, as with Zafon, that he is trying too hard to recapture some of the feel of the first book, with the inevitable result that it doesn’t quite work.
50: H.G. Wells: Another Kind of Life by Michael Sherborne –- reviewed for LA Review of Books. I suspect Wells lived far too many lives to ever fit within the covers of one biography. Sherborne presents a narrative approach that tries to bring all the different facets of Wells together into one coherent tale, and though it works pretty well you still end up feeling that there are inevitably bits that get away.
51: The Dervish House by Ian McDonald –– reviewed at SF Site.
52: Return by Peter S. Beagle –- reviewed at Strange Horizons.
53: Stone’s Fall by Iain Pears –- which prompted this post at Big Other.
54: Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers –- my annual Wimsey, not one of the best.
55: The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas –- I don’t really see why everyone went ga-ga over the book, it strikes me as a rather messy generic mash-up. The old bit of advice to crime writers used to be that when things slowed down, have someone walk in with a gun. Thomas seems to have updated that advice: when things slow down, have someone walk in with a new genre. For me the book was pleasingly but not brilliantly written, and the plot was incoherent.
56: Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos – the book that finally gave me a way in to my review of the McDonald.
57: Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction by John Rieder –- reviewed for Foundation.
58: Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks –- reviewed in Interzone, overlong, vivid, readable and something of a mess.
59: Generosity by Richard Powers –- my book of the year, reviewed at Strange Horizons.
60: Sacred Space by Douglas E. Cowan –- reviewed for Bull Spec. A study of the idea of transcendence in science fiction (mostly sf film and television, though there is a very interesting discussion of the different approaches to religion in the novel and film versions of The War of the Worlds). There’s good stuff in here, but I was distinctly inclined to argue with it on a lot of points.
61: Bearings by Gary K. Wolfe –- reviewed at SF Site.
62: The Infinity Box by Kate Wilhelm –- which inspired this post at Big Other.
63: The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot –- which inspired this post at Big Other.
64: Defined by a Hollow by Darko Suvin –- reviewed for Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, which I’ve described as the most difficult, the most troubling, the book I argued with and fought with from first page to last, but still my non-fiction book of the year.
65: An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley –- just one of the great plays.
66: Lightborn by Tricia Sullivan –- reviewed for Interzone, and another of my books of the year.
67: The Secret History of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle –- and another big review for what is in one respect a superb collection of stories, but in another a very partial and flawed account of what fantasy is.
68: Nexus: Ascension by Robert Boyczuk –- reviewed for The New York Review of Science Fiction, a first novel that is very weak in the first half and quite a bit better in the second, though the plot still doesn’t make any sense.
69: Search for Philip K. Dick by Anne R. Dick –- reviewed for SF Site, a revised edition of the memoir that was a primary text for most of the biographies.
70: A Terrible Beauty by Peter Watson –- which inspired this post at Big Other.
71: 80! Memories and Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin edited by Karen Joy Fowler and Debbie Notkin –- reviewed for Strange Horizons, a sort of festschrift, the most interesting thing contained within it is what appears to be an extract from a biography by Julie Phillips.
72: Portable Childhoods by Ellen Klages –- and
73: Stable Strategies and Others by Eileen Gunn –- two collections I’ve been meaning to read for ages, both by authors who are far less productive than they should be, even though in both collections you can see the same themes and approaches recurring. And both collections contain makeweight stories that the books could have done without.
74: The Tree by John Fowles –- which inspired this post at Big Other.

First published at LiveJournal, 1 January 2011.

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