PW‘s list of 2009′s top 10 books doesn’t include any genre titles and has been discussed quite a lot elsewhere, so I’m going to skip down to the SF/F/H and mass market top fives, which were compiled by yours truly. I considered only books that PW had reviewed, which means no tie-ins, no e-books, and no self-published books. Beyond that, these are pretty much the books I enjoyed the most this year, to the best of my recollection and with some caveats I’ll mention below.
The Windup Girl
Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)
Bacigalupi’s powerful debut warns of dire ecological collapse and the evils of colonialism in an eerily plausible near future Thailand.
Edited by Ellen Datlow (Dark Horse)
Editor extraordinaire Datlow assembles a phenomenal anthology of homages to pulp horror great H.P. Lovecraft, penned by an impressive slate of big-name horror authors.
The Devil’s Alphabet
Daryl Gregory (Del Rey)
This subtle, eerie present-day horror novel mercilessly dissects and reassembles the classic narrative of a man returning to his smalltown birthplace, where the familiar folks have become strange creatures.
The City & the City
China Miéville (Del Rey)
Putting a quasi-fantastical twist on a classic police procedural story, Miéville delves deep into the psyches of city dwellers and the ways people blind themselves to reality.
Cherie Priest (Tor)
The dramatic first novel in Priest’s Clockwork Century universe sends a determined 35-year-old single mom into a ruined city full of zombies and poison gas, where she must save her son from a mad inventor.
My longlist includes Catherynne M. Valente’s Palimpsest, Peter Straub’s American Fantastic Tales set, Robert Charles Wilson’s Julian Comstock, and story collections by David Nickle and Lewis Shiner. I didn’t consider series books because it’s so difficult to judge them as single entities; for example, I quite enjoyed Daniel Abraham’s The Price of Spring, but a) it doesn’t stand well on its own and b) An Autumn War was better. I’m personally kind of stunned that there aren’t more anthologies on that list; that is definitely a reflection of my reading habits this year, and not of the market.
Captive of Sin
Anna Campbell (Avon)
Campbell pulls out all the stops with this heart-wrenching historical romance. A hastily wed heiress must help her husband, a war hero, recover from post-traumatic stress that leaves him unable to bear human touch.
Gail Carriger (Orbit)
Carriger combines Victorian romance, supernatural creatures, steampunk sensibilities and a healthy dose of the bizarre in her hilarious debut.
A Dark Love
Margaret Carroll (Avon)
Carroll develops what could be a stock story of an abusive marriage into a pulse-pounding romantic thriller with a strong, inspiring heroine determined to save herself.
Child of Fire
Harry Connolly (Del Rey)
Connolly’s intense first novel heralds the next generation of urban fantasy (city not required) with a nearly powerless hero who must rely on his smarts and threadbare ethics to survive.
Hunt at the Well of Eternity
Gabriel Hunt, as told to James Reasoner (Hard Case Crime)
Reasoner launches the Gabriel Hunt series with a fast-paced tale of purely entertaining Indiana Jones–like adventure, smartly updated for modern sensibilities.
Longlist: Tessa Dare’s Goddess of the Hunt, C.C. Finlay’s The Patriot Witch. For mass market I really can’t discount series books or I wouldn’t have enough titles to make a top five list, but I do lean towards series starters or conclusions because starters usually stand on their own and conclusions can be looked at in light of the entire series. I’m delighted that there happened to be so many debuts; it’s been a really good year for new authors.
There’s plenty to debate in any list, of course. I’m sure mine would have looked different had I read different books; a couple of titles squeaked onto the list at the last minute after my reviewers urged me to speed-read them so I could give them full consideration. Amazon’s top ten SF & F list is quite different from mine. PW‘s top ten list has come in for its fair share of criticism, and I’ve already seen one blog post mercilessly dissecting my choices for SF/F/H (I would link, but it was in a private forum). Picking five or ten books out of hundreds or thousands is a tough task and everyone goes about it differently; there are plenty of ways to find and gauge that elusive concept known as quality. In a broad field like speculative fiction, it’s impossible to be representative of the glorious diversity of authors, presses, styles, and subgenres, though I did my best. If you like different types of books than I do, then you might even want to take this as a “don’t read” list! I personally really had fun reading all these books, though, and I am happy to recommend them to the world. Congratulations to all these authors and publishers for doing a wonderful job.