The Best of 2011
I hope everyone’s having a happy holiday season! As you might have guessed from the less frequent posts, mine’s been a little busy. The first calendar year of Tethyan Books has come to a close, and I’d like to do a quick recap of some of my favorite novels and authors I encountered in my reading this year. I didn’t really have an explicit goal for my blog this year, but I am very happy with how everything has developed. I’ve read over 70 novels since the creation of this blog, and I’ve experienced the works of many excellent authors. I’ve had a lot of fun working on Tethyan Books, and I’m looking forward to another year full of speculative fiction!
Most Highly Recommended New Books
These are my most highly recommended books published in 2010-2011, read in the 2011 Calendar year. I tried, moderately successfully, to keep up with most of the major science fiction and fantasy awards of 2011, and all of these are novels I read as a part of that effort.
1) Zoo City by Lauren Beukes: A creative dark South African fantasy, set in a world where the guilt of criminals manifests as companion animals.
2) Feed by Mira Grant: A refreshing take on a post-zombie-apocalypse world, with much attention to the epidemiology of the disease and the effects of the continuing existence of zombies on society.
3) The Dervish House by Ian McDonald: A beautifully written, complex story set in near-future Istanbul, where ancient myths and traditions coexist with developing nanotechnology.
4) Blackout by Connie Willis: The first half of Willis’ WWII time travel novel, focusing on the efforts of British civilians during the war.
5) Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord: A story modeled after folk tales, telling a story of redemption, human worth, and a Chaos Stick.
Most Highly Recommended Old Books
These are novels that I read for the first time in the previous year, though they were published before 2010. There’s so much wonderful speculative fiction that’s been written over the years, I don’t think there’s any way a person could ever truly catch up!
1) Gateway by Frederik Pohl: A well-known science fiction classic, which combines a story of massive structures and alien technology with the human story of a deeply flawed protagonist.
2) Declare by Tim Powers: A mix of a spy novel and a dark fantasy, set in a vividly described 20th century Europe. It follows existing historical events, but contains an elaborate supernatural behind-the-scenes story to explain oddities in recorded history.
3) Doomsday Book by Connie Willis: Willis’ time travel novel featuring England in the 1300s. To my mind, it’s the strongest of her time travel series, and it features effective parallel stories in both the past and the future.
4) China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh: A novel that focuses on character over plot, exploring the life of a gay, half-Chinese man—and the lives of other people he encounters—in an oppressive Communist Chinese-dominated future.
5) Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson: A how-to book for colonizing Mars. Or, more seriously, Red Mars is an incredibly thorough fictional account of Earth’s colonization effort of Mars, with attention paid to almost every aspect of the venture (social, political, financial, ecological, scientific…).
Authors Discovered in 2011
On top of my most highly recommended novels, I wanted to mention a few other authors whose work I’ve become familiar with in the past year. These are specifically authors who haven’t been mentioned yet in this post.
1) Octavia E. Butler: I’ve read a lot of Butler’s work this year, both her alien ‘invasion’ trilogy Lilith’s Brood and Parable series. Her stories tend to explore various social issues relating to religion, gender, race, or class. I was saddened to find that Butler died 5 years ago, but she has left behind work that will surely be appreciated by the world for many years to come.
2) Jo Walton: The two novels I read by Walton this year, the alternate history murder mystery, Farthing, and the charming story of Victorian dragons, Tooth and Claw, were both incredibly entertaining and startlingly dissimilar in both style and content. Walton seems to be a particularly versatile author, and I’m looking forward to checking out the rest of her work in the years to come.
3) Jon Armstrong: I only read Yarn, Armstrong’s second novel, but I was really impressed with the creative world building and the seemingly endless energy of the prose. I’m planning on picking up his debut novel, Grey, sometime in the near future.
4) Hannu Rajaniemi: His debut novel, The Quantum Thief, was sometimes confusing, but was full of many creative ideas. I’m looking forward to seeing how Rajaniemi will continue the story he began in his debut.
There’s necessarily a lot I’ve left out of this post. For instance, I’ve definitely enjoyed reading cyberpunk by William Gibson and Neal Stephenson, though they didn’t get a mention here. Lois McMaster Bujold has also been a fairly frequent presence in my reviews, and I pretty much always enjoy her novels. There are also some newer authors, like Charles Yu, Nnedi Okorafor, and Christopher Barzak, whose work I definitely intend to follow. Overall, I think there are a lot of amazing writers working in speculative fiction today, and I can’t wait to see what they’ll come up with next!