Sunday, January 1, 2012

Best of 2011

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!


  1. Great finds! Connie Willis and Jon Armstrong made my year end lists too. I'll be interested to hear what you think of Armstrong's Grey. It takes place in the same world as Yarn, just different characters.

    I wanted to discover Jo Walton this year, but what little they have of hers at the library had waiting lists that were like 50 people long. :(

  2. Thanks for the comment! There are so many books I want to read in 2012, I can't wait to get started :). "Grey" is near the top of the list, though.

    Good luck getting hold of Walton's books, I hope you enjoy them as much as I have been!

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and notes with us! I'm looking forward to another year's adventure in reading with you.

    I'm very happy that "Zoo City" is held in such high esteem. I still have my doubts about Connie Willis and am not quite sure why she does not fully appeal to me. I did enjoy "To Say Nothing Of The Dog" thoroughly, but less so "Doomsday Book." In the later it's the contemporary situations that I found a tat overbearing. "Blackout" and "All Clear" is on my reading list - I'll report back once read :-)

    All the others are very much on par with my own experience in 2011. I have been threatening to read Butler for a while now and your latest review has further impress the need to do so.

    Have a wonderful 2012, and I am trusting you will be participating in the "read-along" over at WWEnd.

  4. Thanks for your comment! I can see where Connie Willis' style, in general, would not be appealing to everyone. However, if it was future-Oxford that you didn't like, you might like "Blackout/All Clear". Almost all of the story takes place in the WWII era. I hope you enjoy Butler!

    I hope you have a wonderful 2012 as well! If you're referring to the soon-to-be-announced challenge, I'm definitely in. :)

  5. Nice survey of the year, Allie. I think you've convinced me to give Zoo City a shot. Like Emil I'm also unsure about Willis. As an Anglophile I should be able to get into her books, but I think part of it is that the whole time travel thing has just worn very thin for me over the years. Oh well, I'm wanting to start some Atwood soon and I look forward to your review of The Handmaid's Tale!

  6. Thanks for your comment! I hope you enjoy "Zoo City". To be honest, it took me a while to warm up to Willis' work, so I can certainly see how it would not be to everyone's liking. I believe that she does have a few novels and some short fiction that don't feature time travel, if you want to try out Willis work without that element. I haven't actually read any of her non-time travel novels, but I do have a copy of Bellwether I've been meaning to read. I'm working on my review of "The Handmaid's Tale" now, so it should be showing up in a few days . :)