It’s December. You can expect some year end posts. Here’s my list of 10 favorite reads from this past year.
1. The King Must Die by Mary Renault: A historical novel set in ancient Greece retelling the early life of Theseus up to his killing the minotaur and returning to Athens. It walks a fine line between the real and the fantastic because while nothing “magical” happens, the characters believe their world is magical.
2. God’s War by Kameron Hurley: Probably the most recently published book on this list. Some people have a problem with science fantasy. I don’t. This read like a hybrid of China Mieville and Anne McCaffrey. If that doesn’t sound great then I don’t even want to hear it. In a way it recalled the 1970s when genre lines weren’t so fiercely defined. I’ll probably read the sequel Infidel when I’m home next month.
3. The Last Days by Brian Evenson: An absurdly violent detective novel about a cop infiltrating a cult of extreme self-mutilators. This is one of those books that grabs you by the collar and doesn’t let go. Not for the squeamish.
4. Warlock by Oakley Hall: A western with an introduction by Thomas Pynchon. Hall is one of those “writer’s writers”, I think. He never was popular but he worked in popular genres. (I’ll also track down his Ambrose Bierce detective novels when Stateside.) This reminded me some of Deadwood, but it probed more into the American habit of making heroes of violent men.
5. I Was Looking For A Street by Charles Willeford: Willeford’s memoir of being a freight riding runaway during the Depression. Parts are heart-breaking, but other parts show a compassion for humanity in all our absurdity.
6. Freaks’ Amour by Tom De Haven: Another disturbing and violent book. It read like Sid & Nancy meets Tod Brownings’ Freaks or Philip K. Dick meets punk rock. Take your pick. Mutant entertainers try to survive in a world that despises them. The book’s a weird relic of the 1970s and the Cold War, but oddly relevant. The most likable character is a drug-dealer who sells mutant goldfish eggs.
7. The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George Higgins: I blathered about this one before.
8. Flanders by Patricia Anthony: A magic realist novel set in the trenches of World War One? Maybe. The Last Temptation of Christ meets Goodbye To All That? An American sniper in World War One slowly begins to crack due to combat stress and the homicidal tendencies of his fellow soldiers. While in No Man’s Land he begins to see visions of the dead and those about to die.
9. The Double Shadow by Frederick Turner: A lost classic of the New Wave? It’s a shame Turner didn’t write more SF. He might have won a name for himself as a peer of M. John Harrison, Samuel R. Delany, and Gene Wolfe. (Though he did go on to a career as a poet and teacher.) On a terraformed Mars the scions of two royal families engage in a status war fought with aesthetics and style. Even if the book was meant as a critique of an emergent culture of narcissism, it still works as an SF novel. Definitely worth tracking down.
10. Memoirs of a Spacewoman by Naomi Mitchison: The Spacewoman in question is a communications officer / ambassador / diplomat in a future utopian society. There’s little in the way of plot and “thrills”, but a lot of wonder as she recounts her experiences from a life time of alien contact.