The Best Books of 2011

2010 was a good year for reading, and this year, while it had some significant downs, also had its share of really great reads. I’ll be posting a full list of the books read in 2011 in the next week or so, but in the meantime, here’s the books that I most enjoyed this year:

 

Soft Apocalypse

1 – Soft Apocalypse, Will McIntosh

My absolute favorite read of the year was Will McIntosh’s debut novel, Soft Apocalypse. Already the recipient of a Hugo award, this book is one that I hope will follow suit. A bleak and outstanding look at what the future might hold, McIntosh weaves a tale that’s outstanding in its character growth and understanding of how the world works on massive scales. It’s tragic and heartbreaking on one hand, and unmistably beautiful on the other. (Review)

The Magician King

2 – The Magician King, Lev Grossman

I didn’t think that Grossman would be able to top The Magicians, and I was wary of it earlier this year: Where the first one could be described as the anti-Harry Potter, I have a hard time seeing how this one could play out. It turns out, it played out very well: Grossman not only topped the first book, he created a story that was brilliant in all regards: further building up the characters from the last book, and making the stakes from this book much higher, darker and deeper than I thought possible. The story is simply stunning. (Review)

Leviathan Wakes

3 – Leviathan Wakes, James A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes is a book that grabbed me at the cover and refused to let go. I’ve long had a soft spot for space opera, and this book really fits the bill, with an exceptional world within our solar system. There’s a bit of everything in this story: military action, detective fiction, weird science and space Mormons. I already can’t wait for the followup, Caliban’s War, due out next June. (Review)

Rule 34

4 – Rule 34, Charles Stross

I’m currently in the middle of this book, but I’m confident of it’s place here. I met Stross at ReaderCon in 2010, where he told me that his next book opens with a man getting murdered by a viagra enema. It’s set in the same world as his prior novel, Halting State, and in a way, the book is a cross between the J.J. Connolly’s Layer Cake and William Gibson. (Review to come at the Functional Nerds)

Embassytown

5 – Embassytown / Kraken, China Miéville

I loved Miéville’s book, The City and The City, and the 2 books that I read from him this year both deserve a place on this (Kraken was a 2010 release). Both are wholly fantastic books: an alternative, weird London in one, and a totally alien world in the other. Miéville is a master at fully understanding the worlds, and both are fantastic examples of a brilliant story meshed with a perfectly conceived setting. (Review / Review)

Spellbound

6 – Spellbound, Blake Charlton

Charlton did a nice job with his first novel, Spellwright, and his second is a worthy followup that expands and builds upon his world in grand fashion. I loved his understanding of magic: this book is almost a science fiction novel, running on a bit of a slightly different frequency. It’s a great addition that builds on the first novel, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. (Review)

Halo: Glasslands

7 – Halo: Glasslands, Karen Traviss

I’ve long loved the Halo franchise, and I got into it hardcore: bought several other books, bought and played through Reach, Combat Evolved and got my wife hooked on the armored folks. This novel has a great story to it, which is sort of par for the course for Traviss, revolving around the end of the Human-Covenant War, continuing the storyline into new territory. I’m excited to see where she goes with it. (Review)

Fuzzy Nation

8 – Fuzzy Nation, John Scalzi

John Scalzi embarked on a bit of an experiment with Fuzzy Nation: it’s a literary reboot of H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy. It’s a fun read, with an pointed, relevant message. The book is a quick read, and it’s got about the same level of substance to it, but it’s a hilarious read, one that had me laughing out loud throughout the couple of hours that I read it. (Review)

Machine Man

9 – Machine Man, Max Barry

Max Barry’s Jennifer Government was a book that showed me that great science fiction could be really funny and ridiculous at the same time. Max Barry returns with Machine Man, partially written online, and falls with much of the same level of humor that Jennifer Government held. It’s ridiculous at one level, but then, when you look at our increasingly technology filled lives, it’s not so far fetched. (Review

At the Queen's Command

10 – At Queen’s Command, Michael A. Stackpole

I’ve long been a fan of Michael Stackpole’s books, going back to the X-Wing Series and some of his other fantastic novels. He’s now back, under the Nightshade Books banner with an alternate history novel that reimagines the early days of the British colonies in the Americas with magic, zombies, necromancers and dragons. It’s a fun, vivid read. (Review)

Other Notables:
A couple of additional books that I enjoyed were Ganymede by Cherie Priest, Germline by T.C. McCarty and Ready Player One by Ernie Cline.

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8 thoughts on “The Best Books of 2011

  1. Great list! I loved Embassytown, and I really want to read the Stross. the others I’m not too familiar with, so thanks for making my TBR list blow up. again. ;)

    • Embassytown was good, save for the character stuff – I still haven’t heard a good reason behind that. Rule 34 is also quite good. The others all come with my highest recommendation. Have fun! :)

  2. Thanks for the list. I’ve only read one of these. I really wanted to like Soft Apocalypse, but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t stand it. I thought the protagonist was too passive, especially in the first few sections (although I was glad he evolved and matured) and I had deep philosophical issues with the choices he made at the end and with certain aspects of the book as a whole. While some might see the ending as hopeful, it would probably be my last choice. On the other hand, I thought it was masterfully written, keeping me reading even when I wasn’t exactly enjoying the experience. I can certainly understand the buzz around the book. I’d not read anything by McIntosh before, but I’m willing to give him another try.

    I’ve not read any of the others yet, but Leviathan Wakes is on my Nook. The Stackpole looks interesting, and I’m going to give it a try when I clear some of my TBR list. I’ve read (and loved) some of Karen Traviss’ original novels but nothing in the Halo universe. I keep hearing good things about Halo, so I’ll probably read some at some point, and Traviss would be a good place to start. I loved the original Fuzzy books as written by Piper, so I’m a little leery of what Scalzi might have done with them. Still, it’s tempting. I’ve got The Magicians on the Nook, as well, so I’ll need to read that before The Magician King. Blake Charlton is not an author I’d heard of, but this one looks like something I might really enjoy, once I’ve read the first book in the series, of course.

    Thanks for giving me some more thoughts on what to read.

    • The ending of the book, I think, is what hit me the hardest, because it was truely a difficult situation that everyone was caught up in: moreover, while Jasper was a bit annoying right at the front, he and the rest were characters that hard really grown on me: the decision that they make at the end of the book was incredibly moving, considering everything that they had gone through, and I found that I actually cared what happened to them: that’s something that doesn’t happen often in stories. I’m honestly not sure which way I would have gone. Plus it was nice to see it handled so well, writing-wise.

      Karen’s Halo book is actually not a good starting point – it relies heavily on the prior books and games, and I’d recommend working through some of those (Particularly Ghosts of Onyx, which this follows). If you haven’t played the games, it’ll be a hard one to get through, I think, and while they’re tie-ins, they’re necessarily ones that are readily accessible. The Magicians and Spellwrite are also books that needs to be read first before the sequels.

      I’ve read both Little Fuzzy and Fuzzy Nation, and the best way to approach them, I think, is as two totally seperate things: one doesn’t have any bearing on the other, save for setting and characters, and for the most part, they’re two totally seperate books.

  3. Andrew,

    I agree with you, the characters in Soft Apocalypse did grow on me, and like you, I cared about what happened to them. I think that’s one of the things that bugged me about the book. I would probably have made some different decisions at several key points. The fact that characters I had grown to care about, even if they were fictional, were making decisions I thought were not the best bothered me, which is a sign of good writing. I tend to be something of an individualist, and the whole tone of the book came across as anti-individualism at times, and when it didn’t, the characters came across as self righteous “I’m going to do this, which will affect your life without your consent, because I’m morally superior and think it’s the right thing to do” types. Maybe it’s my prejudices injecting things that weren’t there, but that was how the ending came across. I understood the reasons why Jasper made the decision he did at the end, but it felt too much like giving up freedom for the illusion of security. I see enough of that in the real world.

    Thanks for the tip about which Halo books to start with. I’ve not played the games, so I’ll start with one of the earlier books. And as much as possible, I never read sequels first.

    • Good points all around, especially about anti-individualism: seeing where the book ended up, I can’t help but wonder if it’s coincidence, or deliberate on McIntosh’s part. When I got to the end, I saw it as a sort of inevitable conclusion: taking a major risk into something unknown, because the present really has no good options. I think that if the ending had been different, I wouldn’t have liked it as much. But, to each their own.

      Personally, when it comes to Halo, I recommend the original, Halo: Combat Evolved. Great video game!

    • Ugh, no. I haven’t read the new one, but at the rate I’m making my way through Book 1, I’m already really disliking it.

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