Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top 3s of 2009

Its time for the end of year lists. I thought I'd do my reader's a kindness and keep my lists to top threes. I have several categories that may be surprising in a blog devoted to spec fic (for example, non fiction, video games) but I think spec fic borrows heavily and influences other genres.
A disclaimer: my lists reflect the top three's in each genre that I have read this year. They may or may not have been published in 2009, and in some cases have appeared twenty and thirty years earlier. Literary fads wane and wax, some books dip below the horizon into earned obscurity, and others remain fixed points in the sky for reasons not always easy to understand. As a reader I reserve the right to only pass judgments on the books as they have appeared to me. I defend my subjectivity.
I don't like commercialism and its rapacious twin consumerism. I think it slightly consumerist to only reflect on books of the year. If in the future The Wise Man's Fear is eclipsed by a rereading of The Lord of the Rings, oh well. A book that earns high praise on a second reading is even more impressive. (Of course, having gone through three rereads of the The Name of the Wind, I have the feeling the Wise Man's Fear will fare just fine)
Here we go then:

Top 3 Videogames:
#3: Halo Odst: Semper Fi Spartans. Parts of the game annoyed me(the infrared spectrum made me feel like I was playing an updated version of asteroids), but overall the storytelling arc and game play were impressive. Plus its always nice to have old Firefly friends voice acting.
#2: Assassin's Creed 2: Gorgeous backdrop and open world. History as gaming, and a cool storyline to boot. A little too much of the guido in the accents(which I can say because I am Italian) but the best parts of the game were the uncovering of Ezio's past.
#1: Borderlands: Took my two favorite genres: FPS and Role-playing, and combined them in one endlessly replay able, storytelling feast. Also the look and feel of the game, like being inside a graphic novel, added a whole new coolness dimension.

Top 3 Non Fiction books:
#3: Shame and Necessity, by Bernard Williams. The classicist philosopher's account of values and ethics in the ancient societies provided me with a whole new way of viewing our own. Eye opening book.
#2: Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maas. Whether or not I ever get published, this book awakened me to what actually works in a well made book: constant tension, ramping up the stakes, characters who are worth giving a damn about. Great book not just for aspiring writers but for anyone who reads and believes in fiction.
#1: Soldiers and Ghosts, by J. E. Lendon. The scholar's account of how battle technology actually was in continual tension with the archaic past, rather than a straight linear process of development, should be required reading for every historical novelist. And written in a non dry prose that conveys its excitement for the subject without being pedantic.

Top 3 YA Novels:
#3: Frontier Wolf, Rosemary Sutcliff. If you want to experience the mindset of the ancients, without it being filtered through a lens of nostalgia, or cleaned up by current ideas of ethics and right behavior, then read Sutcliff. The ancient world was nasty brutish and short, but people also really believed in things like honor. Although not the way we moderns might think of it.
#2: The Land of Silver Apples, by Nancy Farmer. Young boy in the middle ages who grows up to be a bard. Continues the story from The Sea of Trolls. Witty, humorous, and told with a real sense of the historical. Good read.
#1: The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. Not much I can say that others haven't except one of the most life affirming books ever. Give it to a surly teenager and they will be in danger of being less surly.

Top 3 Graphic Novels:
#3: Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall, by Bill Willingham. A cool spin on the Arabian Nights. Kept me engaged till the end.
#2: Fables Volume 8: Wolves, Bill Willingham: The resolution of the Snow White, Bigby Wolf love story was an "aww" moment I rarely find in fiction. At least in fiction I can take seriously. I have the feeling Bill Willingham is actually a descendent of the brother's Grimm. He writes graphic novels about fables with the same maturity and adult understanding of the darker places in our psyche that the brother's Grimm had.
#1: I Kill Giants, by Joe Kelley and JM Ken Nimura. This book actually made me weep. In a bookstore where the staff who see me regularly were concerned enough to ask if I were ok. One of my more embarrassing moments.

Top 3 Non Genre Novels:
#3 Freddy's Book, by John Gardner. A little annoying in the setup, but Gardner tells a very human tale. Worth reading.
#2 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Richly deserved all the awards. Oscar's story was truly tragic and the failure of his friends and family to understand and appreciate him made the story even more human. Also a statement of warning for all the genre fiction haters: next time you think Sauron is just a fantasy, think of Trujillo.
#1: Chess Story, by Stefan Zweig. 85 pages long but just perfect. A masterpiece of what a system can do to a soul.

Top 3 Fan Blogs:
#3: Adventures in Reading: The author has an honesty and an everyman quality to his reviews that inspire trust in his opinion. Not a lot of fancy academic jargon, but reflective and well thought out. Turned me onto the Fables series and others gems.
#2: Grasping for the Wind: Informative, analytic, and up to date without being sycophantic. A reviewer I trust.
#1: The Wertzone: If the publishing industry were smart they would pay this guy to be the archivist of all things Sci Fi and Fantasy. His writing is analytic, humorous and penetrating. He reminds me of an 18th century encylopaedist whose ambition is to catalogue, describe, and understand the world. Or in this case the spec fic world. He doesn't kiss ass, and if he doesn't like a book or a show or a game he is honest. He also is the most informative blogger on the genre I have ever read. Games, toys, movies, books, tv, nothing escapes his eyes. He is the true archivist of the genre.

Top 3 Author Blogs:
#3: Patrick Rothfuss: He doesn't write often lately (for which we forgive him because of the revisions, oh yea and having a kid J), but when he does he is straight up hysterical. He is the fantasy version of Robin Williams. Give him a subject and stand back and hope not to be hit by the verbal shrapnel. Favorite Post: soon after Rowling revealed Dumbledore was gay he dressed up for Halloween as Dumbledore and his girlfriend Sarah as Harry Potter. Pics on the blog included him groping her. I think the morning coffee came out through my nose when I saw that.
#2: Neil Gaiman: Because when the dream king speaks we listen. He gives great insight into the creative process and his humility and gentlemanliness are refreshing in an industry of gigantic egos. Plus the weirdness factor can be high. Did you catch the blog where he and Amanda Palmer were interviewed in a bathtub?
#1: John Scalzi: Scalzi said he didn't manage to write a novel last year. I don't care. He is opinionated and outspoken but disturbingly articulate. He has a built in bullshit detector that is refreshing and you feel smarter just for reading him. He blogs not just to sell books, or to network, but because he genuinely loves writing and enjoys his readers. The series he blogged about the criminal pay scales publishers were putting out should be enough to award some type of honor at next year's conventions. I only started reading this year but can anyone possibly match "I have to tape bacon on the cat" ?????

Top 3 Spec Fic Novels: Ok, the meat and potatoes.
#3: Last Argument of Kings, by Joe Abercrombie. A series that begins with The End and ends with A Beginning. It’s a novel that was intended to kill cliché's. Not just that but he is probably the most gifted character author. He writes with an understanding of EVERYBODY. In terms of the traditional fantasy series he brought new twists on every page. But always believable and well written. For this book alone I'm like a prisoner in Glotka's cells, Im condemned to keep reading his books.
#2 Peter and Max, by Bill Willingham, I know, it’s a book made from a comic, but what a book. Like I said earlier, Bill Willingham is an honorary Brother's Grimm. He writes with an understanding of the darker places of the psyche as well as masterful skill as a storyteller. Crazy serial killers abound in fiction, but how many can make you afraid? Afraid because you find yourself frightened to realize you can kind of understand where they are coming from. That plus how he updates, comments, and reinvents all the classic fairy tale stories is enough to convince me the book deserved a top ranking for this year.
#1 Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay. What the f was I reading when this was published? Probably something life affirming and fun like Derrida. Had I read this wonderful novel when it first came out I would have been a different person. As it is now, I can say I am different and better for having read it now. I don't know how to offer higher praise for a novel than that. We can analyze all we want but fiction is as much about emotional impact as it is intellect. The sense of loss, the families destroyed, the nightmare of history, he brings it all down to the level of the gut and what it means to be human and to have lived through these things. And, in a very believable way, to continue to live beyond them.

1 comment:

  1. Nice lists! I'm 100% with you on TIGANA. I read it back in 2007 and was instantly sorry I hadn't tackled it sooner. It's my absolute favourite book.