Well that was a year, wasn’t it. As for so many, a year of mixed fortunes, probably too many lows, not quite the ecstatic heights in balance. That was life generally, but what of the books I read?
As usual I didn’t keep up with enough brand new books, many widely discussed novels are on my tbr piles, and there are still too many unfinished books around here, through my failing not theirs, but things are improving.
So, of the books I did read, here are some favourites.
Tim Robinson — Connemara The Last Pool of Darkness.
I’ve already written about this, probably the best non-fiction of the year. Part of a remarkable series documenting the west of Ireland.
Duncan Wu — William Hazlitt The First Modern Man.
On my shelves I now have eight separate biographical works on the great critic, radical and essayist William Hazlitt, including excellent volumes by Tom Paulin and AC Grayling, but Wu is almost certainly the one I would point you towards.
I believe that any serious blogger ought to read Hazlitt before posting, as a benchmark to aspire towards. Wu in this readable biography conveys a richer sense of why Hazlitt was how he was, not as simple as the Dissenting tradition of his background, and of his impact then and now.
Laura Lippman — Life Sentences
Although I have enjoyed Baltimore crime writer Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series, her occasional standalone ventures are her best work. Life Sentences has an unsolved crime at its structural heart, but its emotional core is an examination of the motivations of the soul-baring memoir author, and their relationships after publication.
Elizabeth Bear — All The Windwracked Stars
It was between this and her Dust, both part of imaginative SF series with a mythic dimension become realised. This is more thoughtfully paced than Dust, but both excellent novels.
Ekaterina Sedia — The Alchemy Of Stone.
Perhaps my favourite recent sff discovery, Sedia is a wonderful stylist mining an original vein of true Urban Fantasy. I warmed to her female automaton, literally a wind-up girl, far easier than to Bacigalupi’s. Also read her charming and witty Secret History Of Moscow this year, and will start on her latest shortly.
Richard Kadrey – Kill the Dead
Second of the Sandman Slim series about a magician back from hell with grudges, and various sides trying to manipulate his hitman abilities. Snappy, high energy prose and taut plotting combine with an intriguing cast for a fun romp with considerable depths.
Graham Joyce — The Silent Land
One of those books I read in a sitting. I kept telling myself I’d sleep at the end of a chapter, then just one more chapter…
The story of two skiers who return to a deserted hotel after an avalanche and can’t get out, this cosy catastrophe is sustained on genuine tension. Some of the best dialogue I read all year adds sharpness to an utterly naturalistic setting. The poignant ending is both predictable, hindsight shows you clues throughout, and a surprise.
Paul Murray — Skippy Dies.
Another novel supported on great comic dialogue. The longest novel I read all year I think (the Joyce was refreshingly short and contained.) This sprawling absurd novel takes in theoretical physics, teen angst, adult angst, social dynamics and ties them together mostly effortlessly.
Alan Warner – The Stars In The Bright Sky
Another sequel, to The Sopranos, Warner’s tragicomic story of smalltown teenage girls on a disastrous trip to the city. Now five years later they get together at Heathrow to fly to a resort. A mixture of innocence run wild, fate, and collusion prevent them getting away. The result is tears, laughter, feuds, secrets and lies.
Warner has the knack of taking a Ballardian setting and humanising it through genuine sympathy for his characters. One, Manda, could easily have been victim of Vicky Pollard like nastiness, but Warner shows her viewpoint, her vulnerability and her strength. And for all the apparently absurd set pieces there are moments of self recognition. Read The Sopranos, then this.
Tricia Sullivan — Lightborn
Just about to finish this, but really enjoying its take on urban resistance. Reminiscent of Pat Murphy’s The City, Not Long After in its lightly hippyish sense of artistic civil disobedience, but updated to hint at the validity of terrorism as a response.
Lewis Shiner — Collected Stories
The most expensive fiction book I have ever bought, and well worth it. Shiner covers SF, fantasy, crime, horror (all in one story in ‘Love in Vain’) and more. Frequently delving painfully deep into men’s view of women, and honestly assessing his ordinary characters’ motivations, Shiner is never less than thoughtful. Particular highlights include alt histories ‘Perfidia’ and ‘White City’, rock’n’roll stories ‘Jeff Beck’ and ‘Sticks’ and leftfield SF ‘Til Human Voices Wake Us’ and ‘Mozart in Mirrorshades’.
Lauren Beukes — Zoo City
another new discovery, a distinctive take on contemporary SF that incorporates a global awareness into an evocative local setting.
Attica Locke – Black Water Rising
Remarkable debut crime novel. As with the best Crime whodunnit is secondary, in this case to serious questions of conscience, intervention and racial politics. Locke is a writer I will watch out for.
Tom Fletcher — The Leaping
Another debut, a dark, brooding horror that does interesting things with social horrors in the build up to a bold take on werewolf mythology.
2010 was also a year of rereads, of catching up, of finishing those half read books, so passing mention to Kate Wilhelm, Emma Bull, RA Lafferty, Neil Barret Jr, and Catherynne M Valente.
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