Posted on | December 30, 2011 | No Comments
[flickr]photo:6601422977[/flickr] This is them. The motherfuckers who made me feel like I’ve only read a handful of books this year, despite their collective page count of roughly 5000. No matter how many different tomes you read from a single dude or gal, once you’ve spent two months with their work, it all feels like one book. The upside is, of course, that the all the books, top to bottom, kicked seven different kinds of serious ass.
I have a few reserve writers, people who are so reliably good that I can grab literally any of their books whenever there is nothing new and glitzy to read and be sure to be entertained, at least. A major name on the reserve squad was, for a long time, Tim Powers, until I started to translate his books into Serbian, when he resurfaced with a bang and a wow, and now he’s permanently off the bench, but I kind of left him out of these lists, because no matter how enjoyable his books are (and they are), he is now work, not leisure. Alistair Reynolds landed on the same list after I read Revelation Space, a few years back. It’s a nice, decent book, it really is, but it put me off slightly, because it felt so nineties. If felt cyberpunky, and that whole vibe was getting seriously worn out by the time I ran across it. Chasm City did nothing to improve on that feeling, and so Alastair Reynolds ended up on the bench, waiting for an opening whenever the top stars were out of action.
This year they did. There was an opening, I clicked him and well, this year saw me burn through Redemption Ark, Absolution Gap, Galactic North and then Pushing Ice just for an extra fix. Amazon tells me this is 2320 pages of Alastair Reynolds in a single year, an epic amount of his curious mix of grand-scale, galaxy-spanning hard science fiction and blazing, explosive, action-packed space opera, precisely what the doctor ordered. When the Revelation Space series ended (many say disappointingly, yet I demur), I did shed a tiny, bitchy tear, not for any of the protagonists or antagonists, but for the fact that the story was definitely and fully over. You can bet your sweet sixer that Blue Remembered Earth, his latest work with as wicked a book trailer as they come, is firmly in my cross-sights.
Elizabeth Bear started her Jacob’s Ladder trilogy a bit shakily, and I was afraid the book would devolve into some kind of mishy-mashy romance between whiny Mary Sue characters, but that initial feeling was swiftly kicked in the nuts and then repeatedly bashed in the head by the brilliant, and somehow, I have to say femininely different approach and style of the same mix of hard scifi and space opera I so liked with Reynolds. Not wishing to make the same mistake as with him – a huge break between books 1 and 3 in the Revelation Space series made me forget characters and plotlines – I plowed straight through all (as Amazon informs me) 1056 pages of Dust, Chill and Grail, with no effort at all. The story of the lost generation ship and its inhabitants is, for once, utterly believable, with the problem not being the simple forgetting of the fact that they are, in fact, space travelers, but the hard fact that they are all, really, just people.
This year also saw me finish or continue a couple of long standing series. Vortex by the always brilliant Robert Charles Wilson put a lovely cap on the travails of the protagonists of the highly recommended Spin series, though the huge leap in time and space was somewhat jarring. It was so good that I hung on to the Wilson feeling for a bit more, reading through Mysterium, one of his one-offs, about the unexpected quantum dislocation of an entire community that was, again, utterly believable, unlike some other lame coughstirlingcough attempts. Just like Stephen King who, whatever you may think of his work, writes actual, living and breathing characters into horror, there is no one currently writing SF who can bring to life such vivid, real people in hard sci-fi surroundings like Wilson.
Honorable mentions go to Vernor Vinge and his Children of the Sky, the latest in the Zones of Thought series – the book is good, it is a lovely, enjoyable action-adventure novel, our high-tech protagonists stranded on a low-tech world trying to make do with what they can, yet the reasons it merely gets an honorable mention for its seven hundred fucking pages of effort is that the powerful sense of dislocation, of otherness he brought with the truly weird and different aliens from the first two books in the series is gone, replaced by a jarring sense of almost colonial naiveté, a handful of players juggling the fate of an entire world through trade and invention of trinkets with a handful of natives. Still, however, a lovely read and, what’s increasingly rare in these types of books, a lovely ending.