With the first half of 2007 behind us we wanted to gather the BSC think-tank and stop to smell the pages. To look in the rear-view mirror and take stock of the books that we have read. A lot of books had their thumbs out, vying for our attention, trying to hitch a ride. Because we are a trustworthy bunch we stopped for quite a few of them.
But which one’s had some gas money in their pockets or offered to drive for a stretch?
Which one’s stayed with us for the long haul, wide awake and bringing in the new day?
These are the ones that have stood out so far. So if you see them standing on the side of the road go ahead, pick ’em up.
–The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – First person features are not often seen from debut novelists, but Patrick Rothfuss was able to thwart any such novice regularities with witty banter, a highly developed and diverse arrangement of characters, intimate settings, and an easy-to-read yet sophisticated writing approach. While many of those characteristics are vital for a good story, the most important aspect may be Rothfuss’s strongest: the ability to tell a provocative story.
This novel focuses on Kvothe, a man who has become a legend well before the age of thirty. In an attempt to differentiate between fiction and fact, a man sets out to find Kvothe to hear his tale first hand. He ends up getting one heck of an exclusive.
– Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny – Zelazny’s The Nine Chronicles of Amber series begins with the introduction of Corwin, one of the many brothers of a “talented” family. Through his struggles of attempting to regain his memory, we are presented a world where things alter with a thought and “sibling rivalry” is taken to the extreme.
It is a marvelously written piece with humor, battles, wit, and a very likable protagonist. Look past the publication date of over thirty years ago and pick up this must read.
– Moon Called by Patricia Briggs – This was a fun read that made me realize that there was a subgenre I had been ignoring, and it has opened up a great big box of unread books for me. And I liked the main character’s attitude, I can definitely relate.
Cursor’s Fury by Jim Butcher – After being underwhelmed by Academ’s Fury I began this one with trepidation. However, this one nearly kept me up all night because I couldn’t put it down. Full of action, plots and counter-plots magic and good fun.
The Alchemist’s Apprentice by Dave Duncan – I enjoyed this one because it was a nice combination of my two favorite genres, fantasy and mystery. Full of brooding atmosphere and quirky characters and an Agatha Christie-like denouement, I enjoyed the nostalgic fun of it.
A Secret Atlas by Michael Stackpole – I was immediately intrigued by the cover on this one, when I usually just ignore them. However, I’ve always been a map lover and once I read that it was about a family of mapmakers with some sort of magical ability related to those maps, I was hooked. A good solid read and I already own the sequel, Cartomancy, and it awaits my earliest free moment.
Nightlife by Rob Thurman – I was surprised that I enjoyed this one when I originally didn’t expect to. The premise of an escaped elf child being sought by his one remaining parent didn’t grab me. However, the story and characters did. I’ve got it’s sequel on my ‘to read’ list as well.
A certain someone said, “Welcome to the golden age of mystery/crime fiction.” 2007 for me so far has been just that, golden. You can go to any bookstore or library and find a plethora of great fiction from some great up and coming or already established authors like Charlie Huston, Duane Swierczynski, James Sallis, and Ken Bruen. So far, three of the aforementioned authors have unrelentingly entranced me with their brutally fast paced narratives, which is where my list of 2007 works comes from.
Caught Stealing, Six Bad Things, and A Dangerous Man all by Charlie Huston – Charlie Huston is quite possibly one of the most foul mouthed authors I’ve ever read, and I can almost guarantee he would take that as a challenge and a compliment. These three books are the entire Henry ‘Hank’ Thompson trilogy; I just couldn’t separate them. Huston made Hank a character that I sympathized with, which takes quite a bit of work for me. Not only that, he made me want to find out what new follys and opportunities would present themselves to him. If you can handle dark mystery/crime fiction and a few bad words than Huston is for you.
The Guards, The Killing of the Tinkers, and The Magdalen Martyrs all by Ken Bruen – Wow. That is pretty much the only way I can describe the Bruen experience. These are the first three volumes of the Jack Taylor series, their namesake is one of the most enigmatic characters I’ve ever read. There are so many different theories on who Jack actually is and where he stands on the events of his life. These books are unflinchingly dark, melancholy, yet at the same time Jack has one of the meanest senses of humor around.
This Galweigan author has a style all his own.
It’s frenzied, energetic.
That’s all you need to know.
Zoran Zivkovic’s Seven Touches of Music was a late 2006 publication that I read in January; a mosaic novel of linked short stories, it balances science fiction tropes with absurdist, fabulous occurrences in the lives of its quiet cast of characters. I loved the crisp writing, the precision of the storytelling, and the way Zivkovic shows that the more science we learn, the stranger the world often appears.
I was a bit of a late-comer to the Blindsight party, but Peter Watts’s hard SF novel is an amazing mix of thought experiments, intertextual references and just plain good story, all focused on the interplay between intelligence and consciousness.
Lloyd Alexander’s death inspired me to dig out my copies of his Prydain Chronicles and give them a re-read for the first time in 15 years or thereabouts. And you know, they hold up remarkably well. Some readers may not like the bardic voice (Alexander uses “cried” the way most writers use “said”) and the classic, myth-based storylines, but I loved anew both the consistency of quality and the growth of character and theme that takes place in the books of the series.
David Marusek’s Getting to Know You is a book I finished several weeks ago, and it is still on my mind. Judged as individual SF stories, the collection includes such character-driven all-time favorites as “We Were Out of Our Minds With Joy” and “The Wedding Album.” As a collection overall, it is extrapolative science fiction at its best, using SF to show not just where we are now, but where we might go in the future.
So far, my favorite reads of 2007 are:
The Thrall’s Tale by Judith Lindbergh – Once again, a novel that truly evoked a sense of another time and place through its language and its characters’ actions. The prose flowed like an epic poem, and from the life of a simple slave woman, a compelling story was created.
Black Light by Elizabeth Hand – A book that just oozed style and coolness at the same time that it was raw and emotional. It was earthy and funky in a way that only the ‘70s could be. It incorporated ancient mythology and a sense of timelessness. A book of contrasts that just totally worked.
In fact, after reading Black Light, I immediately sought out another book by Hand, Mortal Love.
Hand has an amazing way of transporting you from this place and time to another from one sentence to the next. The way she weaves mythology into the modern world feels totally natural and at the same time, unnatural. Her prose is rich and lush but not heavy handed or unduly ornate.
The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers – A captivating book from its dubious beginning to its awesome ending. Puzzling time-travel paradoxes, ancient Egyptian wizards, and body switching werewolves made for a damn fun read as well as providing some interesting thoughts on self-identity, fate, and free will. Are our destinies preordained?
Find Me by Carol O’Connell – It was a great thriller that tied up a lot of loose ends. This story had enough plots for three books. It was everything you’d want in a thriller–fast paced, excellent character development, action, emotion and resolution.
Robert Crais The Watchman – A great tough guy novel without being over the top. You don’t have to read the entire series either because the author chose to pull a favorite character (Joe Pike) out of an existing series and develop a story all his own. Fast paced and lots of fun. Joe Pike is more than a hired gunman–and in this book he gets a chance to show just how smart he is and how tough he can be.
– Vellum by Hal Duncan – Vellum is a beautifully written book in the ‘love it or hate it’ kind of way. I loved it and it’s one of the best books I’ve read in the last several years. It’s awe inspiring, transcending, and at times it could blow the mind of Hunter S. Thompson.
– Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett – A noir mystery set in the streets of Bangkok that hits on some of the most poignant issues facing the world today. Viewing Thailand and the world through the eyes of Detective Jitpleecheep is a pleasure not to be passed up.
– The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – This just may be the best fantasy debut I’ve ever read – follow this story of a world’s hero told in hindsight by the hero himself about what really happened.
– Bone Song by John Meaney – A noir mystery set in a wonderfully unique, dark world – think Dirty Harry in a city created by the bastard love-child of Jeff VanderMeer and China Miéville – it’s close, but still a disservice to Bone Song.
– The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch – This is the debut that had everyone talking – a great caper of a fantasy novel, with wit and sarcasm throughout. This one is far too much to pass by – and the sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies – even better.
5) The Terror by Dan Simmons – The Terror is posessed of a unique power with characters and scenes that very nearly attain perfection. This was one of the first great books that I read in 2007. In fact the only bad thing that I can say about The Terror is that it hurt my arm as I was standing on the subway reading it, oh but what sweet hurt it was.
From Captain Crozier, the tough Irishman in an English navy to Sir John Franklin’s demented and down right scary fever-dream The Terror is an awesome book.
4) Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand – This is a stunning work of fiction that is beautifully written with truly complex characters and an ending that offers up the smallest measure of hope.
Some say the ending is unable to live up to what came before. Me, I say that it was the rare earned happy ending that offered up the possibility of hope even for this lost soul.
Its would be easy (and probably more historically accurate) to say go and listen to Patti Smith, Television and the New York Dolls while reading Generation Loss. But in its examination of the close relationship between art and its creation and the sacrifices it takes to push oneself to the furthest limits I find myself thinking of some of the outsider musicians like Daniel Johnston whose elegiac and haunting music would provide the perfect soundscape for the Paswegas Island.
This is one of the best novels of the year so far.
3) The God File by Frank Turner Hollon – So what kind of novel is The God File? Is it a crime novel? A philosophical novel? A theological novel? A deconstruction of the crime novel? An existential novel? Yes ,The God File is, at times, all of these. Hollon breaks open the crime novel and reassembles the pieces into something new. The result is a stunning work of fiction.
2) Paris Trout by Pete Dexter – At the beginning of the year when I had heard that Paper Trails was going to be published I decided that I was going to re-read Paris Trout, Pete Dexter’s classic novel. It had been a long time since I read it; in fact it had been a long time since I read any Dexter. He’s such a low key guy, damn near invisible in fact, that I have a tendency to forget about him sometimes.
I’m happy to say that Paris Trout has not lost any of its dark power over the years. I had forgotten portions of the book and mis-remembered others so it was a fresh experience for me again.
The language is stark and impressive with some scenes being so hard to watch unfold and yet so utterly compelling. I felt, at times, like a rubbernecker gawking at a fatal car accident on the side of the road.
The characterizations are so deeply detailed that the ending of the book becomes so tragic on every level. It’s the rare book that just leaves you gasping for air as if you’d been punched in the gut.
1) Paper Trails by Pete Dexter – Lest I forget why I started reading Paris Trout in the first place my favorite book of the year so far would have to be Dexter’s collection of 82 colums from the 70’s and the 80’s. As good as his novels are I dont think I’m out of line by saying that it’s Dexter’s colums that are indicative of his full range of powers.
This is a book that makes you realize (though you should never forget) that great writing can be found anywhere, scripts, articles, columns, reviews, songs whatever, not just in novels, short stories and poems. Dexter is a fantastic writer and these columns showcase that ability especially for those that are familiar with his novels but forget or just don’t know about Dexter the journalist.
In the pages of Paper Trails there will be no account of the day, as Pete Hamill states in the introduction, “when the savagery fell upon Dexter himself.” As with most legends the story itself has, in the fullness of time, grown beyond the man, his friends and the facts. But in a moment of chilling clarity in 1986 Dexter did write the following, “One night, I almost saw myself die.”
Time and time again with an economy of words Dex would show us his ability to cut right to the heart of something, someplace, or someone all the while laying bare the American psyche. Often brilliant and never dull Paper Trails is one of the most important books released so far this year.
Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson – I read this book’s predcessor, Gardens of the Moon, on the strength of various reviews. I liked it, but didn’t see why Erikson was so huge. Then I read the sequel, Deadhouse Gates, and was utterly blown away. It’s just stunning in every respect- action, imagination, emotional impact.
Coalescent by Stephen Baxter – One of the creepiest science fiction novels I’ve read in a long time.
Pandora’s Star by Peter F. Hamilton – The first half of Hamilton’s Commonwealth series. Lots of excitement, and some interesting speculations on subjects like the social effects of immortality.
Orion Shall Rise by Poul Anderson – My all-time favorite post-apocalyptic novel.
The Wreck of the River of Stars by Michael Flynn – An absolutely stunning work- hard science fiction combined with wonderfully drawn characters and tremendous emotional power. Utterly heartbreaking.
1) Freedom and Necessity by Stephen Brust and Emma Bull – Probably ranks now as one of my all-time favorite reads. I usually don’t like stories told in a series of letters. I think it pushes the reader away from the story. Here, the prose is crafted so that you don’t feel you are separated from the action.
2) The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill – YES!! Finally a well-crafted British mystery! I love how the story circles around the suspects, taking the reader through a bit of each person’s head.