Monday, October 23, 2006

My Favorite Fantasy Novels of 2005

Now that the World Fantasy nominees have been announced and we're counting down to the awards ceremony in a few weeks, I feel like I can list some of the things I liked best from 2005. (Because what's the good of reading a giant pile of stuff if you can't share the ones you think are particularly good?)

I'm on vacation this week, so, each day, I'm going to post one category, since I have lists of stuff to tout. (Nothing against the other categories; they're just less toutable, at least by me.) Since I'm doing these ahead of time, I'm hoping this will help me keep away from the computer (and reading books!) as much as possible this week.

So that no one thinks they can work out anything from this (or any subsequent lists in other categories), I'm listing books alphabetically by the author's name, and I'll refrain from saying anything was "my favorite" or "the best" anything. I also see that I wasn't 100% positive about most of these -- well, let's always remember that the only good definition of a novel is "a long piece of prose with something wrong with it." And a book with only one interesting thing wrong with it is one of the best of the year.

This list is partially based on the one I used for voting for WFA, but partially isn't. It's a list of really good fantasy books that were published in 2005, so, coincidentally, many of them are already in paperback, or should be hitting paperback shortly -- which makes it a great time to check them out.
My Top 10:
  • Vellum, Hal Duncan
    Easily the most ambitious book I've read in five years; Duncan has the new writer's fire, energy, and sense that there's nothing that he can't encompass within a novel. It's not a quick or easy read, but it definitely repays the effort.
  • Lunar Park, Bret Easton Ellis
    A nasty little bit of metafiction from a writer I hadn't read in about two decades (since Less Than Zero, actually). If you've ever wanted to see "Bret Easton Ellis" get his comeuppance, you might like this novel.
  • Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman
    Not deep or profound, perhaps, but this is an exceedingly well-crafted, amazingly enjoyable book without a single wrong note. It reminds me a bit of Wodehouse, and that's high praise.
  • The Narrows, Alexander C. Irvine
    A quietly moving meditation on family and necessity, from a writer who doesn't get nearly enough attention.
  • The House of Storms, Ian R. MacLeod
    A big (maybe too big) pseudo-Victorian novel with several fascinating main characters and an interesting take on industrialized magic.
  • A Feast for Crows, George R.R. Martin
    I do worry that this series is sneaking out of Martin's grasp, but -- even though I might think some of the sections here are properly sidebars rather than the main story -- everything in this book is mesmerizing and true.
  • Od Magic, Patricia A. McKillip
    I hadn't read McKillip in ages, and was happily surprised at how sprightly her prose was and how lived-in this world feels. It looks like she's been writing a novel this good every year for a couple of decades; where have I been?
  • Kafka On the Shore, Haruki Murakami
    I've been a Murakami fan since I bought his first translated novel (A Wild Sheep Chase) from the SFBC about twenty years ago. His newest novel isn't a genre fantasy, but it brings to life a world of secrets, danger, and the uncanny in a way few can match.
  • Thud!, Terry Pratchett
    The ending is a bit rushed -- that seems to happen irregularly with Discworld books -- but Pratchett's plot is well-yoked in support of his theme, and his story is as smooth as honeyed wine. Pratchett is another writer who quietly puts out one good book after another, but, in his case, he's also building up a world as a mirror to our own, brick by careful brick.
  • Ptolemy's Gate, Jonathan Stroud
    Finale of the "Bartimaeus Trilogy," which is one of the best works of fantasy -- YA or for adults -- of the last few decades; it's really something extraordinary. I'm not entirely sure if Gate stands completely alone -- though I do think it can be read with great effect even without the earlier books -- but there's no reason not to start with The Amulet of Samarkand and read all three: these are books that will stand with the best of fantasy fifty years from now.

Other Notable Novels:
  • The Healer, Michael Blumlein
    It's on this list rather than the main one for two reasons: one, I think it's more SF than fantasy, and two, it's awfully slow-moving. If you have the patience for it, though, it is a deeply moving and very rewarding novel about healing.
  • It's Superman!, Tom DeHaven
    The ending didn't quite work for me, but, up to that, this is a wonderful version of the Superman legend, well-grounded in the real 1930s (though DeHaven's Superman is actually less of a left-winger than the Siegel-Shuster original, which is a bit disappointing).
  • The Girl in the Glass, Jeffrey Ford
    If it had actually been a fantasy novel, this would have easily been in my Top 10. But it's not: it's a detective story (and a damn good one), also set in the 1930s. But it's by a fantasy writer, so I'll list it here.
  • The Stone Ship, Peter Raftos
    An interesting but meandering academic satire, published by a minor Australian press and probably the most obscure thing I'm listing here. It's worth tracking down for fans of Gene Wolfe or James Hynes, and I hope we hear from Raftos again.
  • Snake Agent, Liz Williams
    First in what I think will be a great series about a police detective dealing with a very Confucian supernatural in a near-future Chinese city. The background doesn't come across as "exotic;" it's just the world these characters live in.

If you haven't read all of the above books, you've got some good reading ahead of you. And if you think I've missed the obvious best fantasy novel of 2005, then by all means comment and take me to task.

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