The ArcticWren Literary Awards for 2010
The ArcticWren Literary Awards for 2010
The start of a new year gives us the chance to reflect on the year that just was, and to share those reflections with others – and I am no exception! To that end, I wish to share my best and worst picks of books that I’ve read in 2010, since literature plays such an important part in my life. (Note: not all of these works were published in 2010, although many of them were.) I have reviewed many of the works mentioned in this essay elsewhere in this blog – those works are noted with an asterisk, if you wish to explore further about them. So without further ado – here are the ArcticWren Literary Awards for 2010!
Book of the Year – Under Heaven* by Guy Gavriel Kay
I have read many wonderful books this year, but none better than this exquisite work about an unassuming scholar who finds himself thrust into a major political struggle that will define a dynasty. Modeled on the Tang Dynasty, which ruled China from 618 to 907 AD, Guy Gavriel Kay writes with a lyrical clarity that captures the essence of an ancient world without sacrificing action, character or intrigue. Beautifully crafted and compelling, I would urge everyone with a love of great literature to put Under Heaven on their reading lists for 2011.
Most Delightful Find – the works of Cherie Priest
First came Boneshaker*, and I was very impressed with not only Cherie Priest’s writing style, but also her sense of story and character. Writing in the “new” steampunk genre, it would have been easy for her to give in to spectacle and trappings, but she stayed firmly rooted in a wonderfully involving story of a mother and her son, and the secrets that threaten to tear them apart. Then I read Priest’s following novel, Dreadnought, and again was thoroughly impressed with a wholly divergent story set in her consistent steampunk world, just as engaging, just as fun. Now I’m on a third work of hers, Clementine, and I think I’ve found another author that will be an automatic “must read” for me no matter what she takes on.
Guiltiest Pleasure – The Black Prism by Brent Weeks
I don’t know what it is about Brent Weeks. He violates most of what I consider cardinal sins in speculative fiction – uber heros and vixen heroines, convenient magics, mind numbing battles – and yet I find his works to be fun and quirky and eminently readable. In The Black Prism, although the central character of Gavin Guile may be pretty much invincible, another major character, Kip, reminds me of a puppy, all paws and clumsiness. That doesn’t mean Kip can’t rise to the occasion, but there is no instantaneous transformation into a sleek, savvy fighter – he usually reverts back into an awkward but endearing kid. This is the saving grace of Brent Weeks – a sometimes silly, sometimes sentimental, but often relatable way of writing that reels me in every time.
Biggest Waste of Time – Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell
After seeing Tom Bissell interviewed on “The Daily Show”, I decided to check out his book on the value of video games, especially since I belong to a family of gamers. But when I picked this volume up from the library (thankfully I didn’t buy it), it didn’t take me long to become deeply disappointed with it. Bissell may be a clever writer, but his only claim to authority is admission that over the years he has spent countless hours in his basement playing video games. He is not a professor, not a technician, not a designer, not a researcher. He is a word schlepper who plays video games. Yeah, and my husband should write a book on politics since he yells at the TV a lot. I found the book to be very self-important, academically flaccid, and completely worthless.
Best Non-Fiction Book – The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values by Sam Harris
While I love my epic fantasy fiction, I also really enjoy a well written, thought provoking non-fiction book. Heck, I still rate Stephen Jay Gould’s remarkable treatise on evolutionary theory, Wonderful Life, as the one book that changed my life. The Moral Landscape may just fall into that category, as well. I say “may” because I haven’t finished it yet – it keeps blowing my mind. I find that I read some of it, then feel like I need to step back and let what Sam Harris has written sink in; not because it’s difficult or remote, but because it takes me in a direction I’ve never considered before. Imagined discovery is one thing, but revealing new horizons in “real life” is truly breath-taking, and I’ve literally caught my breath many times while reading The Moral Landscape.
Best Comeback – Robin Hobb’s Rain Wilds Chronicles
I will admit that I was worried. I loved Robin Hobb’s Farseer, Liveship Traders, and Tawny Man trilogies, but was woefully underwhelmed by her rather preachy and often whiny foray into deep mysticism in her Soldier Son Trilogy. Well, I needn’t have worried – Hobb returns to her splendid form with Dragon Keeper* and Dragon Haven*, the first two books of her Rain Wilds Chronicles. You want dragons? Hobb gives us not just dragons, but well fleshed out, cantankerous, real world characters that truly make this series shine.
Most Worth Waiting For – Jacqueline Carey’s Naamah Trilogy
I think Jacqueline Carey is a national treasure. Her characters are full, her story lines imaginative, and she is the best I have read at intrinsically and beautifully folding the sensual into her works. Having read her two Kushiel Legacy trilogies, her Banewrecker duo, and her wonderful stand-alone Santa Olivia, it was difficult to wait for her new trilogy (also based in mythical realm of Terre D’Ange) to debut. In my opinion, the first volume, Naamah’s Kiss*, stumbled a bit, but she hit her stride with Naamah’s Curse, with its themes of religious fanaticism and tolerance. I’m looking forward to June, when the final installment of this wonderful trilogy is released.
Most Anticipated for 2011 – Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear
For a debut novel, 2007’s The Name of the Wind* was a true masterpiece, and unveiled Patrick Rothfuss as not only an incredible writer, but an entertaining, caring, and wonderfully irreverent human being. The next volume in the tale of Kvothe has been a long time in coming, but it is bound to be just as enthralling and engaging as NOTW was (and Pat’s hilarious and often heart warming blog will help us bide the time until publication).
Book I Just Can’t Shake – Kracken by China Miéville
China Miéville’s The City & the City* tied for the Hugo award this year, and rightfully so; it was yet another wonderfully wrought tale uniquely told. Kracken, released after The City & the City, was also imaginative and downright strange (as we’ve come to expect from China Miéville) but is also was more remote and the language and leanings were perhaps a bit too much this time around. And yet…. and yet…. days, weeks and even months after reading Kracken, I find my mind wandering back to it with incidental real life happenings echoing aspects of the dark and gritty atmosphere of Miéville’s underworld London. I still can feel it in my bones, and how cool is that?
Most Disappointing – Warrior by Marie Brennan
Marie Brennan is a talented writer – I thoroughly enjoyed her speculative fantasy/historical novels Midnight Never Come and In Ashes Lie*. However, her foray into total worldbuilding was not as successful. I found Warrior, the first volume of her Warrior/Witch duet, to be weak and flat, prone to the worst of fantasy fiction sins: uber leet heroines, convenient magic, and a plotline that has been done many times before. This is one set of books I have no compunction to leaving half unread.
Best “Young Adult” Book – For The Win by Cory Doctorow
For anyone who enjoys gaming, and specifically MMOs, this book is a must-read regardless of your age. Gaming is the backdrop of this deeply researched and gripping novel involving the despised “gold farmers” – the bane of ingame economics. But behind each gold farmer is a real person, often from an under-developed country, scrabbling for survival in horrific conditions. This part of the tale is not fiction, and it bears understanding. But what if the technology-savvy sweatshop workers use that technology to start a labor revolution that reverberates around the world? For The Win is not an easy read, but it is extremely rewarding, in many ways both intellectual and empathetic.
Most Unique Vision of the Future – The Windup Girl* by Paulo Bacigalupi
Inudated with fancy technology? Been there. Post apocalyptic wasteland? Done that. Thrown back to a simpler yet just as sinister time? Ho, hum. To imagine a truly unique vision of the future is not easy. But Paulo Bacigalupi has done that, and with such skill that you can feel the sweat trickle down your back as you wander the streets of future Bangkok with the characters in The Windup Girl. In Bacigalupi’s vision, the world’s food supply has been ravaged by plagues and corruption brought on by industrial greed and profit driven gene manipulation, bringing the downfall of nations and a frantic international isolationism where baser instincts reign. It’s a chilling vision, not just because it is so finely wrought, but because it is so eminently believable.
Best Idea That Expanded My Horizons – Reading all of the novels nominated for this year’s Hugo Award
When I saw the nominations for the 2010 Hugo Award, I was excited to see China Mieville’s The City & the City* on the list, because I had already enjoyed reading the book earlier in the year. It then occurred to me that the other books in that category should also be of great merit, so I resolved to read every book in the novel category. Indeed, that effort has brought me not only one of my favorite “new” authors, but also some wonderful and engaging books, many of which I have now reviewed on this blog and have found a way into my own year-end awards. I highly recommend joining with me, or finding an awards category that fits your tastes, and following through on exploring all items given the nod by peers and fans. Here is the Hugo list, for those who do not know already:
- Boneshaker, Cherie Priest (Tor)*
- The City & The City, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK)*
- Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America, Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)
- Palimpsest, Catherynne M. Valente (Bantam Spectra)
- Wake, Robert J. Sawyer (Ace; Penguin; Gollancz; Analog)
- The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)*
Book that Most Deserves a Mention “Just Because” – In Great Waters* by Kit Whitfield
Anyone who can fold a story about merpeople (yes, ala mermaids) into a serious vision of speculative historical European fiction deserves some kind of mention. People seem to love or hate this book – I was one who loved it. I found Kit Whitfield’s story of estrangement, adaptation and facing personal fear to be totally engaging and very plausible, given the world she has devised. The book does stumble in places, but not poorly enough to diminish its tone and intent. It’s definitely worth the gamble to find out if you’ll like it as well as I did.
So there you have it. Thanks for perusing my list of bests and worsts of 2010 – feel free to comment if you would like, whether you agree, disagree, or want to share some of the bests or worsts of your own. May your 2011 be full of great stories, fanciful travels and plenty of time to enjoy both!