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The REAL 2005 Recommended Reads List

By Paula Guran
December 2005


I already wrote about making one list of recommended reads for the year, but this is my personal no-consideration-of-publication list of recommended reads for the year.

No, I haven't read everything. Yes, I am sure I've missed things. I'm also sure I will soon be slapping my head over something I forgot. But I tried.

TOP TRIO

There are three books I'd like to single out: novels Beyond Black (holt) by Hilary Mantel and The Limits of Enchantment (Atria) by Graham Joyce and Joe Hill's collection 20th Century Ghosts (PS Publishing). These are three books that will stay with me until senility sets in and if you are judging "best" by the standard of "unforgettable" then, for me, these three measure up. All three are reviewed on the Web site

ANOTHER FIFTEEN

I also recommend another fiften you are likely to find on other "year's best" lists (in alphabetical order by author):

Fledgling (Seven Stories Press) - Octavia Butler Butler crafts the conventional vampire motif to unconventionally deal with the power of human (and inhuman relationships), sexism, racism, miscegenation, and ageism.

The Overnight (Tor) - Ramsey Campbell How creepy can a modern bookstore be? The masterful Ramsey Campbell turns the cozy embrace of a clean, well-lighted book emporium into a place of terror.

Joplin's Ghost (Atria) - Tananarive Due Due combines her writing skills and gift for convincing characterization with her musical know-how to craft a modern ghost story that respects the past while being very much in the present.

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The Girl in the Glass (Dark Alley) - Jeffrey Ford There are more layers here than in your Aunt's Athena's baklava and it is just as tasty. It's a historical suspense thriller horror story romantic detective funny scary fantastic literary novel full of both slight of hand and true enchantment.

Anansi Boys (William Morrow) - Neil Gaiman A clever, irresistible, page-turner from a writer who may still be learning how to write a novel-length tale, but is such a good storyteller it really doesn't matter.

Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow (Del Rey) - David Gemmell Epic alternative mythology/historical fantasy that has offers everything that fascinates about mythology and history: adventure, action, blood, violence, lust, romance, gods, monsters, heroes, humans -- except Gemmell's version is far better-written.

Already Dead (Del Rey) - Charlie Huston Yet another take on the hardboiled vampire, but think: Quentin Tarentino in a playful mood in Noo Yawk...

The Narrows (Del Rey) - Alex Irvine At the end, I had some sticky questions left that I wish had been answered, but, overall, originality and writing magic makes this one a winner.

Never Let Me Go (Knopf) - Kazuo Ishiguro The labels of "mystery" and "science fiction" have been affixed to this beautifully written "literary" novel, but it is so powerfully disturbing that "horror" is just as appropriate.

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Learning the World(Tor) - Ken Macleod Philosophy, morality, and politics play a prime role in all of MacLeod's fiction, but they don't slow down this novel that tells of "first encounter" from both sides.

Woken Furies (Del Rey) - Richard Morgan SF neonoir full of grit, guts, sex, and violence spiced with some religio-socio-political philosophizing for an engaging read.

A Princess of Roumania (Tor) - Paul Park I've only just read this intricate fantasy and am still mulling my opinion but, having the advantage of an advance copy of its sequel, The Tourmaline, in hand and underway only confirms my initial feeling that Park has, indeed, wrought finely written magic.

Thud! (HarperCollins) - Terry Pratchett Mr. Pratchett is simply in a hilariously goofy, scathingly satirical class by himself. Enjoy.

Olympos (Eos) - Dan Simmons Conclusion of a duology may well prove to be a science fiction classic. Satire, humor, adventure, politics, religion, quantum physics and a killer opening line ("Helen of Troy awakes just before dawn to the sound of air raid sirens") -- what more could you want?

Spin (Tor) - Robert Charles Wilson What if one night the stars went out? Creditable science, compassionate characterization, compelling questions about humanity's ability to both ignore and adapt combined in a convincing cosmic morality tale.


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HALF-A-DOZEN POSSIBLY QUIRKY PICKS (in no particular order)

Paul Witcover's original, complex, and disturbing Tumbling After (Eos) has also stayed with me. I can't remember now (a year or more since I read the ARC) why I felt it was somehow flawed. Since I can't remember, it must have been trivial. All that remains is the positive impression.

Counting Heads (Tor) by David Marusek is getting more notice and, even though some first-novel flaws show, it, too, is recommended. To quote myself from a yet-to-be published review: " Marusek evokes an impelling sense of wonder with an awesomely imaginative and all-too-believable future chock full of nifty details while allowing his characters to compel the novel."

A third quirky pick is Orphans of Chaos (Tor) by John C. Wright. Yet another single title that became two books (and now, evidently, three), it probably suffers a bit as the focus is entirely on its protagonists discovering their predicament and attempting to make a failed escape. You have a coming-of-age story in which no one has come of age by the end...Nevertheless I enjoyed it immensely.

Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice (Tor) by Steven Erikson are two more thick additions to the ongoing saga of Mazalan. I'm putting them under "quirky" as Erikson is the only author I consistently recommend other than China Mieville of whom I get the complaint: "I just didn't get it. I had to give up." I see that as *their* problem, not mine (or the author's), but I acknowledge it may be a problem.

Jeff VanderMeer's Veniss Underground (Bantam Spectra) is, technically, not a 2005 book. (Well, neither is The Overnight, except 2005 is the first US publication.) This is not even Veniss Underground's first US publication. (It is, I think the third?) Still, it's a worthy and innovative novel now widely available and one I hope more readers take a chance on.


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ONE I WOULD PROBABLY RECOMMEND IF...

The Mysteries - Lisa Tuttle (Bantam Spectra) I've yet to get hold of a review copy of this (Hello? Bantam Spectra? Does anyone check the email there?) but the fact Tuttle (who has not had an adult novel out since The Pillow Friend in 1996) is an excellent writer and my trust in a fellow reviewer (who has read it) leads me to believe this is a goodie. I'm not entirely convinced the world needs yet another take on Celtic sidhe-lore, but If anyone can give faerie a fresh twist by mixing it with mystery, it's Tuttle. However, until I *read* the book...

EIGHT COLLECTIONS (OTHER THAN 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS)

Specimen Days (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Michael Cunningham
Attack of the Jazz Giants and Other Stories (Golden Gryphon) by Gregory Frost
To Charles Fort, with Love (Subterranean Press) by Caitlin Kiernan
Magic for Beginners (Small Beer) by Kelly Link
Looking For Jake (Del Rey) by China Mieville
The Palace of Repose (Prime) Holly Phillips
Heart of Whitenesse (Subterranean Press) by Howard Waldrop
Starwater Strains (Tor) by Gene Wolfe

...AND A PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE

The fiction portion of re-issued debut collection Mr. Fox and Other Feral Tales (Subterranean Press) by Norman Partridge is good, but not as good as the author's more recent writing. (Besides -- it *is* a reprint.) But the *new* portion of the book -- commentary and advice -- is refreshingly honest and anyone who thinks s/he wants to be a "horror writer" should read (and heed) it.


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YOUNG ADULT?

I have a small pile of YA and kid titles I'm looking at for a round-up, but I've not come close to seeing as many titles as should be seen to really do anything comprehensive. (I'm not sure anyone can!) I would like to mention couple of authors, however, that "grown-ups" may enjoy as well.

Twilight (Megan Tingley) by first novelist Stephenie Meyer crosses vampires with star-crossed young lovers is one standout (great cover, too). The prolific Scott Westerfeld has an sf/horror trilogy going that began with Uglies (Simon Pulse) and continues with Pretties with a fascinating premise -- a near future world in which everyone has an operation when they turn sixteen that makes them supermodel gorgeous (we're "the Rusties", btw, symbolized by the rusting ruins left after a virus has destroyed petroleum.) I'm pretty sure I'd like his darker "Midnighters" series, too, but I've not seen it.

ANTHOLOGIES?

Um, right. There are some. I'm just not doing any recommending right now.


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HORROR

If you've been reading DarkEcho for ages you might be wondering specifically about "recommended" horror reads. The Overnight and Joplin's Ghost are obviously horror and I'd probably classify Beyond Black and Never Let Me Go as horror, even though others might not. Veniss Underground, Fledgling, Already Dead, and The Narrows might be considered horror. Tumbling After is very dark and disturbing. I haven't read The Historian so I can't comment on whether it is of merit or if it is horror.

Many of the collections I mentioned are dark, or partially dark, including Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham, To Charles Fort, With Love by Caitlin Kiernan, Magic For Beginners by Kelly Link, and Looking For Jake by China Mieville

OVERALL

Well, there must be SOMETHING you like on this list...