Friday, December 14, 2007

Top 10 Books of 2007

It's the end of the year, which means the top so-and-so lists are going to be coming out quicker than a dozen labor-abused elves toasted on extra spiked eggnog. Er, I don't know what that means. This is the first of a few lists I have brewing, and as always, mileage may vary. So many books to read, so little time to read 'em. I tried counting up how many I went through in 2007, but gave up around 55 or so. I'm going to be geeky and keep an actual spreadsheet for 2008 cause...I'm a geeky bibliophile.

Anyways, here are the Top 10 Books Read in 2007:

10. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton.

A girl I once knew used to joke that I'd buy any book with a dragon on the cover. I never argued with this, knowing it to be about 94.6% true. So when I discovered Tooth and Claw was not just a book with a dragon on the cover, but a book entirely about dragons...well, I forked over my cash.

A mix of Pride and Prejudice with a thousand smart, intuitive Smaugs equals a moving book about family, money, and power. I actually suggest anyone curious about this to go in with some generic expectations--dragons breathing fire at one another, caves of gold, greed ruling all--and its amazing how all that is twisted and contorted into something totally unexpected. Walton doesn't shy away from alien customs and traditions, instead embracing them and using them to fuel her characters on. My only complaint is that it became hard to truly "see" some of these dragons for more than just big, talking lizards. Still, I've read nothing else quite like it.

9. The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald.

I'm not big on romance novels, but toss some star-crossed lovers into outer space with a bunch of mysterious alien technology and a few bad-minded military members and I'm engaged.

The story is of Lieutenant Jodenny Scott leading a problematic crew and Terry Myell trying to escape past actions. Also, internal politics and Aboriginal cultural influences. The book kicks off with an explosion, continues to keep a pace filled with conflict after conflict after conflict, and does not tie everything up nice and neat in the end. Some threads will surely be examined more in its sequel, but what The Outback Stars does right is close in on the relationship between one Jodenny and one Myell. They're off-and-on, brooding about this and that, worrying about the minutiae of daily life and the stressful minutiae of daily military life, all while keeping their shit together. It's a fun time, despite some of the heavy themes. I like to think of this one as space opera with a ton of heart.

8. Ragamuffin by Tobias S. Buckell.

Ah, this one is science fiction with an erratically pumping heart. Not a honest-to-gods direct sequel to Buckell's debut Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, at first, feels like a completely opposite experience. There's aliens keeping people as pets, dozens of spaceships, invisible armies, an escape via wormholes, and so much more. Nashara, an enhanced living weapon, may hold the key to saving humanity from the oppressive rule of the Satrapy.

Here's what I said in my review back in June: Well, Ragamuffin is fun, and with Buckell being a master of the short chapters it's a fairly fast read. I definitely suggest those that enjoy action-stuffed science fiction with a whole lot of cool to it to pick up this book right now. Postmodern space opera has never been so good. It's got a rich balance of characters, apt dialogue, and enough life-or-death moments to keep readers flipping pages.

I fully stand by that now, as well as realize that I'm itching real bad for the next book, Sly Mongoose, to come out.

7. Bone by Jeff Smith.

This took me forever to get through--not that I minded. The Bones get run out of Boneville, lost in a valley, and become integral parts in saving a land from a great and terrible evil. Plus, there's humor and a varied, engaging style of art to stare longingly at. Epic would be one word to describe Bone, as would awesome and super-duper-doo. The Bones themselves are fun, likable creatures despite their flaws; Fone Bone is blinded by love, Phoney Bone is one greedy sack of bones, and Smiley Bone is no swifter than a rock. But them, plus Ted, Rose, Thorn, Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures, and the Great Red Dragon all mesh together really well. There's never a moment where you look at the art and see a cartoon Fone Bone staring at a more realistic-looking Thorn and think, "Gee, that looks odd." Cause it doesn't. This is a must-read for any comics fan.

6. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer.

This one came recommended to me from my sister, and needing a bit of young adult to fill the void that was left after I rushed through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (notably missing from this list)...I thought to give it a shot.

It's a dark science fiction story about cloning and what it means to be human, rather than an animal. Our hero is Matt, a young boy cloned from the drug lord Matteo Alacrán. He will, ultimately, play a pivotal role in shutting down Opium, a fictional country set between the United States and Mexico. Very interesting stuff, surprisingly deep for a young adult book. Meaty issues of turning poorer people into eejits (zombies), the notion of family as possession, and the constant reminder to Matt that he is nothing more than a savage beast make The House of the Scorpion a chilling, disturbing, and captivating read.

5. Gradisil by Adam Roberts.

I read this one over the summer and originally thought that I had a lot to say about it. It's epic in scope, spanning a troubled family's generation, dealing with space realty, war, and politics, focusing on murder and revenge and...but by the time I'd finished it felt like everything that could be said of Gradisil had already been written. And by better writers. So I remained quiet, despite many scenes in the book replaying silently in my head.

Gradisil is the story of the Gyeroffy family--namely Klara Gyeroffy and Hope Gyeroffy. A big part of the novel takes place in the Uplands, a settlement in the lower Earth orbit where the rich can spend voraciously and buy a docked home. The tension starts when a tenant seeking a hideaway murders Klara's grandfather in order to steal their Upland house. The book is split into three sections, with the first being the most rewarding. After that the pace is dimmed, but everything still culminates nicely, making Gradisil an excellent piece of hard science fiction, and making me even more impressed because I absolutely cannot stand hard science fiction.

4. Dune by Frank Herbert.

Well, what else can I say that I didn't already say in my review of this SF masterpiece? The worldbuilding and layering is simply phenomenal. The characters, for the most part, are intriguing, especially when Herbert already reveals most of their secrets to the reader. Sandworms are pretty cool, too.

Eh, I'll just take the summary again from my review: I really liked the world of Arrakis and its politics, but found everything fairly slow going. The story is mostly a big buildup to an end that has already been revealed to the reader by the prophecy that goes along with Muad'Dib. Too much focus on superfluous thoughts and constant questioning of everyone's intentions. Still, Dune is what it is--a classic coming-of-age story where science extends itself beyond the reach of imagination and giant spice-producing worms control the sands. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting, what with all the omniscience, but still a solid read that every fan of science fiction should tackle at some point or another.

3. The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia.

Hidden, underground worlds? Check. Chock full of Russian folklore? Check. Lots of neat birds? Triple check. Really, people, this is a must-read.

What I said a month ago: I was lucky enough to read this before it was released, and I've been wanting to talk about it for awhile, but...sometimes it takes time to let these things sink in. Structurally, the book is different from what I normally read. The focus, one might say, is on the woman Galina, who witnessed her recently pregnant sister turn into a jackdaw and fly away. She sets out to find Masha and the reason why this has happened. Along the way, Yakov, a quiet police detective trying to figure his shit out, joins her in the pursuit for answers. What they discover is a world beneath Moscow, a hidden place, where people hide and creatures of Russian folklore flourish. Sort of like how I enjoyed the historic legends and tales more than the true plot in Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, I found the characters Galina meets underground, along with their pasts, far more intriguing than anything else in The Secret History of Moscow. Go, Father Frost! Still, the culmination of Galina's search is downright heartbreaking, making this the book that has stuck with me the hardest so far in 2007.

2. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin. Marvelously written, this Ekumen novel is all about crafting a living, breathing planet brimming with odd customs and cold weather. Beautiful prose, striking images, a heartwrenching tale of love and understanding, a total flip of gender roles...this book does it all and beyond.

Here's what I wrote in October: This was good. Very, very good. A heavy read, and I'm still absorbing a lot of it. I think I enjoyed the myths of Winter and the Ekumen far more than the actually relationship between Genly and Estraven. The whole gender-changing race was quite interesting, and I can see how it would've impacted the field so effectively nearly thirty years ago. I'm glad I finally read this--though it's not the first work in the Ekumen series I've tried--and now I can say I've read four Hugo-winning novels.

1. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin.

Here it is, ladies and gents. My number one book read in 2007? Yup. I picked this up almost immediately after finishing A Clash of Kings, wanting more, more, more. Boy, did I get it! So much happens here that I can't talk about because it would spoil anyone who hasn't read it, but MAN. I thought I'd been caught off guard in A Game of Thrones yet here I was merrily reading along when WHACK someone is dead and then STABBITY another one is dead and the THWUNK dead dead dead.

This is epic fantasy at its best, where nobody is safe and the limits are pushed. Every chapter was another reason to stay awake reading, to stay up on edge, to feel nervous for whoever you were reading about whether it's a young, crippled boy or a bravely foolish mother. I'm saving A Feast for Crows for an upcoming vacation, but I doubt it could top everything that happened here. Which, if you haven't picked up on it yet, is a lot of shtuff. Martin writes with an attentive eye to detail, something that I appreciate and a technique that truly helps to immerse the reader into his world of Westeros. Fantastic all around.

Honorable Mentions
  • Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
  • Selling Out by Justina Robson
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  • The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult

Well, there you have it. Go on, tell me I'm wrong.


D. Abbamondi said...

Yeah to spreadsheets!

Shara said...

*raises hand*

Yes, I'm a bibliophile, and yes, this is my second year using a spreadsheet. They're very handy, even though I review all my books in my book journal.

Anywho, fun list. I own about half of these books, but haven't yet read the Walton or the McDonald, or the Martin, but since I just read the very first Martin book this year, I think that's forgivable. :)

TK42ONE said...

Get the fracking frell out of my head! I was going to use a spreadsheet this year. Damn. Relegated to being a copycat again.

How about some dirty, bibliophile talk. Hmm? I'll show you my spreadsheet if you show me yours.

Paul Abbamondi said...

Man, y'all love your spreadsheets! :P

I'll be sure now to keep track of what I read in 2008, if only to offer more dirty bibliophile talk to the world.

Shara: Whatcha think of A Game of Thrones???

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