Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 in Review - By Gav

I'm a little bit of a silent partner in MFB at the minute. I don't plan on being that quiet for too much longer. That's the thing about taking a holiday. They are nice for a while but soon you're looking at getting back to work (not that is really work). I have been reading but not actually written any thoughts up but one or two of those reads might get a mention here.

My surprise of the year I read very early on. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemsin. Is not something I should really like as it focuses heavily on the romance between the main character, Yeine Darr, and the strongest and darkest of the gods, but the way the story is told through Darr's eyes makes you feel it the way she does. I will readily admit that if you don't get sucked in at the start you are unlikely to get much out of it. The world-building and its strengths rely on you believing in the gods with their neutered powers and their attempts to be freed through Darr's actions.

An underrated book for me this year is Florence & Giles by John Harding, which is a haunting and gothic tale that really does deserve more attention. The orpahned girl at the centre makes a powerful focus as we see her fear and her attempts to read, which she banned from doing. Instead she is left to explore a remote and crumbling New England Mansion, which has become her home. But the creepy phenomena start soon after the sudden and violent death of her first governess and the arrival of a replacement. This is another tale where it is the power of the narrator that draws you in and keeps you hooked. It is a slow build in terms of drama but it is more than worth it when you get to the end. I'm still shocked by it.

One of the most controversial and award winning books that I've read was The City & The City by China Mieville. Mieville's tale of a two cities that co-exist has caused a wide range of opinions. Some positive and some negative. Most I think hinge on the 'reality' of the situation. It's a crime story that is used as a device to explore what humanity will accept when if they don't comply there are harsh and untalked about consequences. The business of 'unseeing' the other city does take some getting your head around. But science fiction (even if it is a social science) is supposed to challenge and explore our understanding though most of the time as a genre it sticks within it's well worn tropes as does fantasy, which is a shame really, though it's good to see a novel like this pushing the hornets net.

In terms of mix though I'd say that Yellow Blue Tibia beats The City & The City. This made-up story of science fiction writers in Russia was so slight in its manipulation that it was so believable, at least to me. Adam Roberts is an amazing liar as great writers should be. It reads like a literary novel, in that its focus seems to report real lives and situations but ones with science fiction reality around them. If I had to choose an outstanding science fiction novel of the year then Yellow Blue Tibia would be it especially when you know what the title means.

Charlie Stross released another Laundary title this year but to my delight. The Fuller Memorandum moved things on nicely. Stross kept the timeline moving so the time between the books is reflected in the lives of the characters. We see most of the events retold directly through Bob's (the main characters) own experiences but he also adds in things he couldn't have known at the time, which rounds off the story and as it is a retelling it doesn't feel out of place. The story again focuses on The Laundry's (British Secret Services division tasked with preventing hideous aliens gods from wiping out all life on Earth) agent Bob's attempts to stop the end of the world again, something that is getting harder and harder to avoid. It's the mix of supernatural and mundane along with Stross's excellent characterisation skills has me crossing everything that we'll see the next two, The Armageddon Agenda and The Nightmare Stacks, come into the full light of day.

Speaking of moving things along Paul Magrs does that same thing in The Bride That Time Forgot. The main thing I love about Paul's Effie and Brenda Mysteries is that that everything has consequences in the end. The adventures that these characters go through alter their relationships, and sometimes not for the better. In The Bride That Time Forgot each of the main cast take turns telling the story, which is makes for a nice change in the structure of the series and it allows for us to get to know all of them a little differently. What's heart wrenching is that for most of the novel the usual bond between Effie and Brenda is streched and fraying so rapidly that it is almost irreparable. This time they get involved in the comings and going of a book group that is devoted to the mysterious place called Qab, and I was surprised when I found out what it truely was. This is another series that I can't wait to where it goes next. It looks that Effie and Brenda are off on their hols abroad and I bet that trouble won't be far behind.

I'm a big fan of EuroCrime so I was chuffed when I discovered a love of Camilla Lackberg after I read The Ice Princess, The Preacher and The Stone Cutter earlier in the year one after another. I do like the domestic element to Scandinavian crime. You get to know who the characters are and how they are connected. Not that it's limited to Scandinavia as I'm enjoying the translations of French writer Fred Vargas, whose Adamsberg makes for a very unique Policeman indead.

And a big of classic crime. I started my exploration of Gladys Mitchell's Mrs Bradley books this year. Vintage have re-released six so far with another 3 on the way. I'm two books in and I can tell that I'm going to enjoy exploring the rest of the series. Mitchell comes across as a very clever writer, not only from the way she constructs her crime and the way they are solved but also in the creation of her characters. Mrs Bradley makes me smile contantly. She's very pushy though if she wasn't the crimes wouldn't come to a satisfactory conclusion.

Now I fell for Mrs Bradly straighy away but I've just started to read the Agatha Raisin series, and the main character at the start is anything but lovable, coming from London into a cosy little village it takes her the whole of The Quiche of Death to breakdown that hardshell into something more agreeable. But by the end I was quite taken with her. M. C. Beaton it seems has more than enough crimes for her to deal with as #21 was just released.

I've been a little light on horror this year, though I've dipped into End of the Line, which really didn't make my trip to London and travels on the tube more comfortable after reading a few short from it I can tell you. But one horror novel that does need to be read is Horns by Joe Hill and one of the reasons why is that it's a horror story about people and how if you demonise them they can turn them into exactly that. After the death of his girlfriend Ig is demonised by this own community so much so that when he wakes up one morning he has devil horns on his head. Not that everyone can see them at first but their pressence does seem to bring out the worse in people. What really makes this novel though is exploration between Ig, his dead girlfriend Merrin and his best friend Lee. Hill past the difficult second novel test with ease. I'm eager to see how he does on his third one.

A man that past his second novel quite a few books ago is Terry Pratchett. I've had a bit of break stopping at Monstrous Regiment, which for some reason I just didn't want to tackle. I have this thing about war stories. I don't enjoy the idea of war but I should learn that writers can take what is a horrible situation and instead of glorifying it can humanise it and make you see it for what it really is. Pratchett manages that and again reaffirms that makes him one of the best fantasy authors out there. The setting is a device to explore that characters, the setting might lead to places and situations that we don't normally experience but it doesn't make the characters or their experiences any less real. Plus I'm really in the mood for the Hogfather, it is my Christmas book that I've re-read for quite a few years around about now.

And there we have it a twisty journy through my reading year pointing out a few interesting landmarks along the way.

1 comment:

Darren @ Bart's Bookshelf said...

I met and got a signed copy of New Model Army by Adam Roberts earlier this year.

I really want to get around to reading it over the next 12 months!