Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

novels of the year

Yesterday, I did my favorite short story collections. I read some novels, too. Here are the ones I enjoyed the most. (again, you livejournal cats might want to click through to in case the links don't show...) I didn't read as many novels this year. School was rough, and much of what I was writing this year were intended to be short story collections. Ergo, I was reading a lot of collections. Of the novels I read, I don't think many of them were that current. Some were picked up on a whim. Really, I'm not a reliable source of information about year's best novels. Mostly, I'm behind on the novels I'm really looking forward to reading (NEW MICHAEL CISCO?! Gimme!) and I do expect to sit down with my pile o' novels that have accumulated and start peeling back the layers as soon as I get enough caught up on schoolwork as to allow for the time.

This was assigned to me for school, and I think I wrote about it earlier in the year. It's a thrilling noir novel, straight out of the kind of stylish French cinema that I just love. This could have been turned into a film like Le Samurai, or Elevator to the Gallows, or any of the brilliant New Wave directors.


Elizabeth Hand is one of those authors that has all the chops and meticulous attention to detail that comes from a total mastery of the written craft. This novel seems to explode the Pre-Raphaelite painting tradition into the dangerous, fey and mythological themes that permeate the genre. This mysterious, powerful woman stares back through the pages of the novel just as she stares, beguiling and seductive, from the paintings of Dante Gabriel Rosetti. One has to wonder what Hand can't do. Brilliant cyberpunk and sf? Check. Brilliant short stories surreal and magical? Check. Brilliant psychological thrillers? Check. Reading Mortal Love, this gorgeous romp across Victorian London, I was left wondering what she's going to do, next. Whatever it is, I know it's going to be brilliant.


I didn't think of this book as "deep". It wasn't. It was, to me, very old school SF, where certain sf-nal ideas are carried forward into a future on the brink. That this future is a brilliantly-rendered foreign nation and culture only makes it more awesome. This is classic SF for the modern era, where Monsanto is both more necessary and more frightening than any Communist rocket, and nuclear war seems less likely than nuclear terrorism and catastrophic genetic mistakes.

The next one is from earlier in the year, (I don't remember when I read it, but I'm pretty sure it was this year, and it's a great book that merits a place on lists...)

Felix Gilman's sequal to his brilliant debut continues the story of Arjun's quest for a lost god in a city that seems to be a physical embodiment of the multiverse. Various travelers cheat and scheme and dream their way to the only place forbidden to them: The Mountain. There's war in the streets, and the mysterious, nefarious history of the wicked place is revealed and changed forever. This is a great book and a fascinating landscape.

Finally, the experimental author David Markson's novel of madness, despair and the constant conversation of a lonely artist to herself walks a tightrope between reality and the world we know and the possibility of a world we don't. I go over and over the book in my mind, questioning whether the narrator is deep in a madness that cannot see the other people around her, or if she is deep in the end times. The text is elusive, demands careful, precise re-reading, and charms even as it confounds. 

Again, I didn't read many novels this year, and most of what I read came through school (like Simenon). The Markson was recommended by a professor, even if it wasn't assigned, and the Hand was picked up at the Stonecoast table, where Ms. Hand could sign it for me seeing it was one of the two things by her that I hadn't read, yet, the other being Illyria (not counting, of course, her tie-in novels which I haven't touched).

That's it for novels. Hm... I may talk about magazine's I liked the best tomorrow. I'm pretty predictable when it comes to magazines, though, because there's only so much time and I only regularly read a couple of them. Whatever else falls into my hands I'll investigate, but rarely stick to long.

Anyhow, there's no shortage of year's best lists coming, and that's pretty much what I think. Old stuff. New stuff. Stuff. Appropriate for holidays.

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