Wednesday, April 13, 2011

2011 SF and Fantasy Books

Pretty much since I started reading I've been a fan of science fiction and fantasy.  For the last few years, I've put together reading lists of the upcoming books I'm eager to read.  Sometimes they are part of a continuing series, other times they are just the latest from authors who have captured my interest.  Below is a short list of the SF+F books that have come out or will come out this year that I'm interested in reading.

A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin
I put this first because there are a few other entries on this list that are the progeny of the style used in this series. George RR Martin's Game of Thrones made a huge impact on the fantasy genre.  Complex politics, intertwining plot threads and an engaging writing style were a big part of the appeal.  The frequent deaths of significant characters also differentiated this series from much of its peers when it came out.

The fantasy market tends to reward sticking to formula.  A clear divide between good and evil, a cast of static characters who are guaranteed to make it through to the end of the book with only a few exceptions (the aged mentor, the big bad guy).  A Game of Thrones was a break from the formula and it earned a massive following.  Unfortunately, the series has been delayed over and over again and has lost quite a bit of steam as a result.  The last book to come out moved much slower than its predecessors and my hopes aren't too high for the coming volume to pick up the pace.  Still, with years of waiting through delay after delay, I'm excited to finally have a bit more of the story.

The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie
This one came out earlier this year and I recently finished it.  Its the fifth book from Joe Abercrombie, with a cast drawn heavily from his books.  Those books drew attention for their gritty take on the typical fantasy setting and grim outlook.  The Heroes is the weakest of Abercrombie's books so far.  The setting is far more contained than the previous books, essentially one hill in a decisive battle between two armies. The characters are primarily two-dimensional with many variations of the same few personas.  However, what detracts most from this book is the very element that made the original trilogy so memorable.  Without getting into spoilers the trilogy that established the setting for The Heroes had a crushingly downbeat ending.  It also takes much of the suspense out of The Heroes.  It was still an enjoyable book but nowhere close to its predecessors.

The White Luck Warrior by R. Scott Bakker.
This book is the middle book of follow up trilogy to the series that gave the author his big break.  The original trilogy had a fantastic premise with a unique anti-hero lead.  Starting from the familiar trope of the ancestor of royalty who had defeated an ancient evil, the lead character was set up as the noble prince searching for his missing father.    Worse, he's described as a warrior-monk, able to think steps ahead of any opponent and practically unbeatable in battle.  However, the author drew heavily from science fiction, notably The Golden Man and Dune.  The lead is charismatic to the point of mind control and as the story progresses his manipulation of those around him never ceases.  In a way he ceases to be human, even those closest to him are pawns that he destroys when they best suit his purposes.
The second trilogy is set after the lead character from the previous books has risen to power and is viewed by his followers as the messiah.  The first book was so-so, introducing new cast, reprising history and lots of travel but little substance.  I'm hoping that the second book will pick up the pace some and move the story faster,

The Crippled God by Steven Erikson.
This is a series that hasn't disappointed. The Crippled God is the last volume in a ten book series by Steven Erikson.  Its epic fantasy with the epic side taken to an epically epic extreme.  The series is about 10,000 pages long with dozens of characters and tons of plot threads.  Much of it covers the story of an army fighting their way over a multitude of lands but there are many side stories that are interwoven.  All of these threads start coming together in the last three books or so.  It gets a little overwhelming keeping track of  what's going on, particularly as Erikson often drops the reader into a new narrative without mentioning which character's it is.  Having just finished this book last week, once I hit the last two or three hundred pages I couldn't stop reading until I got to the end (I had actually started this post while I was in the middle of the book but got too immersed in it to continue here) The author did a very good job of pulling all of the threads together and involving almost every character in the ending.  While this series is a major undertaking to read through I'd definitely recommend it to any fan of the epic fantasy genre.  The best place to start is with the second book Deadhouse Gates and then going back to read the first book in the series.  The first book was written before the author had a deal to do the whole series and is safer and more generic than the rest of the books.

The Dervish House by Ian Macdonald
The Dervish House is the third novel by Ian Macdonald set in the mid 21st century and covering a particular region.  The first novel, River of Gods was set in India and had a technological focus on AI, while the second was set in Brazil and was focused more on quantum computing and parallel universes.  This novel is set in Turkey and in terms of structure falls in between the first two books.  The cast is not as numerous as in River of Gods however the focus on nanotechnology is similar to how the earlier book was connected to artificial intelligence.  (Note, I got sidetracked once more and finished the book before finishing this post). I ended up really enjoying this book.  It was more tightly focussed than River of Gods but the various story threads came together very elegantly.  I still have Ares Express left over from my reading list from last year and on the strength of this book I don't plan to let it slip another year.

Snuff by Terry Pratchett
Another wildly popular series and with good reason. Terry Pratchett has been writing the Discworld series of books for many years.  Mixing satire with highly memorable characters while spoofing the fantasy genre, the Discworld series is consistently great.  Sadly, Terry Pratchett has a rare form of Alzheimer's that has progressed to the point where he needs an assistant to help transcribe his words.  However, I'm glad to see that he hasn't stopped writing and has another book due to come out this fall.  In particular, its a return to one of his most successful characters Sam Vimes.    In the Discworld series, Sam Vimes is essentially the chief of police for the city of Ankh-Morpork, the setting for most of the books.  The novels which have focussed on Sam and his crew are some of my favorites in the series so I'm hoping this one will be a winner as well.

Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds
Alastair Reynolds does big idea science fiction very well.  A former astronomer, he has a knack for bringing high concept physics into his stories.  While I thought his latest novel, The Terminal World didn't hold up well, the book before that one, House of Suns is one of my favorites.  Having just signed a three book deal, Blue Remembered Earth is the first of  a new trilogy.  I'm not sure what to expect from it but he's stated that the trilogy will cover a period of 10,000 years which means that there should definitely be some interesting ideas.

Rule 34 by Charles Stross
Using an internet meme as a title is exactly what I'd expect from Charles Stross.  While I've found his books to be a bit inconsistent he does have good ideas even if the execution doesn't always come through.  His books are usually quick reads which is a good thing as a few other books on this list are coming out the same month.

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
I really don't know what to make of this one.  This book has been out in the UK for a while now and has received tons of hype there as was as few not too flattering reviews. Its hallucinatory far future hard SF.  I'm intrigued but I expect it will be very much a matter of personal taste.  Just the same as how I like some virtuosic music but find other similarly talented musicians unlistenable it will depend on whether I can find a good rhythm and enjoy reading through it.

Embassytown by China Mieville

I have high hopes for the next book from China Mieville. His last novel, Kraken wasn't as good as I'd expected it to be.  I'm also interested in seeing how he handles more of a science fiction setting, in fact that's my main interest as he's stayed in a relative comfort zone up until now.  One of his core concepts has been the mystique of cities so moving to a far future alien setting could be a way of depriving himself of what has become a crutch.

At this point there aren't a lot of new authors that I've heard much buzz about. The big releases are all coming out in the next 2-3 months so hopefully some interesting stuff turns up around August or so.   Outside of the above list I'm interested in Cathrynn Valente's Deathless which I saw received some good reviews recently, although she is no newcomer.  Dan Simmons also has a new book coming out, Flashback, that looks interesting.  Its set in a near future where the country is addicted on a drug that lets you relive parts of your life, very PKD.  Frederik Pohl just came out with a near future/bioterrorism novel All the Lives he Led.  Only one review so far on Amazon from the SF Book Review, 3 stars.  Deathless is on my Kindle queue but I'm waiting for more reviews and free time before thinking about readng the other two.


  1. I liked Feast for Crows, but it really lacked the mystical aspect of the Jon Snow and Bran Stark threads.

    Just finished Abercrombie's "Best Served Cold"... it was ok. Good revenge story, but the characters weren't all that different from page 1 to page 900.

  2. Character development isn't really his thing unless its part of a set up.

    My problem with Feast for Crows was that it was that not enough happened for the amount of time I was waiting for it. I know GRRM obsesses over each word but without enough actual story taking place it doesn't really feel like a book to me. I enjoyed reading it, unlike the later Wheel of Time books, but I wanted to keep reading.

  3. Have you read Surface Detail by Iain Banks? It got pretty good reviews... will probably pick it up after my second attempt at Red Mars (slowest effing SF book ever).

  4. I read Surface Detail when it came out last year. Its a fun book. Not too weighty, lots of action, Culture warships being badass. You'll like it.

    I'm not sure how I ever got through the Mars series. Might've been lots of skimming to the point where I wasn't able to keep track of who was who anymore. Highly overrated.

  5. I liked Feast of Crows, but then again I only discovered Martin in December and tore through all four books in a month and a half.

  6. Another amazing book that just came out last month is PAtrick Rothfuss' "A Wise Man's Fear", the sequel to "The Name of the Wind." I think Dave recommended it. Blew me away completely. And the second book is even better (and about twice as long)

  7. I have the Name of the Wind on my reading list, just haven't goren up to it yet. Otherwise I would have put the sequel up on this list as well.

  8. Rothfuss is great, but I learned a hard lesson with Martin. I'm going to wait for Rothfuss to complete the trilogy before starting from the beginning again. Hopefully, he doesn't get distracted with TV contracts.

  9. I'm halfway through Name of the Wind right now. Great story. I have a review copy of Embassytown after that (thanks Amazon) and then probably Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi