There’s still a few books I hope to get through before award nomination time (notably The Quiet War and Half a Crown), but this is my list of the top five of books I read in 2008 which were actually published in 2008.
1. The Gone-Away World, Nick Harkaway
It’s not the most polished novel I read this year, or the most tightly plotted, but it was the most exuberant, enthralling, joyous novel I read this year. Niall said the “meandering, tangential narrative is apparently almost Stephensonian in its excess”, and I loved nearly every wandering digression it takes. Some chapters are more engrossing than others, and the ending feels a little anti-climatic, but the main reason why this and not Anathem is sitting atop my list is that unlike Jonathan’s experience, it pulled me in emotionally and I didn’t realise it until one twisty chapter two-thirds of the way through.
2. Anathem, Neal Stephenson
I covered it in more detail here, but I liked the way that Stephenson has taken his love of meandering digression and found a way to work it into a science fiction plot. Much like Cryptonomicon the female characters are not much cop (although the unreliable narrator can be blamed for some of that), and the first hundred pages are a hard slog, but once it all clicks into place it is magical.
3. The Steel Remains, Richard Morgan
Richard Morgan takes his love for writing (and subverting) extremely manly novels into the fantasy genre, and it’s not surprising that what we get is a brutal, bloody, swear-filled, angry novel with lots of fucking. when I read I hadn’t read any Moorcock, and now I’ve read a little Elric I can see the debt it owes, but it feels like a modern take on the idea. The three characters are a little unbalnaced, and I would have liked to see more of Archeth, but I enjoyed it a hell of a lot, especially the take on homosexuality.
4. Song of Time, Ian R MacLeod
It doesn’t have the exuberance of the previous three books, nor is it as filled with wonderful ideas, but Song of Time has its own charm. The alternating narrative, between an old woman looking back on her life and the experiences she had, is elegantly written, and reminded me of McAuley’s Fairyland in the descriptions of a near-future Europe in turmoil. I was impressed with the ending, which manages to pull off something which would in less capable hands feel like an unsatisfying revelation.
5. Matter, Iain M Banks
I’ll be honest – I read this book very early in the year, and I can’t remember so much of the detail. But I remember thinking it was a fine return to the Culture, and as you may have guessed from my top three books of the year I am a sucker for anything which has enthusiasm and humour and great big SF ideas, and Matter has all three. I’m pretty sure that you could have cut 200 pages or so without problem, but I enjoyed reading them anyway.