The 2010 Contenders

No books published in 2010 received enough nominations in the poll to make it into the overall top ten. This is probably not a surprise; the books haven’t been out for very long, so fewer people have read them. And some 2010 books received enough support to suggest that, were this poll to be run again in a couple of years, they might have matured into strong contenders. I thought it would be worth breaking those books out into a separate post, since their poll ranking is probably not reflective of the strength of feeling about them — and because they may be awards contenders next year. And so here they are:

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Zoo City cover

Lauren Beukes’ second novel has been picking up rave reviews all over the place. John Clute reviewed the book in his Scores column at Strange Horizons:

Zoo City may dive a little too glamorously into terrible high-rises and worse tunnels, and its protagonist (who survives the tale she tells) may wear her deformations and her scars and her cabaret presentation of self like war ribbons, and the present tense of the tale’s telling may try a little officiously to shove our faces in the fleuve of the overwhelming nows of an alternate-2011 urban South Africa (Johannesburg is hardly exited), but throughout the horrors and the almost synaesthesical complexities of the scenes unfolded we get a sense of vigour, some of it irrepressible. The main joy of Zoo City is the energy of the thing, that it doesn’t stop for breath until it stops for good.

Also worth noting is a strong showing for Beukes’ first novel, Moxyland; thanks to Moxyland‘s first US edition this year, both books are Hugo-eligible.

Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cryoburn cover

I think of Bujold, rightly or wrongly, as occupying the sort of position in US sf that Iain M Banks occupies in UK sf: absolutely central in her home country, somewhat marginal beyond its borders. I’m not sure any of her books has ever been published over here, and as a result I’ve not read any of them (although the recent free ebooks of her entire back catalogue may change this). On the other hand, Cryoburn may also be a suitable jumping-on point, for all that it’s the latest entry in a long series. Tansy Rayner Roberts:

Cryoburn, while not actually hitting the heights of my very very very favourite Vorkosigans (honestly it’s hard to top Memory which is one of the best books I’ve ever read) has all the ingredients of a very successful Miles Vorkosigan outing. It also shows that yet again, Bujold is not afraid to take risks, to change up any patterns her series has developed, and even the world itself. I’m not going to address in the least the most important change she brings down upon Miles’ world, because it’s the massivest spoiler of all spoilers, but suffice to say – this is, like Civil Campaign and to some extent Diplomatic Immunity, a book which could stand very successfully as the last of the series, and yet unlike both those volumes it could as easily be the new beginning that refreshes the books so entirely that we see another five out in the next decade.

Feed by Mira Grant

Feed cover

Winner of this year’s John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer (Not A Hugo), this is the first of Seanan McGuire aka Mira Grant’s books to be published in the UK, and was one of Publishers Weekly’s top five sf/f of 2010. It’s a zombie novel, but don’t let that put you off. Roz Kaveney:

Mira Grant’s Feed is less well-written [than The Passage] but has a can-do brio that Cronin would regard as whistling showtunes in the dark. Grant’s zombies are the result of experiments gone wrong – everyone is infected and everyone might turn in a moment. Yet civilisation does not collapse, and there are even elections; business as usual. Grant isn’t writing a horror novel at all – just an SF novel with zombies in it. And with bloggers – her heroine would die, or become undead, for a scoop.

Scoops follow her around. Hardly has she and her brother and team been embedded in a Presidential campaign than a saboteur tries to get the Candidate eaten or turned. Georgia and Shaun are supremely irritating young smart-arses, but Feed is a perfect antidote to Cronin’s gloomier excesses; sometimes after a well-cooked heavy meal, you really need a tub of ice-cream, with sprinkles.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Who Fears Death cover

Okorafor’s first published adult sf novel is another one that’s been appearing on end-of-year lists, not just Publishers Weekly but also Amazon US. Matt Cheney loved it:

So much reverberates between the lines of Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death that the greatest marvel among the many here is that the novel succeeds in creating music and not cacophony. Archetypes and clichés jangle against each other to evoke enchanting new sounds, old narratives fall into a harmony that reveals unseen realms, and the fact of the book as artifact becomes itself a shadow story to that on the pages within. Okorafor is up to all sorts of serious, necessary mischief, setting up one expectation after another and dashing them all like dominoes made of dust. When the dust settles, rich realities emerge.

Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis

Blackout cover

All Clear cover

As Willis notes on her website, and as pretty much every review of either volume has noted, this is one novel split into two volumes: a sprawling epic set in London during the Blitz. Clute again:

Indeed, the least useful pages of All Clear are spent tracing its cast’s ultimately baulked attempts not to see anything, and it does take a while to grasp the beauty of All Clear, the intense humility of its portrait of London as her cast increasingly ignores Dunworthy’s strictures, especially in two superb, hugely extended setpieces: one devoted to the terrible first bombing raid on 7 September; the second massively expanding on the events first depicted in “Fire Watch” as Saint Paul’s almost burns at the end of December. Almost certainly some bad mistakes leak into the text (how else, given the oceans of data she had to attempt to master); but I for one found nothing to complain about. The main errors I noted myself were in fact easily correctible: Willis seems to have consulted a contemporary map of the London Underground, which seems to have led her to assume that the Victoria and the Jubilee Lines, both constructed decades later, were there in 1940; nurses bewilderingly tell patients their temperature in centigrade; and the term “disinformation” seems not to have existed before 1955, the first year it was used to describe false information created, usually by a government, for purposes of deceit. But none of these slips opened any plausible gulf into the alternate realities whose potential irruption haunts her cast. All Clear is a song of London, a song of England, and she has gotten the song right.

22 thoughts on “The 2010 Contenders

  1. Not enough buzz to get it into the same tier of nominations as these five, unfortunately — though it did pick up a few, and yes, it’s a good book.

    Other 2010 books lower down the ranking included Carrie Ryan’s The Dead-Tossed Waves, Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay, and Scarlett Thomas’ Our Tragic Universe

  2. published in the UK

    The more general note here is that only Beukes and Grant have had UK editions; the other three haven’t, although a UK edition of Blackout/All Clear is scheduled for next year.

  3. Bujold’s Miles books were published in the UK all through the 90s. I own a 1998 Earthlight paperback of _Komarr_ which lists all her other books to that point.

    British publishing is really seriously screwed up if they haven’t bothered to publish her fantasy of this decade. There’s something really wrong there. She’s not writing provincial novels that would only appeal to locals for goodness sake.

    (There would be something wrong with Banks not being published in the US, except that he is.)

  4. *scratching of head* Bujold is published in the UK, by Earthlight and Voyager, including her fantasy novels. (For instance, PALADIN OF SOULS was published in 2004 by Voyager.) After that, though, things went south. But for the most part her US publisher has British distribution, and so the US editions are available there, which probably kills the need for a British edition.

  5. Sean: Earthlight died in 2003. You’re right, Voyager did publish Paladin of Souls and The Curse of Chalion (though I cannot recall ever seeing them in bookshops — which either says something about marketing, or something about me, or both), but not so far as I can tell The Hallowed Hunt, not The Sharing Knife, and I can’t see a UK edition of Cryoburn scheduled anywhere.

    I don’t feel that UK distribution of UK editions is enough. It’s unreliable — I rarely see her on bookshelves — often adds cost, and means that the books are not eligible for the UK genre awards, which handicaps their ability to gain traction over here.

  6. With publishers increasingly moving to world distribution, I suspect it’s getting harder and harder for British publishers to publish locally. In any case Cryoburn doesn’t need a British edition, as Baen Books is distributed into the UK, and it seems to be doing decently.

  7. I’d also note that it just came out in November, here in the US, and that may still be circulating through British channels, so that might be one reason.

  8. I wouldn’t recommend Cryoburn, by the way, if you want to dip your toes into reading Bujold. It’s not exactly stand-alone. You’d be better starting off near the beginning, perhaps with Shards of Honor or A Warrior’s Apprentice. I tend to think that the former pretty much gives you an idea of the background to the series, and that by the time you get to the latter book you won’t be as confused.

    Jo, would you concur?

  9. Wow, I’m amazed that you haven’t read any Bujold. (I have read a bunch of Banks.) I’ve just looked at the Hugo winners for Best Novel for the last thirty years and there’s only one I’ve never read _anything_ by (Sawyer), though I haven’t always read the winning novels proper.

    Also, I haven’t read _Cryoburn_ yet, but I find it hard to imagine it would really be an optimal place to start. While the better Vorkosigan books are the later ones with the weight of the series behind them, still, the one with the most weight behind it? Maybe the novella “Mountains of Mourning”?

    (I am personally really fond of the first Chalion novel, _The Curse of Chalion_, but this seems to be a minority opinion.)

    Anyway. _Zoo City_ is something I intend to give a try; _Moxyland_ looked like not my thing, but SFF set in Africa is something I want to encourage.

  10. I’ve read the Vorkosigan series through Cryoburn, and I definitely wouldn’t suggest that as a good place to start. Cryoburn offers the possibility of a new beginning, yes, but a) I’m not sure any more-so than the past few book did, and b) understanding that new beginning is heavily based on knowledge of the culture and characters that has been built up through the previous books. It’s really a series best started at or close to the beginning–Shards of Honor, The Warrior’s Apprentice, or yeah, “Mountains of Mourning.” I suppose it would be possible to jump right to the best stuff, Memory or Komarr, but I’d worry that they’d lose impact without having read at least some of what had gone before.

    (And anyway I’d rank Cryoburn among the lower half of the Vorkosigan books; that’s why I didn’t include it in my list, even though I sent fewer than ten books.)

    I liked the first couple Chalion books well enough, too. I’m not surprised that the Sharing Knife books didn’t get much UK notice, though–they read very much to me like American frontier romances, for all that they take place on a post-apocalyptic secondary world.

  11. I am personally really fond of the first Chalion novel, _The Curse of Chalion_, but this seems to be a minority opinion

    Well, you’re not the only one, Kate. I’ve read it three times now, and liked it better each time.

    As for the rest of the list, I am embarrassed to say I have only read Feed, which I enjoyed a great deal but I also had a lot of technical issues with it. It showed great promise but I’m not sure I’d say it was one of the best novels of the year.

  12. I’ve got Pan editions of Borders of Infinity and Mirror Dance, a Headline Brothers in Arms, and Earthlight Komarr and A Civil Campaign – the rest are all US imports. My girlfriend has my HB of The Hallowed Hunt, so I can’t check it, but I’m certain that’s Voyager too. Cryoburn would definitely not be a good placee to start, because it’s pointless except as the culmination of long-running themes, and if you read it purely as an SF adventure it doesn’t match up to the earlier ones (much the same way as ACC). I don’t think it’s a good idea to start anywhere except The Warrior’s Apprentice or Komarr, personally.

    I’ve read others by Okorafor and Willis, but not these, and I’m very much looking forward to them. I keep meaning to read Zoo City, but I got bogged down rather in Moxyland.

  13. The Hallowed Hunt, so I can’t check it, but I’m certain that’s Voyager too.

    I think I’m right in saying that the fantasies didn’t get UK editions after Paladin of Souls. Certainly I had to get an import copy of The Hallowed Hunt (which I haven’t read yet) when it came out in PB. Since then I’ve kept forgetting to look for further volumes – partly a problem of poor memory, partly about them not being on shelves over here (especially since Borders, which used to be very good about stocking imports, went bust). Amazon is great in many ways – I can get hold of a much wider range of books these days than I had access to ten years ago – but I just don’t browse a website in the way I do a bookshop, so I only end up buying things I’m already intending to buy.

    And re. comments further up the thread, I enjoyed The Curse of Chalion, too!

  14. The big Borders on Charing Cross Road used to stock Bujold – I bought Komarr there, and Shards/Barrayar, and the first two Chalion books (I’m another Curse of Chalion fan) but had to order most of the rest online. I’ve never seen her books in a shop since then. Fairly sure Hallowed Hunt wasn’t published in the UK, because I was looking out for it.

    I bought Cryoburn as an e-ARC, and will wait for the paperback. Like others, I’m not sure I’d recommend it as a starting point – of course you can, but I’d go back much earlier in the series. Shards of Honor/Barrayar are the first two and great favourites of mine, because I love Cordelia and Aral so much. Memory deserves the build-up.

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