Because the only thing I love as much as reading books is talking about books.
Best YA SF
This was a good year for young adult SF. My favourite was The Traitor Game, from B.R. Collins (B is for Bridget – oh, Bloomsbury, I love you but this makes me sad). It’s told as two co-thematic stories – the contemporary one, of course, but instead of an old diary, where the protagonist might find their troubles echoed in the past, we have a story set in the invented world of our protagonist. This is the world he escapes too, though it is no less harsh than ours, and no less affecting of the reader.
I reviewed The Traitor Game shortly after reading it, and I’m glad to say it came out with the lovely cover here. It’s a gorgeous book.
The Savage, written by David Almond and illustrated by Dave McKean, is another gorgeous book, though the pictures tells as much of the story as the words. I mention it here because it’s another story within a story – a boy writes a tale that begins to merge with his own life. I compared it to Isobelle Carmody and Stephen Woolman’s Dreamwalker.
Honourable mentions: Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go, Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games. The former suffered only from an unnecessary cliffhanger, and the latter I can’t fault technically, only it didn’t leave me as disturbed at the ending of it as The Traitor Game did.
New releases from favourite authors that didn’t ping me quite as well as I wanted were Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Shaun Tan’s Tales from Outer Suburbia. I’ll probably have to go back to them. I want to talk about why The Graveyard Book didn’t quite do it for me, but I think that’ll have to be a post on its own.
Best Adult SF
All the kids’ books mentioned were 2008 releases, and in hardback what’s more. My adult reading is a lot less current.
Catherynne Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales was a two volume release, In the Night Garden in 2006, and In the Cities of Coin and Spice in 2007. I read them both at the start of this year, and reviewed them considerably later for the Salient women’s issue. Completely strange and wonderous.
Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels was less wonderous and more tear-at-your-heart. Notice how definitely I am sticking it in the adult section. I don’t know that this one will be a keystone for me, but I am certainly happy to pimp it out to everyone I can, over the age of 18.
I got more joy from reading Tanya Huff’s Valor series, though I’ve yet to read the most recent volume, which came out this year in hardback. I imprinted on Tanya Huff back when I was in intermediate, reading Wizard of the Grove. The Valor books are completely different from that duology – one epic, though female-centred, fantasy, one military SF. Tanya Huff can do the action, and she can do the wonderful, and she can also do the hilarious. Love love love.
Tanith Lee does wonderful too, but she can also do bizarre. I think Eva Fairdeath may be about her first book. I don’t think I’ve ever been so disturbed being in a character’s head.
A different kind of weird is Nishio Ishin’s Death Note tie-in novel, Another Note. It had ridiculous names, yes, but it also had a surprisingly satisfying denouement, and some intriguing repercussions for the series. And, of course, it was total crack, and in a beautifully presented package. If only I could remember who I lent it to.
I think Another Note is probably the only thing on this list was isn’t SF, and that’s only if you ignore the premise of the series it’s based off. I am not going to do anything about this deficit. Instead, I am going to move on.
I like stories about stories, and I also like my non-fiction to be about stories. I read the Norton Classic Fairy Tales around this time last year. It’s edited by Maria Tatar, and filled with goodies -such as the multiple variations of each of the included tales, including contemporary reworkings, which are fascinating put next to each other. There’s so much more in the evolution of a fairy story than you might expect. The collection of criticism at the end is also engaging, giving us other scholars to look out for, and also providing the opportunity to laugh at the Freudians.
At the end of the year, I read Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, which looks at fairy tales from a more personal perspective. It’s mostly essays, written by female writers and edited by Kate Bernheimer. It got me to thinking about my own fairy tale reading, and led me to a mostly forgotten author.
Other books that discuss fairy tales and the lives of women I read this year were Spinning Straw into Gold, which left me with an unpleasant taste in my mouth, and Women Who Run with the Wolves, which was a compulsive read, though I didn’t entirely buy it.
I read 107 books through last year, not including the many picture books and early readers that one picks up working in a children’s bookshop. I’m really pleased that I’ve kept a record. You wouldn’t think I’d bitched so much about doing reading logs at high school, for sure.