2010 Novels: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year So Far?

 As the SF/Fantasy awards season for 2009 winds down--the Hugo Awards were just announced this past week--it’s time to take a look at 2010. This year, thus far, has been very different. A kind of sea-change has occurred, with the majority of the best work coming from relatively new voices rather than established writers. This insurgency hasn’t been in the service of a movement or a particular subgenre, and perhaps it’s more powerful because of being non-denominational. In a year with four good months still to go, some astonishingly talented writers have published wonderful and worthy work. Will this new energy be reflected come next year’s award season? One can only hope.

Here, then, in no particular order other than the alphabetical, is a list of my personal "best of 2010," to date. No fewer than six are first novels, and not all of them are without flaws, but they represent the most exciting and interesting SF/F I’ve read so far—admittedly, with a fair amount of reading left to go.

The Golden Age by Michal Ajvaz – Earlier this year, in the preamble to an interview with Ajvaz, I wrote that the novel was a “a modern-day Gulliver's encounter with a civilization on a tiny island in the Atlantic. At the center of the islanders' culture is the Book, a handwritten, collective novel "filled with feuding royal families, murderous sorcerers, and narrow escapes." Because anyone can write in it and annotate it and cross passages out, the Book has lost most of the linear tendencies that rule the pages of normal (but mere) books. The result is a text of stories within stories and a destabilization of narrative that's as playful as it is fascinating.”

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Comments (31)

Redemption in Indigo was amaaaaazing! Couldn't recommend it highly enough. Anyone unsure of what to read next should check it out!

Posted by: Christopher | Thursday September 6, 2012 at 5:21 PM

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Posted by: Louis Vuitton Monogram | Wednesday February 15, 2012 at 5:19 PM

Those are super cute. I like you on Facebook.

Posted by: red bottom | Saturday November 19, 2011 at 1:35 AM

I actually did enjoy The Passage. I think, however, that all of the hype may have hurt it, rather than helping. After a certain point, it is hard to live up to. I have to agree on that lack of Sanderson. The man is a total gift to readers. Otherwise, great list!

Posted by: Angie | Tuesday September 21, 2010 at 7:44 AM

KindleClay is on the right track. Any true scifi fan has to leave US scifi behind (it left us years ago). March down the new releases section at Borders or Barnes & Noble looking at "Science Fiction and Fantasy" titles and you'll see nothing these days but the "Claw of the Silver Talon", "Talon of the Silver Claw", "Prince of the Rogue Talon", and other fantasy wastes of time. But they're still writing real scifi with the rivets showing across the pond. I wholeheartedly endorse anything by Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton, Paul McCauley (when he's not in his Michael Criction wanna-be mode), Iain M. Banks (careful: when he writes mainstream fiction he drops the middle initial, a useful code to let his readers know what genre he happens to be writing in), anything by Neal Asher, Richard Morgan, Adam Roberts, John Meaney, and any number of other solid writers.

When you draw up lists like your's, I'm sure you know everyone will attack some or all of your choices and put forward their own. Most of those you list are OK, but I question the sanity of anyone who would list Delaney's Dhalgren, one of the most loathsome books I've ever tried to read. It's a big, fat volumn of creative writing workshop gibberish.

Posted by: Spartan79 | Sunday September 19, 2010 at 7:15 PM

_Fallen Embers_ by Lauri Owen. Wow. lauriowen.com

Posted by: Lisette | Saturday September 18, 2010 at 11:07 AM

Dear Miss Lynx: Thanks for the kind words. Yes, my recommendations don't in any way stop S-Banshee from enjoying whatever S-Banshee wants to enjoy. And I probably would enjoy a subset of it as well.

David: Holy crap! I'm going to check that one out right now.

Have a good weekend,


Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Friday September 10, 2010 at 2:06 PM

"The Orange Eats Creeps" by Grace Krilanovich, with a great introduction by Steve Erickson. Wonderful hidden gem.

Posted by: David | Friday September 10, 2010 at 1:37 PM

Wow - a lot of these sound wonderful! Definitely going to look for some of them, though sadly I'm mostly stuck with the public library right at the moment due to lack of funds, so we'll see how well I fare there.

Re other books released this year, I did just finish reading Miéville's Kraken, which was great - I think it's actually my favourite of his thus far. A little less Lovecraftian than I'd expected from the title and the inside-cover blurb, and a little more reminiscent in some sense's of Gaiman's Neverwhere and American Gods, though at the same time with Miéville's own stamp very firmly on it.

Re Suburbanbanshee's comment: I've never really understood the impulse that makes some people insist that any book (or film, etc.) that requires at least a few functioning brain cells to comprehend is automatically "crap" or "stupid" or whatever, because OMG, it sounds like it might be *work* to read it, or like "the sort of books that you'd be assigned in English class" (because of course no one would ever *voluntarily* read an intelligent book!). If they want to stick to shallow entertainment and avoid anything more challenging, fine, that's their choice - but why feel compelled to slam intelligent books or criticize others for reading them? It seems like people like that can't be happy unless not only are *they* consuming nothing but vacuous entertainment, but so is everyone else. That's the part I really don't get.

Posted by: Miss Lynx | Friday September 10, 2010 at 10:42 AM

Thanks for the recommendations, Jeff! I always know that I'll get great ideas for new and interesting books to read from you. Just . . . damn you for making my "To Read" so long!

Posted by: Bev | Friday September 10, 2010 at 5:25 AM


Angel's Game came out in 2009, not in 2010, and it was on Amazon's Top 100.



Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Thursday September 9, 2010 at 12:19 PM

I think the best novel of 2010 by far was The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It may not be strictly "fantasy or sci-fi", but I am surprised a smart guy like Mr.Vandermeer slept on this. Makes one reconsider the whole list...

Posted by: mike | Thursday September 9, 2010 at 12:12 PM

Oh, no worries! I definitely have the Arnason on my to-read pile, just forgot to mention it. (The piles of books received for review are nearly epic proportions.) jv

Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Thursday September 9, 2010 at 9:59 AM

Jeff: That's what I get for making generalized comments about books I haven't read yet. And somehow in my first read through I managed to skip over your description of "Redemtion In Indigo", I'll definitely be looking it up.

As for the Arnason, I simply wanted to throw it out there as one of my favorites from this year so far, along with the Jablokov. The Serious Read phrase was a bit of a first impression brain spasm, I should have taken a moment for the internal editor to kick in, but that kind of goes against the grain of on-line commenting. Anyway, thanks for the reply, and for the list of good books to read.

Posted by: Greg L Johnson | Thursday September 9, 2010 at 9:55 AM

Suburbanbanshee: I think it might be more productive for you to suggest alternatives than to typecast books like Jemisin's, which I think you do a disservice to.

Greg Egan is on my stack of books to look at.

Greg--I'm not quite sure why you think that. The Charles Yu is marvelously entertaining in a conventional sense, as is the Mullen, the Lord, the Jemisin, and the others. Some are more "literary" than others (whatever that means), but I defy you to read the Lord, for example, and not laugh out loud at certain parts. It's hilarious.

Arnason is on my list to read, but I don't see it as any more or less entertaining than the books on my list. In the terms you invoke above, it's actually an odd choice to put forward, although it looks like a very interesting book.


Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Thursday September 9, 2010 at 8:59 AM

Thanks for adding several titles to my I need to read this list. It strikes me that the titles listed sound, for the most part, like Serious Reading, so I'd like to suggest a comic alternative, Alexander Jablokov's "The Brain Thief", which mixes a SF/thriller plot-line with gonzo humor that would have done Hunter S. Thompson proud.

And while it's not quite a novel in length, Eleanor Arnason's "Mammoths of the Great Plains" has been published in its own volume by PM Press. It's a quietly compelling alternate history telling the story of a Lakota Sioux woman and her efforts to save, and restore, the great herds of mammoths that, until the Twentieth Century, roamed the plains of the Dakotas.

Posted by: Greg L Johnson | Thursday September 9, 2010 at 8:53 AM

What about the new Greg Egan book?

Posted by: linger | Wednesday September 8, 2010 at 10:49 PM

Apparently the one thing they all have in common is that they're not in the bookstore, or at least not in the science fiction section; and that most of them sound like crappy crap on crap toast, between two crap covers. These sound, in fact, like the sort of books that you'd be assigned in English class, which is not a recommendation.

The exception is Jemisin, which was actually in the store, and was what paranormal romance books advertise themselves as being but aren't. You're not respecting yourself in the morning, but at least it's not all a lie.

Posted by: Suburbanbanshee | Wednesday September 8, 2010 at 10:20 PM

Well, I think that there is Evolutionary Void by Hamilton which I can't wait to read, end of the Trilogy! Then of course, Alastair Reynolds latest book, Terminal World...

These are just out.

Posted by: KindleClay | Wednesday September 8, 2010 at 5:32 PM


Here's that Felix link!

Posted by: KindleClay | Wednesday September 8, 2010 at 5:28 PM

I want to make a lol kitten poster for this right now! "Hey, wheya's the way guns and space mwontas?" Kitten thrusts an accusing paw at Ander Monson as he sips his latte with an bemused arched eyebrow.

Posted by: Eillse Nhleek | Wednesday September 8, 2010 at 11:52 AM

Jid: You tell me! If it's not there, any recommendations welcome.

Noise, Dream of Perpetual Motion, the Brian Conn, the Charles Yu, and the Nnedi Okorafor are all SF.



Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Wednesday September 8, 2010 at 9:07 AM

So where's the actual science fiction?

Posted by: Jid | Wednesday September 8, 2010 at 9:05 AM

No Changes by Jim Butcher? That easily should be on this list.

Posted by: Jason Bieber | Wednesday September 8, 2010 at 7:58 AM

No Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings? That man is a genius with his world crafting and characters, not to mention the plot.

Posted by: Jordan | Wednesday September 8, 2010 at 7:40 AM

Most of these sound like they are speculative fiction or fantasy. Certainly very little "science" in them, based on the descriptions.

Posted by: Steve in Philly | Wednesday September 8, 2010 at 7:28 AM

Darn it. I knew I was forgetting something--thanks.It's hard to leave that great past and those amazing writers of science fiction

Posted by: 怀淰@^过厾 | Tuesday September 7, 2010 at 11:41 PM

I've read some great early reviews on Felix Gilman's Half-Made World. Who do you have to shake down to get a copy???!!!!

Posted by: Eillse Nhleek | Tuesday September 7, 2010 at 9:36 PM

A kind of sea-change has occurred, with the majority of the best work coming from relatively new voices rather than established writers.
I too feel that change has come... I'm just nearing the end of Dozios' Best of the year and it is very, very different from past issues. Heck, maybe it's time to move on then... It's hard to leave that great past and those amazing writers of science fiction. Maybe we were a bit spoilt by such talent.

Posted by: KindleClay | Tuesday September 7, 2010 at 4:34 PM

Darn it. I knew I was forgetting something--thanks. jv

Posted by: Jeff VanderMeer | Tuesday September 7, 2010 at 4:27 PM

I've been hearing nothing but good things about Hannu Rajaniemi's THE QUANTUM THIEF, coming later this month.

Posted by: Mastadge | Tuesday September 7, 2010 at 4:12 PM

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