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Best Books of 2010: Top 10 Science Fiction and Fantasy Selections, Nos. 6--10

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It's been a banner year for original and noteworthy science fiction/fantasy novels, with a lot of energy in the area of hybrids that clearly combine "literary" and "genre" influences. Fantasy has also had a better year than pure science fiction, overall.

Here's further information on the #6--10 selections on Amazon's Top 10 list. Also check out the top 10 SF/F bestsellers for the year and the post above on the #1--5 selections that lists the entire top 10.

#6 – The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich (Two Dollar Radio)

“The exhilaration of such a novel is nearly beyond calculation. If a new literature is at hand then it might as well begin here.” – Steve Erickson

With The Orange Eats the Creeps by first-time novelist Grace Krilanovich--recently named one of the National Book Foundation's "5 under 35"--we’re not in Wonderland anymore: we’re fully through the Looking Glass and out the other side. For once I’m reduced to quoting the cover copy to describe the book: “The ’90s Pacific Northwest is refracted through a dark mirror, where meth and madness hash it out in the woods. A band of hobo vampire junkies roam the blighted landscape.. A girl with drug-induced ESP…searches for her disappeared foster sister along ‘The Highway That Eats People,’ stalked by a conflation of Twin Peaks’ ‘Bob’ and the Green River Killer” Rimbaud, Huysmans, Kiernan-–they’re all in there, along with a very dark and satisfyingly malevolent sense of humor. Luckily, the author doesn’t hamstring the text by trying to make the narrator seem nice at any point or non-judgmental. The novel also has an attachment to specific detail of a sometimes disturbing kind that’s oddly beautiful. Surprising changes of direction and emphasis exist even within individual paragraphs as the real and the phantasmagorical combine in a chemical reaction.

Sample Lines: “The things you’ve made--your creations, little minions, little lumps of cloth, little masks--will leave you. You can’t really own them even though they are shadows of your body. Symptoms that will be shed, forming the residue of your life on the surface of your existence, like all surfaces that your eyes have coated with their gaze. Like a snake shedding its skin, your residue forms a ghost image all over town, everywhere you have ever been. Don’t fight it. The ghost guide will lead you all over the world in connecting shadows, a chain link of dark felt memories.”

#7 – The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer (St. Martin’s Press)

“Plangent, tender, and sui generis: a steampunk The Tempest with the grim and rippling beauty of a fairy tale.” – Lauren Groff

Palmer’s first novel is beautiful, cruel, absurdly funny, and endlessly inventive. Earlier this year, I wrote in the NYTBR that “In his tragicomic first novel [the author] takes elements from Nabokov, Neal Stephenson, Steven Millhauser and 'The Tempest,' tosses them into a retro-futuristic blender and hits 'purée.' Palmer imagines an alternate 20th-century America [where] machines do all the work; people do all the buying. Against this backdrop, the 'failed ­writer' Harold Winslow narrates the ­story of his life while imprisoned on an airship supposedly powered by a perpetual motion machine. Two ghosts of a sort are stuck there with him: the cryogenically frozen corpse of a once powerful inventor, Prospero Taligent, and the mysterious, disembodied voice of Prospero’s adopted daughter, Miranda...Why is Winslow imprisoned, Prospero dead and Miranda ethereal? The answers lie in the deep past." The Dream of Perpetual Motion is sophisticated, subversive entertainment that never settles for escapism. This is also a novel that grows in your imagination after reading it--an auspicious debut for an extremely original writer with seemingly unlimited range.

Sample Lines: “But I was not good enough. You should understand this about me—I am not a hero; not one to tap unknown reserves of courage; not one to rise to circumstance. I am the understudy who chokes on his lines when he is forced onto the stage. I am never, ever good enough.”

#8 – Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (DAW)

“I love the way Nnedi Okorafor writes, the precise, steely short sentences like blows to the body, the accumulation of experiences that lead to inspired insights, and the strangeness and beauty of an Africa both imagined and real. Perception, courage, and grace illuminate Who Fears Death.” – Peter Straub

Okorafor’s third novel takes place in a future Africa and tackles difficult issues in the context of a harrowing, ingenious, and unique story that contains plenty of surprises. As Matthew Cheney wrote in a feature for Omnivoracious earlier this year, “It tells the story of Onyesonwu, a woman of extraordinary powers in a post-apocalyptic West Africa, a world of perils and mysteries, of lost technologies and brutal wars. Onyesonwu's name means ‘Who fears death?’, and her birth was the result of rape used as a weapon in battle; this legacy affects the woman she becomes, and the novel portrays her education as a sorceress and her quest to bring order and peace to her life and world.” The passion of Okorafor’s writing is matched by its uncompromising nature. It’s as unique a novel as you’re likely to encounter, with a powerful and unusual ending.

Sample Lines: “Then the power that had built up inside of me burst. My veil was blown off my head and my freed braids whipped back. Everyone and everything was thrown back--Aro, my mother, family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, the table of food, the fifty yams, the thirty hens, and much sand. Back in town the power went off for thirty seconds; houses would need to be swept of sand and computers would be taken in for dust damage.”

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#9 – The Fixed Stars by Brian Conn (Fiction Collective 2)

“A funny, absurd, and beatifically strange book, one in which you simultaneously have the feeling that not one word is out of place and that everything that language brings to us opens onto a void.” – Brian Evenson

Perhaps the epitome of a cross-genre novel, The Fixed Stars is a remarkable debut that burrows into your brain and transforms it. What is it about? Where is it set? Well, the future, to some degree, but the future slantwise and surreal, even as the book comments on capitalism and other here-and-now topics. Several narrators tell their stories in the book, the tales interwoven to give a full view of a town and a society. There’s a woman who nurtures spiders, a community dealing with a mysterious disease, acts of insane brutality, and strange festivals.The style is both matter-of-fact and dream-like. Ultimately, The Fixed Stars eludes easy comparison with any other novel.

Sample Lines: “I am a humble servant of the people. In this world we work together. You are a woman of fierce intelligence and I can see that you have been thoroughly educated; I need hardly explain to you why we people can survive only together and never apart. There can be no more devouring of one another in those prisons which I shall forebear to name--you know the prisons of which I speak.”

#10 – Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey (Eos)

“One of the best books I have read in a very, very long while. Richard Kadrey is a genius. I read it on the plane ride home and was totally blown away.” – Holly Black, on the previous book in the series, Sandman Slim

In their mixing of noir, urban fantasy, pop culture, horror, and hardboiled fiction, Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim novels manage to be endlessly inventive and high-octane. Zombie plagues, vampires, angels, the Devil, and more populate Kadrey’s Los Angeles, the appeal of his fiction the ability to make the familiar new and brilliantly juggle all of these different elements. William Gibson described the first volume as “like watching Sergio Leone and Clive Barker codirect from a script by Jim Thompson and S. Clay Wilson” and Kill the Dead is no different.

Sample: “Imagine shoving a cattle prod up a rhino’s ass, shouting ‘April fool!,’ and hoping the rhino thinks it’s funny. That’s about how much fun it is hunting a vampire.”

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