I've been looking back on what I've read in 2009 and I'm surprised just how much variation there has been in my reading. Before this year I pretty much stuck firmly with sci-fi, but with some excellent fantasy novels out in recent years I let a few of them slip into my reading, as well as some urban fantasy. Since enjoying them so much I've been slowly adding more to my to-read pile in the hope that I'll get around to them, but that hasn't gone entirely to plan (more about this, and other general stuff in my post looking forward to 2010).
So, I'm sticking with listing the best science fiction books I've read in 2009 that were also released this year. I've had some debate on how to narrow down the list of books I've reviewed, but I think what I've listed represents the best of what I've read this year. I've also got some honourable mentions below these along with some disappointments, so scroll down to see what else I think you should get around to.
For all the below make sure you visit the original reviews for a more in-depth look at them.
Science Fiction | The Best Reads of 2009
1. Orbus by Neal Asher
Definitely the best space opera released this year and a superb finale to the Spatterjay series. Neal brings all his usual flair and unique aliens to the mix in what can only be described as one of his finest novels to date.
2. Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding
This is a book that I see making it on to a fair few best reads lists. A book that brings a very familiar flavour to the genre in the Firefly comparisons that has been earned in the wake of its release is one that is more than worthy of a place in the top three sf releases of the year.
3. Twisted Metal by Tony Ballantyne
With an interesting premise and a complete robot cast this is a book that can offer many surprises. As the first book in the series I couldn't recommend this one highly enough.
4. Seeds of Earth by Michael Cobley
The first in a new space opera series - and a very promising start it is too. With plenty of intrigue and some very vivid depictions of an alien planet that isn't a million miles away from what you'll see in the recently released Avatar, this is definitely one to pick up.
5. Xenopath by Eric Brown
The second of the Bengal Station books featuring psychic detective Jeff Vaughan is another excellent novel and self-contained story. It's well worth picking up the first book, Necropath, and follow this series for some very good detective fiction set in a great place.
6. Mirror Space by Marianne de Pierres
The third in the Sentients of Orion series and this book takes events up a notch to deliver some very good space opera with great plotting and excellent set pieces. Another series you should read - start with Dark Space and follow that up with Chaos Space.
7. Nova War by Gary Gibson
Here's yet another space opera that's part of an ongoing series, this time book 2 of 3. The first book, Stealing Light, was enjoyable enough, but Nova War opens the series up to much more interesting things.
Other Favourite Reads
The Warded Man by Peter V Brett
This is one of the most enjoyable books I've read in a long time. The world and characters set this one apart from many books I've read and the sequel, The Desert Spear, is one of the most highly anticipated books for 2010.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Another fantasy novel that has had its fair share of praise since release. This one also stands above a lot of books, but it's the sheer story-telling power that Rothfuss has that entertains so much.
Ragamuffin & Sly Mongoose by Tobias S Buckell
I've taken a while to catch up on Buckell's two sequels to Crystal Rain, but they were both hugely enjoyable and would easily have made my top five if I had read them in the year of release. This series is a good one to pick up from an author that will always be on my radar.
Black Magic Woman & Evil Ways by Justin Gustainis
I've read bits here and there in the urban fantasy genre, but these two books are ones that I've enjoyed more than others. There is a third due out in the future, but I'm not entirely sure when, but it's one that I'm really looking forward to.
Journey Into Space by Toby Litt
Such a shame that this just didn't fulfill the promise it initially showed. I was really looking forward to this too, but I guess a sci-fi book from a mainstream author just didn't make the cut...
The Grand Conjunction by Sean Williams
A real disappointment as the finale of the series. Spread over such a length of time I just lost the focus that I was struggling with at the end of Earth Ascendant. If you think you can handle a story told over hundreds of thousands of years then by all means give the series a go...
Tuesday, 29 December 2009
Title: The Rats and the Ruling SeaAuthor: Robert VS Redick
Format: Trade Paperback
Release Date: 29th October 2009
THE RATS AND THE RULING SEA begins where THE RED WOLF CONSPIRACY ended; Thasha's wedding is hours away. It is a wedding that will both fulfil the promise of a mad god's return and see her murdered. Pazel has thwarted the sorcerer who would bring back the god but both sides now face deadlock. Can Thasha be saved? Can the war between two Empires be stopped?
THE RATS AND THE RULING SEA is, once again, focused on the giant ancient ship, the CHATHRAND, but now she must brave the terrors of the uncharted seas; the massive storms and the ship swallowing whirlpools and explore lands forgotten by the Northern world, all the time involved in a vicious running battle with a ship half her size but nearly her match.
Robert Redick's new novel takes the reader further into the labyrinthine plots and betrayals that have underscored the trilogy from the beginning. We learn more about the Ixchel as they fight for survival against the Chathrand's rats, discover more about the true motives of conspirators, live with Thasha and Pazel as they face death and deceit, and as the Chathrand sails into the infamous Ruling Sea.
Robert Redick's sequel to the acclaimed THE RED WOLF CONSPIRACY is a masterpiece of plotting and adventure. As each page turns the reader shares with the characters the dawning realisation that nothing is at it seems.
I read and enjoyed The Red Wolf Conspiracy earlier this year (review) and was looking forward to The Rats and the Ruling Sea since putting it down. The world building and characterisation that Redick gave in the first book was something that hooked me and gave that feeling that made me want to read The Rats and the Ruling Sea so much. Despite being longer, this book is just as enjoyable and opens up ome very interesting situations by the time the last page is turned...
We still follow Pazel, Thasha and co. and most of the story is told through their eyes, although Arunis is still plotting and scheming to ensure his ends are met. There are some interesting developments in relationships during the story and not all are expected which adds the element of not quite knowing what to expect. The ongoing quest of those marked by the Red Wolf is one of the more interesting threads and gives a deeper perspective of what is at stake and what needs to be done to stop the Arunis and his plans for the Shaggat. While some characters are explored more deeply than others the overall cast contribute well to the whole and this makes The Rats and the Ruling Sea a deeply involved and pleasurable reading experience. Without such strong characters I doubt I would have enjoyed reading this as much as I did.
The most enjoyable aspect for me was the world in which The Rats and the Ruling Sea is set. While there is noticeably less world building going on here compared to The Red Wolf Conspiracy, what is explored is deeply satisfying. With the voyage to take the Chathrand across the Ruling Sea we get little glimpses of what to expect here and there throughout the story, but Redick certainly delivers when we finally set foot on the new land at the end of the story - what a way to conclude this part of the story!
I really did enjoy the way the story continued here and I'm looking forward to see where book 3 takes us. This is one series that I'm thoroughly enjoying!
Buy from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com
Wednesday, 23 December 2009
Title: Death Troopers
Author: Joe Schreiber
Publisher: Arrow Books
Release Date: 22nd October 2009
When the Imperial prison barge Purge — temporary home to five hundred of the galaxy's most ruthless killers, rebels, scoundrels and thieves — breaks down in a distant, uninhabited part of space, its only hope seems to lie with a Star Destroyer found drifting, derelict and seemingly abandoned. But when a boarding party is sent to scavenge for parts, only half of them come back — bringing with them a horrific disease so lethal that within hours, nearly all aboard the Purge will die in ways too hideous to imagine.
And death is only the beginning.
The Purge's half-dozen survivors — two teenage brothers, a sadistic captain of the guards, a couple of rogue smugglers and the chief medical officer, the lone woman on board — will do whatever it takes to stay alive. But nothing can prepare them for what lies waiting onboard the Star Destroyer amid its vast creaking emptiness that isn't really empty at all. The dead are rising, soulless, unstoppable, and unspeakably hungry.
When I saw the cover for Death Troopers earlier in the year I knew this was a book that I had to read. There was something about a darker Star Wars novel that piqued my interest even though I've never read anything in the expanded universe before. I expected good things from Death Troopers, but as a newbie to Star Wars novels I wasn't entirely sure whether these expectations would be justified. I'll say one thing about Death Troopers - Joe Schreiber knows how to write an exciting, atmospheric and entertaining read, but I'm not sure it's suited to the Star Wars setting...
With the prison barge Purge as the setting we are introduced to a few characters that will take us through Death Troopers. The main ones of these are Trig and Kale Longo, the ships doctor Zahara Cody and the chief of the prison guards, Jareth Sartoris. Each of these has a good section devoted to building their characters and as such they have a good depth to them that allows us to enjoy the story told through their eyes. We also have a couple of more familiar characters that simply steal the story once we meet them, which is a bit of a shame because it would have been great to continue the story without these additions to the cast.
The story itself is more than satisfying and has an effective build up that includes some damned creepy moments before everything hits the fan. The build up is especially good as it not only introduces the characters, but also sets the scene and atmosphere on both the Purge and Star Destroyer. Once we get past the set up we are firmly in zombie territory, and while the fan boy in me loves this sort of thing, I can't help but think it turns into a run-of-the-mill escape the zombies scenario. It's still a well written and entertaining story though!
I'm also not entirely sure it suits the Star Wars setting. This, as far as I know, is unlike anything else in the Star Wars universe and it feels a little wrong. There are many things I can believe would happen in this setting, but Death Troopers pushes the envelope too far. But, and this is an important but, I enjoyed Death Troopers so much I'm willing to put this gripe aside. Shallow, I know, but when you read something you enjoy this much you do give more ground than normal.
So on the whole I would recommend Death Troopers to any sci-fi and zombie fans that want a good and entertaining read. It's not perfect, but the issues I think Death Troopers has can be overlooked for sheer enjoyment factor. Definitely one to read!
Buy from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com
Friday, 18 December 2009
Title: War of the Soulites
Author: Natasha Bennett
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Release Date: May 4th 2009
Renolds Osirus spent most of his life as an accountant. To his shock, his life-long dream of becoming a spaceship captain is suddenly granted, and before he can even celebrate, Earth is decimated by a race of mysterious and terrifying aliens. His new ship, the Vigilant, is transported to hostile territory.
Vigilant's first officer, Marcus Collingway, is a terrorist leader and a mass murderer. Long believed dead, he suffers the crew's wrath when he's blamed for the attack on Earth. As Renolds investigates, he exposes a complex web of secrets and lies.
Now trapped on a crippled ship, can the captain and first officer work together to save the Vigilant from alien Soulites?
Set in the 29th century, War of the Soulites is a story of one ship stranded in another universe after an attack on Earth by the Soulites. The crew of this ship include a captain that has only recently been given the command, a security officer that is the only survivor when the ship disappeared nearly two decades ago, a first officer that was also an instrumental part of the resistance and accused of murdering hundreds of people, a telepath that finds herself the only one that is willing to help the rest of the crew and an engineer that has been melded with an AI. Suffice to say that this is a mish mash crew that have only been together for days at the most before their ship, the Vigilant, is put back into service.
As for the story, with the ship doing its first flight with the new crew Earth is attacked by the Soulites. They take heavy damage in the battle and while the destruction of other ships is taking place they find themselves pulled into another universe, one of liquid space, and a place home to the Soulites. Once here they must repair the Vigilant and try to find a way home, but along the way come across human survivors, are attacked again and also discover the Soulite base.
I wanted to like War of the Soulites. I really, really did. It started off great with a prologue looking at the fighting between NAVA and the rebels, but once we skipped to the start of the story things just didn't quite mesh properly. One of the things I instantly thought was that this was like an episode of Star Trek, the way the characters interact, situations reveal themselves and details that are never quite explained until the end of the story. Usually I can get past this - and I made an effort to by plowing on - but it left me disappointed. One of the main reasons for this was the way we would skip ahead in the story, missing out sections that could have proved very interesting and led to more plot development and character expansion for the reader.
I was also left wanting when it came to the history of the setting we're in - the isn't really any. True, the NAVA vs the rebels plot is one that is strong throughout, but considering we're in the 29th century there is a surprising lack of any depth to the universe. One section made reference to the galaxy being explored in 20 years, which is frankly unbelievable, especially as it makes out that this has only recently happened. War of the Soulites falls flat when you look past the story and into the setting, and in a sci-fi novel of this scope that can be one of the most damaging things.
There are a couple of further issues I have with War of the Soulites. One of these is the way that the characters show a surprising lack of emotion after seeing the Earth attacked and presumed destroyed and then being sent into another universe. This area was so ripe for further expansion and a much deeper look at the effects of this would have helped hugely. The final problem I had is the way that the Vigilant is at one moment on the brink of being destroyed and wrecked (apparently almost beyond recovery) and the next it's capable of scanning halfway across the galaxy they are in to get a detailed idea of the Soulites base. And it's not just this one time, there are many times that disbelief has to be suspended a little too much, and that doesn't help the story at all.
All in all I was very disappointed with War of the Soulites. It felt thrown together rather than fleshed out and expanded - there was certainly plenty of room to do so. Despite this I find myself drawn to the story here and wondering how it will continue in the upcoming sequel. If you want a quick read that is fast paced and aren't too bothered about a story lacking depth, then this is perhaps a book for you. For sci-fi fans that have read plenty that the genre has to offer this is one to skip, there are better examples out there and more worthy of your time.
Wednesday, 16 December 2009
On the brink of perfecting the long sought-after human/AI interface, Philip Kaufman finds his world thrown into turmoil as a scandal from the past returns to haunt him and dangerous information falls into his hands. Pursued by assassins and attacked in his own home, he flees.I came across this on the Solaris Books website and think it looks and sounds pretty good. The cover does come across as a standard 'ship in space' one, but it still has that core sci-fi-ness that makes me want to pick it up and read it. This one is due in April and another to add to my list of books to read in 2010!
Leyton, a government black-ops specialist, is diverted from his usual duties to hunt down the elusive pirate vessel The Noise Within, wondering all the while why this particular freebooter is considered so important.
Two lives collide in this stunning space-opera from debut novelist Ian Whates!
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
Title: SundiverAuthor: David Brin
Release Date: 18th January 1996
Circling the Sun, under the caverns of Mercury, Expedition Sundiver prepares for the most momentous voyage in our history. A journey into the boiling inferno of the sun, to seek our destiny in the cosmic order of life.
For in a universe in which no species can reach sentience without being 'uplifted' by a patron race, it seems that only mankind has reached for the stars unaided. And now, the greatest mystery of all may be explained…
Sundiver is the first book in David Brin's magnificent Uplift series.
I picked up Sundiver on impulse after hearing that David Brin's Uplift Saga was a good one to read. I subsequently found out that although this is an Uplift book, it's the first and is separated from the main story. I wasn't too bothered about this as I could see whether I enjoyed this one before going on to the rest of the books. However, I was also told that this wasn't as good as the two sequels that garnered much praise. Because of this I put off reading Sundiver for a while, but suddenly had this urge to pick it up. I'm glad I did...
The central concept in Sundiver is an interesting and clever one: all intelligent races in the galaxy have been uplifted to sentience by a parent race, although humanity is the exception to this as it appears they haven't. What they have done though is uplift two of Earth's other animals to sentience, the Dolphin and Chimpanzee, and in doing so have become a parent race themselves. With this done before they were discovered by the other races of the galaxy, humanity have been given a status that some within the galactic society believe they are not worthy of.
This is the backdrop to Sundiver and introduces the universe well, but it also shows that not everyone lives in total harmony. The universe throws up some interesting things - the galactic library that has details of all technologies and discoveries that all races share; the arrangement given to races regarding the planets they live on; the whole arrangement between parent and client races after they have been uplifted. I could go on a long time, but suffice to say that this is a setting that very much appealed to me and gave a great seansawunda.
I've detoured a little here and gone into more detail about the setting than I have about the story. Sundiver is, essentially, an investigation story to find out what exactly is living in the Sun and whether or not it has any relation to humanity's sentience. On the whole I enjoyed it and will quite happily go ahead with the other books in the Uplift series, although I do feel that most of the characters were a little forgettable. Don't get me wrong, they suited the story and worked well with the situations they were put in, but ultimately the setting is by far the most interesting and intriguing aspect of this book.
I would personally recommend that this is one to read - get a feel for the story, the setting, the aliens, but most importantly read it so you know that you've got another series to read that has much praise heaped upon it. Brin is an author I will be reading more of in the future.
Buy from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com
The second book in James Lovegrove's current series and following on from The Age of Ra, The Age of Zeus, due from Solaris Books in April, looks pretty stunning! I love that this follows the same style for The Age of Ra and it's a solid reminder that I need to get my backside in gear and read tat first novel pretty soon.
Monday, 14 December 2009
Here's the cover for Eric Brown's upcoming (late 2010) novel from Solaris Books. There's no blurb as yet, but that is a very nice a simple cover that says so much without saying anything. I like these and with Eric's last trilogy, the Bengal Station novels, high on my list of favourite books I can't wait for this to appear on the shelves :)
Thursday, 10 December 2009
The Defense and Wellness Council is enmeshed in full-scale civil war between Len Borda and the mysterious Magan Kai Lee. Quell has escaped from prison and is stirring up rebellion in the Islands with the aid of a brash young leader named Josiah. Jara and the apprentices of the Surina/Natch MultiReal Fiefcorp still find themselves fighting off legal attacks from their competitors and from Margaret Surina's unscrupulous heirs -- even though MultiReal has completely vanished.From Pyr's blog, here is the full cover spread for Geosynchron, the final book in the Jump 225 Trilogy. Stephan Martiniere always does a good good on covers and this is no exception, plus it keeps in style with the cover for Infoquake and Multireal, which is nice. Another reminder that I need to catch up with this series, Infoquake was a very good read earlier in the year :)
The quest for the truth will lead to the edges of civilization, from the tumultuous society of the Pacific Islands to the lawless orbital colony of 49th Heaven; and through the deeps of time, from the hidden agenda of the Surina family to the real truth behind the Autonomous Revolt that devastated humanity hundreds of years ago.
Meanwhile, Natch has awakened in a windowless prison with nothing but a haze of memory to clue him in as to how he got there. He's still receiving strange hallucinatory messages from Margaret Surina and the nature of reality is buckling all around him. When the smoke clears, Natch must make the ultimate decision - whether to save a world that has scorned and discarded him, or to save the only person he has ever loved: himself.
Wednesday, 9 December 2009
Rock-hard SF Thriller from the author of Winter Song: no-one here gets out alive.
It’s 2050 and sea-levels have swamped today’s coastal regions. New York City is protected by tidal barriers and the USA is bankrupt.
Detective Pervez (Pete) Shah serves with the NYPD’s Web Crimes Division as a Memory Association Specialist. When he’s accused of murdering a glamorous woman in a bar, he must find the killer, save himself … and the world.
I came across this on Angry Robot Books' website and I really, really hope this is not the final cover. Am I alone? To clarify why I don't like it - the colours, and specifically the orange of the title. With a different (and perhaps softer) title colour this could redeem itself, but I still think the contrast of that green on blue doesn't work and makes my eyes hurt a little...
EDIT: I've replaced the image with a higher quality one. While everything now is a little clearer and stands out a little better, I still don't think it's the nicest of covers...
Saturday, 5 December 2009
Title: Red Claw
Author: Philip Palmer
Release Date: 1st October 2009
Professor Richard Helms heads up a tight-knit band of scientists and soldiers sent to explore New Amazon, a lush but savage planet seemingly determined to attack them at every turn. When they are done cataloguing every detail of this vast, unfamiliar ecosystem, they will burn it to the ground and make it fit for human habitation.
But when the team falls under attack, Helms and his followers are forced to flee into the depths of the jungle. Here, old enemies and petty rivalries surface as they struggle to survive. They soon end up fighting for their lives - against the planet they are exploring, the robots designed to protect them and, most of all, against each other. For the countdown into madness is ticking.
Palmer burns a new path for science fiction in this gripping, dark tale of man's place in the universe.
Red Claw is a book that I should love. It's got a great cover and the premise - a planet full of completely weird and alien monsters - is one that I've enjoyed before and usually can't get enough of. There are also some interesting characters with a dark background and plenty of action thrown into the mix. The good things in Red Claw are well worth reading, but the story felt a little loose and jumpy at times, while the view the majority of the human race take just seemed outdated and wrong. Read on if you want to know more...
As we start off on the planet of New Amazon, a team is out doing some research when they get attacked by one of the many weird and monstrous aliens inhabiting the planet. This first encounter tells us instantly what to expect in Red Claw - an unforgiving environment, scientists who want to study the planetary ecology and soldiers that don't want to the scientists doing that, but would much rather shoot the monstrosities to extinction (which is what is planned anyway). This encounter, and pretty much every encounter with the natives that the humans have, is great - the action kicks in and Palmer does a very good job of putting you at the heart of the scene.
Some of the characters, at least the core characters, are pretty well developed, but this doesn't stop the story from having a few that feel flat and one-dimensional. Luckily enough these aren't in the foreground too much. I did question why certain characters acted in certain ways as events led from one to an other, and while military obedience is not something I'm overly familiar with I was struck at just how robotic some of them followed orders in the aftermath of events, especially when the commanding officer acts the way he does.
My two main gripes with Red Claw are the complete lack of any sort of explanation and believable premise as to why the wildlife on New Amazon is the way it is and also the attitude that the human race has. To comment on the first point, if a tree evolves to explode on touch, or a cyclops-type creature can fire laser out of its eye, can we please have a little explanation as to why? I get the impression that all of these things are nothing more than wish fulfilment from the author who just wants to put cool things in the book but doesn't want to explain any of it. As for the latter point, here's a quote for the book from a character talking about genocide: "Why not? We are the human race. It's our universe." This is the attitude that pretty much all the characters have, and it's a depressing one. To think that the human race would get to this point is not something I can easily believe - and to me I need to at least have some plausibility in my sci-fi for me to enjoy it.
Suffice to say that Red Claw was a disappointment. There were times when I enjoyed reading the story, times where Philip Palmer's writing was great and times where I really wanted things to get better. Ultimately the story just didn't do it for me, which is a real shame because there was so much promise lurking in these pages.
Buy from: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
Here's the paperback cover for Neal Asher's Polity novel, Shadow of the Scorpion (review), which has been done by Jon Sullivan and will be in shops in April 2010. I'm liking the new Asher covers a lot and think Tor UK are doing a sterling job wrapping their sci-fi books in such great art pieces.