Due to coincidence, I read the same number of books released in 2008 as I did in 2007: fourteen.
Here are my thoughts on the genre books that I read this year:
Best SF&F Novel Released in 2008
1. The Ten Thousand by Paul Kearney
A stand-alone fantasy set in the world of the Macht, chronicling the trials and tribulations of a human mercenary army left deep behind enemy lines after the death of their patron. Kearney's lean prose, focused storytelling and unbeatable skills at describing not only battles but also the ethics and morals of war make this the stand-out fantasy novel of 2008.
2. Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie
Joe Abercrombie's First Law Trilogy comes to an earth-shattering close with this novel, which makes the first two look like a David Eddings-penned nursery rhyme. Amidst the carnage, death and destruction, Abercrombie closes the character arcs of his protagonists in an appropriate manner and the mage Bayaz, torturer Glokta and barbarian Logen emerge as three of the most magnificent bastard figures even seen in fantasy. The messy, uncompromising ending makes this the most satisfying end to a fantasy trilogy...well, possibly ever*.
3. The Temporal Void by Peter F. Hamilton
After a disappointing Judas Unchained, Hamilton kick-started his Void Trilogy with the interesting but flawed The Dreaming Void. This middle book of his trilogy is a real return to form, mixing hard SF and inventive, exciting fantasy to superb effect and events build to a stunning climax that leaves the reader eager for the concluding volume in the series.
4. Nation by Terry Pratchett
Pratchett steps off the Discworld to deliver a fascinating story which reflects on life, death, faith and religion in a thoughtful, adult manner. Nation may contain odd bursts off Pratchett's trademark humour, but this is one of his most mature and sobering works, and it succeeds in its aims superbly.
5. The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan
Richard Morgan swaps cyberpunk for swords 'n' sorcery in his tribute to authors like Poul Anderson, Michael Moorcock and Fritz Leiber. It's old-school sensibilities are meshed well with its hints of hard SF underpinnings, and its hard-as-nails protagonists are an interesting bunch. Another angry, brutal and fascinating novel from one of the genre's most notable rising stars.
6. The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett
This debut fantasy novel mixes some traditional fantasy trappings with some fascinating new ideas, and its ward-based magic is an interesting new form of sorcery. However, it's the path of the protagonists which veers sharply from the traditional which attracts the most interest, and the final lines hint at a very different type of book for the forthcoming sequel, The Desert Spear.
7. Swiftly by Adam Roberts
A sequel to Gulliver's Travels set over a century later, which sees the little people and the giants as slaves of the British and French empires, helping the two nations fight a devastating war. However, it is the expansion late in the novel of the book to a cosmic scale which most impresses, as is the author's total mastery of the comic potential of fecal matter.
8. Return of the Crimson Guard by Ian Cameron Esslemont
Whilst Steven Erikson seems increasingly preoccupied by the thematic and philosophical ponderings of his Malazan series, to the detriment of its previous sense of fun and featuring of furious action, his co-creator and writing wingman has turned in a book that is much more Malazan old-school. It features vast armies clashing, some brilliant black humour and a focused, relentless pace which comes as a refreshing change after Erikson's recent indolent sprawls. With this book Esslemont more than proves that he has the chops to handle the Malazan universe's expansion, and his next novel is awaited with interest.
9. Shadow Gate by Kate Elliott
Spirit Gate, the first book in what is now the Crossroads Trilogy, was an interesting but flawed read which seemed to delight in withholding vital character and worldbuilding information from the reader. Shadow Gate remedies that by showing the flipside of events from the first book, as well as pushing the storyline on further. The result is a much stronger, more fascinating novel which fleshes out the settings and characters in a vivid manner, and also makes the first book much more cohesive in retrospect. The final volume of the trilogy is due in early 2009.
10. Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson
As the Malazan Book of the Fallen series has continued, it has increasingly abandoned the furious pace of the earlier novels in favour of greater exploration of the ideas at the heart of the series. Whilst this has left some fans cold, others have enjoyed Erikson's increasingly verbose divergences from his core storylines. This reaches its apex in Toll the Hounds, a novel whose connections to the rest of the series seem at times tenuous, but features some of Erikson's best writing. Whether Erikson can ramp up the tension and intensity once more for the final two-volume sequence of the saga remains to be seen.
11. The Edge of Reason by Melinda Snodgrass
This novel about religion and science may be a little heavy-handed in places, but Melinda Snodgrass has delivered a fine, enjoyable book. Expect the sequel in 2009.
12. Flood by Stephen Baxter
The science may be shaky, but Flood is a grand disaster novel which sees civilisation destroyed as the world's oceans increase in depth by staggering amounts. The story of how humanity survives is compelling and fun, with a few moments of genuine tragedy and pathos evoked amongst the more cinematic, widescreen scenes of mass destruction. Again, a sequel is due in 2009.
13. The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert VS Redick
Robert Redick's debut novel is a great read, chronicling life on aboard the colossal sailing vessel Chathrand as it sails on a diplomatic mission to avert a devastating war. Only a slightly confusing and unrealistic stalemate-inducing ending prevents it from ranking higher.
14. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
The blogger and Internet commentator creates an enjoyable story about a young man, mistakenly arrested in the wake of a terrorist attack on San Francisco, who uses his Internet skills to expose the illegal activities of the government. It's a bit heavy-handed and in some areas reads like out-and-out propaganda about the perils of a government with too much power, but in others it raises interesting and well-conceived questions.
In the interests of full disclosure, these are the major 2008 releases that I didn't get around to reading in time:
An Autumn War by Daniel Abraham
The Gabble by Neal Asher
Neuropath by R. Scott Bakker
Matter by Iain M. Banks
Ravensoul by James Barclay
City at the End of Time by Greg Bear
Small Favour by Jim Butcher
Princeps' Fury by Jim Butcher
The Lees of Laughter's End by Steven Erikson
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Thunderer by Felix Gilman
Inside Straight by George RR Martin (ed.)
Busted Flush by George RR Martin (ed.)
The Quiet War by Paul J. McAuley
House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds
Mistborn: The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi
Anathem by Neal Stephenson
By Schism Rent Asunder by David Weber
*Note: I don't consider Lord of the Rings to technically be a trilogy, before people start having heart attacks and berating me.