I did noticeably better with new releases this year, reading twenty to last year's fourteen.
The Wertzone Award for Best SF&F Novels in 2009
1. Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
A stand-alone quasi follow-up to The First Law Trilogy, Best Served Cold is a tale of revenge, murder, assassination, war and generally pleasant stuff, with Abercrombie somehow outstripping the first trilogy in terms of mayhem. Definitely the best novel released this year whose title appears to have been inspired by a line of dialogue in The Wrath of Khan.
2. Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding
Look, it's a steampunk version of Firefly with robots and pirates. What else do you want from a novel? Okay, there aren't any ninjas in it. Maybe in the sequel?
3. The City and The City by China Mieville
I must admit, this one's grown on me a lot since my initial read. A detective thriller set in a weirded-out city on the edge of Europe, where the people must live within the strict but apparently arbitrary rules enforced by an inarguable force of nature. A clever detective story wrapped around a compelling fantastical idea, delivered with Mieville's trademark engrossing prose.
4. The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
A series resurrection the likes of which hasn't been seen for a long time, Sanderson begins pulling the complex narrative ties of The Wheel of Time sequence into a coherent and logical finale, whilst simultaneously giving us one of the most satisfying battles in the series and also a self-contained, incredibly dark story depicting the battle for Rand al'Thor's soul. Unexpectedly powerful stuff.
5. Songs of the Dying Earth, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Linked by a framing device depicting the final spluttering out of the Sun, this collection of short stories, both self-contained and some expanding on elements of Jack Vance's original novels, is a fine achievement with some fantastic works by the likes of Tad Williams, Neil Gaiman, Dan Simmons and Martin himself.
6. The Judging Eye by R. Scott Bakker
Scott Bakker returns to the world of Earwa for the first volume in The Aspect-Emperor, the sequel series to his epic Prince of Nothing trilogy. A much darker tone to proceedings, the introduction of an insane new protagonist and the launching of a vast, dark war which makes the crusade of the first trilogy look like a walk in the park combine with the most disturbing Moria tribute you'll ever read to form something quite powerful.
7. Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts
Adam Roberts' Russia-set SF novel has a brilliant premise: Stalin commissions a bunch of Russian SF authors to conjure up a new threat to keep the Russian people united once the US is destroyed in the Cold War, and they create a story about aliens invading Earth by first blowing up an orbital shuttle just after launch and then destroying a nuclear power station in the Ukraine as a show of might. The project is abandoned, but in 1986 the events written forty years earlier start to come true. Excellent prose, some splendid SF imagery and a wicked sense of humour combine to make a superior novel.
8. Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton
Mark Charan Newton's debut is a mix of the traditional secondary world fantasy, 'icepunk' and the New Weird, with a host of unusual characters caught up in events beyond their control (as is traditional).
9. Triumff: Her Majesty's Hero by Dan Abnett
Warhammer 40,000 mainstay Abnett's first creator-owned, stand-alone novel is a rollicking good adventure set in an alt-history where Elizabeth I married the King of Spain and her empire then rediscovered magic. Elements of historical fiction combine with steampunk and some quite splendidly awful puns to create a fast-paced and funny novel starring a genre equivalent to Harry Flashman.
10. The Cardinal's Blades by Pierre Pevel
French author Pierre Pevel delivers a dragon-infused take on Dumas, with Cardinal Richelieu assembling a badass bunch of soldiers (a sort of French Dirty Dozen) to take on the shapeshifting dragons of the Spanish court who are determined to bring down France. Rooftop duels on the skylines of Paris and perfectly-pitched court intrigue make for an atmospheric and rich novel.
11. Galileo's Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson
Robinson mixes hard SF with vigorously-researched historical fiction as Galileo Galilei pursues his scientific discoveries, despite the growing disapproval of the Pope, only to wind up being visited by curious time-travellers from three millennia in the future anxious that he avoids his destined fate...
12. The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Movie director Del Toro makes his first foray into novels with this high-concept action thriller which sees an insane vampire lord decide to break the oldest law of his people (anxious to preserve their food supply) and begins an exponential spread of vampirism in New York City.A fast-paced, page-turning read.
13. Dust of Dreams by Steven Erikson
The ninth and sort-of-penultimate Malazan novel recovers from the pacing problems of the previous book in the series and sees an unusual number of storylines from the series being brought to a conclusion, culminating in an impressive massive battle sequence. Some great dialogue and Erikson's trademark interesting ideas hold up the reader's interest through the book's immense length.
14. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
A deeply atmospheric debut from Carrie Ryan set in a small settlement sealed off from the rest of the world by fences and gates, beyond which the hordes of the Unconsecrated roam. Zombies, romance (not with the zombies, thankfully) and some interesting worldbuilding questions make for an intriguing novel.
15. Fire by Kristin Cashore
The sequel to Graceling sees improved characterisation and politicking as the 'monstrous' Fire becomes the best hope for her home kingdom's survival, despite the persecution she faces from her own allies.
16. Eagle Rising by David Devereux
The extremely badass special operative 'Jack', essentially a Jack Bauer version of Harry Dresden, sets out to fight neo-Nazis employing supernatural forces for their own dastardly ends. Dark, amusing and fun.
17. The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas
Or Temeraire if it actually had dragons in it, rather than flying talking sky ponies. Several allied kingdoms are threatened by war, political intrigue abounds and the dragon steeds of the lords are in danger of rebelling. Great stuff from this debut novel.
18. Patient Zero by Jonathan Mayberry
A Middle-Eastern terrorist group launches a new terrorist campaign against the United States by deploying a bio-weapon that turns all it touches into zombies. The impossibly chisel-jawed hero Joe Ledger is deployed to fight off the zombie hordes and save America from zombification! Absolutely daft stuff, but oddly enjoyable.
19. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
A sort-of attempt to do an adult-oriented Harry Potter by way of a Narnia tribute which ends up getting a bit confused and falling over a lot. The story is okay, the writing occasionally very good, but a book that ultimately fails to work as well as was intended.
20. God of Clocks by Alan Campbell
After two very fine opening novels in The Deepgate Codex, the trilogy comes off the rails in this final volume which, having set up an insanely powerful enemy and a very challenging situation for our heroes to overcome, chickens out of actually answering these problems and resorts to some deus ex machina and time travel to sort everything out. There's still some good writing and good ideas, but overall the book feels like a massive cop-out.
The Wertzone 2009 Award for Special Achievements in Farcical KGB Interrogation Sequences
Sadly, the Farcical KGB Interrogation Sequence seems to be a dying art these days and competition for this award was light. Nevertheless, Adam Roberts' Yellow Blue Tibia can hold its head up high for delivering a comical but nevertheless mildly threatening questioning scene featuring a KGB agent and much ranting-based hilarity.
The Wertzone 2009 Award for Cruel and Unusual Treatment of Your Primary Cast
Joe Abercrombie takes this prize for his continued splendid tradition of creating characters and tormenting them with surgical precision in Best Served Cold. One day Abercrombie will undercut our expectations with a book that ends with no-one dying, being permanently physically and mentally scarred or turning out to having been an morally bankrupt Machiavellian quasi-villain all along. But not with this book.
So there we go. Not the best year in recent memory but not the worst either, with some very good books coming out. Hopefully, 2010 will be even better!