1. The Islanders by Christopher Priest
Priest's first novel in a decade may not be quite his best, but it is still an impressive achievement. Taking the form of a gazetteer to a fictional archipelago of islands, this was a short story collection, novel and worldbuilding guidebook (but also very much a deconstruction of the notion of worldbuilding) all wrapped into one compelling whole. Especially notable for showcasing Priest's not-very-often-aired sense of humour. Inventive and rewarding.
2. The White Luck Warrior by R. Scott Bakker
Bakker's Second Apocalypse fantasy sequence (of which this is the fifth volume, and the second volume of the second of three trilogies set in the world of Earwa) passes its mid-point with Bakker's customary intellectual vigour, foreboding atmosphere and memorable scenes (the finale is stunning). He also brings back the massive battle sequences and more successfully manages the politics than the previous volume, returning to his top form.
3. The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie
Abercrombie's best novel to date, with a strong focus on a single battle unfolding over three days. The battle may be pointless, but its outcome has huge ramifications for both the characters and also the world (not the least of which is the invention of the sandwich).
4. The Iron Jackal by Chris Wooding
The Tales of the Ketty Jay series is probably the most purely enjoyable fantasy series in progress at the moment, and this third volume is the best in the series so far. A succession of aerial dogfights and chases mix well with intrigue, a museum heist and an epic conclusion featuring a giant steampunk robot. An absolutely non-guilty pleasure.
5. The Cold Commands by Richard Morgan
After the interesting but unfocused Steel Remains, Morgan returns to his SF/fantasy hybrid trilogy with renewed focus and improved writing. Much more successful as a homage to pulp fantasy than its forebear, although it's the increasingly clear links to his Takeshi Kovacs series that have most impressed readers.
6. A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
Was it worth the six-year wait? Probably not, and the delaying of several critical climactic moments to the sixth novel in the series was a mistake (as was the problematic pacing of the Daenerys storyline). However, once these issues were take on board, what we were left with was often compelling: Theon's imprisonment at the hands of the Boltons is an excellent slice of psychological horror, whilst Davos and Bran's chapters showed that Martin could still do concise, effective storylines when required.
7. The Crippled God by Steven Erikson
The tenth and final novel in the Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence was much more of an effective finale than some fans were expecting. Erikson demonstrates how much control he did have of his often cumbersome-appearing narrative unfolding over ten thousand pages, wrapping up an enormous number of storylines, character arcs and thematic journeys with skill. That said, it was still a couple of hundred pages too long and the pacing was still too-often bogged down by turgid dialogue exchanges, but this novel still represents Erikson at his best form in almost a decade.
8. Daylight on Iron Mountain by David Wingrove
After the somewhat sedate Son of Heaven, Wingrove's new version of his Chung Kuo sequence kicked into overdrive with a novel that packed sociological change and full-scale global warfare into a modest page count. A fun, page-turning read setting the scene for the remaining eighteen (!) novels in this series.
9. Rivers of London/Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch
A new urban fantasy sequence arrives almost fully-formed, with fun writing and some solid concepts overcoming the familiarity of yet another take on vampires and ghosts.
10. By Light Alone by Adam Roberts
Inventive SF from Roberts, set in a world where people live by photosynthesis. His strongest novel to date and his most satisfying ending (a sticking point for me with his previous works).
Bubbling under: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, Embassytown by China Mieville, Manhattan in Reverse by Peter F. Hamilton, The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson, War in Heaven by Gavin Smith, The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, The Emperor's Knife by Mazarkis Williams, The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham, Leviathan Wakes by Daniel Abraham & Ty Franck, Fenrir by M.D. Lachlan and The Order of the Scales by Stephen Deas.
The Wertzone Special Achievement in SFF Writing Award 2011
This award goes to Steven Erikson for bringing the Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence to a worthwhile and fascinating conclusion, tying together an epic number of plot threads in a satisfying manner.
The Wertzone Award For Best Book Read in 2011 Regardless of Release Date
This one goes to The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, previously the highest-profile author whom I'd never actually read. A gripping, thought-provoking read that more than lives up to its titanic reputation.
1. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
The Deus Ex sequence returns with its third game, an RPG that offers great gameplay, well-developed characters and tremendous freedom to approach any problem from multiple angles (some ill-considered boss fights aside). Fun and smart in equal measures.
2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Bethesda return with an open-world RPG offering huge amounts of freedom, as well as a metric ton of content, making for their largest game since Daggerfall. Fans of Bethesda's previous games may find the structure overly-familiar, but unparalleled atmosphere and evocative graphics make up for the occasional bugs and often lacklustre writing.
3. Space Marine
Not exactly the longest or most sophisticated game ever made, Space Marine nevertheless satisfies by allowing you to jet-pack into a horde of ravening orcs with a massive chainsword and unleash carthartic carnage on an epic scale. Throwing back your head and laughing like a lunatic whilst doing so is purely optional.
4. Shogun 2: Total War
I've only had time to play this briefly, but the Total War series seems to have lost a little of its shine recently. The graphics are phenomenal and the mix of real-time battles and turn-based strategy remains compelling, but the continued poor AI performance and an oddly cumbersome interface that throws away a lot of the streamlining of the last few games inhibit fully enjoyment of the title.
Not played (yet): Mafia II, Portal 2, Arkham City, Hard Reset.
Best TV Series
1. Game of Thrones
HBO's take on the Song of Ice and Fire novels is well-written and brilliantly-acted, overcoming some problems (inappropriately gratuitous sex scenes and clumsy exposition) to emerge as a genuinely impressive, game-changing TV show.
2. Top Boy
Channel 4's four-part mini-series about drug dealers feuding for control of a London estate may have resulted in obvious comparisons to The Wire, but its impressive cinematography and nuanced characterisation allowed it to also stand on its own as a well-acted, impressively-written drama. A second season will air in 2012.
A bizarre premise - a suicidal man is befriended by a dog which he sees as a person - gives rise to some hilarious antics and amusing references. The writers get bogged down a little in a limited premise, but towards the end of the season show some inventiveness in stretching the format.
For its fourth and penultimate season, Merlin seriously upped its game, dropping the poor comedy episodes and scything down a number of recurring characters with surprising ruthlessness before bringing some of the more notable mythic Arthurian imagery into play. It's still a lightweight take on the legend, but a resolutely fun one.
5. Doctor Who
This year was a bit of a disappointment for Doctor Who, with Steven Moffat apparently keener on showing how clever he is than delivering reliably entertaining television. However, the excellent Neil Gaiman episode is worthy of the placement all by itself.