2009: The Year in Books: Part 1 – Fiction

I read 67 books last year.  But I’m still fighting a losing battle not to get behind on my reading.  Last year I added 142 books to my list of books to read.

My favorite fiction books of the year:

Before They Are Hanged
Joe Abercrombie
I loved The Blade Itself and thought the sequel was just as good.  Crippled torturer Inquisitor Glokta is one of my all-time favorite fictional characters.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Junot Diaz
The tale of an overweight nerd from the Dominican Republic who wants to be the next Tolkien.  Surprisingly for a novel infused with genre references it won the Pulitzer.  A funny, sad and wonderful book.

Darkly Dreaming Dexter
Jeff Lindsay
Everyone’s latest favorite serial killer.  Although I really enjoyed the book, I actually prefer the TV series.  For once, I think the plot changes the series made were for the better.

A Feast For Crows
George R. R. Martin
Gritty, epic fantasy from the master of gritty, epic fantasy.  Book four of the increasingly-delayed Song of Fire & Ice series.

Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
One of the most influential works of fiction of the last 25 years.  I saw the movie first, loved it and so decided to read the graphic novel.  Brilliant stuff.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Brian Selznick
A wonderful children’s book filled with beautiful illustrations and a moving story.

The Arrival
Shaun Tan
A graphic novel that manages to say so much with pictures alone.

Peter Watts
A brilliant first contact novel.  Not an easy book to read, but filled with fascinating ideas about the nature of consciousness, evolution and alien communication.

Snake Agent
Liz Williams
The first of the Inspector Chan novels.  Blends Eastern mythology (Chinese demons) and modern technology.  Fun stuff.

Saturn Returns
Sean Williams
Fun, exciting, intelligent space opera with plenty of big ideas and cool concepts.

Some other novels I enjoyed were Summer Knight (another of Jim Butcher’s Dresden novels) and Mortal Engines (Philip Reeve).

I’d heard good things about Ian McDonald’s Brasyl and while I enjoyed the book, parts of it disappointed me and I wasn’t entirely convinced by the depiction of Brazil.  I guess I’ve just read enough stories where Tipler’s Omega Point is a major plot device.

I enjoyed Strange Tales From a Chinese Studio (Pu Songling), one of the classic sources of Chinese ghost stories.  After having watched movies like A Chinese Ghost Story, some of the tales in here were a lot of fun.  Some of the other tales were just a little bit odd and not exactly satisfying in terms of story development (Monster appears in town.  Monster eats random villagers.  Monster leaves.  The end).

I also battled my way through Slan, one of the classics of the science fiction.  As a genre, science fiction doesn’t age well.  Especially stories that are all about the ideas.  Modern science fiction stories have built on those ideas and added better writing and more convincing characters.  An example from Slan:

“Her own excitement was submerging in the first formulation of contempt for the clumsly efforts of the assassin.  “You fool,” she said, her child’s voice hot with disdain, yet immensely unchildlike in its stinging logic, “do you actually believe that you can catch a slan in the darkness?”

I read Haruki Murakami’s Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World.  The book is divided into two narratives.  One narrative I didn’t like at all and tended to skim.  The main narrative was a lot more fun and featured that wry sense of humor that infuses Murakami’s work:
“I thought about getting a haircut before the end of the world.  It wasn’t, after all, like I had lots of better things to do with twenty-four hours left.  Taking a bath, getting dressed, and going to the barber shop were about all I could hope for.”

I suspect one of the reasons Murakami is the most popular Japanese author overseas is that his books aren’t very “Japanese” in the sense that he is more influenced by Western literature and most of his cultural references are familiar to Western readers.  I enjoyed Hardboiled Wonderland, but not nearly as much as I liked Norwegian Wood.

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