Alfvaen's Top & Bottom Books of 2000

Again somewhat delayed, but not so bad as last year's, here's my top & bottom books of the year 2000. Still not quite a top ten list, but I am counting a few series that I read this year in its entirety as single entries, since it's more likely that I have actually read an entire series close together, with my current reading pattern.

Alfvaen's Top Books of 2000

  1. Eric S. Nylund:Signal To Noise/A Signal Shattered. I picked Signal To Noise off the paperback racks at the library mostly at random, but I suppose really I liked the title(which evokes memories of my days on Usenet), and the cover, which was really just a random-appearing cascade of colours. It was an amazing tour de force about a new isotope discovery which leads to communication with aliens, and the Pandora's box that opens up. The story carries right into the second book with hardly a pause, so I recommend getting both at once if you plan to read them. I can't wait to see what Nylund comes up with next...or, heck, what he's already written, since I don't think these are his first books.
  2. Ken Grimwood:Replay. The first time I heard of this one was when someone was complaining on the Net that the movie "Groundhog Day" had ripped off its entire plotline from it. That's an extreme exaggeration, but since I loved "Groundhog Day", I thought I'd give this book a try. The basic premise is that the main character, at a certain point in his life, has what seems to be a fatal heart attack and then finds himself years back in his past. He goes through his life several different times, starting from slightly different places, and goes through a lot of different emotional states. (It doesn't hurt his chances that he remembers a particular long-odds sporting event that he uses to acquire money through heavy betting...I'd be hard-pressed to find something so easy.) An excellent book, and I wonder if this guy's got other books out too.
  3. Guy Gavriel Kay:Lord of Emperors. The second book of his "Sarantine Mosaic", and I think a bit better than the first. Kay fans will know that his recent books tend to be set in fantasy-world equivalents of various historical periods, and this series(which is just the two books)is set in essentially the Byzantine(Sarantine) empire after the fall of Rome(Rhodias). The main character, a Rhodian mosaicist, was summoned to Sarantium to do a piece of work for the Emperor, and gets involved in a lot of court intrigue. The threads are introduced in the first book, but the second one resolves them in an elegant and rewarding fashion, with many of the great scenes Kay is known for.
  4. Crawford Kilian:Eyas. I wish I remembered this book better, but it was a while ago, so let me just say that it's a stellar example of a heroic novel, as in "the journey of a hero" as opposed to "fantasy swordsman collects plot coupons", set in a science-fictional world with a touch of low-tech("fantasy") ambience.
  5. Dean R. Koontz:Strangers. One of Koontz's best, about a disparate group of people who find themselves changed by a period they can't remember, until they return to the scene to find out what did happen to them. Barely a wrong note here.
  6. Steven Gould:Jumper. This is practically the last word in teleportation, in the same way that David Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself is the last word in time travel. Our main character discovers his ability by accident, and struggles to come to terms with it as he comes to terms with the world around him and growing up. I'm sure most of us would use such a gift differently, so it's nice to read about someone with a few more ethics than that.
  7. Iain M. Banks:Consider Phlebas. This is the first of his Culture books that I've read, and it has its weak points, but Banks also seems to be a master of the scene, the high point of the book being its extended climactic battle which takes many twists and turns before its end. I am looking forward to reading his Look To Windward, which apparently covers some of the same events from different points of view. And I should find more of these novels, too.
  8. Peter David:Legions of Fire trilogy. Yes, these are media tie-in books. So what? So was Janet Kagan's Uhura's Song. And these, being Babylon 5 books, have the added advantage of a master plotter, J. Michael Straczynski, doing the outlines. Peter David is no mean hand with words himself, so this trilogy, which filled in a lot of gaps about what happened with Londo Mollari and Vir Cotto on Centauri Prime after the main timeline of the TV series, is a crashing good read.

On the non-fiction honourable mention list comes Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs & Steel, which is an excellent examination of just why it is that European and Asian cultures have come to dominate the world, while other have languished. Diamond punctures any assumptions that "white men" must necessarily be better than other races because of their dominance, and shows how it came about merely because Eurasia had more favourable geography and better crops and herd animals. I've heard some people say that history and geography are inextricable, and I'm beginning to believe it. Which makes it harder to build fictional worlds, but I'm sure they will end up better in the long run.


And now the bad news, it's...

Alfvaen's Bottom Books of 2000

  1. F.M. Busby:Young Rissa. I keep reading F.M. Busby hoping that he will come up with another gem like his novelette "First Person Plural", but instead he mostly comes out with a bunch of space opera trash. I will probably eventually persevere in this series to see if there's anything else worthwhile--some of the scenes from Rissa's childhood were effective--but I'm not holding out much hope.
  2. Jack L. Chalker:Horrors of The Dancing Gods. This misguided attempt to add horror to the genres that the Dancing Gods series is satiring misfires badly, is nowhere near funny, and generally should not have been written.
  3. Nalo Hopkinson:Midnight Robber. This may just be my personal taste, but I did not like the main character in this book at all. And it's probably politically incorrect of me, because(spoiler here)she was abused by her father, and so has some severe psychological issues because of it, but it did not make her an effective protagonist for the story.
  4. Stephen Gregory:The Blood of Angels. I borrowed this from a friend, along with a bunch of others, and it looked interesting at first, neat cover and all that. It was marketed as horror, but I'm broadminded these days so I thought I'd try it. Well. If it is "horror", then it is strictly in the non-speculative sense of people doing horrible things, and even then I'm not sure it qualifies based on anything besides the author's previous book, The Cormorant, definitely being horror. This was a sordid story of a pathetic man who doesn't do well with any woman except his sister, and just generally has a miserable life. If you like that sort of thing, then go to it, but leave me out of it.
  5. Jack L. Chalker:The Sea Is Full of Stars/Ghost of The Well of Souls. And Chalker strikes out again, this time proving that even Well World books are not surefire, something I was beginning to suspect even with his last trilogy of them. These ones, which take place mostly in aquatic areas of the Well World, perforce do not involve Nathan Brazil and Mavra Chang, our heroes up till now, and in generally we've seen it all before, despite the slightly unusual setting. Chalker is getting very close to pulling a Piers Anthony and schlocking himself off my must-buy list. He better pull up his socks real soon, or I'll just go back to rereading the first three Well World books and sighing over what might have been.
  6. Jadrien Bell:A.D. 999. This book felt like it was rushed out quick to meet the whole Y2K thing, and perhaps that's unfair. It was a neat concept, about Satan's attempts to pull off the armageddon, with the deck stacked in his favour, at the end of the first millennium A.D., but in the end it's not constructed solidly enough, and plot and characters do not gel to hold it together. A shame, really. There could have been a good book in here. (Good thing the author used a pseudonym...)
  7. R. Garcia y Robertson:The Spiral Dance. I like R. Garcia y Robertson's name (which I understand is merely the Hispanic form of "Robertson-Garcia" or something), but I haven't found his writing to be consistent. This one is a grubby tale of a noblewoman fallen on hard times in medieval Scotland, with a very little bit of time-travel thrown in, not enough to make it worthwhile in my opinion.
  8. Mike Resnick:Soothsayer. The middle book of Mike Resnick's trilogy about a girl who can foretell the future, set in the universe of his novel Santiago, where it's full of interstellar gunslinger-types who make up cool names for each other. This one barely involves the title character, focusing mostly on a bunch of the amoral gunslingers trying to be the first one to find her. I found it sorely disappointing based on the first book, which had a lot more humanity to it.
  9. Marion Zimmer Bradley:The Mists of Avalon. Maybe this is sacrilege, but anyway, I finally got this one from the library(since I still refused to shell out for the trade paperback, and now I'm glad), and I didn't like it that much. I kept having to look through Bradley's distorting mirror to figure out what everything corresponded to in the more usual Arthur mythos, and quite frankly I found Guinevere(or however her name was spelled in this version)to be spoiled, whiny, and entirely unlikeable. So far I'm enjoying Mary Stewart's take on the Arthurian thing a lot better. Several women I know have recommended this one to me, so maybe it's a girl thing, and I'm just not equipped with the social conditioning or mental hardwiring(take your pick)for this to appeal to me.

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The Den of Ubiquity / Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com