Alfvaen's Top & Bottom Books of 2001
Hey, I got these done before the end of the next year this time! Now all I
need to do is put away the Christmas ornaments. 11 good and 8 bad this
year, so still a little bit ahead. Still categorizing series as single
entries if I read them all during the year, and remember that these are
books I read last year, not books that necessarily came out in 2001.
Alfvaen's Top Books of 2001
- Steven Brust:Issola. I must confess that while all of the Vlad Taltos
books have been good, the ones with Vlad himself as narrator have always
been the best. In the past few books, Brust tried a bit of variety, with
Kiera the Thief as narrator in Orca, third-person in
Athyra, and so on. Dragon was a flashback, still
in Vlad's point of view but mostly lacking in urgency because we mostly knew
So Issola came as a breath of fresh air. It was Vlad point of
view, it was present timeline, and all the stops were out. We've got the
Jenoine, we've got Morrolan and Aliera and Sethra and the whole
bunch(including Morrolan's servitor, the Issola of the title, who comes to
play a crucial part in the plot), we've got Great Weapons, and we've got
the enigma of Spellbreaker finally resolved. It pulls no punches and takes
no prisoners. Welcome back, Vlad! Remember that there's supposed to be at
least seventeen books in the series, probably eighteen because
Taltos isn't one of the Dragaeran houses.
- Dan Simmons:Endymion/The Rise of Endymion. I liked the Hyperion books
a lot, but I waited a while before starting into the sequel series. First
of all, it could be really bad. Secondly, judging by Hyperion
it would be a bad idea to read the first book before the second one was
out. And thirdly, this is just what I normally do with series anyway. But
eventually I relieved the suspense and dug in.
It starts a bit slowly, but soon enough it's rip-roaring away. Lots of
nice battle scenes, in which the Shrike is the good guy(sort of like the
Terminator in T2), but doesn't always come out on top. A lot of what we
were told in the Hyperion books turns out to be wrong, and not a few people
we thought were dead aren't, and that gets a bit confusing, but it all
works out in the end. A bit of a bittersweet ending, but it wraps things
Of course, that's what we thought the last time...
- Glen Cook:Soldiers Live.
First there was the Black Company trilogy, and that tied up its plot
threads but left things open for future volumes. Then Glen Cook started
The Books of The South, but the third one, "Glittering Stone", kept getting
delayed. Finally, after a long wait, it came out, not as a book, but as a
three-book series. And then a four-book series. This was the fourth book.
If you haven't read the rest of the Black Company series, then obviously
you should start there. I'll wait. This web page will probably be up for
a few years yet. There. Caught up? Okay then.
It's probably not true that Glen Cook had the whole background of the world
figured out when he wrote the first trilogy, or even when he did the first
two Books of the South. I'm guessing that he had inklings, but that things
just started to fall together to form a larger framework. Because I think
otherwise some things would have been foreshadowed more, you know? But how
it did all come together is staggering and ultimately very impressive.
Like Issola, this also features the return of the original
narrator after several books of absence--Croaker, after Murgen in
Bleak Seasons and She Is The Darkness, and Sleepy
in Water Sleeps. And he even shared with Lady in Dreams
of Steel. So this is an extra-special treat.
The mystery of Khatovar is revealed at long last, and it was almost totally
unexpected for me. Major cosmic things happen, and I'm afraid that One-Eye
and Goblin do not both make it out of the book unscathed. Neither does
Croaker, really, but then he was probably in his eighties anyway. There
could be a continuation, probably not from Croaker POV--that's been pretty
securely closed off. It would be all new blood. But that was one of the
things I always liked about the Black Company books, how they could always
keep absorbing new members and yet maintain their continuity. So when he
runs out of metals to use in Garrett book titles, maybe Cook will come back
to the Company again.
- Philip Pullman:The Golden Compass/The Subtle Knife/The Amber Spyglass.
Or "His Dark Materials", the series title proper. This is not exactly
obscure, I wouldn't say, but that doesn't mean it can't be good, right?
Maybe it got caught on the Harry Potter wave, but it's good enough to be a
success in its own right. Multiple worlds and all sorts of wondrous
things, cosmic events resting on the acts of a few, all makes good stuff.
And did you know that there really was supposed to be an angel named
"Metatron"? Doesn't he sound like he should be in the Transformers or
- Matt Hughes:Fools Errant.
A nice little book by a Canadian author in a far-far-future subgenre that
seems to owe most of its debts to Jack Vance's "Dying Earth" books, with
perhaps a few nods to Lin Carter's "End of Time". Chock full of weird
isolated cultures with their bizarre idiosyncratic customs. Also a story of
learning and coming of age, so it's socially redeeming as well! What more
could you ask for?
- Jim Munroe:Flyboy Action Figure Comes With Gasmask.
This barely feels like SF, but it is, technically. It really feels more
like Douglas Coupland or somebody writing a Gen-X novel that just happens
to involve people who have superpowers. They have feet of soft, mushy
clay, and they still have to deal with roommates and single parenthood and
stuff like that. A heartfelt story that I highly recommend whether you
used to read X-Men comics or not.
- Spider Robinson:The Free Lunch.
After umpteen Callahan's books(see below for my opinion on where that's
gone)and other stuff, Spider comes out with something new and fresh, the
result of his abortive collaboration with John Varley on a Disneyland
novel. Varley told him to go ahead and do it on his own, so he did. It's
got a lot of standard Spiderisms, the beneficient aliens from the future
and all that, but at least its characters are not bulletproof.
- Will Ferguson:Generica.
A lovely satire of the publishing world, and self-help in particular, from
the authors of Why I Hate Canadians(though don't let that fool
you, he is one--who else would know so much about them?). When the main
character is powerless to stop a self-help book that really works from
getting inflicted on the world, he has to try to track down the author to,
well, kill him or something.
- David Gerrold:Bouncing Off The Moon.
It's not the next Chtorr book, but the second in Gerrold's engaging series
of the adventures of Chigger and his two brothers sets a new high-water
mark for juvenile SF. Actually, I don't know if I'd let my kid read this
until he's at least in high school, and it's certainly a great read for an
adult as well. As the title implies, they made it to the moon in this
book, and as the action moves fast, they probably don't spend that much
time there before heading out again.
- Robert J. Sawyer:Calculating God.
Sawyer's been hit-or-miss with me, but this one was a fairly palpable hit.
Aliens come to earth and demand to speak to paleontologists? And
they have tangible evidence of the existence of a supreme being? Highly
thought-provoking and emotionally charged.
- J.K. Rowling:Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire.
You can't resist the Harry Potter phenomenon, because let's face it, the
books are great. And things are getting darker with every book, too--the
kid gloves are coming off. I may not be lined up at midnight outside
Chapters when The Order of The Phoenix comes out, but I will
be much more likely to shell out for the hardcover this time.
On the non-fiction side of things, I would definitely have to say that Howe
& Strauss's latest generational book, Millennials Rising, is
worth a look. Generation X comes off as bad in that one as Boomers did in
13th Gen, which I guess is our comeuppance. One thing they
claim in the book is that each generation comes of age trying to solve the
problems created by the generation before it, or something. Anyway, it
should give you a little bit of hope for the future if you think we're on a
spiral into the decay of civilization as we know it. Somebody will be
there to do the work of fixing it, and they probably all watched "American
Just when you thought it was safe to back to the library, it's...
Alfvaen's Bottom Books of 2001
- Spider Robinson:Callahan's Key.
Okay. I liked Callahan's Crosstime Saloon. And several of
the books that followed. Even if sometimes the dipper came up a little bit
dry from the well, usually Spider could muster excitement, humour, and
But this time it seems to be mostly a bunch of aging Boomers heading down
to Florida and nothing happening. Oh, they have to save the world
again, but by this point they are all bulletproof and have enough cosmic
allies to save the universe standing on their head. Not to mention a
talking baby with superpowers. Don't ask.
If I'm lucky, this book will never find its way onto my shelves.
- John Clute:Appleseed.
John Clute is mostly known as a critic, and the co-editor of various SFnal
encyclopedias. This is, I believe, his first novel in umpteen years, and
in some ways it really looks like it.
Every paragraph, every sentence, every word, is so intensely overwritten as
to be suffocating. You are thrown into the deep end right from the
beginning without any chance to get your breath, too. It has its moments,
but they are few, and sometimes you don't realize they were there until
It also doesn't depict a future that I would ever want to live in. It
approaches Paul Quarrington's Civilization in its sheer
squalor, and includes the most unerotic love scene I've ever read in a
book. I just wanted it to be over.
This is what happens when longtime critics write books, you see. They have
read so many books that they often try to write something different from
everything they've read. Unfortunately, they have read a lot of good and
readable and intelligible books as well as dreck, so often what they avoid
doing are the things that would make their book good and readable and
intelligible. It's a theory, anyway.
- Paul J. McAuley:Fairyland.
This book just didn't gel for me. It's sort of cyberpunkish, and when I
looked at it(just at the library, thank god), it struck me as maybe like
Neal Stephenson. But it isn't. It's British, and sometimes I think that
should be a warning label enough, because I just don't digest British SF
that well. The whole "fairy" metaphor never really did it for me, either.
- Allen Steele:The Tranquillity Alternative.
I liked A King of Infinite Space, so I grabbed this one on
impulse off the rack at the library. It wasn't part of the same future,
but it looked like an interesting alternate history. But it really wasn't.
It was a slow-paced would-be thriller set on a moon-base, and in the end it
didn't really thrill that much. Its plot twists were fairly predictable
and so made you wonder at the stupidity of the characters rather than
boggle at the cleverness of the author.
No, the best thing about this book by far was their description of that
reality's version of "Star Trek"--in a world where travel throught the
solar system was more or less well-established, it wasn't even science
fiction. So that little writeup is hilarious, and you can skip the rest.
- Roger Zelazny:Wizard World.
Nothing much to this one, really. Just a couple of fantasy novels bound
together in an omnibus, that didn't really age well. You could get away
with this stuff fifteen, twenty years ago, but not today.
- Jack L. Chalker:Priam's Lens.
I am only a few books away from giving up on Chalker altogether. If he
can't even pull off a Well World book anymore...well, maybe he just needs
more Nathan Brazil. This one isn't Well World, so it doesn't even have
that much going for it. It's more of the same Chalkerisms, nothing new
like the ventures into Dickism that made the Wonderland Gambit smell a bit
- Michael Bishop:No Enemy But Time.
Ho hum, a guy from the near future goes back and spends a bunch of time
living with neanderthals. Except that he's not really going into the past,
but into his own vision of the past, or something. I never really did
figure that out, especially when he came back with a child. Anyway, I've
read better, even by Bishop.
- John M. Ford:The Scholars of Night.
A straight spy thriller from Ford, who's done better writing in SF and
fantasy, and even Star Trek novels. There are some tenuous ties to a
lost Christopher Marlowe manuscript, but it isn't enough to make the plot
that much more interesting.
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The Den of Ubiquity / Aaron V. Humphrey / firstname.lastname@example.org