Alfvaen's Top & Bottom Books of 1994

And now it's time again for my favourite books of 1994. I should clarify that these are probably not books published in '94, but rather ones that I read during that time.

  1. Stephen R. Donaldson: The Gap Series. If I'd included all of the books separately, I wouldn't have space for anything else, so they're here en masse. I can't say that I was a rabid fan of the Thomas Covenant books, but these are fantastic. The characters are all(or mostly)unsympathetic, but I find myself rooting for them anyway. If you've never liked anything else Donaldson wrote, at least try The Real Story.
  2. Jessica Amanda Salmonson: A Silver Thread of Madness. I'd seen her work as an editor before, but not as a writer...so I felt compelled to see if she was any good. She's phenomenal. This book is a collection of short stories, but there's not a dud in the lot. I wish she'd write more.
  3. Pamela Dean: Tam Lin. Not to everyone's tastes--my wife was utterly boggled to find it on this list--but I loved it. It builds up slowly, but is worth the wait once it gets where it's going, and the scenery along the way is marvelous. I didn't want it to end on the last page.
  4. Dave Duncan: West of January. A winner of the Aurora Award a few years ago, and deservedly so. Duncan is known more for his fantasy these days(his "A Handful of Men" series should be on this list somewhere, too, but there wasn't room), but this book shows that he can do equally well at SF.
  5. Nancy Kress: Beggars In Spain. A great book. I know some preferred the original novella better, but I found all of the book equally strong.
  6. Lois McMaster Bujold: The Warrior's Apprentice. More than just a military SF novel; Bujold's characters are all real, none moreso than Miles Vorkosigan. Read it even if you don't like war stories.
  7. Sean Stewart: Nobody's Son. Not yet released in the States-- boy, are you guys in for a treat. Sean Stewart's the fastest- rising Canadian writer out there, with two Aurora Awards for his first two novels. This book describes what really happens in a "happily ever after".
  8. Ian McDonald: Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone. A book I picked up almost by accident(I loved the title), but one of the most original ideas of the year. I shall definitely have to read more of this guy.
  9. Melissa Scott: Five-Twelfths of Heaven. Another book that ensnared me by the title, and another creative premise: What if science were truly based on alchemy?
  10. Norman Spinrad: Deus X. Having read some of Spinrad's most biting satire, I was unprepared for this sensitive examination of religion, spirituality, and whether cybernetic entities have souls.
Special mention also goes to two nonfiction books. Generations, by William Strauss & Neil Howe, is the Book That Went The Deepest Into My Brain for the year. If you've ever wondered why your children/your parents/kids today are Not Like You, read this book. Or even why society in general is the way it is. In a more humourous vein, there's Cynthia Heimel's If You Can't Live Without Me, Why Aren't You Dead Yet? More than being humourous, it's full of tremendous insight on men, women, and the way they interact.

And now the other half of the list, the Bottom Ten of 1994. These are the ten books I read this year that I liked the least. Sometimes it was because they were actively bad, sometimes it was just because they were not to my taste.

Bottom:

  1. Piers Anthony: Firefly. Surprise, surprise. Anthony's ham-handed attempt to deal with such sensitive issues as spousal abuse, child abuse, and impotence is surely one of his worst. The SF/horror subplot is almost an afterthought, and as such too flimsy to support the rest of the book, which collapses under its own weight and flops around on the ground until you put it out of its misery with a club.
  2. Michael Moorcock: The New Nature of The Apocalypse. To be honest, I didn't finish this book. In fact, in three days I only got about 30 pages into it. It's part of a series of collections of his works, and this one was devoted to Jerry Cornelius. I only tried it to determine whether I only disliked Cornelius because I first tried to read it when I was 12. I remain satisfied.
  3. Edgar Pangborn: Davy. Having liked other of Pangborn's writings, I thought I'd try this one, which seemed to be one of his best-known. It was okay, although slightly annoying--and then, at the end, the narrator(who was writing the manuscript)'s wife died and he never finished it, or even got up to the point where we'd met his wife. It was an attempt at some clever stylistic trick that detracted from the story and, IMHO, did not work.
  4. John Bell & Lesley Choyce: Visions From The Edge. This book suffers from little more than being a collection of mostly 19th-century "SF", loosely-termed, derived entirely from authors who were born and/or lived at one point in Atlantic Canada. I could make some comment about having to really scrape the bottom of the barrel, but surely there are better authors out there they could have picked. (They did have one Spider Robinson story, at least.) The capper was the lengthy Utopian novel, full of indications that the author had some misapprehensions about the way the world worked, which I never finished.
  5. Samuel M. Key: I'll Be Watching You. Key's name(a pseudonym for Charles de Lint)previously appeared on From A Whisper To A Scream, an interesting horror novel that compared not too badly with some of his other modern fantasy works. This book, on the other hand, abandons the fantasy element entirely, and proceeds to tell the story of a serial killer and give a look at the objectification of the female body somewhat more sensitive than Firefly(see #1, above). The topic deserves better.
  6. The Science Fiction of Mark Clifton. This one, I'm sure, is a matter of taste, and of fiction that didn't age well. Clifton co-wrote They'd Rather Be Right, one of the earliest Hugo award-winning novels, and the only one to have mostly disappeared without a trace. The stories in this collection are probably mildly logical extensions of some of the trends evident in the 50's, but to an extent they never attained. Some of the stories are interesting enough, but others seem outlandish today. (Will cyberpunk look this silly in forty years?)
  7. Wild Cards IV: Aces Abroad. I was warned that this was the weakest in the series. It didn't have the strength of a unifying plotline that made the previous two books so good, nor did it have anywhere near as interesting characters to introduce as the first in the series. Instead, it's a series of loosely-connected stories dealing, often in quite stereotypical fashion, with a number of foreign countries. (The Australia story features an Aborigine, Dreamtime, and Ayers Rock, for instance.) There were some strong stories, but they were the exception.
  8. Joseph H. Delaney & Marc Stiegler: Valentina:Soul in Sapphire. Another book that didn't age well. It's based on computer technology of the time it was written, which was at least ten years ago. No such thing as a personal computer appears in the book. That said, Valentina is one of the more delightful AIs I've encountered; if only she'd had stronger plotlines to engage in in the first place.
  9. Pamela Sargent: The Sudden Star. I can't quite verbalize why this novel left me cold. The world's gone to hell, and we follow one or two characters, not very likeable ones, around to various places showing us just how bad things are. Not that I expect all characters to have redeeming qualities, but they should, at least, do interesting things from time to time. I'll hope that Sargent has written better.
  10. Terence M. Green: Children of The Rainbow. This book would have made a great short story--a man from the 21st Century gets exchanged with a prisoner on Devil's Island in the 19th. The former's attempts to make the warden believe him are by far the most interesting part of the book. The rest is almost padding.
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The Den of Ubiquity / Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com