Alfvaen's Top & Bottom Books of 1997

Here, once again, is my Top and Bottom books of 1997. These are the best and worst books(in my opinion, of course)that I read last year; this time I have nine of each.

Top:

  1. Dan Simmons: Hyperion. This is not your average book. For one thing, it's almost more of a series of linked short stories than a novel. For another thing, you need to read the sequel, The Fall of Hyperion, to find out what actually happens. But it's well worth it. The stories are those told among each other by a group of pilgrims who are going to the frontier planet of Hyperion(a planet with many oddnesses about it, including a death-dealing creature called the Shrike)in an attempt to somehow stave off an invasion. Or are they? The stories vary wildly among themselves, but overall begin to paint a picture which is beginning to come clear by the end of the book(and comes into full colour in the sequel). A deserved award winner.
  2. Paul Quarrington: Whale Music. I read this book because of its mention in the liner notes to the Rheostatics album of the same name(which was unrelated, but the band ended up doing some music for the movie...) It's the story of a rock musician(member of a band called the Howl Brothers, which seem to have been as big as the Beatles in North America, in the book's history at least)who has retreated into seclusion, obesity, loss of short-term memory, and a project to write music to communicate with whales. Until one morning he finds a half-naked woman sleeping on his couch, and slowly begins to reenter the world and come to terms with the betrayals of his past. Fairly quirky and humorous throughout, in case the foregoing sounded too heavy.
  3. Candas Jane Dorsey: Black Wine. This didn't sound like the kind of book I'd like, but I trust the author(and had heard provocative readings from the work in progress)so I tried it anyway. It's one of those books that manages to be both fantasy and science fiction, and makes you wonder if there's really a boundary. It involves several female characters in various timelines, and it took me a while to figure out who was whose mother and whose daughter, or the same person. But it's a very rich world, and a very rich book, and you won't regret reading it.
  4. Robert J. Sawyer: Starplex. An Aurora Award winner, and deserving of it. This book has mind-blowing "sensawunda" science-fictional speculation coupled with believable, three-dimensional characters. Sawyer just keeps getting better.
  5. Donald Kingsbury: Courtship Rite. A classic novel of a very interesting culture, but more than just about the culture. You'd never think that characters who practice ritual cannibalism and group marriages could be so sympathetic, but it works. (What else are they going to eat on a planet where almost everything else is toxic to them, anyway?) And the plot is endlessly fascinating as well.
  6. Stephen Baxter: The Time Ships. I've never read H.G. Wells's The Time Machine, but this book, written as a sequel to it, is mind-blowing. It integrates Wells's style with state-of-the-art science fictional time travel theory. Deservedly earned a Hugo nomination.
  7. Lois McMaster Bujold: Shards of Honour. Once again, Bujold's fiction looks like military SF, but transcends it. A woman from one side falls in love with a man from the other--simple enough. But then he has to risk his own career to keep her alive when she is captured...and when she returns home, just when you think things are winding down, she narrowly escapes imprisonment by her own government. A complexity and depth rarely equalled.
  8. Orson Scott Card: Children of The Mind. The fourth and final book in the series which started with Ender's Game(and really wasn't supposed to be four books long), is a worthy finish. It deals with some of the bombshells introduced at the end of the third book, and brings everything (well, almost everything)to closure. If you haven't read the rest of the series so you can get to this one, what are you waiting for?
  9. Pat Cadigan: Fools. A challenging novel which many people would put into the "cyberpunk" box, although it may not fit there comfortably. What happens to a cop who goes undercover by grafting on an entire new personality, if she forgets which one is which?


Bottom:

  1. Zane Grey: The Spirit of The Border. I've been reading a few Zane Greys, and for the most part they're harmless enough stories. But this one goes a little over the line in a few respects. I didn't make it all the way through, mainly because I was disgusted at Grey's treatment of the Indian characters. Not recommended for those offended by stereotypical treatment. And it's not just "politically incorrect", either, it's downright offensive.
  2. Damon Knight: CV. This story, unfortunately, reads like a movie script, which is a bad thing in a book which to my knowledge never started out as one. "CV" is a huge seagoing habitat, which is invaded by a body-stealing alien. But the characters are not very well-developed, and the plot doesn't make up for it. It would probably make an okay film, better than "Speed II" but not as good as "Titanic" or anything. But as a book it was a bit lacking.
  3. Victor Milan: Wild Cards XII:Turn of The Cards. This is one of the one-author Wild Cards books, and features a character that I never thought was one of the most promising in the series, "Cap'n Trips", a.k.a. Mark Matthews, an aging post-hippie who can somehow take on various super-powered alter egos through the use of chemicals. He ends up dragged into a conflict in Vietnam(no, not that one)where Jokers(who have been deformed by the Wild Card virus)are fighting for the promise of a place where they can live in peace. Only they(and Mark)are being duped by those who figure they'd make good cannon fodder. The most interesting parts concern one of Mark's alter egos, who starts to wonder where she came from(from Mark's ego, or was she a real person?), but the question is left hanging by the end. Ultimately an unsatisfying book.
  4. Samuel R. Delany: The Einstein Intersection. I have this problem with a lot of Delany books, that when I finish reading them I'm not quite sure what they were about. I'm sure they're very deep and symbolic and meaningful on levels that I don't stop to bother to figure out, but even now I can't remember what happened in the book, hardly. It was all weird and sort of New Wave and stuff. I just couldn't get into it, though.
  5. Storm Constantine: The Bewitchments of Love And Hate. The middle book of her Wraeththu trilogy, it was mostly just pretty slow going. Nothing much really happens in the book, as compared to the first or third ones, and it takes some time before we even figure out how this connects. The fact that, instead of wide-ranging travel, the vast majority of the book takes place in one house, may account for that. It didn't feel like it was moving very far either.
  6. Marion Zimmer Bradley: The Heirs of Hammerfell. It had the right kinds of elements for a Darkover book(set in the early periods), but something was missing. It felt too much like she was going through the motions to produce another book, but hadn't really put her heart into it. The characters didn't seem to breathe. For Darkover completists only.
  7. Dean R. Koontz: Midnight. Some of Koontz's books are good, but a lot of them just somehow don't quite gel. There is some kind of weird thing going on that mystifies the reader in the first few chapters, but when you get to the end either it turns out to be not as interesting as you were led to believe, or it is dealt with in an unsatisfactory fashion. Midnight has a little of both. The characters are interesting, but the premise is taken to some lengths that seem just a wee bit silly by the time things come to a head.
  8. Dick Francis: Risk. Okay, I confess, my biggest problem with this book is that the main character, who is an accountant, spends about a third of book as a captive. He starts out on a boat, later he gets locked in a van, and at the end he gets tied up in a chair. This kind of thing tends to happen to Dick Francis characters, but not as often, and usually they're a bit better at handling themselves. It just didn't thrill me as much as most of his do.
  9. Sean Stewart: Clouds End. Another book that seemed to be laden with symbolism, this time overt(as in most of the characters were aware of it). It didn't quite seem to gel either, somehow.

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