2009 Everything Is Nice Book Awards
Book Of The Year:The Crimson Petal And The White by Michel Faber
Looking back on what I’ve read this year, I’ve actually had a fairly mediocre year. This massive wodge of a book was one of the few true highlights. It has been sat on my shelves for some time, rather intimidatingly, with its 800 plus pages of small type but I finally had a chance to spend some time with it and, far from it being difficult or a struggle, it was a pure joy to read. Faber has produced an immensely nimble novel and his evocation of the Victorian period from a more honest perspective than was available at the time is extraordinary. If you think Dickens looks a bit dull and that lashings of piss and spunk improve most things, this is the book for you.
Runners up: His Illegal Self by Peter Carey, In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield
Why Didn’t I read That Before? Award: Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
In fact – good as Faber’s novel is –this was the best thing I read all year but I’ve arbitrarily split the categories between recent-ish and old-ish stuff. It made sense last year (although it still didn’t stop one A Roberts from teasing) but maybe I’ll drop it next year. Anyway, this is a bloody masterpiece. Reading Farewell, My Lovely in 2009, it still seems completely fresh; approaching some genre-changing material considerably after the fact, it can seems tired and dull in the wake of the evolution it has triggered (see, for example, Neuromancer) but, if anything, the opposite is true here as, for all the imitation, very little since has approached the quality of the original. The prose is pretty much peerless and at least some of 2010 will be devoted to a further exploration of Chandler.
Runners up: Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban, The Seige Of Krishnapur by JG Farrell
Science Fiction Book Of The Year: In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield
In my review I concluded:
In Great Waters is a delight to read, an elegant and contained work. People frequently profess to like clean, unadorned prose when often what they mean is prose that is charmlessly functional, prose that gets you from A to B without needing you to really to engage. Whitfield is the real deal, her prose is clear like a mountain lake; cool, beautiful, bracing, affording glimpses of great depths. I am extremely eager to see what she will do next.
Yes, it was so good I almost lapsed into blurbing… This was a lovely unexpected treat; a book I knew little about and which bowled me over from the first chapter. Her debut was nowhere near as impressive but, as I said in my review, only forward.
Runners up: The City & The City by China Miéville, The Ask And The Answer by Patrick Ness
Children’s Book Of The Year: The Ask And The Answer by Patrick Ness
There is absolutely no doubt that Monsters Of Men, the concluding volume of Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy, is my most anticipated book of 2010. The first volume, The Knife Of Never Letting Go was an unexpected delight: a great children’s novel, a great adventure novel, a great SF novel. The Ask And The Answer took this to the next level:
The Ask And The Answer may be slower and less exhilarating to begin with than its predecessor but that is because it requires a fundamental change of mindset from the reader. This is no adventure: it is a war story in which our erstwhile hero and heroine gradually become a concentration camp guard and a suicide bomber. Although obviously co-erced to one degree or another, Ness never shies away from showing that both Todd and Viola still have agency and are morally compromised by their complicity in the inescapable crimes that surround them.
Runners up: Epic by Conor Kostick, Thirsty by MT Anderson
Worst Book Of The Year: Biohell by Andy Remic
Remic is very much a nuts and bolts type of guy; at one point, he even refers to a spaceship as having “pistons.” His characters take after him. Keenan is the sort of bloke who thinks the Marlboro Man is a poof (although, of course, he would spell it “puff”). He is a man’s man and this book, with its casual misogyny throughout, is not one you can imagine many women picking up. Even if you can put aside this machismo though, even if all you want is a book about blowing shit up, there is still not much to recommend Biohell… There is no attempt to make the plot believable or, even, coherent, let alone concentrating on niceties like structure and pace. Characters flail from plot coupon to McGuffin to deus ex machine without any real direction… The book is set thousands of years in the future but it could be set last week: there are references to Nazis, Arnie and even Ronan Keating. A particularly insular Britishness is on display here which might be a good corrective to the parochial American world view so prevalent in SF except for the fact that two wrongs don’t make a right.
Runners up: Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson
Disappointment Of The Year: Nights Of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton
Runners up: Mouse Guard: Autumn 1152 by David Petersen, Saga by Conor Kostick
Guilty Pleasure Of The Year: God Of Clocks by Alan Campbell
This is a messy book, a sloppy book but one I couldn’t help loving. I came to God Of Clocks with a great deal of accumulated good will from the previous two novels and if Campbell didn’t exactly squander this good will, I can understand why his concluding volume pissed off a lot of people. Still, I found myself able to go with the flow and there is no denying it was a lot of fun:
He has written the fantasy equivalent of New Space Opera; widescreen baroque, indeed. He has produced a series infused with gothic imagery but devoid of po-faced goth sensibility. He has populated it with cartoonish characters which the reader is nonetheless able to feel a great deal of affection for. Above all else he has achieved the holy grail of producing a novel that is unadulterated fun, a book that was written as entertainment and is unremittingly entertaining.
In the end, that carried the day.
Runners up: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Martin Martin’s On the Other Side by Mark Wernham
Most Overrated Book Of The Year: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson (translated by Reg Keeland)
Not only only does it have all the problems one would expect of a contemporary thriller (ie the plot is preposterous) but thewriter is clearly more at home with journalism than prose, the translation is poor and it has a very queasy relationship with violence against women. I know people who have found the series absolutely compulsive but I had no problem stopping after the first one.
Runners up: The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway, Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry