Provisional SFF Top 5 of 2010

With various SFF titles being postponed, a lot of fans thought that 2010 would go down the crapper as far as speculative fiction went. Well, looking back at the first half of the year, nothing could be further from the truth!

Three perfect scores thus far regarding novels published in 2010, though Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (Canada, USA, Europe) isn't part of the Top 5 because it's not a speculative fiction title.

- Tied for 1st place: Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (Canada, USA, Europe)

UNDER HEAVEN will be published in April 2010, and takes place in a world inspired by the glory and power of Tang Dynasty China in the 8th century, a world in which history and the fantastic meld into something both memorable and emotionally compelling. In the novel, Shen Tai is the son of a general who led the forces of imperial Kitai in the empire's last great war against its western enemies, twenty years before. Forty thousand men, on both sides, were slain by a remote mountain lake. General Shen Gao himself has died recently, having spoken to his son in later years about his sadness in the matter of this terrible battle.

To honour his father's memory, Tai spends two years in official mourning alone at the battle site by the blue waters of Kuala Nor. Each day he digs graves in hard ground to bury the bones of the dead. At night he can hear the ghosts moan and stir, terrifying voices of anger and lament. Sometimes he realizes that a given voice has ceased its crying, and he knows that is one he has laid to rest.

The dead by the lake are equally Kitan and their Taguran foes; there is no way to tell the bones apart, and he buries them all with honour.

It is during a routine supply visit led by a Taguran officer who has reluctantly come to befriend him that Tai learns that others, much more powerful, have taken note of his vigil. The White Jade Princess Cheng-wan, 17th daughter of the Emperor of Kitai, presents him with two hundred and fifty Sardian horses. They are being given in royal recognition of his courage and piety, and the honour he has done the dead. You gave a man one of the famed Sardian horses to reward him greatly.

You gave him four or five to exalt him above his fellows, propel him towards rank, and earn him jealousy, possibly mortal jealousy. Two hundred and fifty is an unthinkable gift, a gift to overwhelm an emperor. Tai is in deep waters. He needs to get himself back to court and his own emperor, alive. Riding the first of the Sardian horses, and bringing news of the rest, he starts east towards the glittering, dangerous capital of Kitai, and the Ta-Ming Palace - and gathers his wits for a return from solitude by a mountain lake to his own forever-altered life.

- Tied for 1st place: The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (Canada, USA, Europe)

It begins with an explosion. Another day, another bus bomb. Everyone it seems is after a piece of Turkey. But the shock waves from this random act of twenty-first-century pandemic terrorism will ripple further and resonate louder than just Enginsoy Square.

Welcome to the world of The Dervish House—the great, ancient, paradoxical city of Istanbul, divided like a human brain, in the great, ancient, equally paradoxical nation of Turkey. The year is 2027 and Turkey is about to celebrate the fifth anniversary of its accession to the European Union, a Europe that now runs from the Arran Islands to Ararat. Population pushing one hundred million, Istanbul swollen to fifteen million, Turkey is the largest, most populous, and most diverse nation in the EU, but also one of the poorest and most socially divided. It's a boom economy, the sweatshop of Europe, the bazaar of central Asia, the key to the immense gas wealth of Russia and central Asia. The Dervish House is seven days, six characters, three interconnected story strands, one central common core—the eponymous dervish house, a character in itself—that pins all these players together in a weave of intrigue, conflict, drama, and a ticking clock of a thriller.

- 3rd place: Geosynchron by David Louis Edelman (Canada, USA, Europe)

The Defense and Wellness Council is enmeshed in full-scale civil war between Len Borda and the mysterious Magan Kai Lee. Quell has escaped from prison and is stirring up rebellion in the Islands with the aid of a brash young leader named Josiah. Jara and the apprentices of the Surina/Natch MultiReal Fiefcorp still find themselves fighting off legal attacks from their competitors and from Margaret Surina's unscrupulous heirs -- even though MultiReal has completely vanished.

The quest for the truth will lead to the edges of civilization, from the tumultuous society of the Pacific Islands to the lawless orbital colony of 49th Heaven; and through the deeps of time, from the hidden agenda of the Surina family to the real truth behind the Autonomous Revolt that devastated humanity hundreds of years ago.

Meanwhile, Natch has awakened in a windowless prison with nothing but a haze of memory to clue him in as to how he got there. He's still receiving strange hallucinatory messages from Margaret Surina and the nature of reality is buckling all around him. When the smoke clears, Natch must make the ultimate decision - whether to save a world that has scorned and discarded him, or to save the only person he has ever loved: himself.

- 4th place: Prince of Storms by Kay Kenyon (Canada, USA, Europe)

Finally in control of the Ascendancy, Titus Quinn has styled himself Regent of the Entire. But his command is fragile. He rules an empire with a technology beyond human understanding; spies lurk in the ancient Magisterium; the Tarig overlords are hamstrung but still malevolent. Worse, his daughter Sen Ni opposes him for control, believing the Earth and its Rose universe must die to sustain the failing Entire. She is aided by one of the mystical pilots of the River Nigh, the space-time transport system. This navitar, alone among all others, can alter future events. He retires into a crystal chamber in the Nigh to weave reality and pit his enemies against each other.

Taking advantage of these chaotic times, the great foe of the Long War, the Jinda ceb Horat, create a settlement in the Entire. Masters of supreme technology, they maintain a lofty distance from the Entire's struggle. They agree, however, that the Tarig must return to the fiery Heart of their origins. With the banishment immanent, some Tarig lords rebel, fleeing to hound the edges of Quinn's reign.

Meanwhile, Quinn's wife Anzi becomes a hostage and penitent among the Jinda ceb, undergoing alterations that expose their secrets, but may estrange her from her husband. As Quinn moves toward a confrontation with the dark navitar, he learns that the stakes of the conflict go far beyond the Rose versus the Entire—extending to a breathtaking dominance. The navitar commands forces that lie at the heart of the Entire's geo-cosmology, and will use them to alter the calculus of power. As the navitar's plan approaches consummation, Quinn, Sen Ni, and Anzi are swept up in forces that will leave them forever changed.

In this rousing finale to Kenyon's celebrated quartet, Titus Quinn meets an inevitable destiny, forced at last to make the unthinkable choice for or against the dictates of his heart, for or against the beloved land.

- 5th place: Warriors edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois (Canada, USA, Europe)

“People have been telling stories about warriors for as long as they have been telling stories. Since Homer first sang the wrath of Achilles and the ancient Sumerians set down their tales of Gilgamesh, warriors, soldiers, and fighters have fascinated us; they are a part of every culture, every literary tradition, every genre. All Quiet on the Western Front, From Here to Eternity, and The Red Badge of Courage have become part of our literary canon, taught in classrooms all around the country and the world. Our contributors make up an all-star lineup of award-winning and bestselling writers, representing a dozen different publishers and as many genres. We asked each of them for the same thing—a story about a warrior. Some chose to write in the genre they’re best known for. Some decided to try something different. You will find warriors of every shape, size, and color in these pages, warriors from every epoch of human history, from yesterday and today and tomorrow, and from worlds that never were. Some of the stories will make you sad, some will make you laugh, and many will keep you on the edge of your seat.”

Included are a long novella from the world of Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, a new tale of Lord John by Diana Gabaldon, and an epic of humanity at bay by David Weber. Also present are original tales by David Ball, Peter S. Beagle, Lawrence Block, Gardner Dozois, Joe Haldeman, Robin Hobb, Cecelia Holland, Joe R. Lansdale, David Morrell, Naomi Novik, James Rollins, Steven Saylor, Robert Silverberg, S.M. Stirling, Carrie Vaughn, Howard Waldrop, and Tad Williams.

Many of these writers are bestsellers. All of them are storytellers of the highest quality. Together they make a volume of unforgettable reading.

So there you have it, folks! The best of the year thus far. In this house at least. . .

Pyr is on fire (no pun intended!). Three books in the Top 5!?! Somebody tell Lou Anders to stop slacking!

And since many of you have been emailing me regarding summer reading suggestions, I'll redirect you to this Shameless Plug post. There are enough books on that list to keep you out of trouble for a while. Give Katherine Kurtz a shot!

Would love to chat more, but I have a plane to catch in a couple of hours. And I'm not even fully packed yet. Next time you hear from me, I'll be somewhere in Slovenia!


11 commentaires:

Jens said...

"The year is 2027 and Turkey is about to celebrate the fifth anniversary of its accession to the European Union"

Turkey's been in the EU since 1977? Did I miss something??? ;-)

Todd said...

2 words: Gel Us.

Have a fun vacation...again!

-Tim said...


5th, not 50th. Which would make it 2022.

Jens said...

Ooops, my bad!

I expected Pat to have mistyped the year because I somehow read "50th" several times.

Now that's embarrasing I guess... *g*

machinery said...

what's so bad with "science-fiction/ fantasy" ?
why are people using this PC term "speculative fiction" ?
are they ashamed of reading sci-fi and admitting it ?

Hadean said...

"Turkey's been in the EU since 1977? "

No, it hasn't. It's not very likely they would be admitted in the Union any time soon, if ever.

Doug said...

I'm glad to see Ian McDonald trying something different from his previous books by writing a novel set in a developing third-world country, in the fairly near term feature, centered around a number of different characters whose plot lines are interwoven together to give us a picture of how the world has changed

I mean, {Turkey Ian McDonald Novel} seems like it's going to be so different from {India Ian McDonald Novel} and {Brazil Ian McDonald Novel}. I'm not sure how he manages to write books in such very different styles consistently.

Jens said...


I've never thought of "speculative fiction" as a derogatory term and have never seen it used this way anywhere.

Also Pat doesn't shy away from using SF or fantasy. His very blog is called "Pat's FANTASY Hotlist"! This post is called "Provisional SFF Top 5 of 2010", "SFF" being an acronym for "science fiction and fantasy" not for "San Francisco Firefighters" if I am not mistaken.

I think Pat uses "speculative fiction" in order not to be too repetitive. Otherwise the first sentence would be: "With various science fition or fantasy titles being postponed, a lot of fans thought that 2010 would go down the crapper as far as science fition or fantasy went."
Good style? I don't think so.
Of course, Pat himself is more competent to tell exactly why he chose this wording.

I'd also like to point out that spec fic comprises more than SF or fantasy. The way I understand this term it also includes horror and (sub)genres peripheric to the Big Three fantasy, horror and SF and its cross-over genres.

There's the Alternate History genre, for example. One could argue that it's a subset to SF. I'd say it could be if the parallel world is explained scientifically (such as the many-worlds interpratation of quantum mechanics). Most of the time, however, this is not the case. In many AH novels no real SF component is envolved (take Robert Harris' Fatherland).
There are even AH novels where the world is set apart from ours by the fact that magic works. Hardly an SF concept.

And spec fic doesn't end here: there's "magic realism", "literary fantasy", whatever you want to call it.
I once read Jack London's "Before Adam" wherein the narrator explores his subconscious by means of hypnosis. He goes back in time, eventually before his own birth. In the following the life of his previous incarnation (or is it some sort of "racial memory" he's accessing?) is described until -this is really crazy!- the hypnosis sessions explore the subconscious memory of the narrator's previous incarnation's previous incarnation!
Thus they go back further and further to a distant past that's set "before Adam", some 100,000 years ago.

Is this SF? Fantasy? Not really.
But it is clearly some sort of speculative fiction.

I admit liking this term because I like all these different varieties of spec fic.
There's nothing PC here, IMHO.
Since when SFF is politically incorrect?
Did I miss something? (OK, I already misread a 5 for a 50, so I should be careful! *g*)

Is it possible that you despise Pat rather than the term "spec fic"?

machinery said...

jens, i lost you somehwere in the middle, but saw your last line, unkind and undeserving.
and it's also not about like to dislike.
i agree with some things he writes in his posts, some i disagree with, perhaps i comment about it, and some things i don't realy give a damn about.
i have noticed over the past decade that there are people who turn to preaching, and very fast to bashing, i think you are one of those.

but regardless.

the spec. fic. term is irritating to me, perhaps because the first time i saw it in use was by r. scott bakker.
and the way he used it made me think that he doesn't want to be regarded as a sci-fi/fan. writer, but as something with a PC name, one that can appeal to the critics in NYTIMES.

that's my OPINION.

i disliked it then , and still do.
which is why i ask if people using that term are somehow ashamed of admitting they love sci-fi/fantasy.

now go bash all you want, and bring a mob with you, whose added support will no doubt prove you right in any highschool.

Mavis said...

Machinery, I consider SFF to be a bit like masturbation. Many people love it, and you have others who abhore the concept. Either way, people dont keep their toys sitting out on the counter, or their lotion sitting on the living room table. Maybe you feel the need to throw it out to everyone how wonderful it is. I'd rather go home and enjoy it on my own time. And if people want to use terms like "speculative fiction" or "alone time", I am down with that. I don't think you need a class (or people talking about it at dinner parties) on either, to find out the amazing things they will bring into your life. Do like everyone else, and figure it out on your own (or go on the internet for a bit of help).... THANKS PAT!!!

Jens said...

Machinery, I was wondering whether or not I should write a reply, finally decided I would.

Look, I'm not interested in a flame war; I'm also not interested in preaching and certainly not in bashing around. Moreover, I've outgrown high school a while ago...

Sorry to read that you lost me somewhere in the middle. My points which I tried to illustrate with some examples were:
- Pat's openly promoting fantasy and science fiction, to me the thought that he be ashamed of that seems absurd.
- I think he used the term "spec fic" for stylistic reasons. That's a guess; he himself would need to tell whether I'm right or not
- For me "spec fic" contains not only SF and fantasy but a broader range of genres. Therefore I think it makes sense to use the term. It has never occured to me that anyone would use it in a negative way to shroud that s/he is reading SF/fantasy.

My last line was not meant so much as an attack but a question - albeit a quite direct one.

If you feel that some people use "spec fic" to conceil the true nature of the fiction we're talking about then I understand where you're coming from.
Your remark about Bakker made me understand you better.

However, I don't think that you're right about Bakker, either.
Last night I looked up the wiki article on him to possibly find a link to his website. One of the "external links" leads to an essay called "The Skeptical Fantasist". This entire essay is a plea in favor or fantasy. Bakker uses the word all over the place beginning in the first paragraph. Judging by this pieceI don't have the impression that he's ashamed of calling his book "fantasy" - all the contrary!

Of course, you are entitled to your opinion like everybody else.
I just think if you say that Bakker or Pat hide behind the term "spec fic" in order not to call SF/fantasy by its name then -in the light of the facts- you do them unjustice.
But I might be wrong; that's just MY opinion.

OK, I stop here, otherwise you'll blame me of preaching again! *g*