Welcome to Smugglivus 2011! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2011, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2012.
Who: Jared, one of the editors of Pornokitsch, UK-based blog with reviews of Fantasy, Horror, SciFi, Westerns and more. Also responsible for the Kitschies, annual award for those books which best elevate the tone of genre literature, celebrating the year’s most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works.
Give it up for Jared, folks!
I’m delighted to take part in this year’s Smugglivus festivities.
There have already been host of great lists for 2011 titles – and next year will bring a flock of “Best of 2011” awards (I recommend The Kitschies, but I might be a little biased). I thought I’d take advantage of this Smugglivus season to share some of the best non-2011 books I read this year, a few titles that have already withstood the test of time.
That’s the best part of books, of course. They last forever, just waiting to be found.
…and I’m already cheating, as my first ‘book’ is a four book series. On the surface, The Long Price Quartet is already the high fantasy to end all high fantasies – war between nations, lost empires, earth-shattering magic, even a peasant that’s actually a lost prince. That’s pretty great. But what makes this series exceptional is that it is really about the relationship between the two lead characters; a friendship that spans decades and continents and, inadvertently, also reshapes the entire world.
It is a breathtaking series, and very, very good. (I may or may not have cried a bit at the end. I admit nothing.)
A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong by KJ Parker (2011)
I’m cheating again. This is a 2011 title, but a short story, so I’m going to sneak it in anyway. A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong is everything wonderful about Parker’s work in a compact space. An intriguing world, a host of intelligent, ambiguous protagonists and a series of breathtaking twists, one after the other.
Parker is a fan of the extended metaphor, and A Small Price is structured around music – primarily the relationship between two musicians, one talented, one political. The result is Amadeus in a fantasy setting. The story’s theme – the price of creativity and the “ownership” of art – are all the more appealing given the author’s own curious anonymity.
I may be reading too much into it, but this feels like Parker’s most reflective and revealing piece – a weird thing to say, as we know so little about him/her. (Plus, the story is free online. Happy Smugglivus!)
Killing Castro by Lawrence Block (2009 / 1961)
I’m a huge fan of the Hard Case Crime series. The imprint spent much of 2011 on hiatus, which gave me some breathing room to catch up with their sixty-something publications. Killing Castro was originally published in 1961 and then disappeared for almost fifty years, resurfacing as a Hard Case Crime book in 2009.
Five men fly to Cuba to kill Fidel Castro and, in the short space of a few hundred pages, Mr. Block brings all five to life. He gives the reader a perfect understanding of both their motivations and their weaknesses. It is intense and incredibly confining – almost the perfect work of noir. Anyone reading one of those “hooded man” books that makes a hero of an assassin should take a few minutes out of their busy schedule and read this instead. Without giving away too much, Killing Castro also edges into alternate history – Mr. Block commits to the story without worrying about authenticity. The freedom of the slightly speculative setting makes the tension all the pervasive.
Thy Kingdom Come by Simon Morden (2002)
An early work from the author of the Metrozone trilogy, Thy Kingdom Come is a collection of 28 interlinked short stories about the apocalypse.
Each story is a tiny glimpse into the human cost of the end of the world – there are no legendary heroes here, just ordinary people struggling through horrible times. Some of the scenes are quite sweet (two teams of soldiers in hazmat suits, having a game of slow-motion football), others are absolutely harrowing.
Since the original publisher went kerput, Mr. Morden has made this book available for free online (Happy Smugglivus again!).
You know that wonderfully amped-up squooshy feeling you get when you “discover” a new series? Something that’s been around for ages, so there’s already a shelfload of books for you to devour? When I finally sat down and read His Majesty’s Dragon, I couldn’t have been more delighted.
The Temeraire series is an undeniably clever interpretation of the Napoleonic Wars, with all sorts of Patrick O’Brien-y goodness about it, but Ms. Novik never gets lost in her own cleverness. This is, essentially, the perfect fantasy bro-mance – a fierce naval officer and his naive dragon hatchling, each teaching one another about the world. Also, naval/aerial/artillery battles off the coast of Dover. Boom.