"2001: SF Novels Summary" by Richard Horton

As of the end of June, 2002, I've read 40 SF novels from 2001, with only one on hand that I am likely to eventually get to: The Secret of Life, by Paul J. McAuley. Here follow very brief descriptions of the books. At the end is some brief commentary about the award nominations and my planned votes.

J. D. Austin, Second Contact. Dire so-called comedy about an Earth expedition to a near Utopia full of green people.

Terry Bisson, The Pickup Artist. Pretty solid journey through mid-21st Century America, motivated by a clever central idea (old works of art are systematically destroyed to "make room" for new art).

Ben Bova, The Precipice. I read this in the Analog serialization. OK entertainment, a bit shrill politically, overcooked villains.

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion. Fantasy set in an alternate version of Spain. Nice invented religions. Good, absorbing, story, maybe a bit too pat, but still very solid work.

Jacqueline Carey, Kushiel's Dart. Decent, and very long, first novel set in an Alternate History fantasy Europe. The main character is a prostitute, and a masochist. Much political intrigue, much sex.

Jonathan Carroll, The Wooden Sea. Interesting contemporary fantasy about a policeman in Crane's View with a past. Not bad, not great.

John Christopher, Bad Dream. Near future "anti-European" novel, about VR plus political stuff. I read it serialized in Spectrum SF. Very enjoyable.

John Clute, Appleseed. Difficult but rewarding overtly literary space opera.

Tony Daniel, Metaplanetary. Only half a story, unfortunately (there will be a sequel), but it's audacious fun, about AI's, future war, nanotech, and a physical linkage between the planets. The bad guys might twirl their mustaches a bit too much, and the science might just a bit dodgy, but I liked it a lot.

Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair. Extremely clever story about time travel, and fiction becoming reality, in an alternate present day in which the Crimean War is still ongoing. Spec Ops agent Thursday Next deals with archvillain Acheron Hades, who plans to steal valuable manuscripts and erase important characters from literary history. It's very fun, especially the offhand literary references, though the plot creaks a bit and the central love story is kind of weak. But definitely worth reading.

Jeffrey Ford, The Beyond. Conclusion to his Physiognomist Cley trilogy. Cley sets out into the Beyond, trying to find his erstwhile victim Arla Beaton and the ideal Wenau. Meanwhile the demon Misrix is accused of Cley's murder. Phantasmagoric, lyrical, sad. A fine book.

Eric Flint, The Philosophical Strangler. Comedy fantasy about a strangler and his dwarf sidekick/agent. Attempts to deal with metaphysical questions, but both the jokes and the philosophy fell very flat for me.

Karen Joy Fowler, Sister Noon. Only barely, if at all, fantasy, but a very good book about women in 1890s San Francisco -- ultimately, it's about making a family.

R. Garcia y Robertson, Knight Errant. Somewhat disappointing "Gabaldonade", about a contemporary Hollywood producer transported back to the time of Henry VI, where she falls in love with the future Edward IV.

James Alan Gardner, Ascending. Gardner has outed himself as a comic writer -- which is pretty clear from Ascending anyway. Wacky space opera, with a rather enjoyably pulpish feel, narrated in an exaggeratedly adolescent and quite engaging voice. What's it about? Oar Saves the Universe, of course -- plus weird aliens and stuff.

Laurence M. Janifer, The Counterfeit Heinlein. A Knave story, but not a Survivor story, instead a locked-room mystery about the theft of a forgery of "The Stone Pillow". Fitfully amusing, but on the whole it didn't work for me.

Donald Kingsbury, Psychohistorical Crisis. Cast of thousands, span of decades, space opera, based on a cleverly reimagined version of Asimov's Foundation universe (complete with japes like a long-lived, pre Empire, robot called Danny-boy). Really quite a fun book, with some pretty solid philosophical grounding to it. Not quite a Hugo nominee, but not far off the list.

Maureen F. McHugh, Nekropolis. One of my clear favorite books of the year. Sad but hopeful story about the various ways in which we make slaves of each other, in a nearish future Morocco, featuring artificial people and people chemically modified ("jessed") for loyalty.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Other Wind v. Solid new novel in the Earthsea series, about a final crisis in Dragon/Human relations, and dealing again with the people on the "Farthest Shore".

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Local Custom. Very enjoyable space opera/romance set on Liaden a generation before the main action of their Liaden books.

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Scout's Progress. Another enjoyable book about the parents of the "current" generation of Liaden series heroes. The above two books are available from Meisha Merlin as an omnibus called Pilots Choice.

Rebecca Lickiss, Eccentric Circles. Feather light fantasy about a young woman who inherits a house that is a link of sorts to the land of Fairy. She must find the cause of the rift that is destroying both the Fairy and Human worlds. First novel, pleasant but extremely minor.

Ken MacLeod, Dark Light. Pretty good but not as good as most of his stuff. Perhaps it suffers a bit from "middle book syndrome". It's also his only novel since his first not to be told on two separate time tracks. The overall story line is advanced somewhat, as we learn more about the motivations of the "gods" in bringing all these humans and saurs etc. to this corner of the Galaxy, and the book itself tells a political story about the tensions within the "Christian" society of the planet Croatan, and between those "Christians" and their neighbouring "heathens". Fun enough, but comes off a bit flat.

Ian McDonald, Ares Express. Neat novel set on a curious "manformed" Mars, mixing in overtly fantastical elements with quantum physics/string theory bafflegab. Apparently this is the same Mars as his early novel Desolation Road, which I have not read. This one is about an adolescent girl raised on a train, fleeing an arranged marriage. Good stuff.

Pat Murphy, Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell. Fluffy and minor, but breezily fun, metafictional jaunt, tying together the authors, pseudonyms, characters, and other alteregos from her two previous books.

Tim Powers, Declare. Had a limited edition in 2000, so it's technically ineligible for this years' awards (though it did win last years World Fantasy Award). Too bad, it's a very impressive novel about Kim Philby, djinns, Catholicism, spying, etc.

Alastair Reynolds, Chasm City. His second novel, set in the same Universe but otherwise mostly independent of his first novel, Revelation Space. Impressive radical hard SF with mystery elements. A step forward from the promising but not wholly successful Revelation Space. Very sound work, Reynolds remains a writer to watch, fersure.

Alastair Reynolds, Diamond Dogs. Approximately 40,000 word chapbook from PS Publishing. Set in the same universe as his first two novels, indeed the action begins in Chasm City. Madmen explore a dangerous alien artifact, that resembles for example the thing on the moon in Budrys' Rogue Moon. OK but not as good as the novels.

William Sanders, J. Very fine novel of three women in parallel worlds. Crackling adventure, sharp characters. Deserves a wider audience than it might get due to having appeared from the now defunct, always mismanaged, iPublish. Until Time Warner figures what to do with the leftovers of this program, you should still be able to order copies.

Lemony Snicket, The Ersatz Elevator. I had this series on last year's list, so I repeat it this year. Good extravagantly dark fun, with plenty of clever wordplay.

Lemony Snicket, The Hostile Hospital. See above.

Lemony Snicket, The Vile Village . See above.

Brian Stableford, The Cassandra Complex. Latest in his emortality series. I found it a disappointment. It's set in the near future, and it's ostensibly a mystery, but there is lots of running around to limited effect. The ultimate revelation is really scary and clever, but it's only enough to power a novelette -- which, in fact, this story originally was.

Mark W. Tiedemann, Compass Reach. First in a projected trilogy (I think) of space operas with telepathy, good aliens, bad or misguided humans, and space hobos. OK, but uneven.

Jo Walton, The King's Name. Sequel to The King's Peace -- slightly better partly because it is more tightly structured, covering only a few months as a civil war threatens to destroy King Urdo's achievement in uniting Tir Tanagiri. Very enjoyable.

Lawrence Watt-Evans, The Dragon Society. Solid but slightly flat sequel to Dragon Weather. A bit of middle-book syndrome shows, but it's still an enjoyable read, as Arlian continues his campaign against the dragons, learning more secrets about their true nature.

Don Webb, Endless Honeymoon. Third of a quite loosely linked series of mysteries with slight SFnal or Fantastical elements, set in contemporary Texas. A couple uses computers to detect pettily vile people, and arranges for elaborate punishments. Then someone else murders one of their targets, and they become suspects. Solid stuff, though this is probably the weakest of the three. Definitely seek out The Double and Essential Saltes.

Connie Willis, Passage. Long long novel about Near Death Experiences. Typical Willis manipulations. Quite affecting at times, but also quite boring at times, too long, and the "revelation" is a dud.

Robert Charles Wilson, The Chronoliths. With Nekropolis, this is vying for the second spot on my nomination list, behind the Wolfe, ahead of the Gaiman. (That's a nice line!) Intelligent, quiet, sad yet hopeful novel of a future menaced by the appearance of the title objects, huge memorials to a future dictator.

Gene Wolfe, Return to the Whorl. My top novel of the year. Intense, very moving, novel of Horn's finally successful quest to "find" Silk on the Long Sun Whorl, and of the conclusion of "his" adventures back on Blue.

Top Five SF Novels: Return to the Whorl, Ares Express, Nekropolis, The Chronoliths, Metaplanetary. Appleseed, J. and Chasm City right behind.

Top Five Fantasy Novels: (not as good, overall, as the SF): Declare, American Gods, Sister Noon, The Curse of Chalion, The Other Wind.

My Hugo nomination list -- American Gods was added, replacing Ares Express. Declare wasn't eligible, and I hadn't read Ares Express until after I had sent my nominations. (Appleseed and Chasm City will probably be eligible again next year, based on American publication. Ares Express, as far as I know does not have an American publisher.)

The actual Hugo nomination list includes Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville, first published in 2000 in the UK, nominated based on its 2001 US publication. I have a copy, and as I write I'm about 1/3 of the way through it. It's promising so far. The Hugo Nomination list also includes Ken MacLeod's 2000 novel Cosmonaut Keep, the prequel to Dark Light. I listed it in my 2000 summary, and it's a good book. In addition, it includes American Gods, The Chronoliths, Passage, and The Curse of Chalion from my list above. All in all, a fairly decent short list. My vote, as of now, will go to The Chronoliths.