"2006: SF Novels Summary" by Richard Horton

This includes only those SF or Fantasy novels that I read that were first published in 2006.

The list below includes 44 novels, and is up to date through my reading as of April 2008. Novels that I ought to read, but haven't yet, include Tim Powers's Three Days to Never and M. John Harrison's Nova Swing. I have not included several stories published in collections that are actually just about novel length: M. Rickert's "Map of Dreams", Kage Baker's "The Maid on the Shore", Jeffrey Ford's "Botch Town" (which latter story has been expanded to a full-length novel, The Shadow Year (2008).) These are all very fine stories, all at least 39,000 words by my count. I have also not include some novellas published as separate books, mostly from PS Publishing in the UK -- some of these, such as Robert Charles Wilson's "Julian: A Christmas Story", are very good, but they are novellas, and not even as long as the stories I just mentioned.

Daniel Abraham, A Shadow in Summer. Good first novel by one of my favorite recent new writers of short fiction. Concerns "poets" who control "andats", magical spirits made flesh. The andats are essentially enslaved and lend power to their host cities, and this book concerns a plot to destroy -- or free -- one such by subtle means. 129,000 words.

John Barnes, The Armies of Memory. Something of a capstone to the Giraut Leones novels, which began with A Million Open Doors. Amid clumsy attempts to assassinate Giraut, a conspiracy is discovered, linked to a group of illegal colonies, some illegal AIs, and perhaps hints to the mystery of what happened to the alien Predecessors. Effectively closes Giraut's story, but leaves room for a sequel (which Barnes has said he plans to write.) I thought this very fine work. 135,000 words.

Elizabeth Bear, Carnival. I liked this SF novel a lot -- set on a colony planet some centuries after AIs programmed by radical environmentalists have murdered most of humanity. This planet is a woman-dominated world -- men live in a sort of purdah. The main Earth authorities want to bring it under their control, and gain access to the apparently free energy tech they have -- but the original natives of this colony world may have something to say. My review appears in the February Locus. 110,000 words.

Damien Broderick, K-Machines. Sequel to Godplayers. Good stuff somewhat reminiscent (more or less on purpose) of Amber, as a weird family named after the months battle through multiple universes, complete with wild scientific speculation. 90,000 words.

Keith Brooke, Genetopia. Pretty good traveloguish sort of thing about a future of runaway biotech, with baseline humans vainly trying to enforce genetic purity. 100,000 words.

Tobias Buckell, Crystal Rain. One of the year's best first novels. Two groups of humans, one Caribbean-derived, the other Aztec-derived (or so it seems) are caught in a battle on a distant planet between two alien factions. 125,000 words.

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Shining Knife: Beguilement. First of a series (now three books long, and there may be more to come) set in a fantasy world menaced by "malices", the legacy of a long past magical error. The story centers on the romance between Dag and Fawn, who come from different, mutually ignorant, cultures. Very enjoyable. 117,000 words.

David Drake, Some Golden Harbor. Fifth in Drake's enjoyable series that translates (sort of) Aubrey and Maturin to space, with Lt. Leary as Aubrey and Adele Mundy as Maturin. One of the better books in the series, certainly better than its immediate predecessor. Leary is sent to deal with problems involving slaving and a nominal enemy system messing with a nominal ally system. 147,000 words.

Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor, Boundary. Competent but not inspiring novel, rather too episodic, in which the fossil of an alien is discovered among KT boundary dinosaur fossils. This leads to a mission to Mars to find out more about where the alien came from. 162,000 words.

Michael F. Flynn, Eifelheim. Expansion of his early novella "Eifelheim". About aliens forced to land in Germany during the Black Death, and the efforts of a priest to help them, and on a parallel path the efforts of a modern day couple to unravel the mystery of the town Eifelheim. It was a Hugo nominees. Solid work, but a bit too long, a bit too earnest. 165,000 words.

Alan Dean Foster, Sagramanda. Set in a near future Indian city based on Calcutta, several narrative strands join as a scientist tries to steal a secret from his company while a serial killer/Kali worshipper stalks the city. Very fast moving, quite entertaining, a bit slight. 94,000 words.

R. Garcia y Robertson, Firebird. Fun sexy novel set in the fantasy Eastern European kingdom of Markovy. Garcia y Robertson has revised and altered several of his Markovy stories and added much new material to tell the story of a witch girl and a brave knight who go through much tribulation in an effort to bring the firebird's egg to the magic mountain where it can hatch. 130,000 words.

Tom Holt, You Don't Have to Be Evil to Work Here But It Helps. Enjoyable comic fantasy in which the magical firm of J. W. Wells and Co. is victim of a corporate takeover, while a critical deal trading the soul of the head of a widget factory for business success is pending. 125,000 words.

Matthew Hughes, Majestrum. First in a series of novels that will follow on from Hughes's series of stories about Henghis Hapthorn, a discriminator on Earth just prior to the era depicted in Jack Vance's Dying Earth. Hapthorn, to his distress, appears to be on the leading edge of the coming transition to a magic-dominated age. Here he investigates various horrible murders that seem to be endangering the Archon. Enjoyable. 90,000 words.

Diana Wynne Jones, The Pinhoe Egg. Another Chrestomanci novel, one of the better ones in this always enjoyable series. A family of witches has been trying to keep their powers secret from the magical authorities -- i.e. Chrestomanci -- but the old lady in charge, Gammer Pinhoe, is losing her marbles. And her granddaughter is concerned that the Pinhoes and their associate/rivals the Farleighs might not being doing right. 86,000 words.

Ellen Kushner, The Privilege of the Sword. I loved this book. Just ate it up. Sequel to Swordspoint (set a couple of decades later) and prequel to The Fall of the Kings (set a few decades earlier). Alec Campion, now the Mad Duke, summons his niece to town to become a swordswoman (naturally with some instruction from Richard St. Vere), and so she does, learning to live an unconventional life, and eventually to become Alec's heir (with results we eventually see in The Fall of the Kings). 125,000 words.

Ursula K. Le Guin, Voices. A semi-sequel to Gifts. Memer Galva has grown up in a city ruled by the religiously fundamentalist occupying Alds -- indeed, she was born after an invader raped her mother. The Alds forbid reading -- though Memer has learned to read. As Orrec and Gry (from Gifts) visit, a potentially foolhardy revolution is brewing, while political turmoil roils the Alds as well. Good stuff -- with some of Le Guin's besetting sin (preachiness) -- but in service of good values, so it didn't bother me too much. 69,000 words.

Edward M. Lerner, A New Order of Things. An Analog serial, so far not published as a book. I thought it fairly enjoyable. Good aliens and bad aliens visit Earth, after an interstellar communications network has been established. The humans, despite bureaucratic fumbling, must try to join with the good aliens and foil the bad aliens plans. Has both the virtues and failings of typical Analog stories. About 92,000 words.

Elizabeth Moon, Engaging the Enemy. Third volume of the Vatta's War series. Weaker than the first two, largely because it doesn't stand alone well. Here Ky Vatta starts to try to organize a resistance movement. I'm quite enjoying this series as a whole. 137,000 words.

Naomi Novik, His Majesty's Dragon. First of what promises to be a long series of novels set in a fantastical alternate history around the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Naval captain Will Laurence captures a French ship with a valuable dragon egg. When the egg hatches, the intelligent dragon "imprints" on the most likely nearby human, in this case Laurence. Dragons are particularly valuable as war fighters -- this Chinese one particularly so, so Laurence must transfer to the raffish aviators, and begin to train with his new friend, who he names Temeraire. These novels are basically popcorn, but very good popcorn -- I have enjoyed them immensely. 104,000 words.

Naomi Novik, Throne of Jade. Second Temeraire novel. Laurence is ordered to return Temeraire to China for diplomatic reasons.. 121,000 words.

Naomi Novik, Black Powder War. Third Temeraire novel. Temeraire and Captain Laurence make their way home from China by the land route, with stops in Turkey and Germany. 114,000 words.

Paul Park, The Tourmaline. Second of Park's Roumania novels. Miranda returns to Roumania and in her wanderings begins a sort of resistance movement, Andromeda and Pieter also return in a different way, and the mad Countess writes an opera and searches for Miranda. 152,000 words.

Mary Jo Putney, The Marriage Spell. A genre romance novel that was offered by the SFBC, because it features pretty integral fantastical elements. Indeed, it is set in a "Regency with Magic", reminiscent of Susanna Clarke's work, or of the Wrede/Stevermer books. In this case a nobleman who has had his magical talent more or less beaten out of him because it is taboo is healed by a young witch. Naturally, they fall for each other, and eventually the young man must come to terms with his latent ability. It's a weak book -- not because the fantastical elements are bad, in fact, they are reasonably well handled, but because it fails as a romance, and as a novel -- its structure is way off. 110,000 words.

Chris Roberson, Paragaea. Pretty fun book in which a Russian female cosmonaut goes through a hole in spacetime or something and ends up in a weird parallel world. She meets up with a 19th Century British sailor and with a panther man, and a travelogue of sorts follows -- with the cosmonaut trying to find a way home. 118,000 words.

Justina Robson, Keeping it Real. The first Robson novel I've read, and a great disappointment relative to her reputation. It's an "Elf Rock and Roll" novel, which is, let's be frank, a strike against it from the getgo. Doesn't really do anything new, and it's rather pedestrianly written to boot. 108,000 words.

Mary Rosenblum, Horizons. Exciting novel set mostly on orbital habitats. The locals are striving for independence. But things are complicated by Earth politics, the fact that people born in space seem to be evolving to a form better suited for microgravity, and by some powerful family intrigue. The heroine is a Taiwanese woman, daughter of the leader of a powerful commercial family, who gets tangled in all these plots because her brother seems to be one of the bad guys. Pretty enjoyable, though you can see the plot gears turning a bit too much, and some of the science is rather dodgy. 115,000 words.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Paloma. I've become committed to this series of mostly Moon-based mysteries about a man who helps find people who have disappeared to hide from vindictive aliens. In this case he investigates the murder of his mentor in this business, who turns out to have had some unsavory secrets. More continuing characters are being added. As with all these books, the basic setup has some gross implausibilities. But the mystery and story in this one is pretty interesting. And the overall series plot arc looks ready to blow -- alas, Rusch has hinted that the series' future may be shaky (though apparently it survived as at least one more book has since appeared). 105,000 words.

John Scalzi, The Ghost Brigades. Second of his Old Man's War series. Here Jane Sagan's story is told in more detail: she is one of the Ghost Brigades, greatly enhanced more "artificial" soldiers for the Colonial Union. In dealing with a traitor she and John Perry get more involved with political intrigue in the CU. Nice stuff. 110,000 words.

Karl Schroeder, Sun of Suns. Serialized in Analog, then published by Tor. A young man living in a habitat inside a vast balloon orbiting Vega makes a journey to the artificial Sun at the center of this balloon, looking for revenge after his habitat was destroyed. About 95,000 words in serialization, perhaps longer in book form.

Sherwood Smith, Inda. I really liked this story of a young boy in a warlike culture who is a natural military leader but who gets exiled and becomes a pirate due to the jealousy of a less capable, more influential, fellow. 210,000 words.

Lemony Snicket, The End. Thirteenth and last in A Series of Unfortunate Events. Concludes the series reasonably well, though not fully satisfactorily: plenty of mysteries remain. Nice work, not as brilliant as the books seemed at times. 53,000 words.

Charles Stross, The Jennifer Morgue. Second novel in his Laundry series, about Bob Howard, an operative for a secret British organization that deals with dangerous magic (which, it turns out, is related to advanced math and computers). (There have also been a couple of short stories, one of which is included here.) This one is part James Bond spoof, as Bob head to the Caribbean to deal with a bad guy who wants to rule the world after retrieving a scary monster from the depths. Lots of clever fun. 100,000 words.

Charles Stross, The Clan Corporate. Third novel about Miriam Beckstein, and her family that can walk between three alternate versions of Earth. In this one Miriam is in political trouble on her "home" world, in danger of being forced to marry a mentally damaged royal child; while a new character, a DEA agent who by coincidence is Miriam's ex-boyfriend, gets on the track of the Clan's activities in our world. 112,000 words.

Charles Stross, Glasshouse. Set in Stross's Accelerando future, but quite independent. It's pretty strong work, about an experiment which tries to replicate 20th Century social structures, with a hidden agenda, and some scary results. 120,000 words.

Carrie Vaughn, Kitty Goes to Washington. Second of this new series. Here Kitty, the werewolf DJ, goes to DC to testify for werewolf/vampire etc. rights -- or, really, to testify as to their reality. Solid work. 92,000 words.

Vernor Vinge, Rainbows End. Eagerly anticipated new novel that was very good but perhaps not quite as good as many of us hoped. A plot to unleash a mind-control virus is foiled, in part by the efforts of Robert Gu, an old man just rejuvenated, and his granddaughter and a boy he meets when he returns to school. The rejuve tech, some VR tech, and other details and ideas are fascinating -- the story is good but drags a bit perhaps. 130,000 words.

Jo Walton, Farthing. One of my favorite novels of the year. Scary alternate history about Nazi sympathizers taking over in England in thew 40s. Amidst oppression of Jews, an aristocratic woman's Jewish husband is suspected of murder at her influential parents' country house. 96,000 words.

Lawrence Watt-Evans, The Wizard Lord. First in a new fantasy series. A young man becomes the new Swordsmen in a group of people selected to serve as a counterbalance to the Wizard Lord in case the latter person goes bad. Of course, he does go bad, and the group must act against him. I liked best the neat system of localized magic. Nice book, not Watt-Evans at his best, but the setup for future books is promising. About 135,000 words.

Lawrence Watt-Evans, The Spriggan Mirror. The book version of the novel first serialized online, written chapter by chapter as contributions came in. This revised and cleaned up version, about 10% longer than the original, appeared first in the online 'zine Son and Foe, then at the end of the year came out in print from Wildside. Quite enjoyable, about a man hired by the wizardly authorities to solve the problem of spriggans, in exchange for an immortality treatment. About 90,000 words in this version.

Peter Watts, Blindsight. Perhaps the best SF novel of the year, about a mission to investigate scary aliens in the far Oort cloud. The investigators are themselves a strange bunch: a vampire, and four variously brain-modified people. Lots of speculation about the nature and importance of consciousness. Neat stuff, scary stuff. 110,000 words.

Liz Williams, The Demon in the City. Second novel in a series combining Asian-flavored fantasy, SF, and mystery, featuring a human detective and his demon sidekick. In this case the demon takes the lead, as a plot involving a captured denizen of heaven threatens the world. Good stuff. 90,000 words.

Gene Wolfe, Soldier of Sidon. Long awaited third novel about Latro, the Roman soldier in Hellenistic times who forgets everything each night. Here he travels up the Nile, looking for a cure, and encountering various gods and shapechangers and people with obscure motives. Very good tricksy stuff. 90,000 words.

Timothy Zahn, Dragon and Herdsman. Fourth novel in a fun but slight YA series. Jack and his sometimes two-dimensional K'da companion visit a world in which they find apparent K'da who are unintelligent. This one reasonably effectively advances the series plot. I'm enjoying these books as light escapism. 78,000 words.

Hugo nominations, alphabetical order by author (so that we can see that having a last name starting with W seems to be a good thing!): 1. The Armies of Memory, by John Barnes. 2. The Privilege of the Sword, by Ellen Kushner. 3. Farthing, by Jo Walton. 4. Blindsight, by Peter Watts. 5. Soldier of Sidon, by Gene Wolfe. (With Sun of Suns, Carnival, Glasshouse, The Jennifer Morgue, and Rainbows End still in play.)

For Locus, there are four lists: SF, Fantasy, First Novel, and YA. I'm still listing them in alphabetical order -- I'll have to figure out a real order for my ballot.

SF: 1. The Armies of Memory, by John Barnes. 2. Suns of Suns, by Karl Schroeder. 3. Glasshouse, by Charles Stross. 4. Farthing, by Jo Walton. 5. Blindsight, by Peter Watts. (With K-Machines and Horizons not far behind.)

Fantasy: 1. The Privilege of the Sword, by Ellen Kushner. 2. Inda, by Sherwood Smith. 3. The Jennifer Morgue, by Charles Stross. 4. The Tourmaline, by Paul Park. 5. Soldier of Sidon, by Gene Wolfe.(With Majestrum, Firebird, and The Demon in the City probably next on the list.)

I seem to have read only three First Novels, all quite worthy of notice: 1. A Shadow in Summer, by Daniel Abraham. 2. Crystal Rain, by Tobias Buckell. 3. His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik.

YA: I really just read four novels that qualify as YA, all of them at least fun. I might list them in this order: Voices, by Ursula K. Le Guin; The Pinhoe Egg, by Diana Wynne Jones; The End, by Lemony Snicket; Dragon and Herdsman, by Timothy Zahn. However, I understand that novels by Scott Westerfeld and his wife Justine Larbalestier (separately) are quite well regarded, and perhaps one by another Australian, Garth Nix (can't remember if his latest appeared in 2006).

The Hugo, by the way, eventually went to Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End.