Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Top ten reads of 2011

I read 73 novels, short story collections or fiction anthologies during this year. As a sometimes reviewer for the website Monster librarian I get free copies of new books. Not all of them are great, but as a perfect reviewing the book I have to finish it. As a writer that is not such a bad thing, you can learn a lot from a book that totally fails. I am also exposed to a lot of books by genre authors as many of them are my friends. That being said I am brutally honest and would not put a book this list if I didn't think it deserved to be there.

I read a lot of books that were new books this year but I decided to rate my favorite reads this year despite when they released instead of last year when I only did books released during the the year. So if the title has a * by it then it means it is a older book.

10.Through Darkest America* By Neal Barrett Jr. (Issac Asimov Presents)
259 pages (Out of Print)

This might be one of the most important works of speculative fiction I have ever read and it's only dumbluck that I read it. The story works as a coming-of-age story, it works as a post apocalyptic epic and most of all it is a gritty tale of the wild west. More than anything it is a slap in the face that explores many issues.

This novel takes place after a devastating war, and in this future a class of humans are bred to be “stock” as food. You see Stock are not human – they are just stock something less than human. It explores issues of speciesm better than any PETA leaflet I have read in a long time.

9.The Five by Robert McCammon Subterranean Press $26.95

The Five is the story of a struggling rock band who the novel is named after. The Five is a thriller, and road novel about rock and roll but it's subtext comes to the surface about 375 pages into the book. At that point the message becomes a little heavy handed, but that doesn't matter one bit. McCammon is so skilled at pacing and characters that you are so invested in the story that you'll realize the subtext was peppered through out.

There is a moment when the message is pushed to the surface. But I liked it. The Five is a novel about the tapestry of Rock and roll, the universe of live music, what it all means. The Five works on many, many levels. It's a masterpiece written by a man who has a few of those.

8.The Fall by Guillermo Del Toro And Chuck Hogan

The second in a Trilogy of Vampire novels finds the vampires wiiining and ending the world as we know it. I knew I would dig this book, I love a great end of the world apocalypse novel, McCammon’s Swan Song is perhaps my favorite and while it’s not as sprawling as Swan Song or as intimate as I am Legend the strikes perfect balance. Not too long, not a lot of wasted fat, the story cooks along at a great pace. The film editing and writing influence GDT brings to the table works really well in this novel.

7. Jim and the Flims By Rudy Rucker 247 pages $24.99
Nightshade books

While Rucker is not thought of as a bizarro author or apart of the bizarro lit scene this is to me me the best bizarro novel I read during the year. This novel is weird, funny and above all smart creative Science Fiction. The story of a surfer slacker scientist who travels to the afterlife to try and find his wife may not sound that original but once Jim gets there it gets super weird.

What we end up with is a novel that is kind of like Matheson's What Dreams May Come' meets Slacker. I can hardly do the novel justice in this review. In Flimsy water flows across the sky, flying intelligent beets, and blue baboons run amok. The characters travel across the land on a cruiser couch that Jim makes with his mind out of a material called Kenessce which all flimsy is made out of. Along the way the book also has has one of the most bizarre sex scenes between Jim and a woman also discovering her astral body. Loved this book.

6. In Extremis: The Most Extreme Short Stories of John Shirley 320 pages
Underland Press

It's no secret John Shirley is my favorite author. The extreme nature is found the unflinching peek into the dark realms of the human condition. Opening this book is like staring through one of the worst peepholes you can imagine. There is no author working in the horror genre today that does a better job of shining light of the horrendous human condition while maintaining a moral center.

5. We Live Inside You By Jeremy Robert Johnson 188 pages
Swallowdown press

We Live Inside You is the long awaited followed to Johnson's amazing first collection Angel Dust Apoclayse. It is dark bizarro horror literature at it's sharpest point, sharpened enough to enter through the temple and worm deep into your brain. JRJ comes from the same scene but doesn't rely on dildo jokes or B-movie tropes like a lot of bizarro writers do. The insane ideas are still there, but it's like crème filling in a fancy donut. At the same time it's hard for me to advise anyone to take a bite of a book written by a guy who keeps a list of parasites above his desk, but this book is a must for lovers of all literiture that is weird and dark.

4. Fathers and Sons: Blackguard (Book one) By Edward R. Morris 242 pages
The Borgo Press

Morris wears his influences on his sleeves like patches sewn on on punk rock leather jacket. What we end up with is an edgy novel that is not quite cyberpunk, military sci-fi, First Contact story or distopia. It is all those things and more. This is the first in a series that blurs the many sub-genres of speculative fiction in to a potent cocktail. A work of high literature that explores characters forced into the chaos of an all to possible future. Like a Portlandia dystopia sci-fi readers here in rip city will enjoy seeing the dark but possible future for our city.

3. Ex-heroes * Permuted Press 274 pages

It would be easy to describe this novel as Watchmen with Zombies but that sounds cheap, it's not. To me Ex-heroes is the best serious zombie novel I have read since the explosion of zombie trendy madness. The suspense beats work and there are true moments of terror in the novel, not an easy thing to pull off when most of your characters are super humans. Clines also manged to disturb me in a scene where a zombie mother drags her living dead infant down a street with a rope tied to her waist. He left that to our imagination, and for me I shuddered at the thought of the dying mother not wanting be separated from her child even in death. Brutal. Excited to read the sequel.

2.Should Have Killed The Kid by R. Frederick Hamilton 300 pages $12.95
Legume Man Books

This book is filled to the brim with very unpleasant situations, but if your a fan of good creepy unsettling horror fiction then that is what you are looking for. Should have killed the Kid is a supernatural Apocalypse thriller which has both Lovecraftian vibe (without direct connection to the mythos) and an extreme horror feel. At first I thought of it as Stephen King's The Mist with A Quentin Tarantino structure, but after the first 100 pages the structure smoothes out into a linear fashion. I always say that great suspense novels feel like climbing a very tall unstable ladder. And that is what I felt like I was doing when I read this novel.

Is it the second best book I read of the year, probably not but I only enjoyed reading one book more this year...

1.Old Man's War* by John Scalzi

Last year while writing my novel Goddamn Killing Machines I swore off reading novels that were in the same military-action Sci-fi Drama. After I finished it author Nick Cato mentioned this novel to me. So I picked up a used copy and started reading it on a flight home to Indiana. I could not put the book down, reading half of it in the air.

The most perfect and solid piece of Military Science Fiction since Handleman's Forever War. This novel is Star ship Troopers meets the Twilight Zone's Kick the can episode. Old Man's War seems to be taking a stab at American exceptionalism.

Once at War the novel goes crazy with fantastic science fiction concepts and ideas. I was pleased the universe was not populated by humanoid standard fill in the blanket human like aliens there is a great gee-whiz factor to this novel but it all works and Scalzi has created a world I am excited about revisiting in the next three books that continue the story. Infact I liked it so much I am saving the sequel for the right time. Sure sign that I loved it.

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