My Two Favourite SF Reads of 2011 (Neither of Which I’ve Finished Yet)

I am a naughty, naughty reader.  Even knowing that, these days, it takes me a looong time to reach the end of a novel, I’m apparently incapable of resisting the urge to have more than one book on the go at any given time.  Sometimes three or four, in fact.  As a result, books often languish for months on my bedside table, silently bemoaning their misfortune of having fallen into the hands of such a reckless reader.

Still, perhaps a couple of them might be comforted if I go public with my affection for them.  (And to be fair, I didn’t actually start reading them until December, so I’m not in exactly flagrant breach of article 3.2 of the Responsible Reader’s Code: Timely Completion of Books Once Begun).  As I’ve not finished either of them, it’s possible they’ll go horribly wrong in their latter stages, but I think it’s unlikely.

Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding is the kind of book I find myself more and more drawn to as I get older, and ever poorer in available time.  It’s energetic, entertaining stuff that carries you along very comfortably at a decent pace.  A sort of blend of fantasy, steampunkish sf and pirate romp, it’s got a  faintly indiosycrantic vibe to it that makes it almost, but not quite, like stuff you’ve read before (as did the other Wooding book I read and enjoyed, The Fade).  Airships, golems, daemons, guns and swords abound in this tale of piracy gone wrong and brigands on the run.  The characters flirt with being unsympathetically selfish and hard-nosed, but so far Wooding’s kept them just on the right side of that line, for me at least.

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald hardly needs me to trumpet its worth, since it’s been praised hither and yon from the moment of its publication.  But I’m going to do it anyway, because when he’s firing on all cylinders – as he seems to be here, so far – I find Ian McDonald to be a quite extraordinarily good writer.

On a word to word, sentence to sentence, scene to scene basis he’s just brilliant.  If anyone wants to know what science fiction looks like when it’s produced by someone who absolutely knows and understands the genre, but also has a mastery of written English to match almost any author of literary fiction, this is it.  I’ve always believed that you might be able to teach someone to write fiction competently, but you can never instil in someone an instinctive ear for the intricate ebb and flow of prose, and the rhythms of description.  An author’s either got that somewhere inside them or they haven’t, and McDonald’s got it in spades.

Near-future Istanbul is the setting for this multi-viewpoint exploration of nanotechnology, urban history, terrorism and old mysticism.  On balance, I think it’s the best stuff I’ve ever read from McDonald, and that’s saying a whole lot.

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4 comments

  1. evilsteve’s avatar

    I’ve heard other great comments about the Dervish Horse. I’ll have to check it out. Of course with my tbr pile looking the way it does it will be 2013 before I get to it.
    For example, my favorite book of 2011 is the Edinburgh Dead by this guy Brian Ruckley. Oh, I should say maybe it is since I just started reading it yesterday. Guess that makes me a naughty fan. Though I am on page one hundred and something and plan on finishing it soon. It got me hooked pretty quick.
    Of course I’m the guy finally taking his Christmas tree down tonight, maybe!

  2. Brian’s avatar

    Dervish House is a winner, for sure. Worth bumping up your tbr pile imho.

    I’m honoured by your high estimation of Edinburgh Dead, of course, though I’m not quite sure how far your judgement should be relied upon if you’ve not taken your Christmas Tree down yet. Isn’t that terribly bad luck or something? I was always led to believe the Christmas elves put a terrible curse on your or something if you didn’t get the thing dismantled and packed away pretty smartish.

  3. evilsteve’s avatar

    Now I’m really in trouble. After considering my options last night I decided to read a few more chapters in The Edinburgh Dead rather than putting the Christmas tree away, (specifically 11 through 13). I believed it would be a lot more fun, and I’m sure it was. Though my wife upon coming home from work and hearing my explanation for procrastinating was less than inspired by my reasoning. I told her that I was perhaps reading the greatest novel written to date and I would be so much better off for it. Thus the inspiration I feel may carry over to all I meet and the world would be a better place.

    I believe that elvish curse you mentioned began right after that.

    I will be taking the tree down tonight. The Edinburgh Dead will have to wait this evening. Sad faces.

  4. Andy’s avatar

    Many thanks for the recommendations, I’ve not read any of Chris Wooding’s books and have just purchased one (retribution falls) to try. I got a kindle for Christmas and have a valid excuse for multiple book reading now:-)

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