This post concludes an unusual week for Blogging for a Good Book. Instead of our usual fare of one great review a day, this week we’re exploring the results of the 2012 ABBC: the All-the-Best-Books Compilation. It’s a spreadsheet that tabulates all the votes from dozens of best-of-the-year lists and awards. You can download the first edition from this earlier post or come back to BFGB in the next few weeks to get further editions as we compile even more lists into the spreadsheet.
Today, we’ll look at the most frequently recognized titles in speculative fiction: fantasy, science fiction, and horror. The health of these genres is indicated by the number of different titles that have received best-of votes to date: 242. There are some great books here, although I feel the need to preface the list with this comment: speculative fiction marketed as mainstream literary fiction often rises to the top of the best-of-the-year lists because mainstream reviewers won’t give the same level of consideration to titles published by genre presses. If you love the mainstream of fantasy and SF publishing, not its haughtier cousin, download the full ABBC and look a little further down on the list.
With 17 mentions to date, the first title on the speculative list is Karen Thompson Walker’s debut, The Age of Miracles. The setting is a very near apocalyptic future where the rotation of the earth has begun to slow, but the subject matter is coming of age for 11-year-old Julia and the tribulations of her California family. Melissa reviewed this book for us at BFGB back in October and found the tale of how life goes on, even in the face of the end, equally redeeming and disturbing. As the cycle of a day slowly increases from 24 to over 72 hours, Walker does a good job of capturing the sense of loneliness, the increasing reflection of her narrator, and the discoveries and suffering of a life that’s coming to an end just as it reaches the brink of adult awareness.
I’m currently reading one of the titles in a tie for second, at 11 mentions. Alif the Unseen, the debut of G. Willow Wilson, is about an Arab-Indian hacker in an unnamed Persian Gulf state. This is a place where “hacker” has a different significance, as every computer user, every website is under close supervision by the state, and narrator Alif’s skills aren’t just used for mischief-making and financial gain (although he’s still involved in these aspects), they’re critical to hiding both his own identity and that of his clients, who are tortured and often killed if unmasked. A breakup with an illicit girlfriend leads Alif to create a program that can identify an individual by voice, word choice, keystroke rates, and other factors after he or she has typed only a few sentences. When the state hacks into his computer and takes the program, Alif realizes he has unleashed a Trojan horse that will be turned on the entire hacking community. Add the Alf Yeom, the daytime analog of One Thousand and One Nights; underworld figures that end up being from the world Alif once thought of as mythical; and several mysterious and interesting women, and you get a real winner, a truly original work of speculative fiction.
The other title with 11 mentions is Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars, reviewed here by Andrew in July. It’s set in a postapocalyptic world ravaged by flu nine years before. The protagonist is Hig, a pilot who’s trying to maintain a sense of compassion in a world where others are increasingly inured to the suffering of others. Dug in at a Midwestern airport for years with his dog Jasper and one neighbor, the ruthless and cynical Bangley, Hig is going a bit stir crazy. He decides to fly toward the source of a distress signal, trying to help the suffering, but facing dangers at every turn. Andrew liked the immediacy of the first-person narration. Other reviewers note the poetic way in which Heller finds new beginnings even at the end.
In fourth with ten mentions, and also reviewed by Andrew for BFGB, is Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. It’s about web designer, Clay Jannon, who has hit a career slump and in financial peril answers the Help Wanted ad in the window of an odd bookstore. He ends up working the night shift, selling books with languages and letters he doesn’t recognize to a small clientele of strange customers. He uses his computer skills to create a kind of inventory for the store, and what he discovers in doing so leads him down the proverbial rabbit hole. The results are kind of Haruki Murakami meets Neal Stephenson meets Borges, but perhaps less complex than any of those works, a fantastic bookstore/library adventure with a mystery at its core and lots of references to make us nerdy folk happy.
Rounding out the top 12 in this category are Lydia Netzer’s Shine Shine Shine with eight mentions to date; a four-way tie for 6th at seven mentions between the middle book in Justin Cronin’s trilogy The Twelve, Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker, Daniel O’ Malley’s The Rook, and John Scalzi’s Redshirts; and a three-way tie for 10th at six mentions between Deborah Harkness’s Shadow of Night, N. K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312.
I’ll summarize other categories of the ABBC — literary fiction, historical fiction, narrative nonfiction, and biographies and memoirs — at my other blogging home, Book Group Buzz, in upcoming weeks. Come back to us at Blogging for a Good Book to get further editions of the ABBC, a resource that if it nears the level of past years, will include results from nearly 200 different great sources by the time it is finished.