Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tor.com releases poll results for best SFF novels of the decade

Tor.com recently polled its readers on the best SFF novels of the decade. The results are in (analysis here) and the top ten include:

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Blindsight by Peter Watts
Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey
A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Anathem by Neal Stephenson
Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

I’ve only read three of these, two of which I liked (A Storm of Swords, American Gods), and one I’m rather indifferent about (Perdido Street Station). I’ve heard a lot of good things about Anathem and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and intend to read them one day. But unfortunately as I’ve said before there’s so much fantasy on the market, both new and old titles, and not enough time to read them all. I know I’ll never get to all these titles, sadly enough.

Tor.com is featuring essays about the novels on their blog. The first is up: An appreciation of American Gods by novelist Patrick Rothfuss. Rothfuss had the same reaction to American Gods as I did: He can’t quite explain why it works, only that it does, and it’s pretty brilliant. A couple recent commenters on The Silver Key expressed their dislike for AG but I’m glad to see it get some love over on Tor.com. I enjoyed it a lot.

George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords is a bloodbath of a book with perhaps the most painful scene I’ve read in a fantasy novel. It made me not want to continue (though I did manage to finish it). It’s extremely well-done gritty fantasy, if you like that sort of thing.

I freely admit that I don’t get the appeal of Perdido Street Station. It’s dark and byzantine … and, well, dark and byzantine. I found the characters unappealing and the plot meandering. The slake-moths were kind of cool and New Crobuzon was well-done, though.

What are your thoughts? Have you read any of these? Any you’d recommend? Any head scratchers/notable absentees that didn't make the list?

22 comments:

Lagomorph Rex said...

The only one on that list that I've read is American Gods.. and I must confess to being one of those people who just "Dosen't get it".. I don't get why the book is so popular or why people think its so great..

I perhaps disliked it because of Gaiman's decided misunderstanding of Norse Mythology or pre-christian nordic attitudes as presented in Sagas and Legends.. This is something he showed again in his ham handed Beowulf screenplay.

But it wasn't a bad book.. like say Naked Empire.. was a bad book..

I own Norrell and Mistborn.. and am planning on giving them a read at some point.. have some what given up on GRRM and likely won't be picking up any more of his books until he's finished the series.. Pat Rothfuss is on a list of 'Potential' reads.. but seeing as I've been so bummed out on so many new authors.. I just don't know.

Mieville will not pass my doors however.. I have a decided opinion against his works.

Trey said...

Always easier to decide you dislike something when you're deciding on factors external to the work itself, I guess.

Anyway, I've read the Gaiman, Martin, and Mieville, all of which I'd like--though, Brian, I think your criticism of Perdido Street Station is fair and it isn't his best work. The Scar and The City and the City are superior, I think.

Blindsight I have read good things about, but have never got around to reading it. Same with Mistborn and Jonathan Strange

Lagomorph Rex said...

Your absolutely right, it is easier to dismiss a work based on items unconnected to the work.. however my opinion of Meivelle is so low.. that I don't want to give him any of my money.. and so I can't actually buy his book and read it without steeling it..

none of my libraries stock new books, unless the authors happen to have the last names of "Beck", "Gingrich", "Savage" and "Coultier"..

trollsmyth said...

I'm not sure Scalzi's OMW deserves the top spot, but it's a good book that turns into a great book in the last 20 pages. If you liked Heinlein's Starship Troopers but wished it had been a bit more about people and a bit less about institutions (or if you enjoyed Haldeman's Forever War but wished it hadn't just sorta petered out into bizarreness at the end) then you'll probably like Old Man's War.

I have a very fond place in my heart for Kushiel's Dart. It's an odd little fantasy novel with a pinch of romance tropes. It's a cloak-and-dagger meets high-fantasy thing in a world that's like ours but jarringly different. If you enjoy a story that plays with cultures and comparative religion, you'll probably like KD. It does have more than a pinch of BDSM in it, but that doesn't dominate the novel; you can skim those parts if they bother you and just enjoy the who-dunnit and politics and derring-do if you prefer.

Will Duquette said...

I liked Mistborn and The Name of the Wind very much; I thought American gods was OK.

crazyred said...

I'd recommend the audio book edition of American Gods to anyone on the fence about giving it a try. The narrator (George Guidall) is simply fantastic.

Geoffrey said...

I have not read any of those books.

David J. West said...

I love "A Storm of Swords" I have a copy and plan on reading "The Name of the Wind" soon, as well as "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" but some of these others-meh.

I haven't been all that impressed with Gaiman in general and have felt severely underwhelmed by Sanderson too, I haven't even finished the Mistborn trilogy and have little motivation to do so.

I have to personally push that "Last Argument of Kings" by Joe Abercrombie should have been on this list.

Steven Riddle said...

Dear Mr. Murphy,

Really liked "Old Man's War" and its sequels. Had the Rothfuss book recommended to me by someone whose views in these matters I trust. Agree with you on nearly anything by Mr. Mieville.

shalom,

Steven

Falze said...

Afraid I've only read Clarke's paperweight, Strange and Norrell. My advice to everyone else saying they've got it and/or mean to get around to it, 'don't bother'. It sort of starts out interesting and some of the ideas aren't terrible so you think it's going to be pretty good, but her writing is absolutely agonizing. It was a book that, when I was done, I was mad at myself for having read the whole thing. Think, instead of color by numbers, writing by numbers, where she probably read every 'how to write' book ever written and then tried to incorporate every idea into this bloated tome.

If you're a fan of 'form over function' then by all means, eat her up. You've got your seemingly endless stream of footnotes referring to imaginary sources (in many cases you'll kick yourself for even looking at them, they're that unrelated to the story and unnecessary, sometimes even just meaningless), pseudo-realistic historical context (I guess the best way to put it would be to think 'steampunk' with magic instead of science), descriptions that seem to go on as long as speeches by Ayn Rand's main characters, useless and trivial side stories, often ridiculous behavior by characters, and a predictable ending. Other than that it's a fine piece of work.

My mother in law started it before me, but then gave up while I was in the middle of it, I told her she wasn't missing anything by not trying to finish it. I bet a lot of people that say they liked it read a bit of the beginning that was sort of OK and then got bored and put it down, but said it was good. Like how everyone has A Brief History Of Time and raves over it, but almost no one has actually read it.

If you were wondering...no, I didn't like her book.

marycatelli said...

I've read two. American Gods is in the list of Gaiman's I don't like. Strange and Norrell I did like, though I warn aspiring readers that it takes two hundred pages to really start the plot; I loved all the lavish world-building on the way there, but others might not.

Some of them I tasted but could not get through.

AkshayKhatri said...

Patrick Rothfuss' Name of the Wind is definitely a very good read, and a very different one from A Storm of Swords, but still deserving its place. Heavy on characterization and focusing on a single character as opposed to the epic sweep of most others, one's only grouse is that it is a tad rambling, and takes a while for things to kickstart after the first interlude.

Brian Murphy said...

I perhaps disliked it because of Gaiman's decided misunderstanding of Norse Mythology or pre-christian nordic attitudes as presented in Sagas and Legends.. This is something he showed again in his ham handed Beowulf screenplay.

I'm not a fan of Beowulf (the film) either, but I liked how Gaiman handled the gods here ... I don't recall so much on an individual level, I just liked the concept of gods requiring sacrifice and belief to stay vital.

If you enjoy a story that plays with cultures and comparative religion, you'll probably like KD.

Sounds interesting, thanks.

I'd recommend the audio book edition of American Gods to anyone on the fence about giving it a try. The narrator (George Guidall) is simply fantastic.

Guidall could read a phone book and I'd listen; the guy rocks.

I have to personally push that "Last Argument of Kings" by Joe Abercrombie should have been on this list.

I've got Abercrombie on my "to be read list," thanks David.

Like how everyone has A Brief History Of Time and raves over it, but almost no one has actually read it.

If you were wondering...no, I didn't like her book.


I'll freely admit I have never read A Brief History of Time (not enough swordplay and derring-do for my tastes, thanks), and that review of Strange and Norrell gives me pause.

Jordan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lagomorph Rex said...

I found the bit about sacrifice and belief disingenuous and side stepping the true issue Brian. After all, the bulk of the people in Scandinavia didn't choose to stop stop worshiping their gods. The choice was made for them in the form of several rather malicious personalities ranging from the 800's with Charlemagne converting the Saxons with sword and hot iron to Olaf Trygvasson doing the same thing.

Gaimen left that suspiciously absent from his book, and as a result it rather felt like people just stopped believing in them rather than having them taken away from them. To me it makes a difference.. and if the whole point of your book is to basically heap up layers of new and old gods.. then you could at least address the actual reasons why people quit following them.


I also found Gaimen's Odin rather out of character as well.. There isn't really enough mythology left surrounding Balder.. who could have even been a very late addition or been tooled up into his station as a "Norse Christ" by any number of authors.. so I can't really find much fault with Gaiman's version of him. But it's very clear to me that Gaiman has some very specific ideas when it comes to Norse Mythology which are very clearly his own and not backed up by any scholarship relating to the mythology..

He's written 3 projects specifcally dealing with it, American Gods, Beowulf and Odd and the frost Giants. Odd and the Frost Giants is the closest he comes to getting it right.. but Theres no real evidence to link Freya to any sort of Healing cult as she is presented in that work.. if anything that would most likely have been Iddunna...

I'll be totally honest though, I've never really thought Gaiman was all that great. I've never understood what all the deal was with Sandman (which I couldn't stand) And really didn't get much out of Good Omens.. I'd rather just read a discworld novel..

Andy said...

I read Sandman when it originally came out. At first it was kind of interesting, then I belatedly realized that it was really dull and I was only reading out of some sense of duty (this was back when I was younger and dumber and didn't know to just quit something I didn't like). All things considered, I don't think much of Gaiman's work.

A lot of folks have tried to recommend Rothfuss's work to me by declaring that he's the Joss Whedon of fantasy novels. That just makes me want to stay away even more.

Lagomorph Rex said...

your the first person who's ever said that about Joss Whedon.... and that does make me fear for my sanity..

Brian Murphy said...

Lagomorph: A fair enough criticism. However, as I understand the changing over of Pagan beliefs to Christianity, it was equal parts forced, Christianized Northern kings voluntarily spreading the new faith, and a natural evolution of a culture that was settling down, and finding their old values of self-reliance and indomitable will to be incompatible with the mixing of other cultures.

Lagomorph Rex said...

Oh, your absolutely right. I just feel that without the decided intimidation factor.. or later on the Bribe factor.. it wouldn't have happened quite as it did.

I've always been one of those people who will take one groups side over another and run with it... Objectivity is not one of my specialties..

francisco said...

Joss Whedon is one of the most overrated and boring screenwriters I have known
maybe Dollhouse, mostly for the gorgeous Eliza Dushku is the only interesting thing he have done

Lagomorph Rex said...

well, I started "Name of the Wind" and Oh my.. I read through it in 2 days..

It is fully deserving, in my opinion, of being on this list.

faustusnotes said...

I don't care if Gaiman got a bunch of fusty old superstitions right or wrong, but I thought he really failed to live up to his previous standards of imagination, writing style or description (set in books like Neverwhere and Stardust - I haven't read Sandman). I thought the idea was great but he shouldn't have done it. Maybe if it were handed over to Jim Butcher it would work. The sequel was even worse, really pedestrian writing by someone who can do much better.

I think a lot of authors have a use by date, and I think Gaiman is approaching his, which is sad. I wonder if Mieville and Banks are too. That's a shame, because Mieville was brilliant at his peak, and Banks was ground-breaking.

I tried reading Anathem and couldn't get very far at all. Stephenson is a nerd's nerd, that's for sure.