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Best of 2010, minus 6 weeks

I feel sorry for books which are published in the last weeks of a year. They are inevitably left off many of the best-of-the-year lists, because those best-of lists are published before the year is even done. Some newspapers at least wait until the last week of the year. Commercial entities, however, have every reason to put theirs out in time for the Christmas shopping period.

In the U.S., it's Thanksgiving this week, a vacation which combines with its distance from Christmas to make this coming Friday the highest-volume shopping day of the year there. As a result, my inbox has been full of advertising for sales forthcoming in another day or two.

Amazon.com, as one of the U.S.'s major retailers, is, of course, in on the whole thing. In addition to their sale emails, they have also released their lists of the best books of 2010. Yes, already.

In addition to their overall top 10, they have put out top 10s for 22 genres in both fiction and nonfiction. Browsing through these taught me that I read more cookbook reviews than I had realized: I had heard of, read about, or browsed through more of their top 10 cookbooks than any other genre of books. (I wonder if it's easier to predict the "important" titles in the world of cookbooks than in other genres?) I buy more food lit, but knew fewer of their titles in it.

What I wanted to tell you about, however, was Amazon.com editors' picks of the top 10 science fiction and fantasy novels of 2010. I read lots of science fiction and fantasy reviews (I thought), but I had heard of hardly any of these titles. My first impression is that they are carefully choosing books which are packaged to have greater nongenre appeal than most of what I have been reading about.

I'm delighted to see that their top book is a work in translation, from Czech. It's refreshing - almost a relief in terms of balancing out English-language genre domination - when translated works have representation on lists; better still that this one managed to earn their top spot. N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is in fifth place, the only book on this list of which I have read multiple, largely positive, reviews. I knew about How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe: A Novel.

Perhaps I was not familiar with most of this list because I have been reading more British reviews than those from other countries. Perhaps it's because I haven't been living in the U.S. this year. Perhaps it's because these are books which really are aimed more at nongenre readers, but have speculative elements in them. I keep hearing discussions of how SF&F has gone mainstream: is this list an example of that?


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 24th, 2010 12:09 pm (UTC)
I think market is the major factor here. The two books you've heard of are the only two books that have been published in the UK. Most of the others, and particularly the Gilman, Okorafor, and Palmer, are books that I'm sure more UK-based readers would have been talking about had the books been available to them.

There aren't many books on the list I consider to have been published "outside the genre". The Ajvaz, certainly. (Which I haven't read yet, although his previous book, The Other City, is a fascinating counterpart to The City & The City.) The Krilanovich, the Conn. The others I'd expect to see on the sf shelves.

That said, and certainly compared to the Amazon UK list, it's a less mass market list. It probably helps to know that the Amazon US list was largely put together by Jeff VanderMeer.
Nov. 24th, 2010 12:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you for putting this into context. It's especially helpful to have an idea of where the list came from and why I knew the ones I did. The Amazon.co.uk list does make me feel much more tuned in, but that's not necessarily a good thing. (i.e. I learn less from it.)

Your link also send me off to check out the other Amazons. There aren't any other equivalent lists to compare to, which isn't really a surprise given the nature of the SFF markets.

Amazon.ca has edited lists, but only two of them, 25 books for fiction, and 25 for non-fiction.

Amazon.de has the bestsellers of 2010 - no critical intervention on the part of editors. (For example, the bestselling fantasy novels of 2010.)

Amazon.fr and Amazon.it have not, thus far, put out lists at all, other than the usual defaults.

Amazon.co.jp looks edited.

Amazon.cn has a list, but it may well be a bestseller one rather than edited, based on formatting.
Nov. 24th, 2010 12:53 pm (UTC)
The Amazon.co.uk list does make me feel much more tuned in, but that's not necessarily a good thing. (i.e. I learn less from it.)

Yes, it's always good to be directed to new stuff -- I hadn't heard of Krilanovich or Conn before the US list appeared. And there are some obvious omissions from both that I expect to be getting attention when BSFA/Clarke shortlists are announced, particularly The Dervish House, The Quantum Thief and Zoo City.

Fascinating about the other Amazons! I hadn't thought to look.
Nov. 24th, 2010 12:22 pm (UTC)
Well, they've tried to sell me one of them on my recs list, and I've read only the Jemisin, which I thought very overrated, I just wonder if some of these are books which are not selling as well as they hoped.
Nov. 24th, 2010 09:01 pm (UTC)
I'm in the same boat as you with most of the list, with the exception of Who Fears Death, which was reviewed heavily on the RSS feeds I follow.
Nov. 26th, 2010 04:51 pm (UTC)
Can you recommend some things to follow for the US market?
Nov. 30th, 2010 01:30 am (UTC)
Sure! I did like both Who Fears Death and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and the latter's sequel, The Broken Kingdoms.

Of the others I've heard multiple sources recommend, I've so far read and liked:

Feed, by Mira Grant: it's a post-zombie-apocalypse story, in which humans/zombies have reached an equilibrium and the main characters are bloggers reporting on the presidential race, which of course involves zombie politics.

Blackout and All Clear, the newest additions to Connie Willis's time travelling historians universe. They're really one novel in two volumes - I recommend reading them one right after the other. Also, the point of view alternates chapters between what seems like too many characters, except it's really not as many as it seems because in each chapter she refers to the character by the cover identity they are using in that timeline. It may be a spoiler to know who is which character from the beginning, but I think I recommend getting it.

Suzanne Collins's series that starts with The Hunger Games came out with its third and final this year, Mockingjay. I really loved the whole series, about a dystopian future America in which control is maintained in part by sending the children of the downtrodden districts to a yearly gladiator fight, and the rebellion that follows.

I'm only two chapters into Cherie Priest's Dreadnought, set in the same world as her earlier Civil War era steampunk zombie story Boneshaker. It seems to involve trains and steampunk... I expect the zombies to pop up eventually, but I don't remember reading that in any reviews and it's not in the back-of-book blurb, so maybe they won't.

Hmmmm... those are the ones that stand out, for me. Tor.com has recently started monthly blog posts entitled "Fiction Affliction", where they're listing a lot of sf/f books that are due out that month - not just from them, but from other publishers too. It's been about 3-4 posts/month, with each post having, for example, this month's 10 urban fantasies, or 15 sf/space operas. I'm under the impression they're dividing it up a little differently each month, depending on how many books are coming out in each subgenre.
Nov. 25th, 2010 07:51 pm (UTC)
Haven't heard of any of the books on the .com list, or the authors, and as they're rather unusual titles and plots (none of which, at a brief glance, particulalry appeals to me) I'll question the whole top 10 aspect. Unless its top hard-core obscure SF the editors have chosen to prove they're cool and edgy, dude. I often get emails from amazon suggesting genre books I might like and I don't remember seeing any of those mentioned via that route either.. Most of the .uk ones ring plenty of bells, by contrast.
Nov. 26th, 2010 10:27 am (UTC)
Jim Butcher's Changes belongs on the list, imho - but maybe they are trying to avoid 10+ book series? :)
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )