[DWJ] Best and Worst of 2007

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Mon Dec 31 21:02:43 EST 2007


Geez, I go on vacation and you guys all start talking again.  It's like a
conspiracy, I just know it.  Welcome to the madhouse, Kait.  :)

The end of the year came as a complete surprise to me.  Who knew that the
31st of December really is the last day of 2007?  (When I say "vacation" I
apparently mean "mental stupor."  I'm in denial about the amount of reading
I have to do in January and how much of it will be Total Crap.)  And I
haven't kept good records this year--it was just too easy not to write
things down right away, and then big surprise, it was two weeks and I had no
idea what I'd read.  Something is wrong there, probably.

Still, if it wasn't a banner year for reading, it wasn't an awful one, and
that's all one can really ask for, at least if one has very low expectations
and the kids are playing Rock Band in the living room.  As always, you're
all welcome to play along at home, since I get most of my *good*
recommendations from this list.

(Sidebar:  Things I've Gotten From This List:  Martha Wells, Sherwood Smith,
Georgette Heyer, Megan Whalen Turner (possibly not the recommendation, but
certainly some invigorating debate!), many many new friends and much
excellent food-related discussion.  The production of grilled cheese
sandwiches is halted temporarily while I search for a griddle the right size
and shape to fit on my countertop.)

And on to the year's list.  Just a reminder--this is all based on books I've
read this year, not necessarily those published this year.  There will also
be spoilers.  You've been warned.

*******
Best Books of 2007:  No real standout this year, but if pressed I'd say...

_The Crossing_, Cormac McCarthy.  I'd never read anything by him before, and
my daughter's school had this Suggested Reading List for parents as well as
kids this year.  I had my doubts about some of his stylistic quirks at
first, but by the time I finished I felt I had been put through a mangle,
stretched out, and rinsed perfectly clean.  He does these things with
landscape and liminality that are simply amazing.  I don't know that I could
call it a "fun" read, exactly, and it reaches levels of violence that are
definitely not for everyone; on the other hand, his writing is a kind of
mystical that I think is better appreciated by a reader of fantasy than by
the average fiction reader.

The other books at the top of my list:

_Redemption Road_, Toni Sorenson Brown:  An excellent story about faith,
both in the religious and the more general sense, from a publisher I had
given up hope would EVER produce a readable adult novel.  It's a Mormon
story, but without the constipated orthodoxy most of them have.

_The Yiddish Policeman's Union_, Michael Chabon:  This man has earned a lot
of goodwill from me; I'll read anything he writes.  _Union_ is weird.  I
liked it because I'm a sucker for a beautiful style and unusual settings,
but I can't say it's strong on plot.  But...geez, it's beautiful.  And
Chabon edges closer toward speculative fiction in every new book, which I
love--_Gentlemen of the Road_ (also a very fun book) has an afterword in
which he discusses his literary choices and how he's gotten from his early
Manhattan angst stories to, well, _The Yiddish Policeman's Union_.

_It's Superman_, Tom deHaven: If you see the hardcover edition of this,
you'll understand that it really does leap out at you.  I read this
concurrently with Gerard Jones's _Men of Tomorrow_, and the book fits
perfectly into that milieu of the rise of the comic book.  It's as if...it's
hard to explain...as if Superman really was born and existed at the exact
time he was created by Siegel and Shuster.  And it's a great origin story
too.

_Seeker_, Jack McDevitt:  I prefer it when McDevitt sticks to what he
knows--space adventure/archaeology in which the story is doled out, bit by
bit, until the final explosive climactic scene.  _Odyssey_ was not good.
_Cauldron_ was much much better.  _Seeker_ was phenomenal.  I think I nearly
had a heart attack when the climax turned out to be something I wasn't
expecting at all.

_Making Money_, Terry Pratchett:  If I have to explain it to you, you'll
never get it.  :)  One of the high points of my year was introducing my
13-year-old daughter to the Discworld and then watching the books disappear,
one by one, from the shelf.

*******
Best New Series:  The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

Usually my pick in this category is a long series, and this is really only a
trilogy, but it's an impressive new fantasy series.  Reading these books,
I'm struck by two things: first, that this is the strangest combination of
fantasy tropes I've ever seen--I find it extremely intense, but the
character interaction has a lightness to it that isn't usually found in epic
fantasy; and second, which pains me to admit, is that Brandon Sanderson will
almost certainly handle The Wheel of Time better than Robert Jordan did.  My
husband is an unabashed fanboy and has embarrassed himself in front of
Sanderson at least twice; I'm not as committed, but it's hard not to admire
the series no matter one's personal attachment to it.  The first two books
are _Mistborn_ and _The Well of Ascension_, with a third to come next year.

*******
Best Romance:  _The Reluctant Widow_, Georgette Heyer

The number of Heyer books I've never read is dwindling fast.  Found this one
in a used book store somewhere and made happy noises.  I really enjoyed it.
It's not my favorite--but then, my favorite keeps changing; right now it is
_Sprig Muslin_--but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

*******
Best "Classic" Read:  _The Cosmic Puppets_, Philip K. Dick

I admit it.  I'd never read anything by him before.  No, not even the
android story.  Nothing.  That's right.  This one isn't very long, but it's
extraordinary--very much like a Twilight Zone episode that JUST KEEPS GOING
after the point you think it's over, and then it gets better.

The best thing about reading classic SF at this point in time is how fresh
and original it all was back then.  There's all this material that's never
been tapped before, all these ideas no one's had before--the stuff that now
is cliche, but only because *they got there first.*  Talk about a time
machine.

*******
Best Half of A Book:  _Sons of Heaven_, Kage Baker

If you've been reading the Company novels, you're aware that the storyline
has become increasingly divided between the "main" plot of Mendoza and her
peripatetic lover, and the "secondary" plot of the Company cyborgs and the
mystery of what will happen after the Silence.  You may also be of the
opinion that the secondary storyline is a lot more fun than the primary one.
At least, if you are me.  I have absolutely no interest in romances where
one party is so much smarter and cooler and powerfuler than the other that
it's like he or she is keeping the other as a pet.  (See also _Metallic
Love_.)

So reaching the end of the series with _Sons of Heaven_ was both thrilling
and barfalicious at the same time.  (Note how I invented a word.  I had to.)
On the one hand, we have Mendoza drooling along after her abusive boyfriend
and being forced to give birth to bodies for her other two boyfriends, who
are then raised as her children but ultimately become her lovers again...am
I conveying the barfaliciousness of this properly?  But on the other hand,
EVERYTHING ELSE in the book is WONDERFUL.  Lots of stuff with Lewis, lots of
stuff with people spying on other people and plotting, and Victor finally
getting revenge for all the crap the Company put him through, and Kalugin
(!!!) coming back (!!!), and the secret of the Silence being revealed in
such a satisfying way...by the end, I was skimming the Mendoza sections to
get to the rest.

This makes me sad, really.  It was Mendoza's doomed relationships that
really sucked me in at the beginning.  But not only did they end up in a
place I didn't like, they started to stretch my credulity beyond the point
where I could even say "okay, *I* don't like it, but I see how it makes
sense."  It's still great storytelling, over the course of seven novels and
two (or three?) story collections.  In a way, that makes it worse.
 
*******
Best Serendipitous Find:  _The Whole Truth and Nothing But_, Hedda Hopper

I don't know if everyone knows who Hedda Hopper was.  I thought she was
well-known until I started telling people how I found this book for a dollar
at the thrift store and they all went "Who?"  Hopper was a film actress back
in the earliest days of movies, then went on to become a famous Hollywood
gossip columnist and variety show host for a good thirty or forty years.
(She gets a mention in Connie Willis's book _Remake_.) This book is a
collection of memories and, let's face it, gossip about some of the biggest
names in Hollywood.  She really did know everyone and she knew where all the
bodies were buried.  It's a fascinating look at the golden years of
Hollywood and the advent of the television era.

**********
Worst Book of 2007:  _The Buried Pyramid_ by Jane Lindskold

Holy crap, Jane, what happened to you?  This is two-thirds mediocre
adventure novel and one-third mediocre fantasy novel, joined together in a
way that would make Dr. Frankenstein proud.  And I'm sorry, guys, but
anytime a novel has a character named Chad Spice, I become unable to take it
seriously.  The fantasy third comes out of nowhere, too; the elements in the
adventure novel that are supposed to foreshadow its eventual appearance are
insufficiently fantastic, so at first you're not sure whether the characters
have really stepped into a fantasy universe, or if they're just suffering
the adverse effects of anoxia.  Which would be reasonable.  Published in
2004, it can't even be excused as an early novel.  This is not, by a long
shot, the worst novel I've ever read, but I expect better from the author of
_Child of a Rainless Year_.

And a bonus in this category--those of you who love Tamora Pierce can skip
this:  _Trickster's Choice_, Tamora Pierce

That girl should have died.  Sorry, people, but she is possibly the worst
secret agent in the history of history.  And some of the codes Pierce comes
up with are NOT POSSIBLE.  Gaah.

******
Once again, I have to close by saying how glad I am to be a part of this
community.  I've been watching another list--one I've been on just a little
longer than this one--implode from the pressures of jerks who want to
dominate the conversation and believe they should be allowed to be rude and
that others should develop a thicker skin.  This truly is the most civil,
the most intelligent online community I've ever seen, and I'm looking
forward to what the new year brings.

Melissa Proffitt



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