Best Reads of 2009

When thinking of what I would pick for my best reads of 2009 I found myself confronted by a list of titles that was actually quite long.  2009 was, quite simply, a year of good books.  Looking at the list my eyes fell upon two titles who, in one form or another, have stuck with me in the intervening months since I’ve read them.  Whether via stirring imagery or powerful emotional imagery my two choices, despite the plethora of flotsam and jetsam, keep rising to the surface of my thoughts.  So hit the jump to see my picks.

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Review: Nova War by Gary Gibson

Nova War by Gary Gibson
Nova War by Gary Gibson

Nova War
Gary Gibson
Tor, 2009

Nova War is the sequel to 2008’s Stealing Light a book that, surprise surprise, has yet to get a release here in the states.  Nova War dispenses with some of the mystery of the first novel and trading it instead for some serious action.  Indeed things are ratcheted right up to eleven and amongst all the action and excitement I felt that Gibson still managed to do an excellent job in creating unique and memorable characters and wound up with a book that surpassed its predecessor in terms of quality.  If you haven’t read the first book be warned there will be some minor spoilers below.

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Feeling kind of…red

Red Faction Guerrilla
Red Faction Guerrilla

I cruise by the turn off for the Martian Council eyeing the EDF patrols that wander by while simultaneously keeping my eye on the cliffs surrounding the base.  Then I spot it up ahead; the perfect outcropping just high enough to allow me to get up and over the range of hills that surround the base; with the help of my handy jetpack anyway.  Smiling, I step on the gas and move down the road quickly stashing my pickup behind some boulders.  Never know; I might have to make a hasty exit.  With a deep breath I sprint towards the hills, leaping activating my jetpack’s thrusters at the apex of my jump.  With a series of assisted leaps, and one close call with some over-zealous EDF grunt, I manage to make it to the top of a large cliff.  I stare for a moment at the Martian Council building my lip curling in disgust at the clean lines and utilitarian design of the EDF built structure.  Unlimbering my home-brewed rocket launcher I take careful aim and let loose a missile.  Concrete, glass and rebar fly in all directions followed almost immediately by the first pot-shots from the EDF troops below.  I smile, staring into the smoke filled hole in the council building; definitely an improvement.

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Review: Haze by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

Haze by L. E. Modesitt Jr.
Haze by L. E. Modesitt Jr.

Haze
L. E. Modesitt Jr.
Tor, 2009

I first came across L. E. Modesitt Jr. while reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series mainly since both Modesitt and Jordan featured covers by Darell Sweet.  While I read an enjoyed The Magic of Recluse I didn’t continue on with other books in that series.  Not too long ago I read and enjoyed the first three books in the Corean Chronicles which had a real strange blend of dying earth/frontier world that I particularly enjoyed.  So when I saw that Modesitt had a new sci-fi novel coming up I was interested to see how he would handle a different genre.

Haze starts on a Federation ship near a planet nicknamed with the same name; a name earned by the strange gray barrier impervious to sensors that surrounds the planet.  Keir Roget, a Federation Intelligence agent is dropped to the planets surface in order to determine who or what is down there.  At the same time Roget reminisces about an earlier assignment on Earth and the book alternates between the present day exploration of Haze and flashbacks to Roget’s experiences in a backwater Norram (North American) town.

Haze is a rather strange book.  On the one hand it gives an absolutely fascinating overview of the political and economic future of Earth.  Roget’s Federation is a Chinese dominated government with strict almost Orwellian methods of watching its populace.   Through Roget’s exploration of Haze we examine an alternate culture, vaguely socialist in nature, and completely pragmatic in its governance that stands at odds with the very top-down power structure of the Federation government.  At the same time, during the flashback sections of the book, we examine a third cultural milieu that of the backwater, religious fringe (apparently religion is mostly frowned upon in the Federation government).  All three are interesting, well thought out, and certainly thought provoking but I’m not sure that they make explicitly compelling fiction.

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Review: The Human Disguise by James O’Neal

The Human Disguise by James ONeal
The Human Disguise by James O'Neal

The Human Disguise
James O’Neal
Tor, 2009

The jacket discription of O’Neal’s debut novel The Human Disguise reads like it is supposed to be a post-apocalyptic noir story.  It had me really excited.  Needless to say I was a bit disappointed when the novel turned out be more of an action-thriller and I had radically adjust my expectations and try my hardest to enjoy the novel for what it was rather than what I hoped it to be.

America is a shell of herself, her borders closed, ravaged by terrorism, and threatened (along the rest of the world) by an increasingly aggressive Germany.  Amidst what remains of Florida, near a Miama declared as a quarantine zone for bioterror victims called growlers Tom Wilner, a former marine, is a member of the United Police Force, a peace keeping organization that does its best to enforce what little law remains in the area.  Wilner, while tailing his soon-to-be ex-wife into an area bar is quickly caught in a firefight and thrust straight into the middle of a conflict between two ancient families.  What ensues is flawed, but highly entertaining, action-thriller that while engrossing never seems to quite captialize on the rich world the O’Neal has created.
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Review: A Grey Moon Over China by Thomas A. Day

Grey Moon Over China by Thomas A DayA Grey Moon Over China
Thomas A. Day
Tor, 2009 (original published by Black Heron, 2006)

A Grey Moon Over China is near future sci-fi epic with a surprisingly intimate touch that constantly wars with broader scope. It is a struggle that at times makes for an engrossing read and at other times makes for a difficult read. In the near future of this novel Earth is shattered by wars and environment ruin. While people go on about their daily lives the endless war and violence takes its toll. One soldier, Edward Torres, tired of war and violence and look for a peaceful life and quiet place his own, makes a startling discovery on a tiny island: a cheap, near limitless, portable energy source. His discovery creates a domino effect of change as he and his companions restart a failed space program in order strike out and start fresh amongst the stars.

A Grey Moon Over China was a bit of an impulse buy for me. Before punching in for a weekend shift at the book store I had picked up the book and started reading the prologue. Towards the end a particular melancholic passage clenched my purchase:

Walking back up the hill carrying my parcels, I stopped to catch my breath and listen to the silence after crunching my feet on the gravel. She’s like the rest of us, I thought. We pursue our own solitary passions and seldom look up, seldom sense that it we ourselves who form the swelling flood of history, the dark constellation of events we would sooner lay at the feet of other. Until the storm finally gathers, and then we look up and we grow afraid, and we say: This is not what I intended.
And yet, even then, I thought, we do not act. Even then we hesitate, and always for too long.

There was something about that little passage that really struck and cord with me and while that passage doesn’t neatly encapsulate the novel’s plot it certainly captures the novel’s tone.  This is not a novel that lifts you up.  It drifts into surprisingly dark places and in many ways confirms and highlights the immutability of man’s violent nature.
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