Sunday, December 31, 2006

Out with Old and Blue for '06, in with Red and New for '07

A New Year, a new review, and a anew blog template to kick off 2007. I’m not sure if I like this new backend set up for blogger, but I do like the color layouts and options for templates a bit more. Conversely, I enjoyed Martin Sketchley’s The Liberty Gun, the finale to his high-octane SF adventure Structure series. I posted the review today.

Santa was pretty good to me this year, I got plenty of NY Yankee stuff to fill my Yankee room, a healthy dose of books to add to the physical “to-read” pile, a nice handful of CDs and plenty of goodies from Mrs. O’ Stuff.

As for the Scarlet Knights, a most decisive victory in the inaugural Texas Bowl.

Anyway, 2006 came to a close with much fanfare throughout the world and much relaxation in the O’ Stuff household. It was a nice relaxing evening with Mrs. O’ Stuff as we both realized, by flipping between the various annoying New Years’ specials, just how out of touch I am with today’s “popular” music. Mr. O’ Stuff and I finished off the pre-Christmas week by catching Trans-Siberian Orchestra in concert – it was a blast. Part laser-show, part 80s hard rock/metal, it was truly a great experience.

On the whole, I read 71 books this year, most of which were pretty good with a few stinkers peppered in the mix. So, since most FSF pundits and bloggers worth their salt are doing it, I will present the books I enjoyed the most in 2006, regardless of the book’s year of release. Unlike other bloggers (and every other noodnick who posted a best of 2006 list, yes I’m looking at you amazon with your best of 2006 list posted in October/November!) thus far, I’ve waited until 2006.

Without further ado…

Nailing down my favorite book for 2006 is tough, and would probably vary from day to day as a number of books impressed me, moved me, and made me want not want to finish the book in question.

Without a doubt, the biggest debut of the year was probably Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora – and with good reason. It was easily the most fun I had reading any book this year, and probably the most fun I’ve had reading a debut novel. Though not an absolutely perfect novel, it came pretty close to delivering exactly what I want – fun, adventure, humor, and magic.

Another debut that really impressed me was David Louis Edelman’s Infoquake published by Pyr. What Lynch did for my fantasy reading taste-buds, Edleman did for my Science Fiction reading taste-buds. A believable protagonist in an all-too plausible extrapolated future with a Big Idea and backed by a future history was a lot of fun to read. Check out my review from earlier in the year.

Though not a debut, Sean Williams's The Crooked Letter made its US debut after receiving much acclaim in the author’s native Australia. This was another beautiful Pyr book; Williams blended elements from all the speculative fiction branches to create a stew of the fantastic and horrific. The second book, The Blood Debt, published in October and while different in some respects, it was a fantastic continuation of the over-reaching saga.

I would also be remiss if I neglected Chris Roberson’s genre-bending pulp novel, Paragaea. Part SF, part fantasy, part physics, and part pirate novel, Roberson pulled off a nice trick in this one. I’d love to read more about these people and the strange and familiar world.

I’ve been reading more anthologies and short story collections in recent years, and I was lucky enough to get a copy of Mike Resnick’s New Dreams for Old. I’ve heard and read of Resnick’s reputation, with all the awards he’s both won and for which he’d been nominated. This book showed me why.

In terms of older books I discovered this year, the top might have been Jim Butcher’s Storm Front, the first in his Dresden Files sequence. I’ve already read the second book this year, Fool Moon, and I don’t plan on stopping there. Like Lynch, Butcher throws in equal parts humor, magic and adventure in this mix of mystery and magic.

Scott Westerfeld’s Peeps initially published last year, was a very solid YA tale. To say Westerfeld has fun with traditional Vampire myth and legend is an understatement, luckily all of that fun translated to the page. The same can be said for Charlie Huston’s Already Dead, a mix of the Vampire myth and the detective novel. Westerfeld’s is aimed at the YA set, while Huston’s is definitely an adult tale, but both are equally enjoyable.

I also caught up with John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War sequence, enjoying both quite a bit. It is no surprise Mr. Scalzi won the Campbell award.

Back to the short stories, I finally read Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors, and if anything, realized how many of the stories I’d read elsewhere and how much I enjoyed them again.

I also really enjoyed Caitlin Sweet’s debut novel from a couple years back, the lyrical and at times tragic, A Telling of Stars. This was published in Canada in 2004.

Of course it wasn’t all good stuff. Three books stood out as major disappointments, or rather books I really didn’t enjoy. James Luceno’s Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader was bad novel that could have been so much more. Scott Smith’s The Ruins was aptly named; the characters were terribly drawn, the plot was razor thin and the overall story was poorly executed. Lastly, C.J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station came highly recommended but left me rather bored.

2007 looks promising, too with a lot of the authors I enjoyed in 2006 publishing more in the coming year.

This blog still sputters on in 2007 though hopefully I can get back to posting as much as I did before this past summer.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Winter Warmth

Hear the pin dropping? Yeah, I know the blog has been quiet lately. Life gets in the way plans sometimes.

I have to admit, the 50-degree weather here in New Jersey makes it difficult to feel like Christmas outside. However, it is and has officially been Christmastime for a while now, if for no other reason than the presence of Harpoon Winter Warmer on the shelves of fine liquor stores. Beer flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg says Christmas to me much in the same way as decorating the tree with my wife and the traditional Christmas Eve pierogis. With this being the second Christmas in the new house, we found a great tree farm where we will be buying our trees for the next thirty years.

I posted my review of John Scalzi’s newest novel, The Android’s Dream today. I liked this one quite a bit, though there were a couple of slow spots in the early part of the novel. The venerable Hobbit posted his review of Peter Watts’s buzz-generating novel Blindsight, which I just discovered is being offered for free by Watts under a Creative Commons license.

Other books I’ve finished recently include the second Dresden File, Fool Moon, by Jim Butcher, which was very entertaining. I don't know if I'll catch up as much as I'd like before the ScFi Channel series starts, though. I also finished China Miévelle’s newst novel, a magical YA fantasy called Un Lun Dun (review to come as the book’s publication draws closer), and the conclusion to Martin Sketchley’s Structure series, The Liberty Gun (review forthcoming). I also finished up the Fables OGN 1001 Nights of Snowfall; a great addition to the already classic-in-the making series from the pen of Bill Willingham under DC’s Vertigo imprint, Fables.