The OF Blog: Larry's Choices for the 2006 OF Awards, Part I

Friday, December 09, 2005

Larry's Choices for the 2006 OF Awards, Part I

Again, like we've done in previous years, we're going to post separately what some of the Admins over at Other Fantasy believe are the best (and occasionally) the worst of what we have read or seen in the sometimes-wacky world of speculative fiction for 2005. Perhaps this list (mine will be posted about a week or so before Jake's) will spark some interest among those trying to decide who to vote for, while others might just be curious to read some of the books that I will mention.

Now my top 3 will not coincide necessarily with the Finalists for the 2006 Awards. I read many different things this year and if some of these don't happen to be in English, don't believe that I'm being a snob or anything. If anything, hope there's an excellent English translation available or that you will be able to find and read the books mentioned in the original. The more exposure books from outside the 'traditional' markets get, the better in my opinion, as I am convinced that the world out there offers a much larger palette of expressions and meanings than which can be painted using the English language alone.

Anyways, I've blabbed too much, so here are my choices for some of the categories (I'm leaving out community and movie-based options, as I would prefer to focus on the book world here):

Best Book Released in 2005

1. Umberto Eco, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
- This was one of Eco's better efforts in my opinion. I've been a fan of his writing for ten years now and outside of The Name of the Rose and possibly Foucault's Pendulum, I believe this is Eco's strongest work. As I said here, Eco reveals more of his keen wit than he has before in his previous four novels, plus the level of introspection that the protagonist, Yambo, experiences just adds such a layer of depth to this story of a man who can remember the artifacts of his life, but not the actual memories of the people and places behind those artifacts. Although the story of an amnesiac has been done before by a great many authors great and small, Eco's twist to the story provides a unique depth and poignancy to this tale.

2. Yuri Andrukhovych, Perverzion - This tale within a great many tales of an Ukranian writer/gadfly who mysteriously disappears during a conference in Venice is an exercise of speculation and intrigue that quickly devolves into an intertextual exercise that engages the reader while the oft-funny segments will entertain. The translation was just published in English this summer and if Andrukhovych is any example, then there should be some very excellent works coming out from Eastern Europe into English translation in the coming years.

3. Caitlin Sweet, The Silences of Home - Sweet has written a tale within a tale that revolves in part around the ancient question of "What is truth?" A story of revenge and longing, The Silences of Home is a prequel of sorts to her earlier The Telling of Stars, but each book can be read independently of the other, plus the order of the reading can affect greatly how a reader perceives the connections between the two tales. The writing here was not as lyrical as in her first novel, but the characterizations and plot developments were done very well, leaving the reader to ponder at the end what exactly Truth was after all.

Honorable Mentions: Isabel Allende, Zorro; China Miéville, Looking for Jake

Best Book Read in 2005 but Published in Prior Year:

1. Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciónes (Spanish)
- It is no secret that Borges is likely my favorite author and after having read in Spanish for the first time this year this wonderful, wonderful collection of his, it is no surprise to those that know me that I would choose this for my favorite book read this year. The stories are thought-provoking, full of double intent and the imageries invoked will make the incautious reader wonder what is real and what is artifice. Of special note is the story of Pierre Menard, who seeks to recreate without copying the actual Don Quijote, with results that are surprising. A must read for fans of deep speculative fiction of the sort that Gene Wolfe loves to write.

2. Calderón de la Barca, La vida es sueño (Spanish) - This early 17th century play revolves around the interstices of Dream and Reality, as the players within begin to question which is which. One example of this is a monologue almost 2/3 of the way into the play, in which one character says this memorial soliloquy:

¿Qué es la vida?: un frenesí.
¿Qué es la vida?: una ilusión,
una sombra, una ficción,
y el mayor bien es pequeño,
que toda la vida es sueño,
y los sueños, sueños son.

(What is life?: A frenzy.
What is life?: An illusion,
a shadow, a fiction,
and the best good is small,
that all life is a dream,
and dreams, dreams they are.)

Enough said, right?

3. Carlos Ruiz Zafón, La sombra del viento (The Shadow of the Wind) - After reading this book, I could see better why Locus Online and other genre publications were eager to claim this book as their own. A story revolving around this mysterious, eponymous book and one child's almost fanatical devotion to the book he 'adopted' as the scene revolves around a mysterious man that seems bound and determined to eliminate all copies of this book from the face of the earth, La sombra del viento is in turns a fascinating mystery and a thoughtful look into the meanings that printed words hold for us and our imaginations.

Honorable Mentions: Alejandro Dolina, Crónicas del Ángel Gris; José Saramago, Ensayo sobre la ceguera; Gabriel García Márquez, Del amor y otros demonios; Jorge Luis Borges, El libro de los seres imaginarios; Laura Restrepo, Delirio

Most Disppointing Book Released in 2005:

Like last year, this category is very hard for me to remark about, because virtually all of the books I read this year, I enjoyed in some form and fashion. So just because I mention a book here does not mean that I believe it is a horribly-written or executed book. Instead, in most cases, it would just mean there were a few annoyances that kept me from enjoying the story as much as I enjoyed others this year.

1. Ian Cameron Esslemont, Night of Knives - Before some of the Erikson Reading Cult™ try to gang up on me and toss me out, I should note that this book makes it for the editing and typographical errors that plagued the book. These little annoyances kept me from enjoying Esslemont's story as much as I would have wished, although there is certain more than enough promise there to warrant future publications of his planned five books in the Malazan world.

2. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - While I certainly enjoyed this story a lot and believed it was a stronger effort than 2003's Order of the Phoenix, I just was left feeling that there was a bit too much exposition at times in the middle and that the ending was a bit rushed. While Rowling deserves most of the praise that she's received for the Harry Potter series, compared to the other readings I've done this year, this was relatively weak in comparison. Consider this a backhanded compliment of sorts, I suppose.

Most Disppointing Book Read in 2005 but Published in Prior Year:

Only one book came to mind here and this one was chosen as much because I felt it was a ripoff of much of Jorge Luis Borges than for any perceived deficiencies of writing. Yes, Paulo Coelho's El Alquimista just read as a trite, somewhat more shallow take on much of Borges's oevre than anything else. It just soured me on the tale told within, which wasn't that bad, but not good enough to help me overcome my initial distaste to the story.

I will add some of the other categories either later this weekend or sometime next week. Feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions here.

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