The OF Blog: 2008 in Review: My Favorite Fictions

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 in Review: My Favorite Fictions

While I've covered most of these books in my previous posts, there are a few books appearing on this overall list of 20 2008 releases that I have not covered. Perhaps I shall write a longer review of a couple of these in the coming weeks (I thought I would have had time before now, but a combination of feeling under the weather and wanting to enjoy at least a few hours of rest during my two-week break from teaching has left me with little time/energy for reviewing those works now), but for now, here is a list of my favorite 2008 fictions:

20. Ma Jian, Beijing Coma

19. Toby Barlow, Sharp Teeth

18. Matthew Stover, Caine Black Knife

17. Jeffrey Ford, The Shadow Year

16. Thomas Ligotti, The Nightmare Factory: Volume 2

15. Antonio Orlando Rodríguez, Chiquita

14. Jeanette Winterson, The Stone Gods

13. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (eds.), The New Weird

12. Nate Powell, Swallow Me Whole

11. Carlos Fuentes, La voluntad y la fortuna

10. Ekaterina Sedia, The Alchemy of Stone

9. Jo Graham, Black Ships

8. Felix Gilman, Thunderer

7. Margo Lanagan, Tender Morsels

6. Brian Francis Slattery, Liberation

5. J. M. McDermott, Last Dragon

4. Ursula Le Guin, Lavinia

3. Carlos Ruiz Zafón, El Juego del Ángel

2. Jeff VanderMeer, The Situation

1. Elias Khoury, Yalo

*wonders who had Khoury in their betting pool*...

Perhaps I'll begin the new year with an essay on a few other miscellanea from 2008, such as disappointments, thoughts on certain trends noted, and so forth. One thing I would like to say here, after reading similar Best of 2008 reads: Many expressed an opinion that "fantasy" was weaker this year, often citing the lack of "big releases." To me, it is akin to judging the quality of Oscar nominations by the number of vapid summertime commercial movie blockbuster fare being released. Some of the better books I've read this year either were published by smaller presses or were limited-edition works. Sometimes, it takes a bit of sifting through the various publishing lists to find a few hidden diamonds in the rough. And for full disclosure's sake, only a third of the books that made my Top 20 did I receive as review copies directly from the publishers. The rest I mostly purchased on my own dime.

Hopefully this list will inspire some discussion and questions. I know some will question the validity of a list that barely contains a whiff of epic/heroic fantasy, but that's because for the most part, the epic fantasies that did come out this year were either not as strong as previous volumes or they were enjoyable but just barely missed this list. All I know is that this list represents 20 out of possibly 50-75 books from the 385 that I've read this year that I would recommend easily to most of the people reading this right now. Perhaps 2009 will be an even stronger reading year; all I know is that I enjoyed the majority of what I read in 2008 and that isn't a shabby average to be batting for a year.


Charles said...

Is that in the order that impressed you or just the 20 novels that stood out the most in no particular order? (i.e. #20 being the best/least)

Lsrry said...

It's a mixture of both. Those are the 20 that I liked the most this year, but outside of that, the ordering would vary from moment to moment for 11-20. Khoury's book, however, was the best read of the 2008 releases (not counting 2666, since I read that in Spanish and that edition was published in 2005), with VanderMeer's second in terms of how it stood out in my memory.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your all your hard work composing these lists and essays for my personal enjoyment. Though I've only read a few of these books, several are on my nightstand TBR and others are on preorder or on my wish list. Can't wait for the Zafón in English.

Mary C

Lsrry said...

You're welcome, Mary! Glad to hear several of these are being considered for reading :D

Matt Keeley said...

Glad to hear the Zafon is good - I've been looking forward to his next book since high school.

Lsrry said...

I had forgotten almost how long it had been since that book had come out. I read it in Spanish in 2005 and I think it was released in English in 2004 (Spanish in 2001, I know)?

Unknown said...

I'm glad to see that you enjoyed Gilman's Thunderer, which was one of my most enjoyable finds for 2008. I'm currently reading Gears of the City, and I'm already quite certain that it will be on my "best of 2009" list.

We share a few other good reads, too, enough so that a number of your choices are going onto my reading list and others are moving up in the pile of "read soon," though frankly that pile is so teetery that moving anything around in it means taking my life in my hands. I'm particularly interested, of course, in the Khoury.

One novel that I thought I'd see more speculative fiction readers mention is the mainstream novel The Hakawati by Rahib Alemeddine -- I thought the fairy tale aspects would draw such readers in and trap them into enjoying the rest of the book. Alas. In addition, I'm surprised not to find any mentions of Stephen Millhauser's Dangerous Laughter, which I thought was unquestionably speculative fiction, though of course God forbid it should ever be marketed that way. It was jam-packed full of wonderful writing and crazy ideas, and I loved every moment of it.

Have to thank you for all the great leads, Larry -- looking forward to continuing to read your blog this year.

Matt Keeley said...

Larry - As you said, The Shadow of the Wind came out in English in 2004. I was a high school student when I read it, and I'll be a college grad when I read Zafon's new book. Scary thought.

Anyway, just wanted to say I very much enjoy reading your blog.

By the way - have you ever read Robertson Davies? He's the sort of "mainstream" writer I think some sf readers would really like. I've only read the first two book of his Deptford Trilogy, but I get the impression his Cornish Trilogy might be even better suited to genre readers, as it apparently has lots of Arthurian themes.

Anonymous said...


I loved The Hakawati. It's one of my top 5 reads of the year.

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