Friday, 29 December 2017

My Books of the Year (Fiction)

For my pick of non-fiction books I've read this year, see here.

Again, these are in no particular order...

John Scalzi (ed), Metatropolis 
I'm not sure how to describe this.  It's an anthology of stories by authors who've set themselves the task of writing in a shared future - a post-urban one.  There is a heavy leaning to a world where Green Is Good. 
Like all anthologies it's a bit hit-and-miss, but I enjoyed it a lot - in no small part because it introduced me to some interesting new writers.

Jason Goodwin, The Snake in the Stone
This is the second of Goodwin's novels about Yashim the Eunuch, a resident of 1830s Constantinople who (of course!) gets roped-in as a sort of semi-official investigator when crimes threaten the status quo
In this case it's the murder of a dodgy French archaeologist who has been upsetting the city's Greek community just when the authorities don't need it (the Sultan is dying).  Can Yashim find what lies at the heart of a conspiracy that goes back centuries?  (Spoiler: Yes, he can.)
Goodwin, who's also a published historian of the Ottomans, obviously knows his stuff.  The way he describes the city, its people and its food is a real pleasure to read, and Yashim is a very engaging companion.

Anthony Horowitz, The House of Silk and Moriarty.
Of course I'm cheating here counting these separate books as one  (thus turning my Top Ten up to eleven).  But I read them both in 2017, so they both fall within the parameters of this list.  Indeed, I was so pleased by The House of Silk, that I went out and got Moriarty straight away.
I've not read any of Horowitz's books before,  He's best known as the author of Young Adult books such as the Alex Rider series and as creator of the TV's Inspector Foyle.
Both books are Sherlock Holmes pastiches.  The House of Silk was apparently the first pastiche authorised by the Conan Doyle Estate.  In a way it's a straightforward  tale in the style of Conan Doyle, but very skillfully done.  As you'd expect, it's narrated by Watson and concerns two intertwined cases.  There is a nice twist at the end which I didn't see coming (perhaps blinded by the twist which I was allowed to see).
Twists are obviously Horowitz's bag, as he takes us on a much more twisty route with Moriarty.  Not so obviously a copy of Conan Doyle's model, it takes us into his world from a different direction.
In the Swiss morgue that holds Moriarty's body after his encounter with Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls, a Pinkerton agent meets Insp Athelney Jones of Scotland Yard.  Together they set out to stop the vacuum created by his death being filled by a new threat

Kim Newman, Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D'Urbervilles.
Talking of Holmes pastiches, here's another one. It follows one of the more traditional of pastiche styles - "Look I'm taking the Holmes characters and mixing them with other writers'.  Aren't I clever and amusing!"  In fact, The Hound of the D'Urbervilles is both clever and amusing, because Newman know's his stuff.  He also has an engaging writing style which doesn't judder to a halt and signpost every time he makes an historical or literary reference.   A knowledge of turn-of-the-century adventure literature would help, but if you've heard of Fu Manchu, Raffles and Ruritania, you'll get by nicely.
The gimmick here is that instead of the found writings of Watson writing about Holmes' cases, we have those of Colonel Sebastian "Basher" Moran writing about those of everyone's favorite consulting criminal, Moriarty.  A fun read, which reminded me of the best of Flashman.  
I hadn't read any Newman before, but I've got his Dracula books on the shelf and will give them a go. 

Peter F Hamilton, Great North Road.  
In putting this list together, I was surprised that there wasn't more science fiction.  
In this stand-alone book, Hamilton picks up some of the themes of his other works - corporate dynasties, cloning technologies and wormholes - and weaves together a story in which a murder one cold, snowy night in 2143's Newcastle turns out to be of planetary importance.  
Hamilton is, of course a master of both world-building and character creation and here we see him at his best.  If I had a quibble, I would say that at 1,087pp, it's about 150 pages too long.  
After reading this I was lured into starting the Void Trilogy.  I enjoy Hamilton's work and I have nothing against either brick-sized books or trilogies.  The problem is that they do need some investment.  The Void books require me to remember who is who in the Commonwealth Saga.  Now I enjoyed the Commonwealth Saga a lot (it's probably some of Hamilton's best work), but I read it over ten years ago and my memory isn't sufficiency good to recall relatively minor characters.  To cut a long story short, I've got stuck about a third of the way through the second book and moved on to other things.  
However, I don't want to put anyone off,  as I say, Great North Road is a stand-alone, so if you want to read 1,000 pages of great science-fiction instead of 5,000 give it a go. 

Andrew Weir, The Martian.  
This wasn't a new read for 2017.  The Martian has become one of my go-to books when I want to read something familiar.  
I suspect it doesn't need much introduction.  It's a story of exploration and survival as a lone astronaut on Mars desperately tries to live long enough to be rescued. 
Good hard sci-fi.


  1. You've reminded me of a book I picked up from Northallerton library earlier this year.

    "The Future is Japanese"

    I hadn't really read Sci-Fi before that one, so I might just look up P. F. Hamilton and see if its available at our library. As I fancy a bit of a change and used to read a lot of Fantasy tomes, and it'll give me something to read outside of historical fiction.

  2. Both the Jason Goodwin series and the martian are great reads. This year was also the end of Christian Camerons Killer of Men series set between Marathon and Plataea. A fantastic read


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