Best Reading of the Year 2011 (so far)

This one’s for Jonathan, Gary & Mondy, who have been speculating a lot lately about what are the best books published in 2011 so far, that they should be paying attention to.

These are mine. It’s entirely personal, of course, and based what I’ve actually read (as opposed to the towering To Read pile that will one day cause me major injury) but given that I haven’t done nearly enough this year of reviewing the books I love, I think it’s worth doing.


Jo Walton
Among Others

A wonderful, wonderful book about the reading habits of young girls, with subtle magic and a fabulous theme of iconic SF books. At some point I hope I will write that essay I want to, about my lifelong relationship with Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin and how that book trained me to get the most out of this one despite the fact that I’ve never read Delaney, Zelazny or more than two novels by Heinlein.

Kim Westwood
The Courier’s New Bicycle
Utterly crunchy genderqueer dystopian thriller-mystery with an androgynous protagonist, and a fascinating pretendy future Melbourne. Particularly interesting (and chilling) is the portrayal of a society embracing conservative politics in response to trauma and crisis.

Jo Anderton
Impressive debut novel – my favourite kind of fantasy, in that it’s about the professional lives of urbanites rather than anything involving bracken, horses or dwarves. It has a contemporary feel about it, and it is to the credit of the novel as well as the author that I spent most of the book trying to figure out for myself whether it was science fiction that feels like fantasy, or fantasy that feels like science fiction. The magic system (pions!) is rigorous and I love the application of it to architecture.

Glenda Larke
Stormlord’s Exile
The third in a fantasy trilogy so good that I regularly pounce on people in the street, pressing battered paperbacks upon them. Like Jo’s work, this has a rigorous magic system, and I adore the use of the geography of the desert cities and dunes, the emphasis on politics, social lives and art alongside battles and other military detail, the subtle interweaving of gender issues in amongst the epic drama and the tight, fast-paced story. It’s just that good. If you haven’t read epic fantasy in a long time, or have wandered away from the genre, this is one worth coming back for.

Trent Jamieson
The Business of Death
Another great third book of a trilogy, this time a Brisbane urban fantasy series with a blokey sensibility and a distinct, easy-to-read author voice. I love where Trent took this book, which is my favourite of the three, and the epic, utterly satisfying end (if it is an end) he wrote for Steve.

Sue Isle
I am so bad with reading anthologies and collections this year! As in, seriously incompetent. I’m somewhere in the middle of about a dozen. But this one I not only read over two days (hooray for short, excellent books) but am still completely in love with. Sue builds a fascinating future Perth, brought to its knees by climate change and a population that has mostly abandoned the city, and tells its story through some quite intimate character explorations. The world has gone to hell, but it’s the personal tragedies and dramas – a girl betrayed by the woman she thinks of as a mother, a teenager desperate to access gender reassignment surgery, a lost treasure of a script that reminds them of a different time, a teacher worried what will happen to her students when she gets too old to be there for them – that Sue writes with such depth.

Catherynne M Valente
A powerful, mighty novel which takes the role of women from traditional folk tales and turns it upside and and inside out, not only inverting it but reinventing it. I admired the prose and the themes but was certain I wasn’t emotionally touched by this book until the last few chapters when it broke me, utterly. I’m still not sure I’ve put all the pieces back together. A masterwork by one of our great modern fantasists.

Keith Giffen & Judd Winick
Justice League: Generation Lost Volume One
A graphic novel (half of a mini-series of 12 titles) which made me unreasonably happy. All those mates of mine who came out of the woodwork since the last Galactic Suburbia to admit that they, too, belong to the secret fandom of Maxwell Lord, Blue Beetle, Fire and Ice, Booster Gold et al… you need this book. So very, very much. It’s what I wanted the new JLI #1 to be, and then some.


Penni Russon
Only Ever Always
Gorgeous, intense YA that shows a deft hand at all manner of writing techniques, and pulls the reader in and out of suburban tragedy and a surreal otherworld.

Margo Lanagan
A collection of Margo’s YA-friendly (well, in some cases not exactly FRIENDLY) stories, beautifully packaged. I’d read most of these before but it was a reprint collection I absolutely had to have! Probably one of the best introductions to her work, for those who haven’t yet made the step into Lanagan territory. Here be monsters.

Karen Healey
The Shattering
I really enjoyed Karen’s first book, Guardian of the Dead, but I feel more emotionally connected to this one. The friendships at the core of the story are compelling and wonderful and so utterly lacking in the kind of teen cliches I’m used to seeing. So many issues addressed sensibly and sensitively here, including teen suicide, anxiety disorders, bullying, coming out to your family, and so on, and yet this never feels like an ‘issue book.’ It’s a rollicking, angsty adventure immersed in New Zealand culture, with a kick-ass climax.

Sarah Rees Brennan
The Demon’s Surrender
Another third book in a trilogy – a wonderful series that has gripped, amused and surprised me since it first came out. A sharp, clever example of how you can write a trilogy that is three complete, self contained novels with their own unique identities and protagonists, that is still better than the sum of its parts. I didn’t think I could love this book as much as its precedessors, or be as invested in its concerns and romance, but it far surpassed my expectations.

Kate Gordon
The rarest creature imaginable: a paranormal adventure set in my own home town of Hobart, Tasmania. Using were-versions of our most iconic native animals, the Tassie tiger and devils. Yes, really. It’s hard to believe that this is only Kate’s second published novel, and her first fantasy. She takes some great narrative risks with this novel, and it takes off.

Marianne de Pierres
Burn Bright
a gorgeous gothy novel which does something very different with the vampire mythos. She sets up a city of clubbing and decadence, designed to feed the wildest desires of wild teenagers everywhere, then introduces a protagonist for whom that is basically the idea of hell. Very modern and of course, this being Marianne, there are SFnal elements hidden amongst the velvet, the cute boys and the bats.

8 replies on “Best Reading of the Year 2011 (so far)”

  1. Susan Loyal says:

    I just got Debris, which looks awesome. In YA, have you seen Franny Billingsley’s Chime? I think you’d like it–Edwardian-ish rural British fantasy with a well-handled unreliable narrator (female, late teens). Also, Patrick Ness wrote a book called A Monster Calls, based on an idea for novel by Siobhan Dowd, that she didn’t live long enough to write. I’m not quite all the way through it yet, but it’s knocking my socks off.

    A whle ago on Torque Control’s thread about best of 2011, Rose Fox mentioned a novel by J. M. Frey (debut) Triptych. I’ve since read it, and I really think it should be read by someone on the Tiptree jury. The ending is a bit ambiguous and could be taken to undercut some of the plot elements. (I think it’s clear that Rose Fox doesn’t take it that way, and I’m inclined to think she’s right.) The first few pages initially caused me to think that Frey had undertaken an unfortunate career in purple prose, but there’s a reason for it. Hang in. Time travel, alien invasion, alien sex, mother-daughter relationships, office politics, 80s home cooking, how to hide a space ship, why you should never take your mix tapes along on a black ops mission, and more.

    And I’m loving Joan Slonczewski’s The Highest Frontier. More alien invasion, biology, climatology, the surreal quality of being a freshman in college, academic politics, politicians’ politics, and a two-headed snake. The only novel you’re ever likely to read in which a mother drops her daughter off at college and reminds her to go to church on Sunday and get to the casino at least once a quarter. (It’s US-centric in many ways, as a disclaimer.)

    Since a number of the books you mention above are from Australian publishers, what would you suggest as a method of acquisition for a US-ian? I’m used to coping with British-only, but Australian-only makes me feel about five years old and inadequate, for some reason.

  2. tansyrr says:

    Hi Susan!

    The Frey book is indeed in the pile being considered by the Tiptree jury. But thanks for the rec!

    When it comes to books published by Australian publishers, there are a few different methods. For anything remotely small or indie (like Twelfth Planet Press) you can’t do better than going straight to the publisher’s website. TPP is just starting a new line of shiny improved ebooks, which will be expanding over the last few months, which means not having to pay extra for postage.

    It’s also worth checking out somewhere like Amazon or Book Depository first, as some books by Australian authors are distributed internationally (Jo’s Debris, for instance, is an Angry Robot title, and Glenda’s books have overseas publishers).

    However, if they say anything like out of stock, don’t bother ordering at all – my own books have been listed with Book Depository since they were published, but they don’t ACTUALLY make them available to anyone. So that’s a sign that the book might be Aus/NZ only, and not accessible that way.

    Our biggest online seller is Fishpond. You are going to end up paying postage for overseas books – not sure how much it is as we get it free at home – but they often have large discounts to partly compensate. Another option is to find a big Aussie bookseller like Galaxy who are happy to handle overseas deliveries.

    It’s a more expensive proposition than buying books from Amazon or Book D, largely because Australian paperbacks are a lot more expensive than US books, as a matter of course. This didn’t become an issue until we reached parity or near parity with the US dollar, but now it’s a big one!

    it’s all changing as the global market affects us, and I think in 2 years you will find Australian books far more accessible in e-version at least, internationally. But we’re still running on old contract types and rights issues.

    Hope this helps! Believe me, it’s not *you*, it’s a rough system right now for letting our books escape the territories and be read.

  3. […] to discuss in coming months.  Listener Tansy Rayner Roberts has posted her terrific ‘Best of the Year so far‘ list, and we’d like to see […]

  4. Susan Loyal says:

    Thank you, Tansy! “Fishpond” was what I needed to know. Here’s to the future, in which global markets might be global! (I ordered a copy of Love and Romanpunk from Twelfth Planet just two weeks before the ebook became available, because I didn’t want to wait any more, and now it’s on a boat somewhere and the ebook is a couple of clicks away. Timing. Is. Everything.)

  5. tansyrr says:

    Happy to help!

  6. Susan Loyal says:

    Love and Romanpunk finished its boat ride and arrived on my doorstep just before the weekend. It’s an incredibly beautiful little book (speaking here of the physical volume–kudos to Twelfth Planet) and the stories are awesome. I am squeeing for all I’m worth.

  7. tansyrr says:

    Oh, so glad it got there and that it was worth the wait! I’m very excited about the e-book making L&R accessible to those overseas who aren’t keen on the boat trip angle of proceedings, but the book itself is SO PRETTY I’m happy you got that one.

    Amanda, who does the layout and covers of TPP books, is a genius and a queen of awesome.

  8. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be really something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complex and very broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

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