2010 - Pete's Picks
You know, I could swear that about this time last year I did a blog post on my favourite books from the year just gone, but if so I can't find it, so I guess this will be a first. I read over a hundred books in 2010, and in fact I still have a few to finish off, though I don't expect any of them to make my personal year's best list (but I thought the same thing last year, and then finished Slights by Kaaron Warren which blew away just about everything else). They were all published for the first time in 2010, and as this is the book review blog of a horror magazine there are thirteen of them (I'm just a traditionalist at heart). Okay, in no particular order:-
A Matter of Blood by Sarah Pinborough
Sarah was our featured author back in #16, and this book has all the marks of a breakout novel about it, like John Connolly seamlessly melding aspects of the crime genre and horror/dark fantasy to produce something that is uniquely the writer's own, with a compelling plot and characters who are flawed but so convincingly portrayed that we care about them anyway. Sarah won the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Story in 2009 and for Best Novella in 2010, so if you're a betting man or woman a tenner at Ladbrokes on this for Best Novel in 2011 seems like a good idea (Sarah's progression seems to have a certain inevitability about it), and please note it's the first volume in a trilogy, with the next due out shortly.
The Beautiful Red by James Cooper
The second collection by a writer whose work will be familiar to Black Static readers, and indeed several of the stories in this collection first appeared in the magazine. Cooper writes with a scalpel like economy of style, a surreal eye and a vision uniquely out of kilter with the world we know, but still connected enough to reveal to us truths we'd rather not confront. I didn't like everything here, but most of the stories were excellent and a couple were among the very best of what I read in 2010.
What Will Come After by Scott Edelman
A collection of zombie stories, with Edelman injecting new life into an old archetype and giving a kick in the pants to those who think zombies are good for nothing except shoot 'em ups (though those are fun too). What delighted me about this collection was the sheer variety, both thematically and in terms of technical virtuosity, with verse plays, stories within stories, grue playing off against a metaphysical dimension, and reifications of classic literature.
Little Hands Clapping by Dan Rhodes
Horror isn't the label that first comes to mind when you cast an eye over Rhodes' oeuvre, but there's enough of the grotesque and macabre in his work in general, and this book in particular, to merit the attention of genre aficionados. A delicious confection made up of star crossed lovers, larger than life characters, a suicide museum and its spider munching curator, and a doctor whose dog's eating habits are guaranteed to repulse, this book was the most purely fun read I had in 2010.
The Mammoth Book of the Best of Best New Horror edited by Stephen Jones
And, even though a part of me thinks that retrospective compendiums like this have an unfair advantage when it comes to selecting year best volumes, I have to concede that this was my outright favourite book of 2010. A huge volume, it gives value for money in triplicate and provides an overview of the finest the genre has had to offer over the last two decades, with Jones' always insightful and sometimes provocative commentary an invaluable extra. I didn't agree with all of his choices, but with outstanding novellas from Lebbon, Straub, Ellison, Tuttle and Hand between the same covers and lots of other fine works of fiction, this anthology is doing a lap of honour while many of its rivals are still on the starting blocks.
Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill
A wonderfully creepy novel whose success, taken in tandem with several other recent events, is giving us reason to believe that the horror genre is no longer persona non grata in the market place. Adam seldom puts a foot wrong as the tension is cranked up with every page in this tale of possession and mad genius. If the Pinborough novel doesn't win the British Fantasy Award then my guess is that Apartment 16 will be the reason why. Okay, that's put the kibosh on it.
Lost Places by Simon Kurt Unsworth
This is my favourite collection of 2010 on the days when Sourdough isn't, and another writer whose work will be familiar to the readers of Black Static. Unsworth is the complete package. He knows how to tell a story and how to draw the reader in, how to make us care about the people he brings to life on the page. He's paid his dues to the classic works of the genre and he has both the skill and the vision to move the dialogue on, to take all of what he's learned from the greats and use it to his own ends. Again, as with the Cooper, I didn't like everything, but all of the stories are well written and engaging, with the best simply outstanding. And as far as I can recall he's the only writer who brought me close to tears in 2010, and for all the right reasons.
"Remember You're a One-Ball!" by Quentin Crisp
The first release from Chomu Press and a most auspicious debut. Lying just below the surface of the carefully controlled prose is an undercurrent of savagery, as the novel lays bare the hypocrisies, lies and compromises which enable us to go on living as we do. Crisp writes like a fallen angel, with one bloodshot eye on the main chance and a tear of compassion for the human condition in the other.
Ponthe Oldenguine by Andrew Hook
My favourite book so far from Andrew Hook, and the second book from Atomic Fez to make this list (two out of five releases, so it appears I think AF are doing something right). This is a delirious smorgasbord in which Hook has immense fun playing games at the expense of both his characters and the reader, but with iron underneath as he comments on the excesses and absurdities of our reality TV culture in a barbed satire that would have brought a smile to the faces of such old reprobates as Dean Swift and Alexander Pope.
100 Months by John Hinckelton
I've only read a couple of graphic novels this year, so saying this was the best of them doesn't confer much kudos on it, but I will anyway. Hinckelton's story is an angry one, a work in which the indignation bleeds off of the page as he catalogues the idiocy we pay lip service to in the name of mammon and provides a snapshot of the deity at whose feet we worship, with the promise of a hard day of reckoning to come. It's a beautiful book, a true work of art, and it won't cost you a banker's bonus.
Sourdough and other stories by Angela Slatter
This is my favourite collection of 2010 on the days when Lost Places isn't. Slatter is an Australian writer whose early work brings to mind the Angela Carter of The Bloody Chamber but here seems to be more clearly forging a path of her own in a series of stories, each of which stands alone but also fits into a greater pattern. It's clever and emotive stuff, the writer's brain and heart working in perfect accord to a common end. I've interviewed Angela for Black Static #21, where you'll also find reviews of this and her other two collections.
Never Again edited by Allyson Bird and Joel Lane
'Good cause' anthologies are often a mixed blessing, with readers expected to pony up the asking price simply because it's the right thing to do, or some similar specious logic, but here I'm happy to say that those who buy won't be disappointed. A combination of reprints and original work, this anthology contains one of the finest stories of 2009 from Steve Volk and one of the greatest horror stories ever from Joe R. Lansdale, plus excellent work from Rosanne Rabinowitz, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Alison J. Littlewood, Stephen Duffy, Tony Richards, Carole Johnstone and others. It won't change the world - the coalition will still be in power, the Daily Mail will still sell more copies than Black Static and Simon Cowell will have the Christmas #1 in perpetuity no matter whose name is on the single - but at least you can read some great stories and know that somebody cares while it all falls down around us.
Stories edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrontonio
A combination of genre favourites raising their game (mostly) and the great and the good dipping a toe into the waters of genre and finding it surprisingly agreeable, this landmark anthology assembles some superb fiction between its covers, with especially fine stories from Michael Marshall Smith, Michael Moorcock, Elizabeth Hand and Lawrence Block, and probably a few other people besides, only I forget their names right now. To repeat myself, it won't change the world, but...
And honourable mentions for a few books that I read and was very impressed by in 2010, but which didn't make the cut because they were first published in 2009 or earlier - Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist, The British Fantasy Society Yearbook edited by Guy Adams, Cold to the Touch by Simon Strantzas, The Shadows of Kingston Mills by David B. Silva, Audrey's Door by Sarah Langan and Neverland by Douglas Clegg.
Right, so what impressed the heck out of the rest of you in the year just gone?
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