Pete's Picks for 2011 - Part Two
In Part One I listed my favourite works of the year in several different categories. For Part Two I'm going to name the thirteen books that impressed me the most in the year just gone, and it should come as no surprise to anyone that some of the titles are repeat offenders from the first list. To reiterate what I said before, these are personal choices and not intended as any sort of definitive 'best of the year' - I only read a fraction of what was published in 2011 and am not in a position to make that kind of judgement call, even if I wanted to.
In no particular order then:-
The Third Section - Jasper Kent
As I said before, this was a wonderful romp of a novel, a vampire story set against the backdrop of nineteenth century Russia. The plot was gratifyingly Byzantine, with the interplay between the three main characters effortlessly driving the story forward, and along the way it presented one of the most convincing portraits of a conversion to the vampire state that I can remember reading. For pure fun it left everything else standing.
The German - Lee Thomas (Lethe)
Set against the backdrop of World War 2 this novel by Lee Thomas tackles themes of homophobia and small town prejudice, and dares to do so by presenting an unsympathetic protagonist, almost as if the author is challenging readers to separate principles and personality. The supernatural element is muted, with human evil very much to the fore.
Frankenstein's Prescription - Tim Lees (Tartarus)
A gripping tale which looks at what happened to Frankenstein some years after the events described by Mary Shelley in her seminal text, the story told by a 'young blade' who at first sees an opportunity for personal wealth, but undergoes a rite of passage that leads to a new revelation about the nature of his world. It starts with comedy and moves inexorably into tragedy, the elegance of the prose offset by the graphic descriptions of carnage.
The Dracula Papers - Book 1: The Scholar's Tale - Reggie Oliver (Chômu)
Oliver's first novel, like the Kent book mentioned above, this is a wild romp of a tale, a picaresque account of the early life of the Transylvanian prince who was to become the archetypal vampire. Oliver's wry take on the human condition combined with wit and unflagging invention are a delight, and I hope he goes on to complete this series which has about it all the marks of an epic in the making.
The Ritual - Adam Nevill (Pan Macmillan)
Nevill's follow up to Apartment 16, this book is even more bleak and tense than its predecessor, with its protagonists lost in the wilderness and stalked by an implacable adversary, the novel evolving into a textbook example of a bad situation that just keeps on getting worse. There's a strong filmic quality to the story, and I really hope the option mentioned in the White Noise section of Black Static #25 translates into something more tangible.
Dead Bad Things - Gary McMahon (Angry Robot Books)
McMahon is growing in stature with every new book, and this novel with its unrelenting exploration of the less savoury aspects of human society is his best yet, juxtaposing pedophilia and petty cruelty with a cosmic dimension of otherness that is totally convincing. He gives his characters hard choices to make, and is equally demanding of the reader.
Revenants - Daniel Mills (Chômu)
This is the first novel by Mills, a work that put me in mind of Arthur Miller's The Crucible for the way in which a Puritan community in New England tears itself apart through suspicion and guilt for the sins of the past. Like Nevill, Mills captures on the page a hostile environment, but his characters are all too recognisable, and the supernatural element is so low key as to be almost invisible, a New England version of Monsters from the Id.
Loss of Separation - Conrad Williams (Solaris)
Williams is a prose stylist par excellence, and all his dazzling skills are on display in this story of a broken man searching for his missing girlfriend; a former airline pilot confronting an ancient evil that menaces a seaside town. The bleak and minatory atmosphere of this blasted landscape is brought to life on the page, with horror peeping out from between the bars of history and civilisation.
The Thing on the Shore - Tom Fletcher (Quercus)
Science and the world of communication technology meet the numinous in Fletcher's second novel, as a creature from another dimension tries to break through into our own, using the staff of a call centre to achieve its ends. Much of the strength of the book lies in the diverse collection of flawed characters Fletcher gives us as dramatis personae, turning their assorted weaknesses to the good.
The Painter, The Creature, and the Father of Lies - Clive Barker (Earthling)
This substantial volume offers an encyclopaedic compendium of the wit and wisdom of one of speculative fiction's most adventurous spirits. We get Barker's views on his own work, that of his peers, and much else beside. Agree with him or not, he is always challenging, articulate and thought-provoking, and reading this book is like chatting with an old friend, somebody who loves the fantastic every bit as much as you do, but can express that love far more eloquently.
I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like - Justin Isis (Chômu)
This collection of stories exploring the psychology of Japan was my introduction to the work of Justin Isis. Each piece is assured, written with razor sharp precision that allows the author to dissect the emptiness of his characters' lives and the world in which they live, exposing the superficialities with which they (and presumably we also) fill up the endless hours.
I Smell Blood - Ralph Robert Moore (Sentence)
Moore is a pyrotechnical writer of great energy and drive, with a Tarantinesque quality to his stories as their narratives dip and dive, explode off in all directions at once. He doesn't flinch from showing explicit violence and sex, with scenes that both repel the reader and celebrate the human condition in all its sleazy glory. With the short novel Kid to boost the word count, this book is as strange and unsettling as anything else I read last year.
Delicate Toxins - Edited by John Hirschhorn-Smith (Side Real)
With eighteen stories celebrating the oeuvre and milieu of German writer Hanns Heinz Ewers (1872 - 1943), this handsomely bound anthology brings together the work of established writers of weird fiction and comparatively new scribes, with quality as the only commonality. There's a wonderful air of decadence wafting through the enterprise, the stories complementing each other and the ideas melding into a cohesive whole. Particular kudos to Daniel Mills for 'The Naked Goddess', the standout story in a very strong selection.
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