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Black Static


Some of the Best Books of 2009

6th Jan, 2010

Author: Peter Tennant

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Below are the ten books that I'd particularly like to commend, though I don't guarantee that on another occasion some or all of these titles might be different. Nor are they in any particular order (it's hard enough picking ten, without having to make value differentiations between them). These are books that have stuck with me, and they may not necessarily be the ones I gave the most positive reviews to at the time.

I've excluded books that weren't published for the first time in 2009, otherwise some that I got 2010 ARCs for might be there and so might others which were republished in 2009 (e.g. books by Gary Braunbeck, Thomas Ligotti, Ramsey Campbell), but I haven't been painstaking about it, so if you think yours should have been on the list feel free to believe that I mistakenly excluded it by being too damned lazy to snap open the cover and find out when it was originally published.

The Absence by Bill Hussey

A great supernatural novel in the tradition of M. R. James, but with a modern feel to it, an awareness that we human beings are every bit as capable of screwing things up for ourselves as any supernatural manifestation, plus an excellent evocation of the minatory fenland setting.

One by Conrad Williams

My novel of the year, probably. An apocalyptic scenario, but Williams brings so much more to the table, with a sumptuous prose style, a gripping narrative, believable characters, a disturbingly vague catastrophe and some nightmarish monsters. It's the total package.

Far Dark Fields by Gary R. Braunbeck

The other leading contender for best novel crown, but not such a self-contained work as the Williams. Braunbeck's Cedar Hill cycle is moving to a conclusion and he's getting his pieces in place for the end game. A narrative informed with compassion for its characters, and dealing with epic themes. I read nearly all of Braunbeck's other Cedar Hill novels as preparation for the feature in Black Static and if it weren't for the publication date thing a couple of those would be on this list as well.

The Terrible Changes by Joel Lane

The best collection of the year from a writer who is nowhere near as productive as I'd like. Stories shot through with surreal and nightmarish imagery, but speaking of a common humanity and informed with an awareness of our shortcomings as social animals. Somebody give that man a British Fantasy Award and be quick about it.

The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough

Heartfelt and moving story of love and loss, the ties that bind the living to the dead and each other, with far more going on beneath the surface of the narrative than at first appears to be the case, and the supernatural element almost an afterthought, so lightly applied that you can choose to disregard it. This one gets my vote for best novella of the year.

On the Loose by Christopher Fowler

The latest Bryant & May novel, and huge fun with all the gang in attendance. It's like meeting up with old friends, people whose foibles we've grown to know and love, Fowler writing with a lightness of touch that makes it all look so easy, and each page filled with erudition and invention. And, to top it all, the creation of an evil nemesis for the detecting duo in the figure of the nefarious and amoral Mr Fox.

The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff

Like The Absence a supernatural novel in the grand tradition of such things, but with Sokoloff putting her skills as a scriptwriter in the mix. It doesn't set a foot wrong, with a memorable setting, disturbing events that escalate until the reader is convinced by the sheer weight of evidence and a cast of characters who are as frail and vulnerable as they are fully rounded. Follow up The Price is as good if not better, but has a 2010 publication date (actually, both books have been previously published in the US, but I'm including The Harrowing here as only now released by a UK house). Alexandra Sokoloff will be our featured author in Black Static #15.

Remove the Eyes by Ralph Robert Moore

My other favourite collection of 2009, and probably not genre work by any purist definition, but these stories are certainly weird, like some mutant confabulation of Richard Brautigan, Ray Bradbury and William Burroughs, convened specially to rewrite The Story of O for the post-MTV generation.

Different Skins by Gary McMahon

A two novella offering from a writer who is still, in many ways, learning his craft, with occasional language slips, but written with a scorching sincerity that sends the emotion burning off the page. Authenticity is what impresses me most about McMahon, the feeling that he isn't just telling stories but portraying a pain and bleakness most horror writers can only sniff round the edges of.

Night of Demons by Tony Richards

Tony Richards almost made my list last year with his first Raine's Landing novel and this one is even better. The concept is original and intriguing, while Richards' execution is consummate. He fills his town with larger than life super powered entities, and still manages to make the very human Ross and Cass the most interesting people in the room. The tension and pace don't let up for a second as we stumble from one action set piece to another.

Honourable mentions to Still Bleeding by Steve Mosby, Poe edited by Ellen Datlow, Gaslight Grimoire edited by J. R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec, Stairway to Hell by Charlie Williams, The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston and The Bride Stripped Bare by Rachel Kendall.

And I also have half a dozen or so books that I haven't finished as yet, but those are the breaks.


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