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The Juice Boxes - Best SFF Debut of the Year (2011)

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Monday, December 26, 2011

The Juice Boxes - Best SFF Debut of the Year (2011)

Debut authors.  My favorite thing to read because there's nothing better than discovering something brilliant for the first time.  This has been a very solid year for debuts, due in large part to Night Shade Books New Voices Program.  While my nomination list is only five novels, I can't stress enough how difficult it was getting down to five.  I read 26 debuts this year and 20 of them were legitimately in consideration to be nominated.  It should be noted that two debuts made my best book of 2011 list and thus are not included here in an effort to spread the love.

My nominees for Best SFF Debut of the Year (2011) are:


#5: Miserere: An Autumn Tale by Teresa Frohock
This was hard.  I had around six or seven different books in this spot at some point over the last week including Winds of Khalakovo (Beaulieu), The Emperor's Knife (Williams), Among Thieves (Hulick), Seed (Ziegler), The Whitefire Crossing (Schafer), and The Quantum Thief (Rajaniemi).  All of them are well deserving of the recognition.  They're also all flawed in some way -- Miserere included.  I strongly suggest reading all of the above novels, but for me Frohock's was the best.

Delving into Christian myth, Miserere is the logical sequel to John Milton's Paradise Lost.  It tells the story of an eternal struggle between Heaven and Hell and the role humanity plays in keeping Earth safe.  At heart, it's a redemption story that's as eternal as... well.. the Bible.  I can't stress enough though that there's almost nothing 'religious' about the book and almost all of the iconography and setting could be replaced with second world fantasy simulacrums and the novel would remain unchanged.  However, by grounding things in concepts and terms the reader is already familiar with frees Frohock to focus solely on telling a beautiful story which she does -- expertly.


#4 God's War/Infidel by Kameron Hurley
Ok, I'm cheating a little by using both of Hurley's 2011 novels.  I call it the Connie Willis rule.  Regardless, Hurley's first two installment in her Bel Dame Apocrypha series are some of the gutsiest novels I read this year.  To quote myself:
There’s a fine line between dark and compelling and horrifying and off-putting. When a story comes right up to the line without crossing it a certain dichotomy comes into existence whereby I want to look away and forget about it, but can’t. No author in recent memory walks this line better than Joe Abercrombie. After finishing Infidel, Kameron Hurley’s sequel to God’s War, I am convinced that Abercrombie now has company at the top of Mount Gritty.
In addition, Hurley tackles larger issues like gender roles and the impacts of war at home.  She does it all with incredibly authenticity.  Despite all that, there's no question Hurley needs to improve as a storyteller.  She sets up dynamic set pieces, but often lacks when it comes to sewing them all together.  The fact she's fourth on this list with that criticism shows that once she figures it out the sky's the limit... seriously.


#3: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Hi, my name is Justin and I was born in 1981. To anyone who's read the novel that last sentence is enough of an explanation as to why I loved it. The only way I could have loved it more would be to change the 81 to 75.  Even at 30 years old, I'm a little young to grasp all the references and homages sprinkled throughout Ready Player One.  Regardless, the adventure aspect of the story will be equally appealing to anyone as the whole thing reads like a concoction of The Wizard, Tron, and Stand By Me.

To be fair, I have a sneaking suspicion that Ernest Cline's novel had a larger impact on me as an individual than it may have on the general reading populace (especially the high school bullies, like any of them read anyway).  Still, to video gamers and the Science Fiction community at large there are more than a few who had similar paths to adulthood. To those I say - read it.  Ernest Cline wrote this novel for you.


#2: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
I think I undersold Prince of Thorns in my review a few months back, largely because it's not a book I finished feeling good about.  The protagonist is hard to identify with and he does a lot of horrible things.  Lawrence didn't even try to make me feel sorry for him.  Sure, I understand why he did what he did (as much I can understand a sociopath), but there's no redemptive story line, at all.

Looking back now, I neglected to appreciate the craftsmanship that went into the novel.  Lawrence is a tremendous writer and his prose hasn't been mentioned enough.  The fact that I enjoyed the novel as much as I did, in spite of disliking everybody in it, is a testament to his skill.  Based on the reviews at large, I feel confident in calling Prince of Thorns a love it or hate it novel... I loved it.  I maintain though, that its long term place in the world will be largely determined by the next two novels in the trilogy.  I'm not sure the same level of despicable can continue ad infinitum.


#1: Winner of the Juice Box Award for Best SFF Debut of the Year (2011) is...


Germline
by T.C. McCarthy



Follow me on Twitter or read my posts on some of the popular genre forums, and this selection should come as no surprise.  McCarthy's interpretation of the war novel floored me when I read it way back in June.  Some are calling it military science fiction.  Maybe, although it is not a military science fiction novel in the tradition of Honor Harrington (Weber) or even the more recent Old Man's War (Scalzi).  Instead, it's the incredibly dark coming of age story of Oscar Wendell, a broken man who can only justify his existence by going to war.

Told entirely in first person, Germline reads almost like stream of conscience at times replete with run on sentences and incomplete thoughts. What at first feels a bit like self indulgent writing quickly starts to feel more like an authentic look inside the mind of a drug addled narcissist.  Having never done any serious narcotics, I'm not sure how close McCarthy hits the mark on the paranoia and dependence; but he describes it as I've always imagined it to be - super shitty.

It wouldn't surprise me if some readers find it all a bit overwhelming.  Oscar is a dark figure without many redeeming qualities (especially in his own mind).  He starts off annoyingly naive full of unwarranted confidence and willing to put his life on the line because he has no idea what that life is worth.  He's unemotional at times when he loses friends, and cripplingly emotional at other times.

This novel isn't for everybody.  It'll remind some readers of Hunter S. Thompson and others of Michael Herr's Dispatches.  For me, it's immediately went into my personal pantheon of war novels next to Gates of Fire and All Quiet on the Western Front.  Germline is the best debut of 2011, period.


###

If you missed my Thanksgiving post, I explained that I'm doing a series of awards. I'm going to call them the Juice Boxes. See if you can keep up here... so there are the Hugos. My name is Justin. Put those two words together and you get Jugos. Jugo in Spanish means Juice. The Juice Awards sounds like something O.J. Simpson would bestow on someone, so I added the box. After all, who doesn't like Juice Boxes?

I'll be doing a separate post for each category with a goal of having them all done before Christmas (we'll see). My award categories are as follows:

Best SFF Press for eBooks
SFF Editor of the Year
SFF Cover of the Year
Most Disappointing SFF Book (2011)
Best SFF Book I Read This Year Not Published in 2011
SFF Debut of the Year (2011)
SFF Book of the Year (2011)

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5 Comments:

At December 26, 2011 at 10:49 AM , Blogger Stefan Fergus said...

I agree with four of these choices, but only because I haven't had a chance to read either of Kameron Hurley's novels yet (although, I noticed that "God's War" is now available for UK Kindle, so thank you family members for the Christmas Amazon vouchers!).

If I were writing this post, I would add a couple more for people's consideration: Doug Hulick's "Among Thieves", Brad Beaulieu's "Winds of Khalakovo" and Mazarkis Williams' "The Emperor's Knife". Maybe they're on your upcoming Best of 2011 list?

Would James S.A. Corey count? One half of the author is a debut...

 
At December 26, 2011 at 11:40 PM , Anonymous the_hound said...

So hoping this means Among Thieves made your top 5 of the year?

 
At December 27, 2011 at 4:06 AM , Blogger Biblibio said...

"...went into my personal pantheon of war novels next to Gates of Fire and All Quiet on the Western Front."

All Quiet on the Western Front is my hands-down favorite war novel in existence and though I can't immediately see the comparison between the two books (the central characters seem as different from each other as characters can be...), I think this is reason enough to look into Germline.

Personally, I've never made much distinction between an author's debut versus his/her later books. Still, it is interesting to see how many successful and high-quality debuts have been coming out in recent years. Let's just hope the trend continues...

 
At December 28, 2011 at 8:55 AM , Blogger Justin said...

@Hound @CivReader

I loved AMONG THIEVES, and it was right in consideration to make the end of this list, but it didn't quite make it. Probably the 15th best novel I read this year?

@Biblio

I agree, GERMLINE is nothing like ALL QUIET, but it's a different kind of war novel that has that kind of emotional oomph.

 
At December 28, 2011 at 9:54 AM , Blogger RobB said...

Not a bad list, I'd probably flip #1 and #2 and slot Kevin Hearne's debut between them.

 

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