The Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Novels of 1993
Well, another year has slipped away and itís time to look back over the twelve months past and decide what were the best books of the year. And much to my pleased surprise, 1993 was one of the best years overall in quite a while.
ďHardĒ SF remained as popular as ever. Kevin Anderson & Doug Beason explored one possible consequence of nanotechnology in Assemblers of Infinity, while Stephen Baxter looked outward, creating an entire mini-universe in Timelike Infinity. Arthur C. Clarke presented a realistic look at humanityís attempt to discover the secrets of cometary visitors in The Hammer of God, the best of his last several novels. Jack Haldeman II and Jack Dann collaborated for a look at near future space travel and its impact on the average man in High Steel, while Greg Bear and Kim Stanley Robinson presented very realistic looks at the way colonization of Mars might actually proceed in Moving Mars and Red Mars, respectively.
Science was an important but not as domineering an element in many other outstanding books of 1992. Jim Aikin created a very strange, inward looking culture in The Wall at the Edge of the World, for example, and Roger MacBride Allen re-examined Asimovís Three Laws of Robotics to superb effect in Caliban, one of the best treatments of the subject not penned by Asimov himself. Poul Andersonís nod to Robert Heinlein, Harvest of Stars, is one of his best novels despite occasional unevenness.
We return to Darkover in Marion Zimmer Bradleyís Rediscovery, take a fresh look at first contact in Hard Landing by Algis Budrys, and return to the worlds of the Vorkisigian family in Lois McMaster Bujoldís Mirror Image. Hal Clement broke too long an absence with Fossil, a fully realized alien society with a fascinating mystery as its main plot, and Alfred Coppel returned to the fold with his far future examination of apartheid, Glory.
Although Rainbow Man by M.J. Engh consists primarily of a series of arguments, it is one of the most frightening effective portrayals of religious mania Iíve ever encountered. Another long absent name who made an appearance was Mark Geston, whose Mirror to the Sky was a welcome surprise. Philip Jose Farmer returned to the World of Tiers in fine style for his new Kickaha novel, More Than Fire, and John Ford provided a topnotch story of growing up in a new environment in Growing Up Weightless.
A Season for Slaughter by David Gerrold continued the saga of the Chtorrian invasion of Earth in fine form while William Gibson re-examined virtual reality and the man-machine interface in Virtual Light. Lynn Hightower also returned to an old series; Alien Eyes is another fine blend of mystery and SF although rather more predictable than the opening volume. Steve and Stephanie Perry brought the new adventures of the Aliens to an apparent end with The Female War, best of the trilogy, and Mike Resnick amazed me with his consistent high level with Purgatory, Inferno, and Prophet. The latter in particular is a great ending to what I thought was an authorial dead end.
Other novels of note include Core by Paul Preuss, Charles Oberndorfís short Testing, and Norman Spinrad's barely longer Deus X. Although marketed as horror, Dean Koontzís Mr. Murder is, like most of his previous horror novels, SF as well, this time dealing with a bio-engineered assassin running amuck. John Stith proved that old style sense of wonder still works with Manhattan Transfer, a story of alien abduction on a grand scale. Stephen Baxter provided a super pastiche of Jules Verne with Anti-Ice. George Turnerís Destiny Makers, Elvissey by Jack Womack, and Mel Odomís Stalker Analog were also entertaining. Robert Sawyer continued his dinosaur trilogy with Fossil Hunter, and Gene Wolfe kicked off a new and fascinating series with Night of the Long Sun. David Alexander Smithís In the Cube describes a future Boston that has already led to a shared world anthology set in the same universe. Also noteworthy was Paul Parkís projection of the worst of modern sensibilities into the future in Coelestis.
Last but by no means least were Robert Silverbergís best novel in years, Kingdoms of the Wall, and Robert Charles Wilsonís gripping story of the transformation of the human race, Harvest. I also wanted to mention Annette Klauseís first rate young adult SF novel, Alien Secrets.
Finally, before making the agonizing decision of choosing the best of the year, letís look at first novels. One of the best crops of rookies in a long time debuted in 1993. The candidates for best first novel are Cold Allies by Patricia Anthony, Crashcourse by Wilhelmina Baird, Warpath by Tony Daniel, Ammonite by Nicola Griffith, Iapetus by William Kirby, Flying to Valhalla by Charles Pelligrino, Drylands by Mary Rosenblum, Forests of the Night by S. Andrew Swann, and Virtual Girl by Amy Thomson. This was a very difficult choice because there are so many good stories, so when I say it was a tie between Forests of the Night and Crashcourse, donít expect them to be head and shoulders above the rest.
So overall what was the best SF novel of the year? The finalists are Moving Mars by Greg Bear, Kingdoms of the Wall by Robert Silverberg, Harvest by Robert Charles Wilson, and Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. The Silverberg falters toward the end, and the Robinson suffers from the fact that itís an incomplete story, first in a trilogy. So Greg Bear edges Robert Charles Wilson by a hair, and Moving Mars is the best SF novel of 1993.
Fantasy didnít fare so well this year. Funny fantasy grew in numbers but not in quality, although there were a few exceptions. Split Heirs by Esther Friesner and Lawrence Watt-Evans was the funniest I read, but The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump by Harry Turtledove was a close second. Craig Shaw Gardnerís The Last Arabian Night and David Lee Jonesí Zeus and Company were also amusing.
On a more serious note, Margaret Ball continued her saga of a lost kingdom in Asia with Changeweaver, Charles De Lint provided yet another marvelous look into the world of magic with Into the Green, and Tom Deitz finished his new contemporary fantasy series in fine style with Wordwright. Lisa Goldsteinís Strange Devices of Sun and Moon wasnít up to her usual high standards, but it was still far ahead of most of its competitors. Simon Greenís quality is erratic, but Down Among the Dead Men was easily his best work to date. Paul Hazelís The Wealdwifeís Tale is filled with subtle surprises and good writing. Hawaiian mythology has proven itself fertile ground for Carol Severance, who continues her topnotch series with Storm Caller. Judith Tarr provided the best historical fantasies of the year, Arrows of the Sun and Lord of the Two Lands. And Lawrence Watt-Evans proves heís still the master of quiet fantasy with Taking Flight, while Roger Zelazny demonstrates that it's still possible to create an entirely new approach to a genre with A Night in the Lonesome October.
There were a handful of outstanding first novels here as well, most notably Nina Kiriki Hoffmanís The Thread That Binds the Bones, but also including The Sword and the Lion by Roberta Cray, and the almost indescribable The Glass Mountain by Leonard Wolf. And the best young adult fantasy I saw in 1993 was Susan Cooperís The Boggart.
But best fantasy of the year? Glimpses by Lewis Shiner, a contemporary fantasy about a rock fan who is able to somehow migrate through time to visit and perhaps even change the lives of his musical heroes, Joplin, Morrison, Hendryx, or maybe not. One of the best rock and roll novels of all time and easily the best fantasy of 1993.
And finally we come to horror. Thereís been much talk about the death of the genre, and itís clearly not healthy in terms of number of novels published, or sales of the ones that have appeared. But quality wise, this was one of the best years since it emerged from its long slumber in the early days of Stephen King. Vampires continue to be the strongest single theme, and a lot of these have been rehashes of old themes, often lacking anything even approaching originality. But itís a powerful image that still inspires some first rate writing.
Steven Brust gets a special award for writing Agyar, the first vampire novel never to use that word. In fact, all of the tropes of the bloodsucker are missing in this fascinating and understated story. At the opposite extreme, David Dvorkinís Insatiable is not only a good story, it plays all sorts of variations with vampirism, and includes some of the best gross- outs in recent years.
Tanya Huffís vampire romance novelist made two more appearances in Blood Lines and Blood Pact, but rumor has it that no further adventures are planned, a loss for all of us. Brian Lumley continues his saga of an alternate universe dominated by vampires in The Last Aerie, one of the few works for which the phrase ďDark FantasyĒ is unavoidable. Yvonne Navarro's Afterage, the story of a near future where the vampires have devastated the world, would have been noteworthy for any established writer; as a first novel itís quite remarkable.
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro provided two separate adventures of my favorite vampire hero, St Germain, in the Russia of Ivan the Terrible in Darker Jewels and a remote German fortress during the plague years in Better in the Dark. Lois Tiltonís A Darkness on the Ice has the Nazis sending a vampire to Greenland during World War II, and Lucius Shepard provides the second best vampire novel of the year with the phantasmagoric The Golden. Brent Monahan's really excellent The Book of Common Dread features a vampire as well, but vampirism really isn't what that novel of demonism and forbidden knowledge is all about.
Best vampire novel of 1993? Anno Dracula by Kim Newman. Queen Victoria has taken Dracula as her consort, and vampirism has become the vogue among the British elite, except for a handful who wish to expel the evil taint from the isles forever. Intelligently plotted and written, and filled with original ideas.
Not all the good horror fiction was about vampires, however. Michael Blumleinís X,Y explores the question of identity and gender and comes up with some disturbing observations. Christopher Fowlerís Red Bride plays a new tune with old instruments, a serial killer who isnít quite human. Daniel Gower's Harrowgate describes the doorway between our world and a kind of Hell, though not the Christian version, guarded by an elite group which may have been subverted by the power they seek to control.
Pat Graversenís Black Ice is an often chilling variation of the ghostly revenge story, where Rick Hautalaís apparition in Ghost Light seeks to foil a very human killer. Kelly Wildeís Angel Kiss uses Asian legend to create a new and deadly monster while Melanie Tem and Nancy Holder use an old theme, the Frankenstein story, in a terrifying new manner in Making Love. Unreal figures with real influence were quite popular this year, featured in Richard Christian Mathesonís Created By and Kristine Kathryn Ruschís Facade.
Other noteworthy horror novels included Jago by Kim Newman, Bring on the Night by Jay and Don Davis, Shadow Man by Dennis Etchison, Night Tide by Elizabeth Forrest, Rapid Growth by Marry Hanner, which is also a first horror novel, Darker Saints by Brian Hodge, Kaleidoscope Eyes by Graham Watkins, Night World by F. Paul Wilson, and Whitley Strieberís best in quite a while, Forbidden Zone.
But the best of the entire lot is another first novel, The List of Seven by Mark Frost, who co-wrote Twin Peaks. The List of Seven features a young Arthur Conan Doyle, inadvertently teamed with the prototype for Sherlock Holmes in a quest to foil the supernatural minions of a secret society that plans to dominate England with its occult powers. Itís an old fashioned occult adventure filled with witty dialogue, memorable scenes, real chills and thrills, and a great cast of characters.
Best publisher overall is Tor books once again, but by a very narrow margin this time, and not because their quality has declined but rather because in general the quality of genre fiction was noticeably up. Morrow and Bantam showed the biggest gains, but Baen, DAW, Del Rey, and others all presented a much better choice of fiction in 1993.
And at last we reach the moment of truth, best novel of the year. Well, Iím going to demonstrate once again that Iím out of step with much of fandom, although Iíd be very surprised if Moving Mars doesn't win the Hugo. It would be my second choice actually, but The List of Seven by Mark Frost wins easily, the most enjoyable book Iíve read in entirely too long. But there were a dozen books this year that I would not mind seeing win the award, and I suspect one of them will. And maybe 1994 will be even better.
Short stories have never been covered in this feature, and I donít propose to do so now. However, I did want to at least mention the best single author collections of this past year, the overwhelming majority of which come from the small press. For SF fans, thereís L. Sprague de Campís The Rivers of Time, Bunch! by David R. Bunch, Aliens of Earth by Nancy Kress, and The Rude Astronauts by Allen Steele. For horror fans, we have Lost in Booth Nine by Adam-Troy Castro, Close to the Bone by Lucy Taylor, Alone in the Dark by Ramsey Campbell, and Fruiting Bodies by Brian Lumley.
THE VERY BEST: Moving Mars by Greg Bear
RUNNERS-UP: Kingdoms of the Wall by Robert Silverberg, Harvest by Robert Charles Wilson, and Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson.
Alien Eyes by Lynn Hightower (Ace); Alien Secrets by Annette Klause (Delacorte); Ammonite by Nicola Griffith (Del Rey); Anti-Ice by Stephen Baxter (HarperCollins); The Assemblers of Infinity by Kevin Anderson & Doug Beason (Spectra); Caliban by Roger Allen MacBride (Ace); Coelestis by Paul Park (HarperCollins); Cold Allies by Patricia Anthony (Harcourt Brace); Core by Paul Preuss (Morrow); Crashcourse by Wilhelmina Baird (Ace); The Destiny Makers by George Turner (Morrow); Deus X by Norman Spinrad (Spectra); Drylands by Mary Rosenblum (Del Rey); Elvissey by Jack Womack (Tor); The Female War by Steve & Stephanie Perry(Spectra); Flying to Valhalla by Charles Pellegrino (Morrow); The Forests of Night by S. Andrew Swann (DAW); Fossil by Hal Clement (DAW); Fossil Hunter by Robert Sawyer (Ace); Glory by Alfred Coppel (Tor); Growing Up Weightless by John Ford (Spectra); The Hammer of God by Arthur C. Clarke (Spectra); Hard Landing by Algis Budrys (Warner); Harvest by Robert Charles Wilson (Spectra); A Harvest of Stars by Poul Anderson (Tor); High Steel by Jack Haldeman & Jack Dann(Tor); Iapetus by William Kirby (Ace); In the Cube by David Alexander Smith (Tor); Inferno by Mike Resnick (Tor); Kingdoms of the Wall by Robert Silverberg (Spectra); Manhattan Transfer by John Stith (Tor); Mirror to the Sky by Mark Geston (Morrow); Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen); More than Fire by Philip Jose Farmer (Tor); Moving Mars by Greg Bear (Tor); Nightside the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe (Tor); Prophet by Mike Resnick (Ace); Purgatory by Mike Resnick (Tor); Rainbow Man by M.J. Engh (Tor); Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson (Spectra); Rediscovery by Marion Zimmer Bradley (DAW); A Season for Slaughter by David Gerrold (Spectra); Stalker Analog by Mel Odom (Roc); Testing by Charles Oberndorf (Spectra); Timelike Infinity by Stephen Baxter (Roc); Virtual Girl by Amy Thomson (Ace); Virtual Light by William Gibson (Spectra); The Wall at Edge of World by Jim Aikin (Ace); Warpath by Tony Daniel
THE VERY BEST: Glimpses by Lewis Shiner (Morrow);
Arrows of the Sun by Judith Tarr (Tor); The Boggart by Susan Cooper (McElderry); The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump by Harry Turtledove (Baen); Changeweaver by Margaret Ball (Baen); Down Among the Dead Men by Simon Green (Roc); The Glass Mountain by Leonard Wolf (Overlook); Into the Green by Charles De Lint (Tor); The Last Arabian Night by Craig Shaw Gardner (Ace); Lord of Two Lands by Judith Tarr (Tor); A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny (Morrow); Split Heirs by Esther Friesner & Lawrence Watt-Evans (Tor); Storm Caller by Carol Severance (Del Rey); Strange Devices of Sun and Moon by Lisa Goldstein (Tor); The Sword and the Lion by Robert Cray (DAW); Taking Flight by Lawrence Watt-Evans (Del Rey); The Thread That Binds the Bones by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Avon); The Wealdwifeís Tale by Paul Hazel (Morrow); Wordwright by Tom Deitz (Avon); Zeus and Company by David Lee Jones (Avon)
THE VERY BEST: The List of Seven by Mark Frost (Morrow)
Afterage by Yvonne Navarro (Bantam); Agyar by Steven Brust (Tor); Angel Kiss by Kerlly Wilde (Dell); Anno Dracula by Kim Newman (Carroll & Graf); Better in the Dark by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (Tor); Black Ice by Pat Graversen (Zebra); Blood Lines by Tanya Huff (DAW); Blood Pact by Tanya Huff (DAW); The Book of Common Dread by Brent Monahan (St Martins); Bring on the Night by Jay & Don Davis (Tor); Created By by Richard Christian Matheson (Bantam); The Darker Saints by Brian Hodge (Dell); Darker Jewels by Chelsea Quin Yarbro (Tor); Darkness on the Ice by Lois Tilton (Pinnacle); Facade by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Dell); The Forbidden Zone by Whitley Strieber (Dutton); Ghostlight by by Rick Hautala (Zebra); The Golden by Lucius Shepard (Bantam); Harrowgate by Daniel Gower (Dell); Insatiable by David Dvorkin (Zebra); Jago by Kim Newman (Carroll & Graf); Kaleidoscope Eyes by Graham Watkins (Carroll & Graf); The Last Aerie by Brian Lumley (Tor); Making Love by Melanie Tem & Nancy Holder (Dell); Mr. Murder by Dean Koontz (Putnam); Night Tide by Elizabeth Forrest (DAW); Nightworld by F. Paul Wilson (Jove); Rapid Growth by Mary Hanner (Dell); Red Bride by Christopher Fowler (Roc); Shadow Man by Dennis Etchison (Dell); X,Y by Michael Blumlein (Dell)
The Aliens of Earth by Nancy Kress (Arkham House); Alone in the Dark by Ramsey Campbell (Arkham House); Bunch! by David R. Bunch (Broken Mirrors Press); Close to the Bone by Lucy Taylor (Silver Salamander Press); Fruiting Bodies by Brian Lumley (Roc UK); Lost in Booth Nine by Adam-Troy Castro (Silver Salamander); The Rivers of Time by L. Sprague de Camp (Baen); The Rude Astronauts by Allen Steele (Old Earth Books)