The Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Novels of 1994


Well, it’s that time of year again, and as I look back over 1994, I see an awful lot of books that were entertaining when I read them, but fewer than ever that stick in my memory. Perhaps I’ve just overloaded my brain cells and there’s no room for more data, but more likely it’s because publishers are choosing the safe path, publishing more and more variations of the same tested themes. But there were a few exceptions, as well as books that excelled even in well ploughed fields. And since I’m typing this on a Pentium, if I overlooked anything this year, blame it on the division error in the fourteenth decimal place.

                It was a good year for sequels and series in SF, even though I think they’ve be­come too common a phenomenon. Roger MacBride Allen’s The Shattered Sphere is a worthy followup to The Ring of Charon, and I look forward with anticipation to the final volume. Lois McMaster Bujold con­tinues her series with Mirror Dance, which I found quite enjoyable but not quite of the stature of its predecessors. With Clip­joint, Wilhelmina Baird continues the story of the set of characters she intro­duced in Crashcourse!, and introduces a new danger into their lives. Kim Stanley
Robinson continued his chronicles of Mars with Green Mars, likely to win this year’s Hugo if I’m any judge, Gene Wolfe continued his fine new series with Lake of the Long Sun and Calde of the Long Sun, and C.J. Cherryh was in good form with Foreigner.

                A number of new series were launched in 1994 as well. Timothy Zahn’s Conquer­or’s Pride inaugurated an old fashioned space opera with a nice puzzle, likable characters, and lots of action. Not a complete volume in itself, but a good teaser. Mistwalker by Denis Lopes Heald is an entertaining other worlds adventure story, complete in itself, but I understand sequels are in the works. And Jeffrey Carver’s Neptune Crossing is one of the best hard science novels I’ve read in a couple of years, full of wonderful events on a grand scale. Proving that not all sequels are quite so marvelous, Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama Revealed shouldn’t have bothered; it was easily the biggest disappointment of 1994.

                Other novels worth mentioning include my personal choice as best SF novel of the year, Brittle Innings by Michael Bishop, in which Frankenstein’s monster surfaces as a minor league baseball player
during World War II. John Barnes breathed new life into the disaster novel with Mother of Storms. Bordering on the surreal, Lisa Goldstein’s Tourists is full of bizarre imagery that lingers in its readers’ memories. And for rousing adventure, you will rarely do better than Specters of Dawn by S. Andrew Swann, Reunion on Neverend by John Stith, End of an Era by Robert Sawyer, The Imperium Game by K.D. Wentworth, or The Engines of God by Jack McDevitt.

 

                Things weren’t much better in fantasy either. Terry Goodkind’s massive first novel, Wizard’s First Rule, is promising, but falters considerably in the waning chapters. It’s the beginning of a series, as is Craig Shaw Gardner’s The Dragon Sleeping, which hovers between being an adult and a young adult novel. Charles De Lint had several respectably entertaining fantasies this year, of which the best is Moonheart. The most rousing adventure story, and my favorite fantasy of the year, is 500 Years After by Steven Brust, sequel to The Phoenix Guards, a great swash­buckler.

                On the more thoughtful side of fantasy, Tad Williams’ Caliban’s Hour is short and effective, another view of a famous legend. And Pamela Dean weaves virtual magic in her fantasy realm in The Dubious Hills.

 

                Horror fiction is clearly in its doldrums, at least partly because publishers misun­derstood the kind of horror fiction the public wanted. That may be changing as there were several new works this year that avoided the monster-menaces-small-town and other overworked cliches. The top three are Nancy Holder’s Dead in the Water, which takes the concept of the ghost ship into entirely different waters, Among the Immortals by Paul Lake, in which we discover that some literary immortals literally are, and why, and finally Throat Sprockets by Timothy Lucas, an almost indescribable story about a man’s obsession with women’s throats. Forced to choose a single best, I’ve vacillated betwEen the Holder and Lucas so often that I’ve declared it a draw.

                There were a few other horror novels of note in 1994 as well. Michael Arnzen makes a strong debut with Grave Mark­ings, which follows the career of an insane tattoo artist James P. Blaylock’s Night Relics is an interesting, untraditional ghost story, as is Melanie Tem’s Revenant. Black Mariah by Jay Bonansinga follows a trucker cursed never to stop moving, Of Saints and Shadows by Christopher Golden and Bride of the Rat God by Barbara Hambly are satisfying vampire stories in a market flooded with retreads of old ideas, and Douglas Hawk’s The Devouring is a simple monster story that I found genuinely scary.

                Biggest disappointment of the year was Step­hen King’s Insomnia which starts extraordinarily well and begins to disin­tegrate halfway through. And of the young adult horror I sampled, G.G. Garth’s Nightmare Matinee was creepy enough to entertain readers of any age.

                Best overall? Brittle Innings by Michael Bishop, though I doubt the general SF audience will agree. Too much baseball for SF fans, too much SF for the mainstream. We all have our prejudices.                              —Don D’Ammassa

 

Best SF Novels of 1994

THE VERY BEST: Brittle Innings by Michael Bishop (Bantam)

The Shattered Sphere by Roger MacBride Allen (Tor); Clipjoint by Wilhelmina Baird (Ace); Mother of Storms by John Barnes (Tor); Mirror Dance by Lois Mc­Master Bujold (Baen); Neptune Crossing by Jeffrey Carver (Tor); Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh (DAW); Tourists by Lisa Gold­stein (Tor); Mistwalker by Denise Lopes Heald (Del Rey); The Engines of God by Jack McDevitt (Ace); Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson (Bantam); End of an Era by Robert Sawyer (Ace); Reunion on Neverend by John Stith (Tor); Specters of Dawn by S. Andrew Swann (DAW); The Imperium Game by K.D. Wentworth (Del Rey); Calde of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe (Tor); Lake of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe (Tor); Conqueror’s Pride by Timothy Zahn (Bantam).

 

Best Fantasy Novels of 1994

THE VERY BEST: 500 Years After by Steven Brust (Tor)

The Dubious Hills by Pamela Dean (Tor); Moonheart by Charles De Lint (Tor); The Dragon Sleeping by Craig Shaw Gardner (Ace); Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind (Tor); Caliban’s Hour by Tad Williams (Harper).

 

Best Horror Novels of 1994

THE VERY BEST: Dead in the Water by Nancy Holder (Dell) tied with Throat Sprockets by Tim Lucas (Delta)

Grave Markings by Michael Arnzen (Dell); Night Relics by James Blaylock (Ace); Black Mariah by Jay Bonansinga (Warner); Of Saints and Shadows by Christopher Golden (Bantam); Nightmare Matinee by G.G. Garth (Bantam); Bride of the Rat God by Barbara Hambly (Del Rey); The Devouring by Douglas Hawk (Leisure); Among the Immortals by Paul Lake (Storyline Press); Revenant by Melanie Tem (Dell).