The Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Novels of 1995


 

It’s that time of year again, and looking back over a year that saw Newt Gingrich become a professional SF writer and a flood of media related books overwhelm the gen­re, I am happy to say that there’s still some good stuff out there. But it’s getting a bit harder to find with so many titles being published.

                Cyberpunk, virtual reality, and computer related books continue to flourish. Shale Aaron’s Virtual Death, a very promising first novel, was one of the best of these, mixing in some genuinely funny material and Wilhelmina Baird concluded her trilogy with Psykosis, the best of the set. But otherwise, everything I saw in this vein was imitative or just plain bad.

                Hard and traditional SF did much better. Stephen Baxter’s Flux and The Timeships are both superb hard SF novels from a writer who seems to be taking the lead in that area. C.J. Cherryh’s Invader is a satisfying con­tinuation of Foreigner, with at least one more title upcoming. Steven Barnes, Larry Niven, and Jerry Pournelle also wrote a sequel, Beowulf’s Children, not up to the quality of its predecessor but still a fine adventure story. David Brin’s new Uplift novel, Brightness Reef, was similarly enter­taining though inferior to earlier volumes.
And Alfred Coppel’s Glory’s War and Timothy Zahn’s Conqueror’s Heritage, also sequels, suffer similarly in comparison though both are quite good adventure stor­ies. Perhaps authors should avoid sequels, he said hopefully.

                Kevin Anderson’s Blindfold is one of the more interesting recent novels about psi powers and his collaboration with Doug Beason, Ill Wind, is also quite good. Charles Sheffield bucks the trend mentioned earlier with The Ganymede Club, a quasi sequel to Cold As Ice, and much better, the story of a conspiracy by a small group of immortals to dominate what is left of the human race. The Killing Star by Charles Pellegrino has some fascinating new ideas as does Metropolitan by Walter John Williams. Mid-Flinx by Alan Dean Foster is another brisk adventure of Pip and his minidragon. Special nod to the best media related novel of the year, The Laertian Gamble by Robert Sheckley, a Deep Space Nine novel.

                The best military SF this year was with­out question the middle two volumes of David Feintuch’s series, Challenger’s Hope and Prisoner’s Hope. If this entire set had been published as a single book, it would almost certainly be my choice for best novel of the year, and the individual volumes do
almost stand alone. Roger MacBride Allen’s Allies and Aliens is a close second. Only two books satisfied by thirst for SF/mystery novels, Alien Rites by Lynn Hightower and Carlucci’s Edge by Richard Russo.

                Three novels really stood out in SF. Rob­ert Charles Wilson’s Mysterium is an intel­ligent quasi-reprise of Edmond Hamilton’s City at World’s End, a community from our world snatched into another. Pasquale’s Angel by Paul McAuley looks at an alternate version of Earth’s history with insight and thoughfulness. Ian McDonald’s Evolution’s Shore (published in England as Chaga) bears strong similarities to J.G. Ballard’s The Crystal World, but explores the concept in much more detail.

                It was a pretty good but not outstanding year for fantasy as well. John Barnes’ One for the Morning Glory is one of the funniest and most original fantasies I’ve ever read, and only Jonathan Carroll’s From the Teeth of Angels surpassed it from this year’s crop. Others of note are Robert Jordan’s Lord of Chaos, Esther Friesner’s clever and often hilarious The Sherwood Game, The Faery Convention by Brett Davis, and Ghost­country’s Wrath by Tom Deitz.

                Lost  in  Translation  by  Margaret  Ball is also quite entertaining, as is The  Silent  Strength of Stones by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Fey, the Sacrifice by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Andrew Harman’s comic Fahrenheit 666, and Timothy Powers’ Expiration Date. Brooke Stevens’ The Circus of Earth and Air is the most promising first novel in the fantasy field this year, and Peggy Christian’s The Bookstore Mouse, though intended for children, deserves a wider audience.

                Horror fiction has clearly been in a decline these past few years, but that has a flip side, the average quality of those titles still being published has been edging steadily upward. And vampire fiction has become almost a genre in itself, though zombie variations made a strong showing this year.

                Vampire novels of note include Children of the Vampire by Jean Kalogridis, sequel to Covenant with the Vampire which I missed when it was first published. Brett Monahan’s Blood of the Covenant is also a sequel, as is Barbara Hambly’s Traveling with the Dead. Laurell Hamilton’s The Lunatic Cafe is the best yet in her ongoing Anita Blake series, S.M. Somtow also provides a sequel in Vanitas, and Melanie Tem provides an entirely new twist in Desmodus.

                The revivified dead are central themes in The Resurrectionist by Thomas Monteleone, Dead­rush by Yvonne Navarro, Bone Music by Alan Rodgers, and Who Killed James Dean? by Warren Beath. William Browning Spencer links Cthulhu to big business in the delightful Resume with Monsters, Barbara Hodgson provides one of the most original concepts in novel making in The Tattooed Map, and Jay Bonansinga describes the most bizarre case of multiple personality disorder you'll ever encounter in Sick.

                Mark Frost’s sequel to The List of Seven, which I picked as best of its year, is The Six Messiahs, not nearly as good but certainly one of the best of 1995. James Blaylock easily claims the best horror novel spot with All the Bells on Earth, an intricate and uniquely Blaylock novel about serial killers, deals with the devil, and all sorts of things.

                On the whole, I have mixed feelings about 1995. For the most part, I thought there were fewer and less distinguished works, perhaps because I was overwhelmed with the flood of movie, television, computer game, and card game related fiction. On the other hand, several exciting new talents emerged—Brooke Stevens, William Browning Spencer, Shale Aaron, David Feintuch, and Jean Kalogridis.

                Best SF novel is Ian McDonald’s Chaga/ Evolution’s Shore, best fantasy is From the Teeth of Angels by Jonathan Carroll, and best horror is All the Bells on Earth by James Blaylock. And McDonald wins best overall, by a whisper.

 

Best SF Novels of 1995

THE VERY BEST: Evolution’s Shore/ Chaga by Ian McDonald (Spectra/Gollancz)

Virtual Death by Shale Aaron (HarperPrism); Allies and Aliens by Roger MacBride Allen (Baen); Blindfold by Kevin Anderson (Warner Aspect); Ill Wind by Kevin Anderson & Doug Beason (Spectra); Psykosis by Wilhelmina Baird (Ace); Beowulf’s Children by Stephen Barnes, Larry Niven, & Jerry Pournelle (Tor); Flux by Stephen Baxter (HarperPrism); The Timeships by Stephen Baxter (HarperPrism); Brightness Reef by David Brin (Spectra); Invader by C.J. Cherryh (DAW); Glory’s War by Alfred Coppel (Tor); Challenger’s Hope by David Feintuch (Warner Aspect); Prisoner’s Hope by David Feintuch (Warner Aspect); Mid-Flinx by Alan Dean Foster (Del Rey); Alien Rites by Lynn Hightower (Ace); Pasquale’s Angel by Paul McAuley (Morrow); The Killing Star by Charles Pellegrino (AvoNova); Carlucci’s Edge by Richard Russo (Ace); The Laertian Gamble by Robert Sheckley (Pocket); The Ganymede Club by Charles Sheffield (Tor); Metropolitan by William (HarperPrism); Mysterium by Robert Charles Wilson (Spectra); Conqueror’s Heritage by Timothy Zahn (Spectra)

Best Fantasy Novels of 1995

THE VERY BEST: From the Teeth of Angels by Jonathan Carroll (Doubleday)

Lost in Translation by Margaret Ball (Baen); One for the Morning Glory by John Barnes (Tor); The Bookstore Mouse by Peggy Christian (Harcourt Brace); The Faery Convention by Brett Davis (Baen); Ghostcountry’s Wrath by Tom Deitz (AvoNova); The Sherwood Game by Esther Friesner (Baen); Fahrenheit 666 by Andrew Harman (Legend); The Silent Strength of Stones by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (AvoNova); Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan (Tor); Expiration Date by Timothy Powers (HarperCollins, Tor); Fey, the Sacrifice by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Millennium); The Circus of Earth and Air by Brooke Stevens (Harvest).

Best Horror Novels of 1995

THE VERY BEST: All the Bells on Earth by James Blaylock (Ace)

Who Killed James Dean? by Warren Beath (Tor); Sick by Jay Bonansinga (Orion); The Six Messiahs by Mark Frost (Morrow); The Tattooed Map by Barbara Hodgson (Chronicle); Children of the Vampire by Jean Kalogridis (Delacorte); Blood of the Covenant by Brett Monahan (St Martins); The Resurrectionist by Thomas Monteleone (Warner Aspect); Deadrush by Yvonne Navarro (Bantam); Traveling with the Dead by Barbara Hambly (Del Rey); The Lunatic Cafe by Laurell Hamilton (Ace); Bone Music by Alan Rodgers (Longmeadow); Resumé with Monsters by William Browning Spencer (Permanent Press); Vanitas by S.M. Somtow (Tor); Desmodus by Melanie Tem (Dell).