The Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Novels of 2002
THE BEST OF 2002
It's hard to believe that twelve months have gone by since the last time I sat down to summarize the best of the year. The bad news is that we're all getting older. The good news is that it was a pretty good year for SF, and there were promising trends in fantasy and horror as well.
The most notable change this year in SF was the sudden flood of single author collections and retrospective omnibuses. NESFA Press continued its program with Martians and Madness, the collected novels of Fredric Brown, and there were various other volumes from Baen and DAW, the latter of which has done a particularly good job of bringing back early Marion Zimmer Bradley Darkover novels in combined editions. Baen continued to reprint Keith Laumer, Murray Leinster, and James Schmitz, as well as Miles, Mystery, and Mayhem by Lois McMaster Bujold. Less visible was perhaps the best overall omnibus of the year, Swan Songs by Brian Stableford, his seven Hooded Swan novels from early in his career. This one only appeared in England, but if you don't have the series in its original form and you enjoy well written space opera, this is a definite find.
Single author collections supposedly don't sell well, but you wouldn't guess that based on this year's activity. The most notable publisher was Five Star, which continued to issue its line of mostly reprint collections for libraries. There's not a bad one in the lot, but of particular note are Hunting the Snark by Mike Resnick, Suppose They Gave a Peace and Nobody Came by Susan H. Shwartz, Generation Gap by Stanley Schmidt, and Aristotle and the Gun by L. Sprague de Camp. Golden Gryphon was also very active, with Swift Thoughts by George Zebrowski and Claremont Tales 2 by Richard Lupoff leading a very good line. Tor gave us Collected Stories of Greg Bear and The Other 19th Century by Avram Davidson, along with the best SF reprint anthology of the year, The Hard Science Fiction Renaissance edited by David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer. Also of note are Birthday of the World by Ursula K. LeGuin, The Far Side of Nowhere by Nelson Bond, Worlds Enough and Time by Dan Simmons, and Celestial Debris by Lawrence Watt-Evans.
There was a great deal of diversity in novels this year, and one definite change was a small surge of excellent space operas/interstellar adventure stories. The best of these was Alastair Reynolds' Redemption Ark, which recaptured much of the novelty and sense of wonder of his stunning debut novel, Revelation Space. Kevin J. Anderson inaugurated a series about a complex battle involving a mysterious alien race that lives inside stars with The Hidden Empire. Roger MacBride Allen's The Ocean of Years was the second in his series about the imminent collapse of the human colonization program, and Jack McDevitt's Chindi exposed its protagonists to a dangerous alien artifact in another star system.
Immortal aliens commit racial suicide and spark an interstellar crisis in Praxis by Walter Jon Williams, and a young orphan grows up in the middle of an interstellar war in Warchild, the impressive first novel by Karin Lowachee. Nancy Kress finished her trilogy about the planet World with Probability Space, resolving the war with the mysterious aliens and tying up all the loose ends quite nicely, and Maxine McArthur continued her saga of a space station caught between warring civilizations with Time Past. And last but not least was the latest installment in C.J.Cherryh's new series, Explorer, in which a joint human/alien space expedition is sent to discover the fate of an abandoned space station in another system.
Although space adventures were prevalent among the best SF this year, other subgenres were not entirely neglected. Alternate history stories continued to do well, most notably The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson, in which Christianity never became a significant movement. Steven Barnes produced his best novel yet with Lion's Blood, in which North America was colonized by Africans instead of Europeans. John Maddox Roberts also surpassed his previous novels with Hannibal's Children, which follows the Roman people after they are defeated by Carthage and driven out of Italy. Also of note was S.M. Stirling's fine adventure story The Peshawar Lancers.
The remaining major SF titles of the year covered a wide variety of themes. Greg Bear's Vitals concerns the quest for immortality. Hominids by Robert Sawyer, first in a trilogy, is a parallel universe story and an old style Utopian novel blended into one. Greg Egan gives us a look into a very distant future in Schild's Ladder, in which the nature of reality itself might change. Laura J. Mixon, who doesn't write nearly enough, gave us Burning the Ice, a lost colony story with a nicely contrived mystery and an insightful look into cloning. Clones also played a part in Richard Morgan's dystopian Altered Carbon and in Dreaming Pigs by Lynne Carver, which was probably the best first novel of the year. Kathleen Ann Goonan explores the consequences of nanotechnology in Light Music and J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts) produced her very best and most clearly science fictional mystery with Purity in Death. Lois McMaster Bujold's latest Vorkosigian novel, Diplomatic Immunity, is a nice mystery thriller, and Alan Dean Foster showed us another step in the forging of the Humanx universe with Diuturnity's Dawn. Most unusual of all was David Brin's The Kiln People, in which technology allows people to make temporary animated duplicates of themselves to run chores and perform other tasks.
Overall, a really impressive year for SF. I seesawed back and forth between Redemption Ark and The Years of Rice and Salt for best SF novel of the year, but they're both so good I'll let them share that honor.
The Ocean of Years by Roger MacBride Allen (Bantam)
The Hidden Empire by Kevin J. Anderson (Warner)
Lion's Blood by Steven Barnes (Warner)
Collected Stories by Greg Bear (Tor)
Vitals by Greg Bear (Del Rey)
The Far Side of Nowhere by Nelson Bond (Arkham House)
The Kiln People by David Brin (Tor)
Martians and Madness by Fredric Brown (NESFA)
Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
Miles, Mystery, and Mayhem by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
Dreaming Pigs by Lynne Carver (Paint Rock River Press)
Explorer by C.J. Cherryh (DAW)
The Other 19th Century by Avram Davidson (Tor)
Aristotle and the Gun by L. Sprague de Camp (Five Star)
Schild's Ladder by Greg Egan (Tor)
Diuturnity's Dawn by Alan Dean Foster (Del Rey)
Light Music by Kathleen Ann Goonan (Avon)
The Hard Science Fiction Renaissance edited by David Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer (Tor)
Probability Space by Nancy Kress (Tor)
Birthday of the World by Ursula K. LeGuin
Warchild by Karin Lowachee (Warner)
Claremont Tales 2 by Richard Lupoff (Golden Gryphon)
Time Past by Maxine McArthur (Warner)
Chindi by Jack McDevitt (Ace)
Burning the Ice by Laura J. Mixon (Tor)
Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan (Gollancz)
Hunting the Snark by Mike Resnick
Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds (Ace)
Purity in Death by J.D. Robb (Berkley)
Hannibal's Children by John Maddox Roberts (Ace)
The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson (Bantam)
Hominids by Robert Sawyer (Tor)
Generation Gap by Stanley Schmidt (Five Star)
Suppose They Gave a Peace and Nobody Came by Susan H. Shwartz (Five Star)
Worlds Enough and Time by Dan Simmons (Avon Eos)
Swan Songs by Brian Stableford (Big Engine)
The Peshawar Lancers by S.M. Stirling (Roc)
Celestial Debris by Lawrence Watt-Evans (Fox Acre)
Praxis by Walter Jon Williams (Earthlight)
Swift Thoughts by George Zebrowski
Fantasy fiction had a solid year despite the absence of new novels by many of the leading writers in the genre. Unlike SF, the single author collection did not rebound, but there were a few titles that stand out. The Fantasy Writer's Assistant by Jeffrey Ford, Tapping the Dream Tree by Charles De Lint, and Imagined Slights by James Lovegrove offered stories by newer writers while Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams by C.L. Moore and Lord Darcy by Randall Garrett reprinted some classic fantasy from years past. Of particular note is Overlook Connection's reprint of all four of the fantasy novels by Evangeline Walton as The Mabinogion Tetralogy, one of the best fantasy sequences of all time.
Mainstream heroic fantasy was still the most common form – usurped thrones, battles with evil sorcerers, quests for magical artifacts, and similar plots. Several established authors added to their ongoing series, including Robin Hobb with Fool's Errand, Dave Duncan with a new and excellent King's Blades adventure, Paragon Lost, Steven Brust's return to his Dumasian fantasy world with Paths of the Dead, Warautumn by Tom Deith, fourth in the Eron series, and Jennifer Roberson with what might be the end of her sword series, Sword Sworn. L.E. Modesitt started a new series with a new setting, the Corean Chronicles, with the quite promising Legacies. Sarah Zettel switched from SF to fantasy with the first in a series of adventures of a woman from our contemporary world transported into a fantastic realm, The Sorcerer's Treason. Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman collaborated on The Fall of the Kings, a very entertaining story set in a world that mistakenly believes its stories of actual historical wizards are untrue, and Patricia A. McKillip's Ombria in Shadow is one of the better stories of the battle for succession. But the outstanding novel of this type, and easily the best fantasy novel of the year, is China Mieville's The Scar, set in the same universe as Perdido Street Station, and in my opinion an even better novel than its predecessor. The gigantic floating city in which it is set is one of the most intriguing and interesting locations I've encountered in fantasy fiction.
There was less activity in other forms of fantasy, but there were still several outstanding novels. Sarah Hoyt and Lisa Goldstein both produced memorable historical fantasies in All Night Awake and The Alchemist's Door respectively. Hoyt juxtaposes William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe with fairies, and Lisa Goldstein has John Dee building a golem. Contemporary fantasy was very rare, but Jonathan Carroll's White Apples qualifies, with the spirit of a man brought back from the dead to watch over another. Immortal Egyptians connive in the present in Donna Boyd's The Alchemist, the best first fantasy of the year. Jan Siegel's The Witch Queen continued the chronicles of the battles of a contemporary witch against evil witchcraft, and David Herter's Evening's Empire shows us the way to a magical world hidden under Oregon.
Humorous fantasy has pretty much vanished except for Terry Pratchett, whose The Night Watch was quite entertaining, but Lawrence Watt-Evans switched from his more serious brand of fantasy adventure for the amusing story of animated furniture in Ithanalin's Restoration. Definitely not humorous was John Shirley's Demons, in which several varieties of demon effectively take over the world, vaguely reminiscent of James Blish's Black Easter. And last but not least, Glen Cook provided another installment of Garrett, a private detective in a world where magic works, with Angry Lead Skies. Overall I'd say fantasy had a respectable year, but only the Mieville stood out sharply from the competition.
The Alchemist by Donna Boyd (Del Rey)
Paths of the Dead by Steven Brust (Tor)
White Apples by Jonathan Carroll (Tor)
Angry Lead Skies by Glen Cook (Roc)
Warautumn by Tom Deitz (Bantam)
Tapping the Dream Tree by Charles De Lint (Tor)
Paragon Lost by Dave Duncan (Avon Eos)
The Fantasy Writer's Assistant by Jeffrey Ford (Golden Gryphon)
Lord Darcy by Randall Garrett (Baen)
The Alchemist's Door by Lisa Goldstein (Tor)
Evening's Empire by David Herter (Tor)
Fool's Errand by Robin Hobb (Bantam)
All Night Awake by Sarah Hoyt (Ace)
The Fall of the Kings by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman (Bantam)
Imagined Slights by James Lovegrove (Gollancz)
Ombria in Shadow by Patricia A. McKillip (Ace)
The Scar by China Mieville (Del Rey)
Legacies by L.E. Modesitt Jr. (Tor)
Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams by C.L. Moore (Gollancz)
The Night Watch by Terry Pratchett (Harper)
Sword Sworn by Jennifer Roberson (DAW)
Demons by John Shirley (Del Rey)
The Witch Queen by Jan Siegel (Del Rey)
The Mabinogion Tetralogy by Evangeline Walton (Overlook)
Ithanalin's Restoration by Lawrence Watt-Evans (Tor)
The Sorcerer's Treason by Sarah Zettel (Tor)
Horror fiction had a fairly good year with signs that the genre is finally rebounding from its prolonged slump. Signet and Leisure were the most prolific mass market horror publishers, but Zebra has revived its line and Tor continues to publish occasional high quality horror. Surprisingly, it was a comparative poor year for short story collections, and the only ones that stood out were Cat in Glass by Nancy Etchemendy, Guises by Charlee Jacobs, Beneath the Moors by Brian Lumley, Everything's Eventual by Stephen King, and Shadow Dreams by Elizabeth Massie.
There were two "big" horror novels this year. Stephen King's From a Buick 8 was a significant disappointment, though still quite readable, but Dan Simmons proved that ghost stories can still be chilling in A Winter Haunting, and several other writers chose to use ghosts as well. There were quite a few other novels nearly as good as those mentioned. Mick Farren's fourth engrossing adventure of Renquist the vampire, Underland, felt more like an A. Merritt fantasy than a horror novel, with the vampire off to explore a Nazi colony hidden inside a hollow Earth. Matthew J. Costello's Unidentified gave us a less specific menace, a mysterious structure that is actually the gateway to other realities, through which various very strange creatures invade our world. F. Paul Wilson's latest – and easily his best – Repairman Jack novel, The Haunted Air, is one of the strangest and most satisfying haunted house stories I've read. Graham Masterton's Trauma was very effectively suspenseful, although it has a very minimal supernatural element, and Bentley Little's The Return is also quite chilling, although some of the plot elements were less than convincing. Owl Goingback treats us to a scary shapechanging horror in Breed and the good year for ghosts continued with Christopher Golden's The Ferryman.
The remaining noteworthy horror titles from 2002 are all from newcomers. Tina Jens gave us a haunted nightclub in The Blues Ain't Nothin', Michael Laimo told us the truth about the men in black in Atmosphere, Kirk Sigurdson describes a disease that allows one to see invisible demons in Cowslip, and rock musicians fight voodoo in Echo and Narcissus by Mark Siegel. Two newcomers focus on conflict with the natural world. Sephera Giron's The Birds and the Bees has the creatures of the title influenced by a really weird woman, and John Harvey's The Cleansing, first volume of a trilogy, has a native American spirit returning to Earth and wreaking havoc. The mix of solid novels from established writers and impressive novels from the newer ones bodes well for the immediate future of horror fiction.
Cat in Glass by Nancy Etchemendy (Cricket)
Underland by Mick Farren (Tor)
The Birds and the Bees by Sephera Giron (Leisure)
Breed by Owl Goingback (Signet)
The Ferryman by Christopher Golden (Signet)
The Cleansing by John Harvey (Arkham House)
Guises by Charlee Jacob (Delirium)
The Blues Ain't Nothin' by Tina Jens (Design Image Group)
Everything's Eventual by Stephen King (Scribner)
From a Buick 8 by Stephen King (Scribner)
Atmosphere by Michael Laimo (Leisure)
The Return by Bentley Little (Signet)
Beneath the Moors by Brian Lumley (Tor)
Shadow Dreams by Elizabeth Massie (Leisure)
Trauma by Graham Masterton (Signet)
Echo and Narcissus by Mark Siegel (Aardwolf)
Cowslip by Kirk Sigurdson (Terminus)
A Winter Haunting by Dan Simmons (Morrow)
The Haunted Air by F. Paul Wilson (Gauntlet & Forge)
Overall best of the year is A Winter Haunting by Dan Simmons for horror, The Scar by China Mieville for Fantasy, and Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds for science fiction, and this time I'd give the top spot to fantasy, with Mieville's very original and very effective taking the honors.