The Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Novels of 1997
I am happy to say that 1997 was a very good year for SF, although a less than stellar one for Fantasy and Horror, both in terms of major novels from established writers and interesting ones from promising newcomers.
Let’s start right at the top this time with the most pleasant dilemma I’ve had since I’ve started doing this feature—a three way tie for first place. Walter Miller’s followup to A Canticle for Leibowitz, completed by Terry Bisson, is a sidequel to the original story, and a fascinating exploration of the dangers of the church interfering in politics, and politicians meddling with religion. Dan Simmons provides the fourth installment of the Hyperion saga with The Rise of Endymion, which includes the final confrontation between the militant theocracy and those opposed to it. Brian Stableford concluded his fascinating trilogy about a world where biology allows almost anything to happen in Chimera’s Cradle. After agonizing about choosing the “best” of these, I’ve decided to pick Miller simply because it’s an entire story unto itself, while the other two are not, but you won’t go wrong with any of them.
There were an unusually large number of strong contenders close behind. Titan by Stephen Baxter and Reckoning Infinity were the two best “hard” Sf novels. Jack McDevitt provided one of the best adventure stories in his post apocalypic Eternity Road. Kim Antieau explored the soul of the world in The Gaia Websters. Paul Cook returned from a long absence with Fortress on the Sun, a scientific mystery set in a station orbiting the sun. Elizabeth Hand took a fascinating look at the coming of the millennium in The Glimmering and Catherine Wells provided a fine variation of the domed city novel in Mother Grimm. Connie Willis was at her playful best in the often hilarious time travel novel To Say Nothing of the Dog. Joe Haldeman’s Forever Peace was an excellent, though unsettling look at one possible future. Rewind by Terry England and Bug Park by James Hogan were also rewarding reads.
As usual, there was a good number of series entries. Marion Zimmer Bradley was near her best in The Shadow Matrix, a Darkover novel. Alan Dean Foster’s The Howling Stones was one of his most successful novels of the Humanx worlds. The Stranger by newcomer Eric James Fullilove was his second fine SF mystery novel, and Richard Paul Russo also blended the two genres superbly in Carlucci’s Heart, latest in his ongoing detective series. Robert Silverberg returned to his planet of wonders for The Sorcerers of Majipoor, and Frederik Pohl’s The Siege of Eternity was the second in his series about the strangest first encounter with aliens that you would ever want to experience. Denise Vitola’s rationalized futuristic werewolf series continued with Opalite Moon, and Mike Resnick provided another superb tale of professional assassins on the fringe of the empire in The Widowmaker Reborn.
There were several excellent first novels in 1997 as well, including Mars Underground by William Hartmann, one of a growing number of interesting novels that examine the colonization of Mars in a realistic manner. Elizabeth Devos mixed theological with science in Seraphim Rising, in which genuine angels, maybe, are restored to life on Earth. Eric Flint’s Mother of Demons was a rousing other worlds adventure told from the point of view of a very non-humanoid alien.
Fantasy did not fare as well in 1997. The two best novels were The Still by David Feintuch, the incomplete beginning of a series that is exceptionally well plotted and written, but which featured a protagonist who will drive many readers to distraction. Lawrence Watt-Evans contributed the stand-alone Touched by the Gods, a very effective adventure story about a humble man whose destiny is to save his world. I’d give Feintuch first place here, but again the competition is so close that you should look up both titles.
Other fantasies of note were Rage of a Demon King by Raymond Feist, latest in the Serpentwar saga, Merlin’s Gift by Ian McDowell, the second part of his unconventional story of King Arthur, and Vonda N.McIntyre’s lyrical story of a captured merperson, The Moon and the Sun. Two other interesting sequels were Earthquake Weather by Tim Powers, which revealed the magical world that exists hidden within our own, and The Mines of Behemoth by Michael Shea, the welcome new adventure of Nifft the Lean.
One interesting first novel appeared as well: Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis, in which genetically altered dogs try to find a place within human society. This kind of satire was once a staple of fantastic literature, but has largely disappeared in recent years.
Horror fiction continued its decline in 1997 as well. The two best titles were The Ignored by Bentley Little, which could almost be a fantasy—an inventive, occasionally chilling variation of Charles Beaumont’s “The Vanishing American”—and my choice for the best horror novel of 1997, The Chosen Child by Graham Masterton, in which a bizarre creature from World War II claims fresh victims in the sewers beneath a Polish city. Stephen Dedman’s first novel, The Art of Arrow Cutting, was a close contender for the best spot as well. Ira Levin returned to horror for Son of Rosemary, showing us what happens when the son of Satan grows to be an adult. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s latest St Germain novel Writ in Blood was excellent, but despite its vampire protagonist, these are historical fantasies rather than horror novels.
Thomas Monteleone re-examined the human monsters of the concentration camps and the post-death survival of one of the worst of them in Night of Broken Souls. Tanya Huff returned to her fascinating vampire and witch detective series with Blood Debt, the best installment to date. And Tom Holland provided a very offbeat historical vampire novel with Slave of My Thirst. Despite a few notable efforts, it is clear that at novel length, the horror novel is not a healthy form at present. It will take another change in the reading public’s tastes to restore the breadth of material that was being published only a few years ago.
1997’s Best SF Novels
THE VERY BEST: Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman by Walter M. Miller, Jr., completed by Terry Bisson (Spectra)
The Gaia Websters by Kim Antieau (Roc); Titan by Stephen Baxter (HarperPrism); Shadow Matrix by Marion Zimmer Bradley (DAW); Fortress on the Sun by Paul Cook (Roc); Seraphim Rising by Elizabeth Devos (Roc); Rewind by Terry England (Avon); Mother of Demons by Eric Flint (Baen); The Howling Stones by Alan Dean Foster (Del Rey); The Stranger by Eric James Fullilove (Spectra); The Dazzle of Day by Molly Gloss (Tor); Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman (Avon); The Glimmering by Elizabeth Hand (HarperPrism); Mars Underground by William Hartmann (Tor); Bug Park by James Hogan (Baen); Eternity Road by Jack McDevitt (HarperPrism); Siege of Eternity by Frederik Pohl (Tor); The Widowmaker Reborn by Mike Resnick (Spectra); Carlucci’s Heart by Richard Paul Russo (Ace); The Sorcerers of Majipoor by Robert Silverberg (HarperPrism); The Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons (Spectra); Chimera’s Cradle by Brian M. Stableford (Legend); Reckoning Infinity by John Stith (Tor); Opalite Moon by Denise Vitola (Ace); Mother Grimm by Catherine Wells (Roc); To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (Spectra).
1997’s Best Fantasy Novels
THE VERY BEST: The Still by David Feintuch (Warner Aspect).
Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis (Farrar Strauss); The Still by David Feintuch (Aspect); Rage of a Demon King by Raymond E. Feist (Avon); Merlin’s Gift by Ian McDowell (Avon); The Moon and the Sun by Vonda N. McIntyre (Pocket); Earthquake Weather by Tim Powers (Tor); The Mines of Behemoth by Michael Shea (Baen); Touched by the Gods by Lawrence Watt-Evans (Tor).
1997’s Best Horror Novels
THE VERY BEST: The Chosen Child by Graham Masterton (Heinemann).
The Art of Arrow Cutting by Stephen Dedman (Tor); Dark Debts by Karen Hall (Macmillan); Slave of My Thirst by Tom Holland (Pocket); Blood Debt by Tanya Huff (DAW); Son of Rosemary by Ira Levin (Dutton); The Ignored by Bentley Little (Signet); The Night of Broken Souls by Thomas Monteleone (Warner); Writ in Blood by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (Tor).