Saturday, May 9, 2009

My Top Five World Fantasy Award Winners

I have a rule for myself to never comment on my own posting history but I had intended for this to get done yesterday. Something very important came up, though.

Movie? What movie? I don't know what you're talking about.

Anyhow, rather than running down a list of five novels placed in somewhat arbitrary order I am keeping the list in publication order. All five of these books are well worth anyone's time.

Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart fits nicely into the mold of classic adventure fiction. There's a quest and a powerful villain and monsters and a lot of other elements that you'd expect to find in the interchangeable Tolkien knock offs that fill shelves. What it does differently is dramatically overturn the point of view. Shifting the setting to ancient China and capturing the cultural attitudes are part of that. Giving one of the "heroes" "one small flaw in his character" is another. If you read the book then you probably giggled at that previous sentence and the light hearted tone that Bridge of Birds maintains also sets it apart. Finally Hughart is exceptional at fitting words together beautifully. It adds up to a magificent book that cannot be missed.

Song of Kali by Dan Simmons is a work that leaves me uneasy in ways that horror novels rarely can. It's built on fear of the others, those dirty foreigners who are beyond our borders are have their own strange ways. It's the kind of thing that rational men are supposed to be beyond and Simmons plays with it better than any author I have encountered. Other authors who use that fear are typically politicians trying to enflame their people against others which adds a deeper layer to the fear that Simmons is envoking. Also he manages to capture the poisonous atmosphere of a densely populated city that exists in the worst conditions.

Replay by Ken Grimwood is notable for the use of a simple scenario (reliving one's life over and over) and playing with all of the myriad of implications. If that was all it had I wouldn't have mentioned it here; Grimwood also focuses on how these events both change and fail to change a man. No punches are pulled with the protagonist as he does some great things and many less than noble ones over his lifetimes. And even when he is at his worst Grimwood makes sure that the reader can understand the character.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami is the most maginal of my five selections but I think that it was successful as an allegorical novel in a way that many mainstream authors dabbling in speculative fiction are not. The theme of fate might be the single most ancient literary concept and somehow Murakami manages to find a unique take on it. Rather than simply being a a set of quietly magical events events occurring among a cast of quirky characters Kafka on the Shore strives for deeper meaning. I think it achieved it since I doubt I'll ever forget this book.

Soldier of Sidon by Gene Wolfe is worth reading for one major reason: the writing. The story is good enough and the characters are interesting enough but what really makes this novel stand out from the rest is how magnficent the writing is. The unreliable narrator has never been more unreliable than in Soldier of Sidon and so Wolfe turns the reader into an active participant in the story. The reader along with the narrator is working from information that is fragmented; the reader might have a better point of view but the narrator could be dishonest on some points. It makes the book incredibly compelling and Wolfe manages to make the rest of the work support that.