Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2004) – Susanna Clarke. Heralded as the greatest new fantasy since Tolkien, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was a refreshing, stand-alone epic about two feuding magicians in Victorian England. Though it was not as good as Tolkien (ha!), Clarke’s book was a lively, imaginative tale and one of the most engrossing books of the decade. There are unforgettable images in this book, from Mr. Norrell’s amazing library of magic books, to Strange’s eternal column of darkness. Vivid and inventive, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell begs for movie treatment and for a sequel.
Iron Council (2004) – China Mieville. Mieville returns to New Crobuzon to tell a tale of anarchists who seek to change the city’s political structure but are exiled into the wastelands of Bas Lag. The story in Iron Council is almost as good as the one found in Perdido Street Station. But here, Mieville’s prose has improved. It is still uniquely thick, and cluttered with the multi-syllabic, but in Iron Council it approaches poetry.
A Princess of Roumania, The Tourmaline, The White Tyger, The Hidden World (2005-2008) – Paul Park. Together, these four books comprise the Great Roumania quartet, the best example of a multi-volume fantasy in years, maybe decades. Much was made of the first book, but by the time the fourth arrived, Park’s work was being overlooked. In fact, I don’t think any of the four books won any major awards. That’s a shame because Park fashioned one of the most original and moving fantasies I’ve ever read. In it, our world is an illusion, a story in a book. Miranda Popescu has been hidden in our pages for years, but when the book is destroyed, she returns to the real world of a nineteenth-century, Roumanian-dominated Europe, where, of course, she must fulfill her destiny. Park’s story is terrific and highly imaginative: there are vampires and shape-changers, radioactive debris and time-tunnels, and one amazing gun that fires demons as bullets! This is the fantasy series I most want to re-read. Together, these are great books, featuring some of the best cover art (by John Jude Palencar) of the decade.
Counting Heads (2005) – David Marusek. Looking for strong, heady science fiction? Look no further than the books by David Marusek. His first, Counting Heads, showcases one of the most fully-realized futures in the genre. Marusek’s work is reminiscent of Bruce Sterling in its careful extrapolations, but where Sterling sometimes lose control of his plot, Marusek spins a strong and satisfying tale, even if (as of December, 2009) it has yet to fully close. In more ways than one, Counting Heads is the future of Science Fiction.
River of Gods (2005) – Ian McDonald. Some will argue that River of Gods is the best of the decade’s science fiction novels. I’ve made the case for Harrison’s Light, but River of Gods is still an amazing accomplishment. In it, McDonald has fashioned a fascinating future India in which rogue AI’s are hunted by special police, a third gender has been biologically developed, and the skirmishes for scarce supplies of water have created a delicate and vicious political scene. River of Gods is bravura storytelling and unabashedly, joyously science fiction on every page.
Galileo’s Dream (2009) – Kim Stanley Robinson. I’ve blogged about this book just recently so I won’t write much more here, other than to say Kim Stanley Robinson has integrated two of his specialties into one book: He combines alternate history with the future of the solar system. It’s as if he folded The Years of Rice and Salt into his Mars trilogy. Amazing! Galileo’s Dream is one of Robinson’s best books, which obviously makes it one of the best of the decade.
Bonus! The Best Non-Genre Books of the Decade.
(Sorry, no time for descriptions. Though I will say that The Road is the best book (of any genre) I read this past decade. In fact, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. Some say it might be science fiction (it is post-apocalyptic). If so, consider it the best SF book of the past ten years and add it to the list above. Oh, and the Wallace title isn’t a novel (it’s a collection of essays), but, really, I’m going to make a list of best books of the 2000’s and leave Wallace off? No way!)
The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michael Chabon
Consider the Lobster – David Foster Wallace
The Plot Against America – Philip Roth
The Brief History of the Dead – Kevin Brockmeier
The Road – Cormac McCarthy
The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
The Savage Detectives – Roberto Bolaño
James Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon – Julie Phillips