Authors Note: This post was written in late 2009. Looking back on this list, I’d change a few things, but I mostly agree with the posts. I plan on writing a new top ten list of the decade before this year is over.
Finals are finally over, for the next three weeks I’m resigning myself to a life of intellectual atrophy. No more essays, no more tests, and no more labs.
This has been a decade of upheaval with the recent US elections, Middle Eastern Wars and Financial crisis’ that has brought out a great decade for books. Since I’ve only got a fourteen day window to put this out and I haven’t seen anybody else doing this sort of thing I’ve decided to compile a list (you’re probably thinking “Christ not another one!”). A list of what I thought to be the top ten books of this decade. Enjoy and feel free to give me some feedback on what I possibly missed out over the past ten years and scoff at my poor taste.
10. Boy Toy by Barry Lyga (2007) – A Young Adult Novel written during the height of the female teacher scandals that occurred in Middle America, Boy Toy tells the story of Josh Mendel a 12-year-old seventh grader who is sexually abused by his attractive History Teacher Eve. Though the story begins during Josh’s senior year in high school, several years after Eve’s arrest, the story comes to the reader in the form of flashbacks detailing the events of his original crush on Eve leading up to her manipulation of and abuse of Josh. For a Young Adult Novel it covers a very adult issue having to do with sexual abuse and if it wasn’t for the controversy surrounding this book, I probably would’ve have neither heard of it nor picked it up. Despite the media hype (orchestrated or not) built up around this novel it covered an all too familiar issue that involved a switching of gender roles. Both risky moves on the authors part, but allowed a unique kind of story to be told here, which helped restored my faith in the YA genre, proving that it’s not just reserved for high school angst dramas and vampires.
9. Anathem by Neal Stephenson (2008) – A good example of world building in sci-fi if I’ve seen any, Anathem tells the story of the unique world (known as the planet Abre) that is ruled by a technologically advanced Theocratic-Republic world body. All forms of intellectual pursuit are considered heretical. Reading is deemed antisocial and in other parts of the world illegal and the citizenry’s only form of stimulation is watching television, surfing the net or embracing a Christian style of religion dominate on Abre. Those that are considered “antisocial” or “Heretics” are placed in small monastery-like communes around Abre, where advanced technology of all forms is forbidden and priest-like professors are allowed to practice the arts of math, the sciences and of course read. However, trouble on Abre is brewing when a giant spaceship like colony comes within Abre’s orbit and begins to disrupt the planets communications and kills a high ranking religious leader that attempts to make contact with the alien race. Enter Fra Erasmas, a young academic priest, together with a team of those assembled inside and outside the communes that are tasked with understanding and neutralizing of the threat orbiting above them. Anathem is a great globe-trotting adventure, which combines the elements of math and meta-physics throughout the story. The only major drawback is that it is a near 1000 page novel (and the main story doesn’t even begin until around 350!) making it a very slow read for some people. The book also comes with its own glossary of words since the inhabitance of Abre have their own slang and words for certain devices (a cellphone for example is instead called a Jejay). A great Stephenson novel, but not the most accessible novel and certainly not recommended for first time readers of Stephenson.
8. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer (2001) – Another YA novel on this list was one of my favorite fantasy series during my middle school years (please don’t kill me J.K Rowling D: !). Artemis Fowl is a 12-year-old genius living in Ireland and heir to a vast criminal empire after the disappearance of his father before the events of the novel. Hoping to bolster the family fortune and gain enough wealth to begin searching for his dad Artemis devises a plan to extort gold from the inhabitants of New Heaven, the last refuge of fairy kind, hidden deep underground and away from human eyes. To do this Artemis and his dangerous bodyguard Butler capture a prominent fairy. One who is part of a special team tasked with maintaining law and order in New Heaven and help preserve the city’s secrecy from human society Captain Holly Short. After Artemis secures Holly in his Fortress like Manor it becomes a game of siege and cat and mouse as Holly’s superiors try to retrieve her and capture Artemis while Holly tries to escape Fowl Manor and overcome Artemis’ psychological mind games. The sequels (up until the third book anyway) aren’t too bad either.
7. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006) – Considered by many critics to be the man’s best work, The Road tells a story of a Father and his son (simply named The Man and The Boy) as they traverse a post-apocalyptic world where the sun has been blotted out and all vegetation has rotted away. It’s not clear whether this world is the product of an ecological disaster or a meteor, but that quickly becomes irrelevant. All of your attention is placed in the Father armed with a revolver with only three bullets and his Son as they try to make their way to the coast in the hopes that the last bit of civilization left is there with food and shelter. This has to be one of the bleakest books I’ve ever read, the detail that McCarthy devotes to describing the landscape (“black snow over grey fog, not a single leave on a tree…”) and the fact that the two are constantly on the run from cannibals makes you wonder why these two keep going. However, at the heart of the story is one about a Father teaching his son how to survive and the Son trying to preserve what little humanity that is left in his cynical benefactor. It is a great novel and well worth the read, but it is a book that seems it was only meant to be read once.
6. Pattern Recognition by William Gibson (2003) – The father of cyberpunk made a splash with this book back in 2003 when he released this and proved to me that science fiction can be set in the world of the contemporary. Pattern Recognition is the story about Cayce Pollard a marketing consultant for Blue Ant, who has an allergic reaction to brands and logos, is tasked with finding a person that is responsible for uploading a set of bizarre promotional videos onto the internet. Her adventure takes her from London to Tokyo and ending in Moscow as the videos hold the key to not only helping her mysterious employer’s earn lots of money, but also a group of NGOs whose motives are not at all clear and in some cases not even human, but both don’t mind using Cayce as a pawn to help reach their goals.
5. Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan by Jake Adelstein (2009) – One can say that over the past few years there has been a glut in the market on documentary style books on Japan that consist mostly of poking fun at the inherent weirdness (panty vending machines and people marrying anime characters to name a few) of the country or are some self-help-spiritually-lacking-American-finds-himself-in-Japan crap that you could open a library in the genres honor. This one however, I can say is a wonderful exception. A book that has given poor gaigin like myself a glimpse into the world of crime and punishment in the city of Tokyo. In Tokyo Vice, Adelstein with an eye for detail and with a hardboiled sensibility, writes of his exploits as a reporter working for the prestigious national newspaper Yomiuri Shinbun during the 1990s as he worked with Japanese police officers and detailed their often dangerous and yet quid-pro-quo relationship with the Yakuza. It’s a story that not only covers what it’s like to be often the only Caucasian in a newsroom but also the limitations of the Japanese police department and their inability to combat the Yakuza, partially due to the consequences of the post WWII treaties made with the United States.
4. Genshiken by Kio Shimoku (2003) – A Japanese manga (or comic book) series which brought me to the attention of the anime fan Otaku sub-culture and how I got drawn into this whole mess. Genshiken tells the story of Kanji Sasahara a freshman in college as he gets drawn into the world of the Otaku (nerd) culture of video games, anime and manga. It is one of the few slice of life comedies to make it here in the States where the author knows how to bring laughter on both ends of the Pacific. Spanning eight volumes, Sasahara and his misfit friends deal with the world of fanboyism, maintaining relationships with other women, the finer points of Model Kit assembly and the odd world of erotic fan fiction (yeah…they do go there). It’s a series that may not be for everyone, but there are guaranteed laughs to be found here and has a great sitcom like vibe (and I mean that in a good way) that will make you want to jump to the next volume as soon as you’re finished with the first one.
3. Market Forces by Richard Morgan (2005) – A story of Laissez-Faire economics gone horribly wrong and set in 2049 London during a worldwide economic depression known as the “Domino Recessions.” Market Forces follows the main character Chris Faulkner who has just earned his way into a coveted position in the company of Shorn and Associates. The company specializes in a service known as Conflict Investment, where the company picks a third world country going through civil unrest chooses a side and backs them with money, weapons and logistical support in return for a cut of the nations GDP after the war is over. However, as Chris learns in this nightmarish dystopia if you want to keep your job you’ll also have to be willing to beat out your competition, even it means killing your colleagues on the way to work. What follows is a story revolving around a guerilla war in Colombia, Chris’ wife Carla who wants to get both of them out of Shorn, a female news reporter who wants more than just an interview from Chris and the Shorn executives who want to keep Chris and his impressive kill record right where he is. Market Forces is a modern day fable, showing the reader that in a world where profits and resources are the ultimate end, nobody is an angel.
2. Jennifer Government by Max Barry (2003) – When it comes to the literary world there aren’t enough Femme Fatals in publishing, Max Barry changed all of that when he released this gem of a novel taking place in a slightly more upbeat corporate-dystopia. This satire takes place in the near future where the United States through military or economic strong arming has taken over all of North and South America, South Asia, Russia, the U.K, Japan and Australia (newly acquired) and effectively making them U.S territories while economically quarantining the so called “Socialist” or “Economically Risky” nations. In this future all taxes have been abolished, the U.S government’s power has been completely stripped of its judicial and military authority leaving both to be completely privatized and everyone’s surname is that of the company they work for. Hack Nike isn’t the most competent or the most confident employee, but when his superior John Nike promises Hack a higher post, it become an offer he can’t refused. However, after signing a contract without reading it, Hack becomes an unwitting volunteer to commit murder in order to increase the street cred of Nike’s latest shoe line. Things only get worse of Hack as he then incurs the wrath of the notorious Jennifer Government, known for her taste in small arms and a barcode tattoo under her right eye. In this explosive globe trotting adventure Jennifer must leave her comfy home in Melbourne in order to protect Hack from John Nike as he sends the Police and the NRA (both now for-profit mercenary groups) to kill his only witness, but for Jennifer it’s just another day on the job. At the same time two of the world’s largest corporate conglomerates, US Alliance and Team Advantage are preparing for an all war over control of the greatest cash boon imaginable: credit card holders. Jennifer Government is a slightly funnier take on the scenario of capitalism-gone-too-far compared to Market Forces and is able to keep a balance of comic relief and seriousness throughout.
1. Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan (2002) – Having this guy on this list twice should probably be against the rules, but for my money, he deserves these spots in the top three. Altered Carbon was Mr. Morgan’s first novel and showed me that William Gibson isn’t the only author who can write cyberpunk. Set during the mid-26th century, humans have mastered interstellar travel and the ability to digitize the mind. This allows personalities and a lifetimes worth of memories to be stored or copied into processing units known as “Stacks” and can be inserted or “Sleeved” into new bodies (physically or remotely using interstellar communication), effectively ending the notion of death for those that can afford it. For the UN however, the process of sleeving has turned into an effective tool in order to clamp down and maintain dominance over the growing prescience of newly taraformed colonies. For Takeshi Kovacs, a UN Envoy, bred and designed in the arts of charismatic persuasion and combat it’s he and others like him who get the call when a colony is thrown into a state revolutionary fervor. Kovacs after being discharged is killed on Harlan’s World after a run in with the local cops, but finds himself resleeved in a new handsome body on Earth and is flown to San Francisco on request by the seemingly immortal and very wealthy Laurens Bancroft who’s in need of a private investigator. Bancroft came home one night, blew his head off with a gun destroying his stack, but had a remote back-up ready with the only inconvenience being that he’s lost the past 48 hours of his memory. However, Laurens doesn’t buy the official story and it’s up to Kovacs to find out what happened during that 48 period and find the person that murdered Bancroft. From there the story takes an interesting turn as Kovacs explores the criminal underbelly of America’s West Coast for answers revealing dark secrets to Bancroft’s past, the person who once the owned the body that he’s now in possession of and running into an old comrade turned enemy. It’s a story that brings up an interesting question: in a world where the human body is just as disposable as the mind, is our existence nothing more than a commodity to be traded with? And can the mind even tell what is and isn’t reality in a world where the digital and the real flow seamlessly together? Morgan manages to bring these questions to light as we follow Kovacs through death, inner demons and eventually closure in this noir-styled sci-fi mystery. Morgan does something here in this novel that is hard to do: make familiar ground in the world of science fiction fresh again, which is why I feel Altered Carbon deserves the number one spot.
Happy Holidays and feel free to post what you thought were the best books to come out this decade.