World Fantasy Convention 2006, Austin, Texas: Year’s Best Fantasy

The books listed here were listed by the panelists at the World Fantasy Convention 2006 panel “Year’s Best Fantasy”. These are books that were published in 2005-2006. The panelists were SF/F writers, editors, and booksellers (Alan Beatts). I wrote some of their names down, but not others. Thus, some of the book suggestions below are attributed to unknown panelists 1, 2 and 3.

Books recommended by an unknown panelist 1

James Morrow The Last Witchfinder. A great book, characters are really alive. Isn’t as satirical as James Morrow stuff usually is, which I think is good.

(The “I” in the sentence above was a panelist whose name I unfortunately didn’t write down — E.)

Paul Park Tourmaline isn’t as good as [its prequel] Princess of Roumania, but it’s pretty good. They are going to be classics some day. Great classics sell over time, not in one day. [The unknown panelist who said this compared Paul Park to Gene Wolfe or John Crowley.] Those are complex books with very interesting writing. I love Tim Powers. He can put Albert Einstein with Charlie Chaplin together and make them sound reasonable.

James Tiptree biography is the best nonfiction book of the year.


Terry Dowling Basic Black

(Interestingly, Amazon shows that this collection was published in 2009, but perhaps that wasn’t the first edition? — E.)

Gene Wolfe story collection Strange Birds. The stories are really dark.

Margo Lanagan Red Spikes, a terrific collection. There is a story there called Pig’s Whisper. It’s kind of gruesome. It has a lot of references to Australian classic children stories.

(This panelist also mentioned at least one other writer whose first name may or may not have been Mary, but none of the fantasy authors named Mary that I’m aware of had story collections out that year or plus/minus a year.

Overall, book recommendation panels at the SF/F conventions in Austin used to be a comical case of broken phone, until the panelists started writing author names and book titles down. I take credit for this improvement, since I asked the organizers to do that. Unfortunately, it was another few years until they started doing that. It is nearly impossible to get an author name or a book title right when you are sitting in the audience and a panelist rattles it off in passing. This is especially true if you never heard of the author they are talking about. — E.)

Books recommended by Alan Beatts

David Keck In the Eye of Heaven

Alan Beatts. [It’s the author’s] first novel, has a little bit of middle section pacing problems, which you sometimes see in people’s first novels. But it’s a really nice treatment of a relatively traditional feudal society, very tightly bound by the rules of chivalry, but completely absent of Christian influence. There is a young knight, who is a bad position, there isn’t a place he’s gonna fit. It’s bad for a person who was raised in a society like that. It has a very light supernatural magical element to it, which is very lightly done, which is something I appreciate a lot.

Sergey Lukyanenko Nightwatch

Alan Beatts. Initially I wasn’t going to stock it, because I thought it was a media tie-in, and I have a snotty attitude about such things, but it wasn’t because somebody pointed out that the movie came second, and the book first. And then my 13-yer-old daughter started reading it, and said it was very good. I was bored, I started to read it and didn’t give it back. It was “Nightwatch” by Sergey Lukyanenko. It’s the best novel I’ve ever read that comes from a premise that there are wizards and a magic world, and there is a war between two different factions of wizards, vampires, shapeshifters. It is hands down the best thing I’ve read in this subgenre. And the translation into English is phenomenal.

Glen Cook Dread Empire series

Alan Beatts. I have never read Glen Cooks’s Dread Empire novels, and I cracked one open 3 days before heading out for this convention, and was flabbergasted that I missed them. They were absolutely outstanding. They were written under a strong influence of Fritz Leiber.

Below: Delia Sherman and Alan Beatts

World Fantasy Convention 2006: hallway conversation after the Best Fantasy of the Year panel
CIMG4273 Delia Sherman and Alan Beatts

Recommendations by other panelists

Unknown panelist 2. I think The Last Witchfinder [by James Morrow] was very good and very funny.

If someone doesn’t share Charlie’s aversion to dragons, [I recommend] Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon.

Ian Mcleod House of Storms

Ian Mcleod is an extraordinary writer. House of Storms is just sort of Victorian England with magic taking the place of coal, it’s is wonderful book. Why has it sold so few copies?

Unknown panelist 3. It has been a very good year for fantasy. We got some extraordinary writers who are starting out, but they have lots of promise.

Joe Hill Heart-Shaped Box. A supernatural thriller, horror by any other name. That’s [coming out] next year.

Scott Lynch The Lies of Locke Lamora

This year one of the books that’s taken Britain by storm was a young American writer Scott Lynch, The Lies of Locke Lamora. It did extraordinarily well in Britain.

Tom Lloyd The Storm Caller

Joe Abercrombie The Blade Itself

[These are very] different writers, taking very different aspects of fantasy, and doing exceptional job. The one who stands out by being the most accomplished for a first writer, and the reaction we got from foreign editors as well. He took off running. (I’m not sure which of the two she was talking about — E.)

A panelist named Charlie. (I didn’t write down his last name, and I’m not sure if it’s the Charlie from FACT that I know, although it could have been him, since he is a frequent panelist on book recommendation panels. And apparently he has an aversion to dragons, as indicated by another panelist above. — E.)

Charlie Stross The Jenifer Morgue

One of my favorites was Charlie Stross The Jenifer Morgue, which is James Bond Lovecraftian takeoff. He’s very good at really capturing James Bond in this one. It’s obvious he loves mysteries, and he can capture them, and add Lovecraft too.

China Mieville Un Lun Dun

How about China Mieville’s YA book Un Lun Dun that has just appeared? It’s a pun on London. China Mieville has gone on record 4-5 times stating that he hates whimsy, but this is a very whimsical book. Who would have thought he could think like a little kid? Maybe that’s wrong. Maybe he is a little kid.

[Charlie remembers another book.] An art book. It has no text. it’s a pop-up book of monsters. It’s wonderful. 6 pages of pop-up monsters. I loved it. It brought out the 6-year-old in me.

Below: Ellen Datlow and Alan Beatts

World Fantasy Convention 2006: Best Fantasy of the Year panel
CIMG4263 Ellen Datlow and Alan Beatts

Ellen Datlow. A few more collections.

Jeffrey Ford Empire of Ice Cream collection. He has one original there, called “Botch Town”

Conrad Williams The Unblemished is supposed to be brilliant.

Alan Beatts. I would add my vote to the Naomi Novik’s series, especially the first book, His Majesty’s Dragon. One of the things I like best about it, is that a protagonist is a naval officer, and his ship just captured an egg, and the egg hatched on board, and the dragon picks them, and the protagonist is crushed. He won’t be able to get married, because a dragon would not tolerate a spouse.

[Another book whose author or title I didn’t catch — E.] Imagine a civil war. [There is a conflict between two ships.] One powered by a wood element, but the other is powered by an Aztec demon that operates on human sacrifice. Throw in an ilegal govenrment in Nicaragua, and you have a pretty good story.

An art book: Cover Story by John Picacio. He discusses the genesis of each illustration, and what his working process is. It’s also an interesting peek inside John’s mind and how he goes from original conception to finished art.

Unknown panelist 2. You can’t talk about the year in fantasy without talking about vampires and the paranormal. Charlaine Harris is here with us. Couple of first novels: Greywalker by Kat Richardson, and Touch the Dark by Karen Chance, it’s full of very interesting historical characters.