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Tis the Season for Yet Another Best-Of List

 Yep, it's that time of year where people break out all those year's-best lists, and I'm not going to be an exception.  So I'm posting the best books I've read this year, but these are not necessarily the best that came out this year.  My free reading time has been shorter than usual this last year, and even when I have more time I can't keep up with all the books coming out.  This, then, is just the best books I've read this year.  As you'll notice, some of these are older.  In the case of the first one, many decades older.

6.) The Rolling Stones by Robert Heinlein

I know sci-fi fans may shun me for this, but I've never read much Heinlein.  My first effort was Stranger in a Strange Land, and when I couldn't get into that I simply assumed Heinlein wasn't for me and didn't bother with any of his other books for years.  The I gave him another try with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and became hooked.  Since then I've been slowly working my way through his stuff.  This book may seem like a strange choice for my best reads of the year, but out of the Heinlein works I read this year this is one that felt like it had the most charm.  It's somewhat dated, and is basically just a boy's adventure novel, but I grew to love the episodic adventures of the Family Stone and found myself rather depressed when the book was over.  This book just made me feel like a kid again, and I kind of wish I had read it while I was growing up.

5.) As the World Dies: The First Days by Rhiannon Frater

I'm not just including this book because I know Rhiannon.  I know a bunch of writers, but this one stood out enough to be included as one of the best things I read all year.  At first you may be tempted to dismiss this as yet another zombie apocalypse, been there done that.  Except this one has something key that many books in the zombie genre tend to miss: dead-on characterization.  It's also one of the rare zombie novels with strong female characters.  Rhiannon's writing style also flows very smoothly, making this one read very quickly.  The self published edition is no longer available, but the new Tor addition will be available some time in 2011.

4.) Under the Dome by Stephen King

I've heard that some people don't necessarily agree with me on this one, but I don't care.  King has been writing so many books for so long that it's inevitable that he would release a few stinkers, but lately it had seemed like the stinkers were outnumbering the gems.  This book was the return to form I had been hoping for from him.  This book, large enough to be a murder weapon, had the sort of epic feel and quirky cast of characters I had been missing from Mister King, and I was even able to deal with the ending (something King is notorious for fumbling).  It felt like I was finally reading the same writer I had fallen in love with as a teenager.

3.) The Android's Dream by John Scalzi

I've always loved reading Scalzi's highly entertaining blog, but it wasn't until recently that I finally got around to reading his fiction.  While I've enjoyed all the books I've picked up from him so far, this one stands out.  The opening chapter is one of the best hooks I've ever read in a book, with a man accidentally assassinating an alien diplomat with a fart.  From there the books goes on to all sorts of wonderful twists.  It's also a book that knows its audience probably knows its stuff when it comes to science fiction and give a lot of winking nudges and in-jokes for the sci-fi community, ranging from the book's title itself to the slightly familiar religion started by a huckstering sci-fi writer.  The only bad thing about this book is that Scalzi hasn't yet gotten around to the sequel.

2.) Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry

I mentioned earlier that Stephen King hasn't seemed in top form in recent years, but even his less-than-stellar books are nothing compared to some of the dreck people have produced while trying to imitate his "horror in a small town with lots of characters" format.  Maberry, on the other hand, does it with perfection in this book.  The characters are solid and the book is deep with engaging subplots.  It's the first of a trilogy, but I've haven't yet gotten my hands on the other two.  I can only hope they live up to this one.

And my favorite book that I read this year is:

1.) Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson

I mentioned that The Rolling Stones was a boy's adventure novel, and this one often seems to have that same quality except that it's far more meaty.  I've also heard that it's essentially a retelling of Gore Vidal's Julian, but since I've never read that one I'll just have to take everyone's word for it for now.  The book is very steampunkish in that it takes place in a future America that more closely resembles America of the nineteenth century, which is what drew me to the book in the first place.  What made me actually finish it, however, is the wonderful detail, the engaging characters, and best of all the fully fleshed out post-oil world that is now dominated by religious zealots.  I found the end to be somewhat predictable, but at its heart the book is a tragedy and there are only so many ways a tragedy can end.  I highly recommend this book.