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Analyzing the ABBC: Speculative Fiction 2011

Let’s continue looking at the top vote-getters in the 2011 ABBC, today examining the speculative fiction category. I’ll focus on the top four, perhaps returning to this category at a later date, as it seems to be receiving more attention than ever in this year’s best-of-the-year lists and awards. As usual, the latest full ABBC spreadsheet, which now contains over 1,500 2011-published books that have received mention , is available via my other blogging home, WRL’s Blogging for a Good Book.

Haruki Murakami’s parallel worlds epic 1Q84 has received 21 mentions to date, putting it in a tie for the best reviewed book in the speculative fiction category. It follows a young woman who begins noticing oddities in her world and a young writer working on a mysterious ghostwriting project. As their worlds unravel, the reader discovers connections between their experiences. The 925 pages of this novel (it was published in three parts in Japan) make it a challenging choice for book groups, but those who persevere will experience a poignant romance, a hearty dose of dystopia, and enough mental gymnastics to keep their minds spinning for some time to come. This is probably the masterwork by one of our most important contemporary writers.

Erin Morgenstern has also received 21 best-of-the-year mentions for The Night Circus, a novel about two young magicians, each surrogates for a powerful behind-the-scenes figure, who compete in a magical battle in the black-and-white tents of Le Cirque des Rêves. Marco and Celia fall in love, which creates complications as the contest proceeds. Written in a highly descriptive style and with many viewpoint characters, this will appeal to readers who like lush, poetic language and beautiful, creative images but may prove frustrating for those who demand linear storytelling.

Stephen King’s latest 11/22/63 is in third place with 14 best-books mentions so far. It’s the story of a high school teacher who finds a portal back to 1958 and becomes involved in a plan to prevent the Kennedy assassination. At 849 pages, this is another tough one for book groups to crack, but it is King, and that means that the pages go quickly, full of romance, Americana, and thrills. The many pop culture references to the early 1960s will make the novel especially fun for groups with readers who remember the time period.

The fourth book in the speculative fiction list is George R. R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons, just one mention behind King’s book with 13 votes to date. We’re five books into A Song of Ice and Fire, and this latest is 1016 pages. While the series is a personal favorite, book groups can’t tackle its length easily or jump into this fifth book without having read the first four. Instead, if you want to try it, I recommend that you address the series as a whole. Each reader can focus on the spot where they currently are in the series, or even just sample the HBO series Game of Thrones which is relatively loyal to the first book (though perhaps more focused on its tawdry aspects). You’ll find plenty to talk about in discussing Martin’s style without needing to divulge many key plot points.

More analysis of this and other categories from the ABBC will follow throughout the month of February. Stay tuned as I keep working to compile the votes.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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