Amazon UK Best-Of SF/F List: What’s Center Genre?

Amazon UK just posted their best-of SF/F list for the year, as reported by SF Signal. For comparison purposes here’s the US list, with commentary on 1-5 and 6-10. For the US list, I put together a list of recomendations, and then the final list is compiled after consultation with Amazon editors and with consideration of recommendations coming back from them—same as, for example, their comics best-of list, which is compiled by their comics expert and used to include some of my recommendations when I was reading and featuring graphic novels for Amazon’s book blog.

I’m fairly sure that just as the US list can only include books published in the US in 2010, the UK list probably can only be books published in the UK in 2010. This means both lists will have some books that couldn’t be considered by the folks putting together the other list. There are two books on their list I haven’t read but which I believe have not yet been published in the US. (Just as a reader, though, my immediate reaction would be: What?! No Charles Yu [Atlantic]? No Zoo City by Beukes? [Angry Robot], etc.)

Anyway, there’s been some discussion at io9, both positive and negative, about the US list. All of it makes me wonder again about the center of genre, and the center of the genre book culture, and the role of the blogosphere in all of that. Because the two lists—trying to look at them as an impartial observer—largely look like they come from two different worlds. (Another aspect of that is: when I see a book title or author I don’t recognize on a year’s best list, my immediate reaction isn’t usually “WTF”, but instead, “Excellent! A chance to find some new, shiny thing that I might love.”)

And also: this is why it’s important to have so many different year’s best lists, coming from different perspectives.

15 comments on “Amazon UK Best-Of SF/F List: What’s Center Genre?

  1. Mark Gerrits says:

    Your list made me buy 5 new books, Jeff, I don’t know of any bigger compliment :)

  2. I was thrilled to see Charles Yu and Nnedi Okorafor on there. Currently reading Jemisin’s novel and loving it. Great list!

  3. Thanks.

    Thinking about it further, it might also be that there is no center to genre anymore, and that de-centralization and further fragmentation is the best thing that could happen to it. Contamination and cross-pollination and many shining cities on a hill rather than one mega-city.


  4. Thank you for this intriguing post. I often wonder how these things work, so it’s great to hear from someone on the inside.

    I think the US list looks vastly more interesting. The UK one looks more like a sales chart, and while I’m sure there are plenty of great books there (Kraken is the only one I’ve read, so I can’t really judge), so many of them are from series that they don’t look hugely attractive to someone who hasn’t read the first however-many. Ugh, that sounds a bit snobby, which isn’t my intent.

    The US list has books that sound much more original and much more interesting as books rather than purely as genre books. For people like me and I suspect a good few others who read blogs like this, these look like books that show off what ‘genre’ can do – what can make it great. The sort of books you name when you’re trying to explain to someone that no, science fiction isn’t just spaceploitation tat with ‘Star’ at the front, and fantasy isn’t just Dan Brown with wizards.

    The idea of ‘centre-genre’ is new to me, and I’m not sure I like the sound of it. Very much inclined to agree with the lovely statement about ‘many shining cities on a hill rather than one mega-city’. Genre should be a way of categorising and comparing and so on, not a way of isolating and separating. As far as I can tell, the irritating casual contempt for genres has only sprung up since genres like science fiction started to become alternatives to another genre called literature, rather than merely part of literature.

    I also suspect (or maybe just hope) that the US list is more useful from Amazon’s perspective, as a bookseller. After all, don’t series appeal more to people who already read them? I’m sure the books on the US list will sell fewer copies, but the UK ones will sell quite a few anyway. I haven’t a clue how markets and whatnot work, but I can’t imagine it would hurt Amazon to sell a wider variety of books. The UK ones I’d either heard of or sounded like they’d been written before, whereas the US ones had me clicking for more information, purely out of curiosity. And for people interested in big-series books like Wheel of Time, I’d guess that whether or not it’s only a top-ten list is fairly irrelevant.

  5. Thanks for your comments. There was no discussion about the list before it went live that mentioned sales or a particular strategy–just the note that it’d been an exceptional year for hard-to-define works of genre fiction.

    My particular heresy might be in seeing the “boundary” between genre and “literary” (and fantasy and realism) as porous and crackling with communication back and forth. I think we sometimes allow the ways in which books are marketed, and what I call “incidents of birth” as to how a book winds up being published by a particular type of imprint, to influence us too much as to their true nature.

  6. If that is a heresy then I’d gladly be excommunicated.

    I’m very glad there are people like you who are both writing books and writing about books who take that kind of angle. Also glad that Amazon (in a financy/managery sense) didn’t feel the need to insist on a direction to take – I like that they’re willing to trust the people who write (and read) for them.

    Marketing, so often where it all starts to go wrong…

  7. Kenny Cross says:

    I had to laugh (in a good way) that the three top books on the UK list were the three hardcovers I bought on Wednesday – books I had been waiting for for one reason or other for some time. One of the three, the new CULTURE novel, doesn’t surprise me being on this list. The new Wheel of Time kind of surprises me – not if it was on a list of best selling sci-fi/fantasy or most anticipated – but best of 2010? As a life-long Donaldson fan the new Covenant novel is one I personally was looking forward to (I’m the only person I know who read the Thomas Covenant series before I ever read Tolkien) – but I’m the only person I know who still reads Stephen R. Donaldson.

    I totally agree about the best of lists for sci-fi/fantasy. I look forward to the lists with names on it I don’t recognize. More books to go out and buy and read and hopefully find a new author I come to love. What is interesting about the two lists is that you’d expect the U.S. list to have more ‘fan friendly’ names on it and the UK list to have names that you have to scratch your head over instead of the other way around.

    As a person who loves best of/worst of/ type lists I always find them fascinating. Always a great topic of conversation.

  8. Jeff,

    I bet you enjoyed the following statement from zephram1 on io9:

    ‘This seems to be mostly Jeff Vandermeer plugging his own brand of pretentious, staid & “worthy” writing.’

    Always nice to be appreciated!


  9. Abigail says:

    It seems obvious that very little, if any, editorial discretion went into Amazon UK’s list. It looks more like another customers’ favorites list. While I can see why a reader looking for a more traditional type of genre work would be frustrated by your list (and while your taste and mine don’t always line up), I appreciate the fact that your list is clearly the result of an editor’s work. It’s not an Amazon list, really – I think I would have detected your hand in it even if I hadn’t known that you were behind it – and good for you for having such a huge megaphone from which to champion your favorite books and promote a slightly different take on genre writing.

  10. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Well, again, it’s the result of editorial input from Amazon too. I’m hopeful there will be a cross-genre or “hard to categorize” books list next year in addition to the SF/F list and that the bestseller/reader list will be perhaps more culled/differentiated. The combination of those things might provide further balance.

  11. Sam M-B says:

    Hm. My problem here is not a critical dislike of this awesome variety/setup for cross-pollination, but perhaps an overdue acceptance/mourning of the loss of “canon” — I don’t read enough to read the 50 books which scatter across 10 top 5 lists. All 50 books may actually be great; but there’s something missed in having read things in common with people you meet, to talk about, to share memory of. I want to talk to people about Finch and The Magicians and Perdido Street Station and American Gods and, even those these are amazing books and at least 3 of those are quite widely read in genre terms :) the common readership has both fragmented in some sense (when will I get to The Orange Eats Creeps or The Golden Age or even Yu’s book? The Dervish House? I don’t know…) but also concentrated elsewhere in NYT mega-bestsellers Sanderson/Martin/etc.

    Anyway, taking the plunge today and starting Who Fears Death. I should probably keep catching up with 2009 (The City and the City in particular) but, hopefully, there’ll be time for that, right?

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