Snow Crash vs. Cetaganda
Winner: Snow Crash
So, my favourite Neal Stephenson so far (out of two, and I had major issues with Cryptonomicon) or my least favourite Lois McMaster Bujold? (Out of three or four.) Cetaganda was still a lot of fun, but lacked some of the fire of her Vorkosigan books I've liked more. And the ideas behind Snow Crash were a lot of fun. I can't say it was my favourite book of the year, but this take on neurolinguistics and pizza delivery wins out.
A Bigamist's Daughter vs. Gypsies
Another one of those where the science fiction mediocre book wins out over the mundane mediocrity. Gypsies is far from Robert C. Wilson's best, but this world-hopping fantasy at least held my attention more than single women 1980s angst in New York City.
Double Act vs. Pandemonium
It's so rare that you read something that feels genuinely new and innovative, and so I am happy to award this match to Pandemonium. Double Act was young adult, and fine but unexciting. Pandemonium, on the other hand, gave me a world full of demonic possession, but recognizable demons with recognizable patterns of possession. What were they and why? Fascinating.
Joyland vs. The Native Star
Perhaps only the second Stephen King novel I've ever read (no horror for me, thanks. Can't deal with it, enjoy sleeping too much.) And it was a good one. This is much less a mystery than it is a meditation on growing up. And that easily lifted it above the California vaguely steampunky fantasy that is The Native Star
The Affinity Bridge vs. Tau Zero
Winner: The Affinity Bridge
Usually, I'd expect Poul Anderson to win. But Tau Zero was curiously bloodless, and while provocative, also a little boring. The Affinity Bridge was far from a masterpiece, but its steampunk was at least more interesting, even though it took until the final pages of the book for one character to really make an impression.