Hey, this is small enough now to fit a round into one entry, with a little squeezing. You know what that means - we're very close to crowning a winner. Along the way, I expect to be thrown into fits of despondency as my favourite books of the year start to fall. I just have to remember, I did this to myself. Without further ado: Round Four!
Invisible Man vs. Altered Carbon
Winner: Invisible Man
It's an easy choice - I liked Altered Carbon well enough, but Invisible Man stands tall above it. It's one of those cases where the sheer weight and dread that various sections of Invisible Man sparked in me make it one of the most emotional reading experiences of last year. In comparison, Altered Carbon was a lot of fun.
Doomsday Book vs. Hyperion
This is a really tough one! I loved both these books, and I've written repeatedly about how emotional Doomsday Book made me. But Hyperion hit emotional buttons as well, and something else besides. It's rare to find short stories that good, and to have linked short stories this good, this creepy, this varied and yet thematic...yeah, it has to be Hyperion.
The Beautiful Mystery vs. Chess Story
Winner: The Beautiful Mystery
Strange. Last time, I picked Chess Story over the book I thoroughly enjoyed, because it was so powerful. And it might still be more powerful than The Beautiful Mystery, but still, I'm not picking it this time. The trauma might be different, and lesser, but in The Beautiful Mystery, it was happening to characters I'd known for years. And the mystery surrounding it was great.
Deathless vs. Bleak House
Another relief - a relatively easy choice. Love Dickens, but Bleak House is far from my favourite. And for books that nestled close inside me, it's hard to top Deathless. It's like Catherynne Valente has a checklist of the elements I like best, and wrote a beautiful legend around them. And Stalinist house-elves.
Half-Blood Blues vs. The Lies of Locke Lamora
Winner: The Lies of Locke Lamora
Another case where there were two books I really enjoyed, but the nerd in me wanted to go with The Lies of Locke Lamora, and I'm in the habit of listening to my inner nerd. Half-Blood Blues is a really strong book, and I liked it a lot. But I loved The Lies of Locke Lamora. Only slightly fantasy (although it feels like it will get more fantasy as I get to later books?), it's rollicking, enjoyable, and later, devastating.
All Quiet on the Western Front vs. Pandemonium
I have to keep reminding myself that this isn't a "best" book tournament, but rather, a contest to figure out my favourite book of the year. And hence, I feel okay knocking out what is objectively a better and more important book for one that I just enjoyed the hell out of. (I realize this is something I'm not consistent on - it changes from book to book.) So, sorry Great War soldier's tale. It's going to the demons this time.
Joyland vs. The Violent Bear It Away
All right, The Violent Bear It Away is finally up against a book that is good enough to allow my discomfort with some of the subject material to knock it out of the competition. I stand by the other parts of the book as truly shaking and wonderful. But Joyland, while not a literary classic, hit just the right notes of elegiac romanticization of early adulthood combined with a mystery, a tiny bit of supernatural, and the joys and pleasures of working at a job to give people a fun time.
Foundation and Empire vs. Kushiel's Dart
Winner: Kushiel's Dart
Apparently I like the sex-ridden fantasies more than the science fiction classics. In this case, anyway. But more than that, I like the way sex is handled in this book. It's not my particular taste, but it's not exploitative, and weaves into the story in fascinating ways. Plus, the main character is thoroughly engaging, and the ways in which she is pressed into unexpected service were interesting. I do like Foundation and Empire, but today, I'm not feeling it quite as much.
Luka and the Fire of Life vs. Perdido Street Station
Winner: Luka and the Fire of Life
Oh, why did I ever start this crazy tournament? This is exactly the kind of match that tears my heart out! No matter which one I eliminate, it's going to leave me sore and emotionally bruised to let one of these go, as I loved both of them. Luka and the Fire of Life is gloriously, joyfully messy and painful. Perdido Street Station is vivid, grimy, and painful. So which do I pick? In the end, I'm going to go for the life-affirming craziness of Luka and the Fire of Life over the more bleak Perdido Street Station, but make no mistake. This is one of the closest match-ups so far, and Perdido Street Station holds a special place in my heart.