He, She, and It vs. Raising Stony Mayhall
Winner: Raising Stony Mayhall
I liked He, She, and It quite a bit, when the protagonist wasn't being frustratingly obtuse. There are interesting things here about community, capitalism, and parenthood. But they don't come close to the ideas that fly through every page of Raising Stony Mayhall. I don't want to like zombie books! But I do like this one. Daryl Gregory is quickly rising to the top of my list for the way he takes an idea and then keeps pushing it one step further, without ever losing sight of his plot or characters. So the metaphysical implications of zombies melds perfectly with a son trying to save his family while not getting himself killed. Again.
A Civil Campaign vs. Dark Places
Winner: A Civil Campaign
I think Dark Places is a better book than the one Gillian Flynn got all the attention for, Gone Girl. It's creepy, the characters are unlikeable, and it's largely about how those facts shouldn't mean that people who make us uncomfortable shouldn't get justice. However. However. It is set beside Miles Vorkosigan at his most manic. I am a sucker for Miles all the time, and discovering this series has been one of the great joys of the last couple of years. But when he's manic and panicking? Sign me up a million times. Miles falls in love and it is delightful.
The Clearing vs. Throne of Jade
Winner: The Clearing
These two books were both a little slow-paced, one because of a long sea voyage with dragons, the other because it's a quiet examination of trauma and justice in a logging town deep in the swamps. This time, the dragons don't win out. I liked Throne of Jade, but The Clearing was a deeper, more interesting book. The effects of war, of killing, and the slow erosion of the soul for the win this time.
The Night Circus vs. Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand
Winner: Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand
The outcome of this one surprises even me. I enjoyed The Night Circus like a fine confection while I was reading it, but have spared barely a thought for it since. In opposition, Stars in my Pocket was a frustrating book, and in many ways, not even a very good one, but it has stuck with me, and from the remove of six months, I am more and more struck by what Delany was trying to do here, even if it didn't entirely succeed as an engrossing piece of fiction. It made me think, and so few books even try. It captured something about foreignness, and gender, and sexuality, and therefore, it wins.
The Hidden Goddess vs. Long Walk to Freedom
Winner: Long Walk To Freedom
This is one of those battles where the importance and necessity of a book faces off against how much I sheerly enjoyed it. In the end, this tournament tends to be about the latter, so I'm not sure how far Long Walk to Freedom will make it in the competition, but in this particular match-up, it wasn't a difficult choice. The Hidden Goddess is passable frontier fantasy, but not a lot more. Nelson Mandela's autobiography? A lot more.