Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hare vs. Lock In by John Scalzi
These are two very, very different books. We have a story of self-destruction in interwar America, where the glittering promise leads to inner emptiness and despair. Put that up against a science fiction murder mystery, where the main character is locked into their body after contracting Hayden's as a child, and uses robot alternates to experience the world, and take on their new job with the FBI just as the brother of a prominent activist with the same disease turns up dead. This is yet another case where I'm going to choose based on sheer enjoyment - I'd read Lock In again in a second.
Winner: Lock In
The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers vs. The Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman
Interesting. Both books in this match-up combine ancient tales with present woes, although Powers' book is, in general, far, far weirder. If you wanted mummies, sort-of werewolves, time travel, Victorian poets, and an attempt to bring back the glory days of the Egyptian dynasties, it's the book for you. Angel of Losses is far smaller, about a family falling apart, and the Jewish folklore that is intruding itself into the lives of those who either don't believe in it, or believe in it far too fervently. Unfortunately, the prose doesn't match the ideas, and the characters made me so aggravated. Powers gets it, for sheer weird fun.
Winner: The Anubis Gates
I feel like the capricious universe must be setting me up for a truly agonizing decision, because these last few have all been very easy. Wasn't crazy about Iain M. Banks (if you've read all of these so far, you'll have heard that a number of times!), but Elizabeth Bear is truly one of my favourite authors. This is the second in her civil war/dynastic fantasy set in a sideways-step Mongolia. It's got lots about gender, non-monogamy, magic, and power, and I loved it a lot. Easy peasy.
Winner: Shattered Pillars
Fifth Chinese Daughter by Jade Snow Wong vs. The Dreaming Void by Peter F. Hamilton
This is a bit harder, but only because neither of these books hit me particularly hard. Fifth Chinese Daughter was not to my taste as a memoir (but then, memoirs seldom are) and Peter F. Hamilton's was far too little stretched out over a ton of pages, paired with some stuff about sex and gender that didn't seem to make sense, given the world he was creating. It wasn't terrible, but boy was it frustrating at times. Still, I responded to it more strongly than Fifth Chinese Daughter, which at best prompts a faint "meh." It won't last long in the competition, but this round goes to:
Winner: The Dreaming Void
The Mermaid's Child by Jo Baker vs. City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
Easy again! I mean, I liked The Mermaid's Child well enough - certainly more than most other people in my book club. But I didn't love it, and I just purely loved City of Stairs. Great characters, plot, colonialism, religion and gods that may or may not be entirely dead, a weird city...this was one of those books that felt like they were written for me. So much fun, and it just might be for you too.
Winner: City of Stairs