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notes on science, fiction, and points in between
25 Jan 1998
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National Book Critics Circle Awards
Nominees were announced January 22nd, for awards to be announced in March. Fiction nominees include the usual suspects: Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, Don DeLillo's Underworld, Philip Roth's American Pastoral, and Penelope Fitzgerald's The Blue Flower (all previously mentioned on various best-of-'97 lists; see 28 Dec 97). The last fiction nominee, Andrei Makine's Dreams of My Russian Summers, signals a change of rules for the NBCC: all books published in the US are now eligible, regardless of the nationality of their writers. Previous years' awards were limited to American writers.

Among nonfiction nominees are Jon Krakauer's bestselling Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, and Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works. Other categories include Biography and Autobiography, Poetry, and Criticism. The awards are sponsored by a group of nearly 700 book critics, editors, and academics. The full list of nominees is available here.

Library Journal's Best of '97
The list of thirty two titles, here, includes the frequently mentioned works by DeLillo, Fitzgerald, Roth, and Roy -- but specifically not Frazier -- as well as Andrei Makine's NBCC nominee and other fiction by John Banville, Denis Johnson, and Richard Russo. The only book vaguely scientific or technological in subject included by the librarians is Simon Singh's Fermat's Enigma.

Salon's 10 Best of 1997
The editors of the online magazine Salon selected the following titles as the best of year:

Alias Grace By Margaret Atwood
Cold Mountain By Charles Frazier
Because They Wanted To By Mary Gaitskill
Mason & Dixon By Thomas Pynchon
The Reader By Bernars Schlink

How Proust Can Change Your Life By Alain de Botton
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down By Anne Fadiman
Into Thin Air By Jon Krakauer
Echoes of a Native Land By Serge Schmemann
Close to the Machine By Ellen Ullman
A discussion of the selections is here.

Some SF Lists
Meanwhile, more SF critics are chiming in on 1997. Craig Engler, editor of Science Fiction Weekly and a consultant on Amazon, names these books the ''Top 10 of 1997'':

Days of Cain, J. R. Dunn
Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, Walter M. Miller Jr. (and Terry Bisson)
The Rise of Endymion, Dan Simmons
The Reality Dysfunction: Emergence, Peter F. Hamilton
Earthquake Weather, Tim Powers
The Year's Best Science Fiction: Fourteenth Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois
Think Like a Dinosaur and other stories, James Patrick Kelly
Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy, Matt Ruff
Contraband, George Foy
Freeware, Rudy Rucker
Meanwhile, the editors and staff of SF Site settled upon these Top Ten books of 1997:
  1. Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
  2. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, John Clute and John Grant
  3. Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, Walter M. Miller, Jr. (and Terry Bisson)
  4. The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye, Jonathan Lethem
  5. The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman
  6. Saul's Death and Other Poems, Joe Haldeman
  7. Speaking Dreams, Severna Park
  8. Giant Bones, Peter S. Beagle
  9. Rose Daughter, Robin McKinley
  10. Trader, Charles de Lint
    The Church of Dead Girls, Stephen Dobyns [tie]
(Lethem's collection is actually a 1996 book, which the editors include on the basis of the 1997 trade paperback edition; while Haldeman's volume is a small-press poetry collection.)

Best of Millennium
If the cream of a single year is insufficiently refined for you, consider this list of the top ten works of the current millennium, as selected by John Updike and listed in The World Almanac and Book of Facts 1998 (as quoted by USA Today):

  • Aquinas' Summa Theologica (c. 1265-73), demonstrating "the compatibility of faith and reason."
  • Dante's The Divine Comedy (c. 1307-21), "the greatest long poem since Virgil."
  • Cervantes' Don Quixote (Part I, 1605; Part II, 1615) "encapsulates the human condition."
  • Shakespeare's plays (c. 1590-1613), which "continue to astonish readers and theater audiences."
  • Voltaire's Candide (1759), written in three days, published anonymously, dramatizing "the clash between ideas and reality."
  • Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-88), a six-volume "masterpiece of research."
  • Tolstoy's War and Peace (1865-69), "vast though the canvas, the individual touch is always exact."
  • Dostoevsky's The Possessed (1871-72), a "perversely comic" and "prophetic" portrait of left-wing Russian revolutionaries.
  • Proust's Remembrance of Things Past (1913-27), the French tradition of psychological analysis "brought to its fullest flower."
  • Joyce's Ulysses (1922), "an epitome of realism: a book as opaque and rich as life."
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