Top Ten Books of the Decade

Posted on January 4, 2010 by

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We’ve counted down our favourite video games, and our favourite movies of the last ten years. And now, here is our final top ten of the decade- Books. (We were going to do one about Albums, but it turns out none of us know very much about music and our top ten list consisted of Electric Six albums, and a re-release of Queens greatest hits). This was a tough one for all of us to decide on, do we put Harry Potter in? Does Dan Brown really deserve to be in the list? After looking on Amazon for inspiration, it turns out that nearly all of the Potter and Brown books are in the top 100 books sold in the last ten years, which almost instantly ruled them out completely. We tried to pick things from unknown authors where possible, or from quintessentially British authors where not. Enjoy.

The Runners-up

20. The Night Watch – Sergei Lukyanenko
19. Darkly Dreaming Dexter – Jeff Lindsay
18. An utterly impartial history of Britain – John O’Farrel
17. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling (One of them had to be on here somewhere)
16. The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime – Mark Haddon
15. The dawn of the dumb – Charlie Brooker
14. Trigger Men – James McGee
13. The court of the air – Stephen Hunt
12. Cain’s last stand – Sandy Mitchell
11. Shatnerquake – Jeff Burke

10. Airman – Eoin Colfer (2008)

There aren’t many ‘traditional’ adventure stories knocking about these days. You rarely see a swash being buckled, and it’s starting to seem as if the age of Errol Flynn-esque adventure romps are few and far between. What Eoin Colfer did with Airman was bring us an intelligent, witty and superbly written story that filled the void. At it’s heart, Airman is the coming of age of Connor Broekhart, son of the kings Most trusted sharpshooter and resident of an alternate 1890’s Saltee (Two islands off the irish coast). He spends his youth in the tutelage of Victor Vigny, an eccentric French scientist, who teaches him everything from fencing to classical literature, perfecting designs for a flying machine over the years. Vigny  also instructs the young Conner on how to win the heart of the Kings daughter, Isabella. Everything seems to be perfect, until the head of the Guards, Marshall Bonvillain kills the King and frames Vigny. Conner intervenes but is captured and hauled off the the smaller Saltee island, an inescapable prison. From there, Conner forms alliances, plots revenge, and plans his escape, building his own flying machine and becoming Airman.

9. Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack Adventure – Dave Gorman (2003)

This is a true story. And one of the most moving, touching, and funny books I’ve ever read. It started off, as so many of life’s adventures do- with a bet. A bet put to Dave Gorman, by his friend, David Gorman (the details of how this came to be can be found here) that he couldn’t get ten Googlewhacks in a row, and meet them in person. For the uninitiated, a Googlewhack is when you put two random, unconnected words (real ones) into Google, and you only get one search result. What Dave had to do was come up with four Googlewhacks himself, and meet each one. Each of these first generation ‘Whacks would then be tasked with finding two of their own. Dave would then meet those two new ones, and get them to do two, and so on until he had achieved 10 in a row. It turned out to be a quite hard. The tale of how it went, and the strange, incredible people he met, and the thousands of miles he travelled are an emotional rollercoaster for both Dave and you, the reader, and you really find yourself rooting for him to succeed, and feeling incredibly depressed when it looks as though he may fail. A powerful book, witty, heartwarming and just plain brilliant.

8. Mortal Engines – Philip Reeve (2001)

A rare example of post-apocalypic steampunk, the world of Mortal engines was devastated by a nuclear war lasting just sixty minutes a long time ago. The vast majority of the people now live in enormous, nomadic moving cities in Europe, Asia, Africa and the poles (North America is little more than a nuclear wasteland). Mortal engines was, for most of us, an introduction to the steampunk genre. As the story starts, The city of London is chasing a small town of Salthook in Europe, (Now known as the great hunting ground) in order to capture it and loot it, and follows Tom Natsworthy, a fifteen year old apprentice in the guild of historians as he saves a girl (Hester) from the town, and gets abandoned in the empty wasteland by Thaddeus Valentine (head of the guild of historians) for his trouble. From there begins a journey to return to London, and a quest to prevent the city from devastating the Shield Wall, an immense, glass domed city that protects the lands of those who refuse to live on the traction cities. Valentine plans to do this using an ancient American super-weapon that fires out of the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

7. John Dies at the end – David Wong (2001)

JDATE started life as a web-serial in 2001, the author surrogate Dave narrates the story from the first person, a comedy horror story. At the start, he and his friend John are at a party, where a strange Jamaican sells John a drug called ‘Soy Sauce’ which causes him to start seeing things. As the story progresses, Dave himself becomes exposed to the drug, and it soon becomes clear that the effects of the drug are actually a form of demonic possession. The demon in question, Korrok, exists as a giant, organic supercomputer in an alternate timeline. In published form since 2007, the book is still hard to come by, with some copies on Amazon costing as much as £200.

6. Going Postal – Terry Pratchett (2004)

Conman Moist Von Lipwig is offered a simple choice; he can either hang, or he can take up the job of Postmaster General at the Ankh-Morpork Post Office. What he doesn’t know is that the post office is a crumbling, dilapidated institution that consists entirely of the elderly Junior Postman Groat, and the boy Stanley, who has a thing about collecting pins and can be prone to ‘little moments’. Moist has to make the Post Office run again, and he has to do it with the Clacks Company (An analogue to the internet/telegram system) bearing down on him. Oh, and getting a date with Adora Belle Dearheart would be nice, too. Along the way he has to deal with Golems, a secret society of elderly postmen, the press, A banshee, and introducing stamps. Going Postal is a joy to read, as the cynical Lipwig dryly observes the way the world works from the perspective of a master criminal, (who, instead of robbing a bank in the night wearing a stripy jumper, would walk right in the front door with forged papers and just ask for the money) as he watches in awe the machination of Reacher Guilt, head of the Grand Trunk Clacks company and master con artist. Lipwig is a thinker and a showman, and wraps the world around his finger as he raises the Post Office from the ground and turns it into a working, massive business, and as a result Going Postal is one of the best examples of Pratchett’s brilliant British satire and story telling.

5. Space Captain Smith – Toby Frost (2008)

There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Toby Frost. There’s a good chance you’ll have never seen his debut novel, Space Captain Smith. Not even in Waterstones. Toby Frost is a british author who has yet to achieve much in the way of fame or recognition, but we suspect it’s only a matter of time. Isambard Smith is the square-jawed, courageous and somewhat asinine new commander of the clapped out and battle damaged light freighter John Pym, destined to take on the alien threat because nobody else is available. Together with his bold crew a skull collecting alien lunatic, an android pilot who is actually a fugitive sex toy and a hamster called Gerald he must collect new-age herbalist Rhianna Mitchell from the laid back New Francisco orbiter and bring her back to safety in the Empire. Straightforward enough except the Ghasts want her too. (The Ghasts are a race of villainous giant ant-men, with enormous behinds) Space Captain Smith is laugh out loud funny all the way through, and it couldn’t be more british if it tried. If I had to recommend a book to someone, this would be the one I’d pick, and then that person would thank me later.

4. Nekropolis – Tim Waggoner (2004)

Meet Matt Richter. Private eye. (Zombie). His mean streets are the city of the dead, the shadowy realm known as Nekropolis. And in this first case, Richter must help a delectable half-vampire named Devona recover a legendary artifact known as the Dawnstone, before it’s used to destroy Nekropolis itself. That is, if he can survive the myriad horrors that infest the city itself. Whether it’s an urban fantasy or hard boiled crime thriller, there’s something about the concept of the ‘world weary detective’ that means I keep coming back each time no matter how similar the plot is. There’s something inherently noble about these guys, the world is constantly weighing heavy on them but they keep on putting one foot in front of the other in a quest to do the right thing. Zombies are kind of the same when you think about it. No, seriously! Ok, maybe you can take nobility out of the equation but the rest of it fits. Think about it, have you ever seen anything more world weary than a zombie? I don’t think you have. The world is constantly weighing heavy on these guys but they keep on putting one foot in front of the other in a quest to… eat people. Yeah, the similarity does end there but zombies and private eyes do share that single minded approach, both looking for their own definition of the truth… It makes sense then to combine the two groups and see what happens when you have a zombie private eye on the case.

3. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – Seth Grahame Smith (2009)

are you like me? Do you find the works of Jane Austen to be dry, boring and hard to read? Have you ever sat and thought ‘what this really needs is some zombies to pep it up’? …Really? Well, you have too much time on your hands Adrain. Seth Grahame Smith certainly thought that, and proceeded to go nuts. The book retains about 80% of the original text, Smith simply expanded it with a vast amount of ultraviolent zombie mayhem. For more than 50 years, we learn, England has been overrun by zombies, prompting people like the Bennets to send their daughters away to China for training in the art of deadly combat, and prompting others, like Lady Catherine de Bourgh, to employ armies of ninjas. Added to the familiar plot turns that bring Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy together is the fact that both are highly skilled killers, gleefully slaying zombies on the way to their happy ending. Decried by many as little more than glorified fan-fiction, it’s hard to deny that PPZ has been hugely successful, and a movie adaption is in the works. Besides- everybody loves zombies.

2. Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman (2003)

Neil Gaiman is perhaps most famous for his work in comics- writing Sandman. He also co-wrote Good Omens with Terry Pratchett, and sometimes writes Cthulhu fan fiction. Originally a BBC TV series written by Gaiman and Lenny Henry, Neverwhere’s main character, Richard Mayhew, comes to learn the hard way that no good deed goes unpunished. He ceases to exist in the ordinary world of London Above, and joins a quest through the dark and dangerous London Below, a shadow city of lost and forgotten people, places, and times. His companions are Door, who is trying to find out who hired the assassins who murdered her family and why; the Marquis of Carabas, a trickster who trades services for very big favors; and Hunter, a mysterious lady who guards bodies and hunts only the biggest game. London Below is a wonderfully realized shadow world, and the story plunges through it like an express passing local stations, with plenty of action and a satisfying conclusion. The story is reminiscent of Douglas Adams’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but Neil Gaiman’s humor is much darker and his images sometimes truly horrific. Puns and allusions to everything from Paradise Lost to The wizard of Oz abound, but you can enjoy the book without getting all of them.

1. World War Z: an oral history of the Zombie war – Max Brooks (2006)

Okay yeah, we have three zombie books in our top ten. We’ll admit it, we love the undead. Proper undead, mind. Not any of that sparkly emo vampire nonsense. No sir. Max Brooks was responsible for writing ‘The zombie survival guide’, a deadpan-comedy handbook on how to survive in a world where zombies have risen. World War Z takes that to the next level- a collection of interviews with survivors of a world-wide zombie apocalypse, charting things from the first signs of infection in Chine, right to the humans finally fighting back. At times funny, often harrowing, and sometimes genuinely scary- this could so easily be real. There’s a huge attention to detail in the way people act and speak and how various parts of the world cope with massive swarms of the undead. There’s an audio adaption- with a full cast, and a movie adaption on the way. Find it, read it, love it. This book is an essential part of any collection.

That concludes SPell Checked*’s top tens of the decade. We hope you’ve enjoyed them, and that perhaps you’ve been introduced to something new that you’ve liked. As always, we encourage you to list your own top ten in the comments.

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Posted in: Books