1. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
This is an historical novel about a clerk at the Dutch trading post in 18th century Nagasaki, and his relationships with a local midwife and a translator, and their uncovering of a hideous supernatural conspiracy. Not even shortlisted for the Booker, in my opinion it should have won it. Extremely vivid and gripping.
2. The City & The City by China Mieville
I was critical of this at the time that I read it, and I still think it rather cold, but I also think it has proved itself to be massively influential and layered in meaning. In my opinion it is a story about how we are complicit in our oppression; the power of our rulers is dependent on consent, overlain with a cautionary veneer of violence. And about how we structure our social lives around our self-imposed oppression. How some of us act as prefects in this schoolyard. Could not be more timely.
3. New Model Army by Adam Roberts
Oh - something could be more timely than The City and it is this. A very flawed book, but a running commentary on the past six months in politics. A non-hierarchical mercenary wiki-army beats the British state. Never happen mate.
4. Surface Detail by Iain M Banks
A Culture novel (which means space-opera). Religious conservatives use the power of VR to consign sinners to a perpetual hell of misery and rape. Pan-galactic diplomacy makes it difficult to simply fight them. Extremely clever shenanigans ensue. I (this is true) I woke up the other morning saying outloud 'The plot didn't make any sense', and I think it probably didn't, but it's an excellent if caustic read.
5. Powers Ursula le Guin
This is a YA fantasy set in a slave-owning state not unlike Imperial Rome or China, about children with supernatural powers. I think le Guin is exploring how the highest wisdom can emerge from oppressive societies. I find this very convincing.
6. Dark Matter by Michel Paver
Wrote about this quite recently. I am a big fan of ghost stories and there are few modern ones I like. This is set on Spitzbergen through the dark winter. Terrifying and poignant.
7. Gardens of the Sun by Paul McAuley
An account of a revolution in the far-future solar system. It is a sequel to The Quiet War, which I felt was a kind of pessimistic British reposte to the optimistic Mars Trilogy ('Political change isn't that easy mate'). In this sequel the revolution does begin to succeed. I really liked this at the time, in particular for the well drawn female characters. However, seems to have slightly faded from my mind after six months.
8. The Children's Book by AS Byatt
This is a massive complex novel loosely based on the life of Edwardian author E Nesbitt. I revelled in it. It's densely written, immersive, luscious. Incidents and details from this book are coming back to me all the time, possibly more than any other book I read this year. This should probably be higher up the list.
9. In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield
An alternate history (? arguably) set in a universe where a second human sub-species shares our Earth, living entirely in the open ocean. Events take place at a period roughly equivalent to the Reformation. The Royal families of Europe are all hybrid dynasties, controlling trade and warfare through allegiance with the mermen. A pretender arises, and is the subject of political chess-playing.
10. Cold Earth by Sarah Moss
A short slight book, but quite compellingly written, and not unlike Dark Matter. A modern archaeological expedition to excavate a Viking site on Greenland becomes cut off from civilisation, possibly due to a massive flu epidemic. It might be the end of the world.
11. Far North by Marcel Theroux
Another end of the world Arctic story. It reminded me a bit of The Road. About fifty years in the future, the world is dying, and a young girl sets off from a Siberian town to search for other people. The second book from a male writer (the other was Gardens of the Sun) to convincingly get inside the head of a female character.
12. The Half Made World by Felix Gilman
Bizarre steam-punk Magical Realism set in a fantastic American West where demonic entities embodied in guns and locomotives battle for the soul of the New World. The most original and strange book I read this year. However I find Magical Realism hard to stick with and I haven't finished this.
13. House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds
In a very very far future universe a great host of clones has spread throughout the galaxy. Someone is trying to destroy them, and they must fight back. Finely drawn strangeness. Good sense of massive time and space.
14. Hodd by Adam Thorpe
The 'translation' of a Middle English manuscript written by Much the Miller's Son, about his encounter with the outlaw Hodd in Sherwood Forest. Elegantly written historical tale; perhaps not utterly compelling in its forward movement.
15. The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
A YA SF novel set on an alien world where men (but not women) broadcast their thoughts for all to hear. I think Ness took a difficult premise and didn't completely satisfy, but it's an emotional and exciting read.