We’re continuing our ten-year celebration of borg today with our favorite genre books. If you missed them, check out our Top 40 movies here and our Top 40 TV series here.
We reviewed thousands of books and comics that we recommended to our readers since June 2011, and some even made it onto our favorites shelf. We don’t publish reviews of books that we read and don’t recommend, so this shortlist reflects only 23 of the Best of the Best books and book series reviewed from June 2011 to June 2021.
So let’s get going!
Best Sci-fi Novel – The Synapse Sequence, Daniel Godfrey (Titan Books). The Synapse Sequence is one of those standout reads that reflects why we all flock to the latest new book in the first place. The detective mystery, the future mind travel tech, the twists, and the successful use of multiple perspectives made this one of the most engaging sci-fi reads since Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.
Best Sci-Fi Novel (Re-Release or International) —All You Need is Kill, Hiroshi Sakurazaka (Haikasoru). The re-release of Sakurazaka’s hit alien invasion story was timed to the release of its big screen adaptation, Edge of Tomorrow. Sakurazaka’s heroine Rita Vrataski is exactly the kind of female lead readers can’t wait to find. Even more exciting than the movie, this sci-fi and war novel is the stuff of sci-fi classics you’d read from the likes of Clarke, Heinlein, or Asimov.
Best Retro/Lost Novel – Forever and a Death, Donald E. Westlake (Hard Case Crime). Not every good idea comes to fruition. Not every excellent project gets off the ground. Not every great book gets published. The Hard Case Crime imprint of Titan Books came through again, seizing the opportunity to take a lost, never before published work of Donald E. Westlake--Forever and a Death--and brought it to life. And what a great adventure! Originally the story commissioned to be the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, the projected was shelved, and only now do we get fantastic characters in a very Bondian situation–destroying Hong Kong as payback for China taking it back from Great Britain.
Best Movie/TV Tie-In — Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm, Greg Keyes (Titan Books). Keyes’ memorable bridge novel between the Planet of the Apes movies provided a character study of the apes like we hadn’t seen before, especially in its rich development of Koba the chimpanzee. Great insight and interesting characters put this at the top of the decade’s tie-ins among the hundreds we read.
Best New Edition of Previous Published Work – The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame, David Petersen (IDW Publishing). David Petersen’s artwork was the perfect excuse to get Kenneth Grahame’s wonderful classic The Wind in the Willows into the hands of new readers. The new edition from IDW Publishing was the perfect storybook, and Petersen, known best for his Mouse Guard series, showed his understanding of these characters and their natural world full of wonder through his fantasy images.
Best RPG Book – Dungeons & Dragon’s Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, Chris Perkins (Wizards of the Coast). What may be the deepest, most detailed world building in your D&D gaming yet. Players will find some of the best storytelling and the most stunning artwork and art design of any fifth edition volume or any gaming book in any series here.
Best Retro Novel Series (New/Ongoing) – Mike Hammer, including Masquerade for Murder, Kiss Her Goodbye, Murder, My Love, Killing Town, and The Big Bang — Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Titan Books). Collins at his best, vintage Mike Hammer, and indistinguishable from classic Mickey Spillane–as if Spillane never really left. Great, easy reading, and fast-paced escapist fun, for fans of 1980s detective tropes.
Best Retro Series (Classic/Reprint) – Erle Stanley Gardner’s Cool & Lam series (Hard Case Crime). The most fun of all the pulp noir books this past ten years has been the angry rants of Bertha Cool and her former lawyer now partner Donald Lam. More, please!
Best Horror Novel – The Living Dead: A New Novel, Daniel Kraus (Titan Books). Yes, it needed a good edit at an indulgent 656 pages, but its prediction of the chaos in a pandemic that mimicked reality in 2020 made up for it. A solid apocalypse story with some really good characters to cheer for, this was a spooky read for a spooky year.
Best Film/TV Non-Fiction Book (General) – Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen, Daniel Falconer (Harper Design). We wish every genre franchise had such a magnificent, thorough, monumental guide. Falconer’s guide to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies is full of interviews at all levels of the creative process, and supported by concept art, photographs, maps, and so much more. Worthy of the six films it covers, it’s the ultimate fan book and a model for any franchise attempting to put everything fans could want into a single volume.
Best Film/TV Production Non-Fiction Book (Specific) – Star Trek Costumes: Five Decades of Fashion from the Final Frontier, Paula M. Block, Terry J. Erdmann (Insight Editions). A great look inside 50 years of the costuming of Star Trek, featuring great photos and commentary by the key designers.
Best Film/TV Concept Art Book Series – The Art of Star Wars Library (Abrams). The best dive into the creative minds who delivered the modern franchise, a combination of the storytelling and directing experience of working on the films and animated series, developing a detailed knowledge of the corners of Star Wars people, places, and things, and the vision of production design. The love for Star Wars shared by the creators, and the abundance of nostalgic throwbacks makes for the best behind-the-scenes content for Star Wars fans.
Best Film/TV Non-Fiction Book Series (General) — Peter Jackson/Tolkien Movie Chronicles library (Weta Workshop). The Weta library provided an unprecedented look at Peter Jackson’s movies, with details fans could drool over. No better book of high-quality photographs of props and costumes from a film or series is in print. If you want to learn the details of what goes on behind the scenes of a huge production, this is the series of books for you.
Best Scholarly Genre Series – These Are the Voyages, Marc Cushman (Jacobs Brown). No genre non-fiction series explored the nitty gritty detail of any franchise like Cushman in his ongoing, multi-volume look at the production of Star Trek from the beginning–with footnotes!
Best Book Design – The Moviemaking Magic Library (Abrams Books for Young Readers). Encompassing content from both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars, this interactive series of books makes learning about filmmaking fun. Full of fandom: great photos, flip-down images, and tipped in material that nicely expands on the “vault” format books. Gorgeous books, attractive design components, and great entertainment hours to read over and over. Finding little surprises in a book is great fun–for all ages.
Best Sci-Fi Series – Planetside series, Michael Mammay (Harper Voyager). Where Planetside was a military conspiracy-thriller in sci-fi dress, and Spaceside was a future noir mystery, Colonyside was more office politics and low-level squabbling power plays. We loved battle-hardened mastermind hero and retired marine colonel Carl Butler “getting too old for this kind of thing.” With his notorious reputation and knack for getting people close to him killed–and getting alien inhabitants killed, too, we couldn’t get enough of this series.
Best Mystery Series – Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery (Premeditated Myrtle/How to Get Away with Myrtle), Elizabeth C. Bunce (Algonquin). A great duo of detectives make their way through crimes with the help of a neighbor cat. An in-depth look at small-town Victorian England through the words of the daughter of the town prosecutor with an avid interest in criminal science. Both are fun reads with rich characters, sleuthing, and worldbuilding.
Best Fantasy Series (Classic/Reprint), Best New Edition of Previous Published Work, Best Translated Work – Legends of the Condor Heroes (A Hero Born, A Bond Undone, A Snake Lies Waiting), Jin Yong, translated by Anna Holmwood and Gigi Chang (St. Martin’s Press). The action and adventures of some of the best characters and world-building ever created. The inspiration for bigger franchises was exciting, humorous, and fun–explaining why it’s sold 300 million copies worldwide.
Best Fantasy Series (New/Modern) – The Risen Kingdoms series (three volumes), Curtis Craddock (Tor Books). The plot of this debut novel/series was labyrinthine and action-packed, full of assassination attempts from all quarters, courtly intrigue galore, grandiose philosophies, and a cast of characters anchored by the strong, smart, resourceful, and eminently likeable heroes. Supporting everything is Craddock’s strong, confident, often-funny, and sharply observant writing that goes from heart-wrenching to hilarious on a single page without missing a beat.
Best Horror Series – The Anno Dracula Series (Johnny Alucard, Dracula Cha-Cha-Cha, etc.), Kim Newman. The best mash-ups and incredibly detailed world building make this ongoing series of novels great reads, full of artful prose and creative crossovers. Newman also added another level of storytelling, mixing the real world with the world of fiction, and the result is a densely packed, enjoyable set of tales.
Best Retro/Collecting Series – The Original Topps Trading Cards Series (Abrams Books). Star Wars, Star Trek, Planet of the Apes… Trading cards from the 1970s and 1980s that kids never could quite get their hands on in their entirety were now front and center for anyone to admire, thanks to Abrams interesting series, cataloguing franchise trading cards complete with interviews from those that made them.
Best Historical Non-Fiction Book, Best Adventure Read, Best Anthology Book – As Told at the Explorer Club edited by George Plimpton (Lyons Press) (new edition). Every reader will find something appealing here, a collection of true-life adventure stories from the people who lived them. Some stories will be likely to leave you breathless.
Best Genre Cookbook – Firefly: The Big Damn Cookbook, Chelsea Monroe-Cassel (Titan Books). Presents loads of in-world and tie-in content with recipes that will make you feel like you’re eating all over the ‘verse. We tried some of them and found them worthy.
We hope you find something you haven’t read from the above list. Thanks for reading, and come back tomorrow as we look at our recommended comic books of the past decade.
C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg