I recently posted a big ‘ole list of my favorite short stories of the year. It was a fantastic year for short fiction, and I’m still trying to catch up, even though my list is quite long already. As it turns out, it was a fantastic year for long fiction, too. So as with my short fiction list, I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of what’s out there, and I still have reading to do. However, since I’ll never catch up in the next six days (or otherwise), I humbly submit my favorite long reads of the year. Mostly, this means novels, but I’ve also included other things I read in book format, like novellas, novelettes, collections, and anthologies. There are also a few honorable mentions for things not published in 2018, since I’m still playing catch up from prior years’ fantastic crop of publications.
The Speed of Clouds by Miriam Seidel
This novel, at its heart, is a love letter to fandom. Seidel explores the way fan fiction makes space for the stories and people left out of canon narrative, and revels in the joy of geeky communities. It isn’t just one kind of fandom either, there is love for collectibles, science fiction, music, art, and more, along with fantastic characters, and touching friendships. (Reviewed in more detail here.)
The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander
An absolutely stunning novelette about communal memory, myth, radium girls, elephants, and those the world tries to use up and cast aside. It’s seething with anger, full of poetic language, and all around just a fantastic read. (Reviewed in more detail here.)
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson
A novella set in a post-environmental-disaster world where humans have harnessed time travel, and are using it to try to clean up their mistakes, or least build a better future. Humanity looks very different than it does now, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t subject to the same problems, squabbles, and misunderstandings. (Reviewed in more detail here.)
Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller
Like Robson, Miller’s novel is also set in a world that is post environmental disaster. In this specific case, a floating city where multiple parties are vying for power and control, while other people are merely trying to survive. There are elements of cyberpunk and ecopunk here, and a fantastic cast of characters, coming together in a story of family, secrets, and revenge. Oh, did I mention the killer whale and the massive polar bear? You definitely want to pick up a copy of this one.
The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley
In a year of truly incredible novels, this one may well be my favorite. It’s a modern re-telling of Beowulf, focused on the female characters, which explores what it means to be monstrous, what it means to become monstrous, and what society sees as monstrous. The novel takes on issues of racism, sexism, the treatment of veterans, class-ism, and so much more. At the same time, it’s a novel of budding friendship and fierce love, and all of it is absolutely gorgeously written. (Reviewed in more detail here.)
The Quartered Heart by E. Catherine Tobler
I am an absolute sucker for E. Catherine Tobler’s Folley & Mallory series. They’re full of adventure, kissing, were-creatures, archaeologists unearthing mysterious tombs and uncovering secrets, danger, gods, and delicious sensory descriptions. Whether it’s Paris in the 1800s, ancient Egypt, or the Realm of the Dead, Tobler brings every single setting in these books to brilliant life. This entry in the series – the second to last – does not disappoint. It deepens Eleanor’s story, and unravels more of her past, while vastly complicating her present. The cast of characters grows, and some familiar faces return, but I don’t want to say to much for fear of spoilers. Suffice it to say, these are excellent books, and everyone should read them. I’ll be sad when the series is over, but luckily there’s also a collection of Tobler’s circus stories coming out next year, and I am already looking forward to it and making extreme grabby hands in its direction.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Ireland presents an all-too-plausible scenario in her alternate history where the civil war ended when the dead rose. Black girls are trained as “attendants” – in reality body guards who put their own lives on the line to keep their white charges safe. Jane, the main character, has a fantastic voice, and Ireland does an excellent job of slowly unwinding her past and revealing family secrets, all while offering up a fantastic, action-packed story that is by turns chilling and touching. (Reviewed in more detail here.)
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
This is another alternate history novel, though with a very different flavor then Ireland’s. It imagines the space-race accelerated as a matter of necessity after an ecological disaster leaves Earth in the process of rapidly becoming uninhabitable. Kowal focuses on the women of the space program who made so many of the astronauts’ flights possible through their calculations and behind-the-scenes work. With everyone needing to leave Earth eventually, sooner or later, women will have to be allowed to actually go into space, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a whole lot of resistance to the idea of “lady astronauts”. Kowal does a wonderful job of showing multiple types of prejudice, and how they might play out in the scenario she presents. Her world is meticulously built, and her characters are wonderful. I haven’t yet had a chance to pick up the sequel, The Fated Sky, but I look forward to doing so, as well as reading the other books in the series when they come out.
Witchmark by C.L. Polk
Is an absolutely gorgeous book set in a world of magic, ghosts, war veterans, and family machinations. Dr. Miles Singer is a doctor at a hospital specializing in treating those recently returned from war. He’s a veteran himself, and also happens to be a witch, a fact he needs to keep secret. However when a stranger arrives carrying a dying man in his arm, everything in Miles’ world is turned upside down. Polk uses the lens of magic to look at serious issues such as a trauma, PTSD, and class-ism. This is Polk’s debut novel, and I can’t wait to see what she does next. (Reviewed in more detail here.)
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
This is another novel set in a post-ecological-disaster world (funny how that seems to be on people’s minds lately). Rather than a floating city, or an alternate past, Roanhorse gives us a series of scattered settlements in the desert. When the waters rose, the Dinétah managed to survive, finding themselves in a new world of gods, monsters, and legends. Maggie Hoskie was the protegee of a living god, drawing on her own clan powers to hunt monsters, but she withdrew from the world when her mentor abandoned her. A family comes to her for help finding a missing girl, and Maggie comes out of her semi-retirement to find that someone is deliberately creating monsters and setting them loose on the world. Maggie is a fantastic character, spiky and violent, but allowed to be vulnerable and frightened too. Despite her fear though, she never backs down, and fights fiercely for her friends against monsters, gods, and tricksters. It’s a fantastic, action-packed novel, with wonderful characters, and I look forward to reading additional books in the Sixth World series.
Collections and Anthologies
This series just keeps getting better every year, collecting the best transgender speculative fiction from the prior year. There’s a reason Transcendent 2 won the Lammy last year, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see another win for Volume 3 this year.
Robots vs. Faeries edited by Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien
With a title like Robots vs. Faeries, this anthology could have easily been goofy, but Wolfe and Parisien are a bad-ass editing team who assembled a truly fantastic line-up of stories. Some are dark, some touching, some humorous, but they are never silly or frivolous. The standouts in the collection were by Seanan McGuire, Tim Pratt, Annalee Newitz, Sarah Gailey, Jonathan Maberry, Madeline Ashby, Delilah Dawson, Alyssa Wong, Maria Dahvana Headley, and Cat Valente.
Forget the Sleepless Shores by Sonya Taaffe
A gorgeous collection that draws on myth and history to tell stories of ghosts, loss, longing, love, and so much more. Taaffe’s writing is poetic, rhythmic, and lovely throughout. (Reviewed in more detail here.)
Sword and Sonnet edited by Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler
In the interest of full disclosure, I have a story in this anthology, so I’m slightly biased, but it’s full of so many other wonderful stories, it’s worth mentioning. Playing on the theme of battle poets, authors offered up a wide variety of tales, from bear-haunted warriors, to living storms, to a doctor calling on ancient power and song to heal her patients. It’s a truly gorgeous collection through and through, but the stories that stood out to me in particular were by C.S.E. Cooney, Malon Edwards, Anya Ow, Matt Dovey, S.L. Huang, Khalidaah Muhammad-Ali, Samantha Henderson, and Alex Acks.
Honorable Mentions (AKA Non-2018 Titles)
The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
As with all of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s work, The Beautiful Ones is gorgeously written. It’s a novel of manners, magic, love, and complicated relationships. And while I’m on the subject, I cannot wait for the author’s Gods of Jade and Shadow out next year. Just look at that gorgeous cover!
Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng
I adored everything about this book – the rich language, the creeping sense of dread beneath the surface, the Gothic sensibilities, the characters struggling to make sense of their situation, and Ng’s take on the world of Faerie. Seriously, just go read it now. (Reviewed in more detail here.)
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
This is an absolutely gorgeously-written book, though it is by no means an easy read. It’s set on a generation ship that replicates the structure of plantations, with black people as a distinct underclass, working to provide for the rich white folks, and subject to humiliation and violence at their hands. Even so, it is a novel of resistance, friendship, and unraveling family mysteries that does an excellent job of showing what life on a generation ship might actually be like. Solomon does an excellent job of showing the way scientific and technical knowledge is lost and gained over time, and how language and culture shifts by region and through the years. It’s an incredible read, and I cannot wait for the author’s next book, which is inspired by Clipping. (Reviewed in more detail here.)
So there’s my list, woefully incomplete as it may be. What were your favorite reads of the year, published in 2018 or otherwise?