Okay, so the year isn’t technically over yet, and I’m bound to read more things between now and December 31. Still, seeing other people post their favorite reads of the year makes me want to post mine, too. It’s always difficult for me to choose my favorites, but here’s at least a sampling of the things I really enjoyed in 2013.
Novels, Anthologies, and Collections
Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear is full of the author’s usual gorgeous prose, and wins bonus points with me by drawing inspiration from the Mongols, providing a sweeping epic fantasy that doesn’t fall back on the cookie-cutter pseudo-medieval European setting and characters. I’ve been hearing good things about the sequel, but haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet, but I do look forward to revisiting Bear’s world, and reconnecting with her characters soon.
It wouldn’t be a year-end list of mine without at least one China Mieville novel, so how about two? Embassytown is all about language and the way it shapes the world. It is a drug, a living thing, a tool for revolution, and a means of rebuilding what is broken and lost. The main character takes somewhat of a backseat, but in this case, the rest the novel does enough I didn’t mind one bit. Railsea gives us a world of giant moles and trains like ships on an ocean. It’s a little bit steampunk, a little bit Moby Dick, and a whole glorious mash-up of other things as well. As always, I’m constantly amazed at the author’s ability to seemingly reinvent himself with every novel, so while there is a distinctive Mieville-feel to all of them, each work feels like it’s pushing into new territory in terms of voice and style.
Last week, Kari Sperring launched a wonderful campaign to promote women in the sf/f/h genre(s). This got me thinking about the women I love to read, and what I would recommend as a starting point for people who have never read their work. This is by no means a comprehensive list, a logically organized one, or one with really any kind of rhyme or reason (though I occasionally try to ascribe one). This is simply a list of women in the genre whose work I admire, along with a suggested starting point for discovering their work. Some are established, some are just starting to make a name for themselves. Hopefully folks stumbling across this list will discover something new to love – an author, an editor, a novel, or a story. And hopefully they’ll go on to share that new-found love with the world.
Catherynne M. Valente: There are probably very few people at this point who haven’t read any of her work. She’s insanely prolific and multi-award-winning/nominated at this point. Still, if you haven’t read her work and are looking for a place to start, I recommend The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Why? Not only is the title awesome, but it’s a gorgeously written book for young readers (which can be appreciated by readers of any age) with a female protagonist, which never talks down to its audience.
Ysabeau Wilce: Another established author, but possibly not as well-recognized as Cat Valente. I would recommend starting with Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog. Why? Pretty much ditto all those things I said about Valente’s Fairyland series – defying gender stereotypes, never talking down to its audience, delicious use of language, and a kickass title.
As promised in part 1 of my year-end wrap-up, I now present part 2, covering my favorite short fiction from 2012. Unfortunately, I’m much worse at keeping track of short fiction, so I’ll like miss many things. I apologize in advance. Nonetheless, in no particular order, I give you my favorite short fiction from 2012 (most of which was published this year in case you’re looking for things to consider award-wise):
Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream by Maria Dahvana Headley in Lightspeed Magazine
Fade to White by Catherynne M. Valente in Clarkesworld Magazine
A Silly Love Story by Nicole Cipri in Daily Science Fiction
(To See Each Other) Whole Against the Sky by E. Catherine Tobler in Clarkesworld Magazine
The Suicide’s Guide to the Absinthe of Perdition by Megan Arkenberg in Lightspeed Magazine
After Compline, Silence Falls by M. Bennardo in Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Our Town’s Monster by Paul Tremblay in ChiZine
Immersion by Aliette de Bodard in Clarkesworld
Splinter by Shira Lipkin in Apex Magazine
Calamari Curls by Kage Baker in The Book of Cthulhu
And that’s about the point where I failed to write anything else down. Oops. But the list above should give you a good starting point if you’re looking for fabulous short fiction to read.
Mostly, this is a post about books. Shocking, right? I bet you had no idea I like books. It’s not like I ever talk about books or anything. It’s not like I obsessively acquire them, or want to fill every room in my house with them, or sleep curled up around a pile of them or anything. Not at all. So on that note, in no particular order, I present you with a list of books, some old, some new, which constitutes my officially unofficial Bestest Reads of 2012.
Kraken by China Mieville
I am a fan of China Mieville. He has an amazing knack for re-inventing his writing style from book to book, not to mention the fact he’s insanely prolific. Kraken may be one of my favorites of his so far. Squid cults! Living ink! Folding men! London-mancers! Glass angels! I could go on, but I’m afraid I’d be cited for abuse of exclamation points! Suffice it to say, I loved the world-building, the richness of the language, the dense, tanglyness of the prose, and the way even throw away concepts mentioned in a line or two seemed like they could open up into entire novels or stories of their own.
Last Call by Tim Powers
Last Call hit so many of my fictional weakness, it’s almost like it was written just for me: the gritty, noirish feel, unconventional systems of magic with deep roots in history and mythology, compelling, down-on-their luck characters, beautiful turns of phrase, and a pitch-perfect voice all the way through. Parts of it reminded me of another of my favorite books, Barth Anderson’s The Magician and the Fool, which, now that I’ve read both, I could very easily see having been inspired by Last Call. As the best books do, Last Call managed to be both completely satisfying, and leave me wanting more.
I’ve been trying to assemble my thoughts on Caitlin R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl: A Memoir into a shape coherent enough to make a real, live blog post-type thing. It’s harder than it sounds. The short version – the novel is brilliant, and you should read it. The slightly longer version – your mileage may vary. The things I love about The Drowning Girl are precisely the things that may turn people off, or at very least leave them feeling unsatisfied.
Let me attempt to explain. It is a ghost story. In the very truest sense of the words. It is a story about a haunting, a haunting story, and it is a story that is in itself a ghost. It is ephemeral, shifting, you cannot trust the words on the page. It lingers.
Cut for potential incoherence, and definite spoilers.
Once again, I managed to read almost exactly the same number of books this year as I did last year, and the year before. At least I’m consistent? In no particular order, I will now proceed to blather on about my favorite 2011 reads. Not all of them were newly-published in 2011, just new to me. Warning, this will get long.
Ladies, Gentlemen, and Otherwise, I would like to direct your attention to The Day the Pod Landed by Jeff Cross over at Redstone Science Fiction. It’s his first published story, and it’s damned good, so you should read it. I was lucky enough to be a first reader, which means I have a particular fondness for the story, but even if I hadn’t been, I’d still recommend it. Giant mechs and hostile corporate takeovers – what’s not to like?
There’s nothing quite like your first acceptance letter. There’s nothing quite like seeing your name in print for the first time. I’m so happy for Jeff that he’s getting to experience those firsts right now. Published authors – tell me about your first time?
Or, rather, of magic and Mechanique, because I want to tell you about Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine, which is a book you really should read if you haven’t already.
The spoiler-free recap is: it’s about a mechanical circus. But you could guess that from the title already, couldn’t you? It’s about so much more, though. It’s about loyalty and obsession and pain and bravery and growing up and saying goodbye. It’s about music and war and a pair of wings. The novel is a puzzle. Not in the sense that it’s a mystery to be solved, but in that you are given one shining, sharp-edged piece at a time, and those pieces fit together bit by bit to make something that is more. I was lucky enough to hear Genevieve read an excerpt at the Steampunk World’s Fair. The excerpt hooked me, and I moved the book to the top of my to-read pile. I was not disappointed. You won’t be either. Promise.
I’m not sure where it came from, but for the past few days I’ve been feeling a strong sense of book nostalgia, a longing for books I owned when I was younger that are no longer in my possession. Given my current book-hoarding tendencies, I can’t imagine why I ever let them go. At the time, the culling probably seemed necessary, due to the fact we were moving. There were books I couldn’t bear to part with under any circumstances, and I still have those: The Wrinkle in Time Trilogy, and yes, when I bought it, it was still sold primarily as a trilogy, not a quintet; The Chronicles of Narnia; and The Chronicles of Prydain. But while I saved some books, the majority ended up in a big box, which ended up at a second hand book store. Now I regret letting them go, some more than others.
I finished reading Catherynne M. Valente’s Deathless on the commute home today. At one point, I seriously considered missing my stop and walking the extra distance home if necessary, just in case I hadn’t reached the end by the time I got to my station. The book is beautiful, and bittersweet, and funny. It is yet another novel that makes me despair of every writing anything good enough to exist in the same universe that it does, but also makes me happy that such a book exists. It’s painful in all the right ways, and gorgeous and soothing when it should be. There is passion in the writing, love pressed between the pages, care and attention to the important details. Not being spoilery, I will just say – the ending is pitch perfect.
If you own the book and haven’t read it yet, but it on the top of your to-read pile. If you don’t own it yet, then for the love of all that’s good, go out and acquire it now. And if you get the chance to see Cat on her Deathless reading tour, do it. Hearing her read from the book and talk about it will make the experience that much richer. Trust me. This is the way fairy tales should be.