Hugo nominations are open and everyone’s been putting out their “Best of” lists. Now, no one cares what I think about these things but I can’t resist putting in my two cents. I read A LOT last year. For me, that is.
Best (new) novels that I read last year: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie and The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Leckie’s is her debut novel and it’s the start of what looks to be an awesome space opera series. I’d never read Gaiman before but Ocean blew me away. It’s a beautiful, sad, and haunting fantasy. Of the other 2013 novels that I read, the final Wheel of Time book, A Memory of Light, was a great ending to the series. Brandon Sanderson really stuck the landing and did the late Robert Jordan proud. Though I wouldn’t call them award-material, I also enjoyed the latest Charlaine Harris and Jack McDevitt books. Harris’s last Sookie Stackhouse book, Dead Ever After, was another fitting series ending. McDevitt put out a prequel to his Academy series, Starhawk, and it was his usual great fun.
My favorites were “Equoid” by Charles Stross and “Burning Girls” by Veronica Schanoes, both from Tor.com, and “Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell” by Brandon Sanderson and “The Princess and the Queen” by George R.R. Martin, both in the Dangerous Women anthology. “Equoid” is part of Stross’s “Laundry” series and shows us that unicorns are not sweet, sparkly creatures but ones of eldritch horror. “Burning Girls” is a dark fantasy based on Jewish folklore. “Shadows for Silence…” is a brutal tale of a woman who lives among dangerous ghosts and makes ends meet as a bounty hunter. “The Princess and the Queen” gives some backhistory of Westeros, during a Targaryen civil war, dragon against dragon. All of these were hard to put down.
“The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” by Ted Chiang in Subterranean Magazine introduced me to his work and blew me away. It’s all about how we remember the past. Mary Robinette Kowal was screwed out of a Hugo nom last year for “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” on a technicality. Hopefully her sweet story will get its due this year. Susan Palwick’s fantasy “Homecoming” (Tor.com) tugged at my heartstrings as well. “Cry of the Kharchal” by Vandana Singh (Clarkesworld) is the story a long-dead queen returning to put things right. In the anthology The Other Half of the Sky, Aliette de Bodard gives us a great and sad space opera, “The Waiting Stars,” set in her Xuya universe.
So many! Top among my favorites was “Brimstone and Marmalade” (Tor.com) by Aaron Corwin. A girl wants a pony but her parents give her a pet demon instead. This story is so darkly darling. Co-top was “Silent Bridge, Pale Cascade” (Clarkesworld) by Benjanun Sriduangkaew. It’s a space opera that left me breathless for more.
From Clarkesworld: “Never Dreaming (In Four Burns)” by Seth Dickinson is a mix of SF and fantasy that strangely works splendidly (and poignantly). “Pockets Full of Stones” by Vajra Chandrasekera and “The Urashima Effect” by E. Lily Yu both deal with the effects of space travel on relationships. “No Portraits on the Sky” by Kali Wallace give us a glimpse of a fascinating alien (or is it human?) society. Aliette de Bodard’s “The Weight of a Blessing” is another great story set in her Xuya universe. “Effigy Nights” by Yoon Ha Lee is just deliciously strange.
From Tor.com: “In the Greenwood” by Mari Ness is a great take on Robin Hood. Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” is sweet and sad and about wishes. I think I may have cried. Water literally falls when you lie in John Chu’s “The Water that Falls on you from Nowhere.” It’s a gut-punching coming out story. “The Plague” by Ken Liu was originally printed in Nature. Short and smart, not about a human meeting an alien but another human so changed by a plague they might as well be.
From Beneath Ceaseless Skies: “Now Ix, He Was a Lover” by Hannah Strom-Martin has a faux-Middle Eastern setting, a wife stifled by her cruel husband, and an uprising of oppressed elves. Mesmerizing. “Pheth’s Aviary” by Matthew Kressel features a bad demon (he has a good heart). All he wants to do is save things, not kill them. I’ve got a soft spot for characters like this.