Welcome to Smugglivus 2010: Day 29
Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors, bloggers and publishers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2010, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2011.
Who: Paul Smith of the excellent, England based, Empty Your Heart of Its Mortal Dream. Paul has eclectic tastes and reads in a wide range of areas from mainstream literature to genre, poetry, dramatics, philosophy, and non-fiction.
Please give it up for Paul!
I’m always happy to talk to people about books, family, friends, strangers in the street, it is a surprise I haven’t been put in an asylum by now, so when Ana asked me if I’d like to contribute to Smugglivus, I was happy to accept. 2010 was my first year blogging, and as a result I found myself reading a selection of both new and old books that I really enjoyed and probably wouldn’t have read otherwise. For the sake of posterity though (as well as my sanity), we shall exclude the old and focus only on the new. Without any further ado, here are my favourite things that I have read this year.
My favourite novel of the year was Michael Cisco’s The Narrator, a dark fantasy about war compared to the work of Artaud, Robbes-Grillet, and Céline. I’ve been admirer of Cisco since a close friend introduced me to his novel, The Traitor, and he continues to amaze. Absurdist to the point of black humour, and with a control of language and mood that he can make the grotesque strangely beautiful, he remains one of the most imaginative and original writers in non-realist literature.
The Golden Age
Michael Ajvaz’s The Golden Age was published in Czech in 2001, but was only released in translation this year by the wonderful people at Dalkey Archive Press, on the heels of last years The Other City. The novel is reminiscent of those great writers genre defying literature, Borges, Calvino, et al, and is really a book of two halves; the first covers anthropologic observations of the narrator’s time on an imaginary island, and the second embraces an interesting conceit about that culture’s narrative technique. Unlike anything I have read, and a strong indicator as to why he is so well regarded in his native country.
The Orange Eats Creeps
One of my favourite novels of the year as well as being the best debut, Grace Krilanovich’s The Orange Eats Creeps is a dark look into life in the Pacific Northwest for a gang of teenage hobo junkie vampires, drawing similarities with Huysmans, William Boroughs and Charles Burns’ seminal Black Hole. It reads like a decadent beat novel, about a lost generation trying to make their ways in an uncaring and alien universe, where sex becomes the only kind of connection for teenagers so desperate for any semblance of intimacy.
The Fixed Stars
Brian Conn’s The Fixed Stars is another strong debut, composed of a series of vignettes in a post-capitalist world that defies any attempts to categorize, Conn himself accepting it may be unreviewable due to the novel’s non-existent plot. Threads include kidnapping, the onset of plague, strange festival rituals, amongst other highly imaginative things that create an almost whimsical series of folk tales of a wonderfully strange post-capitalist future.
The Half-Made World
Of the year’s mainstream releases, Felix Gilman’s The Half-Made World was by far my favourite. Rather unfairly lumped in with the steampunk trend, Gilman’s weird western combined clever world building with strong characters and a compelling plot that in less skilled hands would have probably fallen into cliché. I was reminded of Moorcock when reading the novel, which is always a good thing, and as lover of bastards, I rather enjoyed Creedsmoor’s antics. I did have a few minor problems with the book, but overall I really enjoyed it.
To quickly mention a few other things I enjoyed outside of novels, in single author collections, I enjoyed Jeff VanderMeer’s The Third Bear, and Caitlin R. Kiernan’s erotic dark fantasy/weird tales collection, The Ammonite Violin. I was also able to pick up reissues of some hard to find collections, Subterranean Press’ new edition of Thomas Ligotti’s debut collection, Songs of a Dead Dreamer, Tartarus’ beautiful edition of Robert Aickman’s Sub Rosa, and the Library of America’s collected edition of the novels and short fiction of Shirley Jackson. In non-fiction, my favourite were Savoy’s mammoth collection of Michael Moorcock’s non-fiction, edited by John Davey, Into the Media Web, as well as Thomas Ligotti’s treatise on nihilism, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race.
Looking forward into the next year, there are a number of books on the horizon I cannot wait to get my hands on. There are not one, but two new novels due from Michael Cisco, The Wretch of the Sun from Ex Occident, and The Great Lover from Chomu Press. From the editing team of Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, there is The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, with contributions from some of my favourite writers, including Michael Moorcock, China Mieville, Alan Moore, as well as art from John Coulthart, Mike Mignola and Jan Svankmejer. From Jeff and Ann, there is also The Weird, a huge collection of weird fiction covering a hundred year period since the release of Alfred Kubin’s brilliant The Other Side. And as someone who got into her work late with earlier collections expensive to get a hold of, I am really looking forward to Two Worlds and in Between, the first volume of Kiernan’s self-chosen best of short fiction.
Happy holidays, and I’ll leave you with the words of Bukowski from one of his early poems (The Genius of the Crowd),
Happy Smugglivus, Paul!