Welcome to Smugglivus 2014! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2014, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2015, and more.
Who: The G, one of the voices behind the nerdy speculative fiction blog Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together.
Please give it up for The G!
This is my second Smugglivus, and I’m proud to once again join the writers, bloggers and all-around smart people that Ana and Thea have assembled for their year-end event!
Looking back on 2014, though, I can’t help but think that it was a down year for SF/F and me—at least relative to the past few. And that’s partially my fault—I neither read as widely nor chose as well as I did the year before. A degree of “new releases fatigue” also set it, leaving me longing for a more equitable balance between the shiny new of today and the older material I haven’t read enough of. All that said I did still find some quality titles in 2014—many of which were also published in 2014. I’m very happy to share them with you, and also look forward to what’s coming in 2015.
The Best of 2014
Best Literary Science Fiction Novel – Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Sure I haven’t gotten around to The Bone Clocks yet, but—to be perfectly honest—it’s hard for me to imagine liking anything more than Station Eleven. In some ways, the book feels like a sequel to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (and it is arguably framed as such). At other points it resembles a science fictional riff on Roberto Bolaño’s magisterial 2666. But here’s the thing: Station Eleven isn’t just very good literary fiction in speculative clothing; it’s also very good at being speculative fiction—something litfic authors rarely manage when “slumming it” in genre. Easily the best novel I read in 2014, and one I imagine I’ll re-read periodically for the rest of my life.
Best “Traditional” Science Fiction Novel – A Darkling Sea by James Cambias
I don’t know if “traditional” is really the best term to use here, but it’s the best I could think of to describe science fiction aimed at and with ambitions firmly rooted in genre—that is to say, science fiction that The New York Times wouldn’t review unless there was a special page or issue devoted specifically to science fiction. Equally a tale of first contact and how good intentions can go awry, A Darkling Sea is smart and sociologically complex “hard” SF—the kind of thing I often long for but rarely find.
I’m going to follow Aidan of A Dribble of Ink (as I do in many things) and nominate this for the Hugo under the “Wheel of Time Rule.” Though the ending to Bear’s “silk road fantasy” may not have been as superlative as the start, I honestly can’t remember the last time I read a fantasy trilogy this good.
[*In English translation, that is—Sapkowski completed the series in Polish over a decade ago. But for English readers like me, it’s on-going, so there!]
As I wrote in my review of the latest entry, Baptism of Fire, “there are a lot more decent fantasy novels than detractors might believe, [but] very few can credibly claim to be significant works of literature. Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher Cycle is a rare exception.” A highly significant work of genre fiction that deserves to be much more widely read than it is. Also far, far more sophisticated than the two video games. (Oh, and if you decide to read the series, please start with the short story collection The Last Wish.)
Best Fantasy Novel with Cars but no Guns – City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
City of Stairs has a briskly paced plot and well-rounded characters, both of which are integral to its success. But it’s the way Bennett smashes past the genre’s assumptions and conventions of world building that really make it stand out. Plus the whole cars but no guns thing—Bennett doesn’t really make a big deal out of it but I found the notion fascinating.
Best Fantasy Novel with Guns but no Cars – The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler
In this second installment, Wexler takes his “flintlock fantasy” series in a wild new direction—away from the battlefield and toward revolutionary politics. As I said in the review, The Shadow Throne “is an inventive, exciting and fun fantasy novel that can be read as a straight adventure but has additional value for history buffs and those who want deeper [i.e. historically grounded] politics in their fantasy.”
Best Novel I Read in 2014 not Published in 2014 – The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen
This quiet slice of magic realism is both intimate and moving, melancholic yet ultimately sweet and redemptive—the story of a twelve year-old girl who lives with her father on a quiet island, and who tries to piece together the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. Whether the fantastical bits are real or figments of a grieving daughter’s imagination are left to the reader. Highly recommended.
New Year’s Reading Resolutions for 2015
One nerds of a feather, flock together idiosyncrasy is to always list in multiples of six, so here are six ways I plan to read in 2015:
1. Read more science fiction, less fantasy.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with fantasy, per se, it’s just that fantasy gets super repetitive after a while and I need a break. I’ll keep going on the series I’ve already started, of course, but I think I’m going to tilt SF for the next year.
2. Read The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
I loved Cloud Atlas, gimmicky as it was, and some reviews suggest the new one is even better.
3. Read more digital books, save print for the keepers.
I love print and the good people who make and sell it, but I’m running out of physical space to store all the books I buy/get sent to me. So for anything that isn’t a sure-fire keeper (e.g. The Bone Clocks), I’m going digital. Plus I travel a lot, and e-readers weigh about as much as a tea bag.
4. Read at least one major YA novel.
I keep hearing all these good things about YA from Ana, Thea and likeminded folks, and I’m intellectually interested in the metadiscourse on whether the popularity of YA is “good” or “bad” for genre. I’d like to decide for myself, but really don’t know where to start (other than The Hunger Games, which I’ve read). So if you have any good recommendations, please leave them in the comments section!
5. Read at least one original anthology of short fiction.
I didn’t read a single one in 2014—for the first time in years—and that’s a shame.
6. Read/re-read as many essential cyberpunk novels as possible.
Not sure why, but cyberpunk has recaptured my imagination as of late. So I’m going to run with that and see where it takes me. Back to the 80s, most likely. And synthwave bands. Lots and lots of synthwave bands.
I am going to recommend a YA novel right now: read Seraphina, G! Then read The Queens Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. DO IT. DOOOOO EEEEET.