Welcome to Smugglivus 2015! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2015, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2016, and more.
Who: Aliette de Bodard writer of speculative fiction with stories that have appeared in Interzone, Clarkesworld Magazine and the Year’s Best Science Fiction. Her novella On a Red Station, Drifting is a thing of beauty – reviewed here by Ana and her new novel House of Shattering Wings is amazing.
Everybody, please, a warm welcome to Aliette!
2015 has been an odd year for me–I feel like I’ve had less and less time to do things, but paradoxically I’ve never read quite so many novels! On the minus side short fiction suffered a bit as a result, so I feel like I’ve not had quite so much time to see the breadth of what was offered, but I nevertheless managed to find quite a few stories which I loved, and hope to make some time for more in the runup to the end of the year (or possibly the end of awards voting season. We’ll see).
Best of 2015
“Variations on an Apple”, Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com, October). It’s no secret that I love Yoon Ha Lee’s stuff, and this clever retelling of the Trojan war is no exception. Tackles mathematics, desire, and the consequences of decisions that aren’t always wisely made. Also, Illium and Helen are both awesome in different ways.
“Milagroso”, Isabel Yap (Tor.com, August). In a future where food is grown in labs and always perfect, there is still room for the miracles of saints… By turns exuberant and heartbreaking, this is a story of what we take for granted, how we seek to protect our children, and the price we pay.
“The Star Maiden”, Rokshani Chokshi. Tala’s grandmother used to be a star maiden, annd tells her granddaughter stories of longing for the sky. But Tala grows up and starts questioning the veracity of the story–and becomes ashamed of her grandmother’s oddness. There’s nothing really surprising in this one, but it’s very very well done (as in I broke down and cried at the end), and encapsulates the heartache of growing up.
“The Monkey House”, Tade Thompson (Omenana, March). The narrator returns to work after a breakdown–and finds that everything is *almost* normal. I love the sense of creeping unease of this one, the feeling that everything looks almost quite right (and that 1% “not right” that is downright unsettling). I’m not usually much of a reader for horror or dark, but this is perfect.
“The Discomodious Wedding”, Christopher Kastendsmidt (self-published on amazon). This is part of Kastensmidt’s ongoing series, The Elephant and Macaw Banner, which is set in colonial Brazil and draws from local folklore. Yoruba warrior Oludara wishes to marry his native sweetheart Arani; but various supernatural beings have other ideas…
“The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn”, Usman Malik (Tor.com, April). Everyone has been talking about this one, and quite justifiably. It’s a really great and haunting story that shares the theme of inheritance and fantastical tales with “The Star Maiden”, above, but uses its greater length with great efficacity. The American narrator comes back to Pakistan to look for his family’s ruinous legacy–and comes to term with his grandfather. It’s about the weight of the past, the things you put aside as you emigrate, and what must be done for the future.
Making Wolf, Tade Thompson: a dark and bleak tale set in a Yoruba country that never existed, Making Wolf sees Weston Kogi come back to the country of his birth for his aunt’s funeral–and get drawn into a spiral of violence and death when he meets his old buddy/tormentor Church. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s darn powerful.
Silver on the Road, Laura Ann Gilman. Set in the Territory, an alternate part of the West ruled by the Devil (who may or may not be the Christian one), the book follows Isobel, who slowly grows into her power and position as the Left Hand of the Devil and protector of the Territory. I loved the mythology Gilman weaves, the power of crossroads and of the winds, and Isobel has a wonderfully endearing and distinctive voice.
Cast in Honor, Michelle Sagara. If you’re new to the Elantra series (urban fantasy set in a medieval-ish cities where different races co exist), this is probably not the best book to start with, but I loved this new installment, which sees Kaylin face beings from Ravellon, and a mysterious spate of murders with corpses who might not be human or even human-shaped… (if you want to start with something, I highly recommend Cast in Shadow, which I recently reread). Also, I was reminded of how much I liked Dragons in human form, which is apparently a trope weakness of mine…
Black Wolves, Kate Elliott. This is easily the best book I read in 2015. It’s thick, and it’s a sequel to Elliott’s Crossroads trilogy (which I hadn’t read, and I confirm you don’t need to have read it). Captain Kellas left the palace in disgrace following the death of his charge, King Attani–but is called back to protect the new king. Meanwhile, Dannarah, Attani’s sister, fights the creeping influence of a misogynistic religion. It’s hard to summarise the book in a few sentences, so I won’t–but it’s a great meditation on power, on change, on what it means–and on how even the smallest things can end up changing the course of kingdoms. Also, giant justice eagles. Just saying.
Grace of Kings, Ken Liu. Also a very strong book. Liu draws on Chinese epics to write this tale of two men who rise up against a tyrannic empire–and finds that a successful uprising does not necessarily mean everything is over…
Updraft, Fran Wilde. In a city above the ground, where traders fly from tower to tower, Kirit dreams of earning her own wings–but her nascent powers destine her for something quite different… I loved this one because of the flying–Wilde has put a lot of thought into worldbuilding, and it shows–the monstrous skymouths are suitable terrifying, but it’s the sequences where Kirit takes wing that are truly memorable (and almost make me wish I could fly, no mean feat for someone with a fear of heights!).
Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho. Zacharias Whyte, the protagonist, is the first Black Sorcerer Royal, and must battle the prejudices of the establishment as he seeks to find the source of Britain’s penury of magic. He hasn’t bargained, however, for Prunella Gentleman, a mixed-race woman with her own ideas of independenence–and a treasure that might well be the key to Britain’s salvation…
This is a hilarious fantasy set in the Regency era, but it’s also one that touches on quite a few heftier subjects–colonialism, and racism, and the stilfying class system. Also, Malaysian witches bent on interfering with British politics are the *best*.
I’d also feel remiss if I didn’t mention “Mad Max: Fury Road”, one of the rare movies I saw this year–and which was like a breadth of fresh air, a rare action movie with a lack of male gaze, an action heroine, and badass older women on motorbikes–I feel in love *so* hard with that one and will most certainly rewatch.
2016 is also shaping up to be quite a year: I am sitting in the (hopefully) long queue for Yoon Ha Lee’s forthcoming Ninefox Gambit, the first installment in her space opera trilogy from Solaris–maths and spaceships, what more do you need? I also have a copy of Stephanie Burgis’s Masks and Shadows (Pyr), set in Vienna in the 19th Century and featuring political intrigues and alchemy–Burgis excels at historical and sympathetic characters, and I’m much looking forward to this.
Among things I’ve actually read (one of the perks of having the right publisher), Tricia Sullivan’s Occupy Me (Gollancz), comes highly recommended. It’s science fiction at its finest–weird and stretching the boundaries of the real, with a winged being, a resistance who may or may not be changing the world, and a briefcase that contains universes…
I always have time for Patricia McKillip, and I note that she has a new book, Kingfisher out in 2016 from Ace. Also Elizabeth Bear’s Ancestral Night (Gollancz) (I loved Dust and want to see more space opera by her) , and Indra Das’s The Devourers (Penguin), which looks to be a nifty tale of shape-shifters set in 21st Century India.