Welcome to Smugglivus 2017! Throughout this month, we will have guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2017, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2018, and more.
Next on Smugglivus 2017 is prolific SFF author Aliette de Bodard, writer of short stories, novellas and novels, including her recent publication, The House of Binding Thorns
Please give a warm welcome to Aliette, everybody!
Once again, I read very little short fiction in 2017. I would recommend Rose Lemberg’s amazing novella, “A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power” (Beneath Ceaseless Skies), a masterpiece of worldbuilding that brings together two very different characters with vastly different histories, and tracks the consequences of their meeting–effortlessly rich and romantic, laden with worldbuilding that both feels familiar and strange, this definitely stuck with me long after I’d read it.
Tade Thompon’s The Murders of Molly Southbourne takes a wild premise (every time Molly bleeds, her blood creates a double who turns murderous on her, and whom she then has to kill), amps it up to eleven, and turns it into a detailed, twisty thriller that follows Molly from childhood to adult, asking questions about free will, identity and the price of survival on the way. A gruesome and neat little horror book.
Stephanie Burgis’s Snowspelled is the perfect book to curl up with if you need a pick-me-up. It’s fun and fluffy but also quite effortlessly deep. Set in an alternate England in a fragile peace with the neighbouring elves, the novella follows Cassandra, once a star magician but now a broken woman who lost her powers. Expecting nothing but obscurity, Cassandra finds herself stuck in a mansion in the middle of the snowstorm—with a rogue magician to track, a powerful and haughty elf to placate, and worst of all, a persistent ex-fiancé who refuses to take no for an answer. It’s sweet and beautiful and just left me ready for the sequel.
In a very different length, Nghi Vo’s short story “Twelve Pictures from a Second World War” manages to use its very brief amount of words to picture something haunting with sense of loss–and to show us a side of WWII in non-Western countries that often gets set aside in SFF.
Fran Wilde’s short story “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” is weird, full of energy and pushes all the right buttons, rising to a climax that’s like a gut punch.
I don’t always do poetry, but Brandon O’Brien’s “Birth, Place” is amazing–beautifully evocative, with an ending that lingered in my mind. I want to frame entire pieces of it on my wall, as a reminder for hard times.
And Likhain’s art continues to be amazing: she was up for a Hugo this year for Best Fan Artist, and I expect this to be the first of many nominations for her!
In novels, it’s been a great year. Kate Elliott’s Buried Heart brought her Court of Fives trilogy to an awesome end, and tackled colonialism, revolutions, history and the way people have to make hard and impossible choices. I loved that Jess continued to have a relationship with her entire family, and all the different roles for characters from domestic to military.
Ken Liu’s Wall of Storms took everything I loved about The Grace of Kings and made it better. If I had one criticism of Grace of Kings, it was that the book was scarce on women until the very end. Wall of Storms has them in abundance, and shifts from a war to control a kingdom to my favourite trope: court intrigue and manoeuvring of different factions who all try to pretend it’s for the good of the country. It deals with loss and legacy, and it also has the best engineering in fantasy sequence I’ve read in a long long time.
Yoon Ha Lee’s Raven Stratagem is also a sequel (to his great Ninefox Gambit, which I recommended last year to everyone who would listen to me). It expands the fascinating universe of Hexarchate by showing us characters from outside the assault section trying to take over a fortres: the hexarchs themselves (Mikodez ftw)), the civilians, the soldiers on space stations, and more factions beyond the ones we saw in Ninefox Gambit. And the ending left me hungering for more (book 3 is out next year!!).
Elizabeth Bear’s The Stone in the Skull reminded of me of why I love big fat epic fantasies: it’s got everything from creepy threats, lush worldbuilding and a great big cast of characters, but without the casual misogyny, gender essentialism and racism that throws me out of texts. The cast is diverse (yay toddlers in SFF!), and I felt like I’d barely read enough when the book ended.
Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun is a creepy Gothic fairytale that takes as a premise the sending of two Victorian missionaries to Fairyland. I hadn’t thought the finer points of theology could be this gripping, but the claustrophobic meditation on the nature of faith and stories that follows is a treat. And I’ll never forget the banquet at the midpoint of the book: Jeannette has a gift for the genuinely unsettling images and twists.
Martha Wells’s All Systems Red is a fast paced SF romp with an unforgettable protagonist, the misanthropic Murderbot, whose only dream is to watch TV series—except that those pesky humans keep getting into trouble…
And finally, it’s not genre but Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give was a gutpunch, and a well-deserved success.
In short stories, Victor Fernando R Ocampo released The Infinite Library and Other Stories, a collection of linked short stories that spans the gamut from science fiction to dark fantasy. Vivid imagery, well-realised characters and a boundless imagination combine to create something highly idiosyncratic and unlike anything else out there.
In 2017 I’m quite looking forward to the sequels to some of the books I mentioned above; to Tade Thompson’s Rosewater trilogy (the first book was one of the best SF books I read recently, and the news that Orbit was going to publish a trilogy had me squeeing), C.L. Polk’s Witchmark (this is cheating because I already read the ARC, but it’s a queer romance in a 19th Century setting, in the wake of a great war, aka “all my buttons at the same time”), Michelle Sagara’s Cast in Deception, 13th in my beloved Chronicles of Elantra series, Rebecca Kuang’s The Poppy War (historical fantasy involving China? I’m in!). And, in TV, to season 3 of The Expanse, which my husband and I just got hooked to. And I don’t know if it’s coming out in 2017, but Kate Elliott’s new space opera series about a genderbent Alexander has me waiting on tenterhooks.