Martin Lewis: Five letters (and one hyphen): WALL-E.
I reviewed two very different novels late in the year for Strange Horizons which were my two highlights in terms of fiction. The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness I read in a couple of days. At its heart is a wonderful SF concept, but it is really driven by the voice of Todd, Ness’s narrator. Anathem by Neal Stephenson, on the other hand, took me a couple of months to read and is nothing special in terms of the prose. It is a unique and extraordinary book, though, the sort of monumentally brilliant novel that comes along only rarely.
Gwyneth Jones: 2008 was another year for regretting the ever-stronger polarisation of genre: too many ever so clearly labelled girl-books and boy-books; too many notable books that I know I must not review, because I’m prejudiced, and my views (which were always leftfield, and I didn’t mind) have become not even wrong.... Having got that off my chest, I felt Matter wasn’t Iain Banks’s best work, and I found his authorial cynicism a bit naughty, but at least we’re still singing from the same hymnsheet, and it was a competent return to Space Opera. I enjoyed Sheri Tepper’s The Margarets, although (like Matter) it was a reprise of a seasoned author’s familiar scenes and themes. I can recommend Periphery: Erotic Lesbian Futures, (ed. Lynne Jamneck, Lethe Press), a collection with, for once, an impeccable excuse for being marketed as “girl-SF,” as a fresh and entertaining perspective on standard genre situations. The Gwyneth Jones story isn’t all that top-shelf, I’m afraid, but other writers are hotter.
The event of the SF year (for me; a little late, I know) was William Gibson’s Spook Country. I didn’t like Idoru, and I can’t remember why. I was disappointed by All Tomorrow’s Parties, and tried to figure out why, in a rather poor review (I mean, my review was poor, not a comment on the book). I didn’t bother to read Pattern Recognition. As soon as I’d read Spook Country I sought it out and devoured it. Neither of these novels is SF, although of course you can call them SF if you like, and now I think I know what was wrong, for me, with All Tomorrow’s Parties: I think I detected William Gibson’s growing impatience, boredom even, with “the envelope of miracle.” He no longer needs to pretend he’s writing about the future, or to use weird special effects as metaphor. Recounting the plot of either one of these rather low-key hyper-modern “thrillers,” is probably beside the point. It’s all about style, all about a perfect finish to every sentence, every image, every social nuance; and yet the whole adds up to a deeply satisfying fictional experience. But science fiction* is always, no matter how crudely presented, all about surface and style. Not that I would necessarily want to grow up myself, but I believe this is what SF looks like, if it ever grows up.
* On the other hand, 2008 was also the year of the continuing slide into obscurity of the terms “SF” and “science fiction.” Is it time to think the unthinkable? If the mass market calls this phenomenon sci-fi, and the 21st-century world embraces sci-fi with growing enthusiasm, is holding out for “science fiction,” in the tiny redoubt of the inner-circle, getting a little absurd?
Paul Raven: Rumours of short fiction’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, haven’t they? A rash of new webzines (in a broad spectrum of quality, but including some fascinating niche formats and genres) have cropped up this year. There’s a solid handful of reputable Year’s Best anthologies for both SF and fantasy, and Rich Horton has also announced the first ever Year’s Best devoted purely to fiction published online (which I will point out—in a moment of unabashed self-aggrandisement—includes a story from Futurismic, as well as one from this esteemed organ). And then there’s the second instalment of Lou Anders’s all-originals Fast Forward anthology from Pyr, which I found myself praising effusively (and have yet to see a qualified negative review of elsewhere).
The demise of short fiction print mags? Well, there’s cause for concern there ... unless you’re the publisher of one of them, in which case everything is apparently fine, and the decline in readership numbers is both expected and controllable. I’m sure there are some newspaper moguls who’d be pleased to hear that.
Warren Ellis’ posts on those figures provoked much angst, however ... but then what does he know about science fiction and the internet, eh? Well, he knows more about the power of free content than the people running one of the canonical Big Three, it seems—who’ve taken to web publishing like a duck to merchant banking. 2008 was the start of the ice age; the mammals are waiting in the wings.
Abigail Nussbaum: There were a lot of SF-related things to be happy about in 2008. Paolo Bacigalupi’s Pump Six and Other Stories firmly established him as one of the genre’s up-and-comers, and became an instant classic of the genre’s short form. Richard Morgan’s smart, inventive, and thrilling Black Man was the deserving winner of the Arthur C. Clarke award, and a leap forward in the complexity of Morgan’s writing and ideas. On the small screen, 2008 was the year of the quirk. Joss Whedon swept the internet off its feet with the charming, clever, hilarious, and ultimately tragic Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog. Pushing Daisies returned for a second season that was, incredibly, even smarter and better made than its first, but saw competition for the title of best adorably over-the-top yet surprisingly intelligent television series from the unexpected direction of The Middleman, a show dripping with geekish charm. (Sadly, the quirk will not continue into 2009. Pushing Daisies has already been cancelled, and The Middleman‘s chances of a second season are faint.) But in the end, 2008 was the year of the little robot that could. WALL-E is not only the best SF film I saw in 2008, but the best film, period, a reminder that there are still some people in Hollywood who know what good storytelling is and how to achieve it. But it is also, and unreservedly, an SF film, in love with technology, engineering, and gadgetry, and drawing much of its charm from the inventiveness of its mechanical characters and settings. For a fannish community long starved for intelligent filmed SF, WALL-E is a veritable and satisfying feast.
Jonathan McCalmont: While not completely devoid of reasons to be cheerful, I think that 2008 can best be viewed as a year of rather grim portents. In 2005, the domination of the Hugo best novel short list by British authors sparked talk of a “British Boom.” However, 2008 saw founding members of the British Boom such as Charles Stross, Iain M. Banks, and Ken MacLeod produce works that were some way short of their best. To me this suggests that, much like the British economy, Boom may well have given way to Bust.
Despite such gloomy omens, there were still a few good books floating about the place. The Gone Away World, Nick Harkaway’s debut novel, was far from perfect but it showed a quality of prose and quirkiness of imagination that make Harkaway a man to watch in the future. Also far from perfect but nonetheless interesting was Neuropath, Scott Bakker’s attempt at a psychological thriller. As a novel, Neuropath is a complete mess, but it continues the work of Peter Watts’s Blindsight (2006) in that it seeks to engage with contemporary theories in cognitive neuropsychology, an emerging hard science that seems ripe for SFnal exploitation. Notable imperfections dealt with, all that remains is to mention my book of the year: Paolo Bacigalupi’s Pump Six and Other Stories, a short fiction collection that is both thought-provoking and a great read.
Richard Larson: In a year that included new short story collections from Kelly Link and Jeffrey Ford, two of the most innovative writers working in the short form today (genre or otherwise), and a new novel (Liberation) from Brian Francis Slattery, whose Spaceman Blues was one of the strongest debuts in recent years, my favorite new contribution to genre storytelling was actually a small Swedish horror film, Let The Right One In, a teen vampire narrative (perhaps an antidote to Twilight) which is gaining traction as we run headlong into awards season. (Too bad Sweden hedged its bets and entered another film for the Foreign Language Oscar race...) Let The Right One In offers a refreshing use of genre tropes as devices with which to tell a universal story: that of growing up, falling in love, and discovering that while life isn’t always easy, the sacrifices are often worth it. Less sexy and scary than sweet and poignant, but just as shocking and disturbing as anything churned out by the contemporary American horror machine, this is one of those rare films that challenges expectations, a film that people outside the genre would hesitate to dub “horror” because of its superior quality and intelligent, understated tone, even though it contains some of the creepiest scenes (those cats!) that I’ve seen at the movies in quite a long time.
Adam Roberts: Film: My oldest child being seven I rarely get to the cinema to see films with 15 or 18 certificates, so many of the year’s SF releases passed me by. I did, however, manage to see surely the year’s worst SF film, the incoherent, reactionary faldapiffle of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Saucer Men And You Know? Frankly I Just Don’t Care Anymore. Luckily I also got to see the year’s best SF film: High School Musical 3: Senior Year, a terrifying near-future satire, like a 21st-century Stepford Wives only without the human characters. (Yes, yes, I know. WALL-E, yes. Cloverfield, The Dark Knight, sure).
Music: A friend of mine recently complained I use “science fiction” the way he uses “punk rock” (viz., he’ll say, “Oh my god x is so punk rock!” in order to praise x. What’s that? He’s in his 40s, yes, like me. Why do you ask?) In that spirit: the year’s best album is Deerhunter’s Microcastles, which is so SF—which, in other words, I take to be a portrait of a mildly dystopian, ongoing-environmental-and-social-collapse future, with rents in time letting through Victorian vampires to prey on the population. It’s beautiful, in a The Road sort of way.
Books: SF: McAuley’s The Quiet War, Baxter’s Flood. Fantasy: Morgan’s The Steel Remains, Heaney’s Memoirs of a Master Forger. Warning: the last three authors are friends of mine, and my relations with McAuley are cordial; so a grain of salt may be needful here. But better even than these, the year’s overall best genre novel is Le Guin’s clear, wise, and extraordinary Lavinia.
Hannah Strom-Martin: Heroes choked. Legend of the Seeker, ABC’s new show based on Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series set filmed fantasy back a decade with its B-flick acting and dreadful cliches (cue the flaming sword! Richard, you are the One!!!). Far too much was made of Twilight, a movie adaptation as literally toothless as the novel it came from. From screen to shining screen, audiences wondered when SF and fantasy were going to bring sexy back.
Claire and Peter aside, it was a good year for superheroes. The Dark Knight and Iron Man achieved new levels of emotional realism in the genre. Robert Downey Jr., Aaron Eckhart, and the late Heath Ledger gave performances that stuck with you long after the lights went up. Tarsem’s little seen film, The Fall, created fantastic dreamscapes by substituting exotic locales and Eiko Ishioka’s surreal costumes for CGI—and featured the performance of the year from an unknown child actress named Catinca Untaru as a little girl with a big imagination.
In the book realm, Holly Phillips married fantasy and science fiction to electrifying effect in The Engine’s Child. Patricia A. McKillip continued her dazzling legacy with the haunting The Bell at Sealy Head.
And in the end those of us still longing for the return of a quality high fantasy received heartening news: George R. R. Martin’s gritty and brilliant A Song of Ice and Fire cycle was optioned for HBO. The pilot is coming.
Nic Clarke: Work circumstances meant that 2008 was a relatively slow reading year for me. As usual, too, I read very few books that were actually published in 2008—and none, in any case, that have made it into my top five. My SF pick of the year is Ken MacLeod’s The Execution Channel, a masterly exercise in tension-building and misdirection, culminating in that splendid ending—which looks like a bizarre twist until you go glance back through the novel and see that it’s seeded repeatedly from the earliest chapters. I was less impressed with MacLeod’s follow-up, The Night Sessions, which lacked the pace and tension of its predecessor, and left its big idea (a future in which religion is banned) floundering without the worldbuilding detail to back it up. Another favourite was the 2008 Arthur C. Clarke Award winner, Richard Morgan’s sprawling, complex, and challenging Black Man, which gives in to thriller cliches towards the end but is never less than thought-provoking in its exploration of how prejudice operates on both social and individual levels. I also vastly enjoyed two other 2007 releases: the near-future gender speculation of Sarah Hall’s The Carhullan Army, and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Michael Chabon’s highly readable, noirish murder mystery, set in an alternate-history Alaska. Finally, I highly recommend one early-2009 release—Spirit: or The Princess of Bois Dormant, Gwyneth Jones’ huge, twisty, feminist take on The Count of Monte Cristo.
On the television front, the sadly-departed Pushing Daisies—about a piemaker who can return dead people to life, temporarily, and uses his powers to query murder victims about their demise, and so collect reward money—continued to be an anarchic, romantic, pastel-coloured delight. In its short first season, the Avengers-meets-Marvel giddiness of The Middleman went from strength to strength, combining endearingly low budget effects with strong characters, great running gags, and a blizzard of irreverent but affectionate genre references. The one that I really cannot get enough of, however, is Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which is never less than smart, thoughtful, feminist, and humane in its characterisation, storytelling choices, and use of SFnal elements.
David McWilliam: Having spent much of the year engaging with prose in one form or another, I would like to dedicate this retrospective to some alternative sources of genre sustenance. I attended my first Eastercon in March and was extremely impressed by the passionate and enthusiastic discussions on the panels, which continued at the bar into the early hours of the morning—it was a great event, and one I intend to return to in 2009. At the cinema I thoroughly enjoyed The Dark Knight; its charms have been well documented elsewhere, but I would like to express my sincere hope that its success has sent out a signal to Hollywood that dark, complex genre films can be successful, and that it will lead them to have more courage when commissioning and supporting such in the future. Sadly, the same success didn’t greet the woefully underpublicized Midnight Meat Train, an adaptation of one of Clive Barker’s short stories that injected a sense of dread and mythology into a genre that has come to rely too heavily on gore and fetishized torture (Saw franchise, I’m looking at you). Another superb film that was in and out of movie theatres so quickly that if you blinked you missed it, was The Mist, another adaptation, this time of Stephen King that combined imaginative monster design with a rather bleak portrayal of humanity at its most vulnerable. Death appeared to be in the zeitgeist this autumn, as Dead Space and Dead Set graced consoles and televisions respectively. They both offered fresh takes on survival horror that once again provided evidence that genre art is alive and well; hopefully 2009 will bring the recognition such works deserve.
L. Timmel Duchamp: My favorites of 2008:
Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother. Who could not be charmed by the story of a bright, confident teenager calling himself Winston who, after having been swept up at random the by the Department of Homeland Security during a public emergency, and been abused, denied his rights, and had his privacy invaded, deliberately makes war on it? Dystopia is rarely this fun.
Wit’s End by Karen Joy Fowler. This evocative postmodern feminist novel traces a young woman’s attempts to penetrate the labyrinth of family history. Laden with irony, yet poignant.
Leslie What, Crazy Love. “Crazy love” is often baffling to anyone who witnesses it. For Leslie What, such odd particularity provides a key for unlocking the mysteries of the ordinary heart afflicted with a love that onlookers typically categorize as “dysfunctional.” Pain, joy, self-deception, guilt: these are the places “crazy love” takes us. What knows them well.
Nisi Shawl, Filter House. The tales here bring to life characters and experiences usually below the mainstream’s radar.
John Kessel, The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories. It was a pleasure to read all four of Kessel’s Moon stories together in one sitting. I loved “Pride and Prometheus,” which brings together Victor Frankenstein and Pride and Prejudice‘s most scorned character, Mary Bennett (of “that will do, child, you have delighted us long enough” infamy), in a delightful pastiche.
Cyril Connolly’s Enemies of Promise was originally published in 1938, but the University of Chicago Press has just brought out a new edition.
Paul Kincaid: This was one of those strange years when the best things in the genre weren’t really part of the genre. The best novel I read in the year was The Angel Maker by Stefan Brijs (translated by Hester Velmans), a mainstream novel that happens to be about cloning and its consequences; though I was also delighted by The Love We Share Without Knowing by Christopher Barzak, which may have been published as a fantasy but is really mainstream with odd fantastic touches, but beautifully written. The novel that was most self-consciously placed within the history of the genre was also mainstream, The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Ackroyd, which sets the familiar story squarely as a reflection of the romantic movement’s fascination with science; it’s also Ackroyd’s best novel for years, though let down by a perfunctory ending. And the best short story collection was the mainstream collection Dangerous Laughter by Stephen Millhauser who always manages to upset our view of reality in new and delightful ways. If I am sticking to work that is purely and unabashedly SF, the best novel is The Quiet War by Paul McAuley, big widescreen SF clearly informed by the Iraq War; The City at the End of Time by Greg Bear is actually a more ambitious work and well worth reading, but the achievement doesn’t match up to the ambition.
As to the worst of the year: both The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod and Matter by Iain M. Banks were disappointing in comparison to their recent novels, but still readable. Which is more than can be said for An Evil Guest by Gene Wolfe, which is perhaps the worst thing he has written since his first novel, Operation Ares. And though others may disagree with me, I really thought The Ant King and Other Stories by Benjamin Rosenbaum was a dire exercise in self-indulgence by a writer who seems capable of much better.
Victoria Hoyle: God is Dead by Ron Currie was the most exhilarating and promising fictional debut I read in 2008. I came across it in early February—because it was shortlisted for the William L. Crawford Award—and have been thinking about it ever since. The premise of the book is simple—God is actually dead—but the short-fictional vignettes that springs from it are anything but. Currie is interested in what would happen if the backbone of our society were snapped. Would we turn to worshipping something closer at hand, like our children? Or murder each other, or ourselves? Or wage wars over philosophies rather than deities? The prose is lyrical, beautiful, cutting, and much recommended.
I will also remember 2008 as the year that I discovered Elizabeth Bear, in the form of Dust, Undertow, and All the Windwracked Stars. The last is Norse fantasy, written in a grandiose, prophetic vein that I can’t get enough of, while the first two are both genre-bending fusions of science fiction and fantasy that bemuse and charm in equal measure. Bear is full of carnival ideas and inventions; her imagination must be pumping away like a piston to produce so many at once. And, although it is somewhat exhausting to see so much talent on display in just a few short novels, it is heartening to see it so well controlled. I’m looking forward to reading more of her fruitful output in 2009.
Finally, in a year where I went to the cinema very little and watched fewer DVDs than I would have liked, I thought WALL-E was a sweet, funny and knowing movie about individuality, consumerism, and being human. I feel almost sure that its appeal will be more for adults than children—my cousins, aged 8 and 11, pronounced it “booooring”—but perhaps that is calculated. We buy the cinema tickets after all.
Duncan Lawie: The best short story I read this year was “[a ghost samba]” by Ian McDonald. It did everything I had hoped for in Brasyl, with which it shares a setting. As with the novel, it evokes a powerful sense of place, but here the impact of the quantum mechanical spookiness builds through a story which makes emotional—as well as technical—sense and leaves you with the sting. Close behind was Paul McAuley’s “A Brief Guide to Other Histories,” which also uses the material of a recent novel to better effect than the book. It covers everything which matters about the ideas in Cowboy Angels in a sharp tale. Both were from Postscripts—a wide-ranging magazine, but one which is rarely mediocre.
This isn’t to say I’m averse to big books. The world inside Neal Stephenson’s Anathem clicked so perfectly with me that I would happily have spent twice as long in it. I enjoyed the process of discovery, the long discursive discourses—vitally, the way it made me feel clever for understanding what was going on. By contrast, I abandoned Iain M. Bank’s Matter for being over-familiar.
Elsewhere, The Sarah Jane Adventures has turned into the Doctor Who I really enjoy watching—despite the Sonic Lipstick. It is warm, welcoming, and smart without being smart-aleck and has the honest naivety of the old Doctor Who. It’s interesting that, to achieve this, Sarah Jane’s companions have to be so much younger than she was as the Doctor’s assistant.
Sara Polsky: My favorite genre reads of 2008 are young adult novels. In addition to The Adoration of Jenna Fox, which I reviewed for Strange Horizons, two other books I haven’t been able to get out of my head were Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It and Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, both terrifyingly realistic novels.
My two favorite “adult” genre reads were Sarah Hall’s The Carhullan Army, published in the U.S. as Daughters of the North, and an older novel to which Hall’s work is frequently compared, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
Donna Royston: For me, 2008 has been a year of exploring children’s and young adult literature. Philip Reeve’s steampunk Larklight series is the standout for this year: what if the Victorians had achieved space (or, as they call it, aether) travel—and the physical conditions of space and other planets were as imagined during the nineteenth century, and all sorts of other creatures inhabited the solar system? The British navy sails through space (huzzah!) and—oh yes—there are space pirates, too. The third in the series, Mothstorm, was published in 2008. Clever, funny, and tremendously entertaining, these are books that can help bring a new generation of young people into SF.
Among this year’s offerings in film, WALL-E showed us a future Earth drowning in junk from our ever-more-disposable civilization, and humans fobbing off all work onto machines, leaving themselves in endless leisure (and boredom). All these different elements have been seen before: cute robot, robot achieving emotions, ecological catastrophe, and mankind sinking into a sybaritic abyss, but the treatment is clever and original. There’s enough truth to make adults wince and enough good humor and comedy to captivate the kids.
Tony Keen: As with 2007, I haven’t read many of 2008’s must-read novels, and expect to catch up in early 2009. I look forward to Stephen Baxter’s Flood (I did read the excellent Weaver) and Charles Stross’s Halting State. Most 2008 novels I read weren’t terribly interesting, with Greg Bear’s City at the End of Time a particular disappointment.
But 2008 was great for non-fiction, with Paul Kincaid’s What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction (terrible title, great collection), Farah Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy and Roz Kaveney’s Superheroes!
On television, Torchwood improved upon season 1 (not hard), The Sarah Jane Adventures was fun, pitched just right at the target audience, Bonekickers was a bit science-fictional, but nonsense, Survivors placed too much emphasis on the “cosy” of “cosy catastrophe,” and Doctor Who delivered its best series yet, with Donna being a well-rounded character who doesn’t want to get in the Doctor’s pants, and a series finale that made no sense, but still worked as entertainment.
In the cinema, I only saw The Dark Knight and Quantum of Solace. Both delivered according to their formulas. The Dark Knight is probably the best Bat-film, and possibly the best superhero movie, ever, even if it is too long.
Finally, 2008 saw the loss of some iconic figures—Forrest J. Ackerman, who coined the term “sci-fi,” Ken Slater, who kept British fandom going in the immediate post-war period, and of course, Arthur C. Clarke.
Nader Elhefnawy: I suppose I can say little here that I didn’t already say in two articles I published earlier this year—”‘The End of Science Fiction': A View of the Debate” in The Fix and “The Golden Age of Science Fiction: SFTV During the Long 1990s” in the May edition of The Internet Review of Science Fiction.
In short, the latest crop of English-language SF (this year’s included) contains a lot of good, sometimes technically brilliant work, but the really significant movements, controversies, innovations, and surprises may be largely behind us now. Notable publishing events: the late Arthur C. Clarke’s last book (which I reviewed for Strange Horizons earlier this year); and a new novel by one of the few living SF writers “mundanes” have heard of, Neal Stephenson.
Meanwhile, the slow period for science fiction on North American TV continues. The ends of Stargate: Atlantis and Battlestar Galactica early next year will actually leave American television without an original live-action, in-production space series on the air for the first time in decades. (On the other hand, the launch of Legend of the Seeker may signify a revival of the long-depressed syndicated fantasy/science fiction market, and HBO has greenlit George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.)
I haven’t seen very much genre film this year (or got the impression there was a reason to), excepting the continuing run of superhero films (six last summer alone, counting Wanted and Hancock), which is still doing very well commercially and artistically.
Dan Hartland: I’m going to cheat a bit and select something I’ve already reviewed for Strange Horizons. Adam Roberts’s Swiftly may or may not deserve to win any awards; it may or may not stand in good company with the true titans of 2008. But what I admired about it was something other than its perfection. It’s nice when ambitions are realised, but very often it’s as gratifying to see a writer set himself an impossible goal which he strives for with real relish. Swiftly was such a book: increasingly unwieldy and unconventional, it addressed the very limits of the modern novelistic form by harking back to the age of its birth. A sequel to Gulliver’s Travels which fanned out that novel’s implications in a variety of directions—both literary and speculative—Swiftly had big (perhaps deliberate) holes, and, like a badly printed jigsaw puzzle, sometimes didn’t quite match up. But in its verve and its cannibalistic inventiveness, it was as exciting and inquiring a science fiction novel as I’d care to expect, and one I’ve mulled over all year.
Lesley A. Hall: 2008 was not a year, for me, of amazing new planets swimming into my ken (I may have missed them), although there was a significant amount of reading pleasure. I read approximately 230 books during the course of the year, of which a fair number of which were re-reads, mysteries and thrillers, literary fiction, and assorted non-fiction.
A number of solid series which I had been following reached their final destination (or at least, I finally got to read the last installment): L. Timmel Duchamp’s stunning Marq’ssan Cycle, Jo Walton’s magnificent alternate history of a fascist Britain Small Change; Jacqueline Carey’s second Kushiel Trilogy; Karen Traviss’s Wess’har sequence; Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta’s War; Sharon Shinn’s Twelve Houses. At least all these came to a final resting place (or at least a viable spot to pause for breath and regrouping)—there are a number of series on my shelves where I have given up any hope that I might see what happened next, and others where there have been huge hiatuses between volumes. Even with the relatively small time lapses between volumes in the series mentioned, in several cases re-reading the whole series in order and close sequence seems like a good idea, in particular with the Duchamp and the Walton where the page-turning quality of the storytelling meant that one might overlook, on a first reading, the crafted touches and the resonance of deeper issues that give their stories their weight. Other series still keep us in suspense for the final outcome, as with Sherwood Smith’s compelling Inda tetralogy, and Naomi Novik’s saga of the Napoleonic Wars with dragons, while with others the journey goes ever onwards without any suggestion that there might even be a final destination.
Existing favourites were doing excellent work: Elizabeth Bear in particular goes from strength to strength—I especially enjoyed her Promethean Age books.
There were some new discoveries: I have been rather resisting the effloresence of “urban fantasy” on the shelves of specialist bookstores, but two series which, somewhat to my surprise, pulled me in and have me ardently anticipating the next volumes are Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series and Simon R. Green’s Nightside sequence. Part of this is surely due to plausible London or alter-London settings.
Perhaps the strongest single-author short fiction collection was Jeffrey Ford’s The Drowned Life. John Kessel’s The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Steve Millhouser’s Dangerous Laughter snapped at its quirky heels. Tall Tales on the Iron Horse by Colin P. Davies was a notable first collection.
Philosophy Through Science Fiction by Ryan Nichols examined a unique characteristic of SF: it is the only genre that, when at its best, shares the goals and methods of philosophical investigation. Anyone interested in either should read the book.
Once again, some of the best (read better-reviewed) movies of 2008 were SF or contained fantastic elements, such as Let the Right One In (vampires), WALL-E (everything except the oversized consumers), and The Dark Knight (Batman’s sub-aquatic voice—why so serious?). Meanwhile James Bond 22 had the word “Quantum” in its title—and yet.
Some dude named Chabon won the 2008 Nebula and Hugo Awards, thereby enhancing the prestige of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Junot Diaz to repeat?
Graham Sleight: Writing and publishing lead-times being what they are, there hasn’t yet been any SF or fantasy (that I’ve seen) responding to the news of the last months of 2008: the domino-like collapse of financial institutions and certainties that left one feeling the whole of western capitalism, not just Bernard Madoff’s hedge fund, was a kind of Ponzi scheme. Nor has there yet been much direct impact on the SF field, though there was the Asimov’s/Analog reduction in page-count from 144 to 112; and, just as I was drafting this, the news came through that F&SF will be going bi-monthly in its 60th anniversary year.
On the other hand, the real world usurped one SF device. Near-future works like 24 and Deep Impact have featured an African-American US President to denote their alternate-world status; now we have a real one taking office in a couple of weeks. So, in the spirit of looking on the bright side, some films from 2008 worth celebrating: the beautiful fable WALL-E, The Dark Knight‘s energetic collision of urban realism and outsize performances, Cloverfield‘s brilliant realisation of a cityscape transformed by the unimaginable. And, against my better judgment, I wound up enjoying “Journey’s End”: Russell T. Davies finishing off his last full season as showrunner of Doctor Who with an everything-turned-up-to-11 finale that was like being forced at gunpoint to eat ten pounds of chocolate. But then, I’m weak-willed and like chocolate.