Niall Alexander: Another year come and gone, and somehow I’ve managed to read more in 2010 than ever before. Odder even than that for me, supposed former latecomer extraordinaire: the majority of the books I’ve burned the midnight oil with have been relatively new releases.
Thus I’ve found it a fine twelvemonth. Damn it all, I’ve still to get to The Dervish House and Under Heaven—they’ll be superlative, I’m sure—but between The Habitation of the Blessed, Cat Valente’s exquisite Russian doll of a novel, and the omnibus editions of The Long Price, Daniel Abraham’s superbly edgy debut, I’ve had a fantastic year of fantasy. Meanwhile my inner geek got it on with Hannu Rajaniemi’s bafflingly brilliant first novel The Quantum Thief and the heartfelt hilarity of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. And then there was the wonder and the horror of Joe Hill’s Horns.
However, the four score and more books I’ve devoured through 2010 have left me more than a little wanting for time to indulge my other major addiction. Of the precious few films I’ve squirreled away the time to sit down with, Martin Scorsese’s intensely unnerving Shutter Island ranks the highest, poignant selkie fable Ondine demands more notice, while Inception and Splice—both of which I had the highest of hopes for—rather disappointed. And the less said about Frank Darabont’s lifeless adaptation of The Walking Dead, the better.
An excellent vintage, otherwise, this year. And I expect I’ll be drinking it in for some time to come.
Nic Clarke: I usually wait for new releases to come out in paperback before I buy them, so a list of my favorite reads of 2010 is necessarily short, being composed of books sent to me for review. Happily, the reviewing gods gave me several gems this year. Top of the pile is Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House, a giddy microcosmic mosaic of life in a near-future Istanbul, and a welcome return to form after the slightly uneven Brasyl. The award for most beautiful and painstakingly crafted novel of the year goes, of course, to Guy Gavriel Kay for Under Heaven (my review is here); I found it less emotionally involving than some of his earlier works, but Kay’s characteristic thematic and aesthetic concerns receive arguably their most complete expression in his fantastical version of T’ang China.
Unlike McDonald and Kay, I was not familiar with Tricia Sullivan before reading her latest, but Lightborn proved an infectious and inventive tale of teenagers learning to cope for themselves in the wreckage of a town destroyed by adult irresponsibility and a mind-altering technology run amok. Honorable mentions for 2010, meanwhile, go to a pair of very effective trilogy openers: The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan (my review) and The King’s Bastard by Rowena Cory Daniells (my review). Both offer finely tuned character-driven fantasy, paced for tension and page-turning in a subgenre prone to bloat.
L. Timmel Duchamp: Although its official US publication date was December 29, 2009, in practical terms, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Galileo’s Dream appeared in early 2010, and so for me it counts as one of the outstanding works of 2010. Here we come to know Galileo as a man of his time, his “genius” a gift that was nurtured and fulfilled in the matrix of his household network. Robinson’s rich depiction imagines the very grain of such a life, suffused with joy, passion, sorrow, and irony. I find myself, in retrospect, thinking of it as a companion to Gwyneth Jones’s Life. Other outstanding works: Library of America’s Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories, Karen Joy Fowler’s brilliant What I Didn’t See and Other Stories, Rachel Swirsky’s masterful “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window” from Subterranean Magazine‘s summer issue, and Alice Kim Sola’s sublime “The Other Graces” in Asimov’s July 2010 issue. Also interesting: Anna Tambour’s “Gnawer of the Moon Seeks Summit of Paradise” (in Sprawl, edited by Alisa Krasnostein, from Twelfth Planet Press), Holly Black’s The Poison Eaters, Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey, and Daniel Abraham’s Leviathan Wept.
Nader Elhefnawy: This year I was consistently struck by the preponderance of fantasy over science fiction in the listings of new releases. (Make of that what you will.) I was struck, too, by the abundance of “retro” science fiction, most evident in the ongoing “steampunk” boom. (I’ve written before about why I think this is the case, so I won’t belabor the point here.)
Where particular titles are concerned, my personal list of “events” includes the conclusion of two noteworthy series, Charles Stross’s The Merchant Princes, with The Trade of Queens, and David J. Williams’s Autumn Rain, each satisfactory (though in quite different ways). Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders’s sword and sorcery anthology Swords & Dark Magic contained its share of worthwhile stories, but fell short of its publicity. (In the end, it wasn’t at all clear what was so new about the “new” sword and sorcery, let alone how it represented an improvement on the older tradition.) I also enjoyed Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, not least because of its surprising aplomb in handling its speculative elements.
I have had a less comprehensive view of “media” science fiction, but I would be remiss in failing to note the Syfy Channel’s continued movement away from science fiction as it continues to embrace reality television, airing it every weeknight now and treating professional wrestling as the jewel in its crown.
Niall Harrison: My reading in 2010 was most notable for containing an excitement of debuts (yes, that’s the appropriate collective noun) that range across the spectrum of the fantastic. In the bronze medal position cluster one quartet of writers: Hannu Rajaniemi, for his vibrant posthuman heist yarn, The Quantum Thief; Robert Jackson Bennett, for his hypnotic depression-era gothic, Mr Shivers; Amelia Beamer, for her sharp pop-fiction apocalypse, The Loving Dead; and N. K. Jemisin, for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and—in particular—The Broken Kingdoms, which showcase a striking and political imagination. One step above them on the podium huddle another foursome: Karen Lord, for wise and witty trickster fantasy Redemption in Indigo; Charles Yu, for the smart and sentimental time-travel soliloquy How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe; Dexter Palmer, for retro-futuristic enchantment The Dream of Perpetual Motion (you can’t make me say steampunk); and Isaac Marion, for zombie romance Warm Bodies which is, against all odds, inspirational. (First UK editions of Chris Beckett’s The Holy Machine and Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl mean that over here, both could be added to this listing.) And at the top of the heap is Francis Spufford for Red Plenty, which prises open the gap between the history and the reality of Soviet Russia through a series of note-perfect character portraits, and which is the finest book of any kind that I read in 2010. I can’t justify claiming these writers as a generation, but I can’t wait to see what each of them does next.
Dan Hartland: Of all this year’s books, the one I welcomed with most anticipation was Patrick Ness’s Monsters of Men, which concluded his Chaos Walking trilogy in about as satisfying a manner as any reader had a right to expect. This, of course, means that it was weaker than one might have hoped, and continued some of the at times irritating tics of the preceding volumes. But it was also pacey, thoughtful, and slickly realized. The trilogy as a whole is required reading for anyone interested in contemporary SF.
Ness has enjoyed considerable good press; David Mitchell, on the other hand, received reviews more lukewarm than he is used to for this year’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. A function, perhaps, of the novel’s unusual structure and plot, but also, I think, of its rather tricksy mixing of genre and register. Too little has been written about Mitchell’s quirky use of the fantastic in his latest book, and if the novel doesn’t always smooth out its bumps as well as it might have done, they are interesting, entertaining bumps nevertheless.
Finally, something of a cheat: A Book of Endings by Deborah Biancotti was actually published in August 2009, but I read and reviewed it for Strange Horizons in Februrary. Allow me to take this manufactured opportunity, therefore, to urge you to find it in 2011. Happy New Year.
CB Harvey: 2010? The more things change, the more they stay the same. No problem with that. It’s great to see originality but there’s pleasure too in seeing familiar things awarded a new twist.
So in television the year started as it meant to continue, with Matt Smith’s emergence as the Eleventh Doctor in probably the best Doctor Who debut since Jon Pertwee’s “Spearhead in Space” forty years earlier. If the rest of the series didn’t quite maintain the impetus it did at least deliver some cast iron classics along the way. The BBC also gave us a second season of Survivors—which will not, unfortunately, live to see a third.
I’ve become more beguiled with zombies, too, perhaps because of their ubiquity. The zombie march—well, stumble—gained momentum with the extraordinary television adaptation of The Walking Dead. In books I enjoyed Andrew Hook’s And God Created Zombies, and Chris Golden’s Zombie—An Undead Anthology showed that the living dead are at least as flexible an archetype as their vampire cousins.
And still the resurrections lumber this way. The BBC gifted a new version of the M. R. James classic “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,” benefiting from a modern sheen and a terrifying, discordant soundtrack. And then there was Tron, back as movie, video game, and comic book, one of the least accessible mainstream franchises you’re liable to encounter but still somehow wonderful. Sure, familiarity frequently breeds contempt. But it so often makes my fannish heart sing.
David Hebblethwaite: 2010 was the year I finally discovered Ian McDonald. I found The Dervish House to be a beautiful portrait of interlocking lives, whose theme of people’s being part of wider structures and systems is reflected elegantly throughout the novel. Along with this sprawling edifice, my other favorite fantastic read of the year was Light Boxes by Shane Jones, the short, dreamlike tale of a balloon-maker’s war against February, which works on several levels at once, but refuses to be held to a definitive interpretation.
Overall, 2010 was a good year for interesting SF and fantasy. I’d also recommend: Robert Jackson Bennett’s Depression-era fantasy/horror/historical fusion, Mr Shivers; Lauren Beukes’s understated urban fantasy, Zoo City; Tom Fletcher’s fresh take on werewolves, The Leaping; Matt Haig’s engaging tale of everyday vampires, The Radleys; M. D. Lachlan’s Viking fantasy, Wolfsangel; Gwyneth Lewis’s retelling and interrogation of myth, The Meat Tree; Adam Roberts’s story of democratized warfare, New Model Army; and Charles Yu’s time travel metafiction, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.
From previous years, Liz Jensen’s The Rapture and Marcel Theroux’s Far North were two excellent novels of a world transformed by climatic change; the content of A. C. Tillyer’s story collection An A-Z of Possible Worlds was as striking as its presentation (twenty-six pamphlets in a box); Colin Greenland’s Take Back Plenty was enormous fun; and Christopher Priest’s magnificent The Affirmation reminded me that I really ought to read his work more often.
Matthew Jones: December always finds me in a confessional mood, and as 2010 draws to a close I once again have a dark secret to get off my chest: Christopher Nolan’s Inception just didn’t do it for me. For many it was the science fiction cinema event of the year. For me it was a little staid, a little confused, and a little less than the sum of its parts. Dream worlds on film can be imaginatively conceived and beautifully delivered, but Inception‘s dreams felt altogether too ordinary to me, no matter how stunning the visual effects.
In contrast, Monsters was a film with a relatively small budget, comparatively few special effects and a much simpler premise, and yet it trounced Inception in almost every regard. Where the latter used the unfamiliar architecture of its dreams as little more than an interesting background for the high tempo action sequences to dash through, Monsters delivered a considered and sympathetic exploration of its world that allowed the story to unfold delicately, removing the need to distract the viewer with extended CGI sequences. As a result, it was emotionally and intellectually engaging in a way that Nolan’s film strived for but never achieved.
For my money, however, the biggest triumph of science fiction’s year was the return of an old friend from Gallifrey. In April, Doctor Who regenerated once more. New executive producer Steven Moffat blew away the cobwebs of the increasingly problematic reign of Russell T. Davies, and in swooped the youthful, exuberant, and sparkling new Doctor in the form of Matt Smith. It took me less than two episodes to forget that I had ever loved another Doctor (sorry, David Tennant), but the real reward here was the intelligence and warmth of the majority of the scripts. 2010 provided further proof that you just can’t keep a good Time Lord down.
Chris Kammerud: 2010 was a year, like most years, in which there were many goodbyes, a few hellos, and a surprising amount of dead things which refused to stay dead. We said goodbye to Lost (that final shot of Jack: perfect) and hello to the new, new, new, new, new, new, new, new, new, new version of Doctor Who (that’s 10 news if counting tires you). We also began to say goodbye to Harry Potter (again).
2010 ultimately, though, was another banner year for the undead. We had, among other things, Zombie Economics, Zombies vs. Unicorns, The Walking Dead adapted for AMC by Frank Darabont, and also, of course, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I haven’t read Zombie Economics or Zombies vs. Unicorns, but I plan on reading the one with magic horses. The Walking Dead, I thought, succeeded in understanding that the title referred not to the zombies, but to a group of people struggling within the confines of horror to remember what it means to be alive and human. And, as for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, it managed to resurrect—with both brains and heart—the collective 8-bit unconscious of an entire generation, while simultaneously demonstrating that generation’s remarkable capacity for distraction, interconnectedness, and general kick-assnesses. As such it was derided as insular and self-indulgent by some, and possibly the best movie ever about anything, by others. I lean towards the second camp, but then I once played The Ocarina of Time with my sister, more or less non-stop, for an entire day or possibly weekend. It’s hard to remember, really. We were young, and time was different then.
Tony Keen: 2010 was another year when I didn’t get to watch or view as much new SF as I’d like. I’ve spent a lot of time seeing through various projects, including a collection on Doctor Who for the Science Fiction Foundation, to be published in early 2011.
Speaking of Who, 2010 saw Steven Moffat’s first series as showrunner. A bit of a mixed bag, I felt. I liked the new Doctor (Matt Smith) and new companion, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), but was not impressed by the new Daleks, and felt the finale shared a bit too much in common with series three‘s “Last of the Time Lords” in terms of mass belief pulling rabbits out of hats.
Once again, fiction book of the year was by Ian McDonald, this time The Dervish House, which I took with me to Istanbul. It was summed up perfectly by Niall Harrison: “Like River of Gods, but done a little bit better in just about every way; in particular, lower-key and all the better for it.” Santa brought me Tricia Sullivan’s Lightborn and Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief, both of which I’m looking forward to.
I’ve also accumulated some interesting-looking non-fiction this year, into which I have so far merely dipped. I have to declare an interest and say that I myself have chapters in the collections Space and Time and Impossible Worlds, Impossible Things, but have no such conflict of interest over British Science Fiction & Fantasy: Twenty Years, Two Surveys, Niall Harrison’s revisiting of Paul Kincaid’s 1989 Mexicon survey.
Here’s to 2011!
Paul Kincaid: One of the most interesting things to happen during 2010 has been a discussion, orchestrated by Niall Harrison at Torque Control, about the vanishing position of women in contemporary science fiction. A sidelight from this discussion, for me, threw into relief the way our understanding of what constitutes science fiction has narrowed over time. My best books of the year, therefore, are all works that challenge the wide-screen-baroque shoot-‘em-ups and rapture-of-the-nerds digitized futures that have become the default genre formulae of late. Easily the best novel of the year was Generosity by Richard Powers; more fiction about science than science fiction, it is still an enthralling work about the social and individual cost of understanding. The novel that, if there is any justice, will clean up at this year’s award ceremonies is The Dervish House by Ian McDonald, a vigorous account of the minutiae of everyday life in the very near future in the tumultuous city of Istanbul. It used to be common to find SF written with the same concerns and the same affect as the mainstream; it has become extraordinarily rare these days, which makes McDonald’s novel even more important. As evidence that women do still write powerful SF, I offer Lightborn by Tricia Sullivan, which comes close to the formula but, in its concentration on what it takes to grow up, still proves how valuable good SF can be. In a year in which I seem to have read even more non-fiction than usual, the book I pick is the most difficult, the most troubling, the book I argued with and fought with from first page to last: Defined by a Hollow by Darko Suvin is not for the faint-hearted, it will puzzle you and make you angry, but it will still revitalize your engagement with the genre. Finally a novel that would have easily made my list last year had I read it just a few days earlier, which shows how arbitrary these lists are. The Rapture by Liz Jensen is simply an enthralling and engaging mainstream novel that somehow manages to pack as many science fictional thrills as you could hope to find. So remember, you don’t have to go into outer space or encounter posthumans for it to be science fiction.
Richard Larson: The highlights of 2010 for me were mostly in the category of short fiction. Two amazing collections were released—Jeff VanderMeer’s The Third Bear and Paul Tremblay’s In the Mean Time—which considerably enrich and expand the field of the speculative short story. I’ve also been enthusiastically reading stories by Rick Bowes which have appeared throughout the year, most often exploring ideas of memory, history, and the effects of the passing of time, which are a part of a larger project that I can’t wait to see all in one place. And yet even among this venerable company, the most memorable story I read all year was Alaya Dawn Johnson’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” part of the YA anthology Zombies vs. Unicorns (edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier), which I’m so happy is out there in the world, as the YA market tends to be dominated by series novels and it’s nice to see short fiction jump into the mix with such a quality anthology.
Duncan Lawie: New Model Army is the book I admired most this year. I’m not sure I actually liked it, but nor am I sure that Adam Roberts expects that of his work. By comparison, there were two books I loved this year—each a love letter to a city I love. Reading Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House in London and China Miéville’s Kraken in Istanbul may have increased their connectedness in my mind (since each is about the other city) yet both books combine secret histories with streets we can walk down. Miéville has unleashed prose so purple even the (British) cover is tinted with it and it perfectly suits the extravagant tale he tells of a magical battle to save London (and, coincidentally, the world). McDonald’s writing, while more contained than Miéville’s, also feels richer than his previous novel. The richness of mosaic, as Nic Clarke suggested, suits a novel describing a past and future of Istanbul through the miniature of several lives and five days.
An unexpected pleasure this year has been the company of Jonathan Strahan, usually with Gary K. Wolfe, in the Coode Street Podcast. Like old drinking buddies, there are familiar themes running through these conversations, but the strongest message is always one of deep interest in what our genres mean and where they are going.
Michael Levy: I’ve mostly been reading children’s and young adult science fiction and fantasy this year (because I’m co-authoring a book on the subject with Farah Mendlesohn) and there’s been some wonderful stuff. My favorites include Elizabeth Hand’s delicate contemporary fantasy Illyria, which concerns cousins whose relationship is closer than perhaps it should be; Holly Black’s dark alternate universe tale The Curse Workers: White Cat, which features a noir, Depression-era atmosphere and some unusual magic; Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron, a science fantasy set in a Gormenghast-like prison; Diana Wynne Jones whimsical Enchanted Glass; Philip Reeve’s Fever Crumb, a beautifully done steampunkish prelude to his Mortal Engines quartet; Patrick Ness’s Monsters of Men, the painful final volume in his award-winning Chaos Walking science fiction trilogy; Scott Westerfeld’s steampunk dirigible tale Behemoth, sequel to his award-winning Leviathan; Jonathan Stroud’s The Ring of Solomon, another tale of the demon Bartimaeus, this time set in an alternate universe ancient Middle East; Hiromi Goto’s grim and disturbing mythological fantasy Half World; and Robin McKinley’s lovely new fantasy, Pegasus which, despite its title, she has assured me, is very definitely not about winged horses. All of these books are well worth reading, though the Hand novella will probably work best for readers who don’t generally like young adult fiction.
Martin Lewis: It is always good news when a new imprint launches but I think the appearance of Corvus on the UK scene was particularly exciting. Corvus is the new genre imprint from Atlantic and their SF list for 2010 consisted of Chris Beckett, Tim Powers, Jeff Vandermeer, Fay Wheldon, and Charles Yu. You’d be hard pressed to think of a better way to hit the ground running.
The first six volumes of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series were finally released in the UK this year, just in advance of the concluding volume and the film adaptation. I wolfed the books down—so that’s what all the fuss was about!—but unfortunately I found Scott Pilgrim vs. The World extremely problematic.
I read my first Joe Abercrombie novel—Best Served Cold—this year and was instantly converted into a fan. I’m looking forward to read his First Law trilogy over Christmas as I take a well deserved break from my duties as an Arthur C. Clarke judge. Said duties mean that I’ve got to keep schtum about most of my picks for the best of the year. Suffice to say, I think it has been a very strong year for science fiction literature.
The same can’t be said of cinema though. Inception tried very hard to blow our minds and, even if it wasn’t successful, I’m glad it tried. Otherwise it was very slim pickings and I suspect I am going to struggle to fill my Best Dramatic Presentation ballot for next year’s Hugos.
Jonathan McCalmont: For the second year in a row, one of my books of the year was written by Adam Roberts. New Model Army saw Roberts on really top form with some lovingly nuanced characterization, some brilliant descriptive passages (including a flight over Europe and some of the best battle scenes I have ever read) and more ideas than you can shake a Stick 2.0 at. The book is essentially everything that Little Brother tried to be but failed. A politically engaged and engaging look at the way in which social networking and the internet are changing our relationships with each other, with the state and with ourselves, New Model Army really should be in line for an award or two next year. Beautiful and powerful stuff. My other favorite read was provided by the critic Nicholas Ruddick whose The Fire in The Stone—Prehistoric Fiction from Charles Darwin to Jean M. Auel attempts to reclaim prehistoric fiction as a branch of the specfic family tree. Insightful, wide-ranging, and astonishingly eye-opening in its treatment of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, Ruddick’s book also lays the foundations for an entirely new way of looking at alternative history narratives.
Outside of the world of books I was particularly impressed by Fumi Yoshinaga’s ongoing manga series Ōoku: The Inner Chambers (despite some jaw-droppingly bad translation work) as well as the Irish Studio Ghibli-style animated film The Secret of Kells and Gareth Edwards’s Monsters, a low-budget journey into the hollowing out of the American empire.
David McWilliam: In the cinema, Kick-Ass exceeded its role as parody to become my favorite superhero film, largely due to Jane Goldman’s script, which was smart, funny and, on occasion, surprisingly moving. The second Grimm Up North, Manchester’s annual horror and science fiction film festival, was a massive improvement on the first year, with a stronger program and greater diversity making it look set to become a staple event for genre audiences in the UK over the coming years. Computer games continue to provide innovative ways of scaring their audiences, most notably the excellent Alan Wake, which combined Twin Peaks-style weirdness with the sort of tension created by John Carpenter at the height of his powers.
A Matter of Blood, Sarah Pinborough’s debut novel for Gollancz, impressed with its generic blending and intriguing metaphysical plot. With the sinister Apartment 16, Adam Nevill builds on the success of the brilliant Banquet for the Damned to consolidate his position as a powerful new voice in contemporary horror fiction. Another stunning ghost story from this year, albeit of a more gently disturbing nature, is Graham Joyce’s The Silent Land. Charles Stross’s The Fuller Memorandum may well be the best novel I have read by him and perfects his amusingly cynical Lovecraftian spy series that began with The Atrocity Archives. But, despite strong competition, my book of the year goes to Jeff VanderMeer’s Finch, which takes the reader on a nightmare journey through a human city, Ambergris, under the occupation of a fungal race known as the gray caps. It combines Burroughsian drug narratives, Dickian identity crises, and Cronenbergian body horror, filtering them through a relentlessly dark noir plot. This novel blew me away and I urge you to read it. Now.
Farah Mendlesohn: Having spent most of the year with my books in storage, I haven’t been in a hurry to acquire new ones. I’ve made an exception however for science and history of science books. The four standouts are two non-fiction and two fiction.
Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was an impressive piece of research into a piece of racialized and class-structured medical history and an excoriating account of the injustices of the US medical system rolled into one. I maintain qualms over Skloot’s attitude to the Lacks family, and her inability to question her own privilege, but the book offers challenges and questions I haven’t seen expressed as well elsewhere and also communicated the excitement of scientific research. My second choice for non-fiction is Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender. Fine is a neurobiologist. In this book she has trawled through all the research papers into gender differences in babies, children, and adults, sorted the wheat from the chaff, and cried “bullshit” on most of the popular interpretations. I was particularly fascinated by the degree to which researchers have found that even asking someone their sex prior to a test can influence the result, and particularly humbling was the section on how smart, competent, and feminist women can unconsciously assess the importance of an activity in terms of whether it is majority men or women, and adapt accordingly.
In fiction, N. K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was a very different kind of fantasy. If it aligns with any strand it is with Peake, both in the exploration of a corrupt political system and in the claustrophobia of the edifice within which it is set. A very different kind of science fiction is Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty. Eagerly awaited by anyone who had read his non-fiction (particularly Backroom Boys) this didn’t disappoint as Spufford set out to show the ways in which Russian mathematicians tried to create socialism through mathematical modeling. Fascinating and moving.
William Mingin: My chief mode of interaction with genre is reading around in the past, among the classics and not-so-classics. This year I re-read one literal classic with fantasy content, The Golden Ass of Apuleius (ca. 165 A.D.), translated by Jack Lindsay (the Robert Graves translation, a lovely, stately book, I have heard mocked by classicists as completely false to the style of original). It includes the “Amor and Psyche” story, one of the first fairy tales of Western culture, and gives a picture of both a bawdy, dangerous, misogynist culture and of ancient religious piety.
Another re-read was Poe’s haunting, gloomy, and sensationalistic Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838). Then a first reading of some modern genre classics: Keith Roberts’s Pavane (1968), dense, exquisitely written, with unforgettable scenes, though I wasn’t completely comfortable with the SF/fantasy mix nor with the ending; and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (1996), an urban dark fantasy so note-perfect it almost does itself in by becoming slick.
And pulpy classics: The Ship of Ishtar (1926), the only major A. Merritt I didn’t read in childhood, a fever dream, in supersaturated hues, of magic and desire, firmly rejecting life for the sake of fantasy; and Arthur O. Friel’s The Pathless Trail (1922), a South American adventure, not dull or wooden as so many pulp “adventures” were, but strongly written, plausible, and exciting.
You can’t shop in the past, looking for better prices, pace Nancy Kress; but writing, by its nature, preserves the past, reading lets us access it, and its resources are effectively endless.
Abigail Nussbaum: Had it not been nominated for the Clarke award, I probably never would have discovered my favorite science fiction novel of 2010. But it was, and I did, and what I found in Marcel Theroux’s Far North was a beautifully, and bleakly, realized post-apocalyptic novel narrated by one of the most winning—because so flawed and at the same time so principled—protagonists I’ve ever encountered. My fantasy reading served up a mixed bag this year, but I was nevertheless pleased to discover that Kit Whitfield’s In Great Waters more than lives up to its hype (you’ll find it all over last year’s reviewer roundup), combining the fantastic and historical genres into an utterly believable alternate past ruled by human-mermaid hybrids, and touching on the very meaning of what it is to be human, and the strains that occur when humanity encounters an alien species on its own planet.
In media, I was bored by Inception, and Stephen Moffat’s take on Doctor Who left me cold despite the occasional moment of brilliance. Two television series brightened what has otherwise become a rather barren landscape. The Battlestar Galactica prequel Caprica, now cancelled after a single season, was flawed, but featured some of the most sophisticated SFnal worldbuilding, and some of the most thoughtful handling of the effects of new technology on human society, that I have ever seen on TV. At the very other end of the tonal scale lies Avatar: The Last Airbender (not to be confused with either the James Cameron or M. Night Shyamalan movies), which skews younger than I tend to care for, but handles issues of race and gender, explores themes of violence and redemption, and circumvents the inherent fascism of the YA quest fantasy with an intelligence and a seeming ease that put to shame a lot of allegedly adult-oriented genre TV—and it’s a hell of a lot of fun too.
The most important genre-related development in my life in 2010, however, was taking over from Niall Harrison as editor of Strange Horizons‘s reviews department. It’s only been a couple of months, but I’ve been having a wonderful time, and I look forward to continuing the work in 2011.
Hallie O’Donovan: In 2010, there was none of the usual dithering about what was top of my reading list, as that place went to Connie Willis’s Blackout and All Clear. Having waited for this book since Worldcon in 2005, it was almost bound to disappoint in some way. And it seems it did disappoint many, for reasons I quite understand. Despite that, I found it deeply engrossing and equally moving. It may be a cliché to talk of the quiet heroism of ordinary Londoners during World War II, but Willis succeeded in portraying that courage brilliantly, as her historians (time travelers) experience the terror and everyday concerns of life during the Blitz. The gradually connecting stories of the various historians kept me riveted for over 1,000 pages and engaged through the roughly nine-month wait for the second volume.
I also got enormous pleasure from Sherwood Smith’s Ruritanian novels, both in draft and—in the case of the first, Coronets and Steel—in published form. Kim is a wonderfully real heroine and the exploration of what honor might mean to her in situations she would never have imagined herself being in is done with Smith’s trademark thoughtfulness.
Finally, this year I discovered Sarah Prineas, whose middle grade fantasies are a bit younger than I normally read, but still, from the first chapter of The Magic Thief I was totally captivated. The writing style is pleasingly restrained, the protagonist a delight, and the disruption of gender and other stereotypes all the more effective for the lack of authorial grandstanding. And there are runic messages to decipher!
Sara Polsky: Once again, most of my favorite books in 2010 were YA novels or collections. I loved Melina Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock, a fantasy with a rich setting and a careful approach to serious issues like the treatment of war refugees. Then there’s Holly Black’s White Cat, an absolutely absorbing book. The Zombies vs. Unicorns anthology is a delightful and varied read. And Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay delivers the same intense reading experience as the two books it follows, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.
As for non-YA reads, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Justin Cronin’s The Passage. Not only are his science fictional creatures terrifying and memorable, but I couldn’t get the human characters out of my head for days after I finished reading.
Adam Roberts: I have a peculiar weakness for year’s-end best-of lists in which preening experts recommend books I have not only not read, but have never even heard of. Alas, I can’t emulate that here. The best SF novels I read this year—McDonald’s Dervish House, Rajaniemi’s Quantum Thief, Spufford’s Red Plenty, Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe—are exactly the ones cropping up on everybody’s lists. That’s because they’re all really very good. The best fantasy novel of the year is M. D. Lachlan’s Wolfsangel; the best collection of short fiction probably Jeff Vandermeer’s Third Bear (though I very much enjoyed this anonymous, 170-word SF short story, via Patrick Nielsen Hayden). The best online zine is Strange Horizons (ha!) and the best SF blog probably still Torque Control, for the short story clubs and reviews, though Niall’s massively useful linkdumps have gotten fewer and further between. The best work of print SF criticism is harder to call: probably Gwyneth Jones’s excellent collection Imagination/Space (though Peter Paik’s intermittently excellent From Utopia to Apocalypse: SF and the Politics of Catastrophe is also noteworthy). TV has been disappointing, overshadowed by the massive anticlimax of the Lost finale; cinema little better, although one marginally genre film released this year (Toy Story 3) certainly touched real greatness. SF music: I very much like Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy soundtrack, although the reviews have been mixed. They call it a cross between Maurice Jarre and early Kraftwerk—as if that’s a bad thing!
Graham Sleight: My copy arrived only a few weeks ago, but the book that hit me most forcefully this year was Karen Joy Fowler’s What I Didn’t See and Other Stories, from Small Beer Press. The lead story, “The Pelican Bar,” has already been justly celebrated, but there were many others here of similar quality. A clutch of stories about John Wilkes Booth underlines Fowler’s preoccupation with US history and myth—a theme that runs back to stories like “The Faithful Companion at Forty” in her astonishingly accomplished first collection Artificial Things (1987). On any reckoning, she’s one of the two or three most important writers of speculative fiction in the last few decades.
Kari Sperring: 2010 was, for me, the year of little SFF—not the fault of the genre, but more a consequence of circumstances. N. K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was a high-point of the first half of the year, and stands out for me as one the best books of 2010, along with Freda Warrington, Midsummer Night, and Lauren Beukes, Zoo City. French publisher Bragelonne finished the year off nicely for me with Le Dragon des Arcanes, the third volume in Pierre Pevel’s mesmerizing series, Les Lames du Cardinal. I seem to have missed most of the cinematic releases this year: the closest thing for me to a really engaging genre film was not SF at all but Jackie Chan’s engaging and plyaful The Spy Next Door, which plays closely to the comedic talents long beloved of those familiar with his Hong Kong films.
I was not one of those overwhelmed by Steven Moffat at the helm of Doctor Who: Matt Smith makes a strong doctor, but the levels of sentiment and soap remain too high for me and the episodes too cropped and emotionally driven. I preferred Channel 4’s darkly clever Misfits.