Niall Alexander: I’m sure I said this very thing here last year, but it was true then, and it’s true now too: I spent more time reading this year than I ever have in the past. There’s been an impetus, I admit, for me to get through more books than before, to wit: those reading experiences that stood out in 2013 are those that immersed me despite my best efforts.
Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson certainly sucked me in, if less than 2312 did in 2012, and I’d say the same for Kate Atkinson’s latest and greatest—though its unnecessary Nazis proved a dash distracting. But the book that I got lost in for longest was certainly S. An exquisitely crafted collaboration between J. J. Abrams and Alive in Necropolis‘s Doug Dorst, this is a metafiction so meticulous and considered and meaningful, finally, that House of Leaves may very well have been bettered. Those who disregarded S. because of its scribbled gimmicks would be well advised to give this love letter to literature a closer look.
River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay is a markedly more traditional text than S., yes; nevertheless, this return to the dynastic delights of Under Heaven‘s ancient empire was bolstered by delicately developed characters, a massively ambitious narrative, an exquisitely rendered setting, and prose so finely honed that it has all the impact of fine art. Notwithstanding The Crane Wife and Life after Life, this masterful fantasy made my March.
Nina Allan: As it turns out, the two novels that kicked off the year for me—Nicholas Royle’s compelling metafiction First Novel and Caitlín R. Kiernan’s masterpiece of a ghost story The Drowning Girl—have remained at the top of my charts for the entire twelve months. The best collection I read was Helen Marshall’s set of stunning dark fantasies Hair Side, Flesh Side, and the exquisite quality of these stories makes me especially pleased to learn that Marshall has a second collection launching in 2014. My favorite debut in 2013 was Matt Hill’s The Folded Man, a hauntingly original science fiction that also presents a striking portrait of Hill’s native Manchester. Still with British SF, James Smythe’s The Machine is the kind of novel—tense, bleak and terrifying—that demands to be consumed in a single sitting. My book of the year though has to be Richard House’s hallucinatory political-fantasia-in-four-novels The Kills. A crime story within a crime story within a crime story, this modern masterpiece more than adequately repays the time commitment required to assimilate its thousand pages.
Almost everything in genre cinema left me cold this year, from the anodyne and overblown Ender’s Game through to the overhyped Gravity to the pointless and ultimately unfunny The World’s End. The predictable-seeming trailers left me less than eager to sample the second installment in the Hunger Games trilogy, and even Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, which I was expecting to love, I found cloyingly pretentious and self-indulgent. Given these disappointments, I was particularly thrilled to see Brit Marling’s The East, an original and bravely committed near-future eco-thriller that had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.
Maya Chhabra: Neither of the two best genre books I read this year was published in 2013. One is science fiction and came out in 2006; the other is a fantasy manuscript that has yet to acquire a publisher. Both are character-driven tales of political intrigue, romance, and culture clash.
After reading Elizabeth Bear’s Carnival, I wondered why I hadn’t picked it up years ago. Protagonists Michelangelo and Vincent are wonderful characters and I found myself deeply invested in their efforts to change their society and their willingness to risk their relationship with each other to do so. Thought-provoking, haunting worldbuilding adds richness to the story. I look forward to reading Bear’s One-Eyed Jack when it is released next year.
Seth Dickinson’s novelistic expansion of his moving short story “The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Her Field-General, and Their Wounds,” is an astonishing debut. I hope it soon finds a publisher so that more readers can be blown away by it. Dickinson’s gift for creating complex, fully realized female characters is on full display here. Baru and her field-general are hard to forget. The skillful handling of point of view and layered, impassioned exploration of the effects of imperialism show a maturity unusual in a first novel, the seeds of which are clear in Dickinson’s shorter work. I really can’t praise The Traitor Baru Cormorant highly enough.
Anne Charnock: I had fun in 2013 reading, back-to-back, the six shortlisted novels for the Arthur C. Clarke Award and I was delighted that my own favorite, Dark Eden by Chris Beckett, took the prize. But of the books published in 2013, I’d select Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life as my No. 1 reading highlight. What emerges from the novel is a sense that people, on the whole, have an unfathomable ability to move on from tragedy. In that regard, it’s an uplifting read and a good book to start off the New Year if you’ve not read it as yet.
The biggest disappointment of 2013 was Neill Blomkamp’s film Elysium. I had high hopes after his success with District 9, but the plot was shot through with holes and the dialogue was clunking.
Matthew Cheney: 2013 was a strong year on the culture front—just listing titles would take up all my allotted space. One writer in particular had a great year, and I will focus on him, because his work deserves more attention.
Richard Bowes published four books in 2013: The Queen, the Cambion, and Seven Others (Aqueduct Press), Minions of the Moon (Lethe Press), Dust Devil on a Quiet Street (Lethe Press), and If Angels Fight (Fairwood Press). These are books about magic, history, identity, Manhattan. They are deeply moving but unsentimental.
The Queen, the Cambion, and Seven Others is a bit of an outlier in the group, as it is a collection of modern fairy tales. Minions, Dust Devil, and If Angels Fight fit together as a kind of trilogy. Minions (first published by Tor in 1999) and Dust Devil are novels built from short stories, but they fit together in remarkable ways—Dust Devil in particular slices and dices the original texts into a remarkable new whole. If Angels Fight includes some of the same stories, but their short story unity is preserved, and so reading them in the collection is a very different experience from reading them in the novels.
Dust Devil on a Quiet Street may be the best book Bowes has ever written. In a just world it would have won a Pulitzer Prize. For me, it is one of the most affecting novels published by an American writer in the last twenty-five years or so.
Indrapramit Das: In books, Jesse Bullington’s The Folly of the World and Nicola Griffith’s Hild gave us two brilliant historical novels that courted fantasy for their canny evocation of the magical paradigms of times past, without ever losing sight of their vividly drawn characters.
In comics, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s sweeping yet sweet space opera Saga paired perfectly with Brandon Graham’s beautifully bizarre, pulpy far-future space epic Prophet. Mike Mignola gave his most beloved demonic hero a melancholic homecoming in Hellboy in Hell. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez closed their dark fantasy/horror series Locke and Key with an uncompromising final arc.
In film, Spike Jonze’s sci-fi romance Her turned a gimmicky concept (man falls in love with an OS) into a bittersweet examination of the constructed nature of our notions of love—it’s a study of the tech-aided safety of loneliness, and an unusually convincing, moving portrayal of how a romantic relationship with an AI might unfold. Meanwhile, Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess imagined the unceremonious yet sinister birth of artificial intelligence at a 1980s computer chess competition, reminding of a yellowed philosophical sci-fi paperback come to shaky life. Ari Folman’s The Congress, a live-action-animated hybrid adaptation of a Stanislaw Lem novel, proved one of the most thought-provoking, ambitious and bold sci-fi narratives of the year in its vision of a future gone alien with illusory wish-fulfillment. Other worthy genre picks from film: The World’s End, A Field in England.
In video games, Irrational Games’s Bioshock Infinite deserves a mention for crafting a metafictional playground in the sky that stands with the finest sci-fi/fantasy imagery and settings I’ve seen, regardless of storytelling and gameplay flaws.
Rest assured there was plenty to explore this year that I haven’t gone into, including TV shows.
L. Timmel Duchamp: Karen Joy Fowler’s novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves stands out for me among 2013’s abundance of interesting work. Reading this book was a bit like skating on a frozen lake beginning to thaw under the steady heat of the winter sun—exhilaratingly fast, tempting the joyous skater onto ice that might just be too thin to bear the weight of your passage. Page by page the lightness of her prose drew me along, even as I knew something terrible waited, oh so patiently, for its discovery in the protagonist’s past. Her story made my heart ache; the questions it raised still haunt me. What, how can families be? What must or can humans be? In Fowler’s hands, our most important ethical questions are urgently personal. Is the novel science fiction? (Does it matter?) It’s part of our long conversation, resonating powerfully with its predecessors, promising to inform its inevitable successors.
Benjamin Gabriel: 2013 was a year of learning about a medium I’ve always engaged with but never really explored: video games.
Merritt Kopas’s Forest Ambassador is an ideal place to start; three times a week, Kopas features a game that is short and simple. It’s for people who don’t necessarily play games, and certainly not for gamers. Her own game Bubblegum Slaughter is a personal favorite; it’s a magical girl RPG written in hypertext.
Twine is one of the tools that has democratized game development in incredibly interesting ways; Porpentine’s aleatory pop-star SF adventure sim Cry$tal Warrior Ke$ha makes one hell of an argument for it.
There’s been a lot of interesting writing too; the new zine Mammon Machine: Zeal covers weird, under-discussed games, as will the forthcoming Arcade Review, while bloggers like Mattie Brice (whose Queerness & Games Conference I attended and was blown away by) make the critical conversations worth attending to.
Also: if you’re going to read one piece of Marxist-Feminist scholarship from 2013, make it Maya Gonzalez’s The Gendered Circuit. If you had budgeted for two, The Logic of Gender in End Notes #3 is where you should head.
Dan Hartland: 2013 seemed on several occasions to be a year of under-formed projects: from Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls to Peter Higgins’s Wolfhound Century, much-hyped novels tended on closer inspection to be not quite the real McCoy.
Perhaps literary fiction simply continues to steal all of science fiction’s best tunes. Kate Atkinson’s unstuck-in-time Life After Life, for example, was, whilst perhaps not to everyone’s tastes, to this reader at least one of the best novels of the year. The balance and resonance of Life After Life was deeply impressive: the reader could hit any part of it, and every other segment sung.
Within the genre, perhaps not coincidentally it was at the edges where the most interesting work was being done. Published in the first weeks of the year, Ian Sales’s The Eye With Which The Universe Behold Itself was a worthy follow-up to the first volume in the self-published writer’s Apollo Quartet. The series is using the tropes of both hard SF and alternative history to do something quite exciting and fresh, ironizing our past to explore our motivations.
Two final words of sheer enjoyment: Adam Roberts’s The Riddles of the Hobbit is a wonderful tear across open academic country, a fusion of scholarly and fannish writing which is an intellectual pleasure from first to last. And, at the other end of our shared popular culture, Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary episode improbably exhibited wit, pith, wisdom, and elan. The hype in that case, at least, was justified.
David Hebblethwaite: My book of 2013 was Eleanor Catton’s majestic The Luminaries, which has such high ambitions—and achieves them so thoroughly—that I remain awed by it. Whether the book is strictly fantastic fiction, I’m not sure; but it was reviewed here, so that’s good enough for me.
The best pure fantasy I read in 2013 was Jess Richards’s Cooking with Bones. This magical novel tells of two sisters (one of whom was genetically engineered to reflect back the desires of observers) who escape from the lives their parents had planned, to a cottage where they find a book of recipes that change the outside world. At times, I was reminded of Margo Lanagan, Patrick Ness, and Frances Hardinge; but Richards’s work has a texture and voice all its own.
In Born Weird, Andrew Kaufman brought a wonderfully light touch of the fantastic to a tale of siblings struggling in the shadow of their elders. In The Drowning of Arthur Braxton, Caroline Smailes told of water nymphs in a northern English swimming pool, where the magical and mundane clash beautifully. The Adjacent was an absorbing tale of frayed and bleeding realities from Christopher Priest. From previous years, I was especially impressed with Sam Thompson’s Communion Town and Project Itoh’s Harmony.
A special mention should go to Granta‘s latest Best of Young British Novelists list, which included a number of speculative writers, including Helen Oyeyemi and Naomi Alderman. That list—like all these books—leaves me excited for the reading to come.
Matt Hilliard: The standout genre work of 2013 for me is one that probably needs no introduction to anyone reading this, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. Unlike some, I didn’t find it to be by any means a perfect novel, and perhaps because I had already heard a lot of discussion of the narrative’s gender ambiguity, that aspect didn’t have nearly the effect on me that it did on a lot of people. Even so, Ancillary Justice was tremendously thought-provoking on class, identity, religion, empire, and revolution. Still more impressive, it covered all that ground without compromising an exciting space opera plot. This is the sort of novel that pushes the genre forward, not because all of those elements, or maybe even any of those elements, are totally new, but because they are all so well-integrated into an effective story that will (hopefully!) be widely read.
Erin Horáková: As ever, what I enjoyed and hated in genre this year has very little to do with what came out in genre this year—which I suspect is true for the majority of (loosely defined) readers. I like to use this space to promote whatever awesome things I discovered in 2013, regardless of when they were made.
In 2013 I fell in love with G.K. Chesterton’s genre fiction (and his Dickens crit) and Diana Wynne Jones’s Chrestomanci series. The Edinburgh Fringe presented some fantastic genre plays—genre theatre deserves more discussion and attention! On screen, I adored The Five-ish Doctors (the less said about the proper show the better). I enjoyed Star Cops (Chris Boucher is an amazing writer and script editor), Blakes 7 (ditto), and original-series Star Trek (in other Star Trek news, I preferred Into Darkness when it was Wrath of Khan and contained anything like feelings and consequences). I quite liked Iron Man III, the new Hunger Games film, and uneven-but-jolly Teen Wolf (though wtf happened to Lydia?).
Chris Kammerud: Highlights in speculativeness for the year 2013 include, among other things: new collections from Karen Russell and George Saunders; a beautiful, new space odyssey from Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity); a funny, violent, surreal, and possibly hopeful ride on a post-apocalyptic train from Joon-ho Bong (Snowpiercer). There was also a new story from Ted Chiang, “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling.” It concerns the tangled relationship between narrative and truth that defines our cultural and personal identities, and which—in terms of memory and technology in 2013—seems due for a renegotiation as we approach the year in which Google Glass and its ilk move us closer to an ever-recorded present and unforgettable past. Every year is the year that things will never be the same, but it certainly feels like this year is big, that we’ve finally reached the tipping point of recording everything ever (hello, NSA!) and so stand at the cusp of a searchable and “perfect” record of who we are and have been. Chiang ties this moment of transformation in self-identity to one in cultural identity that occurred with the introduction of writing—a moment in which technology transformed history from predominantly oral (changing) to predominantly literate (more fixed). It’s a notion that leads naturally into what was, for me, the most squee-filled moment of 2013. The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. It’s a series that has always been, to a certain extent, more an oral history than a literate one. That said, the series reached its own turning point this year. The show that once grandly stated that time could not be rewritten has, for better or worse, rewritten itself to say that the past is most definitely not fixed. Watching all of the past Doctors circle, in all of their beautiful, old blue boxes—doing their best to fix what they believed a most horrible mistake—my heart grew a great many more than three sizes. That promise of impossible transformation, of ourselves and our worlds, remains a big part of why I love SFF.
Paul Kincaid: I suppose the thing that jumps out at me from my selection of the best of the year, not just this year but looking back at previous years also, is how little straightforward genre works for me. All the things that stand out are works that cross or distort or play with our notions of genre.
Two novels, to start with. The Adjacent by Christopher Priest is a book that seems to gather together all the themes that have obsessed him throughout his career, but then takes it in a completely fresh and unexpected direction. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson tells us of a woman constantly experiencing different versions of her own life during the first half of the twentieth century. It could easily be so tired and familiar, but in fact it has a grace and a beauty and a supple inventiveness that is pure delight.
Collection of the year has to be The Story Until Now by Kit Reed, a career retrospective that shows just how varied and how brilliant a writer she is. Nina Allan has had a couple of really interesting books out, but I’d pick the novella Spin slightly ahead of the linked collection Stardust, because it seems the richer and more rewarding work.
And in a year when I’ve read a huge amount of nonfiction, the book that really dominates is Parabolas of Science Fiction, edited by Brian Attebery and Veronica Hollinger, just because it makes us look at genre in a new way.
Richard Larson: One of the most notable genre releases for me this year was Dust Devil on a Quiet Street by Richard Bowes, a novel which finally unites a series of linked stories published to great acclaim over the past several years. Blending worlds that no longer exist with worlds that never existed, Bowes shows us that fantasy can be just another way of talking about memory. The vision of New York City he depicts is both haunting and beautiful.
Meanwhile, major literary collections were published by important and innovative writers who should not be unfamiliar to SF readers: George Saunders’s Tenth of December and Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove are both deeply intellectual and shockingly creative, breaking down boundaries and questioning the necessity of fictional categories.
Also, the year marked a return to form for Stephen King, who published two great horror novels in Joyland and Doctor Sleep. And I would be remiss if I failed to mention Wonderbook, a gigantic and beautiful compendium of knowledge gathered and presented by Jeff VanderMeer about the creation of imaginative fiction—and we know, of course, that all fiction is imaginative. The illustrations alone are worth the price, but inside you’ll find a wealth of inspiration and food for thought. Recommended for both writers and dedicated readers of literature.
Martin Lewis: My first book of the year was one of my favourites: Dark Eden by Chris Beckett. So I was very pleased it went on to win the Arthur C. Clarke Award. But in 2013 it was the Kitschies that defined my reading, not the Clarke. More by accident than design, I ended up reading the whole of their shortlist for the Golden Tentacle award for best debut and it is incredibly strong. Even the weakest novel on the list—The City’s Son by Tom Pollock—shows promise and the rest (all by women) are all good in very different ways, although the winner, Redemption In Indigo by Karen Lord, was not to my taste. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman was more like it but the best novel on the list is Jenni Fagan’s extraordinary Panopticon. However, since it contains no genre elements, my award would go to vN by Madeline Ashby. I devoured this then immediately devoured sequel iD which, if anything, is better.
My final book is one that didn’t appear on any award shortlists or even receive many reviews. The Water Sign by C. S. Samulski is a blistering debut that tells the story of Ayax, a boy soldier in a militant atheist mercenary unit who was raised as a Muslim girl in a feminist terror cell. In another world, it might have been this year’s God’s War by Kameron Hurley. Instead, it disappeared without a trace—a reminder of how vast the field is these days.
William Mingin: Where most books close a story down over their course, as each added grammatical unit limits the further course of a sentence, Travel Light by Naomi Mitchison (1952; most recent reprint 2005, the Peapod Classics imprint of Small Beer Press) keeps opening up, partly by virtue of its more-or-less picaresque structure, partly through the alien distance of its protagonist, Halla, from normal humanity, her canny yet innocent take on life (she was raised by bears and dragons and retains certain magics, such as the ability to speak all tongues, including those of animals, and imperviousness to fire); and mostly, one suspects, through the imagination and sensibility of its author. It starts in the pagan north and ends in Novgorod, and has an overall plot of sorts, as well as a subplot in Christian Byzantium. But the book’s core lies in an insight that, while purely human, is most identified with Buddhism: everything is impermanent and bears no attachment. Though the book is touched with enough common feeling to be tinged with loneliness, sadness, and loss, it ends on an opening, eliciting a sense of letting go, akin to Halla’s last gesture in the book, a literal letting go, akin to wonder, akin to the frightening liberation of standing at a cliff’s edge. We will never feel native in this world until we can feel at home, as it were, in a frail boat on a swift river—or, perhaps, on the back of a winged horse. Until we know we are traveling and know how to travel light.
A. S. Moser: At first glance back, 2013 seems to be a disappointing year. Several movies I was looking forward to didn’t deliver (Thor: The Dark World, World War Z, and especially Ender’s Game and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug). There were also a number of disappointing books, best left unmentioned and sooner forgotten.
But then this was also the year of Star Trek Into Darkness and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which showed that not every sequel of 2013 had to suck. It was the year I watched the first three seasons of Downton Abbey, and played the first four titles of the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
It was a year of playing catch-up: I read for the first time books by Patrick Rothfuss, Iain M. Banks, Margaret Atwood, and Kim Stanley Robinson. There were several books that shattered me, like Antonia Michaelis’s The Storyteller, Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and Art Spiegelman’s Maus; and a few other books that stand tall in memory: Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars.
Personally, it was the year I moved to Hong Kong and finished drafting two novels.
All in all, a very good year. But I think we can do even better in 2014.
Gabriel Murray: For me 2013 in written SFF was marked mostly by interesting weird and slipstream fiction, both old and new—Oates’s The Accursed was a long, odd, fascinating venture into American meta-Gothic with an appeal that I’m still finding hard to describe. Robert Jackson Bennett’s American Elsewhere, a more straightforward but deeply engrossing piece of cosmic fantasy-horror, was my favorite new SF novel of the year. I also devoured most of Kelly Link’s anthologized oeuvre this year, which I should’ve done ages ago, and started following the Unstuck slipstream anthology series. My favorite up-and-coming writer of literary and speculative and literary-speculative fiction has been Carmen Maria Machado, I think, and her “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU” in The American Reader was a highlight of the year for me.
However, the genre media I fell right down the rabbit hole for in 2013 was the Japanese manga (and this year’s gorgeous anime adaptation) Shingeki no Kyojin/Attack on Titan, the brutal, gory, sometimes overwrought, and pretty much unputdownable brainchild of artist and writer Isayama Hajime. It’s hard to pinpoint the precise je ne sais quoi of a post-apocalyptic horror-fantasy set in a strange steampunk-meets-medieval-European world of uncertain cosmology and unreliable history, but if you can stomach the violence, the story’s worth coming back for every month.
Abigail Nussbaum: Since my TBR stack is in a permanent backlog, I caught up with a lot of 2012’s selections this year. These included Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina, a YA fantasy with dragons that was surprisingly heartfelt and mature, and set in an intricately, and seemingly effortlessly constructed world, and Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox, a witty, delightful novel in stories that is a meditation on the role of women in fiction and in life. Two 2013 releases, however, also stand out among the year’s highlight: Joyce Carol Oates’s rambling, gonzo Gothic ghost story The Accursed, and Sofia Samatar’s rambling-in-a-different-way debut fantasy A Stranger in Olondria.
In films, most of the year’s blockbuster offerings were poor stuff—a year in which Iron Man III and Pacific Rim, for all their good qualities, are highlights is not one to remember fondly. But in less high budget productions, Shane Carruth’s follow-up to Primer, Upstream Color, was strange and beautiful and, most of all, not afraid of its own SFnal material, and of imagining a world fundamentally different than our own. This is what SF filmmaking should be aspiring to.
In TV, Steven Moffat managed to pluck his head out of his own ass long enough to deliver a Doctor Who 50th anniversary special that was actually well-written, moving, and clever in all the right ways (the less said about the season finale preceding it, however, or the Christmas special that followed, the better). But if you felt that Moffat’s special had more to do with the rebooted Who‘s mythology than with the show’s 50th birthday, Peter Davison’s The Five-Ish Doctors Reboot was a delightful, irreverent, loving tribute to the show’s whole history, old and new.
Alexandra Pierce: I read a lot in 2013. Some new stuff, some old stuff, and even some re-reading. Of the new stuff, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice was an absolute highlight, as was the discovery of the graphic novel Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. It was wonderful to finally finish James S. A. Corey’s Expanse trilogy with Abaddon’s Gate, and get an Ivan novel with Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold. Of the old stuff that was new to me I thoroughly enjoyed Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw, and Julie E. Czerneda’s Reap the Wild Wind; Tamora Pierce’s Alanna quartet was also intriguing. And for re-reading I threw myself into all of Ursula le Guin’s Hainish novels, as well as the Spiral trilogy by Michael Scott Rohan. To be honest, I’ve enjoyed almost all of the books I’ve finished this year, mostly because I’ve been ruthlessly applying my rule of abandoning books that I’m not enjoying after one quarter or 80 pages. It’s made my reading life far more joyous.
Sofia Samatar: This year I got to know two fantastic cities: Dung Kai-cheung’s Victoria, from his award-winning Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City, and Renee Gladman’s Ravicka, from her searching and melancholy trilogy Event Factory, The Ravickians, and Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge. These were some of my favorite books of the year.
Fans of Kelly Link should explore the work of Amina Cain, whose second collection, Creature, came out this year. Cain’s stories brim with mystery and the unexpected. Fans of K. J. Bishop should be sure to check out her collection of short fiction, That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote, which came out a year ago—another book I loved in 2013.
My favorite online SF story is “Theories of Pain” by Rose Lemberg, from Daily Science Fiction. My favorite poem is also by Rose Lemberg, AND I picked it out for Interfictions, so this is all kinds of awkward, but there’s no escaping how much I love “Bone Shadows.” I’m so drawn to the territory Lemberg is working, and working in: a space that is not quite the body—more like the body’s double. A very close second-favorite story is “Inventory” by Carmen Maria Machado, from right here at Strange Horizons, which also deals with bodies. Its evocation of loss is what I always crave, and only occasionally get, from dystopian fiction. Machado blew me away in several venues this year, from Tin House‘s Open Bar to The New Yorker. She’s my #1 writer to watch in 2014!
Hannah Strom-Martin: Call this year the Desolation of Smaug. Not only did that unfortunate tagline summarize the result of Peter Jackson’s latest Hobbit film (a confounding mess that sacrificed character development on the increasingly ludicrous altar of CGI action sequences), it encapsulated my feelings about 2013’s mainstream fantasy efforts in general. HBO’s Game of Thrones continually thwarted its own greatness by undercutting sequences like the Red Wedding and “Dracarys!” with its puzzling tendency to use women, people of color, and (in perhaps the most depressingly lowbrow sub-plot of any show ever filmed) Alfie Allen, as props. Meanwhile, as a lacerating avalanche of CGI-propelled films and implausible torture-sex scenes slowly flayed the humanity from my favorite stories, Brandon Sanderson brought the late Robert Jordan’s 20+ year Wheel of Time series to an overstuffed close—and revealed that Rand al’Thor is the world’s most epic deadbeat dad. It was a year when creators lost control of their legacies (Jordan and Jackson—what happened?) and a capitalist aesthetic (Bigger! Louder! More!) made Middle Earth feel untouched by human hands. The best special effect of the year was not an exploding spaceship, but the thirty seconds of Zachary Quinto’s Spock pursuing Benedict Cumberbatch’s elegant Khan, in real space and time, through the streets of San Francisco. As their feet hit the ground and their actual bodies hurtled forward, unencumbered by anything save their own physical grace, you realized what you’d been missing: the honest-to-god poetry of flesh and blood in an entertainment complex that has atrophied.
Aishwarya Subramanian: By a considerable distance the two best things I read this year were Dung Kai-cheung’s SFFTA-winning Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City and Karen Joy Fowler’s genre-adjacent (if only by virtue of being by Karen Joy Fowler) We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. The first is a meditation (or a thought experiment or a theory or a game) on how we conceive of space, the second is about memory and family, and both are close to perfect.
Other 2013 high points for me included A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar, Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons, Caitlín R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl, and Ioanna Bourazopoulou’s What Lot’s Wife Saw. It was nice to see Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being on the Booker shortlist. And while I know almost nothing about comics, Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye has been consistently great all year.
Other than books, I watched many big-budget genre movies. Most of them were terrible, some of them entertainingly so (Pacific Rim made me very happy, Man of Steel and Star Trek Into Darkness in particular were depressingly bad). I have learned nothing from this and will probably do the same in 2014.
Lesley Wheeler: I was as excited as anyone by 2013 offerings from Karen Joy Fowler, Margaret Atwood, and George Saunders, but prose always hogs the limelight, so I’m focusing on poetry. Some of it doesn’t claim the label “speculative” but absolutely concerns reality’s boundaries.
Sally Rosen Kindred’s chapbook Darling Hands, Darling Tongue revisits Peter Pan in lush, uncanny poems such as “Notes from a Fairy Autopsy” and “Naming the Never-Birds.” Kindred’s inventiveness, and her insights into the weirdness of childhood and mothering, make for some dazzling fantasy verse. Other 2013 favorites are Jeannine Hall Gailey’s Unexplained Fevers, and Anne Carson’s Red Doc.
I’m surprised The Ecopoetry Anthology, edited by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, houses so many great poems I’d call speculative. At least, they fit Le Guin’s criterion of representing the nonhuman as essential: poets from Marianne Moore to Tim Seibles consider animal intelligence and ecosystems in peril. Those Seibles selections led me to his 2012 Fast Animal, a fabulous collection with a sequence of poems about Blade.
After WisCon, 2013 became my Year of Reading Jo Walton, including the poems in The Helix and the Hard Road. She has a way of shrugging off language I find powerful, like putting “Death really sucks” in a sonnet. The best novel I read this year was Among Others, and the best I reread was Louise Erdrich’s Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse—one as strange as the other, and as true.