2007 In Review
Reviewed by Our Reviewers
07 January 2008
Graham Sleight: If I had to pick one word to sum up 2007 in speculative fiction, it'd be proliferation. There seemed, as never before, to be life in any niche you looked at: anthologies, collections, new subgenres, all enabled by new printing and distribution technologies that make it easier to produce and get out material that will interest a small group of people intensely. This raises two questions, to which I don't have easy answers, and one problem. Question one: has the boom in commissioning, e.g., anthologies been sustainable, or will there be a die-back (as there was in the '70s after Roger Elwood)? Question two: does this mean that SF is becoming a creature of the Long Tail, losing the cultural influence that it had in the days of, say, Heinlein and Bradbury? The problem—and the big trend I'd draw from 2007—is that the niches have less and less to do with each other. Sites like Pat's Fantasy Hotlist and Ambling Along the Aqueduct both serve their communities very well, but their concerns are miles apart. We may well wind up with a field that's too fragmented to grasp whole. I'm not sure that's a bad thing, but it's certainly a change, and I'd argue it also partly accounts for the decline in numbers voting for awards, those recorders of the default view of the field. If you're a member of a small affinity group, it's very easy to feel unrepresented in the larger world. So what I'll be looking for most in 2008 is pointers to reading that's outside my comfort zone.
Paul Raven: Being still a relative newcomer to fandom, 2007 has seemed a pretty fine year to me—not least because it featured my first full con attendance (and panel appearances), my ascent to the post of Reviews Editor at Interzone, and the inaugural Science Fiction Foundation Masterclass.
2007 has also seen a strengthening of the webzine scene for short fiction and reasoned (if polarised) public debate on the future of the form, which strikes me as suggesting rude vigour rather than necrosis.
I don't really believe in proclaiming any novel to be "the best" of anything ("quality" being an intrinsically subjective term), but my personal favourites this year included Stross's Halting State, McDonald's Brasyl, Schroeder's Queen of Candesce, and Rucker's Postsingular.
But what I think is even better is that there were lots of SF novels I wasn't interested in—which may sound counter-intuitive, but I take the view that diversity is a vital indicator of a healthy scene. The fact that there are enough publishers, large and small, publishing enough different titles to cater to the varying tastes of the wide family of fandom, strikes me as worthy of celebration.
Enough with the doom-saying—let's be proud of what we have.
Nader Elhefnawy: On the whole 2007 struck me as a year of waiting for The Next Big Thing.
I can recommend several novels (see my reviews), but the one that blew me away this year happened to be a reissue—of Jack Dann's 1984 The Man Who Melted. James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel's post-cyberpunk anthology Rewired contains some good recent stuff, but confirmed my suspicion that PCP's moment has passed—and that (print) science fiction still awaits its next revolution.
The "golden age of science fiction television" that began in the 1990s is clearly over. (The new shows have not been overwhelming, critically or commercially, and Heroes is already winding down. The promising Masters of Science Fiction was cut off after four episodes.)
I didn't have any transcendent film-going experience this year (though to be fair, I've seen fewer movies this year than usual), but Transformers was a pleasant surprise (within reason). However, I'm starting to wonder if the "golden age of comic book movies" that started with 2000's X-Men has already passed its peak.
Victoria Hoyle: My 2007 began with the literary train wreck that was Doris Lessing's The Cleft, a disturbingly reactionary novel about an alternate prehistoric, pre-human past in which our male and female ancestors constituted different species—the females, unthinking seal-like creatures, barely inspired to feed themselves; the males, innovative hominids set on a brash exploration of the natural world. It would have been difficult to imagine a more infuriating or frustrating book, if I hadn't also read Brian Stableford's Arthur C. Clarke Award-nominated Streaking, a stick to beat the judges with for a long time to come.
Thankfully, the year ended somewhat better. Jeanette Winterson's The Stone Gods, a tripartite narrative about the (very) human tendency to overreach—in matters scientific and personal—was interesting and, if not entirely consistent, at least proved that she has still got significant game. (I direct those prevaricating as to whether or not it is SF, Winterson included, to page 92, wherein the protagonist detaches the head of her robot lover on a dying world. Sceptics, riddle me that one.)
My two favourite SF reads of the year, however, were undoubtedly Splinter by Adam Roberts, and The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall. Incredibly different in their narrative and setting—the former, a surreal homage to Jules Verne; the latter, a gritty post-apocalyptic meditation on gender set in Cumbria—both had what, I think, only the very best speculative fiction has. Prescience and tenderness, in equal measure; an admixture of the warning growl and the joyful shout, delivered with grace and not a little courage.
Paul Kincaid: 2007 was one of the most exciting years I can remember for some time. The high points are many, the lows are few. Highs have to include the brilliant conclusion, after 20 years, to John Crowley's Aegypt sequence: Endless Things. Writer of the year was Michael Chabon with two stunning books: The Yiddish Policemen's Union which is one of the more complex and emotionally satisfying alternate histories I have read, and Gentlemen of the Road, which is the sort of vivacious romp I genuinely did not think anyone wrote any more. Debuts of the year (and how often are there two first novels you feel like lauding?) were Resistance by Owen Sheers, a heart-stopping account of a Welsh valley under Nazi rule, and One For Sorrow by Christopher Barzak, which updates Catcher in the Rye while adding a well-realised ghost story into the mix. Lows, though not as low as some years, include the disappointing Mainspring by Jay Lake, Map of Dreams by M. Rickert, which I found dreadfully over-rated, and The New Space Opera, edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan, which (with a couple of very honourable exceptions) manages the extraordinary task of making space opera boring.
Richard Larson: In a year that saw the conclusion of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, the release of yet another Tolkien book, the usual proliferation of horror films (including 28 Weeks Later and The Mist, both of which were strong contributions to the genre) and the continuation of strong "speculative" television series such as Lost and Heroes, the big news in the world of genre fiction, at least for me, comes from the mainstream literary world: The Road, Cormac McCarthy's brilliant post-apocalyptic horror novel, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; Stephen King, the hero of horror fiction, was chosen to edit this year's edition of Best American Short Stories; and Michael Chabon, literary wunderkind (and another Pulitzer Prize winner), published two unabashedly "genre" novels to great acclaim. So maybe by next year we can stop this endless discussion about genre vs. the mainstream and just sort of, you know, read the good stuff, regardless of where it's published. Because in addition to those titles listed above, some great genre novels were published this year, too, such as Lucius Shepard's grossly underrated Softspoken, a literary ghost story, and Brian Francis Slattery's Spaceman Blues: A Love Song, a brilliant work that bridges the genre divide in tremendously inventive ways. Perhaps more important than anything I've mentioned above, however, is the introduction of a new anthology series, Best American Fantasy (edited by Matthew Cheney and, for the first two volumes at least, Jeff and Ann VanderMeer), which gallantly bridges the gap between "literary" and more explicitly genre fiction, simply reprinting the best stuff from the year and largely ignoring its position on any imposed continuum of realism.
Laura Blackwell: This year, I spent my scant reading time on easy reads.
In the graphic novel series Death Note, Japan's most brilliant high-school student, Light Yagami, finds a Death Note—a notebook that the death gods use to kill humans—and picks off people with it, redesigning the world to his liking. Light throws himself into a cat-and-mouse game with the police and master detective L. Even in the twelfth and final volume, nothing is a given. Writer Tsugumi Ohba's pacing is tense and his plotting labyrinthine, but Takeshi Obata's crisp art is the star, depicting the death gods as fantastic but tangible while keeping Light's hardening heart as the focus of the story.
I couldn't skip Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but my usual hide-away-and-read-it-in-one-gulp approach yielded a rushed and unsatisfying experience. I'm re-reading the entire series now, and I'm enjoying it much more as a complete work and without feverish fan speculation.
Mike Carey's supernatural noir novel The Devil You Know is a fast, smooth read. I'm smitten with smart-mouthed exorcist Felix Castor, and I'm looking forward to more of this series. It goes down easy, but like Castor's work, it haunts you.
Iain Clark: 2007 was a weaker year than 2006 for SF on TV, but managed a few memorable moments:
- The Weeping Angels from Doctor Who's inventive "Blink," a concept that will plague the nightmares of children for years to come.
- Doctor Who's "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood": school-boys about to face World War One; the anguished "John Smith"; and mythic justice.
- One last Who moment, my single purest geek rush of the year: the stunning revelation of Derek Jacobi's character in the otherwise mediocre "Utopia."
- The Bennet house siege in Heroes' "Company Man"; season one firing on all pulp cylinders. It's all downhill from here.
- The second season of the BBC's Life on Mars. It didn't quite live up to the wonderful first season and I'm hugely ambivalent about the final scene, but it's a memorable ending.
An honourable mention goes to the unexpectedly solid Jericho. Also-rans included: Stargate SG-1, which ended 10 moderately entertaining years in moderately entertaining form; Stargate Atlantis, which inherited Amanda Tapping but still managed to bore; The Dresden Files, whose rumpled charm almost made it interesting; Babylon 5, whose strengths were ill-served by a stagy return; and Drive, which stalled despite the best efforts of Nathan Fillion.
L. Timmel Duchamp: A caveat: I didn't read a lot of new SF in 2007. But of what I did read, I loved Carol Emshwiller's The Secret City; thought the best new literary novel was Samuel R. Delany's Dark Reflections; the best new stories Theodora Goss's "Singing of Mount Abora" (in Logorrhea) and Vandana Singh's "Hunger" (in Interfictions); and the best new collections Margo Lanagan's Red Spikes and Kaaron Warren's The Grinding House, which though originally published in Australia in 2004 was reprinted in North America this year by Prime as The Glass Woman. For me, SF this year hit its nadir with a film called Sunshine; as I recall, although my companion and I launched into a two-hour complaint-fest the instant we left the theater, within 24 hours, Sunshine, like all bad films, had nearly vanished from my memory, leaving just a faint residue of absurd and mawkish failure behind.
Martin Lewis: Always one step behind, it was my great pleasure to read the 2005 sophomore collection from Margo Lanagan this year. Her highly acclaimed Black Juice was less a short story collection than a gathering of vignettes. They have no past or future, only a now; they are biopsies of bigger, untold stories. The vignette is a difficult form, tending to the flimsy and disposable, in contrast these are otherworldly yet remain universal and concrete. It was a shame that this year's follow up, Red Spikes, didn't scale the same heights.
In fact, I've had a good year for reading collections of a fantastic bent in general: Kelly Link's Magic For Beginners, which finally got a UK edition, Ali Smith's The Whole Story And Other Stories, and Ted Hughes's extraordinary translation of Ovid. Actually I don't read a word of Latin so I have no idea about how it works as a translation of the original, but reading the raging version of Bacchus and Pentheus or the molten, self-loathing version of Myrrha you are bowled over by how boldly and subtly Hughes employs modern language.
Elsewhere in 2007 SF cinema ran the whole gamut from enjoyably rubbish to properly shit. It was ever thus.
Tony Keen: Doctor Who produced three classics, Paul Cornell's "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood" and Steven Moffat's "Blink," all handily on one DVD. After the disappointment of Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures proved much better; while never quite scaling the heights of its parent, it was never less than enjoyable. But the TV triumph of the year was Heroes season one, finally showing how to do superheroes on the screen without appearing juvenile (i.e. ditch the capes).
Hal Duncan completed The Book of All Hours in fine, if sometimes opaque, style in Ink. I'm currently reading Ian McDonald's excellent Brasyl, with Alastair Reynolds's The Prefect waiting. M. John Harrison's Nova Swing was a not unworthy winner of the Clarke Award, though I didn't warm to it as others have. Jon Courtenay Grimwood's End of the World Blues (okay, but Grimwood can do spectacular) took the BSFA Award. The World Fantasy Award for Gene Wolfe's Soldier of Sidon was well-deserved.
Fantasy seems to be 2007's film zeitgeist—Stardust was the best, if a more traditional narrative than Gaiman's novel, though I should note that visually The Golden Compass is astounding.
Finally, a word of praise for Chris O'Shea and Fran Dowd, for rescuing the UK Eastercon at short notice, and delivering an excellent event.
Lisa Goldstein: I didn't read as much as I should have this year (or last year, or the year before that ...) but these are some books I liked:
- Powers by Ursula Le Guin, the latest in a young adult series that includes Gifts and Voices. In this series Le Guin seems to have taken the traditional expectations of high fantasy—the book(s) should be vast, epic in scope, with cosmic battles between good and evil—and quietly tossed them in the dumpster. Powers is the story of a young man who escapes from slavery and travels through his world to find his homeland, or at least a place that feels like home.
- The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon. You might think this is yet another attempt by a mainstream writer to colonize science fiction, but Chabon is really One of Us. In this alternate history, Jews did not found the state of Israel after World War II—instead, the United States government settled the European refugees in Sitka, Alaska. Sixty years later the U.S. wants the land back, and meanwhile one very disaffected cop has to try to solve a murder. Did I mention it's funny? It's very funny.
- Softspoken by Lucius Shepard. I don't know why people say that Shepard doesn't write good female characters. The main character in Softspoken is a highly believable woman trapped in an abusive marriage and haunted by someone, or something, that keeps calling her name.
Gwyneth Jones: I enjoyed Sci-Fi In The Mind's Eye, edited by Margret Grebowicz, especially the cyberspace chapter; though I suspect the "leading SF writers," who contributed inserts, could have written the academic essays on SF better than the academics in most cases!
But Different Engines: How Science Drives Fiction and Fiction Drives Science by Professor Mark L. Brake and Rev. Neil Hook was disappointing. Depressingly poor style, a muddled argument, examples of the effect of fiction on "science" all taken from weapons technology. Is the kind of SF that's in bed with the weapons industry the only real SF? Is science simply a fancy name for the arms race? Interesting questions, but if you want a thoughtful study of the topic try Gravity's Rainbow.
Michael Levy: I'm new to Strange Horizons as a reviewer and I guess that one of my greatest science fiction and fantasy-related pleasures of 2007 would simply be having appeared on this site. I've read lots of good F&SF this year, though, with some of the best being young adult and children's books, including David Almond's Clay, Kevin Brooks's The Road of the Dead, Ursula K. Le Guin's Powers, Philip Reeve's A Darkling Plain, Margo Lanagan's Red Spikes, and David Wiesner's Caldecott Award-winning picture book Flotsam. These are books that are every bit as rewarding as the best adult literature.
Among my favorite adult books this year, however, were Ken MacLeod's The Execution Channel, Robert Charles Wilson's Axis, Kelly McCullough's Thorne Smith and Roger Zelazny-influenced Cybermancy, Ian McDonald's magnificent Brasyl, Michael Swanwick's The Dragons of Babel, Matt Ruff's Bad Monkeys, and Mike Carey's creepy The Devil You Know. I also loved Joann Sfar's graphic novel The Rabbi's Cat, William Gibson's not quite science fictional Spook Country, and The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet. What I'm still looking forward to in 2007 is reading Iain M. Banks's Matter, the galleys for which just arrived in today's mail!
Jonathan McCalmont: 2007 was the year I first read Boris and Arkady Strugatsky's superlative Roadside Picnic. Though its ideas have been borrowed by other writers in the 30 years since its publication, the original is still amazingly clever. Another amazingly clever book was Peter Watts' Blindsight that combined unflinchingly hard SF with more literary elements to create the best book I read this year.
2007 was also the year in which the action film finally came out. Zack Snyder's over-the-top 300 had many critics moaning about fascism but I saw it as the most transgressive film of the year. Gay cinema struggles to hold a candle to the spectacular homoerotic psychodrama of a seven-foot drag queen hammering away at the Hot Gates of a closet case in leather hot pants. A fact made all the more wonderful by the sheer number of homophobic teenagers who got all excited about it.
Honourable mentions go to Stephen Baxter's Conqueror and Navigator, which were both fascinating and, though flawed, saw Baxter gradually getting better and better at the whole historical fiction thing. I also have to mention "Blink," Steven Moffat's predictably awesome Doctor Who episode that hardly featured the Doctor at all.
Abigail Nussbaum: Due to the vicissitudes of Israeli film distributors, and my own preference for reading books in paperback, my two favorite SF-related things from 2007 are ones that have already graced many best-of lists from 2006. Christopher Nolan's adaptation of Christopher Priest's novel The Prestige is everything an SF film should be—smart, entertaining, just as faithful to its source material as it needs to be and no more. It may very well be my favorite film of the year. And Julie Phillips's biography of Alice B. Sheldon is as insightful, informative, and un-put-down-able as all the reviews claimed—a must-read for Tiptree fans and science fiction fans in general. Other highlights include Hal Duncan's triumphant conclusion of The Book of All Hours with Ink, Brian Francis Slattery's tiny, lyrical, and lovable Spaceman Blues, and Lydia Millet's funny and terrifying Oh Pure and Radiant Heart. On the TV front, Bryan Fuller's Pushing Daisies has been an unexpected and delightful surprise—an irresistible blend of tragedy and comedy wrapped up in some of the most impressive production design this side of Life on Mars and graced by witty writing and winning performances.
Nicola Clarke: I read very few books in the year they're published, simply because I have too many books already awaiting my attention on the TBR shelves (and I'm far too disciplined about queueing them). Thus, my favourite reads from 2007 will probably be the subject of one of these reviews in about three years' time, and my favourite genre reads during 2007 stretch a little further back.
The oldest—although one that did, in fairness, appear in a new UK edition in 2007—was Ice by Anna Kavan, an unsettling novel built on stark imagery and psychological explorations, whose obsessive narrator pursues his lost love through a dreamscape version of wartorn Europe, repeatedly watching (and at times helping) her die. Next oldest, but still so very fresh and astonishing, was the James Tiptree, Jr. short story collection Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, which surely needs no further plug from me.
Thence to 2005, and Ian R. MacLeod's The Summer Isles, a stunningly beautiful alternate history of an inter-war Britain on a cult-of-personality Fascist trajectory, all stately lyricism and poignant nostalgia. (And, since there has still been no UK or US paperback edition, this really does not count as "old" at all.) From the same year, Hal Duncan's half-crazed mosaic of multiple mythologies and genres, Vellum, afforded me perhaps my most deliriously enjoyable and deliciously layered—if more than a little head-scratching—read of 2007. On a very different note, Jan Morris' Hav is a thoroughly compelling (especially for a history geek) piece of travel-writing from a land that never was.
Finally, two of my favourite novels each gave me wonderful heroines to root for—Central Asian entrepreneurial powerhouse Mae in Geoff Ryman's marvellous Air, and smart, brave, affectionate Katherine in Ellen Kushner's joy-filled swashbuckler, The Privilege of the Sword.
Donna Royston: The best of 2007 was Shaun Tan's The Arrival, a graphic novel with no words—no dialogue and no written words either, like a silent movie without titles. The art is monochrome, mostly sepia-tinted, in a few places blue-tinted. The story is of an immigrant: we see a man packing and leaving his family. Then he arrives at a new place of weird animals, strange devices, unintelligible writing and script, and very alarming-looking food. The immigrant experience is shown in such a way that the viewer shares in the strangeness of an alien society: Tan's art creates a city that was as incomprehensible to me as it was to his protagonist, and it took some time to puzzle out the mysteries—for I too couldn't speak or read the language. Giant smokestack-like things puff out huge bubbles ... no, balloons ... that are sort of flying elevator-taxis. The arriving immigrant walks through an outlandish street scene. But the most gripping parts of the novel are the narratives of the other immigrants that the new arrival meets as he goes about looking for work and learning his way around. Nightmarish images are fantastic transmutations of the horrors that drive immigrants to leave their homelands and start over, and under the weirdness a viewer will eventually recognize enslavement, genocide, and war. This is a work of startling imagery and wonderful artistry.
David Soyka: One of the best SF books of the year technically wasn't SF, though at least it was written by an SF writer. William Gibson's Spook Country, a sequel of sorts to Pattern Recognition, explores moral behavior within an impersonal society of global corporate and government interests saturated by advanced technology and mass media. In other words, it's what has concerned Gibson even when he was making up the technology and mass media parts. Also of interest were The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction and Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge which attempted to define the genre in ways that weren't weird, parasphered, or interfictioned. Speaking of short fiction, despite all those folks who claim the short form and the magazines that carry it are a dying art form, I found it difficult to keep up with all of it. There was a whole bunch of stuff I would really have liked to have read and seen, and may eventually get to, before the end of next year comes around.
Adam Roberts: By way of avoiding that cosy "the best book of the year is X (I shan't mention that X is my best friend/wife/alter-ego)," here's a resolution: my best-of-2007 shall mention nothing produced by friends or colleagues of mine.
The year's best SF novels, for some reason, unspooled threads from the alternate reality spindle. Ian McDonald's Brasyl isn't flawless, but it's pretty damn close, and is the year's best SF novel: an intersection of alternate Brazils gleaming with energy, intelligence, and beautiful writing. Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union and McAuley's Cowboy Angels are also alt-real; and both manifest prodigious SFnal strengths, although other-generic limitations too (the straitjacket of the crime fiction genre for Chabon, the diminishing returns of the action-adventure genre for McAuley).
The best SF story I read this year was probably "The Taste of Wheat" by Ekaterina Sedia, with Paul Di Fillipo's "Wikiworld" a close second; and the collection in which it appeared (Lou Anders' Fast Forward) is the year's best collection of original fiction.
The best SF album this year was the Klaxons's spiky, likeable Myths of the Near Future (Polydor), a sort of homebrew Burroughs/Pynchon filtered through a sock once worn by Bloc Party.
Best screen SF? Well, I suppose Heroes carries the palm, although ultimately it failed to live up to its intermittently brilliant opening episodes, and it suffered from a too-talky script and from performances by certain models-turned-actors on the cast more wooden than a pirate's left leg. Otherwise I may be the only person in the world who really enjoyed the 06-07 series of Lost; and I got a buzz from Steven Moffat's Jekyll. Pickings were slimmer on the big screen: 300 was dumb but fun (some); Stardust was amiable but disappointing, and made me miss The Princess Bride; The Golden Compass looked pretty, but hacked around its source text in disfiguring ways. Ultimately no science fiction film evoked the sense of wonder as powerfully as the marvellous In the Shadow of the Moon.
Criticism: the best SF-litcrit I read this year is probably the July 2007 special edition of Science Fiction Studies dedicated to "Afrofuturism"; some fascinating essays there, and I learnt a lot I didn't already know. Edited by Mark Bould and Rone Shavers—but, wait, Mark is a friend of mine. I'll stop listing 2007 best-ofs before I break any more self-imposed rules.
Tim Phipps: During [insert artificial demarcation of time periods here], I found that science fiction on the telly was [good/bad/indifferent]. In any case, it's not as good as it used to be. I would have read some science fiction books, only I found that they were [disproportionately self-important/obsessed with bad puns and confused the same with "humour"/unreadable since I was too busy being amused by how Jeff Vandermeer is the new Harlan Ellison]. Additionally, science fiction on the radio was pretty much [reruns of old Douglas Adams stuff/reruns of old Douglas Adams stuff]. To make up for the [paucity/lack] of decently big, booming science fiction at the cinema, I went to see I Am Legend and [pretended it was good/pretended it was more respectable than Shrek 3 or Spiderman 3/pretended that both it and Transformers made any sense at all/pretended that I wasn't really going to end up writing about fantasy films like Harry Potter or The Golden Compass and claim them as SF]. In the end, in any case, the best SF of the year was clearly [a seven minute Doctor Who skit that doesn't count/a Transformers film that I only like because it was made with the word "Transformers" in the title/something else that my grasping need to claw everything possible into the unspoken, unknown definition of my genre has identified as being borderline acceptable as "SF"]. I know you thought so too!
NB: Where options appear in brackets, [like this], please delete as applicable before accepting as your review of the year. Thank you kindly.