2011 In Review
Reviewed by Our Reviewers
02 January 2012
Niall Alexander: Excepting Drive and the unexpectedly affecting finale of the Harry Potter film franchise, it's been a bit of a miserable year at the movies, so never mind all that.
At home, we got Game of Thrones, a moderately improved wedge of The Walking Dead, and that made 2011 mostly okay. A little telly credibility goes a long way, I say.
In fiction, is there a more criminally underrated author in the genre today than K. J. Parker? Well yes, most certainly; whenever anyone talks about K. J. Parker, they tend to do so in glowing terms. Alas, not a lot of people talk about K. J. Parker at all. I had hoped that wretched state of affairs would change with The Hammer—singularly the most impressive serial or standalone work of fantasy published this year, for my money—but between Joe Abercrombie and George R. R. Martin, somehow this promised era of enlightenment didn’t come to pass.
Here's hoping Sharps can do for K. J. Parker what The Hammer couldn’t . . .
Last but not least, what with The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern coming hot and hardy on the heels of the marvelous Mechanique, by Strange Horizons contributor Genevieve Valentine, it's been a hell of a season for tales of the big top, hasn't it? The magic of the former novel quite unmanned me; meanwhile the latter convinced me that there may be some real worth to steampunk, after all.
Oh, and The Tiger's Wife was terrific too.
Marina Berlin: I started the year by discovering new-to-me books by established authors. First there was Karin Lowachee's Warchild series (originally published in 2003-2005), where each book focused on a different male protagonist who had to deal with space battles, alien politics, sexual abuse, and masculinity as a social construct. Next there was Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy series, recommended to me by many friends over the years. I read the first three books and enjoyed them, though I felt like I would have liked them more had we come across each other at an earlier point in my reading career. Carey's mix of fantasy, epic adventure, and meta on human sexuality is definitely something I would have found more captivating as a teenager.
In newly published books, I thoroughly enjoyed Gail Carigger's yearly offering, Heartless, possibly the best novel yet in her Parasol Protectorate series, but had mixed feelings about Paul Kearney's Corvus which I felt lacked complexity in its worldbuilding and emotional arcs.
The year's Best Author award, however, goes to Kameron Hurley, for God's War and Infidel, both published 2011. I enjoyed Hurley's stories about a war veteran bounty hunter and her merry crew, set in a future filled with theocracies and insect-based science masquerading as magic.
In terms of SFF cinema, the year was dominated by non-Hollywood offerings, for me. I liked both Attack the Block and Another Earth, though felt the latter tried to be a more profound movie than it actually was.
Matthew Cheney: I haven’t yet read many books first published in 2011; I'm catching up right now because I'm a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards. I don't want to talk about what I've been reading for the award, though.
Instead, I'll mention some of the movies I saw, mostly because two of my favorites were science fictional. First, there's The Tree of Life, perhaps the most polarizing movie of the year, because those of us who love it just, well, love it; and people who don't love it really don't love it and thus suspect those of us who do of being either A) liars; or B) pointy-headed snobs who wouldn't appreciate a good Predator movie if it shot 'em in the ass. (I'm not lying in my love, and I enjoyed the first two Predator movies.) I don’t think Tree of Life is the greatest thing since the Lumiere brothers filmed people coming out of a factory, and it's not even my favorite Terrence Malick movie, but watching and re-watching it remains an emotionally, intellectually, and aesthetically powerful experience for me.
My other favorite science fictional movie of 2011 was actually made in the early 1970s for German television: Rainer Werner Fassbinder's World on a Wire. I wrote about it here at Strange Horizons back in September. I don't have much to add to what I said then except that the film will be released on home video for the first time in the U.S. in February by The Criterion Collection.
Maya Chhabra: My favorite new release by a long shot was Jo Walton's Among Others, with its sharp characterization and elusive, sometimes heartbreaking, magic. Alex Blesdoe added a new installment to his Eddie LaCrosse series with the humorous and insightful Arthurian retelling Dark Jenny. As for movies, the final Harry Potter was extremely enjoyable, more so than last year's choppy part 1.
This was the year I finally started Bujold's Vorkosigan series, which has so far provided many hours of suspense and laughter—and I've still got about half the series left.
Least favorite novel of the year goes to Richard Matheson's Other Kingdoms, the confusingly written tale of a doughboy's encounter with the supernatural and with two women—one pure and innocent, the other aggressive and predatory.
Indrapramit Das: In 2011, China Miéville's Embassytown was a definite highlight. The always fascinating paragon of the New Weird turned his first foray into sci-fi into an encapsulation of how ambitious and intellectually rigorous science fiction can be; philosophy as imaginative, thrilling entertainment. Kris Saknussemm's Enigmatic Pilot was a strange surprise, a novel that dared to be odd and inexplicable, and is both better and worst for it.
Century: 1969, Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's latest entry in their sporadic and brilliant The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, evoked the beautiful unfettered psychedelia of Michael Moorcock's New Wave work (right down to a cameo by Jerry Cornelius) alongside a myriad other cultural touchstones of the era, while staying true to the characters that have come all the way from volume one. Mike Mignola and Duncan Fegredo crafted a gorgeous, powerful end to the latest act of the long-running Hellboy series with The Fury. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez's Locke and Key continued to be one of the finest combinations of fantasy and horror I’ve read, with Hill proving himself a storyteller on par with Stephen King and Clive Barker.
The Spielberg-produced alien invasion series Falling Skies turned out a bit better than expected, while the Spielberg-produced dinosaur show Terra Nova was even worse than expected. Game of Thrones showed that the small screen can cope with big-budget, lavish fantasy epics with admirable panache (when on HBO). On the big screen, Joe Wright's Hanna and Joe Cornish's Attack the Block were fantastic examples of quality genre cinema.
Like any list, this one's very incomplete.
L. Timmel Duchamp: Although more people read SFF novels than read sf/f short fiction, I've long believed that short fiction is the heart of our field. Anthologies and single-author collections offer rather different reading experiences and showcase different qualities, despite their both being composed of short fiction. Without question, single-author collections are dearest to my heart. I love submerging myself in an author's imagination-scape and their particular textured use of language; in the best collections, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Stories I might have read in an earlier context—in magazines, in anthologies—are often transformed when read with some of the author's other work. In 2011, the pickings of single-author collections were rich indeed. Carol Emswhiller, master of the short fiction, gave us the first volume of her Collected Stories and a double collection—In the Time of War and Other Stories of Conflict and Master of the Road to Nowhere and other Tales of the Fantastic—in another single volume. Gwyneth Jones gave us The Universe of Things. Maureen McHugh gave us After the Apocalypse, and Geoff Ryman, Paradise Tales, both from Small Beer Press. (I enjoyed a third title from Small Beer, Joan Aiken's The Monkey's Wedding and Other Stories, a good deal less powerful than all of these, a sort of Shirley Jackson Lite.) Two smaller collections from Australia also deserve mention: Tansy Rayner Roberts's Love and Romanpunk and Lucy Sussex's Thief of Lives.
Nader Elhefnawy: Reviewing 2011 it seems to me the trends oft-noted in past years continue: fantasy getting the upper hand over science fiction, with the boundaries of both becoming ever more porous; fantasy in contemporary, urban settings getting the upper hand over other types (even as Game of Thrones became a hit on TV); the enthusiasm for Singularitarian visions waning, while post-apocalyptic stories, like eco-catastrophe stories (such as those in the anthology Welcome to the Greenhouse) becoming more common; and paranormal romance and steampunk remaining strong presences (with a surprising amount of retro-SF on offer even at the box office).
I gave my views on the context for all this in a May New York Review of Science Fiction article, which you can find posted on my blog. What I didn't discuss there, however, was what has turned out to be a more dramatic scene of change, the medium conveying this content, and in particular, exploding e-book sales. These remain dominated by e-copies of traditionally published works, but by lowering distribution costs to nearly zero services like Kindle Direct Publishing open the door at least a crack wider to independent authors, who have been especially visible in speculative fiction. (Indeed, many of Strange Horizons's contributors—myself included—have taken the plunge into this area this past year.) I hope that this will be a source of new vitality for the genre, and for literature more generally.
Sarah Frost: This year, I attend my first Worldcon in Reno, Nevada. If any of you are able to attend a Worldcon and have not yet done so, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Scores of my favorite authors were there. At the Hugo award ceremony, I got to watch the best acceptance speech ever. Also, nobody throws a party like the Klingons.
Catherynne M. Valente's plan to rule the world through her beautiful prose is nearing completion. Deathless, The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, The Folded World, Myths of Origin, and her novella, "Silently and Very Fast", all came out this year. I do recommend them—but wait until spring to pick up Deathless, as a Russian fairytale about the siege of Leningrad is perhaps not the best book for December.
This year also brought us the DC Comics don't-say-reboot "New 52." While I think it's still too early to say whether the 52 will succeed, I have been enjoying Demon Knights and the new Birds of Prey. I don't usually read comics from the big American publishers, so clearly DC has done something right. I'm ignoring the rumors that Demon Knights will be the first book against the wall when the cancellations come.
Two books that I cannot stop talking about are Kameron Hurley's God's War and Infidel. I cannot recommend these books highly enough. The fact that these are Hurley's first two novels helps me stay optimistic about the future.
Lila Garrott: Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010) is without question the most impressive book I read last year, a world-historical memoir which gives an astonishing sense of tactile detail and quiet emotional gravity to the story of a familial heirloom passed down over several generations and continents. Equally beautiful and almost as well done is Stella Benson's Living Alone (1922), a prickly, idiosyncratic feminist fantasy set in a Great War which lasted into the twenties; it blends aerial broomstick dogfights over London, bombings which wake the dead, and a practical sense of the numinous to produce an effect resembling what might have happened if Sylvia Townsend Warner had written Cold Comfort Farm using elements from Harry Potter. It's available for free online. Other notable works include Joe Hill's ongoing dark fantasy comics series Locke and Key, starring a group of teenagers and a Thing in the small town of Lovecraft; N. K. Jemisin's conclusion to her Inheritance trilogy, The Broken Kingdoms; and the works of M. John Harrison, whose Viriconium series begins as a deconstructionist riff on The Lord of the Rings by way of Michael Moorcock and spirals into a meta-fantasy critique of itself and just about everything else. In film, I want to mention the Armenian director Sergei Parajanov's The Color of Pomegranates (1968), a surrealist biography of a thirteenth-century Armenian poet which uses a depth of dazzling imagery to evoke a world more strange and more familiar than any fantasy movie I've seen.
Niall Harrison: 2011 was not a great year for SF on screen: Doctor Who declined, Game of Thrones underwhelmed, and with the possible exception of Attack the Block, there was little memorable at the multiplex. It was a good year for SF criticism, with the arrival of the beta-text of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction's gargantuan third edition, and the launch of Cascadia Subduction Zone as a fresh and much-needed critical venue. And I read some excellent books. One major series came to a triumphant close, as David Anthony Durham's The Sacred Band wrapped up his Acacia epic fantasy trilogy with grace and generosity. Another series kicked off in style: Kameron Hurley's intense novels, God's War and Infidel, were together the most compelling debut of the year, the work of a writer who combines the best of Richard Morgan and Gwyneth Jones. Helen Oyeyemi's Mr Fox and Nina Allan's The Silver Wind both made excellent use of the novel-in-stories form, the former a commentary on gender representation in literature that is alternately sharp and subtle, the latter a restrained yet haunting suite about the gaps that can define a life. Joan Slonczewski's The Highest Frontier—shamefully, the first work I've read by her—is the best hard SF novel I read this year, a wonderful evocation of the university experience, and a fundamentally serious political novel. If you find its portrayal of society's elite a little optimistic, turn instead to Adam Roberts's caustic By Light Alone, a timely novel about inequality that leaves few assumptions un-punctured. And for a book that does it all, pick up a copy of Geoff Ryman's Paradise Tales, a long-overdue collection of brilliantly radical stories told in beautifully precise sentences.
Dan Hartland: When sitting down to pen this, there was one particular volume which rose above all the other contenders, and is fairly without peer in this year's crop of SF: Gwyneth Jones's collection, The Universe of Things. Published by Aqueduct Press in January, this may not in one sense even be eligible, since all the stories within its covers were published well before 2011. In terms of sheer consistent quality, however, this was a book unbeaten for the rest of year, and acts as a timely retrospective of an author currently—scandalously—without a publishing contract.
An honourable mention, however, should go to Jennifer Egan's A Visit From The Goon Squad, which, whilst not entirely SF and not entirely deserving of some of the hotter praise it has received, nevertheless tackles our particular moment in history, and how it might unfurl in the near future, with the orthogonal aplomb and imagination I expect of the best science fiction, wherever it may be filed in the bookstore.
Finally, of those books I reviewed for this venerable organ, God's War stood out as the most vibrant. For all its problems, Kameron Hurley's debut novel offered a satisfyingly fierce counterpoint to what has at times this year seemed a weirdly male discourse within the genre.
Matt Hilliard: Generally I prefer novels to other forms of media, but in 2011 the two really standout genre entries for me were both games. The first, Valve's Portal 2, was a consistently hilarious over-the-top science fiction comedy that also happened to be an excellent puzzle game. The second, Supergiant Games's downloadable action RPG Bastion, was built around an innovative dynamic narration. It could have just been a gimmick, but instead the laconic and at times almost poetic narrator is the foundation of a thoughtful and even emotional fantasy story. Industry giants Bioware and Bethesda released fantasy games this year that dwarfed Bastion in budget and scope, but they (not to mention many doorstop fantasy writers) could learn a lot from the way Bastion builds a compelling world without ever forcing the player to listen to long speeches or read paragraphs of dry text.
Compared to those experiences, China Mieville's Embassytown was not nearly as compelling. I didn't like the protagonist and had some reservations about both its world and its conclusions, but six months later it still stands out in my mind as the most thought-provoking thing I read all year. Science fiction only sometimes lives up to its billing as the literature of ideas, but Embassytown was one of those times.
Erin Horáková: Most of 2011 was consumed by writing my Masters thesis on how we construct the literary illegitimacy of fanfiction. Of my reading list, I'd recommend N. Katherine Hayles's mature and engaging My Mother Was A Computer (2005). Among other things, it discusses the role of books and digital culture not as a struggle for dominance but as a dynamic remediation.
I embarked on an epic re-watch of my childhood friend Star Trek: The Next Generation, in part as a response to my wretched estrangement from Doctor Who. Last year's Christmas special, "A Christmas Carol," rounded off an increasingly worrying series with its own, not unrelated, issues. I haven't watched Doctor Who since. Steven Moffat continually devalues narrative causality, while simultaneously sacrificing consistent and engaging characterization (especially where women are concerned) to the narrative. Moffat has created a Cyber-Who. It has the body of something I know and love, but its heart's been ripped out. Fans of long-running shared canons often weather writers they dislike, but increasingly I wonder whether this particular process is reversible—whether the show will ever be able to grow out of Moffat.
I enjoyed much of the genre television I did watch. Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes is a charming, fun, well-written cartoon that sidestepped many of the problems of 2011's higher budget film comic adaptations: Thor, Captain America, and X-Men: First Class. Some of the criticism of Game of Thrones occasioned by the new series—along the lines of "X happens in the book, and X is bad, therefore this is a bad book, which only rabid misogynist geeks would defend"—was the sort of stupidity favored by Harold Bloom. Social justice and good writing are hardly incompatible. As a feminist nerd, I find both the adaptation and the original Game of Thrones compelling.
For 2012, I’d wish for more Katherine Hayles's style of intermediation thinking in the blogosphere. This would value the demands of good writing, good genre-work, and good feminism, seeing these as potentially synergistic processes rather than forces locked in a struggle for dominance.
Matthew Jones: I spent 2011 trying to appease an increasingly cantankerous PhD (thankfully now completed), which left precious little time for new adventures in genre entertainment. I did see some things that I particularly enjoyed (Melancholia and Source Code were intriguing, while Doctor Who had a good run) and some that were disappointing (The Thing, Outcasts and Torchwood), but for me the greatest science fiction pleasures of the year have been found in the increasing back catalogue of mid-century films and television shows now reappearing or being repackaged with added bells and whistles on DVD.
In September, for example, two old favourites were reissued as a DVD double bill. The Quatermass Experiment (1955), which was originally released in the UK as The Quatermass Xperiment, and Quatermass 2 (1957) have been available on DVD before, but the new release encouraged me, and hopefully others too, to become reacquainted with these fascinating classics. The second sequel in this Hammer franchise, Quatermass and the Pit (1967), also came back this year, but it was afforded all the visual splendour of a blu-ray release. It is encouraging to know that these films are still finding audiences after so many years.
With the first three seasons of The Twilight Zone (originally broadcast between 1959 and 1962), some episodes of Rocky Jones Space Ranger (1954), The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955), Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Mole People (1956) all released or rereleased on DVD since the final few months of 2010, it has been an excellent year to catch up with old friends.
Chris Kammerud: A lot of stuff happened in 2011. Some of it involved immolation and pepper spray. Some of it involved dragons and a foul-mouthed dwarf. Most of it, as it turned out, involved a lot of people, for better or worse, solemnly swearing that they were up to no good.
Here's what stuck with me from the realm of make believe.
The Neil Gaiman episode of Doctor Who in which a thing talked that had not talked for a very long, possibly forever, time. The elegiac, post-America, zombie apocalypse of Colson Whitehead's Zone One. George R. R. Martin mania spreading to The New Yorker, among other places, thanks to the so perfect it almost seemed planned timing of Martin's long-awaited Dance with Dragons being published on the heels of D. B. Weiss and David Benioff's Emmy-winning adaptation of Game of Thrones for HBO—seriously, how good was Peter Dinklage as Tyrion?
And, finally, of course, there was the boy who lived managing the last of his mischief with the help of some old friends, Alan Rickman's acting, and some surprisingly spry and battle-ready Hogwart statues, in The Deathly Hallows, Part 2.
Oh, and also. One more thing.
Habibi by Craig Thompson is a graphic novel at once contemporary and timeless, a love story across time and myth. Set in a nameless Arabian land where legends and skyscrapers coexist, it was absolutely the best made-up thing to make its way into my brain this year. It's worth a visit to your local bookshop just to flip through and admire the rich and intimate sprawl of Thompson's art, as he bends his characters through paradise and back, laying out whole pages of panels into alchemic forms, and, on occasion, translating an image of infinite sadness into the shape of a single Arabic word.
Roz Kaveney: Some years there are books like Neuromancer or Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell which change the paradigm of what it means to read and write SF and fantasy, and I don't think that 2011 was one of those years—lots of good books, few of them ground-breaking. It was the year in which I read N. K. Jemisin, and her books expanded, but did not change, my sense of what heroic fantasy can do; along with George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons, they reminded me that the education of the good ruler is one of the major themes of fantasy. It was the year in which I read Joe Hill's Locke and Key, probably the best and spookiest dark fantasy comic of recent years and China Miéville's Embassytown which demonstrated it's possible to write hard SF in which the science is linguistic philosophy. I liked Source Code, a technothriller in which the tech was pretty much magic, but the genre elements sold us a corny but moving plot about love and death. Probably my best genre hit all year was American Horror Story, best seen as a sexy sitcom in which ghosts come out of the walls, kill you, and want to have sex with you not necessarily in that order. It is probably the best and sharpest thing that Ryan Murphy has yet done and people ought to be paying it more attention—after all, its first year was as close to perfect as things get on TV.
Nathaniel Katz: Looking back at 2011, I can't say I'm particularly overawed. So many of my most anticipated books ended up as disappointments (Parker's The Hammer or Nevill's The Ritual), or good but not as great as expected (Murakami's 1Q84), or a combination of all of those (Martin's A Dance with Dragons). Many others, like Sanderson's The Alloy of Law and Abraham's The Dragon's Path, were enjoyable but didn’t feel memorable or powerful enough to top a list like this. In terms of sheer fun, I'd say that Leviathan Wakes, by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, would likely top the list. On the rather opposite end of the spectrum, China Miéville's Embassytown was a difficult but mind-expanding read that completely won me over by the end and will likely be the book on this list that I'm still thinking about long after the others are buried under years of new titles. Then there's Valente's Deathless, which was so much its own enchanting world that, after hours of trying, I had to admit I just couldn't think rationally about it enough to review it and wasn’t even particularly sure if I'd loved it or not. All that just leaves the books I missed, which feels like by far the larger group. But I guess that's the feeling that always comes when expectations have been traded in for volumes and it's time to compose a Best Of from a list of releases too big to ever read through.
Paul Kincaid: The Islanders may not quite be the best novel Christopher Priest has written (I think The Affirmation gets it by a neck), but it is easily the best novel of the year. Tricky, funny, challenging, the sort of book that demands the reader stay alert all the way through, it was a novel that I found refreshing and engaging, and when I got to the end all I really wanted to do was go back to the beginning and find all the things I'd missed.
If it hadn’t been for the Priest, my book of the year would have been Kentauros by Gregory Feeley, three short stories and three essays around the theme of the most obscure of all Greek myths. The essays inform the stories, the stories inform the essays, and the result may me think again about my understanding of the Greek myths.
The Silver Wind by Nina Allen is a collection of linked stories where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; though it is challenged for the title of best collection of the year by Maureen McHugh's After the Apocalypse. Two other novels I thoroughly enjoyed this year: The Uncertain Places by Lisa Goldstein and Osama by Lavie Tidhar. And as for nonfiction, the pick has to be Pardon This Intrusion by John Clute, contentious, of course, annoying in places, but still worth the engagement.
Worst thing? The loss of Russell Hoban is something it will take a long time to get over.
Maureen Kincaid Speller: 2011 has been a tough year, one way or another, but seems to be ending better than it began, not least with my reading. Ian McDonald's The Dervish House, Charles Yu's How To Live Safely In a Science-Fictional Universe, and Nora Jemisin's Inheritance trilogy have all reminded me that great science fiction and fantasy is still being written. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's The Weird (which I am still working my way through) has reconnected me with some of my earliest genre reading pleasures and also introduced me to a large number of writers outside the Anglo-American world. Gary K. Wolfe's latest collection of his Locus columns, Sightings, has given me a great deal to think about in terms of critical practice, his and mine. I also acquired a Kindle this year and have just started to explore the output of the smaller publishers. One way or another there is a lot of reading to look forward to in 2012, some of it catch-up, a lot of it fresh. 2011 was the year I also finally managed to get my own litblog, Paper Knife, up and running for more than a couple of weeks at a time, and I was very proud when the British Science Fiction Association produced a chapbook of some of my early critical writing, entitled And Another Thing . . .
Richard Larson: I'm still getting through a lot of the year's short fiction for Nebula nomination season, but so far one of the 2011's knockout stories for me is "Younger Women" by Karen Joy Fowler: a pitch perfect take-down of the allure of the vampire in YA fiction. I also really loved Caitlin R. Kiernan's "Tidal Forces" in Eclipse Four, one of the best and most affecting love stories I've read in a long time. New collections by Maura McHugh and Daryl Gregory are also welcome additions to my bookshelf. And as far as new novels go, I was very impressed with The Enterprise of Death by Jesse Bullington, a marriage of historical fiction and dark fantasy which worked to great effect. But perhaps the most exciting thing happening in the genre world right now, at least in terms of the mainstream, is the proliferation of quality genre television. Of particular note this year was Game of Thrones, a slow burn which proved irresistible by the end of the season, and also American Horror Story, one of the year's biggest surprises, a captivating family drama tucked into a terrifying haunted house story which will hopefully open the door for more risk-taking in horror on the big and small screens.
Duncan Lawie: 2011 felt to me like a year that eased off the accelerator, at least until I read Greg Egan's The Clockwork Rocket which, as they say on The Coode Street Podcast, comes with an entrance exam. That podcast has probably been my most persistent informer on the state of the field—idiosyncratic and rambling as it inevitably is. My most important source, however, has been the new release of the SF Encyclopedia, though I fear we may have to learn again how to read on the web (viz. the acronym TLDR). The "neighboring" territory of the SF Gateway feels neotenous so it will be interesting to see how it matures and whether the regained exposure for tranches of our history changes what we read and write or becomes a research resource.
The other books which made me think this year were China Miéville's Embassytown, which makes me wonder whether every brilliant thing he has written so far is still his juvenilia and there is even better to come, and The Islanders by Christopher Priest, which I bounced off on the first attempt, but found utterly engrossing when I took a second serve. And Aliette de Bodard's Harbinger of the Storm was bloody good fun. Shorter fiction has been rather off my radar this year, but I was delighted by Nina Alan's "The Silver Wind" (Interzone #233) where I think she finally nailed the mood of her stories to a plot that could carry it.
David McWilliam: My game of the year is Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which brought cyberpunk back to the attention of mainstream culture after the disappointing sequels to The Matrix. It is immersive, stylish-yet-gritty, and has a gripping narrative that drives the player to keep coming back. Deus Ex also serves as a timely reminder of how the genre predicted the amoral corporate dystopia the world is steadily twisting into.
Nevertheless, once again, horror has been my obsession this year. On television: in its fifth season, Dexter continued to burrow into the darkest recesses of the human soul, while BBC3's The Fades filtered metaphysical Apocalypse through the experience of two awkwardly likeable sixth formers. At the cinema: Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan merged psychological fantasy with horror in a chilling representation of a mind fractured by vampiric perfectionism, portrayed brilliantly by Natalie Portman. Lars von Trier followed up 2009's Antichrist with the visually stunning Melancholia (at times reminiscent of Kubrick's 2001), in which Kirsten Dunst plays a woman whose depression allows her to accept the impending end of the world while her "successful" relatives fall to pieces.
In fiction, I finally got round to reading Ramsey Campbell's The Darkest Part of the Woods, a tale of Lovecraftian necromancy that is a masterclass in understated dread and menace. My novel of the year is Adam Nevill's The Ritual, a story about a bonding exercise gone horribly wrong in an ancient Scandinavian forest. It showcases the author's mastery of the genre; brilliantly constructed and compulsively readable.
Farah Mendlesohn: The stand out SF reads of this year were China Miéville, Jo Walton, and Rob Shearman. China Miéville's Embassytown is a curiously traditional contact story with a throughly subversive twist. Linguistics has traditionally been one of the most difficult of the sciences for SF to absorb, and yet one of the most obvious components of obsessive world building. In Embassytown Miéville offers an impressive take on the Sapir Whorf theory. Jo Walton's Among Others is probably the most talked about book of the year: in Among Others she combines bildungsroman with whimsy, and builds fantasy among a life lived through books. There is no question this is a fan's book, or at least, a longtime reader's book. The constant stream of titles is intimidating and left me feeling guilty for the things I hadn't read, but the book is far more than nostalgia, if anything it is a rejection of nostalgia, and insistence that what comes next will be better. Rob Shearman's collection Everyone's Just So Special, is a compilation of intense, mind bending stories that are impossible to describe in a short space: the best I can do for those of you haven't read Shearman's work is to suggest that if you are waiting for the next Ted Chiang story, this will fill the gap nicely.
William Mingin: This year my genre reading was, once again, haphazard, desultory, and mostly in the past. A book I'd never heard of, what Locus would call an "associational" title, struck me deeply: a short, and I think obscure (at least, in the U.S.), 1925 novel, The Sailor's Return, by David Garnett, of the famous literary family (grandfather Richard remembered in genre for his fantasy collection, The Twilight of the Gods, 1888; mother Constance the seemingly indefatigable translator of Russian literature). He's best known in genre for his protofeminist fantasy, Lady into Fox (1922). In this novel a British seaman returns home in 1858 with a black wife and child from Dahomey, and opens the eponymous pub in Dorset.
Almost in the tone of a fable, the novel quietly leads the reader down a garden path to a denouement that does not just depict racism, but that somehow—in that way words can have in the hands of a truly skilled author, of recapitulating an experience, of generating it not on the page, but in the reader—evokes freshly and viscerally the reaction racism deserves: sick, helpless rage. At least, it did in me; and I don't think I'm risking much by suggesting that's just what it's supposed to do.
I think sometimes our reading should make us uncomfortable or even unhappy, even shock or devastate us, lest we fall back into a warm bath of what entertains and makes us happy, tickling our fancies and stroking our egos. This remarkable little book should not be forgotten.
Abigail Nussbaum: 2011 saw several big name releases that failed to live up to their hype—China Miéville's Embassytown was well-done and inventive, but hobbled by a muddled central concept, and Neal Stephenson's Reamde was a self-satisfied dud. But the year also saw the debut of Kameron Hurely, whose God's War features one of the most interesting SFnal worlds I've encountered, and a sophisticated handling of religious and cultural strife. Other, older standout books include Monsters of Men, Patrick Ness's triumphant conclusion to the Chaos Walking trilogy, and Gullstruck Island, Frances Hardinge's engrossing adventure about the perils of cultural misunderstandings. Outside of genre, I'd be remiss not to mention Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad, which peers momentarily into the future as it ponders the inescapable ravages of time, and The Long Ships, Frans G. Bengtsson's Tolkien-esque attempt to craft a new Viking saga.
It was a disappointing year for genre TV: Game of Thrones was solid (and a massive improvement on the book) but unexciting; shows like Falling Skies and Terra Nova failed to return core SF to the small screen (while being rather lackluster in their own right); and the less said about Doctor Who, the better. Two series, at opposite ends of the year, do deserve a mention: the third season of Being Human (not to be confused with the tepid American remake) rescued the series from the mistakes of the second and took the show and its characters to a brave, but necessary, place. And FX's American Horror Story, though flawed (mostly due to its hysterical and misogynistic treatment of female characters) was a piece of gonzo, over the top camp that, once begun, was almost impossible to look away from. Things were more interesting at the movies, with a slew of solid, entertaining B movies like Source Code, X-Men: First Class, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, as well as more highbrow fare with a definite genre touch like Lars von Trier's Melancholia.
Hallie O'Donovan: My 2011 reading highlights came for the most part from authors who have been favourites for some time. In YA the long (over a decade!) wait for Franny Billingsley's Chime was well rewarded, as was the much shorter one for Frances Hardinge's sequel to Fly By Night, Twilight Robbery. Initially I missed the wonderful coffeehouses of Fly By Night, but the city of Toll is an astonishing setting. R. J. Anderson fans in Ireland and the UK got two books this year: Arrow, which continues the Faery Rebels series, and Ultraviolet, which took off in an entirely different direction.
In adult fiction I was lucky enough to read not only Sherwood Smith's Blood Spirits, the second of the Dobrenica Duology, but also Banner of the Damned (due out in April), which takes place several hundred years after the events of the Inda books. Martha Wells had the first of a new science fiction series with The Cloud Roads published this year. I've long loved Wells's fantasy, and found this equally good. And of course 2011 was the year of Jo Walton's Among Others.
Just a small amount of cheating will allow me to include Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies, as I discovered them on audiobook, and both were released in that format in 2011. Michael Page's narration fit the books perfectly, and I’m hoping the audiobook of the third Gentleman Bastard book is released soon after the book is published (not until 2013, according to Goodreads).
Alexandra Pierce: For me this year the book scene—that part of it that I've enjoyed anyway—has mostly involved some beginnings and some (near-)conclusions. The latter was in the shape of Isobelle Carmody coming one step closer to finishing her Obernewtyn Chronicles (begun in 1987!) with the sixth book, The Sending. The former was courtesy of Kameron Hurley starting a whole new sub-genre, bugpunk, with God's War, while Beth Revis launched a generation ship in Across the Universe. I've also loved the first three collections in the Twelve Planets series, from Twelfth Planet Press (published by a friend of mine, I'll admit), especially Tansy Rayner Roberts's Love and Romanpunk. A couple of mid-trilogy books have also been excellent; I enjoyed Red Glove, book 2 of the Curse Workers trilogy from Holly Black, and The Wise Man's Fear, book 2 of the Kingkiller Chronicles from Patrick Rothfuss. For me personally, though, the most significant SF reading I did was to inhale Lois Mcmaster Bujold's entire Vorkosigan saga in seven weeks! (I also started Blake's 7 but didn't get very far.)
In other genre-related things, I love awards—the voting, the shortlists—so it was great to vote in my second-ever Hugo ballot (although mostly my favourites did not get up), and to have a friend, Alisa Krasnostein, take out a World Fantasy Award. Sadly I don't think there were any great SF films in 2011 (or that I have managed to see, anyway).
Sara Polsky: The two YA speculative fiction reads from the year that have stuck with me most strongly are Divergent, by Veronica Roth, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor—Divergent for its intriguing premise and fascinating narrator; Daughter for its purely incredible writing. In the books-for-adults realm, I particularly loved Hillary Jordan's When She Woke, a dystopian reimagining of The Scarlet Letter in which convicted criminals' bodies are dyed a different color. The
story is, not surprisingly, intense and political.
Paul Graham Raven: A lot of my reading this year has been aimed either at clearing my course reading lists or patching up gaps in my knowledge of the genre canon, particularly the stuff from sixties and seventies, as well as titles written by female authors.
That said, I've bumped against the cutting edge a few times: Neal Stephenson's non-SF thriller Reamde earned a qualified thumbs-up, despite the Central Casting characterization (and the wrist-wrecking weight of the thing); Charlie Stross's Rule 34 was the best thing he's ever written that I've read so far; Embassytown, China Miéville's first "proper" SF novel, had all the semiotic depth we were promised (albeit at the expense of the comparative immediacy of his previous few books); Lauren Beukes's Zoo City was fast, funny, and—satisfyingly—much darker than I expected.
Elsewhere, In Other Worlds saw Margaret Atwood extending an olive branch to a butt-hurt genre, but failing to resist administering some lightly corrective flagellations in the process. Like others, I remain to be convinced of just how straight-faced Atwood is about her theory of the genre (her coining of "ustopia" is too clunky and malformed a thing to be taken at face value from a writer so meticulous with her words), but I find myself more fond of her nonetheless.
I think that's because Atwood doesn't care if we think she's right or not, and she uses the tools in ways we can't help but recognise; she's science fiction's most grudging émigré—sticking around despite her better judgement, it almost seems—and that sets her apart from daytripping dabblers and natives alike. As such, we should value her voice . . . even if (or, perhaps, especially because) she says things we don't like or agree with.
Adam Roberts: According to SF, if not the Mayans, 2011 was supposed to be a disaster. In the world of Aeon Flux 2011 saw a virus wipe out 99% of humanity; The Sarah Connor Chronicles dated Judgment Day to 21 April 2011 and in K. A. Applegate's Remnants books 2011 was when a giant asteroid collided with the planet. We can congratulate ourselves, I think, not only on having survived all that, but also on having had the chance to enjoy books as good as Christopher Priest's The Islanders, M. D. Lachan's Fenrir, Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London, and Catherynne Valente's "Silently and Very Fast"—not to mention the launch of Gollancz's estimable SF Gateway and its river of e-backlist.
There has been less worthwhile SF/Fantasy on telly, I think: I quite enjoyed the HBO George R. R. Martin adaptation, Game of Nudity; but Who was [holds palm out flat and wobbles it, as if illustrating the "pitch" element of "roll, yaw and pitch"] and Terra Nova actively bad. The best SF I saw onscreen this year was "The Entire History of You," Jesse Armstrong's contribution to Channel 4's Black Mirror mini-season. The most significant genre achievement in criticism was Clute, Langford, and Nicholls's magisterial Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Third edition, although my praise is compromised by the fact that I'm one of (many) contributors to it. My pick for best SF themed confectionary of the year is ASDA's Fruit-Flavoured Dalek Jellies, and my favourite SF themed T-shirt this year was this one from Qwerty-com.
Sofia Samatar: I'll probably always remember 2011 as the Year of the Circus. It was the year Genevieve Valentine's Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti and Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus came out, leaving me waiting expectantly for somebody to say "circuspunk." The books share a flowing, readable style and explore the tension between community and authority in similar ways, but it was the darker tone and anguished characters of Mechanique that stayed with me.
My favorite novel of 2011 is Catherynne M. Valente's Deathless, a lushly written version of a Russian fairy tale. Her bestselling The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is also gorgeous. Both books explore the meaning of fairy tales, and why we continue to tell them, while remaining bewitching stories in their own right. My favorite story of the year is also a fairy tale: "A Fine Magic," from Margo Lanagan's collection Yellowcake. My favorite poems are "Bacab Skerry" by Jeannelle Ferreira, from Stone Telling #4, and "Cemetery Theater" by Sonya Taaffe, from Not One of Us #46.
2011 was also the year of the first ever Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Award! The winner in the long form category was Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud's brilliant collection A Life on Paper, translated by Edward Gauvin. In other award news, Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death won the World Fantasy Award for best novel, leading to an important and thought-provoking blog post.
Graham Sleight: For me, this was a year of finding the fantastic in unexpected places. The tweets of @mayoremanuel—as collected in The F***ing Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel—turned the Chicago mayoral election into a comic-tragic-epic that vanished into a time vortex. Kate Bush's 50 Words For Snow was otherworldly in the usual Kate Bush way, but included an especially touching time-travel lovers duet in "Snowed in at Wheeler Street". And Sleep No More, at the "McKittrick Hotel" in New York City was one of the most uncanny experiences I've had in any context. You enter an anonymous-looking building with a couple of hundred other attendees. You are ushered upstairs, through a darkened labyrinth, and into a bar area that seems to be from 60 years ago. Then, in groups of a couple of twenty or so, you're taken aside, given a mask, and have the rules of the next few hours explained to you. You must wear the mask; you may not speak to anyone; you may explore wherever you like in the hotel. The "hotel," it transpires, contains a graveyard, an asylum, a forest, and a street of shops. It also contains a retelling of the Macbeth story by a dozen or so performer-dancers, done almost entirely without words and intercut with dream-memories of Hitchcock and du Maurier's Rebecca. The whole experience, told through sound and smell as much as sight, is beyond easy paraphrase—not least because everyone's path through it is different. But you can't deny its irreducible strangeness.
Aishwarya Subramanian: My reading this year tended more towards the mainstream, which is probably why some of my favourite science fictional works were ones that got more attention from outside the genre. I enjoyed Hari Kunzru's
In India in the second half of this year we had a sudden spate of discussions around and adaptations of the Ramayana. Sita's Ramayana by Arni and Moyna Chitrakar was probably the most prominent of these, but I thought Arshia Sattar's Lost Loves, a collection of meditations on specific aspects of the epic, was brilliant.
Jo Walton's Among Others was a love story about books and adolescence that made me significantly weepy. Another high point of my reading year came with The Monkey's Wedding, a collection of short stories by Joan Aiken. China Miéville's Embassytown was a nice return to form, and I ended the year with Adam Roberts's quietly impressive By Light Alone.
Molly Tanzer: As a resolution for 2011, I vowed to try to read more currently than I usually do. I’m happy to say I was moderately successful (things . . . got a little slow when I did a re-read of Harry Potter after the thrill of seeing the final installment in the theatre. Confessions!) But seriously, I read a lot of amazing (current) stuff.
First I must mention J. M. McDermott's Never Knew Another. Holy cats! Part police procedural, part, um, werewolves hunting demons. I loved it. If the premise doesn't appeal to you, I don't even know what to say.
I was seriously blown away by Nick Mamatas's Sensation. Published before the Occupy Wall Street movement began, it's a strangely prescient novel, and a generally fun read. I loved, as well, Jesse Bullington's latest, the achingly beautiful The Enterprise of Death. Very different books, but they share a theme of "what makes us human" which is admittedly my bread and butter. Yeah, I watched too much Star Trek: The Next Generation as a kid.
Finally, I must give a shoutout to Alan M. Clark for his Of Thimble and Threat: The Life of a Ripper Victim. It might be cheating to call it genre, but whatever. It's through a bizarro press, so we'll call it "genre-spanning." Anyways, it's a slender but rich volume and I cried so hard at the end. Huzzah!
Tori Truslow: 2011 brought some books that I know I'm going to love forever, which is a nice feeling. China Miéville's Embassytown was a glorious addition to the sadly slim canon of linguistics-in-space fiction, while Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi was the metafictional kaleidoscope of Bluebeard retellings that I never knew I needed. In short fiction, I enjoyed JoSelle Vanderhooft's Steam-Powered anthologies: with two volumes so far of multicultural woman- and queer-centric stories, the series is doing great work redeeming steampunk's issues; here's looking forward to more. Less inspiring was Stephen King's trip to the Kennedy era in 11/22/63, which dealt with its knotty subject matter in a rather uninteresting fashion. I guess it just wasn’t a good year for time travel, with Doctor Who failing to live up to last year's brilliance: I'll give Steven Moffat points for ambition (and The Silence, brrr), but with all the important plot squeezed into a few key episodes, the whole thing felt lopsided. That Neil Gaiman episode was ace, though.
Good things happened in the wider world, too. The British Library exhibition Out of this World: Science Fiction But Not As You Know It was a comprehensive and fun look at the genre’s roots and its legacy; I appreciated the demonstration how wibbly-wobbly the "line" between literature and genre actually is. I was also happy to see increased discussion of women's (under)representation in SF, especially in the UK—more of this, please. In criticism, my 2011 highlight was hands-down Requires Only That You Hate, which gets balancing razor-sharp commentary with snortingly hilarious swearing down to a fine art—it's a thing of righteous beauty; recommended.