2015 in Review
Reviewed by Our Reviewers
04 January 2016
Nina Allan: Top of my list for 2015 would be two of the books I reviewed for Strange Horizons: Laura van den Berg's Find Me and Sara Taylor's The Shore. Both of these novels do strange and unexpected things with the post-apocalypse story, both are stunningly written, both will undoubtedly gain in the rereading. I would also have to mention Alexis Wright's The Swan Book, which does strange and unexpected things to Australia, and all in language that truly should have seen this novel on the Booker shortlist. On the horror side, it won't come as any surprise to regular SH readers that my vote for novel of the year goes to Catriona Ward's magnificent Dartmoor ghost story Rawblood. Of the outliers, two in particular caught my attention: first, Oliver Langmead's Dark Star, an imaginative SF/Noir told entirely in iambic pentameters, and secondly, J. M. McDermott's unnerving postmodern fairy tale Straggletaggle, which takes steampunk by the hand and shoves it under a bus. McDermott is an extraordinary writer, deserving of a lot more attention than he's been getting. The fact that this latest novel has seen virtually no press is a matter of baffling unfairness.
In film? I never thought I'd hear myself saying this, but the hands-down showstopper for 2015, in terms of both its art and its content, can only be Mad Max: Fury Road.
Tom Atherton: I kept up with SFF this year mostly by reading the shortlists of various literary awards. This means I inadvertently read a lot of voguish post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction; much of which, of course, was predictable drivel. Standing out from the crowd, however, were Dave Hutchinson's Europe in Autumn, Adam Roberts's brilliantly British Bête, and Emily St. John Mandel's after-the-plague novel Station Eleven, which made up for its over-reliance on tired genre clichés with some beautiful characterisation.
I also thought 2015 was a great year for Alastair Reynolds, who achieved a sort of literary triple crown by publishing an excellent short story ("A Murmuration"—Interzone #257), novella ("Slow Bullets"), and novel (Poseidon's Wake). Aliette de Bodard’s House of Shattered Wings was awesome, and although I’m a bit late to the party, I finally read (and loved) the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer.
Honourable mentions go to Marly Youmans’s wonderfully estranging adult fairy tale Glimmerglass, Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, and China Miéville’s reliably idiosyncratic collection Three Moments of an Explosion. It’s good to have him back.
Redfern Jon Barrett: I have to talk about Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (1976). The latter half of the twentieth century may have seen utopian fiction take a backseat to its neon-fronted cyberpunk cousins, but Piercy's work stands out in providing a vision of a world free of prejudice, inequality, and environmental destruction. Tying in themes of racial oppression, abuse of women, poverty, and even ageism, Woman on the Edge of Time provides an intersectional feminist reading of society's ills decades before those words fell from the mouths of a million Millennials.
In fact, whilst reading it I continually had to remind myself that it was written a full eight years before I was born: Piercy even anticipates the genderqueer and polyamory movements. The plot is gripping, the language is beautifully detailed, and I still find myself pining for her utopian future. Plus, the novel's brief foray into dystopia directly influenced William Gibson's Neuromancer, kickstarting the whole cyberpunk genre.
In the world of television, I'm certain I won't be alone in mentioning Sense8. I love this show for much the same reasons I love Piercy's novel: because I'm a big, politically correct, queer militant, and I feed from the tears of those who want all science fiction to be straight, white, and cismale. The use of multiple real-world locations keeps the settings rich and vivid, and much of it is filmed in my neighbourhood in Berlin, which fills me with provincial delight. Then there are pansexual mind orgies. Perfect.
Marina Berlin: My favorite SFF book of 2015 was Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown, which I suppose is not surprising since her short story collection, Spirits Abroad, was one of my favorite books in 2014.
My other favorites for 2015 all came from the realm of television. Syfy's Killjoys and AMC's Into the Badlands made me fall in love with genres I hadn't enjoyed in a very long time—fun, well plotted, action-adventure scifi and wuxia-inspired political martial arts drama, respectively.
However, my favorite show this year was the CW's The 100. The first season started slowly and took about six episodes to go from a show I had on in the background to a show I paid active attention to, but the second season took the show from enjoyable to mind-blowingly good. The 100 took everything I loved about Battlestar Galactica and amplified it, improved it, updated it for 2015. It had so many women in diverse roles—doctors, soldiers, engineers, politicians—that by the time it introduced two generals of two different armies who had to collaborate, and both of those characters happened to be teenage girls, I was hooked. When the two developed romantic feelings for each other and their romance became a major focus for the show, The 100 entered the hall of fame of Shows Everyone Should Watch, for me at least.
Gautam Bhatia: Robert Jackson Bennett's City of Stairs, the Strugatsky Brothers' newly-translated Hard To Be A God, their older Time Wanderers, and Sofia Samatar's A Stranger in Olondria are four of my stand-out reads this year. But my favourite is Jo Walton's The Just City, a novel about Athena and Apollo's attempt to reconstruct Plato's Republic on a remote island, with the help of great intellectual figures across the annals of time. The Just City is written with a combination of mirth, darkness, and inevitable tragedy, which the Greeks themselves would have been proud of. Walton's feather-light touch, sensitivity, and ability to leave things unsaid make this that rare kind of book which you stay up all night reading—and then, over the next few weeks, it progressively comes to haunt your imagination, your dreams, and finally even your waking moments. I'm waiting eagerly to read the second instalment.
Alasdair Czyrnyj: Overall, 2015 was not a great year for me in terms of genre. For some unfathomable reason I ended up reading less than usual, and with the exception of Don Delillo's Cosmopolis, very little managed to stick with me. I did end up watching a impressive number of movies, but the only new release that really stood out was Alex Garland's Ex Machina, a cautionary tale about building a consciousness around a search engine and an uncanny doppelganger to Caradog James's forgotten 2013 film The Machine.
The biggest discovery of the year came from television, when I finally marathoned Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra in the spring. I enjoyed them both immensely, but for different reasons. A:tLA is, of course, a fantastic children's quest fantasy that has a lot to recommend it. By contrast, Korra, as I wrote here at length, tries to rework the setting and storytelling of A:tLA in ways that don't entirely work, but which are oddly compelling even so. While I believe that A:tLA is the better show, I find myself rewatching Korra more often.
With video games, I lost a few months to The Secret World, a massively multiplayer online game (MMO) set in a world where all the myths are true and all the conspiracies are real. It's fantastically written, at times hilarious, horrifying, and genuinely compelling, and it's a shame that it's an MMO instead of a single-player role-playing game.
Indrapramit Das: I'm behind catching up on much of 2015's major genre output (I still haven't seen The Force Awakens!). I started the year with expectations blown away by Alien: Isolation (an underappreciated 2014 release), a videogame that somehow does justice to the original movies and Ripley's daughter, pulled into her mother's nightmare (perhaps obviously, it's a much better sequel/prequel than Prometheus). The Witcher 3 turned out to be one of the best fantasy epics I've experienced in any medium.
Most books I read were from previous years—including Monica Byrne's excellent The Girl in the Road, which felt so much like sci-fi of this century, and Helen Oyeyemi's brilliantly recursive Mr Fox. Kazuo Ishiguro and Salman Rushdie gave us two "literary" fantasies for 2015, one strange and melancholy (The Buried Giant), the other poppy and delightful (Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights). Marlon James wants to write fantasy—great news, because his subtly magic realist A Brief History of Seven Killings was fiercely good. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples's Saga remains one of the best comics out there, while Grant Morrison wrote another joyful meta-mythic-ode to superheroes (Multiversity).
Some of the most memorable movies of 2015 were genre: It Follows, Spring, and Ex Machina were fascinating and beautiful, flaws and all. Mad Max: Fury Road was a thunderous masterpiece for the ages. On TV, Jessica Jones and Daredevil beat the Marvel movies at their own game, and spacetime-twisting Rick and Morty quietly became one of the best SF shows around.
Benjamin Gabriel: I wrote about the collectivity in Aevee Bee & Mia Schwartz's We Know the Devil here: it's also great teen horror, and a strong example of the use of speculative fictional technologies, and much more. I can't recommend it highly enough.
I also saw the Vietnamese climate SF film Nước (2030) this year, and holy hell, is it a beautiful film. Which is also true (in very different ways) of Jupiter Ascending, which somehow was a 2015 film? M. Night Shyamalan's The Visit was the year's best horror film (sorry, It Follows).
My thinking on genre continues to evolve, largely off the work of game critics. Zolani Stewart's three-part essay on Sonic Adventure, Lana Polansky on Ecco the Dolphin and "On Genre and the Ludic Device", and Austin Walker on Darkest Dungeon all spring to mind.
I think it wouldn't be unfair to say that, at least in the spaces I frequent, 2015 was a good year for speculative fiction. The products that get sold under its umbrella are the obvious reference there, but I think it was especially so for developing ways of thinking about it, if not always from inside of the thing itself. I'm personally very glad of that, at least.
Mark Granger: 2015 was the year I came across the excellent Greg van Eekhout, through his Daniel Blackland series, and Joe Abercrombie, via his Shattered Sea series. China Miéville finally made it on to my reading list as I devoured his brilliant short story collection Looking For Jake and Other Stories and 2015 was also the year I finally got around to reading some Robert Rankin. TV-wise, I loved Doctor Who—as I almost always do. Steven Moffat's impish delight in messing with the fans, like he wants to annoy them, is a joy to behold. Then of course there was Daredevil and Jessica Jones: both seemingly attempting to save money by spending very little money on lights, but both equally great. For some schlocky, underrated thrills, I also enjoyed From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series immensely.
I can't finish a TV round-up however without mentioning My Little Pony. Endlessly imaginative, constantly evolving, with several nods to genre film and TV through out its run, the latest season references Doctor Who (a character called Dr Whooves who says "Allons-y!"), Game Of Thrones, and Star Wars, to name a few. If you think you're too old for it, just give it a try. John de Lancie is a regular, for goodness sake!
Also, I can highly recommend Strangeness in Space, a podcast/sitcom that stars former children's TV stars Trev and Simon, and Sophie Aldred (Ace from Sylvester McCoy-era Doctor Who). Daft, but funny.
Dan Hartland: I'd like to go in to bat for two novels which have each enjoyed oddly muted receptions this year: Justina Robson's Glorious Angels and Sarah Hall's The Wolf Border. Of the two, I think the latter has received the most—and the most glowing—notices, but neither, it seems to me, has quite broken through in the manner they deserved. I wonder if this wasn't because each is rather dilatory: Robson's effort, the most obviously science-fictional in nature, does decidedly interesting things with gender and genre in the course of its tricksy and expansive adventure story; The Wolf Border, meanwhile, is simply beautifully—perhaps flawlessly—written, as one might expect from an avowedly literary author, whilst also positing a near future (so near, in fact, that it was arguably by the point of its publication already instead an alternate history) of an unusually subtle and reflective quality. Both novels felt like important works, engaged and engaging; more people should read and discuss them in 2016.
In the world of media, I'd like also to make an argument for an overlooked curio: Tom Rob Smith's BBC drama, London Spy. Starring the intolerably watchable Ben Whishaw, this story of a young gay man and the world of espionage in which he finds himself immersed when his mysterious boyfriend is found dead in a box was in many ways old-fashioned. It felt rather like the sort of miniseries British TV made in the 1980s, such as Edge of Darkness or The Beiderbecke Tapes: paranoid but also slightly stuffy, formalised but also cutting-edge. The ponderous pacing—like Stephen Poliakoff but without the sense of urgency—put many off, and in some ways did indeed hobble the whole affair. But in the best traditions of science fiction, London Spy had a McGuffin at its heart—an algorithm that allowed those with access to it to assess the truth of any spoken or written statement—that was used to explore social and interpersonal dynamics in non-domestic settings. In this way, and for all its faults, London Spy placed its themes in higher, and arguably more instructive, relief than many more lauded series this year.
David Hebblethwaite: 2015 marked the return of Lucy Wood, whose collection Diving Belles was one of my reading highlights of 2012. Her first novel, Weathering, is no less intense: an account of a raw, unknowable landscape filtered through the differing perceptions of three generations of women (one of whom is dead and merging with that landscape as her ashes spread through the river). Kazuo Ishiguro also returned to the fantastic in The Buried Giant: I was impressed with his evocation of a land subject to dementia, a place that shifts from "real" to metaphorical, and back again.
I also made some fine discoveries. Jenny Erpenbeck's The End of Days (translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky) was a worthy winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize: an examination of the relationship between the individual and history that follows one woman through the different lives she might have led during the 20th century. The narrator of Paulette Jonguitud's self-translated Mildew finds the titular stuff growing over her body on the day before her daughter's wedding; the spread of the mildew through the protagonist reflects the drifting of her thoughts, and her perspective leaves no room for readers to judge where the real ends and the imaginary begins. Finally, there's The Boy Who Stole Attila's Horse by Iván Repila (translated by Sophie Hughes), the hallucinatory tale of two boys trapped down a well; its imaginative space shifts with each chapter—rather like all these books, it changes even as you look.
Matt Hilliard: When I think of the best books of the year, I tend to slide past a book like Ancillary Mercy because it inevitably didn't bring a whole lot of new ideas to the table. But it was an excellent resolution to Ann Leckie's trilogy and, considered as a whole, the trilogy is definitely in my best of the year.
The most thought-provoking science-fiction novel I read was Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora. It handles an old trope (generation starships) in a very new way, it's centered on relatable characters, its first-person narration is innovative, and while it does start very slow, it builds into a very dramatic climax.
In fantasy, the book that's stuck with me is Seth Dickinson's The Traitor Baru Cormorant. It has a well-earned reputation for being a brutal novel, but it doesn't wallow in the ugly violence like some recent fantasy. Instead, it achieves its power by giving you characters to root for and then letting them reap the consequences of their choices. That's a formula as old as Greek tragedy, but what makes the novel such an interesting read, one I'm still thinking about months later, is that its characters don't make the wrong choice due to some tragic flaw. Instead, they are inside a society that leaves them with no good choices at all. And while that society is a considerably exaggerated version of our own, it's hard to read this novel without being worried it's still too close for comfort.
Erin Horáková: How many people are going to say Steven Universe? Enough to make my naming it entirely superfluous? I won't gush here because I have a review to do it in. I've already enthused about Over the Garden Wall and Paddington, so I'll just say again: they are worth your time. (I swear I don't exclusively watch children's programming.)
I had a strangely "meh" Fringe—I saw nothing either awful or revelatory. I am so deeply over the Marvel franchise that new offerings fill me with a profound emptiness, like the Nothing from The NeverEnding Story. I am past both hope and fear for the new Star Wars: I think it will be bullshit, but I survived the prequels and Abrams's Into Darkness and nothing can hurt me now.
I did a shamefully small amount of book-reading this year because I fell in love with a "new" fandom (it isn't new, it's old as the hills and I was into it at fifteen: it's more like a weirdly successful adult fling with someone you dated in high school) and was busy frantically reading everything, ancient archives and zines. I wish that my reading had been more respectable/shareable, even as I think it's dumb to crave that kind of legitimacy and that fandom is valid. I now have a bevy of thoughts on the mechanics of smarm: y'all, it's fascinating. I wrote a lot in said fandom, which was fun, but trading reading for manic hyper-production really isn't something I want to do every year.
K. Tait Jarboe: One defining moment was producing a live show of science fiction and fantasy readings. The people who participated and attended reminded me to celebrate doing it over, doing it "wrong," and doing it ourselves, regardless of genre trends or canon. Two works which did this for me were Jeanne Thornton's The Black Emerald and the Metropolarity zines and blog. It's been good for me to learn how to listen, stay angry, and have fun all in balance this year, and it's thanks to speculative fiction.
Another highlight was when Samuel R. Delany himself suggested I read Joanna Russ's "We Who Are About To . . . " at Readercon this year. I tore through it, recognizing a lot that felt urgently relevant to me, and to these lessons. I think I reread and underlined the following passage four times at least:
Either you limit what you think about and who you think about (the commonest method) or you start raising a ruckus about being outside and wanting to get inside (then they try to kill you) or you say piously that God puts everybody on the inside (then they love you) or you become crazed in some way. Not insane but flawed deep down somehow, like a badly-fired pot that breaks when you take it out of the kiln and the cold air hits it. Desperate.
K. Kamo: Highs and lows, says the brief, so I'm compelled to start with the passing of Terry Pratchett. A wise, funny, and above all humane constant almost since I graduated to reading books without pictures, he made me laugh at parody before I knew what parody was, so ruining most other fantasy—most other writing, full stop—for me in the best possible way. His loss is palpable.
It's to my joy and relief then that N.K. Jemisin continues to make the genre relevant. The Fifth Season is fantasy as good as I remember it used to be: smart fantasy, opinionated fantasy; just one more chapter oh look at that it's 3 a.m. fantasy. Elsewhere, both Sandra Newman's The Country of Ice Cream Star and Quan Barry's She Weeps Each Time You're Born showcased breathtaking linguistic virtuosity and deserved more attention: the former a post-apocalyptic riff on Lord of the Rings, the latter a magical-realist exploration of post-colonialism in Indochina—a Vietnamese Midnight's Children, to lapse into the lazy reviewer's comparative shorthand. Two debut novels, meanwhile—Molly Tanzer's Vermilion and Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown—gave us fantastical histories featuring gloriously engaging interstitial protagonists. Zen Cho in particular has an ability to consistently charm without being twee, comparable to Miyazaki Hayao and precious few others.
To come full circle, I found myself reading books with pictures again. East of West, Rat Queens, and Lumberjanes all entertained in very different ways, but nothing matched The Wicked + The Divine, which fitted my personal foibles in a way that felt practically bespoke.
Paul Kincaid: Four very different books stand out for me from 2015. Best novel occupying that challenging, exciting cusp between realist and fantastic is A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. How she uses and confuses time is one of the most thrilling things about this book. Best science fiction is Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson, which demonstrates that the best way to write a sequel is to take the story in an entirely new direction. I was going to say that the best fantasy novel is The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, but it is not fantasy, at least not in the way we slavishly expect everything extraordinary to be treated as strictly real. It's actually an allegory, and too many people seem to have forgotten how to read allegories. It's about forgetting in the aftermath of war, and how forgetting means that everyone is condemned to recreate the entire world anew, so that no one in the novel sees what any of the other characters see. It's a beautiful and powerful work. Best collection is Voices in the Night by Steven Millhauser, who should be recognised as the finest fantasist working in America today, except that his austere fictions do not introduce the fantastic as comfort, but as a way of highlighting what is absent in modern life. This is fantasy to disturb, not to console.
Richard Larson: I can't stop talking about The Leftovers, Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta's TV series about families who lost loved ones during a sudden mass disappearance. The second season is a master class in tone, privileging cinematic flourishes that reveal the show's sophistication as well as its patience. Plot takes a backseat to style. And while David Robert Mitchell's It Follows was a standout horror film that received plenty of worthy attention, it was the astonishing White God, a Hungarian film directed by Kornel Mundruczo, that stuck with me most: heart-wrenching, shocking, and deeply disturbing, this is morality horror at its best. The fierceness of White God's canine army holds its own against anything conjured up by the imagination, and the film also reveals how the language of horror can be deployed in the service of an unending variety of storytelling modes.
That said, however, the genre event of the year for me was the release of a new collection of short stories by Kelly Link. Get in Trouble took off running early in the year and nothing surpassed it in terms of quality and innovation. Featuring stories that have appeared in various venues over the past few years, the collection as a whole represents a remarkable move forward in terms of what genre storytelling is capable of achieving. Often playful, frequently moving, and always incisive, Link brings us to the precipice of what we expect from fiction and then dangles us over the edge to peer into the abyss, showing us how much more is possible. "Origin Story" in particular is a wonder, and "The Lesson," previously unpublished, almost destroyed me. Then I read it again.
Carmen Maria Machado: Despite being inordinately busy, I've had a great year in media. In book-length work, I loved Emily Shultz's The Blondes, a whip-smart SF satire about gender, Adrienne Celt's ethereal exploration of art and motherhood, The Daughters, and Angélica Gorodischer's dense, weird Prodigies. My favorite collections from this year include Kelly Link's unsurprisingly excellent Get in Trouble and Yoko Ogawa's uncanny linked-story cycle Revenge. In the short fiction world, I enjoyed Eugene Fischer's "The New Mother," Alyssa Wong's "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers," and Amy Parker's "Kingdom by the Sea." I also finally got around to the Saga series and I can't get enough—I haven't been this obsessed with and transported by a comic since Strangers in Paradise.
In gaming, I played and adored SOMA—a terrifying, beautiful game about the singularity from the team behind Amnesia: The Dark Descent—and the richly imagined five-episode Life Is Strange, which a friend described to me as "Gone Home meets Donnie Darko." In television, I've watched and loved all of Jane the Virgin, Rick & Morty, Bojack Horseman, Jessica Jones, and season two of The 100. The 100 was a bit of a surprise, because season one was entertaining but ultimately pretty silly. Season two, however, is wonderful—tense and creepy and all about different women learning how to lead. And while I haven't seen a ton of movies this year, my favorite was definitely Mad Max: Fury Road, followed closely by Crimson Peak, Inside Out, and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.
Farah Mendlesohn: Not much of this year's reading has been SF or fantasy. In the first category my standout novel is Dave Hutchinson's Europe in Autumn, which is a dark weird exploration of a pocket universe located just off one of the stations Dr Beeching closed in 1965. In the second, Natasha Pulley''s The Watchmaker of Filigree Street simply blew me away: set in the late nineteenth century during Fenian attacks in London, and at the Japanese village in London, the protagonists are a concert pianist forced to work as a clerk, and a Japanese aristocrat who sees the past. There is also a clockwork octopus. Much of my reading has been taken up with preparation of a book on Robert A. Heinlein: one nice surprise was the unhelpfully renamed (by Jerry Pournelle) Take Back Your Government!. It works much better under its original title of How to Be a Politician (1946) because it's simply a handbook on how to work block politics, create allies, and keep your ethical principles. It offers insights into Heinlein's own politics that are often lost in his more polemical pieces. Finally, I have fallen in love with Mark Forsythe's The Elements of Eloquence (2014). I bought this for my PhD students last Christmas, and I now have it in hard copy, on my Kindle and phone, and as an audio book. It is both useful and beautiful and I'm not sure anything gets better than that.
William Mingin: I only got caught up in Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo ("rabbit bodyguard") epic comic book series (the 30th collected volume is due next year) when I began giving them to a friend's daughter (I like to give what I've read or read what I'm giving, especially to kids; sharing the experience makes the gift mean more). This year I've sent (and read) omnibus volumes 2 through 5, published by Dark Horse Comics (each collecting three volumes; Dark Horse started after seven volumes published by Fantagraphics). I'm now a complete fan of the rabbit ronin's adventures in late sixteenth and early seventeenth-century Japan.
Most of the stories are short: episodes on the road, fables, mysteries, adventures, many with strong fantasy elements—ghosts, monsters, magicians, demons. But there are characters we follow through long arcs, over many stories and novel-length tales, the most impressive of which, "Grasscutter," deals with the struggle to retrieve and possess an ancient sword with great political significance. Sakai's art, which, in its seemingly effortless mastery reminds me sometimes of Hank Ketcham's, strikes a deft balance between serious and light, but there were scenes in "Grasscutter" where the accumulating power of the story and the spare power of the art literally made my breath catch. That's not bad for a funny-animal book about a samurai bunny.
In reading the adventures of Usagi, I have one advantage over my young friend. She may grow out of these books eventually, and lose interest. Being considerably older, I never will.
Ian Mond: This year I made the slightly insane decision to read the shortlists of over twenty genre and literary awards. As a result my genre reading has a distinct 2014 flavor to it.
My favorite novel for the year was Dave Hutchinson's magnificent Europe in Autumn. Smart, witty, and packed with ideas. I loved how Hutchinson married a noir sensibility with a genuine sense of wonder. It's a book that trips up the reader both in terms of plot—the story went places I wasn't expecting—and also in terms of structure: what starts as linear narrative fractures into a set of linked short stories. I was similarly excited by Nnedi Okorafor's Lagoon, a book that provides a refreshing non-Western, non-Hollywood take on the first-contact narrative. Okorafor delivers huge, cinematic setpieces while also exploring a culture and its people—in this case Lagos and Nigeria—without falling back on stereotypes. Instead of Independence Day 2 someone should be adapting Lagoon. And then there's Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy, a remarkable suite of novels that sustains an atmosphere of fear, paranoia, and the unknowable. There's a found footage scene in the second book, Authority, that's as frightening as anything I've ever read.
Other books I loved throughout the year were Angela Slatter's Bitterwood Bible (a mosaic fiction filled with gorgeous, delicate prose); Meg Elison's Book of the Unnamed Midwife (a post-apocalypse novel that deals boldly with the issues of reproduction); Andrew Michael Hurley's The Loney (a haunting tale that brilliantly explores issues of faith), James Bradley's Clade (a harsh reminder of what climate change will mean for all of us), Mary Rickert's Memory Garden (a beautiful and delicate novel about loss and guilt and motherhood), and, last but not least, Lisa Hannett's astonishing Lament for the Afterlife, a book that should be featuring on all sorts of awards lists in 2016.
A.S. Moser: 2015 was something of a blur for me. I read a number of standout books: The Queen of the Tearling and The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, Scott Westerfeld's Afterworlds, The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, and A. C. Gaughen's dark retelling of Robin Hood in Scarlet and Lady Thief. I enjoyed Armada by Ernest Cline, though it didn't quite live up to my unfairly high expectations. And like most everyone, I was floored by Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven. But the book which stayed with me the longest was Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora: here's the author who'd done more than any other to convince me of our bright promise in space, forcing us to face the fact that it might never work, that we might always be a cosmically local species. It's a beautifully, darkly honest examination of our limitations, both biological and psychological, and I highly recommend it.
I couldn't make time to watch much genre this year, and have missed the new Doctor Who, Supergirl, and Jessica Jones. It took me nearly two months to see the (disappointing) final Mockingjay film, and it'll be January before I see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The reason for these delays and absences is that 2015 is the year my wife and I embarked on our own new journey, welcoming our first child, Arthur, in January. It may be premature to name him rexque futurus, but he tops my 2015 list for magic and wonder.
Abigail Nussbaum: 2015 in genre was marked—marred, some might say—by an eight-month kerfuffle that embroiled most of fandom, whose tendrils reached far into the mainstream media, and which seemed to touch on the very soul of what we want our genre to be: inclusive or whitewashed, forward-looking or regressive, adventurous or hidebound.
Watching fandom convulse over these questions was equal parts exhilarating and exhausting, but if you look at the wider world of genre this year, there's no question that the people who want it to remain the playground of a certain class of white men have reason to worry. 2015 gave us Mad Max: Fury Road and Jessica Jones. Agent Carter and Supergirl. It gave us a Star Wars movie whose heroes are a woman and a black man. It even gave us well-intentioned failures like Crimson Peak and Jupiter Ascending. And at every turn, the villains of the piece were white men who believe that their race and gender entitle them to take whatever they want. It was the year of Kilgrave and Immortan Joe and Kylo Ren, and of their deafening defeat.
Of course, not everything is perfect. Women of color are still missing in action. Marvel movies, still the biggest game in town, are clearly terrified of the idea of a woman hero. Jurassic World and its embittered misogyny still happened. And, of course, who gets to be the hero on screen matters a lot less than who gets to call the shots behind the scenes and rake in the money. But there's no denying that there's a change in the air, one that I think is here to stay.
Electra Pritchett: Out of many great books out this year that I've read so far, Kate Elliott's Black Wolves and Court of Fives, Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown, Nicole Kornher-Stace's Archivist Wasp, Rainbow Rowell's Carry On, and Frances Hardinge's The Lie Tree were all stellar. Older but new-to-me trilogies—Jeff VanderMeer's amazing Southern Reach and Martha Wells's fabulous Fall of Ile-Rien—were both standouts of my reading. In terms of comics, former throwaway concept Spider-Gwen became one of the best Marvel titles around, Noelle Stevenson's work on Nimona and Lumberjanes was also aces, and IDW's Jem and the Holograms was a wonderful, welcome counterpoint to the dreadful Jem movie. My year in SFF manga was sparse, but Yoshinaga Fumi's ongoing Ôoku stood out for all the reasons in my review. On the TV front, female heroes had a banner year with the first seasons of Agent Carter, Jessica Jones, and Supergirl, Orphan Black continued to be some of the best speculative fiction going, and Hannibal, a show too beautiful and perfect for this cruel world, went out in fittingly epic style. Belatedly, I devoured Legend of Korra, which in the end was even better and more complex than Avatar: The Last Airbender. As for movies, The Martian was great science-based fun while Ex Machina posed some very difficult questions about gender, AI, and power, but the transcendent car chase that is Mad Max: Fury Road was by far my favorite film of the year. WITNESS ME, 2015!
Phoebe Salzman-Cohen: In the Stuff Published This Year Department, my happily long list of favorites is: Uprooted, by Naomi Novik, which instantly and permanently claimed my heart for reasons that are difficult to articulate because they're so purely emotional (and which I got to ramble about at length, which was wonderful); Shadow Scale, by Rachel Hartman, which brought back Seraphina and enriched her character and her world; Dark Orbit, by Carolyn Ives Gilman, which made me look up from reading on the bus and just think for a few minutes about how impossible it might be to imagine or understand an alien world, and what that means; and Radiance, by Catherynne M. Valente, because there's so much in it and it's so beautiful. (And, as an honorable mention: Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein's Drifter, although its first issue came out in November 2014—I plug it every chance I get, because it's just so cool, and the coolness only increases with time spent reading it.)
In the Stuff I Finally Caught Up With Department: Nova, my first Samuel R. Delany book, shot so many cool things at me so quickly and with such emotion that I'm pretty sure I missed about half of them. And video-games-wise, I played Bastion, which, like Uprooted, claimed my heart because of the beauty of how its place is portrayed and because of the people in it.
Sofia Samatar: The conclusion to Sarah McCarry's Metamorphoses Trilogy came out this year: About a Girl, in which a teen in search of her father develops a passion for a beautiful stranger, joins All Our Pretty Songs and Dirty Wings to complete a family saga haunted by the tales of Ovid. I also enjoyed The Daughters, a debut by Adrienne Celt: it's both the story of an opera singer struggling to balance family and career, and a Polish-American family history linked to the seductive and dangerous figure of the rusalka. The Devourers by Indra Das, out from Penguin India this year and slated for US publication in 2016, is a vivid and brutal werewolf novel that veers between seventeenth-century Mughal India and present-day Kolkata; its breadth and richness blew me away. Finally, I was fascinated by Kai Ashante Wilson's The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, a story of gods, men, and monsters in which contemporary African American dialect springs from a fantasy landscape reminiscent of the Sahel. More than the mix of fantasy and science fiction, it was Wilson's potent linguistic cocktail that stuck with me. The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps does what I want most from fiction: it expands the perimeters of the possible.
Christina Scholz: Usually I find it quite difficult to come up with a best-of-year list, but not this time. China Miéville's short story collection Three Moments of an Explosion, clearly takes first place—especially "Säcken," the story that Jared Shurin, co-founder of the Kitschie Awards, described as "worth a thousand screams."
As long as we're talking short stories, Nalo Hopkinson's Falling in Love with Hominids has also earned a special place in my heart. If you're looking for a distinctive and powerful woman's voice in weird fiction, you should definitely read this book. Hopkinson writes from a transcultural, postcolonial, feminist, LGBT perspective, and her work is empowering and fun to read. I especially enjoyed her use of patterns from oral storytelling and her interweaving of Carribbean myth with contemporary Weird (and other things, including Shakespeare).
My favourite long-form piece was Al Robertson's debut novel Crashing Heaven with its fun take on cyberpunk, puppet horror, and noir mysteries. I'm impatiently awaiting the sequel, Waking Hell, which is scheduled to come out in May 2016.
Finally, there is Injection, a new comic book series written by Warren Ellis, in which five people insert a "non-human machine intelligence" into the internet to make the future a little more interesting . . . unprepared for the resulting interpretations and levels of "interesting." The series connects "old" and contemporary weird fiction, using elements inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, William Hope Hodgson, British folkore, and cyberpunk. Despite being quite gory in places, it has instantly won me over.
Salik Shah: My relationship with SF took a serious turn in 2015. Darko Suvin's "Metamorphoses of Science Fiction" (1979) and Seo-Young Chu's Do Metaphors Dream of Literal Sleep? (2010) captivated me as much as critical notes and essays on the craft of writing and storytelling by Samuel R. Delany, Damon Knight, and Ursula K. Le Guin.
Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road, and Alex Garland's Ex Machina proved that live action science fiction films could be more than hero worship in 2015. They have convinced me that SF film could match the genius, originality, and sophistication of the best of contemporary SF prose. I also watched Vincenzo Natali's Cypher (2002) twice and I can't wait to see his adaptation of William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984). I hope that he finally gets "lucky" in 2016.
Patrick Smith: A new arrival from Robert Charles Wilson makes for a good day, and his standalone The Affinities, a tale of social networking research applied to meatspace, was a solid addition to a body of work that already places him in the first rank of contemporary SF writers. Ditto Ted Kosmatka's The Flicker Men, a SF thriller focused on a troubled young scientist's research into quantum physics, and China Miéville's Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories, a collection of 28 pieces (18 of them previously unpublished) that illustrate the author's range from SFF to more traditional (if exquisitely challenging) narrative to something . . .  uniquely, mashed-up Miévillian.
Each year, I enjoy revisiting old SF friends. In 2015, I dug back into the work of American SF master Clifford Simak, whose Way Station, which I read for the first time twenty years ago, won a Hugo Award in 1964. There's a sense when reading Simak (City, The Goblin Reservation) that I, alone, am discovering this writer who effortlessly conjures Cold War paranoia without losing his humanity or a sly sense of humor. Simak, who got his start in the 1930s and wrote prolifically into the early 1980s, is a gifted storyteller and deserving of the sort of reputation that his Golden Age peers, including great friend Isaac Asimov, enjoyed.
On to 2016! My nightstand is already a shambles . . .
Maureen Kincaid Speller: Chief among my reading highlights of 2015 was Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. I cannot recall a novel that divided critical opinion quite as this one did. Much foolishness was spouted, some of it by people who really should have known better. I'm less interested in whether or not it was a fantasy or an allegory (does it have to be anything?) but highly engaged by its powerful discussion of the meaning of national identity, and how this bleeds into everything, including the telling of stories, all of this framed by the powerful metaphor of personal forgetfulness. I was delighted by Hermione Eyre’s Viper Wine, a fascinating if sometimes over-ambitious portrayal of the relationship between Kenelm Digby and his wife, Venetia, damaged by the couple's diverging views on the nature of beauty. I’m a big fan of Sarah Tolmie’s writing, and finally managed to read NoFood. It’s a meditation on food, love, dietary fads, and ecological catastrophe. A slim volume but rich in its examination of the business of eating. I came late to Jennifer Marie Brissett’s Elysium but it was worth the wait: a truly thought-provoking examination of future survival in the face of alien attack, tackling gender and identity, race and transhumanity head on. It was a genuinely thrilling novel, which also made me think a lot about the expectations we place on women writers and writers of colour, all of which I am still processing. Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown—a response in part to Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell—has also given me a lot to consider as well as entertaining me a good deal. My summer holiday reading was Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy. I am reconsidering my preference for holidays close to estuaries, the sea, forests, lighthouses . . .
Historically, I don’t do much with other SFF media but 2015 is the year I was introduced to a number of drama podcasts, including Welcome to Night Vale, The Black Tapes, Limetown, and, my current favourite, Tanis. Inspired by this, I’m hoping to return to watching SF films and TV programmes as well, but baby steps.
Aishwarya Subramanian: It may not quite be SF, but if you have not yet read Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World (translated from Spanish by Lisa Dillman), you should probably do so immediately. Other highlights of my year in fiction: Sarah Hall’s The Wolf Border, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, and Jennifer Marie Brissett’s Elysium. I loved Frances Hardinge’s Cuckoo Song, shortlisted for the 2015 Carnegie award, and JiHyeon Lee’s Pool, a picture book about a fantastic underwater world. N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season was a book I had Issues with, but when it was good was intoxicatingly so. And though almost none of the nonfiction I read was new or SF-relevant, Black Quantum Futurism: Theory & Practice Vol. I, edited by Rasheedah Phillips, is a collection I think I’ll be coming back to over and over.
I missed many of the films I wanted to watch, but of those I saw I loved Mad Max: Fury Road and will defend Jupiter Ascending to the death. Avengers: Age of Ultron, meanwhile, convinced me that tolerating the MCU is no longer just artistically/intellectually lazy, but morally abhorrent as well. But perhaps the best pieces of SFF I watched this year were the utopian alternate universes (our world, if our world was good) of Magic Mike XXL and Paddington. One of the virtues of SF is its ability to help us conceive of alternate presents—I suggest that these films did just that in a year when they were sorely needed.
Lesley Wheeler: Speculative poetry never gets enough love, so I'll start by trumpeting two thoroughly fantastic 2015 collections: Jeannine Hall Gailey's The Robot Scientist's Daughter examines the fallout from a nuclear childhood, while Maggie Smith, in The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, finds fairy-tale woods springing up in contemporary U.S. locales. Those and other fine books illuminate how so-called mainstream poetry can show deep affinities with genre subjects and strategies. Stephen Burt's All-Season Stephanie, for example, documents a parallel universe in which the poet is perceived as a girl; Lawrence Raab's Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts tips repeatedly from realism into the weird. My novel-reading has been less current this year but I was taken by Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora, N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season, and Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown. On the topic of belatedness, I have to recommend two 2014 books I read only this spring: Emily St. John Mandel's novel Station Eleven deserves every accolade it has received, and Carrie Etter's Imagined Sons is a powerful experiment, largely in prose poetry. Etter conjures a series of futures for a child given up for adoption decades before, in a way I found magical.