So, I wanted to take a few moments out from a festive period full of writing, editing, and re-watching ‘The Wire’ to look back at some of the most awesome things that I’ve read this year. First, let’s take a look at some novels, shall we?
One of the most awesome novels that I’ve read in a very long time, Joe Abercrombie wins the award for the most convincing female character I’ve ever seen written by a man–in the shape of Monzarro ‘Monza’ Murcatto. Monza’s quest for revenge is the whole thrust of the novel, and shows her as a brutal, remorseless, and ultimately profoundly unsettling human being. Intense without being a grind, entertaining without being vapid, and an awesome study of a very complex character.
When Gravity Fails – George Alec Effinger
I happened upon 1986 Nebula nominee ‘When Gravity Fails’ while doing searches for Islamic cyberpunk, and it turned out to be probably the most technically proficient and elegantly-crafted example of the genre that I’ve read. It’s my favourite form of cyberpunk: hardboiled noir; plot inexorably tied up with the world’s technology; questions about power and identity; and murder. It also wins out by having great representation of trans characters, for a storyline focused personality ‘mods’ that people can slot right into their brains, and for the Budayeen itself. Cyberpunk needs more non-Western settings, and this one seemed very well done to me.
Game of Thrones/Clash of Kings/Storm of Swords – George R.R. Martin
I’m very aware that George R.R. Martin’s writing isn’t perfect. Despite some points for trying, his writing on race, gender, and sexuality often falls far short of the mark for me (Rainbow Guard? Honestly? You may as well have announced Renly’s Kingsguard with “Look out, lads, here come the queers!”). His turns of phrase are sometimes inelegant, and the man cannot write a fight scene to save his life. And yet…. I cannot stop reading these books. I think there may be some sort of addictive substance on the pages. The combination of excellent characterisation, sweeping world-building, fantastic balance between different characters and their agendas, and plain old fashioned-page turning writing has got me tearing through these suckers. Even if I do feel the boiling urge to punch Jaimie in the face every time he calls Brienne ‘wench’.
And now, the short stories. I’ve read shedloads of them over the last twelve months, and here are some of my favourites:
Now Ix, He Was a Lover – Hannah Strom-Martin – Beneath Ceaseless Skies #130
Not sure what I love most about this story. I’m a sucker for non-Western fantasy, for tragic love stories, and for the barest whisper of sensuality. The story of a woman’s ill-fated not-quite-affair with a distinctly un-Legolas-like elf, in a world that feels incredibly rich and textured.
Old Domes – J.Y. Yang – We See a Different Frontier
There were a few really great stories in Future Fire’s “We See a Different Frontier” (including the awesome ‘Vectors’ by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, who has another entry below) and ‘Old Domes’ is one of the ones that’s really stuck with me. An exploration not just of colonised people, but of the colonised land itself–told through the story of a young woman tasked with hunting down the spirits of old colonial buildings in Singapore that are destined for destruction. In incredibly clever premise, and beautifully executed.
A Quest For the Vulture Gods – Melissa Yuan-Innes – Crossed Genres #9
Two Chinese princesses set out to find the Tree of Life to save their baby brother, and are joined by a wondering monk. This little story is charming and evocative, and the sisters are fantastically-written characters with their own strength and agency. Another one of those that I’ve just not been able to get out of my head. Easy to read and emotionally engaging.
A Death for the Ageless – Margaret Ronald – Beneath Ceaseless Skies #134
There’s nothing like a good, old-fashioned who dun it, and ‘A Death for the Ageless’ is the best short one that I’ve read in a good while. A mixture of crime, investigation, and a highly unique fantasy setting with goblins and exiled gods, it’s evocatively written, clever, and has the essential well-crafted twist in the tail.
Artificial Nocturne – E. Catherine Tobler – Beneath Ceaseless Skies #126
There seems to have been something of an explosion of women-with-wings stories. I’ve read a good three or four of them over the course of the year, but this one is undoubtedly my favourite. A little dark and a little macabre, with a travelling circus thrown in for good measure. What’s not to love?
The Crows Her Dragon’s Gate – Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Beneath Ceaseless Skies #118
I’ve read a lot of great stories by this author over the course of this year, but I think this one is probably my favourite. I’ve never quite been able to get the hang of writing relationships that aren’t just complex, but often bitter and unplesant, but I do sure love reading them. ‘The Crows Her Dragon’s Gate’ is a story of betrayal, and the ascent (or possibly descent) of a goddess. It’s always difficult to make short stories truly moving, but this one definitely manages it.
An interesting discussion about second person narration with Benjanun (who wrote the last one) led to her pointing me in the direction of this story. Second person is something of an acquired taste (I personally love it, but there you go), but this story mixes it in with some more conventional third person storytelling to really hammer home the feelings of dislocation, isolation, and identity loss. It’s one of those stories that has a lot of depth, and benefits from a couple of readings.
So, how about y’all? What are your favourite reads from 2013, and have you found anything I’ve missed?