Friday, December 30, 2016

What I Read in 2016


This was a great year for speculative fiction, both novels and short stories and I had a little trouble narrowing down my favorites to just five. Which is part of the reason this post is running right up to the end of the year. Every story I'm listing below is one that is still sitting with me all these months later. 
For the record, I have one more of these year-end posts left - a sort of wrap-up of everything else.

In comparison to last year, which was nearly all science fiction (and one very Sfnal fantasy novel) I've got a slightly more eclectic list going here.
  1. The Fisherman by John Langan: This is the last novel I read in 2016 and the best. Langan's tale of two widowers bonding over fishing the streams and rivers of Upstate New York combines intensely personal tragedy, with scenes of compelling weirdness and terror. The story raises interesting questions about the nature of language and the responsibilities of those in grief. 
  2. Infomocracy by Malka Older. A political thriller set perhaps half a century in the future when most of the world has embraced a global form of democracy, every 100,000 people choosing their own government every 10 years or so. After 2016, I could certainly understand the desire to never read another sentence about politics and governance but this novel makes a powerful argument in favor of big visions for a better world. 
  3. I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid. A very short, disturbing tale of the perils of bringing a significant other home to meet the folks. You may think you know where this story is heading from the beginning but I'm pretty sure you'd be wrong. 
  4. Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. A new genre needs to be coined to describe this story. Is it science fiction or fantasy? Is this world set in the far future with technology based on conflicting mathematical axioms or in the distant past riven by mystic war and heresy? A maverick soldier finds herself partnering with the ghost of a war criminal to conquer a rebel fortress. Much of the novel reads like an Ender's Game as written by China Meivile. 
  5. The Disappearance at Devil's Rock by Paul Tremblay. I read parts of this alongside watching Stranger Things which made for an interesting pairing. Unlike the Netflix series, The Disappearance is set in the present day Massachusetts with supernatural elements taking a back seat to the anguish of being young, hyper-connected, and completely alone with your own mind. 
On to short stories.
  1. Sic Semper, Sic Semper, Sic Semper by Carl Wiens. The first line of this story pretty much sums it up: "The time traveler set up a studio apartment in Abraham Lincoln’s skull in the frozen moment before Booth’s bullet burst through and rewired history." This story starts at about a 10 - a masterful hot-wiring of history, science fiction, and great personal loss - before it really gets weird. I read this story in the summer, and felt like I was witnessing an event. 
  2. The Girl Who Escaped from Hell By Rahul Kanakia. A father tries to take care of his biological daughter after her rescue from an apocalyptic cult. The father is well-intentioned but not quite up to the challenge, always falling a step or two behind what is required. 
  3. All the Red Apples Have Withered to Grey by Gwendolyn Kiste. Dark fantasy in the mode of Grimm or Gaiman taking a familiar trope of such stories- the enchanted apple - and imagining a cottage industry of self-administered paralysis. This is first and foremost a compelling and strange tale that just so happens to have a few pointed things to say about life, love, and everything. You know, like all the best fairy tales do. 
  4. Some Pebbles in the Palm by Kenneth Schneyer. I retain faith in the power of short stories to teach and console on the basis of works like this one. A story about a story (or rather stories) concerning the possibility of hope and renewal in a world with a proven track record of tolerating neither. It's the voice that sticks with me: profound and wise, but human and so, so weary. 
  5. A Diet of Worms by Valerie Valdes. In order to work, a horror story should make you feel a connection with a person in peril. No matter what the monster is, we the readers must see ourselves in the story or the effect of terror loses all sense of urgency and risk. Here a young man toils at a movie theater, his job winnowing his dreams, withering him one paragraph at a time. At heart, this story is about the despair of knowing you are much better than the life you can't seem to escape.
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