SFFWorld Review of the Year, 2012 Part 1
SFFWorld Review of the Year, 2012
Part 1: Fantasy & Horror
Part 2: SF
Part 3: Genre Film & TV
So here we are again: our usual review of the year. (This is something like our tenth!)
For the uninitiated, this is usually where Rob Bedford and I try to pull together what we see as key genre books from the previous twelve months. I should really point out before we start that there is always some slippage here, as books get published in different places around the world at different times.
Putting it simply, some books may reappear even though they were mentioned previously. At the moment this seems to be a ‘UK first, US later’ thing, but by no means always.
At the end, Rob and I usually try and mention our year’s favourites. We try and limit it to five each, but it doesn’t always happen that way. (In fact, it never does, but the intention is always there....!) We’ve also been joined this year by some other SFFWorld staff throwing their respective hats into the ring.
Right: with that over, let’s get started.
Fantasy and Horror
According to Locus Magazine, up to the end of September 2012, there had been 215 Fantasy & Horror novels published over the year January-September. Compared with last year’s figure (and even allowing for the fact that the 2011 figure was for the whole of 2011) of 172, this is slightly up, though nowhere near the Fantasy result of 2010 of 287. The increase seems to be mainly in the YA and Paranormal Romance areas of the genre. We’ve also had the development of the e-book market, which may not be included in the Locus figures, and has grown beyond expectations over the last couple of years to be quite important in 2012. In August 2012 Amazon.co.uk announced that it was selling more ebooks than print versions.
In January we had the usual post-Christmas lull. A hoped-for resurgence of Epic Fantasy didn’t quite work with John R.Fultz’s Seven Princes, which Mark found disappointing. Rob tried to read the book and couldn’t get past the first fifty pages or so. Mark was much more impressed with Otto Penzler’s collection, Zombies!, which actually made him think more positively of the undead. (It was released in the US in October 2011 but in the UK in January 2012.) In Rob’s corner, he was disappointed by Mazarkis Williams’ The Emperor’s Knife. He was a little more impressed with his reading of Rise of Empire by Michael J Sullivan, the second Riyria Revelations omnibus. Rob also recommended Well of Sorrows by Benjamin Tate, so much so that it became the February Book of the Month for discussion in the Fantasy Book Club, although his favourite read of the month was Myke Cole’s debut Military Fantasy novel Control Point. Myke did a great interview for us HERE and HERE. Elsewhere, January saw the UK release of Ian C. Esslemont’s latest Malazan tale, Orb Sceptre Throne and James Barclay’s latest prequel, Elves: Rise of the TaiGethen.
In February, Rob continued to read Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt series with Book 2, Dragonfly Falling, and thought it a solid continuation of the series, if uneven. However, Rob’s favourite of the month was Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, ‘a familiar framework with fresh ingredients mixed by a bold new voice (which) makes for a most stand-out debut novel.’ Mark read Dead Harvest by Chris F. Holm, a promising debut Urban Fantasy. Though Chris is also known for his Crime writing, this was definitely a move into Dresden Files territory and was quite impressive. And joining the team, Nila (N.E. White) read, reviewed and liked an Urban Fantasy from a couple of years ago, Sixty-One Nails by Mike Shevdon (who frequents our forums). Elsewhere there were lots of books that continued series. There was a fairly muted response to Robin Hobb’s latest Rain Wilds novel, City of Dragons. This was Book Three of the series, which surprised many by its sudden ending, until it was realised that the book was split in half, with Book Four, Blood of Dragons, expected in March 2013. Also released this month was Sarah Pinborough’s The Chosen Seed, Book Three of her contemporary Dog-Faced Gods dystopian mystery, which was liked by many. Gail Z. Martin’s The Dread was her contribution to Epic Fantasy this month, continuing her Fallen Kings Cycle. Similarly, Elizabeth Moon had the third of her Paladin’s Legacy series published, Echoes of Betrayal.
March saw Rob return to the Riyria Revelations, with the third omnibus, Heir of Novron, which included the final of the six novels, Percepliquis, publishing for the first time, whereas the previous 5 novels were all reprints in the omnibus volumes. He also really enjoyed The Legend of Eli Monpress by Rachel Aaron and became a fan of the author and series. Mark reviewed The Pillars of Hercules, a brave reimagining of Alexander the Great in a steampunk world that didn’t quite work for him. Nila reviewed the second Mike Shevdon novel, The Road to Bedlam, and liked it, saying that she was now ‘...definitely hooked on the series’. Another occasional staff reviewer, Dan Bieger, reviewed The Rook by Daniel O'Malley, highly recommending this tale of mystery and action. Elsewhere, Gail Carriger’s Timeless wrapped up her Parasol Protectorate series fairly effectively. Naomi Novik continued her Temeraire series with Crucible of Gold, the seventh in this popular Napoleonic dragon-based series, this time in South America. Kate Griffin’s latest Matthew Swift novel, The Minority Council, was released. The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan was published and reviewed by Rob in October. Tim Powers’ first new novel for six years, Hide Me Amongst the Graves, was also published and caused some excitement.
April saw a slew of Fantasy novels reviewed. Rob reviewed The Hammer and the Blade by Paul S. Kemp, his first non-shared world/media tie-in which is a great example of modern Sword and Sorcery, as well as Elizabeth Bear’s ‘first true venture into Epic Fantasy’, Range of Ghosts. Mark read Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle and Fire by Kristin Cashore, occasional reviewer Kathryn read Forged in Fire by J.A. Pitts and Nila reviewed the third Mike Shevdon novel, Strangeness and Charm . Rob’s favourite in April was his much anticipated Caine's Law by Matthew Woodring Stover, which was ‘a fitting send off for Caine’ and clearly didn’t disappoint. Mark’s favourite of the month was The Bloody Red Baron, by Kim Newman, a rerelease, though he did also enjoy the graphic novel Girl Genius Omnibus, Volume One: Agatha Awakens by Phil and Kaja Foglio. Elsewhere, one of the biggest genre releases was Stephen King’s latest, if rather short, addition to his Dark Tower series, The Wind through the Keyhole. Although it was Book VIII in the series and takes place chronologically between books IV and V of the original series, it was a standalone tale, partly designed to introduce the series to readers not brave enough to tackle the full series. It was generally well-received, although rather short. Elsewhere Ian Irvine’s latest Epic Fantasy, Vengeance, was released this month.
In May, Rob reviewed the gods and men mashup that is The Age of Odin by James Lovegrove and Scourge of the Betrayer, an engaging Military Fantasy from SFFWorld member (and all-round nice guy) Jeff Salyards. (Jeff also did a cracking interview for us.) Rob also caught up with Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles with the US release of Tricked and enjoyed it a lot. Mark’s favourite of the month by far was The King's Blood by Daniel Abraham on its UK release. US fans had to wait until nearer the end of the year for their copies, which Rob reviewed in November ((Rob's review is here.) Elsewhere, Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue was released, a continuation of her Seven Kingdoms series, and China Mieville’s Railsea was much liked by those who read it. Ann and Jeff Vandermeer’s enormous anthology The Weird was finally released in the US, which Mark loved when he read it in December 2011. NK Jamisin’s The Killing Moon was liked by many readers and continued to cement her status as a bold, original voice in fantasy. May was also Nebula Awards month, the Best Novel Award going to Among Others by Jo Walton, which Rob enjoyed when he reviewed it in January 2011.
For the start of June SFFWorld went old-school, with the review of a game-book, Destiny Quest: The Legion of Shadow by Michael J. Ward. Mark found it quite fun. He also reviewed the UK re-release of George R.R. Martin’s Armageddon Rag , expanding on a short review he wrote for The Fortean Times. Rob enjoyed the fast-paced mayhem of Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia, and the Young Adult tale Thief's Covenant by Ari Marmell, but his favourite of the month was The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett, a Bradbury-esque tale of strange goings-on in a circus troupe. Elsewhere, much of the month was shadowed by the death of Ray Bradbury, just before what would have been his 92nd birthday. In the US Mary Gentle’s Black Opera was released, her first book in six years. It was generally well received, although not released in the UK until October. Terry Pratchett’s comedic story book, The World of Poo (not a typo!) was published this month too. Only a month after the publication of The Killing Moon, NK Jamisin’s sequel The Shadowed Sun was published and also liked. David Hartwell and Jacob Weisman released The Sword and Sorcery Anthology, a quality collection of Epic Fantasy Tales mainly old (Conan, CL Moore, Glen Cook, Karl Edward Wagner, George RR Martin) but a couple of new (Michael Shea, Michael Swanwick). M D Lachlan had the third of his Wolfsangel trilogy, Lord of Slaughter, published in the UK.
In Awards in June, the winner of the David Gemmell Legend Award for Best Novel was The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, a book reviewed by both Rob and Mark in 2011.
In July we had a few books that were sequels to already-started series. Rob liked the Peter V. Brett novella Brayan's Gold, (initially published in limited edition hardcover from Subterranean Press and subsequently released electronically), The Spirit War by Rachel Aaron and the most anticipated book of the month, King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, the second book in the series, still continuing that ‘hooded-man’ theme on the cover. Nila reviewed Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat by Andrez Bergen. Mark was busy mainly reading SF. Elsewhere, Jasper Fforde’s The Woman who Died a Lot was a welcome return to his rebooted Thursday Next series, as too Charlie Stross’s return to the Laundry Files with The Apocalypse Codex. Graham Joyce’s Some Kind of Fairy Tale was very well received, as was KJ Parker’s Sharps. Mark Charan Newton had the fourth in his Legends of the Red Sun series, The Broken Isles, published in the UK.
After the sad death of Ray Bradbury last month there was a tribute collection published in the US this month, edited by long-time Bradbury experts and collaborators, Sam Weller and Mort Castle, entitled Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury. Highlights were stories by Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Kelly Link and Harlan Ellison, amongst others.
August is Hugo Awards month. Jo Walton repeated her Nebula Award win for Among Others. At SFFWorld we had our own haul to get through. This month this included Blackwood by Gwenda Bond, a terrific debut novel and launch title for Angry Robots’s Strange Chemistry imprint, led by former genre blogger Amanda Rutter. Rob made it three quarters of the way through Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet (recently re-released in two omnibuses) that Rob had had on his personal ‘Mount Toberead’ for a while, A Shadow in Summer, A Betrayal in Winter and An Autumn War , which Rob wished he’d read sooner. The fourth book in the Quartet he got to in September. Mark was surprised by a detective novel written by a horror writer and got quite excited about reading a steampunk/RUSH collaboration between drummer Neil Peart and author Kevin J. Anderson, Clockwork Angels ,but his favourite of the month was The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams, which was ‘impressive stuff from a brilliant author, and easily one of the best urban fantasies I’ve read in a long, long while’. Elsewhere Terry Brooks’ latest Shannara novel, The Wards of Faerie, was released this month, so too was Adrian Tchaikovsky’s eighth Shadows of the Apt novel, The Air War. Trudi Canavan’s Rogue Queen was a London Times bestseller. Steven Erikson’s The Forge of Darkness, a Malazan prequel, was also released to great excitement. Many fans felt it was a good place to start the series if a little intimidated by Gardens of the Moon. Steven kindly gave SFFWorld an interview in May about it and answered it in his usual thoughtful manner.
September saw Mark review an old Horror book, The Secret of Crickley Hall by James Herbert, in preparation for a new BBC television production. He was less impressed with that than the vampire novella Sweeter Than Wine by L. Neil Smith, which had a slightly different take on the old vamp legend. We added some more reads of ongoing series. Mark read, and enjoyed, the second Bryant and May creepy detective novel, The Water Room by Christopher Fowler, whilst Rob finished his read of the Daniel Abraham quartet with The Price of Spring by Daniel Abraham, and continued his read of James Lovegrove’s Pantheon series with the fourth book, Age of Aztec. On a lighter note, Rob also highly recommended Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines. Also in a lighter mood, Mark reviewed the rerelease of a comedic novel in time for one of the biggest films of the year, The Soddit by Adam Roberts. September also saw the release of Terry Pratchett’s latest novel, Dodger, a non-Discworld novel with a rather Dickensian feel, to general acclaim. Similarly, Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson, about an Egyptian cyberhacker in an alternative world, was a refreshingly original Fantasy tale. Many Harry Potter fans spent their month reading JK Rowling’s first non-genre novel, The Casual Vacancy. Others spent their time reading Brent Weeks’ latest, The Blinding Knife, released simultaneously in the US and the UK.
October, with Hallowe’en at the end, is always a month for Horror at SFFWorld. The mighty Randy M. contributed his now-usual Hallowe’en recommended reads on the SFFWorld Forums, which gave us all plenty to try. For Halloween this year, Mark reviewed The Second Pan Book of Horror Stories by Herbert van Thal and the UK re-release of Kim Newman’s Dracula Cha Cha Cha. Another re-release was the handsome looking new edition of a collected M. R. James by Jo Fletcher books, Curious Warnings. Rob read Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin and realized why it is considered classic of vampire fiction. Nila read and reviewed Moon Over Soho and Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch. Away from the Horror, Rob mildly recommended Nightglass by Liane Merciel, a Pathfinder RPG fantasy novel, and liked The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams as much as Mark did, if not more, when he reviewed it for its US release. Nila reviewed The Dead of Winter by Lee Collins, and Rob finished off his month with The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan, originally released back in March, which Rob anticipated but didn’t like quite as much as other folks. Mark reviewed one of the biggest Fantasy releases of the year, Joe Abercrombie’s Fantasy/Western mash-up, Red Country , which he enjoyed a great deal, though with some caveats. Elsewhere, Justin Cronin’s sequel to The Passage, The Twelve, was released with fairly positive reviews, as was Daniel Polansky’s second Low Town novel, Tomorrow, the Killing. After a delay of six months, Robert Redick’s The Night of the Swarm , the concluding volume of his ambitious sea-bound saga, The Chathrand Voyage, was released in the UK, although the US edition was delayed further until January 2013.
After Mark’s review in October, in November Rob read and reviewed Red Country on its US release and enjoyed it even more than Mark. Mark began to anticipate Christmas with Seth Grahame-Smith’s take on the Nativity story, Unholy Night . Nila reviewed The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma, and liked some elements, but not all of it. Rob thought Blades of Winter by G.T. Almasi was ‘a well-realized backdrop populated with believable characters’ although he felt the novel was ‘still a bit uneven’. Rob’s favourite of the month was The King's Blood by Daniel Abraham, which Mark reviewed back in May. Rob said that he was pleased he waited a bit to read The King’s Blood, because, for his reading sensibilities ‘it stands as the best Epic Fantasy novel of 2012.’ Elsewhere, John Joseph Adams released his collection Epic, a fine anthology of new and old Epic Fantasy tales, with stories from George RR Martin, Robin Hobb, Michael Moorcock, Ursula K. Le Guin, Patrick Rothfuss, and Brandon Sanderson amongst others.
Towards the end of the year, we had the release of some new Epic Fantasy. In November we had the UK release of The Red Knight by Miles Cameron, which he enjoyed a lot, and in December, Malice by John Gwynne, which he didn’t. Continuing the Epic Fantasy releases, Ian C. Esslemont had published another Malazan tale, his second of the year, with Blood and Bone. In Horror, James Herbert released his first novel in six years, Ash. This caused some controversy in the UK by being offered for 20 pence (approximately US 32 cents) as an ebook days after its physical release. Jim Butcher’s latest Dresden, the appropriately titled Cold Days, was released to a rather varied response from fans, though quite a few thought it a return to form. November also saw the World Fantasy Awards, with Lavie Tidhar’s Osama winning Best Novel.
In December Paul Cornell’s London Falling was his first urban fantasy novel, which followed the beat of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant novels – another police procedural with Fantasy leanings. Jesse Bullington had published The Folly of the World, a tale of criminals and an almighty flood.
OK: to favourites.
Mark: Always difficult to reduce, in no particular order other than alphabetical, my five Fantasy for 2012 would be
- Red Country by Joe Abercrombie;
- The King's Blood by Daniel Abraham;
- The Red Knight by Miles Cameron;
- King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
- The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams.
Again, like last year, most are typical High/Low Fantasy. Not that I didn’t read a wider variety of fantasy, but these were what I came down to as favourites.
Of the old stuff this year, I must also say that I have spent the year reading lots of ‘old stuff’: things I’ve not had chance to catch up with before or rereleases and rereads. Though I try not to include reissues in my five, honourable mentions go to Kim Newman’s Dracula Cha Cha Cha, and George RR Martin’s Armageddon Rag. Similarly, of the collections, the two I most enjoyed were Epic by John Joseph Adams and The Sword and Sorcery Anthology by David Hartwell and Jacob Weisman. Both had a lot I’ve read before (the Hartwell/Weisman especially) but some new tales too. Otto Penzler’s collection The Big Ghost Book in October was good, but not as good as last year’s Zombies! anthology. A shout-out too for Ann and Jeff Vandermeer’s anthology The Weird, released in the US in May and was as well received this year as it was by me last year.
Last year I commented on my disappointment for the number of sequels and parts of ongoing series. Whilst Santa didn’t grant me my wish (the trend continued this year) there were some good ones. My biggest disappointment this year was the lack of an outstanding new Epic High Fantasy tale (The Red Knight’s great, but not unreservedly outstanding.) Most attempts at something based on old Fantasy ideas but with something else original were very disappointing, including John Gwynne’s Malice and John R.Fultz’s Seven Princes. But I haven’t given up hope yet. Like Rob, I thoroughly recommend Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, although it’s not out until January 2013 here in the UK. (Next year’s list, perhaps!)
- The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett
- The King’s Blood by Daniel Abraham
- Shadow OPS: Control Point by Myke Cole
- The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams
- Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear
Whittling down the list to five books was very difficult. In all honesty, King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country or Jim C. Hines’s Libriomancer or Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon or Matthew Stover’s Caine’s Law could easily be on this list if you asked me tomorrow or two weeks from now. That said, nothing blew me away to the extent that The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett did, a powerfully transcendent novel.
Looking back, I split my reading fairly evenly between fantasy and science fiction and fairly evenly between current year and prior year releases. A lot of the prior year novels were in my ongoing re-read of The Wheel of Time in anticipation of A Memory of Light, the final book, releasing in January 2013. I also read quite a bit of work from Daniel Abraham and through the first four books of Rachel Aaron’s Eli Monpress series, so three authors comprised a majority of what I read in fantasy in 2012.
Kat G: The ones I’ve read that were published this year were Well of Sorrows by Benjamin Tate, which I found very interesting – a mix of a Rip Van Winkle tale with alien invasion horror and an epic war story. It was very inventive in mythology, landscape, magic, etc. I was pretty impressed.
I also read The Corpse Rat King, a debut by Australian Lee Battersby, which I really liked. It’s a satiric secondary world fantasy about a merchant’s son traumatized into becoming a callous thief/con-artist, including stealing from noble corpses on the battlefield. He finds the mother lode in the dead king of his country, steals the crown and then gets dragged down to the realm of the dead who mistook him for a king, which they need as king of the dead to talk to God. When the mistake is realized, they shoot him back out to find them a real anointed king, which he at first has no intention of doing. But he’s shadowed by his assistant who he got killed and he finds he’s a zombie himself, so he ends up on quite an adventure, including under the ocean. It sagged a tiny bit in the middle when he’s by himself, but the last two-thirds of the book were pure gold on the funny and also on the poignant. It’s a lovely story about the value of life and kind of a Greek myth crossed with hi-jinxes.
I’ve got Jim C. Hines’ Libromancer, Tim Powers’ newest, Hide Me Among the Graves, and some others, but I have not had a chance to read them yet. The rest of my reads this year have been older reads like Bull’s Bone Dance and Jonathan Barnes’ Domino Men.
Nila (N.E.) White:
Gosh, my favourites?
Wow, I’m not sure I have five whole fantasy favourites to name this year. I’ve actually read more science fiction in 2012. Also, my reading habits are not as mainstream as Rob’s and Mark’s. Coupled with being a slow reader, I tend to only read a handful of books a year that are self-published more often than not. So, I’ll just name one book that, for me, stood out from the crowd in the Fantasy/Horror section:
Four in the Morning by Malon Edwards, Edward M. Erdelac, Lincoln Crisler, Tim Marquitz.
Why did this stand out?
Normally, I don’t get into horror. It scares the beeheebeejeebees out of me, and induces nightmares. Not a good idea. However, I’ve noticed Tim Marquitz hanging around the forums and even bought a book or two of his. Though nothing he did ‘wowed’ me, his work is good and I saw some potential. I figured I’d just keep him on my radar.
When Mr. Marquitz announced the release of Four in the Morning, I got a copy, wondering what exactly this sort-of-like an anthology was. I’m glad I did. I wasn’t disappointed.
In Four in the Morning, four authors present four stories based on the stages of life: childhood, adolescences, middle age, and the twilight years. We have Half Dark by Malon Edwards, a steampunk-magical surrealism adventure story (my favourite, Mr. Edwards is a very talented author you will want to keep an eye on). The second story offered is Gully Gods by Edward M. Erdelac, an urban fantasy that was bone-chilling scary to me, but touched on so many modern issues that this might end up being taught in literature classes some day. With that said, it was very hard for me to read due to the subject matter. The third story offers some humour (much needed after Gully Gods). Titled Queen by Lincoln Crisler, in it our heroine lives up to the title in one of the most bizarre tales I’ve read. And our lifeline is wrapped up with Cenotaph by Tim Marquitz, a horror story that didn’t evoke much horror in me, but did provide for a very good read as the author explored what it means to reach the end of one’s life and find that it is not a comfort.
Each story presented is deserving of praise, but Half Dark by Malon Edwards really blew me away. The story has a language and rhythm all of its own that surprised me at every turn and sway of our heroine. What can I say? She and Mr. Edwards captured my heart and I look forward to more stories set in the dark, ethereal world of Half Dark. Check it out.
Part Two deals with SF Books.