Time to take a look back at 2013! I managed to read 82 books this year, up by about 20% from last year but still a bit disappointing because I read most of them in the first half of the year. Over the summer, life went a bit haywire—I won’t go into detail here, but let’s just say it’s been a rough few months. As a result, I got much less reading and writing done in the second half of the year.
Here are some of my favorite books of 2013. Since this is my own site and I’m not limited by word count or number of books I can mention here, I took the liberty to come up with quite a few categories to make sure I could mention all the books I loved.
Best Fantasy: Catherynne M. Valente’s amazing, multi-layered novella Six-Gun Snow White. This is basically a retelling of the classic fairy tale Snow White, except the title character is the biracial daughter of a mining baron in the Wild West and a Native American woman called Gun Who Sings. It’s her stepmother who calls the girl Snow White, referring to the white skin she’ll never have. This is a story that combines so many layers and threads, and is told in such a unique, gorgeous voice, that I rank it as one of Valente’s best works. Which is saying a lot. (Long, rambling review here.)
Best Science Fiction: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, the astonishing space opera about Breq, who was once a spaceship that controlled hundreds of bodies but is now a single woman out for revenge on the multi-bodied and immortal Lord of the Radchaai Empire. This novel has more layers to unpeel, more details to scrutinize, and more sheer depth than any space opera I’ve read in, well, a long long time. If you’re not reading Ancillary Justice, you’re missing out on a stunning, unique new voice in SF. (Full review here.)
Best Debut: See above. Yep, believe it or not, Ancillary Justice is Ann Leckie’s first published novel. PLEASE SEND MORE. But, just because I can highlight another great debut, my runner-up for this category is the brilliant Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins (full review).
Best Historical Fiction: No contest here, not even close: Hild by Nicola Griffith. This story, set in Seventh Century England, describes the early years of the woman who would come to be known as St. Hilda of Whitby. If you don’t know a thing about that period or that person and maybe feel a bit intimidated about reading the book, don’t be. Don’t let it stop you. Read this book. It’s one of the richest novels I’ve read in years, a book that has so many aspects and approaches that it seems like every other reviewer focused on a different aspect (economy, linguistics, gender, politics, crafts,…) and still comes away raving. I hate the term tour de force, but well, this is one. (Long review here.)
Best Short Story Collection: Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee. Here’s my full review. This was a tough choice. I read several excellent single-author collections this year, but ultimately it’s Yoon Ha Lee’s unique voice that led me to pick this one over strong competitors like the new collections by Catherynne M. Valente, Lucius Shepard, Rachel Swirsky, and Mercurio D. Rivera, just to name a few. I haven’t kept up much with the short story magazines and new anthologies this year, but as far as single-author collections go, it’s been a strong year.
Best Non-Fiction Anthology Full Of Really Smart SF/F Bloggers (And I’m Also In It): Speculative Fiction 2012. Justin Landon and Jared Shurin apparently felt they weren’t busy enough yet running two of the best SF/F-related websites, so they decided to put together an anthology collecting the best online essays, reviews and commentary in the SF/F blogosphere. All proceeds are going to charity. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys reading, well, sites like this one, then you should really consider picking up a copy of this book. More info here.
Best Genre-bending Twin-Peaks-Meets-X-Files Americana Headtrip: American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett. So, I hadn’t read anything by this author before. I know. I know. I’m trying to remedy this by squeezing in some of his previous novels whenever I can (I also read the excellent Mr. Shivers this year – review here.) American Elsewhere is, well, I can’t describe it any better than the category name above. Full review here.
Which reminds me…
Most Unhinged Twitter Feed: Also Robert Jackson Bennett, but don’t be worried (or, ah, scared) if he sounds a bit weird on Twitter. Or in this gloriously nutso post describing The Author’s Precious Workplace, for that matter. Actually, maybe it’s best to read one of his novels first.
The Very Special “Since I’m Making Up My Own Awards Anyway” Award for 2013: YOU by Austin Grossman. Which is, I think, not technically speculative fiction, but I wanted to squeeze it into this post because it’s so damn good. YOU is a book about video games and the people who make them. It tracks the lives of a group of friends who grew up while the new medium was emerging and maturing. It’s also about how fleeting youth is and about what it feels like when escapism no longer works, which makes it, in a sense, similar to the Brakebills novels by the author’s twin brother Lev. I absolutely LOVED this novel. Full review here. (This is also, by the way, one of the few reviews I’ve written this year that I’m almost happy with.)
The Very Best Book About Cryogenics Of This And Probably Any Other Year: Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh. You’re reading Will McIntosh, right? Soft Apocalypse? Hitchers? Love Minus Eighty, his newest novel, is something like a rom-com/dystopia mashup: eligible (read: attractive) young women are cryogenically preserved as “bridesicles”, kept alive by the fees rich men pay to have “dates” with them. It’s a brutally dark concept, but somehow McIntosh manages to balance the grim nature of the setting with a sweet, almost romantic story. It’s gorgeous and you shouldn’t miss it. Full review here.
Most Stunning Cover Design: That would be Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh again. Here’s a guest post by Orbit Art Director Kirk Benshoff about the gorgeous, unique cover that perfectly complements this novel.
Best YA: When We Wake by Karen Healey. Which is, hey, also about cryogenics! When We Wake is the story of Tegan, a young woman, revived about a century after her death as the first subject of an experimental cryogenics program. I didn’t read a lot of YA this year, and most of what I read was disappointing, but this a pleasant surprise. Full review here.
Best Indie: The Red: First Light by Linda Nagata. Okay, this is a stretch, because I believe this may be the only indie-published book I read this year, but it’s such a great one that I wanted to highlight it here again. Great, dark, intelligent military SF. Full review here.
The Special “Why The Hell Did It Take Me So Long To Read This” Award for 2013: Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear. So, yeah, I’ve had friends yelling at me to read this for a while now. I finally got around to it this year. It was worth it, and then some. With the third volume in this trilogy due out in just a few months, this is the perfect time to pick up this book if you haven’t yet. Full review here.
And finally two internet awards…
Best SF/F-Related Website Somehow Run By Just One Person: That’d be Staffer’s Book Review, managed and edited by Justin Landon (who you may remember as one of the people behind the SpecFic 2012 anthology). Justin is one of the few people writing in this field who consistently comes up with original, surprising perspectives on books and SF/F-related issues. I rarely if ever skip past his blog in my RSS feed, and that’s a rare thing in this age of filler and clickbait and everyone posting the same old links to the 234th trailer for the new Hobbit movie or Game of Thrones episode or whatever.
Best SF/F-Related Website With Tons Of Contributors: I have to go with Tor.com here, folks. Yes, yes, I know, I write for them, but looking around the interwebs, I just can’t find any other site that offers the same breadth of coverage, from news to reviews to general geekery to comprehensive rereads to, oh did I mention they publish an amazing amount of great, original short fiction too? There’s no better site focused on SF/F out there right now.
And that’s it for my look back at 2013. Please let me know what you agree or disagree with in the comments… and here’s to lots of great books in 2014!