Dec 31 2013 12:00pm

Sleeps With Monsters: 2013 in Retrospect

It’s hard to believe that the year is already drawing to a close. Time seems to go faster with every year; does anyone else notice that? An artefact of perception: the more time we experience, the faster it seems to pass, relative to previous time. There’s something quite fantastical about that.

But musings on the fantastical nature of perceived time aside, this is the season to look back on 2013 and pick out the best of the year—according to me.

Going into 2013, there were three books I really looked forward to ahead of time: Elizabeth Bear’s Shattered Pillars, Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons, and Nicola Griffith’s Hild. All of them more than lived up to my expectations. But there were so many things whose excellence I really didn’t anticipate in advance. So very many things: 2013 has been such a good year for new books for me, I can’t imagine 2014 will be able to better it.*

*It makes up, a little, for the ways in which 2013 has been a completely crappy year.

For example: Aliette de Bodard’s On A Red Station, Drifting. It’s a novella that still takes me aback with its quiet tension, its re-imagining of science fictional possibilities in familial conjunctions, and its tight, clever prose. Or, another example, Greer Gilman’s lustrous Cry Murder! In A Small Voice, with its glittering turns of phrase, Shakespearian language, intoxicating imagery: a small beautiful thing.

I really didn’t expect to respond as strongly as I did to Roz Kaveney’s Rituals and Reflections, the second of which came out this autumn. It’s not often these days that I read something that short-circuits the critical impulse and goes straight to I love this; that bypasses the intellect (at least for a while) and goes right for the heart. But Kaveney’s novels have done exactly that, and I cannot speak a word against this marvellous, playful, entirely queer-friendly re-imagining of history and mythology. It was a highlight of my literary year.

The other highlight was, of course, Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie’s debut novel. It, too, short-circuited all my critical impulses to become immediately beloved, leaving in its wake unmitigated enthusiasm. I could find things to nitpick in this novel, but why should I? They would be tiny, tiny things compared to the vast flood of my enthusiasm. If you haven’t read it already, read it now.

Honourable mentions go to Elizabeth Bear’s Book of Iron, Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine, and Andi Marquette’s The Edge of Rebellion—things published in 2013 with which I also fell in love.

2013 also had Tomb Raider. The first major game I’ve ever seen to build part of its emotional core and narrative arc around female friendship, it had really great gameplay mechanics, drawing on the FPS model, some brilliant visuals, and a solid survival-oriented plot—with fantastic elements. I’ve played very very few games that’ve ever made me quite this happy.

What about film? Well, personally speaking, I haven’t seen everything—like Gravity, which I managed to miss in cinemas—but Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim thrilled me with giant monsters, giant robots, and subtle undermining of the standard Hollywood Lone Hero narratives. And I wish there were more characters like Mako Mori. A hat tip to Thor: The Dark World for actually having four separate well-defined female characters. And as for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire... well, it’s a flawed film, an imperfect adaptation, but still! So very good: it’s not every day we get a role that offers so much range for a female actor, nor see it filled by someone who can carry it off. As much as I enjoyed the novel, I find I enjoy the film more: there is a harshness to its landscapes that effortlessly conveys a desperation of mood — and it’s interesting, for once, to see cinema cast a boy in the role of the emotional one, the one in need of rescue, when his female counterpart gets to be the strong silent type.

2013 also finally kicked Melissa Scott over the threshold of my TBR pile and into the ranks of writers whose entire backlist I need to read. Five-Twelfths of Heaven and its sequels is one of the oddest, most entertaining space operas I’ve yet had the privilege of reading: it’s science fiction, all right, but the science fiction of Hermetic science, where alchemy and symbology, the logic of correspondences and the music of the spheres, meets spacecraft and interstellar empires and pirates and quests for lost planets. PEOPLE. Why did no one ever tell me about this trilogy before? It is filled with things that delight all my geekeries.


That’s pretty much the sum of my year, dear readers. What about yours?

Liz Bourke is a cranky person who reads books. Her blog. Her Twitter.

Samuel Montgomery-Blinn
1. montsamu
Really liked Hild quite a lot, and Sofia Samatar's A Stranger in Olondria, and Nathan Ballingrud's North American Lake Monsters, and Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, and, and... but KSR's Shaman was my favorite read this year. I loved the voice of the novel, "the third wind", and the memorable characters: Loon, Thorn, Heather, Elga. And dear, faithful Click. Roop, roop.
2. harmonyfb
I loved Emilie & the Hollow World by Martha Wells - an adventure book with a young girl as the heroine, and no goopy romance to mess it up. (I also liked Wells' take on Princess Leia in 'Razor's Edge'.) Another YA/middlegrade book with excellent female protagonists was Freaks by Kieran Larwood.

I also liked The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo, with its determined heroine. I kind of expected to be exasperated by the entire thing, given the novel's setting (arranged marriages, rawr), but the main character turned the entire thing on its head and it was brilliant.

Rapture was pretty good, too - I loved Hurley's whole series (her worldbuilding is aces). She wrapped up her violent and thought-provoking series nicely. :)
3. ttyler8
I am astonished to see that memory of light is not even mentioned. Astonished.
4. Elaine Gallagher
I have loved the Silence Leigh books for many years. I've not read many of Melissa Scott's other books, though, something to remedy. I loved her essay in Queers Dig Time Lords, too.

For me the highlights were, Rituals/Reflections, Discordia by Laurie Penny and Molly Crabapple, The Honey Month by Amal el-Mohtar, and Gun Machine by Warren Ellis. Ancillary Justice was up there as good, but not something I'd re-read right away, unlike those others.
5. janmaus
In a reply to harmonyfb--I really tried to like Ghost Bride. The Chinese mythology, death customs, and independence of the main charachter fascinated me, but it dragged and about 40-50% in, I just got too annoyed with the protagonist to keep on enjoying her story--I did finish, but nothing later in the book overcame the flaws that bogged down the middle.
6. rippinrobr
The link for Nicoal Griffith's Hild takes you to a post about Natural History of Dragons.
7. SBJames
Thanks for the post. I'm always looking for good book recs. I'm currently re-reading Neil Gamain's Neverwhere and can't help but think that Roz Kaveney's Huntress has got to be inspired by Gamain's character Hunter. If you haven't read Neverwhere, you should. It's amazing.
8. Petar Belic
I was completely underwhelmed by Ancillary Justice. I really wanted to enjoy it. The premise seemed quite interesting, but the characters and technology were anything but. I would be very interested in hearing differing opinions. Perhaps this is one of those novels I will read again later and revise my opinion of, but for me it was a disappointment after so much hype.

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