The Year's Pleasures
by Cat Rambo
My reading hops around a lot, but I graze most frequently in the fields of speculative fiction. I’ve tried to clump the books a bit so if you see something you liked, you may well enjoy the others in that particular clump. I always start the year intending to track what I’m reading and then don’t manage it, so I have undoubtedly left out some of my favorites, but mean them no slight.
Superhero fiction remains a love of mine, and I found some fun ones in 2012. Of particularl interest were: Arinn Dembo’s Sacred Heart, Mur Lafferty’s Playing for Keeps, In Hero Years, I’m Dead by Michael Stackpole, and Carrie Vaughn’s After the Golden Age.
In urban fantasy, I slammed through Seanan Maguire’s excellent October Daye series in a week after hearing her read. I also picked up Mira Grant’s Feed - Grant is Maguire writing under a pen name, and Feed’s a zombie novel that I really enjoyed (most of the time the subgenre leaves
me pretty cold, no pun intended.) Yesterday’s Hero and No Hero by Jonathan Wood were recommended by a friend, and reminded me of Charlie Stross (in a very good way). John Dies At the End by David Wong was fast and funny and clever. In A Perfect Blood Kim Harrison delivered another Hollow novel and proved that she can keep a series going without anyone becoming too powerful to maintain narrative interest.
In preparing for a WFC panel, I went and reread a whole bunch of Fritz Leiber, whose stuff not only stands the test of time well but which, in the form of the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser books, set the bar pretty goddamn high for sword and sorcery type fantasy. Of the newer stuff in this field, I particularly enjoyed Joe Abercrombie (I read everything of his I could find after I tried The Heroes), Daniel Abraham’s Dagger and the Coin series, Red Knight by by Miles Cameron,The Palace Job by
Patrick Weekes, Lindsay Buroker’s fabulously funny The Emperor’s Edge series, and Carol Berg’s gripping Collegia Magica trilogy. (Berg has become one of the writers I always trust to deliver a good read, and this trilogy was no exception). For steampunky/historical fiction, two series finished up particularly well for me this year: Gemma Files’ marvelous Hexslinger series, and M.K. Hobson’s The Warlock’s Curse, which followed The Native Star and The Hidden Goddess.
Short story collections and anthologies are so often a crap shoot, but this year I found a bunch I liked, including Elizabeth Bear’s Shoggoths in Bloom, the first year compendium put out by Daily Science Fiction (surely the best value in terms of words per cent of anything on this list), A Pretty Mouth by Molly Tanzer, and Stephen Graham Jones’ The Ones That Got Away, which has some just plain killer stories in it. I loved The Weird, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer (and I am so intrigued by the new writing book project, Wonderbook, Jeff’s been working on and posting teasers about) as well as The Apex Book of World SF, edited by Lavie Tidhar. Bronies, put out by Kazka Press, included a number of intriguing and interesting stories. And I read what is now my favorite speculative fiction Christmas collection, Sandra Odell’s The Twelve Ways of Christmas.
Less sortable fantasy included: Elizabeth Hand’s Generation Loss; Kij Johnson’s The Fox Woman; The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern; Among Others by Jo Walton; and The Wizard of the Crow by Ngugu Wa’Thiong’. Non spec fic reads included Winter’s Blood by Daniel Woodrell and a slew of
novels by Chuck Palaniuk, of which I most liked Invisible Monsters.
I always read through writing books, but my favorite this year was shown to me by Jen Volant: Plotto: The Master Book of All Plots by William Wallace Cook, which was aptly described as “makes writing as fun as doing your taxes.” It’s actually a lot of fun to play around with, generating possible story/book plots, but there is a certain fill in line 57 then go to section 77A, quality to it.
I’m not a movie person, for the most part, and my musical taste tends to stick with the Beatles, but I did want to point to someone whose music AND writing I enjoyed this year, Sarah Pinskercebook, whose music you can listen to here: http://www.sarahpinsker.com/listen/
Games, however, are a big part of the media I consume. Video-wise, my year was given to Skyrim, and then I tried the World of Warcraft Panda expansion, and it turned me off video games for a while. The Pandas were fun, but after a brief time with them, it felt like the same old, same old. I continue to watch Armageddon MUD and wish I still had time enough to participate there other than reading their forums occasionally. But I found two great collaborative story-telling games: Fiasco, which Walter
Jon Williams trotted out at a retreat, and Microscope, which allows you to collaboratively build a world or setting, via my brother Lowell. Both of those are on my shelf, and promise to be put to good use. And, for a fun quick card game, Fluxx from Looney Labs is a blast, and includes some interesting expansions, including Monty Python, Wizard of Oz, and zombie versions.
Car Rambo's stories have appeared are ASIMOV’S, WEIRD TALES, CLARKESWORLD, and
STRANGE HORIZONS, and her work has consistently garnered mentions and
appearances in year’s best of anthologies. Her collection, EYES LIKE SKY
AND COAL AND MOONLIGHT was an Endeavour Award finalist in 2010 and
followed her collaboration with Jeff VanderMeer, THE SURGEON’S TALE AND
OTHER STORIES. Her most recent collection is NEAR + FAR, from Hydra
House Books. She teaches at Bellevue College as well as running a highly successful series of online classes.