Summer has arrived (kind of), July is around the corner and it’s time for the annual Smuggler Tradition of looking back at the books we have read and reviewed so far this year. In 2012, we published a list of our biannual top 10 favorite adult SFF books here on Kirkus. I was about to do the same for this year when I realised something GHASTLY: After examining our reviews of books published between January and June of 2013, I realized that unlike previous years there is a dearth of favourite adult SFF books on our Half-Year Mark lists. There are multiple reasons for this (warning—rambling ahead):
We have been seeking out more Young Adult and Middle Grade titles: Because we seem to find that more and more interesting SFF stories are being published in these categories. Out of those, two 2013 releases really stood out for us this year so far:
September Girls by Bennett Madison: a superb take on mermaids and curses with a side of summer romance. This book has sparked quite the controversy in the YA-sphere as some have interpreted it as an incredibly misogynistic story. I took something completely different from it: It is a tale that addresses sexism head-on by examining traditional ideas of what it means to be a “man” and what it means to be a “girl” and it’s amazing.
Orleans by Sherri L. Smith: a gritty, real and powerful post-apocalyptic story that does not pull any punches. Reminiscent of one of our favorite films of last year, the resonant indie hit Beasts of the Southern Wild—only darker. With embers of hope peppered throughout and an incredibly female protagonist, this is the standard to which all post-apocalyptic/dystopias should aspire to achieve.
Quite a few of the 2013 adult SFF books we’ve read this year have been unexpected disappointments: These include highly anticipated titles like The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty (not really as funny as intended, lack of internal logic); The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness (life “lessons” hammered through without the subtlety I have come to expect from the author) and The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (I had several misgivings about the book but basically: There was a Magic Door in my Science Fiction).
We have been reading a lot of backlist titles: We started a new feature called Old School Wednesdays (in which we review books that have been published before 2008) that allowed us to discover awesome stuff we managed to completely miss before like Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton (Pride and Prejudice…with dragons); Nation by Terry Pratchett (a think-y book that has been catapulted to the top of my best-of EVER) and Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi (featuring a Japanese superheroine) and the Isis Trilogy by Monica Hughes (starting with Keeper of the Isis Light, an older sci-fi series that challenges ideas of humanity, prejudice and identity).
Not to mention that we are still catching up with titles from 2012. Among those are two Hugo and Nebula nominated stories: the incredible On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard (would have been one of my top 10 of 2012 for sure) and 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson.
N.K. Jemisin hasn’t published a book in 2013: WOE. Just joking, of course, because N.K. Jemisin is not writing at my beck and call (damn it).
With this short intro (haha) out of the way, here are some 2013 adult SFF books that we have loved:
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: Surprising no one, I not only loved this darkly sweet tale about growing up but this may well be my favorite Gaiman ever (apart from The Sandman, of course).
Cold Steel by Kate Elliott: a befitting ending for this absolutely recommended trilogy that features awesome worldbuilding and political shenanigans plus great female characters.
Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal: The best yet in the Glamourist Histories series, this is a book whose greatest strength lies on the development of its fabulous characters.
Joyland by Stephen King: It is Horror but technically still Speculative Fiction, as it has ghosts. One of the best Stephen King novels in years and totally outside what we were expecting from the book, in a good way.
The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher: This was source of contention at Casa Smugglers. One of us loved it, the other did not like it quite so much. We did both agree that it is a very cool blend of Historical Fantasy, Horror and Western.
Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs: The sixth installment in the still going-strong Mercy Thompson series (one of our favorite urban fantasy worlds) brings it all back into good form with a story that is conceptually strong and focused.
The Best of all Possible Worlds by Karen Lord: a book that is equal parts fun (Flying Monks! Time Travel! Random Surprise Fairies! Romance!) and an exploration about what it means to fight for the survival of a species at the brink of extinction. Regardless of whether you find the latter to have been executed well (given the question of “racial purity” constantly raised in the story), the book is a very thoughtful sci-fi offering great fodder for discussion.
The Daughter Star by Susan Jane Bigelow: a new book from Susan Jane Bigelow whose brand of science fiction offer a welcome mixture of very personal, internalised character arcs and overarching stories which often contain elements of politics, social commentary and gender issues in a complex storyline. The Daughter Star is all that and more. Plus, we cannot have enough Lesbians! In Outer Space!
Phew. Now that we talked about some of our favorites, which books have YOU loved so far in 2013?
Disclaimer: It should go without saying that we could not possibly have read ALL of the SFF books published in 2013. This list is admittedly restricted to those titles that we have managed to read and review in the year thus far.