Friday, June 27, 2014

2014 SF Mid-Year Reckoning

2014 - The year in which I attempt to read as much science fiction as I can so that next year my very first (and probably last) Hugo nomination ballot will change Hugo history.

What I've read - the numbers.
3 novels
7 novellas
29 novelettes
144 short stories

Further breakdown with a little bit of commentary:

Novels

The novels were disappointments. Hang Wire is American Gods Lite. Afterparty gets lost in its crime trappings (not to mention its preachiness.) Annihilation promises better and more but I'm not sure yet whether or not I'm fully on board VanderMeer's project. I am a few chapters into Walton's new book and so far it is very good, though I'm not sure if it's actually sf.

If I had to nominate a Best Novel right now, I couldn't do it.


Novellas

I hated two of the novellas. I'm on the fence about another one. Two are solid. And two I'd definitely recommend, both from Mag of F&SF. Seth Chambers' In Her Eyes is a sensitive exploration of sexuality and identity. Too often, "mature content" means prurient lowest common denominator pornographic winking. Chambers' story is sexually explicit and contains foul language. It's also a frank exploration of what sexuality might mean to a polymorph, someone with a new body every week. It takes a common sf/fantasy idea and digs deep at one implication of such an idea. It's the only novella so far that I've felt like I'd like to re-read. The other novella I quite liked is Bartleby the Scavenger by Katie Boyer. As its title suggests, the story playfully interacts with and updates Melville's classic original Bartleby tale.

If I had to nominate right now, this would be my list:

1. "In Her Eyes" by Seth Chambers (Mag of F&SF)
2. "Bartleby the Scavenger" by Katie Boyer (Mag of F&SF)
3. "Each in His Prison, Thinking of the Key" by William Preston (Asimov's)
4. "The Lightness of the Movement" by Pat MacEwan (Mag of F&SF)
5. No vote


Novelettes

Of the 29 novelettes I read, 14 are pretty good. I'll only mention a few of these.

"Reborn" by Ken Liu and "The Common Good" by Nancy Kress could be companion stories and I do think that they benefit from being read close together as I did. Both are "post-invasion" stories in which humans live as a conquered species. Both explore interesting ethical choices and big questions while still both being compelling, entertaining stories.

"The Museum of Error" by Oliver Buckram was the announcement of a major new talent to me. The story is a lot of fun and reminds me of the best zany fun of Blaylock. The story is a silly mystery set in a museum devoted to the world's worst mistakes. Buckram is someone I'll be following from now on.

I'm still surprised by how much I like Jordan Jeffers' "A Fierce, Calming Presence." It's a pretty standard action piece about an inspector called in to deal with an unusual situation. It's a solid tale told really well.

As long as I'm praising solid tales, I should mention Brian McClellan's "The Face in the Window," which could maybe be described as a "flintpunk" fantasy tale (I don't think I made that up so maybe it already is being described as flintpunk.) Gunpowder as efficiency drug versus witchcraft. The story is interesting enough that I'm tempted to check out his debut novel set in the same world.

Finally, I'll give a nod to Derek Kunsken's "Schools of Clay." The class warfare stuff bogs it down, but the description of the colony and space travel is great "sensawunda" material, truly strange and well-thought-out.

If I had to nominate now:

2. "The Common Good" by Nancy Kress (Asimov's)
3. "The Museum of Error" by Oliver Buckram (Mag of F&SF)
4. "A Fierce, Calming Presence" by Jordan Jeffers (Analog)
5. "Schools of Clay" by Derek Kunsken (Analog)


Short Stories

Of 144 stories, I count 44 that I'd definitely recommend (and a much smaller subset of that 44 that I think are excellent.) There were more than that that were fine and entertaining stories, okay stuff, but there's also more in this category that I actively disliked.

If I had to nominate now:

1. "Whaliens" by Lavie Tidhar (Analog)
4. "A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide" by Sarah Pinsker (Mag of F&SF)

"Whaliens" is hilarious fun and actually had me laughing out loud. "The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye" is huge in its scope, challenging my little mind in the same way that I felt when first reading about Galactus as a kid. He eats planets! "His Elbow, Unkissed" introduced me to the Kaslo Chronicles. I'm hooked. "A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide" has stuck with me since reading it. I'd be very excited about Pinsker if she hadn't also written one of the year's worst stinkers, published in Asimov's. Finally, "The Totals" made me smile. And that's worth a lot. 

These stories probably reveal a lot about my personality/tastes as a science fiction fan. "Whaliens" is just plain silly but is also brilliant in the way it interacts with genre history and tropes. "The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye" is cosmic fantasy played out on a massively large scale (of both time and space.) "His Elbow, Unkissed" is Vancian fantasy, playing a bit with the dying of scientific methods but mostly a fun fantasy romp. "A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide" is the most solidly science fictional story of the bunch, but it's also very odd. A young man goes in for surgery and gets a faulty computer chip installed in his body, convincing him that he's a stretch of Interstate. In its quiet way, it is a strong exploration of memory and identity and body modification. "The Totals" is a giddy monster party story, published in a horror mag, qualifying as fantasy but definitely not science fiction.

Also worth singling out as close runners-up to the above mentioned stories:
"The Avalon Missions" by David Brin (Analog)
"The Carl Paradox" by Steve Rasnic Tem (Asimov's)
"The Chimp of the Popes" by James Patrick Kelly (Book of Silverberg)
"Phalloon the Illimitable" and "The Ba of Phalloon" by Matthew Hughes (Lightspeed)
"A Struggle Between Rivals Ends Surprisingly" by Oliver Buckram (Mag of F&SF)
"Seasoning" by Alan Dean Foster (Robot Uprisings)

Finally, for Ben, here's a full list of online fiction, all available for free. These are all stories that I think are worth reading, though I enjoyed some of these stories much more than others. There's at least something interesting about each of them.

(Note: I'll edit this post in a few days and provide links. It's too much for me to do on my iPhone during slow moments at work. Edit: DONE)

Beneath Ceaseless Skies (I've read issues 138-143)

Clarkesworld (I've read January through June issues)

Lightspeed (I've read January through May issues)

Nightmare (I've read January through March)

Strange Horizons (I've read January through February)

Tor.com (I've read January through a couple of stories in February)

Note: I've only read one Subterranean story (I didn't care for it), but I'm expecting good things. I haven't read any Apex stories. And I guess I could be reading Giganotosaurus and Daily Science Fiction. I'm not.

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After all of that, I've decided to also list print mag stories for Abigail, who has been reading the mags after me (and some before me now, I think) via Kindle. Again, these are all stories that have at least something interesting going on in them, regardless of how much I may or may not have ended up liking any specific story.

Analog (I've read January through May)
"This Quiet Dust" by Karl Bunker
"The Problem with Reproducible Bugs" by Marie DesJardin
"Racing Prejudice" by John Frye III
"The Avalon Missions" by David Brin
"A Fierce, Calming Presence" by Jordan Jeffers
"Whaliens" by Lavie Tidhar
"Pollution" by Don Webb
"Cryptids" by Alec Nevala-Lee
"In Perpetuity" by Ellis Morning
"Repo" by Aaron Gallagher
"Another Man's Treasure" by Tom Greene

Asimov's (I've read January through May)
"The Carl Paradox" by Steve Rasnic Tem
"Memorials" by Aliette de Bodard
"The Common Good" by Nancy Kress
"Static" by William Jablonsky
"Schools of Clay" by Derek K√ľnsken
"The Long Happy Death of Oxford Brown" by Jason K. Chapman
"Ball and Chain" by Maggie Shen King
"Declaration" by James Patrick Kelly
"The Plantimal" by Mike Resnick and Ken Liu
"Each in His Prison, Thinking of the Key" by William Preston
"The Principles" by Robert Reed
"Of Finest Scarlet Was Her Gown" by Michael Swanwick
"Rules of Engagement" by Matthew Johnson
"Scout" by Will McIntosh
"Like a Wasp to the Tongue" by Fran Wilde
"Slowly Upward, the Coelacanth" by M. Bennardo
"The Talking Cure" by K. J. Zimring
"Dolores, Big and Strong" by Joe M. McDermott
"Someday" by James Patrick Kelly

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (I've read January through part of May/June)
"The Museum of Error" by Oliver Buckram
"In Her Eyes" by Seth Chambers
"The Man Who Hanged Three Times" by C.C. Finlay
"The Via Panisperna Boys in "Operation Harmony"" by Claudio Chillemi and Paul Di Filippo
"For All of Us Down Here" by Alex Irvine
"A Struggle Between Rivals Ends Surprisingly" by Oliver Buckram
"A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide" by Sarah Pinsker
"The Lightness of the Movement" by Pat MacEwan
"Apprentice" by Jon DeCles
"Collar" by Leo Vladimirsky
"Bartleby the Scavenger" by Katie Boyer

I think that the only major print magazine being published in 2014 that I haven't read anything from yet is Interzone. Maybe I can live without reading Interzone. Maybe I'll try to keep up with that one too. Maybe not. I'm exhausted with short fiction at the moment and plan on taking a short break now.

One more thing I remembered. Quickly, I'll add that both original anthologies that I've read this year, Robot Uprisings and The Book of Silverberg, have been full of good stories (though the best stories in the Robot book were reprints.)