Welcome to Smugglivus 2016! Throughout this month, we will have guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2016, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2017, and more.
I’m not going to lie, 2016 has been rough. For me, personally, but also for SFF and for the world. And I wish I could say with certainty that things are going to get better, but at the moment I’m having a lot of trouble believing that, so instead I want to share some great SFF. SFF that has helped me to cope when things got difficult. That kept me sane. That gave me hope. When I stumble I tend to lean on SFF to help me keep going, and I just wanted to share some of the things I’ve enjoyed from this past year that have helped me, so maybe they can help you, too.
I’m going to group these by media, first with fiction of increasing length and then some other forms. I’ll start with…
Two words. Nin. Harris. If we’re making a list of break-out SFF writers of 2016, Nin Harris deserves to be very high on that list, and it’s thanks in part to the strength of her flash fiction. “Moult,” from An Alphabet of Embers is a beautiful piece about layers and identity. And for my money there is not a better pair of flash fiction stories this year than “Morning Cravings” (Lightspeed Magazine’s People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction) and “Butter-Daughters” (The Sockdolager #7). These stories mix food and fantasy, science fiction and politics, hope and murder. They are exquisite and I cannot recommend them highly enough.
Omenana X. If you want to read some very quick and very good SFF flash stories, check out this issue celebrating African SFF. There’s a ton of writers and a ton of excellent SFF visions revealed, all coming at SFF from a way that doesn’t center America or Europe. Omenana continues to grow and continues to be one of my favorite publications to launch in the last few years. I have read every issue and this one shines with the way that it captures what makes SFF fun and deep and powerful and universal.
Lethe Press. Do you know that if you support their Patreon you can get super queer, often super sexy, and super speculative short stories every month? Lethe does outstanding work with short fiction, putting out an amazing amount of original anthologies as well as Best Of anthologies like Wilde Stories, Heiresses of Russ, and Transcendent which shine a special light on stories featuring queer characters. Plus there are single-author collections by some of SFF’s best and brightest. Small presses are incredibly important in today’s publishing landscape, and Lethe is one of my favorites.
“Things with Beards” by Sam J. Miller. Miller is one of my favorite SFF authors and The Thing is one of my favorite SFF horror movies. So a story that proudly queers the main characters and then extends their journey out of Antarctica and back to the States and draws it into the story of resistance, AIDS, and identity? Well, in my opinion this is one of the best stories of the year, and one that tackles ideas of passing and justice and fighting back. For getting through 2016 and looking ahead to what might be in store for 2017, this is an incredibly important story for me.
“The Book of How to Live” by Rose Lemberg, out from Beneath Ceaseless Skies. This story, maybe more than any other this year, has been important for keeping going. For finding ways to make the work worth doing. Focusing on what’s important. Pushing forward. It’s a beautiful story and part of the amazing Birdverse series and if you don’t know what that means then you should definitely go read it.
GigaNotoSaurus. I started reading this publication in January and month after month it has provided some of the best SFF out there. Not all of the stories are novelettes but I’d say a majority are and most of them are damned good. If you’re looking for a publication that’s not too much a commitment, and that puts out work that is generally complex, affirming, and beautifully written, definitely check out GigaNotoSaurus.
A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson from Tor Publishing. This is the first work that has really ever unbroken my heart (cue the Toni Braxton). It is a vividly rendered and beautifully romantic piece that captures so much of what I love about SFF. A stunning world building, compelling characters, and a devastating (then ultimately uplifting) emotional impact. It’s good. I cried.
The Convergence of Fairy Tales by Octavia Cade from Book Smugglers Publishing. This piece starts out with blood and terror and violation and slowly builds a portrait of fairy tales. A landscape of the victimization that they create, the lasting damage they do, and way they blur the edges of narrative, the lines between stories disappearing in the face of the collective weight of their grief and anger and violence. And it shows a woman who has been wronged slowly coming to terms with that and finding a way forward. It is chilling and incredibly written.
The Root by Na’amen Gobert Tilahun from Night Shade Books. This is a delightful story of people with superpowers fighting against corrupt systems. About people discovering the power of cooperation. The power of people coming together and refusing to back something they know is wrong. It’s a fun work with a great energy and flow.
Rosewater by Tade Thompson from Apex Books. Books about alien invasions aren’t exactly new. But I have never come across a book that captures such a scope and such a sense of originality as Rosewater. It takes a certain skill to incorporate psychics, superheroes, aliens, sex, and zombies all in a work that is vividly imagined and coherently plotted. And this book does all of that, creating a fictional city at the heart of a global mystery and threat that shows how there are much more insidious ways to invade than with armadas and explosions. The voice is amazing, the vision is lifting. Read this book.
Nineteen by Spellblast is an album of SFF rock inspired by The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. It’s sort of a cheat because it came out in 2014 but I’m old and don’t keep current in much music and it is amazing. The lyrics don’t always make the most sense but who cares because they feel right. I have been listening to this album nonstop for months and it just doesn’t get old. The songs are unreservedly awesome and it’s so refreshing to hear musicians fly their SFF flag proudly. If nothing else, I will survive as long as I can listen to this album and look at pictures of Idris Elba from the set of the upcoming movie based on the series. I kill with my heart indeed!
Pokémon Go! All things Pokémon, really, which for me means Pokémon Go! and HeartGold on the DS (yes I still play my DS don’t judge). There is something so fun about going about in the real world and catching the mons. I avoid gyms typically because I really don’t like the whole competition thing but the whole collect and obsess aspect is amazing! It reminded me what I loved about the series and got me to go back and get back into the handheld versions. I was just the right age for the phenomenon that was Pokémon and I still find the series refreshing and soothing when I need an RPG to grind.
Luke Cage. I will be honest, I haven’t watched much of Netflix’s Marvel shows, but I couldn’t resist Luke Cage and what I found was deep, layered, and inspiring. It’s got tons of nods to the classic comics and it manages to tell a fun, nicely-paced story with lots of surprises. Because I can’t just watch the DS9 episodes with Garak in them over and over again (and okay, that’s a lie because I do that anyway, but this was a welcome break), this made me look forward to television for a little while.
Ghostbusters. I don’t watch too many movies in theaters but I made an exception for this one and I laughed out loud multiple times, which is not something I can say about many films. It’s full of love and humor and friendship and just so good. I loved cast and loved the way the team came together. Throw in an adorable plot and slapstick and fun and so many great moments and this movie continues to make me smile. I want more. So many more.
Zootopia. Okay, I might have a thing for anthropomorphic animals. And I also appreciate that this movie seeks to take on some very complex things and present them in a sensitive way. Yes, it muddles the metaphors sometimes, but more than that it creates it’s own nuanced world in order to look at prejudice and fear in a very interesting way. It’s Disney, so it’s far from perfect, but in 2016 I definitely took what joy I could find, and it’s got a charm to it and definitely more of an adult feel with the subject matter and themes.
And there you have it. If you want even more SFF fiction recommendations, you can always check out my Monthly Round, which pairs my favorite SFF short fiction reads from each month with a tasting flight of appropriately-paired alcoholic beverages. 2016 has been a Sarlacc of a year, and the future doesn’t exactly look like it’s going to be all unicorns and rainbows. But that doesn’t mean that SFF needs to step down. More than ever it means that it needs to step up. To stand, even more, for justice and for progress. To imagine different worlds so that we can steer our planet toward a brighter future. And when it gets hard, at least we have some amazing SFF projects and stories that can remind us what we’re pushing for. Cheers!