Time for that year-end shout-out to books I loved in 2012. I can only select a few for the official best books list, and it always breaks my heart to pick and choose, so here’s a much broader overview of the books I personally really enjoyed this year.
Please note that these are my personal opinions, not PW reviews. Published PW reviews are linked from the book titles below. Please don’t quote this post without permission.
Daniel José Older’s debut collection, Salsa Nocturna, is raw in that wonderful way that debuts have, rough like the casing of a seed that’s going to burst into glorious bloom before you know it. The world needs more New York immigrant spooky sexy lyrical fables. If you loved the first twenty pages of Brian Francis Slattery’s Spaceman Blues, read Salsa Nocturna. (Disclaimer: Daniel and I met at Readercon in July, got to be Twitter friends, and are now scheming on a joint project–but I read and enjoyed his book long before any of that happened.)
Michael Flynn’s Captive Dreams scratches the medical SF itch I’ve had for years; it contains only six stories and I desperately wish there were more. Medicine is no harder to write about than any other science, yet very few SF authors do it well or at all. Flynn does it very, very well. These are deeply human stories, as every medical story has to be in the end. The only comparable works I’ve encountered recently are Maureen McHugh’s stories exploring Alzheimer’s and dementia; where McHugh’s protagonists are helpless in many ways and forced to focus on coping with terrible circumstances, Flynn writes people who deliberately make hard, reckless, foolish, loving, desperate, passionate choices about medical matters and are then stuck with the consequences. PW‘s reviewer called it “melancholy”, which I think is exactly the right word.
Ekaterina Sedia’s Moscow but Dreaming shows a writer at the top of her game. Who else could turn a story about a “419″ scam into something beautiful about what it means to be deposed and dispossessed? I found this collection to be a small-bites reading experience rather than an all-in-one-gulp sort of thing; it’s too intense to devour quickly. Instead, I pick it up and read one or two stories whenever I’m in the mood for that richness of flavor and atmosphere.
Haikasoru’s The Future is Japanese is a fascinating mix of insider and outsider views of Japan and Japanese futurism. I’m a white American who knows very little about either Japan or Japanese futurism, so reading it felt to me like listening in on a few hours of someone else’s really fascinating conversation. I happen to like eavesdropping on experts in things I know nothing about, so I found this both enjoyable and educational, but I also feel like I’m not really the target market. I would love to know what the experience of reading it is like for someone who has closer ties to Japan than I do.
Yes, these are all books of short fiction. I like short fiction a lot. I also think this wasn’t a great year for novels. There were a few standouts, but the crop was small. Still, in addition to the ones on the best books list, I really enjoyed Benedict Jacka’s Fated, Cursed, and Taken; the plots and writing put them in the top echelon of this year’s urban fantasy debuts and series launches (and there were a LOT). My reading log for Fated calls it “candy-like and delicious.” No idea why they haven’t gotten more press. I also thought Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon was tremendous fun and I’m looking forward to the sequels (though–predictably!–I like his short fiction even more and am desperate for him to bring out a collection). I was also enthralled by the opening of Caitlín R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl but can’t speak to anything after that because Kiernan’s treatment of faulty memory and mental illness was so powerful that I had to put the book down and go get some fresh air. In case it’s not clear, that’s a recommendation! It’s clearly a masterful work; I just couldn’t handle it. Some art is like that. (I felt the same way about the movie Spirited Away. It’s incredible. I will never watch it again.)
Finally, I got a few rare chances to read outside my genres, which mostly meant picking up YA. China Miéville’s Railsea knocked my socks off. I haven’t had that much sheer fun with a book in ages. It’s one of those audacious conceits where you just roll with it or don’t; I did and had a great time. I enjoyed Nalo Hopkinson’s The Chaos in an entirely different way. Baba Yaga, duppies, synesthesia, surrealism, and a wheelchair-wielding Sri Lankan lesbian poet musician–what’s not to love? And Rae Carson’s The Crown of Embers left me itching for her to finish the series. I tolerate very few cliffhangers, but her writing is so good that I’m willing to be patient. Barely. (Rae, send me a manuscript? Please?)
Missing from this list: horror. That’s not a deliberate oversight. I just didn’t read any horror novels, anthologies, or collections this year that really grabbed me–unless you count Ted Kosmatka’s The Games, which is about half thriller and half horror (and all excellent). This makes me sad, because I’m a big fan of horror. I hope there will be more good horror writing in 2013.
What did you love reading in 2012? And what are you looking forward to reading in 2013?