Nina Allan: Best novel—H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker is my novel of the year, a masterful recasting of dystopian tropes providing a reading experience that is profound, unsettling, and inextricably bound up in the novel’s innovative use of form. Meanwhile, Katie Kitamura and J. Robert Lennon did comparably weird things in their exceptional alternate takes on traditional crime narratives, A Separation and Broken River, respectively. Honourable mention—Nick Harkaway’s fourth novel Gnomon is a beast of a book and a significant achievement. If it’s not on next year’s Clarke Award short list, I, for one, won’t be a happy bunny.
Best collection—M. John Harrison’s You Should Come With Me Now is a landmark text that interweaves Harrison’s shorter fictions from the Kefahuchi Tract era with thematically linked flash pieces that defy categorisation. Camilla Grudova’s The Doll Alphabet contains some of the most original and disturbing stories I’ve come across in years, while honourable mentions must go to Madam Zero by Sarah Hall, You Will Grow Into Them by Malcolm Devlin, and Hollow Shores by Gary Budden, three fine collections that mix elements of weird fiction and contemporary landscape writing in thought-provoking ways.
Best novella—Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan, whose mastery of cosmic horror grows more penetratingly assured with each year that passes. Honourable mentions—Daniel Kehlmann’s creepy and deeply unsettling diary of a “bad place,” You Should Have Left, Livia Llewellyn’s glitteringly ghoulish return to Obsidia in The One that Comes Before, and Tade Thompson’s peculiar and compelling The Murders of Molly Southbourne.
Best Film—Park Chan-wook’s sublime The Handmaiden, possibly his best film yet, followed closely by Jordan Peele’s excoriating and brilliant Get Out, one of the most important and original horror films of recent years. Honourable mention—Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe’s follow-up to their 2011 debut Black Pond, the elegiac and beautifully haunting The Darkest Universe.
Biggest disappointment—Alien: Covenant. Obviously.
Redfern Jon Barrett: It’s not been an easy 2017. In fact, the past months have played all the tropes of a serialised dystopia: far-right factions have assumed high government positions, global oligarchs hurl nuclear-tipped insults to one another, and corporations continue to monitor our private conversations yet are still unable to deliver ads for things we actually want. No wonder this has been the year of dystopia, what with the impressive Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve) and the exquisite TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale.
But entertaining as they can be, we don’t need any more bleak visions—who wants dystopia while we’re living it? Thankfully we’re seeing a recent resurgence of optimistic, utopian fiction which may actually give us hope. This year I reviewed Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway for this magazine, and cannot recommend it highly enough—it’s a speculative adventure which feels incredibly relevant to today’s world. We’ve also been blessed with Star Trek: Discovery, giving us some of the most authentic characterisation the series has ever attempted. It surprised me, but seeing Star Trek’s first real same-sex relationship actually made me cry. Perhaps a better tomorrow is possible after all.
Marina Berlin: In January I read Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, fell deeply in love with it, and it miraculously held on to its place as my favorite speculative fiction work of 2017 for all these twelve long months. For me, the winning combination was the meta on language, on culture and structures of power and oppression, and of course the characters. Although I admit, as a green tea addict, I was also partial to how central tea was to everything in the book, and how desperate characters were to drink it at times.
The other book I enjoyed in 2017, was also published earlier: Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit. It was a new take on military science fiction, for me, and the worldbuilding was possibly my favorite part. The calendar that governs all, from weapons to dates to the rituals of daily life, the mythical animals turned into robots and symbols of a futuristic army, all of it was wonderful and made me purchase the second book in the series (which is now waiting to be read).
Finally, in the realm of TV and movies, I don’t think anything surpassed Wonder Woman (dir. Patty Jenkins) for me, in terms of the speculative fiction genre. One of the best superhero movies ever made, daring to have a statement and a purpose in addition to humor and action scenes. I’d had little exposure to the character of Wonder Woman before seeing the movie, but walking out of the theater I knew I was now officially a fan.
Liz Bourke: My favourite debuts, and the ones I rate highest out of the year, are Ruthanna Emrys’s Winter Tide, R.E. Stearns’s Barbary Station, and K. Arsenault Rivera’s The Tiger’s Daughter.
Emrys’s Winter Tide is an utterly gorgeous piece of work, an inventive reimagination of the Lovecraft mythos. The inhabitants of Innsmouth were interned in the desert, far from the sea that permits them to survive the metamorphosis that comes at the end of their land-dwelling lives. Aphra Marsh and her brother Caleb are the only survivors, having been released at the end of World War Two with Japanese-American internees by a government that Aphra hopes has forgotten them. When an FBI agent convinces Aphra to go with him back to Innsmouth in order to investigate a possible Russian spy at Miskatonic University, Winter Tide becomes an atmospheric, compelling novel about survivorship and memory, genocide and family, terrible bargains, prejudice, and the importance of kindness in the face of an uncaring universe. It’s a stunning debut, a powerful piece of work.
R.E. Stearns’ Barbary Station and K. Arsenault Rivera’s The Tiger’s Daughter are paired in my mind. Although one is science fiction involving pirates, engineers, and murderous AIs, and the other is epic fantasy in a world influenced by the Central Asian steppes, they have one thing in common: their core emotional relationship is a romantic-sexual commitment between two women who are sure about each other. Even if they’re not sure about anything else. I didn’t just love them for the queerness—they’re excellent in other ways too—but the queerness is definitely a point in their favour.
Stephen Case: I had three and a half genre favorites this year. My first was Peter S. Beagle’s collection The Overneath, which besides some excellent urban fantasy revisited a character from The Last Unicorn and offered a sequence of stories featuring unicorns in various settings (including Colonial America) without being trite. In fact, this whole collection pretty much nailed it, showing Beagle at his wry and whimsical best. My second was the gorgeous, psychedelic gender-swapped SF retelling of the Odyssey, ODY-C Volume 1 (collecting the first issues of this comic series). It features poetry and tragedy and spaceships, and I wrote a review of it here. Epic only just begins to describe it. The third was a book I discovered this year at a used book sale, Ursula Le Guin’s collection of essays on writing, The Language of the Night, which was a much-needed dose of wisdom and beauty and which I found incredibly timely. Finally, my half-favorite is John Joseph Adam’s anthology Cosmic Powers. It came out earlier this year, but I’m only halfway through. So far it’s unadulterated fun and wonder on a vast scale—something like his Federations anthology but taking itself less seriously. It’s space opera, more Guardians of the Galaxy than Star Trek: the Next Generation.
Phenderson Djeli Clark: I kicked the year off in the Resistance with a rewatch of BSG. Chief Tyrol: “What do you want to do now, Captain?” Lt. Kara “Starbuck” Thrace: “The same thing we always do. Fight ’em until we can’t.” GOAT.
In more recent films, Get Out was some deft social commentary that doesn’t get its due as a Frankensteinesque narrative. Stranger Things 2 let me relive my ’80s through the lens of an old D&D Monster Manual. I’m convinced the earth-shattering “Mind Flayer” of the Upside Down is an allegory for Ronald Reagan. Discuss.
In reading, went digging in the crates with Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man. I got my critiques. But the topics—war, colonialism, futurism—stand up to the present. 2017 saw the launch of FIYAH, a quarterly of Black Speculative Fiction. L.D. Lewis’s magical Chesirah and Wole Talabi’s futuristic Home is Where My Mother’s Heart is Buried stand out as some of the most memorable among short stories of the Black fantastic. Tor novellas kept putting out some hits. Can’t say enough good things about Cassandra Khaw’s Lovecraftian ode to the bluesman A Song for Quiet and Tade Thompson’s visceral page-turner The Murders of Molly Southbourne. Let me mention at least one novel: Ken Liu’s epic Dandelion Dynasty, a richly conceived world of court intrigues, politics, war, and rebellion told on a grand scale.
Lastly, I couldn’t wait to NOT see Ghost in The Shell. I could barely contain myself waiting to NOT watch it.
Matt Colborn: Science fiction highlights included Stephen Baxter’s entertaining sequel to Wells’s The War of the Worlds, The Massacre of Mankind. In this book the Martians invade Earth again. The setting is an alternate 1920s where history has been significantly changed as a result of the first invasion; Britain has become militarised and isolationist, and Germany remains bogged down in a European war. Baxter manages to reinvent Wells in ingenious, entertaining, and occasionally frightening ways.
In September, at Fantasycon, I picked up a number of small press books and was impressed by their quality. New works included Red Squirrel Publishing’s 2084, a crowdfunded anthology of dystopian stories inspired by Orwell’s classic. Newcon Press launched Tanith By Choice, a collection of Tanith Lee’s best short stories, and Immanion Press reprinted Lee’s novel 34 (2004), an unusual volume apparently “channelled” from an alternate persona named Esther Garber. I also enjoyed Ramsey Campbell’s The Overnight, a 2004 novel about a hellish bookstore, from PS Publishing.
Rick and Morty has to be the TV highlight of the year. The third season of Adult Swim’s smart, funny, and often very rude SF cartoon in some places surpassed earlier seasons in quality and bleakness. The best episode was probably “The Ricklantis Mixup,” set in the “Citadel,” populated by thousands of Ricks and Mortys. This episode has many sharp but depressing things to say about the sense of helplessness of modern life. I can’t wait for season four!
Rachel S. Cordasco: With fifty novels from twenty-three countries and sixteen languages, and sixty-eight short stories from twenty-one countries and sixteen languages, there is a LOT of speculative fiction in translation from 2017 out there for you to enjoy. My favorite pieces from this past year include a novel about uploading your consciousness to the internet when you die (Bodies of Summer by Martin Felipe Castagnet, translated by Frances Riddle), another novel about a highly experimental orbital weapon that can take out satellites (Orbital Cloud by Taiyo Fujii, translated by Timothy Silver), one that follows a jaded author’s quest to merge with the God particle at CERN, and short stories about eerie alien artifacts (“The Gates of Balawat,” by Maria Haskins, translated by the author), a three-hundred-year-long hibernation (“A Man Out of Fashion” by Chen Qiufan, translated by Ken Liu), and a murderous AI on an inhospitable planet (“Milla” by Lorenzo Crescentini and Emanuela Valentini, translated by Rich Larson). So yes, this was a pretty great year to explore the rich world of international speculative fiction, which we wouldn’t have been able to do without the talented authors, translators, editors, and publishers who brought them to us.
Alasdair Czyrnyj: Once again, 2017 was a terrible year both personally and professionally, and as such I was left with very little interest in exploring the genre. For me, both film and television were a complete wash. In games, the higher-profile titles of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and Dishonored: Death of the Outsider left me cold, while smaller titles like Ninja Theory’s psychological action title Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and Bloober Team’s cyberpunk horror mystery >Observer_ were wonderful surprises.
However, despite reading far less than usual, it was the world of books that saw the greatest highs of the year. During the summer, I collaborated with fellow blogger and good friend Michal Wojcik of One Last Sketch to produce a review series focusing on Peter Higgins’s Wolfhound Empire trilogy, a fantastic exploration of Soviet history through the lens of genre fantasy that has been sadly underappreciated by the greater community. While that project was the genre highlight of my year, I also made a surprise discovery this month with Ice, Anna Kavan’s 1967 apocalyptic novel that defies any easy classification.
Shannon Fay: In 2017 I made more of an effort to seek out films from women directors. This led me to watching some amazing movies I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, like the live-action Disney film/sports movie Queen of Katwe, directed by Mira Nair, or historical costume drama Belle from director Amma Asante. As a horror fan, I really loved XX and also A Girl Walks Home Alone (dir. Ana Lily Amirpour). In theaters I got to see Wonder Woman and Lady Bird (dir. Gerta Gerwig), two films that deserved all the critical acclaim they received. I also watched The Bye Bye Man from director Stacy Title, which might be one of the worst films I have ever seen. A horror film with no internal logic, bad acting, and no scares, it somehow warps its way back around to being unintentionally entertaining. If you have to watch it, please, for the love of good filmmaking, please watch at least one of the other (actually good) films I’ve mentioned here first.
As far as books go, Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit has me hooked on a new trilogy while N.K. Jemison’s A Stone Sky was a graceful end to one. As far as self-contained novels go, my favourite by far was Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country, a novel that manages to be episodic while still building a vast world full of deeply rich characters, all of it coming together perfectly at the end.
Jaymee Goh: This was a year of more mobile phone usage. Devin Harnois’s Rainbow Islands delivers on the Tumblr post floating around meant to be a homophobic post against the existence of queer people turned into an adventure story pitch. Harnois builds a set of utopias in response to the homophobia, in and out of its own text, threading a sense of wish fulfillment through an easy read.
Jeannie Lin rereleased her steampunk romance novel Gunpowder Alchemy, set during the height of the Opium Wars. Her Manchurian heroine, family disgraced by her father’s failure, is swept up into imperial intrigue and complicated feelings for the man she might have married. Uncomfortable for any readers looking to satisfy known tropes, the steampunk is steeped in its non-European context and anti-imperialist critique; the romance carries the bad blood of tradition and resistance. I regret not writing on it for my dissertation.
To soothe my dissertating soul, I replayed 80 Days from Inkle Studios multiple times. Meg Jayanth’s script and worldbuilding explore the complexities of rapid modernisation in this steampunk take on the Verne story, through the characters and cities that Passepartout encounters. Jayanth’s language is lush as might be expected of steampunk literature, with a distinctly postcolonial sharpness.
Finally, off my phone, the Shape of Water from Guillermo del Toro gifts us the sparkly boyfriend we have all been waiting for. The “amphibian man” has good taste in music, a great ass, and magic powers. I await the glowing fish husband phone themes.
Mark Granger: Let’s start with books. In 2017 I was introduced to Callie Bates’s The Waking Land, a book that burned slow but stayed with me, and I found Helen Oyeyemi’s What is Not Yours is Not Yours randomly in my local library, and it turned out to be the most original book I’ve read in a while. I also finally plucked up the courage to read Terry Pratchett’s Raising Steam, thus taking one step closer to reading all the Discworld novels, something I never want to do as then I can pretend Terry’s still with us.
Movies brought the ultra violent and emotional Logan (dir. James Mangold), the excellent silliness of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (dir. James Gunn), and the most fun Spidey movie to date in the form of Spiderman: Homecoming (Jon Watts). I got around to watching, and heartily recommend, I Am Not a Serial Killer (Billy O’Brien), Cooties (dir. Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion), Get Out, Prevenge (dir. Alice Low), and Kong: Skull Island (Jordan Vogt-Roberts).
Televisual delights included Doctor Who, Iron Fist, The Defenders, The OA, Rick and Morty, and Stranger Things, but without doubt, top of my TV list in 2017 was Legion. Smart, funny, and scary, it was everything I want from my small-screen entertainment.
And finally, 2017 was the year that Strangeness in Space reached its conclusion with a self-referential burst of daft. Please check out this fun audio series. Written by and starring comedians Trevor Neal and Simon Hickson, it also stars the fantastic Sophie Aldred and there are also a load of guest stars including Sylvester McCoy and Paterson Joseph.
Dan Hartland: I've assumed it to be a function of our times that my reading this year has been unusually purposeful. I’ve spent by far the majority of my time (for better or worse) on books of rather bald contemporary relevance, in what must be some subconscious drive to figure out What We Do Now (ed. Dennis Johnson and Valerie Means) or what our current Autumn (Ali Smith) might mean.
In this context, I’m not entirely ashamed to say I often turned to SF in 2017 for comfort—or, put more positively I suppose, for hope. Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin's The Djinn Falls in Love was a collection of rare and consistent quality, featuring writers of an array of background and interests—and, therefore, a range of treatments of its elusive and titular central subject. Where one or two of the stories perhaps didn't quite escape some of the milder Orientalist clichés, the majority did—and the collection achieved a happy and nourishing polyphony.
If that broadening of science fictional voices is one of the happy themes of SF in 2017, so too is the genre’s increasing openness and versatility. This was most clearly seen in one of the finest literary novels of the year, Mohsin Hamid's Exit West, in which the experience of refugees is cast into higher relief by utilising science fictional portals to de-emphasise the aspect of transit in their stories. Their instantaneous passage from one place to the next usefully focuses on his characters’ periods of residency in the states through which they pass—an effect impossible without science fiction. Not only that, but Hamid’s message that “all over the world people were slipping away from where they had been”—and his optimism about where that will end—makes his novel an essential fiction of our age.
And finally, perhaps less essential but no less comforting: after a rocky start Star Trek: Discovery turned itself into a show worth watching, and one which was unafraid of presenting a positive future which also acknowledged that we won't get there merely by waiting for it.
Matt Hilliard: For me the best moments of the year both came from Ada Palmer, who continued where Too Like the Lightning left off, with Seven Surrenders in March and Will to Battle in December. The series is unafraid to grapple with the biggest of questions: why does humanity suffer? In a world where people disagree, what form of government is most legitimate? What justifies war? Is the world of tomorrow more important than the world of a century from now? All of these heavy topics are threaded through a complex but satisfying story and leavened with metatextual flourishes. Will to Battle in particular feels uncomfortably relevant in showing us a rapidly polarising society in which people convince themselves their ideology is so important that civil war is preferable to peace. This is science fiction at its challenging best, giving us a new perspective on old questions while also giving both beautiful dreams and important warnings about the future.
Erin Horáková: This was the first year I seriously submitted fiction, and I’m pleased with my seven sales across speculative fiction, historical fiction, and erotica. My partner and I finally watched the first half of Due South, an uneven but deeply pleasurable ’90s Canadian-American magical realist cop show we had known of for ages because of its intense and lasting transformative fandom. Paddington 2 was well-crafted and very worth seeing. The best speculative fiction and adjacent plays we saw were at the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringes: Forecast, Heartwood, Suspicious Minds, a staging of Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters, and the frenetic, grabbing Medea on Media. Cursed Child is compelling live, despite its script. I finally read The Little Prince, which was as enchanting, clever, and GOOD as everyone says.
While writing up the section of my thesis on magical charm practices I read Roberta Gilchrist’s “Magic for the Dead? The Archaeology of Magic in Later Medieval Burials.” This fantastic essay contained many exciting provocations to speculative fictional thinking, and I recommend it especially to creators. I adored the Chinese historical drama/wuxia/fantasy Nirvana in Fire and cannot wait to write at length about how astounding it was, and what a welcome departure from nigh-omnipresent and unimpressive western television trends I found in it.
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