Sara Polsky: My reading resolution in 2017 was to focus on all the older books I’d purchased but never gotten around to, and one of those books was The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. Given that Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things, another entry in the “clergy in space” subgenre, was one of my 2015 favorites, I’m not surprised I loved The Sparrow. The characters lodged in my head and I never wanted them to leave, and the book’s larger exploration of how evidence of extraterrestrial life might affect a person’s sense of faith or doubt is one I’ve continued to think about for months.
Kevin Power: Was Logan (dir. James Mangold) so moving because it was Hugh Jackman’s last hurrah as the character he’s made his own for two decades now? Or was it because the film so powerfully channels the full suite of American myths to tell us that those myths are now beyond our reach? As Logan escorts a group of children—all of them non-white—across Fortress America, they are pursued by a psychopath named Donald. And the white liberal patriarch (Patrick Stewart’s Professor Xavier) is now so impotent that he can’t even go to the bathroom by himself. After Logan, there are no more superhero movies. The genre is done. Everything else is aftermath.
If Logan buried some American myths, Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve) engaged in a bit of bodysnatching. Peering beneath the astounding visual textures (was there a more beautiful film released in 2017?), you saw only the dancing corpse of an industry that is running out of stories to tell—and that keeps on trying to play the old hits, over and over, like a formerly hip band now stuck on the cruise-ship nostalgia circuit. Hey, remember this one? I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe …
Finally, a word for Adam Roberts’s The Real-Town Murders. Like the best SF, this book seems poised above the abyss of change—like the human race itself, as the old world crumbles and the new one supervenes. A sequel is promised for 2018. Read the first one now, before Real Town disappears entirely.
Electra Pritchett: Another terrible year on the books. I read a lot of comics; some of my favorites included Ngozi Ukazu’s hockey tale Check, Please!, Kate Leth’s run on Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat!, and the original Brian K. Vaughan/Adrian Alphona and current Rainbow Rowell/Kris Anka runs on Runaways. Michael Dante DiMartino and Irene Koh’s first Korra comic, Turf Wars, is a great successor to the show, while Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s Monstress is an instant fantasy classic.
Sarah Rees Brennan’s In Other Lands and Ruthanna Emrys’ Winter Tide are probably my favorite 2017 novels. Kate Elliott, Cat Valente, and Marie Brennan turned in brilliant final entries in their Court of Fives, Fairyland, and Lady Trent series, respectively. Frances Hardinge’s A Skinful of Shadows may be her creepiest, and Megan Whalen Turner’s Thick as Thieves is another brilliant Queen’s Thief book. The first four of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles left me eager for more, while N.K. Jemisin’s titanic Broken Earth series ended the only place it could.
Wonder Woman and Thor: Ragnarok are easily the best films in their respective superhero franchises, and The Last Jedi proved to be one of the best Star Wars films too. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women was a low-key revelation, a kinky, poly love story drawn from actual history. I quite enjoyed the techno-fantasy anime film Napping Princess, and Logan was a brutal, unsparing near-future take on the X-Men.
Here’s to a better year and a better future in 2018.
Krish Raghav: Megha Rajagopalan’s excellent, eerie reportage from the western Chinese province of Xinjiang (she calls it a “frontline laboratory for surveillance”) is an unsettling dispatch from a dystopian present. Paired with Egyptian writer Basma Abdel Aziz’s The Queue (translated by Elisabeth Jacquette, and this scorching debut album from Hong Kong punk band DAVID BORING, we get a harrowing picture of how the police states of today affect our memory, routine, and communities.
I’m eagerly looking forward to Chinese novelist Murong Xuecun’s upcoming Our New Era, set in a 2072 China that has forgotten the existence of the Communist Party.
Catherine Rockwood: This year, you needed funny, brokenhearted, expansive fiction to help you laugh and stay guardedly optimistic, and lucid, flat-out furious fiction to confirm that yes, indeed, it really is that bad out there. In the latter category, my top read was Victor LaValle’s forge-heat novella The Ballad of Black Tom—which was so good I’ve put his new novel, The Changeling, on my 2018 reading-list even though the very prospect of reading it terrifies me. (I don’t do well with horror plots involving babies.) In the first category: funny, brokenhearted, expansive books I read and loved in 2017 were Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon and Charlie Jane Anders’s delicious, utopalyptic All the Birds in the Sky. In poetry, I was amazed and moved by this extended adaptation of Callimachus, by Stephanie Burt. One of a continuing series, it’s a travelogue in verse that also imagines what life might be like in the absence of a credible state foundation myth. What if we all knew we had to make it up as we go along? How would we act, who would we be both together and as individuals? If you read it and want more—I did—Burt has recently released a new collection, Advice from the Lights.
Mazin Saleem: To Be or Not to Be (1942)
Should we worry that Star Wars traffics in Nazi imagery? Related: If, when sizing up the harm of a swastika on a fascist’s armband, a swastika on film, and a swastika-shaped cloud, it’s the done thing to scorn excuses about intention or context that put distance between the first two examples, shouldn’t that imply closing the gap between them and the third (i.e. why’s the cloud not Nazi?)?
To Be or Not to Be is a comedy about Nazis and infidelity set during the German occupation of Poland, and was made right in the middle of World War II. With director Ernst Lubitsch, writers Melchior Lengyel and Edwin Justin Mayer, and lead actor Jack Benny, it’s an early Jewish send-up of Nazism, as controversial as The Producers but preceding it by twenty-five years.
And unlike that film, whose second half relies on broad Mad Magazine-style “bits,” To Be or Not to Be has aged well, because it relies on structural comedy: farce; sharp call-back dialogue; suspense used for laughs. The humour is intelligent, but not because you have to get any cultural references. The satire is humorous, but not because of the trajectory of the punching. Being as much about the vanity of actors as Nazis, the film doesn’t pretend to have any mission. It respects your intelligence and decency by assuming them. To Be or Not to Be neither helped nor hampered fascism; it clearly comes, though, from the world of its opposite.
Christina Scholz: If it was possible for M. John Harrison, Samuel R. Delany, Iain Banks, and Joseph Heller to collaborate on some historical fiction, the result would be Xan Brooks’s The Clocks in this House all Tell Different Times. It’s a story of invalids and misfits and adventure and, well, child prostitution. It’s very disturbing. And very well written.
M. John Harrison’s collection You Should Come with Me Now is a delightfully haunting read, which contains a (post-)Viriconium story that simultaneously defies and exceeds the expectations of fantasy readers. The words “Man into Bream” will haunt me forever. I also recognised various popular blog posts, some of which have been developed into full stories.
While I’m not quite content with the ending, Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’s Providence was my comics highlight. Content-wise, it’s an interesting remix of Lovecraft’s fiction (adding meta-levels and sexual politics); formally a collage of graphic novel, “handwritten” commonplace book, and other “found materials.” Irony is created through the discrepancy between the protagonist’s and reader’s observations. Also intriguing is the foregrounding of “an America beneath the surface of things,” comprised of everyone’s secrets and fears.
Hal Duncan’s Scruffians are back in A Scruffian Survival Guide, which is nothing short of incendiary. In three heroic tales and a four-part “survival guide,” these Not-so-Lost-Boys (and girls, and trans-Scruffians!) stand up to injustice and oppression throughout history and also nick some nice food and drink while they’re at it. Join the Scruffian revolution against “Lord Froggy Faw Faw and Numpty Trump!”
Salik Shah: This year I didn’t get time to read or write so much. Koren Shadmi’s web comic Highwayman and Lucile Hadžihalilović’s film Évolution (2015) were excellent discoveries.
Novels that I immensely enjoyed: Charlie Jane Anders’s All The Birds In the Sky, Zen Cho’s Sorcerer To the Crown, and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland’s The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. turned out to be a delightful experience.
Finally, Mithila Review started paying its contributors in 2017 with the help of our Patreon supporters, and we managed to deliver three new issues (available to read online). As part of a fundraiser, we’re currently seeking submissions for India 2049: Utopias and Dystopias from writers and comic artists around the world.
Aditya Singh: Prayaag Akbar’s debut novel Leila was the high point of the year for me. A dystopian novel that is both a tale of personal loss and a perceptive examination of the tenuous ties that hold together India’s social and political institutions, the world of Leila—a future city where sixty feet high walls divide communities on the basis of caste and religion—will feel terrifyingly close to anyone familiar with the social violence that inhabits the country. I also had the pleasure of discovering Johanna Sinisalo’s work, which I chanced upon in The Big Book of Science Fiction. “Baby Doll” is a disturbing and moving story of envy, love, loss, and the ways in which we view and understand sexuality. Reading “Baby Doll” led me to The Core of the Sun, a novel that deals with the issues of sexuality, the reproduction rights of women, and self-determination.
Short fiction that I enjoyed reading in 2017 included “The Wretched and the Beautiful” by E. Lily Yu, “Merrick” by Vajra Chandrasekera, “My Saints are Down” by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy, and “The Bone Plain” by Karin Tidbeck.
Maureen Kincaid Speller: My reading in 2017 was its usual erratic thing, but among other titles I especially enjoyed Nina Allan’s The Rift and also The Race. Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad was rightly acclaimed, but I’m genuinely surprised more people haven’t been talking about Hari Kunzru’s White Tears. Aliya Whiteley’s The Arrival of Missives was a fascinating piece of fiction, and I should also recommend Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station, a clever and thoughtful riff on more traditional sf, and Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, which provided a much-needed antidote to too much Lovecraft. I reread Tade Thompson’s Rosewater and it still pleases me immensely. I’m now looking forward to the other two parts of the trilogy, announced earlier this year. Ian Mond introduced me to Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country and I’m so glad he did. I also want to flag up Jeff Noon’s Man of Shadows, Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon, and Martin MacInnes’ Infinite Ground, not to mention Joanna Kavenna’s A Field Guide to Reality, all of which delighted me with the way they played with literary form. Looking back, I see now that there was a theme to my reading after all, and that was the subversion of the linear structure in fiction.
Film? You jest, surely? I saw Thor: Ragnarok, twice, and enjoyed it immensely. Enough to start cautiously poking around in the whole superhero film-thing, though I already know I will be disappointed (Avengers: Age of Ultron—what a mess). Possibly, Taika Waititi should just make all the films, and they should all star Tessa Thompson, with Chris Hemsworth and Jeff Goldblum as her sidekicks. I also saw Bladerunner 2049. For all its faults, the original Bladerunner is still one of my favourite sf films. This one? Not so much. At least not yet. I had been going to ask what Ryan Gosling was for, other than silently scowling or looking lost, but while I was writing this, I learned that he is to play the famously taciturn Neil Armstrong in a forthcoming feature, so clearly it pays off.
Finally, I approach 2018 in a surprisingly buoyant mood, given the ongoing trash fire called “the world.” I have a small handful of resolutions: to read lots more recent SF and fantasy, especially by women, and by writers of colour, and especially short fiction, and then write about what I read. I think I might achieve these.
Marie Stern-Peltz: This year feels like a blur and one where I struggle to remember what I actually read. However, a few things stand out: The Wildings, by Nilanjana Roy, with its charming depiction of a psychically connected society of cats. The plot is compelling, but what I really enjoyed was this sense of individuals who nonetheless are clearly and crucially interdependent. Speaking of psychic animals, Chloe Daykin’s Fish Boy is a magical story of talking mackerel, family, and the North Sea, which feels both properly child-like in its writing and heartbreakingly real. I particularly loved the friendship between the two boys in the book and the sense of complete otherness of the mackerel, which is both alluring and terrifying.
Both books are at their heart about community and communication, which felt particularly important this year. I think that’s one of the reasons the other books which have stuck with me have been about the early Middle Ages, including Bede’s Life of St Cuthbert, his writings on the Northumbrian Church, and Max Adams’s The King in the North. While they are not strictly speculative fiction, their reliance on magic and miracles makes them feel otherworldly. These texts are startling reminders of the desire to create order in our world, to make sense of what we see and experience. They’re not comforting books, but there’s an eerie sense of recognition—through a mirror, darkly. And it is hard not to empathise with Bede and his desire to create a utopian past, in which the solutions to his time’s corruptions can be found.
Aishwarya Subramanian: Two excellent short story collections bookended this year for me—Irenosen Okojie’s Speak Gigantular and Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties. Okojie’s work has a ruthless, deadpan weirdness; Machado’s is rich and sinister even as it raises cool eyebrows at you.
This year was hard to escape from (and I’m not sure I’d have wanted to), and most of the books I liked or admired were rooted in where we are now—when they weren’t, I found commonalities anyway. In particular N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky was a satisfying (messy, tender, ruthless) end to a trilogy that already feels like a significant moment both in the genre and in this decade, and I suspect its importance will only grow more obvious over time.
Other notable books I read this year included Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun, which is big and unruly and spills over in various directions in ways that genuinely excite; Frances Hardinge’s (predictably) great fantastic English Civil War novel, A Skinful of Shadows; Sarnath Banerjee’s All Quiet in Vikaspuri, a science fictional account of Delhi’s water wars that sucked me in by being about home; and Chandrakala Jagat and Shakuntala Kushram’s The Magic Fish (translated by Rinchin in 2013), a children’s fable about getting things done in an increasingly unhappy world.
And I’m finally, properly, listening to Moor Mother’s Fetish Bones (it came out in 2016), and you should be too.
Jonah Sutton-Morse: 2017 began with Hild, which was lovely but overlong, and then continued with two fine space operas: Ninefox Gambit and A Matter of Oaths (which I am delighted to see has been republished). I finished N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy (yes, it’s extraordinary), and read Underground Railroad and Central Station—the Venn diagram of Clarke and Sharke shortlists made for good recommendations. Late in the year, I found myself in a protagonist of Sofia Samatar’s The Winged Histories—the swordswoman who has grown up amidst the privilege of a crumbling empire she has learned to hate but not yet learned to live outside of embodied many of my own feelings. I’ve learned from (and argued with) Adam Roberts’ History of Science Fiction, discarded the misogyny of The Year 200 and been entranced by Unbearable Splendor and The Stone Boatmen (books made even more enjoyable when shared and discussed with thoughtful companions). I didn’t read a lot of short fiction, but I continue to enjoy Fiyah magazine, and recommend Rion Amilcar Scott’s Insurrections which moves between the mimetic and fantastic. Through it all, I’ve had Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series as a constant companion (I’ve made my way into book 4, so it will be a companion a while longer). I’m delighted to report that twenty years on it remains excellent historically inspired Epic Fantasy, which is sometimes exactly what I need.
Sessily Watt: Reading Sofia Samatar’s Tender was far and away my favorite experience of 2017. In a year that wore thin under the pressure of too much—personally, socially, politically—every story in Samatar’s collection gave me the thickness of presence, by which I mean a moment fully seen, crisp-edged rather than blurred by crisis and overwhelm. Samatar’s stories are about caring deeply, alone or together, through pain, fear, guilt, and hope. They are laced with the delicate, bittersweet regret which comes with tending to the world and seeing choices out to their distant consequences. Nisi Shawl’s Everfair and Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne took me to a similar space. While Shawl’s steampunk Congo and Vandermeer’s nameless city are separated by time and space, both offer clear-eyed views of the successes and failures intrinsic to caring for and about each other within our personal limitations and the limitations of the systems into which we are born. (Also, dirigibles! A giant flying bear!) Other highlights from my 2017 included N.K. Jemisin’s explosive finale to her Broken Earth trilogy, The Stone Sky, as well as Victor LaValle’s Changeling, Martha Wells’ All Systems Red, Yoon Ha Lee’s Raven Stratagem, and delayed readings of Emma Newman’s After Atlas and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant.
Lesley Wheeler: 2017 basically necessitated escape, when possible, through literary portals. Fortunately, it brought a lot of great books. Many hail from genre borderlands so I’m smuggling them through customs here. Among novels, I was swept away by Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, Stephen Graham Jones’ Mongrels, Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo (yes, speculative!), and the watery wonders from Philip Pullman's La Belle Sauvage and Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140. Louise Erdrich’s The Future Home of the Living God is a funny case: I spent the first chapters distracted by resemblances to The Handmaid’s Tale, not quite believing the SF elements, and then Erdrich’s genius for character and world-building enraptured me. It also contains a childbirth scene so powerful that if I were pregnant, I would quarantine the book for a year (alongside Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child, which has haunted me for two decades).
On the poetry side, the 2017 books I admired most were not speculative, except in the way that most good poetry produces cognitive estrangement. A few came close: Mai Der Vang’s Afterland is painfully, gorgeously haunted; Cynthia Hogue’s In June the Labyrinth involves a mystical quest; Jane Satterfield’s Apocalypse Mix features time-travel and maledictions; and Niall Campbell’s First Nights is prowled by uncanny creatures, although its primary hold on otherness comes from the author’s home place, the Outer Hebrides. That seems appropriate in dangerous times-fascination with the nightmare and weird beauty of places we call real.