Julian K. Jarboe: The best genre book I read this year was The Ballad of Black Tom. Victor LaValle manages to have tons of campy fun in the Lovecraft world, and brought me along for the ride in a mythos I tend to dislike. He also pulls no punches about how deeply entrenched with white supremacy and colonialism so much of the imagined in imaginative literature is. It’s no mere “but what if humans were the real monsters?” story.
I also really enjoyed Jamie Berrout’s Portland Diary, some of which is speculative, but altogether an unflinching expression of vulnerability and desire and bodies and exploitation. Berrout writes, edits, and translates prolifically. Follow her work in general and give her money for it!
Also this year, I was extremely fortunate to take a Tin House workshop with Amber Sparks soon after enjoying the heck out of The Unfinished World.
And one shameless plug (OK, two): I’m very proud to have been included in Transcendent 2 this year, edited by the unstoppable Bogi Takács, and also to have my own fiction appear in Strange Horizons after being a proud reader and reviewer for so many years.
As my last SFF act of 2017, I’m finally going to see The Shape of Water. I’ve heard so much about the handsome fish man’s expertly sculpted butt!
Kelly Jennings: 2017 was a rich year in reading for me—I’m going to limit myself to the books I absolutely loved. Robin Shortt’s Wellside, a portal story unlike any I have ever read before, tops the list. Endlessly inventive, with wonderful characters and brilliant writing, I’ve been recommending this one to everyone. Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl isn’t strictly science fiction, though it’s fiction about science. But it’s also wonderful, and also a book I’ve been recommending to everyone. I also read and reread Sarah Rees Brennan’s In Other Lands, which I tell people is like Harry Potter, but so much better. (So much better.) Meg Elison published The Book of Etta this year, the sequel to The Book of the Unnamed Midwife. Sequels are usually weaker than first books—not in this case! Finally, don’t miss Cat Pictures Please, Naomi Kritzer’s collection of short stories.
Chris Kammerud: We tend to imagine that our world will last forever. We tend to imagine this of our parents, as well. We see them as gods: indestructible, omnipotent, and immortal. This is why in stories we so often encounter orphans who possess some manner of magic. They know that changing the world isn’t as hard as people think. Nothing is as indestructible as it looks.
In 2017, much that seemed indestructible began, more or less, to destruct, and many of the norms and institutions that seemed, at one time, fairly invincible, began to vince. So, while I did read a lot of amazing stories, and collections of stories, by the likes of Alexandra Kleeman, Joseph Allen Hill, Camilla Grudova, Tillie Walden, and Carmen Maria Machado, these are not the stories I am thinking about right now. Right now I am thinking about two films, one released in March and one in December, which both spoke, in their own way, of the failure and hope of legends.
Logan, directed by James Mangold, showed us a future in which, for the most part, our heroes have mostly died or gone insane, or, at the very least, as in the case of the once indestructible Wolverine, they have become far more vulnerable than we ever imagined them to be. And with The Last Jedi, director Rian Johnson responded to the nostalgic tone and hero worship of The Force Awakens with a relentless questioning of those truths that we, and our heroes, hold to be self-evident.
In each film, an older, male hero, who has lost faith in both himself and the very idea of heroism, meets a young woman who grew up with, and still believes in, the hope embodied in their legend. That she comes to know her hero as human is hard, because it is always hard to learn that our heroes are not what we imagined them to be. But, that is the way with heroes; they are as much imagined as chosen. And, as with the death of our parents, their deaths do not signal the end of magic in our world so much as they signal that the time has come for us to make our own magic.
As we head into 2018, it’s worth remembering this. And it’s worth remembering that while we may fear the crumbling of everything we once held dear, not all we hold dear deserves to be held onto forever. And not all that seems dead, or dying, is ever really gone. No matter how much we may lose, or how many of our heroes might die, Logan and The Last Jedi remind us that there is hope to be found in that loss. That, in fact, this loss is essential. It is, perhaps, our only hope of saving what matters most. We have everything we need. The age of heroes is over. Long live the age of heroes.
K. Kamo: NieR:Automata. Reader, I wept. Wept hard, spiky tears of anguish, and loss, and shock at my own anguish and sense of loss. I’ve not reacted like this to a work of fiction since the turn of the millennium. It’s also been that long since I properly played a game that wasn’t Civilization or Sim City, so this JRPG about impractically dressed androids at the end of the world was something of a departure. I was expecting fan service and nonsensical plotlines. I was expecting the overwrought opening dialogue to portend a rapid surrender to self-parody and cliché. I wasn’t expecting a slow-burn emotional investment, wasn’t expecting to care. I wasn’t expecting to feel so lonely when my theretofore irritating comedy sidekick went missing in action. I wasn’t expecting to get totally blindsided with grief by this stupid fucking hackbot and his stupid fucking side quest in the stupid cave with the stupid music and the stupid fucking flowers. I wasn’t expecting to spend thirty-five hours hitting amusingly spherical robots with improbably sized swords for the final six to collapse into a brutally numbing forced march towards a mutually assured destruction half-glimpsed through the mist of my own tears. I wasn’t expecting to feel so utterly, so incomprehensibly bereft.
And then it all ends for real and I cry some more. This game, Reader, is one of the most consummate acts of storytelling I’ve ever experienced. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Paul Kincaid: Two novels stand out from 2017. I was going to say: one science fiction and one fantasy, but I’m not sure the description is entirely accurate or appropriate in either case. The Rift by Nina Allan has a beautifully controlled section set on an alien world, a section that is mundane, vivid, and absolutely convincing, except that it may not be real. There’s a lot going on in this story of the reappearance of a girl who disappeared twenty years before: was she really transported to another world, is she who she claims to be, was she really killed twenty years before? Allan subtly undermines every possible explanation. By the end of the novel there is no truth for us to grasp. Which makes this possibly the most challenging and rewarding novel of the year. And John Crowley’s Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruins of Ymr, has a crow as a narrator, a crow that has descended into the land of the dead and emerged immortal. Yet this simply provides an unusual perspective on human beliefs, history, and relationships that is predominantly realist in character. It is also beautifully written: Crowley’s mastery of prose has never been greater. Add to these novels one essential collection, You Should Come With Me Now by M. John Harrison, which also refuses to conform to any genre expectations, and it has been a pretty damned good year for the fantastic.
Iori Kusano: I didn’t get to do as much reading as I wanted to this year, but I’m delighted with what I did have time for! Thick as Thieves, the fifth book in Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series, was a definite highlight of my year. I’ve been evangelising Daryl Gregory’s Spoonbenders to all my friends as “Arrested Development with psychics.” Provenance by Ann Leckie and Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough were also favorites.
As for genre-adjacent experiences, I was honored to be a part of the Clarion West 2017 class. Getting a sneak peek at some exciting new work from emerging authors was a total blast, and we learned so much from our teachers. If you have the ability to drop out of your life for six weeks, I can’t recommend CWest enough. Almost half a year out, I’m still trying to process all I learned!
Duncan Lawie: The novel I enjoyed most this year was Dreams Before the Start of Time (2017) by Anne Charnock, a novel-of-ideas which is also beautifully written. It follows through advances in reproductive technologies of the next century, asking what makes a family, when the process of creating children changes from everything we have known. The mosaic elements of the novel broaden the frame of the world without losing focus on the novel’s core purpose. By contrast, Adam Roberts is too unlikely for anyone to have created. I finally caught up with The Riddle of The Hobbit (2013), an academic work enriched by complex humour—or possibly a comic work enriched by complex academicism—and strongly recommended it for its insights into Tolkien, even when they are completely original. Roberts’s latest novel, The Real-Town Murders (2017), shares an all too believable vision of the external world when we have mostly taken to artificial reality, whilst his work on Wells at the World's End saves all of us the trouble of reading a lot of H. G. Wells whilst enabling us to feel like we have. Elsewhere, New York 2140 (2017) by Kim Stanley Robinson gives us hope things might get so bad that humanity will eventually throw off the shackles of capitalism. Austral (2017) by Paul McAuley is set in the Antarctic Peninsula amidst similar levels of climate change but rather less delight in our species. The narrator’s voice and the world it describes are both sadly convincing.
Ian Mond: As I said on my blog back in April, if the world was fair and just Jane Rawson’s remarkable From The Wreck would win all the awards next year. It initially reads like a historical novel, recounting the sinking of the Admella off the South Australian coast in 1859. But an abrupt shift in perspective—which I won’t spoil—firmly positions From The Wreck in the realm of science fiction. What follows is a novel that seamlessly weaves together complex thoughts about mortality and eternity with the most gorgeous, evocative prose. Drop everything now and read it.
Not far behind From The Wreck is Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (translated by Megan McDowell). Amanda lies dying in the hospital, her memory in fragments, a small boy sitting beside her whispering into her ear. Who is the boy? Why is he interrogating her about worms, and toxins, and dead horses? Most importantly of all, where is her daughter Nina?! The tension begins on the first page and never lets up. I dare you to find a more frightening work of fiction this year. There isn’t the space to praise the other genre novels, novellas, and collections I loved this year. But you could do worse than read any of these wonderful books:
An Uncertain Grace by Krissy Kneen
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
Passing Strange by Ellen Klages
Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar
White Tears by Hari Kunzru
The Rift by Nina Allan
The Answers By Catherine Lacey
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
A.S. Moser: 2017 was a strange year, for endings of things and for looking to the past. I finished Mark Lawrence’s Red Queen’s War series, Erika Johansen’s Queen of the Tearling series, Ian Tregillis’s Alchemy Wars series, Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s Long Earth series, and V. E. Schwab’s excellent Shades of Magic series. I took a look back and read for the first time Frank Herbert’s first-rate Dune, Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry trilogy, Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies; I also read new works by authors looking to the past: Kate Atkinson’s Family Todd series and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad—my favorite read of the year. There were some bright lights from new beginnings and new directions this year, too: Mark Lawrence started what promises to be his best work yet of genre-bending fantasy with Red Sister, Seanan McGuire’s first two instalments in the Wayward Children series were very promising, and Ian McDonald’s Luna series is science fiction at its best.
Hollywood mostly looked to the past for inspiration this year, too: The Last Jedi was essentially The Empire Strikes Back 2.0. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but nor was it the groundbreaking story many had hoped for. On the other hand, three films do stand out: Wonder Woman may suffer from the hokey, aw-shucks writing that plagues most superhero films, but was well-cast and -directed; and The Shape of Water is Guillermo del Toro at his best, and well-deserving of its praise. Logan, however, was my favorite film of the year. James Mangold and crew made a beautifully shot film about weakness, sacrifice, redemption, and hope that sets the bar very high indeed for future films.
Samira Nadkarni: Midway through 2017, I challenged myself to read more non-fiction as, while I read a lot of academic non-fiction for work, I often eschew it in my spare time. I decided to pick up at least one non-fiction book of my choice per month and it’s been eye-opening. I began with M. Elizabeth Ginway’s Brazilian Science Fiction: Cultural Myths and Nationhood in the Land of the Future (2004) which argued at one point that US-based science fiction doesn’t have the same fraught relationship with terraforming that countries with a history of being colonised do because the USA largely celebrates its settler colonialism. Ginway points to how this becomes about remaking landscapes themselves in a specific image; specifically in an “own image” where this is about land itself becoming a symbol of imperial ethos—a fascinating concept that I’ve been trying to think about in more detail as I look at media from post/colonised spaces. I followed this up with Sara Ahmed’s Living A Feminist Life (2017) which might be one of the most powerful call to arms I’ve seen recently. The collection All The Weight Of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism (2017), edited by Lydia X. Z. Brown, E. Ashkenazy, and Morénike Giwa Onaiwu, is frankly incredible. I was particularly struck by the sections about classroom politics and the chosen editorial process of the project, the latter discussing the importance of critical thought over formal construction. Zeynep Tufecki’s Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest (2017) has some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever seen as it carefully and distinctly acknowledges the limitations of its frameworks. Kancha Ilaiah’s Why I am Not A Hindu (2015) and Post-Hindu India: A Discourse in Dalit-Bahujan, Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Revolution (2009) tackles the issues of the caste system and its constant visible and invisible violences. I’ve taken a lot of lessons away from these.
In fiction, I finally finished reading Eli Brown’s 2013 novel Cinnamon and Gunpowder (come for the food porn, stay for the lady pirates and castigation of slavery). I liked Karuna Riazi’s 2017 ambitious middle grade novel The Gauntlet which felt simultaneously more and less successful in different parts when tackling a reworking of Jumanji’s weird, orientalist narrative. Catherine Knutsson’s Shadows Cast By Stars (2012) was quietly introspective and haunting as it dealt with a dystopian world which quite literally bleeds aboriginal people for its benefit. I couldn’t put down Austin Chant’s Peter Darling (2017) as it reimagined the Peter Pan myth into a Pan/Hook trans romance. I enjoyed Catherine Johnson’s Sawbones (2013) which takes on race, gender, and science in London of the late eighteenth century. And, as is inevitable, the latest novel in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series continues to make me scream feelings at anyone who holds eye contact with me for longer than a second. I’m currently in the middle of Tochi Onyebuchi’s Beasts Made Of Night (2017) which deals with the notion of sin, shame, and the violence of memory as a factor outsourced by the rich upper classes to a subsection of the sidelined and denigrated poor populace—a stark and compelling parallel to contemporary systems within capitalism. While I’m somewhat unsure about the pacing of the novel currently (it feels a little hurry-up-and-wait), the premise is incredibly well-constructed.
My favourite film this year was probably the South Korean drama The Silenced (2015). I originally thought I was watching a period supernatural film, but it’s actually a far more complex play of history, cultural dynamics, physical augmentation, and the superhuman. I’m also slowly making my way through Star Trek: Discovery (2017-present) and I’m currently stalled at about episode six. Between the racial connotations and orientalism of the Klingons and the seeming inability of the show to keep two women of colour alive through the same episode, I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time glaring dubiously at the screen. In this, I continue to be torn between the value of increased diversity in onscreen representation and the problematic imperialist portrayals Star Trek: Discovery uses this to propound.
On the big screen, I felt like I got two very different stories about post/colonialism from Thor: Ragnarok’s (2017) visuals and its narrative, and much preferred the former to the latter. I have complicated feelings about Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) because I feel like the refusal to insist on legacies that encourage (at times unwarranted) sacrifice is wonderful and necessary in a world where survival for so many is its own form of resistance (an idea that echoes for me with Sara Ahmed’s 2014 discussion on self-care as warfare), while also being really conflicted about how the acknowledged whiteness of Star Wars’ history then influences the racial dynamics of who is allowed in this to have a “legacy.” There was something about watching a film like this after Rogue One (while never referencing it or the seemingly lost legacies of those POC) and getting to see Luke pass into this legendary legacy despite the film seeming to refuse the idea to others that both worked for me and didn’t. I’m still parsing out my feelings for some of these things, but I did really enjoy the movie itself.
Abigail Nussbaum: 2017 was such a terrible year in big ways that it’s easy to lose sight of the small things about it that were good. Take movies, for example. I can’t think of a better recent year for solid popcorn entertainment, with films from Logan to Wonder Woman to The Last Jedi delivering thrills, fun, and the reminder that heroism isn’t solely the purview of white men. But my favorite genre films of the year, Get Out and Colossal, go further. Both use expertly wielded tropes to deliver devastating portraits of real-world evils like racism and abuse.
On TV, the event of the year was David Lynch’s triumphant continuation, reinvention, and refutation of his most famous work, Twin Peaks: The Return, in which he once again redefines the medium in ways that will challenge TV writers for years to come. Other highlights include: the infuriating, sadly relevant dystopia of The Handmaid’s Tale; the stunning twists and imaginative afterlife worldbuilding of The Good Place; and the CW’s unassuming DC shows delivering the year’s most impressive superhero team-up in Crisis on Earth X.
In books, my year began and ended with two different but equally remarkable reads. Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 is a future vision that is funny, erudite, hopeful, furious, and most of all necessary. Rivers Solomon’s debut, An Unkindness of Ghosts, reworks the generation ship story in a way that feels almost miraculous, putting slavery in space to remind us that no act of dehumanisation can truly extinguish the human spirit.
On a personal note, 2017 was also the year in which I won a Hugo at this year’s Worldcon, an event that was no less delightful for coming as a complete surprise.