Nina Allan: The standout science fiction novel of the year for me was Simon Ings’ The Smoke, an alternate-world vision that imagines humanity diversified into three distinct sub-species, a new and burgeoning spacecraft industry in the north of England, and large swathes of London transmogrified into gated communities for the technocratic elite. As this last may suggest, The Smoke has just as much to say about the lived present as a it does about a possible future. A bleak, brutal, tender book, The Smoke is an outstanding work of British SF that merits further discussion.
Flying somewhat under the radar, David Thomas Moore’s anthology Creatures, published to coincide with the two-hundredth anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, presents us with five novellas, each exploring and paying homage to this landmark speculative work in a distinct and original way. With excellent contributions from Tade Thompson, Rose Biggin, Emma Newman, Paul Meloy and Kaaron Warren, Creatures is an essential addition to the Frankenstein canon and deserves considerably more attention than it has so far received.
In film, I would like to wave the flag for another homage, Luca Guadagnino’s reworking of Dario Argento’s iconic 1977 film Suspiria. Some critics have complained about the slow pace and complicated storyline of Guadagnino’s movie, but for me it was nothing short of magisterial, and—oh, heresy!—a clear improvement on the original.
Pearse Anderson: One of my favorite aspects of our world of speculative literature has been the accessibility of great books through libraries, especially in their electronic resources. Last year I was working in Manhattan, which meant I could stop into the dozens of New York Public Library locations after work, and I thought no experience would ever compare to that—but the selection of Multnomah County Library books I discovered in Portland, OR, this year pushed my love for libraries even deeper into my heart. In terms of e-books and audiobooks, Multnomah Co offered terabytes upon terabytes of good reads to me and other Portland residents. From obscure grimdark audiobooks to sci-fi magazine anthologies to a scattering of new and noteworthy science writing, enough to inspire legions of sword-and-planet epics. The ability to click a few times and have a 2018 release in my hands felt incredibly futuristic, and also inspires me that world-changing speculative literature can easily accessed by millions of other Americans. I don’t still know how I feel about Tor’s lending scale-back, but I would encourage everyone to see what electronic resources their own libraries have. This July, on my bus ride down to the #OccupyICEPDX encampment, I saw a stranger reading an e-book. Recognizing the word Yumenes, I asked Fifth Season? “It’s our book club pick,” he explained. Soon after, Portland was smoked over from climate-induced fires. I’m hoping his book club talked about how close N.K. Jemisin’s dystopias are to our dystopias. I’m excited to continue talking about these similarities.
Catherine Baker: 2018 began with fae hunting mortals under an angler-fish moon, and ended with warrior shamans making devastating choices in the aftermath of genocide, so as worlds go, I might even take my chances with the fae. Almost all this year’s most resonant works for me probed or confronted the histories that shape whose stories are told. Between Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun and R. F. Kuang’s The Poppy War, I enjoyed Aliette de Bodard’s In the Vanishers’ Palace, dramatising the intimate politics of language, colonialism and filial piety in its f/f healer/dragon romance; Heather Rose Jones’s new-to-me Alpennia novels, with queer magical scholars in not-quite-early-19th-century-Switzerland resolving sapphic longings and slowly changing aristocratic mores; and the comprehensively feminist worldbuilding and plotting of Kate Elliott’s Black Wolves. Vestiges of younger Catherines were delighted there’s now a Catherynne Valente novel about Eurovision (Space Opera) and that Doctor Who now stars a woman, while The Wicked + The Divine wrapped even more layers around the premise and aesthetic that first captured my imagination four years ago as it unfolded its prehistory and introduced its final arc. The Bodleian Library’s ‘Tolkien’ exhibition and the British Library’s ‘Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms’ combined to ask how early medieval poetry became today’s fantasy, and Black Panther turned franchise superheroics into political art. Book of the year: The Mere Wife, Maria Dahvana Headley’s fierce, multivocal reimagining of Beowulf— for what it tells about heroism and violence, for how it tells it, and for who I had the pleasure to read it alongside.
Redfern Barrett: With 2018 continuing the global trend toward dystopia, it seems only fitting that I discovered Marge Piercy’s 1991 novel He, She and It. Now I need to preface this by confessing that I’m a huge Marge Piercy fan, and that I genuinely consider Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) one of the greatest speculative fiction stories ever written. If you haven’t read her work you need to ditch all your distracting human relationships, quit your job, then find a nice quiet desert where you can read uninterrupted (at least until the dehydration hallucinations kick in).
With that out of the way, He, She and It is a compelling story of artificial life being born to a planet ravaged by environmental destruction, poverty, and sadistic violence. Though its Frankenstein theme isn’t so original in itself, Piercy adds her own special flourishes to this crapsack world, exploring gender relationships, political economy, and even Jewish identity. It’s grim and it’s fascinating, and I honestly couldn’t get enough.
TV-wise I’ve recently found myself falling into the gritty-space-vigilante drama Killjoys. Proving once again that the Syfy channel can occasionally produce something satisfying (I still love you, Caprica, even though the world shuns your hurried charms), this US-Canadian collaboration features fascinating plotlines, political nuance, and handsome men. Many handsome, half-naked men. Because, honestly, what’s a rusty, sci-fi dystopia without gruff shirtless protagonists?
Marina Berlin: Due to some life changes this year, I mostly spent my time reading works that were actually published fairly recently! My overall book reading time increased dramatically, and I didn’t feel so much like I was constantly playing catch up to what was new and popular in the genre. So, for the first time my two favorite books actually came out in 2018: Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun, in which nineteenth-century English missionaries try to convert the Fae to Christianity and it goes about as well as you’d imagine, and R. F. Kuang’s The Poppy War, excellently executed military epic fantasy that felt like all my favorite tropes wrapped into one book.
Another thing I really enjoyed this year was reading more of romance writer KJ Charles’ fantasy books, especially The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal, a kind of homage to Sherlock Holmes if all the red herrings in Holmes’ mysteries really were supernatural occurrences, and Holmes and Watson were romantic partners all along.
In the realm of visual media my favorite thing was probably Netflix’s She-Ra reboot. I have almost no memory of the original cartoon, but Noelle Stephenson’s work almost universally works for me, from Nimona to Lumberjanes and now to She-Ra. I can only hope we get even more Catra/Adora content in 2019.
Stephen Case:“Planets are nature’s way of doing something interesting with starlight.” This is what Adam Frank, astronomer and textbook author, writes in Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth, which was published this year and which—despite not being a work of speculative fiction—is my first pick. Besides being a compelling introduction to exoplanetary discovery (elegant, accurate, and accessible), Frank leverages these insights to understand our own planet and civilization in a new light. Just as a previous generation of astronomers (led by voices like Carl Sagan) helped steer us away from the threat of nuclear holocaust, Frank argues that our society is on the brink of another transformation: understanding our species in context of the histories of planets themselves. What do contemporary discoveries in astronomy have to do with things like carbon emissions and energy policy? This work connects the dots in a surprising way.
My second pick this year is Linda Nagata’s Vast. Despite being late to the party (it was published in 1998), this was the best science fiction novels I’ve read in a long time. Like Greg Bear, Nagata is one of the pioneers in nanotech fiction, and her epic story of a handful of far-future human survivors on a living spaceship integrates vast timescales, a chase that lasts for decades, stellar evolution, and dizzying technology into a powerful and even sublime read. Highly recommended for those who like epic fiction with a sharp focus.
Vajra Chandrasekera:Books that are whispered urgently to you in the night, about times and troubles that with the names stripped out seem like they could have been your own: Milkman by Anna Burns.
Books about being hit very hard in the head and having brain problems: The Witch Elm by Tana French and The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson.
Books I read because Ramsey Campbell (as editor of The Folio Book of Horror Stories) thinks they contain the very best short horror fiction of this decade and this seemed like an assertion worth testing: Flowers of the Sea by Reggie Oliver and Hasty for the Dark by Adam Nevill. So also: books that, through no fault of their own, ask you to consider the mechanisms of canonization.
Books about grace amidst horrors: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon and Human Acts by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith. (Near the end, when Dong-Ho’s brother gives the narrator permission, I had to put the book down for a while for my heart to stop grinding like a broken gear.)
Books about horror amidst graces: Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba, translated by Lisa Dillman.
Books that are not about wolves, but nevertheless howl: Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar.
To end, books about ends: Before by Carmen Boullosa, translated by Peter Bush; Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz, translated by Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff; The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay.
Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay: This year has been generous in the number of great texts that have come my way. Translated SF and global SF have been on top of my list, and I really enjoyed The Reincarnated Giant edited by Mingwei Song and Theodore Hunters, Using Life by Ahmed Naji, the Apex Book of World SF Vol. 5 edited by Cristina Jurado, quite a bit of African SF, among others. The highlight of the year has been Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts, an absolutely riveting and harrowing tale of slavery and racial segregation set aboard a generation starship, with superb worldbuilding, and richly developed characters. I also enjoyed rereading all the works of Moebius for a paper I wrote, and generally spent a lot of time reading SF graphic novels old and new. Victor LaValle’s Destroyer is perhaps the best graphic novel I read this year
Indrapramit Das: 2018 was not a good year for the world, but art abides, does it ever. I can’t list even close to all the things I loved—there was Tade Thompson’s Nigeria-set xeno/bio/cyberpunk to-be-classic Rosewater, which gave me the frisson of wild discovery I felt on reading Neuromancer so many years ago; Aliette de Bodard’s marvellously fluid (in every way) far-future queer retelling of Beauty and the Beast, In The Vanishers’Palace; Vandana Singh’s compassionately imaginative, poetic sff collection Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories; Peter Watts’s dazzling riff on spaceship AI vs humans vs deep space (and time) The Freeze-Frame Revolution; Tillie Walden’s gorgeous fabulist sf romance adventure On A Sunbeam; Omar El Akkad’s grimly cautionary imagining of a second American civil war in American War.
In TV, the fantastic adaptation of Dan Simmons’ The Terror went sadly underappreciated, and mined a deep and haunting pathos from the Arctic death march of men driven to doom by the hubris of colonialism, hunted by a spectre of a wounded planet. This was of a piece with Lucrecia Martel’s hypnagogic cinematic fever-dream of a hapless colonial servant’s unintentional penance for the arrogance of imperialism, Zama. We got one of the best superhero movies ever made, and one of the best American animated movies ever made, in the life-affirming, invigorating Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and a surprise chunk of proudly silly, schlocky pulp beauty in Aquaman.
I could go on and on. It wasn’t a good year at all, and it was. There is so much more.
Evelyn Deshane:This year, I rediscovered my love of American writer Thomas Pynchon. His dense and paranoia-fuelled visions of the US once turned me off as an undergrad, but in our current world I find him to be a relief. The Crying of Lot 49, about a 1960s housewife named Oedipa who must untangle a secret postal system while everyone else seems to be on LSD, is a classic revamp of a typical hero’s quest seen in most fantasy stories while his Mason & Dixon provides a similar postmodern interpretation of the hero quest narrative (though split between Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon) and made that much more ridiculous when told through a reverend’s wild camp fire stories. Pynchon’s magnum opus, Gravity’s Rainbow, ups the ante even more with paranoia and drug-fuelled visions. At nearly 900 pages and 400 named characters, it’s intense—but worth the effort. I read it along with the hosts of the podcast Supercontext in order to be sure I understood (or at least, got the most out of my reading experience). Supercontext, a podcast which brands itself as an “autopsy” of current media is another wonderful discovery from 2018; they’ve dissected and over-analyzed some of my favourite movies and TV shows, and their banter is as light and humorous as it is engaging and interesting. They also have another episode devoted (or semi-devoted) to Pynchon when they examined the film version of his detective story, Inherent Vice. While Inherent Vice is one of Pynchon’s more “readable” works, I still think his most recent 2013 novel Bleeding Edge is the better "readable" book—or at least, easier for me to follow. Plus, its leading character Maxine reminds me a lot of his former housewife-turned-rogue investigator Oedipa.
Lastly, I wanted to give a huge recommendation to Michael Rowe’s most recent release with Chizine, the short novel October. The story is your basic spooky Halloween story involving supernatural creatures—but set in Milton, Ontario and featuring two queer kids in the late 1980s. Though the story was initially released and composed in the early 2000s (meaning that all the references to Discmans are genuine, not necessarily a nostalgia-fuelled romp in the era of digital media), the recent Chizine edition contains an afterward by Rowe which situates his inspirations and why he ultimately chose Milton, Ontario as his setting. I love hearing authors discuss their own works (Toni Morrison’s prefaces on all her novels are the main reasons why I prefer the e-book versions of her works), and I’m particularly compelled by Rowe’s perspective since I live close to Milton. Any time Canada—particularly Ontario—is transformed into a supernatural landscape, I pay attention. Rowe’s 2011 novel Enter, Night manages to transform Sault Ste. Marie into a vampire hideaway, making it another recommended read from 2018.
Mark Granger: 2018: So much consumed. So much good stuff
TV first. Highlights include Ash vs Evil Dead, Stan Against Evil, The Haunting of Hill House, Disenchantment, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Final Space, Crazyhead, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Star Trek Discovery, Maniac, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Santa Clarita Diet, From Dusk Til Dawn, that Inside No. 9 episode and Legion.
In an effort to find books with kick-ass female protagonists for my kids to read I happened upon The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale. I thought “I’ll just check it out first” and before I knew it I had devoured the whole thing. This year I also ticked off another Terry Pratchett with Truckers, another Stephen King with Outsider and another classic with Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.
Despite being told that these movies are pants by the internet I’ve loved the Justice League movie, David Ayer’s Bright and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Also, a special mention for the brilliant Eat Locals (dir. Jason Flemyng) which has a few genre favourites vamping it up.
Podcast highlights have been Buffering The Vampire Slayer, Angel on Top and Verity! All brilliant podcasts talking about Buffy, Angel and Doctor who respectively.
Highlight of the year though? Despite a valiant effort from another brilliant season of Legion (Chapter 14 in particular), it was Doctor Who. Because a) they did massive spiders b) the Pting and c) a frog on a chair.