So, it’s that time again. 2014 is in the rear-view mirror and we’re all puking nostalgia for the year gone by. Below is a list of some of my very favourite things from 2014.
This is very intentionally not a Hugo ballot (because who likes being strapped down by those rules if they don’t have to be), as I wanted some freedom to group things as I feel they should be grouped, and because I want to be able to celebrate stuff that I enjoyed immensely, but isn’t quite right for the Hugo Ballot (*coughFantasyLifecough*). My Hugo nominations will come later, but this should give you a hint of what’s to come.)
So, without further adieu, let’s jump into my favourite things of 2014!
My Favourite Novel
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
Who would have thought that Robert Jackson Bennett, author of quirky horror/urban fantasy mash-up novels, would write the best secondary world fantasy of the year? City of Stairs is an absolute delight from beginning to end. It’s a chain-smoking, edge-of-your-seat, snarl of a novel with a wonderfully grizzled cast. The broken city of Bulikov, decimated when its gods were killed, is one of the most tragic and fascinating examples of “setting as character,” and its an absolute joy to explore its mysteries as Shara and Sigurd (an odd couple that you can’t help but love) unravel its mysteries. To top it off, Bennett wraps things up with a conclusion so satisfying and epic that you can’t hardly believe the novel’s only 450 pages. Other authors only manage to fit half so much into novels twice as long.
Even as I was startled by its twisted depth, I adored every moment I spent with City of Stairs. Colonialism lies at the centre novel’s centre, and RJB handles it with equal parts boldness and delicacy. The ruined beauty of Bulikov and its fallen gods haunted me long after I turned the final page.
- The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley — The first volume in Hurley’s Worldbreaker Saga, this is an audacious and exciting start to an epic fantasy that is sure to leave a mark on the world. (REVIEW)
- The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison — Sweet and optimistic, Addison’s stand alone fantasy is a shining beacon in the corpse-littered wake of grim dark. (REVIEW)
- Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer — The opening volume of Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy is weird, introspective, terrifying, and utterly impossible to put down.
- Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson — A big, fun epic fantasy with all the issues inherent to fat, multi-volume series.
- Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear — A satisfying conclusion to the best completed fantasy series since Daniel Abraham’s The Long Price Quartet. (REVIEW)
- Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica — Fun. Fun, fun, fun. Dellamonica’s fresh take on portal fantasy, and charismatic protagonist make this one of the most enjoyable and surprising novels of the year. (REVIEW)
- Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie — By refusing to write the same novel over again, Leckie managed to one-up her mega-popular debut novel, Ancillary Justice, to write an even better follow-up. (REVIEW)
My Favourite non-2014 Published Novel
The Martian by Andy Weir
So. I read The Martian because it has a beautiful cover. That’s bad. I know. But, damn if it wasn’t the most fun I had reading a book all year.
First published on Weir’s blog as a serial, The Martian tells the story of stranded astronaut Mark Whitney. Since being published traditionally by Crown in 2014, The Martian has become a breakout success and is being developed as a film by Ridley Scott and Matt Damon. Weir’s near-future thriller is remarkable in that it somehow manages to make hard science work alongside breakneck pacing and genuinely funny humour. The Martian is bleak and intense, humorous, human, and hard to put down. It will leave a smile on your face as Watney somehow manages to avoid a grisly fate over-and-over again, just like a true action her. Like Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, Andy Weir’s The Martian is an edge-of-your-seat thriller that’s over before its flaws can bring it down.
My Favourite Video game
Fantasy Life is a strange little thing. It’s Animal Crossing and Secret of Mana. It’s Cooking Mama and World of Warcraft. It’s an amalgam of so many different ideas and genres that it had no right to actually work coherently, and certainly no right to be brilliant and addictive. But it is. It’s all of those things, held together by the love and sheer determination of Atsushi Kanno and his team at Level 5. A charming, beautiful world full of nooks and crannies makes exploration (and the admittedly overbearing material collection) fun and engaging. A beautiful soundtrack by legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu is icing on the cake.
I watched Fantasy Life from afar, from its early days as a 2D game on the Nintendo DS, to its final incarnation in a 3D engine that seems to take cues from Level 5’s failed-start on Dragon Quest IX, and wouldn’t let myself hope that Level 5 would be able to execute on what I knew I wanted. They did, and no other game this year so effectively sank its claws into me. Now, where’d I put my ladle? I’ve got a world to save.
- Divinity: Original Sin — Is it 1998 again? For any fan of BioWare’s late ’90s CRPGs, Divinity: Original Sin is a lovingly crafted, and tremendously deep, throwback to PC gaming’s brightest time.
- Mario Kart 8 — Sure, it could probably be called Moreio Kart at this point, but the eighth iteration in the long-running franchise is as fun as ever. And oh so gorgeous.
- Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker — Super cute, relaxing, and unique, Toad’s first big solo adventure is quietly one of the best and most imaginative games released last year.
- Bravely Default: Flying Fairy — Though held back by some repetitive design decisions, Bravely Default is a loving throwback to ’90s-era Squaresoft RPGs, like Final Fantasy IV.
- Child of Light — This Quebec-developed side-scrolling JRPG is beautiful, features a wonderful cast of misfits, and a combat system that keeps players on their toes from beginning to end. Too bad it’s cut low by an unfortunate script.
My Favourite Blog
Since launching in 2012, Nerds of a Feather — spear-headed by The G, but with over a dozen contributors — Nerds of a Feather has grown into one of the most diverse, challenging and flat-out interesting blogs covering science fiction and fantasy. Where other blogs become routine, comfortable in their features and style, Nerds of a Feather features a diverse group of voices and opinions, and a leadership team that refuses to stick with the status quo: new features, new writers, new angles, new ideas are around every corner. Come for the micro-reviews (which are longer and more complex than many other blogs’ full reviews), and stay for the roundtables, industry commentary, interviews, and lists.
Where else can you find a review of Peggle 2 alongside a look at Billy the Kid vs. Dracula and an examination of the best and worst schemes hatched by James Bond villains?
- The Book Smugglers – What’s not to love about Ana and Thea’s prolific publishing empire? Cutting reviews, overflowing enthusiasm, and, now, beautiful short fiction.
- Pornokitsch – Never boring, always smart, Jared Shurin and Anne Perry continue to make a mark in
kitschy pornothe science fiction and fantasy community.
- Lady Business – Lady Business, edited by Renay, Ana, and Jodie, fills an important niche and has become an irreplaceable resource for genre fandom.
- Staffer’s Book Review – RIP.
- Tor.com – Irene Gallo’s ever-growing juggernaut is like a snowball rolling down the mountain of fandom. Pretty soon it’s going to have all the best writers and content, and nothing else will be necessary. It’s almost unfair.
My Favourite Podcast
Rocket Talk (Published by Tor.com, hosted by Justin Landon
It’s a tight race between Justin Landon’s tight and hard-hitting interview-style podcast, Rocket Talk, and Sword & Laser, the always quirky and entertaining bookclub-style podcast from Tom Merritt and Veronica Belmont. I love ’em both, but, at the end of the day, Landon’s ability to get his guests to dig deep into the meat of current fandom- and genre-related conversations is second-to-none in the SFF podcasting world.
- Kate Elliott and N.K. Jemisin on feminism and speculative fiction;
- Tobias Buckell and Karen Lord on Caribbean speculative fiction;
- Renay from Lady Business talking about gender parity in SFF;
- A free-for-all discussion with Kameron Hurley and Liz Bourke;
- The Book Smugglers on blogging and short fiction;
- Oh, and, of course, me and Foz Meadows gabbing about LonCon 3 and the Hugo Awards.
2015 won’t be so easy for Landon, however. With Mahvesh Murad’s Midnight in Karachi hot on his heels over at Tor.com, and Ana James and Renay of The Book Smugglers and Lady Business respectively launching a new podcast, there’s new blood in the water. And, let’s not forget all of the great content from hold steady SFF podcasts, like Sword & Laser, Skiffy & Fanty, and Speculate!, which are sure to make 2015 a banner year for science fiction and fantasy podcasts.
My Favourite “Sweet Jesus, why haven’t I given up on this place yet?” Sub-reddit
The /r/fantasy sub-reddit is a rabbit hole of misogyny, narrow-tastes, and the same pedantic discussions over-and-over again. I got banned there last year after, reputedly, being reported for posting too many links back to my own website (what’s a content-creator to do?). It’s a promotional dumping ground for self-published authors. It rewards users who play into its pre-established culture of Sanderson-Lawrence-Rothfuss-McClellan worship, and actively ignores (if not vehemently denies and argues against) hot-topic issues in SFF fandom, such as feminism and multiculturalism.
Despite all of this, in the darkest corners of the rabbit hole, there is a group of users who establish themselves as separate from the masses, offer intelligent discourse on fantasy, push back against those things listed above, who’s presence shows the potential for /r/fantasy to be the best fantasy literature-related message board on the web, if only the general community would create a friendlier environment for those that don’t immediately fit their mould. There’s intelligent discussion there, it’s just a shame that you have to wade through nine-parts vitriol to find the one-part cream at the bottom.
My Personal Fandom-related Hightlight of the Year
My daughter was born this year. That was, far and above all else, the highlight of my year.
My favourite fandom-related event of the year, however, was LonCon 3, home of this year’s WorldCon. Hosted at the ExCel Centre in London, England, LonCon 3 was a maelstrom of SFF fandom — from you favourite authors, to wonderful artists, editors, publicists, bloggers and, of course, those who are fans first, LonCon 3 had it all. An unexpected Hugo nomination for A Dribble of Ink dragged me halfway around the world for three days, and over those seventy two hours, I went from being a trepidatious (and zombie-like being assembled of exhaustion and protein bars) newcomer to the WorldCon scene, to leaving behind a convention centre full of new friends, old acquaintances, and a hell of a lot of memories.
And, of course, there were the Hugo Awards.
A few specific things about LonCon 3 that really stick out in my mind:
- Meeting so many wonderful people. I already knew the the SFF fan community was full of sharp, witty, generous and fascinating people. To parachute into a kilometre-long convention centre full to the brim of those those same people, who welcomed a nervous Canadian blogger to the event without blinking an eye (with, in fact hugs, or drinks, in some cases) was a surprise. Fandom is a wonderful place, and LonCon 3 was highly concentrated fandom.
- John Chu’s Hugo acceptance speech. What a thing of beauty.
- Being on a panel with Foz Meadows, Justin Landon, Adam Whitehead, Thea James. Seriously. How did I manage to end up on a panel with four of my favourite blogging internet celebrities? Much fun. So whisky. Very inside joke.
- Surviving the post-Hugo Awards chaos thanks to the generosity of fellow Hugo-winners Mary Robinette Kowal and John Chu. Mary is more wonderful than you know, even if you’ve met her, and John was the best roomie a WorldCon-newbie could have asked for.
- Not the convention centre food. $23.00 half-chicken lunch? No thank you.
- Incognito George R.R. Martin. The guy was walking around all weekend like an incognito rockstar. It was great to see someone of his acclaim and celebrity able to attend the convention as though the enormity of his creation had not changed the world of fantasy entertainment. He was kind, genial, and humorous.
- Oh, and winning a Hugo Award.