A couple of years ago, Wizards of the Coast made a gamble by bringing on popular fantasy authors like Brandon Sanderson, Kate Elliott, and Martha Wells to pen tie-in fiction for their mega-popular trading card game Magic: The Gathering. For years before that, Magic’s fiction was handled by in-house writers and the results were dubious at best. While there has been some disappointment among fans for the major novel releases from Gargoyles-creator Greg Weisman, by and large these efforts have produced some of the best tie-in fiction the franchise has ever seen.
Among those brought on board was Django Wexler, whose military fantasy series The Shadow Campaigns earned critical acclaim for its masterful battles, political intrigue, and its genre-defying prominence of nuanced and well-written women. The Shadow Campaigns is “a masterclass on how writing a sexist culture – and sexist men, even – doesn’t have to restrict the significance and range of your female characters,” said reviewer Foz Meadows. For all its faults and hiccups from a storytelling perspective, Magic has made a valiant effort to increase its number of female characters over the years, and in addition to bringing on women like Elliott, Wells, and Cassandra Khaw to handle the story, Wexler is another excellent fit to help Magic transition into a better and more inclusive storytelling style.
But, they’re good thoughts! I’ve left my hot takes at home this year. (They were mainly about raisins in cookies, and, well, seemed off topic…)
I gained a reputation in past years for fiery hot takes about the Hugo ballots, but, to be honest, over recent years, I think we’ve seen a push toward an incredibly deep and diverse ballot full of varied creators and works. This list feels like it represents the tone and tenor of SFF in 2019. And that’s the highest compliment I can pay a ballot.
I’m going to skip around the ballot this year and comment on the categories that I have strong opinions about. I didn’t read much short fiction this year, for instance, so I’ll move past those. I always enjoy this time of year, however, when I get to go back and enjoy the best short fiction from the year before, and I’ll be doing that again this year.
The major trend I see here (and one I accept with open arms) is that there are a lot of new names on the ballot, and the first signs of change in the fan categories as we see fan writers and publications from new mediums (like BookTube) begin to appear on the ballot. It’s a wonderful sign of health for the awards. Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe how much the Hugos have changed and evolved over the past decade as more and more fans from online SFF fandom have become involved.
As 2019 tipped into 2020, readers started compiling their lists of the best books of the decade. I thought long and hard, but the only book I had any certainty about was the decade’s best: a debut novel from Erin Morgenstern called The Night Circus. With a tenacity matched by few other books, The Night Circus has not left me since I first read it years ago.
The Night Circus is a classic novel that will sit on the highest shelf of my bookshelf, right next to The Hobbit and The Shadow of the Wind. … There’s magic in this novel and it deserves to be read by anyone wanting to be reminded that there is more to life than meets the eye.
Usually when I liken a book to two all-time classic, the comparison begins to show its age as the days, weeks, and years pass?—but not so with The Night Circus. If anything, the comparison seems more fair to me now than it did then, especially after having read Morgenstern’s much awaited follow-up, The Starless Sea. Like Tolkien and Zafon’s novels, The Night Circus is a book for the ages.
This was a lighter year of fiction for me as I focus on completing the first draft of my novel project, The Thousand Shattered Gods, with just one piece eligible for “Best Short Story.” I am also personally eligible for “Best Fan Writer” for the reviews, essays, commentary, news coverage, and other non-fiction work I produced for Tor.com, Barnes & Noble SFF Blog, Uncanny Magazine, here on my blog, and via Twitter. I also had notable (but ineligible for “Best Fan Writer”) work in Kotaku and EGMNOW.
It feels like hype for Tamsyn Muir’s debut novel about necromantic lesbians, bone citadels, rockin’ adventures, tantalizing mysteries, wicked sword fights, and many, many reanimated corpses has been building for YEARS. It was earlier this year, however, when it really started to catch my attention. Isabel Yap, who’s been championing the book since its earliest days, popped onto Twitter and blew my socks off by callingGideon the Ninth “the closest thing to a JRPG in novel form.”
One of the benefits of being a part of the vast SFF community is making great friends. One of the benefits of those great friends is the opportunity to read their books early. I consider myself fortunate to count Sarah Gailey among those friends. They’re smart, funny, dynamic, and have a range to their writing that few other authors can match. I had an opportunity to read their first novel a couple of years ago, back when it had a different title, and it’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve been on the edge of my seat WAITING until it was released ever since then so I could scream at everybody I know to read it. It’s out now, called Magic for Liars, I’ve read the final version, and, y’all, it’s GOOD.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I felt my previous involvement with the novel meant it would be in poor taste for me to review it for a professional venue—but, here on my blog, I can say whatever I want. So:
That one-eyed drake swam up from the ‘glades one stormy night—big as a house, silent as a mouse. Might’ve been the same one that killed my third husband. Who knows? Was watchin’ my stories, mindin’ my own when I saw it through the window. Rose up by the riverside pen, shadow over the moon, wings drippin’ mud, scales blinkin’ star-like, teeth long as a dagger.
“Grandmother Kills Massive River Drake After It Ate Her Goat” is a 630 word flash story about a grandma who rediscovers the thrill of moon magic and embarks on a quest for vengeance after an enormous river drake eats her favourite goat.
The Books of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin Le Guin’s dragons, which Hugo-nominated author and B&N SFF Blog favorite Max Gladstone once described as “the gold standard,” are next to none. They are complex, beautiful, powerful, and melancholy, and they serve many purposes throughout Le Guin’s work, far beyond the standard “gold-hoarding monster” trope. More recently, legendary artist Charles Vess described how it took him years to get Le Guin’s dragons just right. There’s a deeply rooted sense of wisdom in all of Le Guin’s books, but it is perhaps through her dragons that this element of her writing is best embodied. Le Guin redefined what a dragon could be, and we’re still experiencing the rippling effect of her influence over the genre in series like Robin Hobb’s The Realm of the Elderlings or Naomi Novik’s Temeraire.