Excuse me! You there. Yes! You in the back.
I’ve got some stuff I want to talk to you about.
My Eligible Work
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.
“Grandmother Kills Massive River Drake After It Ate Her Goat” (Curious Fictions—Short Story, 640 words)
When a river drake eats her goat, this grandma grabs her spear, and rediscovers the thrill of magic in her quest for vengeance.
I made a lot of big moves in 2019 by expanding my reach and broadening the topics I wrote about. While writing about science fiction & fantasy is a mainstay for me, and I had a blast in 2019 writing about some really great books, I also made a concentrated effort to break into the video game journalism field and landed pieces with Kotaku, EGMNOW, and another upcoming venue I’m really excited about.
If you were to read just one of my pieces from 2019, I’d point you towards “How Japanese RPGs Inspired A New Generation Of Fantasy Authors” on Kotaku. This is a very long deep dive into how the golden age of Japanese RPGs on the Super Nintendo and PlayStation made a huge impact on a whole generation of science fiction and fantasy authors. I got to chat with Scott Lynch, Tamsyn Muir, Peng Shepard, Troy L. Wiggins, and a whole bunch of other great people, and they all had fascinating insights.
On Twitter, I post mainly about two things: gaming, and science fiction and fantasy (SFF) books. As these two streams cross, I’ve noticed how they’re deeply entwined within the geek culture of 30-somethings. We grew up in an age where our childhood was equally filled with great books and the bleeding edge of the newly emergent video games field. But what is it about these golden-age JRPGs that specifically excited young readers in the 90s?
Japanese RPGs represented fantasy without boundaries. Xenogears proved no idea was too big, Phantasy Star IV was the culmination of a multi-generational epic told across two consoles, and Lunar: The Silver Star showed how personal stakes could be just as enthralling as world-changing conflicts. One look at epic fantasy literature these days, and it’s impossible to miss the impact this no-holds-barred creativity has had on today’s writers.
Here are some more highlights from 2019:
- Why Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete Remains One of the Best JRPGs Ever (EGMNOW—December, 2019)
- Open Your Eyes: Link’s Awakening (Switch, 2019) (aidanmoher.com—September, 2019)
- Necromantic: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (aidanmoher.com—September, 2019)
- 13 Books for Japanese RPG Fans (Barnes & Nobles Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog—September, 2019)
- The Ten Thousand Doors of January Is a Novel That Will Change the Way You Look at Stories (Barnes & Nobles Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog—September, 2019)
- Cherenkovian Horror: Thoughts on Chernobyl (Hbo, 2019) and Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham (aidanmoher.com—August, 2019)
- Was Trials of Mana Worth Growing Up For? (Uncanny Magazine—July, 2019)
- This Is How You Lose the Time War Is a Time Travel Romance with Teeth (Barnes & Nobles Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog—July, 2019)
- The Game of Thrones Ending Was Good (aidanmoher.com—May, 2019)
- A Brightness Long Ago Is a Fantasy Epic About the Shaping of History (Barnes & Nobles Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog—May, 2019)
- Tad Williams’ Empire of Grass Is a Melancholy Fantasy Epic (Barnes & Nobles Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog—May, 2019)
- We Are All Made of Light: an Interview With Hugo-winner Kameron Hurley (aidanmoher.com—March, 2019)
- War is Hell: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley (Tor.com—March, 2019)
- 10 Books to Satisfy Fans of Netflix’s The Dragon Prince (Barnes & Nobles Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog—February, 2019)
- You Don’t Need to Understand Magic: The Gathering to Fully Enjoy Brandon Sanderson’s Children of the Nameless (Tor.com—January, 2019)
- Fantasy’s Finest: An Appreciation of Daniel Abraham’s The Long Price Quartet (Barnes & Nobles Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog—January, 2019)
(Note: “How Japanese RPGs Inspired A New Generation Of Fantasy Authors” and “Why Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete Remains One of the Best JRPGs Ever” were both written for pro sites and may not be eligible when considering nominations for the “Best Fan Writer” ballot.)
2019 was a year with a lot of change and transition for me, and I didn’t get to read as much as I normally do. However, 2019 was also a year FULL of amazing books, and despite my lower totals, my list of recommendations below is absolutely bursting with top-tier quality. Thank goodness I’m not having to rank these, because they all deserve top spot.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir—Muir’s debut novel came out of the gates at breakneck pace and hasn’t slowed down since. It’s funny and dark, touching, daring, and unlike anything else I’ve read. My favourite book of the year. (Read my full review)
Empire of Grass by Tad Williams—Another winner from a master epic fantasy writer working at the top of his game. It’s huge, meandering, melancholic, and fascinating. Williams is one of the best writers working today. (Read my full review)
This is How You Lose the Time War By Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone—Individually, Max and Amal are two of SFF’s greatest treasures, and this joint venture, is a snappy, compulsive, and endlessly inventive story of love, war, and time travel. (Read my full review)
Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger—This standalone epic fantasy takes Pokemon, mashes it together with a Legend of Korra-type aesthetic featuring magic and technology in concert, and introduces us to four of the most compelling, complete, and loveable protagonists I can remember in a long time. It does *everything* I want from a book.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow—This novel is so full of heartache and hope, adventure, boredom, love, and friendship that I *still* can’t figure out how Harrow fit it all between the pages. It’s a beautiful story about stories. (Read my full review)
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey—It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Gailey’s work, and their debut novel was no different. It’s a fantastic mashup of noir detective mystery with high school drama llama shenanigans. Gailey’s voice shines through, and I still think about this book regularly. (Read my full review)
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders—Anders is one of the most delightful, imaginative, and insightful writers in the genre, and this, her second novel, takes everything that made All the Birds in the Sky so good, and adds several new layers of greatness on top, including incredible world building, and a plot that twists and turns without ever losing sight of its goals. (Read my full review)
A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay—Kay is a master. Full stop. His latest epic is one of his best—which is saying a lot considering the number of perfect novels he’s written over his long career. As he’s known to do, Kay weaves together several disparate stories here, and finds a beautifully commonality between them all. (Read my full review)
The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley—This take on the Starship Troopers/Forever War-style military sci-fi can stand up with the genre’s best. Hurley’s fast, furious, and hard-hitting approach is a perfect fit, and the pages fly by, even if you can’t quite keep up with the labyrinthine chronology. (Read my full review)
Bonus: Favourite Non-fiction Books
Note: These aren’t necessarily from 2019, and likely aren’t award eligible, but they ARE great.
The Perfectionists by Simon Winchester—A thorough and fun look back at the history of human society’s discovery, perfection, and reliance on precision. I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by Winchester himself, and he has a delightfully unusual cadence and tone that added tremendously to the experience.
Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham—After becoming obsessed with HBO’s Chernobyl, I needed to know more about the disaster, and was particularly interested in the human stories behind the accident. Higginbotham’s account was a perfect mixture of history and personal stories. (Read my full review)
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain—I only discovered Bourdain after his passing, but it’s been a beautiful journey discovering his love for people, cuisine, culture, and the way all of those things intersect. I miss him dearly, though I only know the world without him.
The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli—An absolute mind-twister of a book that explores the nature of time. A perfect companion to Hurley’s The Light Brigade.
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly—I loved the film, and the book it’s based on delves even more deeply into the incredible story of the women who helped send humanity into space. A beautiful and comprehensive book.
SFF Shout Outs
The Nerds of a Feather Crew—Headed by The G., Adri Joy, Vance K., and Joe Sherry, Nerds of a Feather has been one of the best SFF blogs for years and deserves all the recognition it can get.
Brit E. B. Hvide—Recognition of Brit’s contributions to the SFF field as an editor at Orbit books is long overdue. In particular, her championing of Evan Winter’s Rage of Dragons led to one of the more impressive debuts of the year, and her continued work with genre mainstays like N.K. Jemisin, Brent Weeks, and Brian McClellan is equally impressive. She’s also an accomplished short fiction writer.
The Lady Business Crew—Hot off the heels of a well-deserved Hugo Award for “Best Fanzine,” Renay, KJ, Ira, Susan, and Jodie continue to produce amazing SFF commentary. A must-read site.
Charles Payseur—Charles’ ongoing dedication to covering and reviewing SFF short fiction is, year-in-and-year-out, one of my favourite things on the web. He’s a treasure trove for anyone looking for the best SFF on offer.
Carl Engle-Laird—Carl’s published a hell of a lot of good books as part of the Tor.com Publishing team, but he forever earned a place in my heart for giving us Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth. Carl has a terrific eye for great SFF, and has quietly been editing some of the genre’s best books for a few years now.
Michi Trota—Michi just ended an incredibly impressive run as non-fiction editor for Uncanny Magazine, and her influence on that magazine, and the overall landscape of SFF conversation is impossible to describe.
Joel Cunningham—Sadly, the Barnes & Noble SFF Blog, which I wrote for for several years, closed its doors late in 2019. As the site’s editor, Joel led his crew of writers with a clear vision, an enthusiasm for new ideas, published a Hugo-winning short story, and offered up a platform for some of the best pieces about SFF in recent years. He’s an absolute champ, and I can’t wait for my next opportunity to work with him.
Lindsay Ellis—I first discovered Lindsay’s work via her videos about Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, but it was really her Game of Thrones dissections from earlier this year that catapulted her to the top of my “must watch” list on YouTube.
Game Knights—Josh Lee Kwai and Jimmy Wong gather together some of the brightest Magic: the Gathering personalities, stick ’em around a table, and play a game of Magic’s most heated and political format: Commander. Their storytelling, production values, and commentary are on another level compared to most Magic content producers, and every episode is a delight. Start with this one featuring Brandon Sanderson.
DongWon Song, Jason Sanford, and Kate McKean—DongWon, Jason, and Kate’s columns—Publishing is Hard, Genre Grapevine, and Agents and Books, respectively—are tremendous resources that offer invaluable insight into the writing, publishing, and SFF communities.