About this time last year I posted on Facebook that I hoped to see new books from about 10 of my favourite authors. Four made it, and one at least is due this year.
Meanwhile which books were my favourites in 2015? Honourable mention first of all to The Loney which slipped out in a smaller press edition in 2014 but which I only discovered recently. Aside from being deliciously creepy, the Catholic retreat personal politics are acutely, but never nastily, observed. On the TBR pile are a couple of highly praised 2015 novels I expect to enjoy when I reach them, Aurora of course, as a longstanding Kim Stanley Robinson fan, and Marlon James A Brief History of Seven Killings. I’m also very much enjoying Melissa Harrison’s At Hawthorn Time for, amongst other qualities, a rich depth of place and meaning of place. But for the Top Ten, I had to exclude the unfinished, despite its claims.
10 Malcolm Pryce – The Case of The ‘Hail Mary’ Celeste.
A departure from Pryce’s wonderful Aberystwyth Noir series of gentle absurdity, but still recognisable as his unique style. This time our hero is a ‘Gosling’ one of the semi-legendary railway detectives of the 1930s imprinted on steam trains at birth and brought up as orphans. Pryce uses this surreal start to tell a charming, melodramatic hard boiled thriller with a touch of idiosyncratic secret history and a delicate romance.
9 Lisa Goldstein – Weighing Shadows
A time travel novel, ostensibly Goldstein’s first SF novel proper. The genre of her The Dream Years is ambiguous, but the majority of her subsequent work makes Goldstein consistently one of the finest fantasy writers of the past 30 years.
Weighing Shadows therefore was one of those hoped for titles a year ago, and almost a disappointment at first. Only when patterns coalesced through the seemingly naive plot did this Fantasy of History take on meaning beyond its surface. One to ponder I think.
8 Attica Locke – Pleasantville
Sequel, that stands alone, set some years later, to Locke’s impressive debut Black Water Rising. Another crime novel where the crime isn’t the point, it’s a stage for a deep, historical political depiction. Locke has a way of putting her readers into a milieu to show it in historical context without labouring hindsight.
7 Kit Reed – Where
Reed has, in a way, been doing the same thing for 57 years so far. The white rooms she uses as settings are incongruously realistic though. The simple premise of Where, a town vanishing, its people finding themselves mysteriously transported elsewhere, is brought to life by a detailed sense of place previously, and by the domestic details and relationships Reed is still using to imaginatively explore our sense of self and of place. One of the best novels by one of SFs best.
6 Silvia Moreno Garcia – Signal To Noise
It’s no secret that I like my Urban Fantasy to be properly urban, ie for the city to play a part rather than be wallpaper. Signal To Noise, set in Mexico City now and the 1980s, does that magnificently. Three misfit teens bond over music and the magic of music until, of course, something goes wrong. Garcia’s musical references avoid cliches, are diverse, real and feel right. A rare book that had me reading with YouTube open. Oh and in Meche a sympathetic, sometimes unlikable heroine to live alongside.
5 Ian Sales – All That Outer Space Allows
The fourth Apollo Quartet novella turned out to be a novel, and better for it. Sales typical NASA details combined with rich knowledge of 60s women SF writers make for an interesting alternative history. Then Sales breaks the fourth wall to discuss his aims and devices within the novel. I think at one point he even breaks through that to explain that approach as well.
4 Sunny Singh – Hotel Arcadia
As reviewed here a powerful, moving thriller set entirely (apart from flashbacks) in a luxury hotel occupied by terrorists. There’s so much to enjoy in Singh’s third novel, both in her wonderful characters, the well-paced unfolding of traumatic events, and in the parallels she creates so skilfully.
3 Elizabeth Hand – Wylding Hall
Too often the use of music and musicians in SFF feels self-indulgent, with a tendency to Mary Sue. Not so with Hand, especially in this haunting ghost mystery. The story is of a folk rock band retreating to a remote country house to write and record, told as oral history by the various protagonists. Suitably obscure references to the hunting of the wren, a mysterious barrow, and hints about the death of the band’s previous singer all combine in classic gothic style.
2 Carter Scholz – Gypsy
The return of contemporary SF’s great modernist with a starship hard SF short novel unlike any other I’ve read or heard of. A bold assertion, but Scholz has regularly questioned genre’s treasured shibboleths. At first Gypsy echoes Scholz’ good friend Kim Stanley Robinson’s Icehenge, no spoilers but this is a bleaker tale on the surface. So finely is it written though that its sheer inevitability is the only option, and utterly rational.
Sarah Hall photo by me
1 Sarah Hall – The Wolf Border
Ok I’ll say this here. Reviews of this novel of rewilding wolves into a private Lake District estate have all talked about the wolves (and the sex, but I’ll come to that.) What they missed, and I raised with Hall at Hay, is the other word: Border. Set alongside a successful vote for Scottish independence, I’ll argue that makes this alternative history. Absolutely every scene and every relationship in The Wolf Border occurs across a threshold (doorways, fences, seasons, town/country,) or emphasises such by viewing across or transition (class, culture, gender, pregnancy/motherhood etc). Sex, too, in this intimate but not openly eroticised novel, is an interface, a transition, a border crossing. Hall is one of our finest writers, The Wolf Border both fits perfectly with her previous novels and surpasses them. From first reading through second and third readings Hall’s clarity illuminates fascinating depths.