That’s a paraphrase of the opening line of M.T. Andersen’s Feed, a young adult novel about an eerily familiar future in which everyone is connected to a neural feed, which transmits information, messages, and lots of advertising directly into your brain 24-7. The story mainly follows a group of teenagers as they hang out, date, and consume. The novel is one of the best I’ve read in recent memory, and has pretty much everything you want in a science fiction novel: great characters, an interesting and well-thought-out future, a brilliant voice, a good dose of humor, and some thought-provoking ideas about the world we live in. Possibly the most powerful thing about the novel is what’s mostly unspoken in the background: things have gotten pretty bad in this future, and meanwhile these American teenagers are just obliviously hanging out at the mall. The fact that most of them have developed unexplicable lesions bothers them at first, until lesions become the latest fashion trend, of course.
It’s hard to say much more, other than that this book meg rocks. Put it at the top of your reading list and you won’t be disappointed.
… are among the stuff of the stories of LCRW 25, which will be coming out in April-May-ish. This issue includes my story, “This is Not Concrete,” as well as “Music of the Spheres” by my Clarion-mate Daniel Braum. I’m very psyched to be sharing a table of contents with Mr. Braum for the first time. I’m also very psyched to appear in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, a wonderfully infamous zine that’s published some of the best interstitial, slipstream, just-plain-weird fiction of the modern epoch. Through the magic of hyperlinks you can subscribe by clicking here.
Polyphony is a wonderful anthology series that’s published some of the best speculative fiction out there in recent years – with a specialization in the weird and interstitial. Volume 7 is now available for pre-order at Wheatland Press, and it features a great line-up of writers like Howard Waldrop, Mikal Trimm, and Bruce Holland Rogers. Unfortunately, in the current challenging economic climate, it looks like they won’t be able to publish the book unless they get enough pre-orders. So why not just order your copy now? You get a great book plus you get to feel good about supporting a great small press…
Finishing up my series of posts on recommended speculative fiction from 2009, these are the books published in 2009 that stood out for me. Technically, these span across several categories for both the Nebula and Hugo awards, but I’m covering them all in one foul swoop – so this list includes novels, young adult books, anthologies, and novellas.
The Love We Share without Knowing, by Christopher Barzak: Mosaic novel set in Japan, centered around a group of friends who form a “suicide club,” an action whose ripple effects we see among friends, family members, and lovers, all brilliantly drawn in Barzak’s prose. These are powerful and haunting tales of loneliness and alienation, with some lovely moments of real connection amidst the loss. The shelving gods have proclaimed Barzak to be “literature,” but the book has several ghosts and enchantments and other touches of magic realism. (Technically, I think this one was published in late 2008, but it’s still eligible for the Nebula under this year’s rules.)
Finchby Jeff VanderMeer: Detective Finch must solve an unsolvable murder amidst the backdrop of Ambergris, a steampunk city of human beings occupied by the gray caps, their inhuman fungal overlords. VanderMeer delivers every reader cookie you could possibly desire: brilliant world-building, brilliant noir mystery, brilliant prose, and brilliant characterization. One of the most original books I’ve read in recent memory.
Liarby Justine Larbalestier: Moving to Young Adult territory, this is one of the most sophisticated YA novels I’ve read in a while. From the first sentence, Micah (our beloved hero) tells us that she’s a liar, beginning the ultimate unreliable-narrator tale. Larbalestier masterfully interweaves a tragic romance, the mystery of her sort-of boyfriend’s murder, some fantastic elements that may or may not be real, and the omnipresent uncertainty of everything Micah is telling us. Hard to say more without getting spoiler-y, so just go out and read this book.
Hornby Peter M. Ball: I only read a handful of novellas this year, but this is the one that stands out. I’ve already gushed about it elsewhere, so I’ll try not to go on too much here. Unicorn noir mystery, featuring a bad-ass lesbian PI who will come back from the dead if that’s what it takes to crack the case.
Interfictions 2, edited by Christopher Barzak and Delia Sherman: Excellent anthology of “interstitial” stories – stories that blur the boundaries between genres. These stories wonderfully defy expectations, and many of them were among the best stories to come out in 2009. This series is fast-becoming the heir apparent to Polyphony as the hot place to find stories of the interstitial/New Weird/slipstream/gonzo variety.
Other great books from 2009 included Nicholas Kaufmann’s extremely entertaining pulp fiction adventure, Hunt at World’s End; Joe Abercrombie’s sometimes disturbing dark fantasy revenge novel, Best Served Cold; Walter Jon Williams’ near-future thriller of gamers plunged into real-life mystery and intrigue, This is Not a Game; and Booklife, Jeff VanderMeer’s highly useful guide to writing in the 21st century by conquering the internet instead of allowing the internet to conquer you. Top of my remaining to-read list from 2009 include Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, Sarah Langan’s Audrey’s Door, Catherynne M. Valente’s Palimpsest, and Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, all of which I’ve heard are excellent.
The Tangled Bank: Love, Wonder, & Evolution is out now! This anthology of tales of evolution celebrates Darwin’s 200th birthday and includes my story, “On the Entropy of Species,” not to mention great fiction and poetry from Carlos Hernandez, Christopher Green, Brian Stableford, Patricia Russo, Anil Menon, and a slew of other writers from around the globe. It’s edited by Chris Lynch, my Clarion South-mate and co-author of our collaborative story, “This is My Blood.” Chris is fast proving that he’s as skilled as an editor as he is as a writer. The book is not only packed with great fiction, but is also visually stunning, framed by images like this one and by a series of haikus from Sean Williams, each inspired by a different chapter of Darwin’s Origin of Species.
You can download your copy here for only $4.99 (U.S.). Or, if you want a free taste, check out “Darwin’s Daughter” by Christopher Green here.
Continuing with my recommendations of high-quality speculative fiction from 2009, here’s my personal list of recommended novelettes. As with the short stories, my reading hasn’t been anywhere near comprehensive, but these are long-short-stories I read this year that have really stuck with me:
“The Gambler,” by Paolo Bacigalupi, Fast Forward 2. Interesting near-future tale about a reporter trying to cover stories of extinct butterflies in a new media world that’s only concerned with the dating life of the latest pop culture icon. Definitely a near-near-future story, but Bacigalupi’s characters and prose make this one a keeper.
“I Needs Must Part, the Policeman Said,” Richard Bowes, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. A queer (in both senses of the word) and haunting Phillip K. Dickish tale that blurs the line between speculative fiction and autobiography.
“The Score,” by Alaya Dawn Johnson, Interfictions 2. Highly original story of a rock star/peace activist, whose death leaves behind a complicated legacy for his friends and allies. Not to mention the intermittent cameos his ghost keeps making. Told in the entertaining form of blogs, emails, instant messages, and transcipts.
“A Wild and Wicked Youth,” by Ellen Kushner, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. High fantasy tale of swordsmanship and youthful friendship against the backdrop of a richly detailed and convincing feudalistic world with a rigid class structure.
“Eros, Philia, Agape,” by Rachel Swirsky, Tor.com. This story provides all the joys of a classic Isaac Asimov robot story, but updated for the 21st century with wonderfully sophisticated characterization, prose, and social insight on the complexities of possession, love, and individuality.
It’s that time of year whenst folks are reflecting back on 2009 and thinking about nominations for awards and the like. Thus year, for the first time I’m actually participating in Nebula and Hugo award nominations, a task I am leaping into with both gleeful abandon and a deep weight of responsibility. These are some of my favorite SF short stories from last year:
“Superhero Girl,” by Jessica Lee, Fantasy Magazine. An original twist on the superhero story, masterfully woven with ambiguity. This is Lee’s first published story, and it’s an impressive debut. Audio version also available at Podcastle.
“Clockwork, Patchwork, and Ravens,” by Peter M. Ball, Apex Magazine. Wonderful steampunk tale with a memorable clockwork narrator. Not surprisingly, Peter recently picked up an Aurealis award for this one, one of several strong pieces from him this year. (BTW, for those keeping track, this one clocks in at just under 7,500 words, just missing the novelette category.)
“Interviews After the Revolution,” by Brian Francis Slattery, Interfictions 2. An elite international circuit party in the midst of revolution and music in Latin America, told in the form of a documentary. Everything Brian Francis Slattery writes seems to be brilliant.
“Reservations,” by Christopher Green, Expanded Horizons. Lovely magic realism story. Chris had a bunch of great pieces this year but this is the one that most sticks with me.
“The Film-makers of Mars,” by Geoff Ryman, Tor.com. This brilliant story only served to fan the flames of my secret crush on Geoff Ryman. Did I say that out loud?
For short-shorts, I highly recommend The Daily Cabal, which has a steady output of quality short-shorts from Dan Braum, Jason Fischer, Angela Slatter, Jeremiah Tolbert, and others. One of my favorites this year was Fischer’s “Inventory,” a story in the form of a classic 80s adventure game. GO READ.
Interesting that my list has a fair bit of overlap with Rachel Swirsky’s recent recs, which more than anything probably reflects that we have similar tastes.
Many great stories came out this year, and these are just a few of the ones that have really stuck with me. – not at all exhaustive, especially considering there’s tons of great stuff out there I haven’t even read!
Coming soon: novelette, novella, and book recommendations, plus my controversial recommendations for the year’s best SF on-screen.