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As 2011 draws to a close, it’s time for our annual roundup of SF/F consumed during the year. For this week’s Mind Meld we turned to our ever expanding coterie of SF Signal irregular for their answers. We asked them this question:

What are your favorite SF/F books/movies/TV shows/comics/etc. that you consumed in 2011?

Here’s what they said…

Jessica Strider
Jessica Strider works once a week at a major bookstore in Toronto. The other 6 days are spent reading books, taking pictures, acting as a pillow for 2 kitties and cooking. Her in store SFF newsletter, the Sci-Fi Fan Letter, eventually evolved into a blog for author interviews, themed reading lists, book reviews and more. She plans to have a novel published one day.

I’m hoping to still read a few good SF/F books before the year ends, but I’ve had a remarkably good year for books so I’m going to focus on those. Here, in the order I read them, are the books I enjoyed and recommend:

  • The Fallen Blade – Jon Courtenay Grimwood
  • Eutopia - David Nickle
  • The Dragon’s Path – Daniel Abraham
  • O.4/Human.4 – Mike Lancaster
  • Trouble and Her Friends – Melissa Scott
  • Element Zero – James Knapp
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs
  • The Declaration – Gemma Mallory
  • This Perfect Day – Ira Levin
  • City of Dreams & Nightmare – Ian Whates
  • River Kings’ Road – Liane Merciel
  • Tankborn - Karen Sandler
  • Germline - T. C. McCarthy
  • After the Golden Age – Carrie Vaughan
  • Debris - Jo Anderton
  • Postmortal - Drew Magary
  • Legend - Marie Lu
  • The Emperor’s Knife – Mazarkis Williams
  • All Men of Genius – Lev A. C. Rosen
  • Touch of Power – Maria Snyder
  • When She Woke – Hilary Jordan
  • Shatter Me – Tahereh Mafi

Charles Tan
Charles Tan‘s fiction has appeared in publications such as The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories and Philippine Speculative Fiction. He has contributed nonfiction to websites such as The Nebula Awards, The Shirley Jackson Awards, SF Crowsnest, SFScope, Fantasy Magazine, Fantasy Literature, BSC Review, The World SF News Blog, and SF Signal. In 2009, he won the Last Drink Bird Head Award for International Activism which is described as “In recognition of those who work to bring writers from other literary traditions and countries to the attention of readers in North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia…” He is also a 2011 World Fantasy nominee for the Special Award, Non-Professional category. You can visit his blog, Bibliophile Stalker, the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler, or Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009.

TV:

Kamen Rider OOO/Kamen Rider Fourze – While not without its flaws (the entire franchise easily fails Feminism 101), Japan’s iconic “superhero” is creative and weird (and consumerist) as it’s ever been while being original and different from the shows that preceded it. OOO deals with the concept of desire and how this fuels human evolution, while Fourze is a fusion of The Breakfast Club, soap opera, the Zodiacs, and monster-of-the-week fights.

Garo/Garo Makai SenkiGaro dares tread what many Japanese popular live-action shows do not: it’s dark, combines steampunk elements with the occult, features character-driven stories, and has a lot of “out-of-suit” fighting. The premise revolves around monsters called Horrors that feed upon the dark desires of humans and only Makai knights stand in their way.

Young Justice/The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes – Despite being plagued by delays, both superhero shows are entertaining for their target demographic and updated for a modern audience (also notice how a lot of Young Justice‘s lore has now influenced DC’s 52). Young Justice involves the Justice League’s sidekicks as Batman’s covert black-ops team while The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes has classic Marvel heroes teaming up against foes no single hero can defeat!

Tiger & BunnyTiger & Bunny successfully juggles sponsorship with story (think Mystery Men‘s Captain Amazing) in addition to convincing character-driven episodes; the elevator pitch would be superheroes and reality TV.

Comics:

Demon Knights by Paul Cornell and Diogenes Neves – It’s D&D except you get reimagined DC characters as your cast.

FF by Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting/Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman – Superhero comics is usually classified as “power fantasy” but under the helm of Hickman, it resonates with SF-nal concepts, as well as delivering a story that’s full of plot, character development, and genuine innovation.

One Piece by Eiichiro Oda – 60 (!) volumes down the line, One Piece is as compelling and creative as it was when it started out. Features pirates and super-powered beings called Devil-Fruit users who all have one special ability – except it comes at a steep price: they can’t float…

Books:

Teeth edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling – This YA anthology reinvigorates the vampire genre and features a wide array of stories that’s multicultural and engaging.

Subterranean Summer 2011 edited by Gwenda Bond – Gwenda Bond does a terrific job with this YA-themed issue and features notable stories that easily could have been included in Year’s Best anthologies.

Jack o’ the Hills by C.S.E. Cooney – The modern folktale. Period.

Above/Below by Stephanie Campisi/Ben Peek – Two independent novellas, but when read together, are greater than the sum of its parts.

Brave New Worlds edited by John Joseph Adams – If we’re just talking about important science fiction anthologies, this is my bet for the year.

Yellowcake by Margo Lanagan – One of the most important collections released for the year, whether we’re talking about science fiction or fantasy or horror, adult or young adult, etc.

Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine – A must-read novel that straddles the line between genre boundaries and Genevieve Valentine does wondrous things with language and compression.

Heartbreak & Magic by Ian Rosales Casocot – One of the important releases for the year when it comes to Philippine speculative fiction.

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord – A wonderful, wonderful novel that’s an example of the best of speculative fiction.

Kobold Guide to Board Game Design edited by Mike Selinker – If you’re even remotely interested in tabletop gaming, you need to read this book.

Three Messages and a Warning by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo & Chris. N. Brown – If we’re just talking about “World SF,” this is easily one of the most important books published in the year, if only for the number of original translations alone.

Podcasts:

Galactic Suburbia – The trio of Alisa, Tansy, and Alex discuss important topics and events in our field on a bi-weekly basis.

The Coode St. Podcast - Jonathan, Gary, and sometimes a special guest talk about science fiction and fantasy. They don’t always know what they’re talking about (or so they claim) but that’s part of the fun.

I Should Be Writing – Mur Lafferty helps aspiring writers on their journey and interviews various publishers, editors, writers, and artists.

SF Squeecast – A group of established genre authors/editors/personalities talk about their favorite stuff (just like this mind-meld!).

Small Beer Press Podcast – Small Beer Press just doesn’t produce good books, you should also check out their podcast where they have interviews, readings, etc.

HJU Radio – Not for the faint of heart (average length of each episode is 4-5 hours) but they talk about all things Tokusatsu and toys.

Outer Alliance Podcast – Julia Rios interviews various LGBT-allied authors/editors and a lot of interesting discussions ensue!

Websites:

Weird Fiction Review – For all things Weird, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, it’s a must-visit.

Horror Writer’s Association Blog – Updated regularly with new content!

The Drawing Board – Terri Windling’s blog is a continuous source of inspiration and motivation.

Deborah Biancotti – In the past few months, Deborah Biancotti has been asking creativity-related questions to various people in the field.

Theodora Goss – Share in Theodora Goss’s insights on writing (short stories, poetry, novels, and everything in between), art, and fashion.

Patrick Hester
Patrick Hester is a science fiction and fantasy writer and blogger who hangs out at his blog, All Things From My Brain, at his Podcast, The Functional Nerds and his other Podcast at SFSignal.com. He produces both shows, three episodes a week, plus two more episodes of I Should Be Writing, the Podcast for wannabe fiction writers hosted by Mur Lafferty. He also contributes to SFSignal.com, FunctionalNerds.com and has contributed to GraspingForTheWind.com,Technorati.com and Inkpunks.com. Currently, he’s shopping his novel around looking for a home.

Great question. Lot’s of things spring to mind.

On TV, I have to mention the STARZ Original Torchwood: Miracle Day. For a spin-off of Doctor Who, Torchwood has always pushed to be different, and Miracle Day was as far removed from Doctor Who as you can get. Dark, gritty and dealing with themes and ideas adults can really sink their teeth into, Torchwood not only pushes to be different, it pushes the audience to think outside the box.

Spoiler alert! In this case, the story revolved around a group who figure out how to use Jack Harkness’ own immortality to make the entire human race immortal. As if that weren’t enough of a leap and a story, we then get to see what happens to a world where people don’t die – not even the sick and injured. The moral crisis, the complexity of the story really made you just stop and wonder, and isn’t that what the best fiction is all about?

Another great TV series this year was the TNT produced Falling Skies. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like or enjoy Falling Skies but I was hooked fairly quick. Alien invasion? Check! Taking over the world? Check! Stealing all the children? Che-wha?!

Spoiler alert! That’s right, the aliens steal all the children. Worse, they affix some sort of organic alien harness to their spinal column that digs in and becomes part of their body. Removing those harnesses results in a dead kid. Yikes!

The central story is that of Tom Mason, a history teacher, who is fighting with the American Militia to try and save a group of civilians while also harrying the aliens, who are digging in for a long occupation. One of his sons has been taken and he is determined to get him back. Not as dark or gritty as Torchwood, Falling Skies still has some great moments, writing and actors. The characters are also having to make some very hard decisions and live with the consequences of those decisions. Can’t wait for the second season of this show to hit the air.

Now. How can I possibly talk SciFi on TV without mentioning Fringe. Spoil-oh, you already know I’m going to spoil things, don’t you?

Holy crap. I cannot think of any other show that has followed through with kinds of stories that Fringe is pumping out every week. Last year’s cliffhanger saw Peter Bishop vanish and the two warring realities left to work together to solve the problems of the fringe events plaguing them both.

The usual TV Trope for such things is to fix everything, bring Peter back and have everyone live happily ever after in the first hour of the new season. (Think: Rescuing Picard from the Borg and returning him to health in 44 short minutes) Not so for Fringe. Not only does that not happen, we don’t even see Peter except as a reflection in a tv that Walter sees.

Carrying this new reality forward, Fringe is now, essentially, set in a third alternate universe – one where Peter Bishop died -twice-. First the Peter born in that reality, and later, the one Walter stole from the alternate universe. That isn’t where the differences end, either – now Olivia and her sister are orphans, raised by Nina from Massive Dynamics. Walter is a borderline agoraphobic, afraid to leave his lab.

I have no idea if this was the direction they always intended to go with the show, or if the constant threat of cancellation has just left them open to try anything – either way, I am so hooked. I love this show so much.

Ah, books. I didn’t just watch TV this year – I did squeeze in some great books.

First, I read the first three books in The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger. Soulless, Changeless and Heartless, these books introduce the character of Alexia Tarabotti, a woman without a soul who is surrounded by the supernatural in Victorian England. Werewolves, Vampires and Ghosts are all in the employ of the crown, and the world is a very different place from the one we know. This series is full of mystery, intrigue and, most important to me – humor! Seriously, what a fantastic series of books. I laughed a lot and that is the mark of a great story and a wonderful author.

Also on my reading list this year, was Jim Butcher’s follow-up to the mind shattering Changes - Ghost Story. If you haven’t read Changes yet, do so before reading Ghost Story. I have been a fan of Butcher and his Dresden Files since I picked up Storm Front just a couple of years ago. I quickly worked my way through the entire series and have been consistently blown away by Butcher’s sense of humor, storytelling and balls to the walls action. In Changes, he did something few authors have done (that I am aware of) – he blew up his world. He tore down everything that Harry had around him, everything he knew and took comfort from. He turned the world on its head and left this reader staring at the last page wondering what the hell just happened. Ghost Story brings us back after several months have passed and shows us the consequences of Harry’s decisions, delivering another hard hitting story that left me wanting more.

Jamie Rubin
Jamie Todd Rubin is a science fiction writer, blogger, and software developer. His fiction has appeared in Analog, Apex Magazine, and InterGalactic Medicine Show. He fell in love with science fiction at seven, around the same time he fell in love with science. He is especially fond of short fiction. When he is not writing stories, blogging, or creating software, he can be found making not-so-subtle attempts at turning his toddler into a science fiction fan. He writes the Wayward Time Traveler column for SF Signal and vacations frequently in the Golden Age of science fiction.

Novels

There were 3 novels that stood out for me this year, one older one and two new ones:

Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. I’ve written about this at greater length, but the short version is that I read the book after watching the first 2 episodes of the HBO series and it made me a fan of epic fantasy, something that I’d never really enjoyed before.

Firebird by Jack McDevitt. The 6th book in the Alex Benedict series of science fiction mysteries and the best one yet. Pure science fiction fun.

11/22/63 by Stephen King. King’s It is my favorite of his books, but I put 11/22/63 as a close second. I couldn’t put down the book and it was just marvelous through and through.

Short Fiction

I think we are in a Golden Age for short science fiction, fantasy and horror and I offer up some of the stories that came out this year as evidence to this:

“All About Emily” by Connie Willis (Asimov’s 12/11)

“The Countable” by Ken Liu (Asimov’s 12/11)

“Her Husband’s Hands” by Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed 10/11)

“Like Origami in Water” by Damien Walters Grintalis (Daily SF, 10/25/11)

“Apologue” by James Morrow (TOR.com, 10/24/11)

Comics

I’ve never been a comic book reader but I started with the start of DC Comics relaunch, their “New 52.” I’ve been reading two comics, Action Comics and Superman. So far, of the six issues, there has been one standout:

Action Comics #3 (2011): “World Against Superman”

The January issues of Asimov’s and Analog have good stories in them as well, and I think it is a promising sign for 2012.

Fred Kiesche
Fred Kiesche has been reading science fiction since the early 1960′s. He has a collection of over 8,000 books at home, at least half of which is science fiction and fantasy and the rest are made up of books on science, history and other non-fiction subjects. He is an avid amateur astronomer, devoted husband and father, and is seemingly perpetually underemployed since 9/11/01. He blathers on this and other subjects at The Lensman’s Children.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Until I sat down and started to write up my thoughts on 2011, I had been feeling that I had not been doing that well in terms of reading in general, let alone any other pursuit (television, etc.). But upon counting up what I’ve read in the long form and the short form, I find I did pretty well on the long end of things and probably pretty well on the short end of things (especially if you count podcasts). So what were some of my favorites this year?

First up is how my daughter has gotten more interested in genre stuff. You may find it hard to believe, but I have not gone out of my way to encourage the interests. Early on we read to her and encouraged her to read, so she grew to become a reader. By osmosis she picked up genre books, mostly fantasy. And this year she moved more and more into more “adult” genre novels. The year started with her finishing up a read of Harry Potter and has seen her picking up Neil Gaiman (Stardust and Neverwhere), William Goldman (The Princess Bride), various shorts by Edgar Allen Poe and others and now (be still my beating heart) she has expressed interest in some of the space opera novels I have.

In addition, one of my favorite things is how she has started watching genre television. It started with The Big Bang Theory, but she has moved into Dr. Who (preferring Old Who over New Who, but she won’t turn down New Who), Eureka and even the super deluxe fanboi (or fangrrl) versions of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movies.

As usual with reading, I’m reading way too many books at the same time, at varying speeds to get a sense of what was my “favorite” other than there have been no real stinkers this year. I’ve probably, due to the loss of two relatives (and the aftermath) in a 12 month period spent more time reading “old friends” (Clifford D. Simak, Cordwainer Smith, Roger Zelazny, Chip Delany, Harlan Ellison and many others) than making new friends, but all have been enjoyable. One favorite in 2011 was how the small presses continued to take more and more of my buying dollar. I’m definitely on the road to eBooks (see below), but I’ll buy an autographed Tim Powers (with a page of original manuscript), an autographed Neil Gaiman (with artwork “hand tipped” in), or (most amazingly) an autographed John Brunner (long story on that one) when I can and put them on my shelves. Between rarities like those and the more general efforts of keeping the works of people like Glen Cook, David Drake, Poul Anderson, Roger Zelazny and others in the public eye, long live the small press!

eBooks continue to be a favorite thing. I’ve been downloading (purchased, or free through sites like Project Gutenberg) eBooks since I had my Apple Newton and have read them on various PalmOS gadgets, an eInk reader, a cellphone and now a Kindle. Between donating books to troops and giving books to a friend who is making a go at running a used bookstore, my collection of what was some 8,000 books (of all types) at the start of 2010 has dropped (probably) to some 4,000 books. Other than those small press volumes and books by favorite authors from the “big six” this year saw a marked decrease in the purchase of physical books and a marked increase in the purchase of electronic books. Do they smell the same, feel the same, etc.? No, but that matters less for me. I’ve read crumbling paperbacks to hand-crafted rarities, once I’m in the book it makes little difference if the print in on a page or on the screen of a first-generation Palm Pilot. By going more and more with eBooks, I can do more of my favorite thing: read. I can read standing on line, on a bus, on a train, waiting in a parking lot, at night on the couch or in bed and more. I’m getting a lot more reading done these days as a result.

Another favorite area is webcomics. If you’ll look at my reading list for the year, I have read more graphic novels this year than anytime previous. That is a result of webcomics such as Irregular Webcomic (ended, alas, but dive into the archives!), Schlock Mercenary, Girl Genius and more. Great stuff, all around.

A final favorite thing: podcasts. As listeners to previous episodes of our own podcast will recall, I listen to a lot of those things because I seem to spend way too much time driving. Podcasts like The Agony Column, The D6 Generation, The Incomparable The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast and The Geek Life keep me involved in discussions about popular genre-related subjects and diving into the podcasts produced by Locus and the team of Jonathan Strahan and Gary Wolfe immerse me so much into genre-related items that I feel like I’m taking a master’s class in the field.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Jeff Patterson
Jeff Patterson was born on September 1, 1962, the day the White House announced that the world population had exceeded three billion people. So he figures that was him.

Most of the books I read in 2011 managed to disappoint on one front or another. The two which didn’t were Embassytown by China Mieville, and Vortex by Robert Charles Wilson. Both books showed their authors at the top of their games.

What surprised me about 2011 was the number of comics that kept me coming back. While DC’s reboot was essentially a mess, Marvel managed a few well-executed science fictiony books. Foremost among them is Uncanny X Force, written by Rick Remender. His current Dark Angel saga has had more impact and higher stakes than any of the big event comics this year (I’m looking at you, Fear Itself).

Matt Fraction has had a couple good storylines on Mighty Thor, especially the confrontation between Odin and Galactus. Dan Abbett and Andy Lanning continued their magic in Marvel’s cosmic playground with The Annihilators.

At Image, Jonathan Hickman gave us The Red Wing, a well crafted time war story. Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill released another volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for Top Shelf, this one taking place in 1969. Newcomer Nate Simpson made a spectacular debut with the first issue of Nonplayer, though I doubt we are ever going to see a second issue.

Quite a few licensed franchises had good showings this year. Godzilla had regular appearances in two books, Kingdom of Monsters and Gangsters and Goliaths. This second portrayed a strange vision of organized crime in a Japan visited by giant monsters. A similar story is currently running in Jurassic Park: Dangerous Games. The Farscape monthly wrapped up a long exciting galaxy-spanning saga which would have made an excellent final season of the show. Unfortunately the art was, well, let’s call it “rushed,” but the story by Rockne O’Bannon and Keith DeCandido managed to outshine that. The Hellraiser comic by Clive Barker and Christopher Monfette has been truly terrifying, giving us a Pinhead motivated by some truly ambitious desires. Planet of the Apes is probing some the history of the original movies, portraying the schism between humans and apes as the result of tyranny and terrorism.

Chris Roberson has been playing in Michael Moorcock’s sandbox with Elric: The Balance Lost. This book involves just about every aspect of the Eternal Champion mythos, but still manages to be accessible to those unfamiliar with the original multiverse. Roberson is currently doing a rather weird crossover of Star Trek and the Legion of Superheroes which also plays with parallel universes.

Mike Mignola’s Hellboy/B.P.R.D. universe continued its excellent track record, as did Dark Horse’s assorted Conan books, and Bill Willingham’s Fables at Vertigo.

On TV, cartoons ruled. Young Justice has been sensational. Batman: The Brave & The Bold wrapped up with a season of epic madness. The first season of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes covered a lot of ground and introduced a lot of characters, bringing it close to the sorely missed Justice League cartoon in scope and action.

The top slot for eye-candy, though, came from Masters of Science Fiction and Fantasy Art, edited by Karen Haber. This book is a spiritual follow-up to Vincent DiFate’s classic Infinite Worlds, giving us overviews of some of the top artists currently forging sensawunda on a regular basis.

I’ll put this year in the “win” column.

Andrew Liptak
Andrew Liptak is a freelance writer and science fiction fan, and writes regularly at Words in a Grain of Sand on speculative fiction and history, and has written for sites such as SF Signal, io9 and Tor.com. He currently holds a degree in History and a master’s degree in Military History from Norwich University, and resides in the green mountains of Vermont with a growing library of books.

For me, it’s been a bit of an off year, with some of my more anticipated books coming in as major disappointments, and some other books that have come completely out of left field to surprise me, along with some meeting and exceeding expectations. Three books stand out above the rest for me, along with another pack of very good books that I was thrilled to have read: The Dervish House, Ian McDonald: McDonald blew me away with his novel River of Gods a couple of years ago, and his Turkey of 2027 is just as compelling and fascinating, blending together rich characters with an even richer background. I absolutely loved this book, and savored every moment. Soft Apocalypse, Will MacIntosh: MacIntosh’s debut novel is the best biopunk novels of the year, hands down. The field is heating up (no pun intended), but MacIntosh’s book is one that’s going to stay at the forefront of the subgenre for a while to come. Touching, heartbreaking and never straying from characters, despite the time covered, this story is an outstanding one, one that I hope is destined to be a classic. The Magician King, Lev Grossman: Grossman did a fantastic job bringing a realistic view of magic with the first book, The Magicians, but in the second, he does an absolutely stunning job that enriches the world that he’s created, sets up an absolutely stunning story and generally blows the first book out of the water, something that I didn’t see coming. Leviathan Wakes, James A Corey: This book has everything, and I mean everything. Noir detectives, military science fiction, space Mormons, weird alien life forms, evil corporations, you name it, it’s got it. This first book captured me from the moment I saw the cover art, and it’s quite a bit of fun to read.

There were another handful of books that I really enjoyed: Spellbound by Blake Charlton, the follow-up to Spellwright and a fantastic return to Charlton’s very, very cool world of clinical magic. Embassytown from China Mieville, is a strange, brilliant book, but outstanding one from Mieville, who’s does some absolutely fantastic aliens. Embedded, Dan Abnett was an excellent military science fiction story with some outstanding action and characters. Halo: Glasslands, Karen Traviss: a great addition to the Halo universe. Fuzzy Nation, John Scalzi: Avatar, but not dumb, an excellent retelling of an older science fiction story, one that I couldn’t put down.

This year was pretty good when it came to film as well: Super 8 brought back some of the magic that I remember from Spielburg’s best years, Source Code was a surprisingly interesting and engaging story, Battle: LA had Marines vs. aliens with a decent story (what more could you want?), Contagion made me wash my hands every couple of minutes, Limitless surprised me with an excellent story and great acting, In Time was a good amount of fun, and X-Men: First Class demonstrated that the franchise isn’t dead, and can be done well.

When it came to television three shows stood out for me: The BBC’s Outcasts, which reminds me a bit of a better Terra Nova, with some excellent acting, visuals and stories, Fringe, returning for its 4th season, continues to delight, and my favorite show of the year, Community, continues to impress with some great geek references in just about every episode.

Larry Ketchersid
Larry Ketchersid is CEO of a security software and services company and the author of the novel Dusk Before the Dawn. He plays rugby, does martial arts, writes tech articles, reads a lot, and has degrees in Math, Physics and Computer Science. In other words, he still hasn’t decided what he wants to do and is in no hurry to do so. His career includes 15 years at Compaq, the greatest computer company that used to be.

Tad Williams ShadowMarch series: this is a four book series (Shadowmarch- 2004; Shadowplay-2007; Shadowrise-2010 and Shadowheart-2010)) that does what Mr. Williams does well: an engaging story where fae and humans are depicted as complex, non-Disneyesque characters (neither all good nor all bad), where the disorienting fae world different from our own is described in a manner that lets the reader feel how disorienting it could be, and where not every thing in the book is completely explained, letting the reader use his own noggin for a change. The story itself involves political intrigue at the castle ShadowHeart sending the prince of Southmarch, Barrick Eddon toward the invading fae and the princess, Briony Eddon looking for help in other kingdoms. The Qar (non-human fae type creatures) appear to be the enemy, but we know how megalomaniacal human kings can be (and Williams writes the character of Sulepis very well here). Kudos once again to Tad for including a summary of the previous long books at the beginning on the next, something all long-winded authors should do (versus assuming readers remember the plot lines of what they read years ago when the previous volumes were released).

Enter Player One by Ernest Cline: in a poverty stricken near future, everyone turns to OASIS, the “Second Life/WorldOfWarcraft on steroids” creation of James Halliday. When Halliday dies, he leaves his billions to whoever can solve riddles and puzzles (easter eggs) inside OASIS. Years after the challenge, the first clue is solved by a trash teenage “gunter” (egg hunter) named Wade Watts, Parzival in OASIS. Then the mad dash is on, with large corporations issuing threats in the real world and in OASIS, and Parzival and other solo “gunters” racing to solve the next clues, based on the 1980s pop culture lore that Halliday loved. With its references to manga, video games and 80s TV shows, the detail may make this read not for everyone. But it includes references to the greatest rock band of all time (RUSH!), and Zork, one of the first computer games I “mastered” in my misspent youth, and the pacing of the story is excellent. Plus, Cline is a fellow Texas author, props to him.

The return of Doc Savage: after a long hiatus, Will Murray, the last author to write under the pseudonym of Kenneth Robeson, brought back Doc Savage, first withThe Desert Demons, then with Horror in Gold. With dirigibles, a 1930s setting and the forerunner to Batman and other latter day heroes, the new Wild Adventures of Doc Savage is like pulp steampunk with familiar faces.

Paul Malmont’s The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril (2007) and The Astounding, The Amazing and The Unknown (2011): coincident with the return of Doc Savage was my reading of both of Paul Malmont’s historical fiction books, the first of which focuses on the adventures of the writers of the pulp classics (Lester Dent of Doc Savage, Walter Gibson of The Shadow, and L. Ron Hubbard) and the second which features Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and other SF Giants. Malmont puts these authors through adventures, mixing in biographical facts with current events of the time, and even overlapping the two. I felt like a sleazy voyeur intruding on the lives of some of my favorite authors…a fetish I happily paid for.

Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles (The Name of the Wind (April 2007) and The Wise Man’s Fear (March 2011)): I have no idea how Rothfuss is going to finish this trilogy off in one book (even if the book is almost 1,000 pages like the first two) and I truly would enjoy it being extended; his prose is silky smooth, and though you don’t know whether to love or hate Kvothe, his main character, the plot is intriguing…even when Kvothe repeatedly has to get examined by the Archanium school board and never has enough tuition (this happens like a million times). The story flows evenly, the characters evolve, and Kvothe marches towards somehow turning into a Kingkiller and going into hiding so that he can regale us all with this story, told over three days.

Karen Burnham
Karen Burnham reviews science fiction and fantasy for SF Signal and Strange Horizons, blogs at Spiral Galaxy Reviews, and works for NASA.

Because I spent so much of the year re-reading Greg Egan novels, I didn’t read as much older genre fiction as usual. So this is a bit of an odd list from me, since all of these books are from 2010 or 2011.

Evaporating Genres: Essays on Fantastic Literature by Gary K. Wolfe. Does just what it says on the tin. In this series of essays, Wolfe has the opportunity to look at entire bodies of work, either from specific authors or covering broad sub-genres and tropes. This is a nice change from his month-to-month review columns for Locus that have been collected by Beccon Press. It really gives Wolfe a chance to bring his amazing depth and breadth of reading and understanding to bear.

Raising Stony Mayhall, by Daryl Gregory. See my SFSignal review. My favorite zombie story to date.

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord. See my SFSignal review. One of the best displays of pure storytelling that I saw this year.

Of Blood and Honey, by Stina Leicht. See my SFSignal review. An amazing character study that also has plenty of plot, set in a much more contemporary milieu than most historical-fiction-plus-fae novels.

Eclipse 4, edited by Jonathan Strahan. See my Salon Futura review. A sampling of the best short fiction authors working in the field today.

Jay Garmon
Jay Garmon is a writer, editor and consummate trivia geek. He’s been cited as a source by the Wikipedia (which is to damn with faint praise) and appears weekly on TechTalk radio in Chicago. You can follow his pedantic ramblings at www.jaygarmon.net.

I am one of the heretic few who never read any of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire in prose form, so I came at the HBO adaptation of Game of Thrones cold, unsure of what to expect. I was blown away by the quality of the cast, and their ability elevate what could have been a very bland, tedious arrangement of palace intrigues into a compelling narrative.

(Quick aside: Spending money on actors is how Chris Nolan has made his Batman films remarkably un-ridiculous. It isn’t just the scripts, which, lest we forget, were co-written by the same guy who gave us the Blade film franchise. Actors can elevate your material immensely. Of course, good direction also helps, as George Lucas proved he could make even Samuel L. Jackson and Ewan MacGregor uninteresting.)

What is doubly amazing about Game of Thrones is that it suffered from the same constraints as HBO’s all-too-brief Rome series: It simply didn’t have the budget for big action set pieces. Period fantasy epics all too often rely and Braveheart-style battle sequences to gloss over the glaring absence of substance (300, anyone?), but Game of Thrones didn’t have this option in its bag of tricks, and still managed to create high-stakes tension around characters we are instantly invested in — even if we hate them. For all the caterwauling we geeks rightfully bring forth when genre works are overlooked for major awards, we have to concede how remarkable it was the Peter Dinklage got an Emmy for playing a drunken dwarf in a low fantasy miniseries on a pay cable channel.

That’s how good this show, and the actors on it, were this year. It made Hollywood respect the work before it got made, and afterwards. Now if only we could get a sci-fi equivalent.

Filed under: Mind Meld

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