Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2011, part 21: Cat Rambo

Best of 2011
by Cat Rambo

2011 was a rich year for speculative fiction for me. Like most of my friends, I was eagerly awaiting both the HBO version of Game of Thrones and the latest installment in George R.R. Martin’s series, Dance With Dragons. I enjoyed them both (and discovered a subplot in GoT that I’d apparently missed in the book), but wish DwD had had more to it. There are characters I’m dying to see again who are tucked away in what’s still to be written, apparently. Speaking of other big fat fantasy books, Pat Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear, sequel to The Name of the Wind, finally appeared and was close to the quality of the first one, though I’m not sure about that section in another dimension. I also loved Sam Sykes' Tome of the Undergates and Black Halo, which were everything modern day sword and sorcery should be and never hit a sour note.

I love spec fic that thinks about gender roles, and was lucky enough to get an advance read of Kelly Jenning’s Broken Slate from Crossed Genres Press this year, a far future story of a male slave which explores power and class dynamics. 2011 was a great year to find GLBT characters and two joined my list of all-time favorites. One, a transgendered courtesan, appears in Amanda Downum’s The Drowning City and The Bone Palace. Downum’s writing reminds me of what I like about authors like Martha Wells and P.C. Hodgell - vivid and interesting, beautifully drawn worlds, including cities that feel drawn with the obsessive eye of a DM, down to the last street. The other character, Chess Pargeter, comes from Gemma Files’ Hexslinger series, so far consisting of A Book of Tongues and A Rope of Thorns, which is a wow of a fantasy western world.

I also got an advance read of Elwin Cotman’s The Jack Daniel Sessions EP. I loved these stories, both Cotman’s more contemporary pieces as well as the ones that go back and take looks at more traditional pieces, both celebrating and making new things of them. In blurbing the book, I said, “In The Jack Daniels Sessions, folktales and modern landscapes collide, exploding and reforming in the form of an intriguing and intelligent collection. Cotman seizes the stories of tired tradition and galvanizes them, setting them to dance for us in wonderful, new interpretations.”

More traditional fare appeared in the form of Galen Beckett’s The Magicians and Mrs Quent and its sequel The House on Durrow Street. While the books have a definite Jane Eyre vibe, they’ve also got a world of odd time cycles and magical possibilities that is intriguingly, sparsely explained. Of the various steampunk books, I particularly enjoyed Lavie Tidhar’s The Bookman, The Doomsday Vault by Steven Harper and Cassandra Clare’s YA Clockwork Angel. I read a lot of urban fantasy, and found books that I liked this year included a fine romp titled Under Attack by Hannah Jayne, everything I found by Kate Griffin (The Midnight Mayor, A Madness of Angels, and The Neon Court), and the latest in Kim Harrison’s Hollows series as well as Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series. I was delighted to find that Tim Pratt has released a number of Marla Mason pieces on his own in e-book form, since she’s one of my favorite modern-day magic wielders.

This summer, Minister Faust read from The Alchemists of Kush and I was lucky enough to have him read the section I’d just finished. The book’s terrific, and Faust is an amazing reader. Clarion West brought him along with a slew of other instructors, and my other favorite was Margo Lanagan, who apparently I’d managed to miss until that point. Holy moly was she a good reader! Plus such a lovely voice. I bought Tender Morsels immediately.

I read a LOT of stories in 2011 and should have tracked them better. Several that stood out were: Charlie Jane Anders’ Six Months, Three Days (; Nancy Fulda’s “Movement”, Genevieve Valentine’s “Demons, Your Body, and You” (which appeared in the terrific Subterranean Press Summer 2011 issue edited by Gwenda Bond -; Lily Yu’s “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees,” (

I was sorry to see spec fic magazine Crossed Genres go, but I’ve been enjoying the success of Daily Science Fiction, which is really publishing some strong stuff. Beneath Ceaseless Skies also continues to knock it out of the ball park on occasion. 2011 also saw Realms of Fantasy go under for the third and final time, as well as the announcement of Fantasy Magazine and Lightspeed’s new owner John Joseph Adams and his plans to merge the magazines, which looks like it will continue to publish some great stuff (disclaimer: every magazine mentioned has published my work, so I am biased.)

2011 started with a strong movie, The King’s Speech, and also held several superhero movies that were big and silly and full of spectacle: Thor, Green Lantern, and X-Men: First Class. But my favorite of the year was Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which had some problematic aspects, but crafted the lead up to the final battle so well that you rooted so solidly and satisfactorily for the apes that I’d go see it again, anytime. TV was the usual crap (and I happily watch that as much as anyone, but I refuse to celebrate it) but I did really, really enjoy the BBC modern Holmes series, Sherlock, which celebrates and updates the traditions of the series in a loving, meticulous way and which any Holmes fan will adore.

Game-wise, there was nothing more outstanding than Skyrim, which looks to carry me into 2012 as well. I’d been very hopeful about the new Civ release, but in looking at it, I felt like they’d taken away the parts I liked the best and dumbed down the rest. World of Warcraft certainly took its share of time, but it’s grown less appealing somehow, perhaps because the gender stuff in Skyrim is a little less...I dunno, full of ass-slapping succubi. Go figure.

Cat Rambo writes and teaches in the Pacific Northwest in the wilds of Redmond. Her collection Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight was a 2010 Endeavour Award finalist, and her work has appeared such places as Asimov's,, and Weird Tales. Her website can be found at

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