by Mark Rich
Being caught in a whirl of circumstance, in 2011 I read deeply from the lists of the many fantasy publishers of 2010; and I skipped and dipped and explored widely elsewhere. (I will leave titles and even many author names unsaid; some of what I leave unsaid can be found in the list of World Fantasy nominees.) At random, for instance, I picked up a Lauren Beukes novel, about which I knew nothing. Thoroughly and maybe even outrageously impressed I went on through more books from Angry Robot. What vitality, there! Small Beer, too, seems to have a clue as to where lies the heart of contemporary imaginative fiction. Its Karen Fowler collection, for instance, offers a set of ghost stories presented as though unghostly. Several other important one-author fiction collections that I dipped into or read in their entireties have strands woven into them that give them cohesiveness, as books. The strand in Fowler's is nearly invisible ... appropriately enough. For some reason I was surprised, too, by the Patricia McKillip novel from Ace. This novel offers obstacles at first, then delivers in full to the reader who perseveres. An engrossing, absorbing experience, in prose of unusual quality. Another of her meditations on the culture of words, perhaps.
Other surprises, small and large, came from writers previously unknown to me, including Tony Burgess, Aliette de Bodard, Celine Kiernan, Karen Lord, Helen Lowe and Angela Slattery ... among others. At one point I thought I was sensing a Scottish writing-upswelling. Then an Australian one reared its head. Then I began contemplating the inexplicable energy -- and frequent literary excellences -- among the dark fantasists. And everywhere I was encountering writers well-known to me who like Fowler and McKillip were moving impressively onwards unfaltering in their strides.
The overall effect of such a reading experience was to underline what I long knew of myself, but never felt so intensely: the dimness of my awareness of the works of my own time. I started 2011 reading old books; and in ending it similarly I am letting the works published in 2011 slip away from me. On the other hand I am glad to have Asa Briggs' Victorian People now on my list of books to re-read. I look forward to placing there, too, the book I now struggle with and delight in, Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism.
Mark Rich is the author of a major biographical and critical study, C.M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary, which was published last year by McFarland. He has also published two collections of fiction — Edge of Our Lives (RedJack) and Across the Sky (Fairwood) — as well as chapbooks from presses including Gothic and Small Beer. With partner-in-life Martha and Scottie-in-life Lorna, he lives in the Coulee region of Wisconsin where an early-1900s house, a collection of dilapidated antique furniture, and a large garden preoccupy him with their needs.