Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2008, Part Eighteen: Cat Rambo

I tracked my reading this year, which was an interesting if somewhat obsessive, experiment. I learned, mainly, that I read a lot more crap than I'd like to think.  But among the more elevated reading highlights from 2009 were the following:

The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories by Joan Aiken
I was delighted to see an Aiken collection coming out that included four! new! Armitage stories. These pieces are funny and charming, and manage to have a dark edge at times in the tradition of the best children's literature. Any of Aiken's short stories are worth seeking out, I've found, which makes this book a bonanza for readers of children's fiction.

A Companion to Wolves, by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette
I read a number of Bear's books this year, and would heartily recommend many of them, including Dust, Undertow, and any of the Promethean Age novels. But this was one of my favorites, taking the trope of humans bonded with companion animals and having sex when the companion animals have sex to a logical and yet inexplicably hitherto unexplored direction. 

Triplicity, by Thomas Disch.
Tom Disch's death this year was a tremendous loss to the field. I picked up Triplicity in a used book store and remembered what a major talent he was. Three sharply distinct novellas that showcase his talent, his sense of humor, and his incisiveness.

From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain, by Minister Faust
So far this is my favorite superhero book EVER. And it's a genre I like very much. Faust's book is clever and funny and wonderful and does fabulous things. I have said this elsewhere, but I loved this book. I blogged further about superhero lit here. (And hey, this is a good point to send a shout out to David DeBeer, who is consistently putting out great stuff on the Nebula awards blog, whose RSS feed is well worth subscribing to.)

Wild Life, by Molly Glass
This was not marketed as speculative fiction, and yet it featured Bigfoot and 19th century suffragists in the Pacific Northwest. Lovely and engaging and sweet. The book shifts in tone halfway through, and yet the shift manages not to be too jarring, and ends up providing a new lens through which to look at the first half.

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch
This was a -fun- traditional fantasy read, just terrific.  For some reason, I'd thought Locke Lamora was actually Loch Lamora, and that it was some sort of geographical fantasy. This did not turn out to be the case. I pass along a small amount of what I read to my partner Wayne, and this (as well as its sequel) both ended up on his shelf.

Dragonforge, by James Maxey
I'd read Dragonforge's predecessor, Bitterwood, last year and had no idea where James might be going with the books next. Dragonforge takes Bitterwood and makes origami out of it, turning an already excellent world and characters into something truly original and interesting. These aren't traditional dragons, by a long shot.

I was introduced to a new genre this year, bizarro fiction, when I read (and highly enjoyed) Carlton Mellick III's The Egg Man. It's indescribable and wonderful and full of fabulous weirdness. I see a new magazine featuring bizarro fiction has opened up recently, and I'm looking forward to reading more of it.

About a quarter of my reading this year was urban fantasy. Favorites included Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris, T.A. Pratt, and Carrie Vaughn. But above and beyond those, I ended up reading all of Lilith Saintcrow's work and putting it top of my list. I'd write more about urban fantasy, but Saintcrow, Vaughn, and Elizabeth Bear have all written about it more eloquently than I could recently. Go check their blogs.

Catherynne M. Valente's The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden rocked my socks off with the lusciousness of its prose and the intricacy of its construction. Reading it is a bit like eating gold-encrusted chocolate truffles - you don't know whether to pay more attention to the taste or the artistry of the construction, but you can't lose either way.

The indefatigable Ann and Jeff VanderMeer produced a number of anthologies in 2008. Of them, my favorite was The New Weird, which combined all sorts of tasty fiction along with some critical nuggets. I will admit some of my fondness may be spurred participating in a round robin exercise for the book that I found enjoyable as well as instructive. Also notable were their Steampunk anthology and the best of a recent swarm of pirate anthologies, Fast Ships, Black Sails, which included what may be my all-time favorite pirate story: Katherine Sparrow's "Pirate Solutions".

The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Wall
This memoir chronicles a highly unusual childhood being raised by parents who seem little more than children themselves, dragging their offspring through a life that is described with candor, affection at times, and an astonishing lack of anger. By the time you reach the moment where the author, now a successful career woman, encounters her parents as homeless on the street, you understand (although you may not agree) how they've reached that point. Not through bankruptcy or bad financial decisions, but a resolve not to get caught up in a soulless system.

I dissed Twilight this year, and so I'll supply some titles of a couple of this year's authors that I think would better suit YA readers: Libba Bray and Cassandra Clare. But frankly, if I had a teen reading at the Twilight level, I wouldn't be restricting their choices to the YA section only, but would be steering them towards some of the adult urban fantasy out there. I got my first ideas about sex from reading a James Bond novel -- I'm not sure learning about it from Laurell K. Hamilton would damage anyone's psyche too much. But then again, I'm not a parent.

Cat Rambo writes speculative fiction that has appeared in such places as Weird Tales, Asimov's, and Strange Horizons, as well as serving as Fiction Editor for Fantasy Magazine. Her collection of short stories, Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight, appears from Paper Golem Press this year.

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