The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2019
by Cheryl Morgan
For some years now I have been annoyed with myself for not reading enough. There always seems to be something else to so. So as of August, to give myself an incentive, I have once again started doing a book review fanzine. If you want in-depth views on many of the books I will mention here, please visit Salon Futura (http://www.salonfutura.net/).
In fiction this was very much the year of the Time War. It has been everywhere, or at least it seems like that. I can quite understand how the events of 2016 have caused many people to wish they could travel back in time to change history. Sadly this is still impossible, but the desire has given rise to some fabulous fiction. This is How You Lose the Time War (Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone), The Light Brigade (Kameron Hurley) and The Future of Another Timeline (Analee Newitz) are all great, and very different, takes on the same basic idea.
One of the best things about the current state of the field is the number of people of colour who are making names for themselves. Here are a few books by them that I have enjoyed. Silvia Moreno Garcia’s Gods of Jade & Shadow is a welcome return to a magical Mexico, this time with added Aztec death gods. Karen Lord’s Unravelling is a fine sequel to the hugely successful Redemption in Indigo. I’m a huge fan of P. Djèlí Clark and warmly recommend The Haunting of Tram Car 015. Marlon James has been utterly uncompromising with Black Leopard, Red Wolf and I’m really looking forward to seeing him tell the same story from a very different point of view. Rivers Solomon’s collaboration with clipping, The Deep, has finally hit the shelves and is fascinating. Tade Thompson has successfully concluded the magnificent Rosewater trilogy. And with David Mogo: Godhunter, Suyi Davies Okungbowa has given us a very different take on Nigeria.
There have been a number of very fine debuts this year. In the science fiction field A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine is one of the stand-outs. In fantasy I adored the comedy footnotes in Jenn Lyons’ Ruin of Kings. Tamsyn Muir has made lesbian necromancers fashionable with Gideon the Ninth. Possibly the best of them is The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow.
Many successful series besides Rosewater have finished this year. I am very sad to be saying goodbye to Shizuka and Shefali, but K Arsenault Rivera’s The Warrior Moon was a suitably epic way for them to bow out. Ian McDonald has brought a satisfying end to his Dallas-on-the-Moon series with Luna: Moon Rising, though there’s still a TV series to look forward to. Aliette de Bodard was typically thoughtful in The House of Sundering Flames and probably enjoyed trashing much of Paris in the process. Tim Pratt’s The Forbidden Stars sees the final(?) defeat of the Axiom. And Theodora Goss appears to have wrapped up her Athena Club series with The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl. She at least has left the door open for more stories, however. I’m sure that if a publisher were to offer Cat Moreau a sufficient sum then more books would be forthcoming.
My local cohort in Bristol has had another fine year. Emma Newman’s Atlas Alone was genuinely disturbing. Gareth L Powell’s space opera series is developing nicely with Fleet of Knives. Heather Child is building an interesting crossover audience as lots of mainstream readers have picked up on The Undoing of Arlo Knott. But the hit of the year will be from exile-in-Canada, Tim Maughan. Infinite Detail is being hailed in some quarters as the science fiction novel of the year, and having such a book set in Bristol’s anarchist quarter, Stokes Croft, is very pleasing indeed.
Finally here’s a quick list of other novels I have particularly enjoyed this year, but which don’t fit neatly into any of the above lists. The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal is a worthy Hugo winner. The Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone may well challenge for that honour next year, though it has some stiff competition. One such contender is The City in the Middle of the Night, Charlie Jane Anders attempt at writing a Le Guin novel. A year with a new Guy Gavriel Kay novel is always a good year, and A Brightness Long Ago does not disappoint. Read the book and then look up the story of Caterina Sforza whose real life was every bit as amazing as that of Kay’s heroine. Elizabeth Bear’s Ancestral Night kicks off a very interesting new science fiction series. Erin Morgenstern makes a triumphant return with The Starless Sea. And I am just about to dive into Jeff VanderMeer’s Dead Astronauts.
I should mention briefly that Juliet McKenna’s The Green Man’s Foe had a successful launch at Worldcon, and Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion II went down similarly well at BristolCon. I have a bunch of projects I am working on for next year’s Wizard’s Tower output. That will include a new novel by Tate Hallaway; a third Green Man book if Juliet gets time to write it; and some translated fiction.
I’ve not read a lot of nonfiction this year, but Farah Mendlesohn’s The Pleasant Profession of Robert A Heinlein has set a new benchmark for excellence in literary biographies. A book you may be less aware of is Tracking Classical Monsters in Popular Culture by Liz Gloyn. Technically it is an academic work in the field of Classical Reception, but you don’t have to read far into the book to see that Gloyn is One of Us, and indeed may have been started on her stellar career in Classics by the films of Ray Harryhausen.
I have read very few comics this year, but I warmly recommend Vei by Sara Bergmark Elfgren and Karl Johnsson. This is a very interesting reboot of Norse mythology, and all the more welcome because it comes from a Swedish creative team. Currently only volume 1 is available in English, but book 2 is now available in Swedish and I expect an English translation to follow soon.
It has also been a quiet year for movies, at least from my point of view. Avengers: Endgame was suitably epic in scope, but struggled to match the jaw-dropping impact of “The Snap”. Captain Marvel showed just how a feminist superhero movie should be done. I hope Patty Jenkins has taken this to heart and that Wonder Woman 84 will continue to take the genre forward. (Sadly I have no such hopes for the Black Widow film.) In the absence of an actual Thor movie, our heroes made an entertaining out-take with Men in Black International, though I did miss Loki. Spiderman: Far From Home was a surprise hit for me, though clearly not a patch on Into the Spiderverse. I will be going to see Frozen 2 any day now, but I’m only going to the Star Wars finale once people have assured me that it does not suck and is not just a re-working of the Ewok thing.
The growth in SF&F TV is little short of miraculous. I can’t keep up with what I can get here in the UK, and there are at least three series (Batwoman, Titans 2 and Doom Patrol) that I’m keen to see but can’t. The current season of Supergirl feels a bit flat, and I will have to stop watching once we get to the mid-season cross-over because we are not getting Batwoman. However, what I have seen so far of Watchmen is very good indeed. The Expanse continues to be excellent. Good Omens has been a huge success, and I am absolutely delighted for Neil who I know put everything he had into getting it right. She-Ra Season 3 was amazing, but I have severe reservations about something in Season 4 and need to watch the whole thing before commenting further. The Dark Crystal is visually stunning but was lagging plot-wise until Seladon had her Cersei Lannister moment. I’m hoping the series keeps getting better.
The BBC is trying to cash in on the SF&F trend, with mixed results. His Dark Materials seems to be doing a decent job, and is worth watching for Ruth Wilson’s Mrs. Coulter alone. I’ve not seen the new version of War of the Worlds yet, but everyone I know who has tells me that it is absolutely dreadful. Fortunately anything that revives interest in Jeff Wayne’s magnificent concept album can’t be all bad.
Finally I should make mention of Pose. It isn’t SF&;F, but the fact that a show like that can not only be made, but is receiving critical acclaim, is a massive step forward for trans people in the USA. Huge congratulations are due to Janet Mock and the rest of the crew. And when you have watched it, check out Paris is Burning for the true story of House Extravaganza.
I’ve not made any great discoveries in music this year, but in podcasts I warmly recommend Breaking the Glass Slipper which is doing a fine job of carrying the feminist flag in our community. And that’s not just because they interviewed me in March. Other shows this year have featured Mary Robinette Kowal, Kameron Hurley, Sarah Pinborough and Madeline Ashby. This one will definitely be on my Hugo list for 2020.
Cheryl Morgan blogs, reviews and podcasts regularly at Cheryl’s Mewsings (https://www.cheryl-morgan.com/) and Salon Futura (http://www.salonfutura.net/). She is the owner of Wizard’s Tower Press (http://wizardstowerpress.com/). Cheryl co-presents the Women’s Outlook show on Ujima Radio (http://www.ujimaradio.com/). She also lectures regularly on topics of SF&F literature, and on queer history.