My Sort Of Review Of Speculative Fiction In 2011
Strange Horizons have posted their review of 2011. As one of their reviewers, I would usually take part in this but this year I found myself unable to come up with a contribution. This is because 2011 has been a year when I’ve been simultaneously intensely engaged with speculative literature, somewhat distanced from it and increasingly disillusioned by it.
The chief factor in this is that it was my second year as a judge for the Arthur C Clarke award. This means that whilst I’ve read a huge amount of science fiction, I can’t talk about it. This is a very difficult responsibility! In addition, whilst judging the Clarke has been an immense privilege, it is also a serious job and the relentless and indiscriminate reading has taken its toll. I’ve read less widely and written less deeply than I would have wished this year.
This mental exhaustion caused me to wonder aloud whether I’d read anything at all that I’d enjoyed over the course of the year. Niall Harrison was quick to point to a trio that handily cover basis (and that I did actually manage to write about): The Routledge Concise History of Science Fiction, Twilight Robbery and The Heroes.
The Concise History of Science Fiction, edited by Mark Bould and Sheryl Vint, marked the end of a wonderfully productive period of work by the pair which also included Fifty Key Figures in Science Fiction and The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction (both with Andrew M Butler and Adam Roberts). I’m very much looking forward to Bould’s book on SF cinema later this year. Twilight Robbery by Frances Hardinge was a return to the world of the Fractured Realm by someone who is rapidly becoming my favourite children’s author (don’t tell Patrick Ness). After finishing it, I immediately ordered Verdigris Deep, the only one of here novels I’ve not yet read, but it has already gone out of print. Somebody sort this out. Finally, The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie was a book I was looking forward to so much that I cheekily wolfed it down myself before sending it out to Maureen Kincaid Speller to review for Vector. I bloody loved it.
Amongst all the 2010 and 2011 science fiction novels, I even managed to read some older books that I could talk about. The best of these was Maul by Tricia Sullivan, a novel that blew me away from the very first page. If you haven’t read it, address this situation.
Moving from novels to short fiction, I was extremely pleased that Karen Burham picked up the baton from Harrison and imported the Short Story Club from Torque Control to Locus Roundtable. Unfortunately the actual experience of reading the supposed cream of the crop of SF was deeply disenchanting. Similarly disenchanting was my story by story reading of three significant anthologies: The Ascent Of Wonder, edited by David G Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, Mirrorshades, edited by Bruce Sterling, and Shine, edited by Jetse de Vries. Each contained a few wonderful stories that would have reaffirmed my faith in the genre if they hadn’t been buried in a mound of shit. I didn’t read a single other SF short story apart from those and, to be honest, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.
If I partially wrote off the written word, it wasn’t much better on the screen. The general consensus seems to that the only science fiction film worth talking about was Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. I’ll tell you what, I didn’t see that one coming. In fact, before seeing the trailer, I told myself I’d had more than enough von Trier to last me a lifetime. I remain somewhat ambivalent about the film but I’d recommend Jonathan McCalmont’s review for a discussion of its strengths.
On the small screen, I pretty much only managed to watch Masterchef and the first four episodes of Frozen Planet all year. Adam Roberts suggested that the final instalment of Black Mirror, a trio of brainwrongs from Charlie Brooker, was very good but I managed to miss it. Also on Channel 4, I similarly missed the third season of Misfits, despite loving the first two. What I wanted to watch was A Game Of Thrones but it wasn’t available to me so I settled for Spartacus: Blood And Sand on DVD as a proxy. As hoped, it contained swords and tits but it was notably lacking in fun, drama and wit. You know, the things that make life bearable.
Fun, dramatic but perhaps a bit too witless was Zelda: Skyward Sword. I only play one game a year and, since I own a Wii, it is usually either Zelda or Mario (a bit of a vicious cricle there). Despite making use of the Wiimote Plus, the latest installment fails to push things forward from the giant leap of Twilight Princess but remains spectacularly addictive stuff. I just wish it didn’t treat me like a five year old.
I’ve currently got another date scheduled with that dick Ghirahim but I’ve downed tools to concentrate on finishing off the Clarke submissions. Everything else – including this blog – will similarly be taking a back seat. At the moment, I can’t really think ahead but, once the shortlist has been announced, I hope to have more headspace to be able to write about all things I’ve wanted to discuss this year.