Today, I’ll point out some of my favorite of last year’s written fiction—both the short fiction categories and award for best novel. The Hugo Award short fiction categories are comprised of Short Story (< 7.5k words), Novelette (7.5-17.5k words) and Novella (17.5-40k words). These categories have been challenging for me to nominate in the past. This is partially because I hadn’t been reading much short fiction and partially because there’s just so much out there that it’s difficult to navigate the ocean. Rocket Stack Rank has helped me to get a handle on the second problem.
It became clear how few people nominate short fiction in last year’s Hugo ballot, which means that the ballot can be determined by a relatively small number of votes. This really makes the point that every nomination counts, especially in short fiction. I have undoubtedly missed some really nice short stories, novelettes, and novellas, and I’m still trying to see how much more I can read before the nomination deadline. Since I have mostly read free fiction from 2015, I have also included links to the available works.
For novels, I’m afraid I haven’t read all that many novels published in 2015. I hope for refocus on this more for the coming year, once I have a more stable reading diet of short fiction. For now, I’ll just list all of the eligible novels I’ve read along with my thoughts.
In Blue Lily’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard (Meeting Infinity): This short story takes place in de Bodard’s Xuya Universe, but is I think it’s accessible to those not familiar with the setting. In any case, I’ve only read two other Xuya stories so far, and I didn’t have any issues. It is a beautiful tale of grief, guilt and healing, in a story involving a mind-altering plague that posed a very serious threat to a spacefaring civilization.
Cassandra by Ken Liu (Clarkesworld, March 2015): A modern-day Cassandra unexpectedly finds herself becoming a villain to Superman’s hero, as they both try to make the world a better place. I think it speaks a lot to modern cynicism about the simple morality of Superman, and shows how confusing moral decisions can become when you start to look through to the impact of your actions on the future.
The Way Home by Linda Nagata (Operation Arcana, Lightspeed March 2015): This did not really sound like my kind of story, as I am not particularly a fan of milSF—a military team is stuck in an alternate dimension and must defeat demons in order to open a portal to return home. Things are a little more complicated than that, but it is essentially a short story about group dynamics under mortal pressure. I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed the story and Nagata’s writing style.
Cat Pictures, Please by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld, July 2015): Kritzer is my first favorite new-to-me author I discovered with this new delving into short fiction. She has a very friendly, conversational style of writing, and her writing involves very familiar present-day technologies. In this case, the main character is a self-aware search engine that is trying to use all her ‘powers’ (targeted ads, manipulation of search results, etc.) to improve people’s lives. She desires only adorable pictures of cats in exchange.
Ether by Zhang Ran (Clarkesworld, January 2015): This Chinese novelette was translated by Ken Liu and Carmen Yiling Yan. The prose did not feel like a translation to me, but it is noticeable that some things in the story make more sense if you consider it to be set in China. The story is set in a near future where insidious censors can turn even the words we speak into meaningless babble, and how the desire for free speech and meaningful communication can still find a way to be heard.
So Much Cooking by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld, November 2015): Here’s another excellent and emotional story by Naomi Kritzer. This one is told through a middle-aged housewife’s cooking blog, as a deadly flu epidemic sweeps through the nation. The character had a really distinctive voice, and I loved how the story was slowly revealed alongside increasingly desperate recipes.
Looking for Gordo by Robert J. Sawyer (Future Visions): After receiving information from an alien species, the danger of a search for further extraterrestrial life is on trial. I thought the alien database was really neat, and it was an interesting look at how to make sense of such a massive amount of information. Also, it was fun to see such a positive story of first contact.
Hello, Hello by Seanan McGuire (Future Visions): This is another story with an interesting technological centerpiece. In this case, it is translation software for sign language to speech, and ideas of how far that kind of software might be stretched.
The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman Malik (Tor.com): An unusual story about a man chasing after the truth of the stories his grandfather used to tell about a poor princess and Jinn in Pakistan. It was a really complicated and creative story that all tied together really well at the end.
Waters of Versailles by Kelly Robson (Tor.com): I would not have expected to be so enthralled by a story about magical plumbing at the Court of Versailles! It’s a very useful setting to explore the value of living with integrity as opposed to gaining social respect. I didn’t much like the main character in the beginning, but he won me over by the end.
Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold (Spectrum Literary Agency, Inc.): This one is set in the same world as the Chalion series, but I don’t think you’d have to have read them to appreciate it. I don’t think there’s any character or plot overlap with the novels of the series. It’s a rather adorable story about a well-intentioned young man who accidentally acquires a lady demon, and how the two of them get on with one another. Demons are dangerous in this world, but also a source of magical power. There are those who don’t think Penric should be so lucky.
Where available, I will link my review for more information.
Last First Snow by Max Gladstone: I loved this book, and I think it is Gladstone’s best novel so far. It is a book in a series, and I think it is easier to enjoy if you’ve read the previous three novels. It takes place in his Craft universe, where faith-based and starlight-based magic collide.
Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley: I am enjoying the Worldbreaker Saga, which takes places in a very creative, but brutally violent and unforgiving world. However, this is a middle book—the reader really has to have read the first to understand what’s going on, and the final conclusion of the story will have to wait until the final volume is published in 2017.
Persona by Genevieve Valentine: I’m not sure what it says about the world that I find the idea of turning politics into a reality show realistic, but I am skeptical about the destruction of free press. Anyhow, this is a short, tense, thriller about the attempted assassination of a minor political figurehead and the illegal cameraman who helps her.
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor: This is a very weird, chaotic science fantasy about aliens landing offshore of Lagos, Nigeria. I just finished it recently, and am still trying to settle on what I think of it. It has an interesting focus on Lagos society and mythology, people with superpowers, and extremely powerful aliens.
Now, I want to mention books I haven’t managed to finish before the deadline. I love both of these so far, but am not sure it is ethical to nominate a book I haven’t fully finished reading. Regardless, I'd still like to discuss them here.
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson: I pretty much love with this book, but it is just too long for me to finish before the end of March. Robinson, with his usual attention to detail, takes on the idea of a generation ship. To be honest, if you love KSR’s style, you’ll like this, otherwise probably not. I do think that it has more of a focus on characterization and narrative than some of his dryer works.
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu: I’ve enjoyed Liu’s writing in short fiction and translation, so I figured I was probably going to like his first novel. The world is painstakingly detailed and unlike any other epic fantasy I have recently read. I like this direction this one is going.
Altogether, those are my favorite works of fiction published in 2015. What are yours?