The OF Blog: 2010 in Review: Speculative Fictions

Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 in Review: Speculative Fictions

Earlier today, I thought I would not have enough time to write this essay, another one on non-speculative fictions, and a "list" post before midnight CST.  However, I changed a few plans and decided to get the personal reflective parts of this 2010 in Review series done before 2011 begins, so on with the show.

This essay will not be as in-depth as the other ones, at least not in regards to individual books.  Rather, this and its companion essay will be devoted to reading patterns and the changes in my reading preferences over the last few months of 2010.  Since I am limiting myself to 2010 releases in these posts, I will not touch upon the 300+ books that I've read this year that were originally published prior to this year.  Perhaps in the new year I'll write about those books, but for now, I'll content myself with newer releases.

If you listen to several other reviewers, you might get this impression that 2010 was some sort of "banner year" for speculative fictions.  Then again, it might be a matter of perspective; several have only been blogging for 1-2 years and it might be that with the greater exposure to newer releases that some got from receiving review copies and the like, that things are skewed toward conflating the expansion of reading opportunities with an actual increase in quality works.  I have been doing Best of _______ posts/awards/etc. ever since 2002, first on the defunct wotmania and since late 2004 on this blog.  If you want to see an evolution of approach and reading, be sure to read the late December posts made every year from 2004 to 2010.  If I had to "rate" 2010 in terms of its speculative releases, I would have to say that in general, the epic fantasy releases were generally mediocre, the more "weird" stories were comparable in quality to some of the decade's earlier releases, and that there are fewer works that I truly enjoyed this year that could in any form or fashion be considered "speculative."

Epic/secondary world fantasies have not had a precedent of place in my reading for several years.  I tend to have lower expectations for this subgenre than perhaps others do, in large part due to the somewhat conservative conventions of this subgenre.  Rarely have I read epic fantasies that have impressed me with their use of prose, theme, or characterization; too often, the authors use a bland, so-called "invisible prose" style that flattens out so many things that might be interesting if developed otherwise.  Here are very brief thoughts on several of the 2010 epic fantasies that I read:

Ian Cameron Esslemont, Stonewielder - Inoffensive in its presentation, plot, and pace, but a rather dull reading affair once the "wow factor" of new locations and explanations for prior stories was removed.  This was actually better than most of the other epic fantasies released this year, however.

Adrian Tchaikovsky, Shadows of the Apt series (vol. 1-4 in US) - There were a few interesting twists to the usual "ward off the hostile invaders" trope, but it was merely a mediocre read that lived down to my middling expectations.

Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings - The writing improved somewhat from his earlier efforts, but it sometimes is rather clunky and bland.  I might read future volumes to this planned ten-volume series, but it'd be with some trepidation. 

Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan, Towers of Midnight - This thirteenth volume in The Wheel of Time series was a narrative mess,

Steven Erikson, Crack'd Pot Trail - This short novel was actually entertaining; one of the very few secondary world efforts that was so.

I've already said at length elsewhere what I thought of Alexey Pehov's Shadow Prowler (garbage) and hinted at what I thought of Blake Charlton's Spellwright (OK, inoffensive read).

I hesitate to count this in this category since its focus differs greatly from other secondary world fantasies, but Carlos Gardini's Tríptico de Trinidad was simply outstanding.  Its compact, philosophical story stands out in sharp relief against the mediocre to crappy epic fantasies that I read this year.

In regards to SF, I did not read many 2010 releases.  Kay Kenyon's Prince of Storms completed that four-volume series, but I was somewhat underwhelmed by its conclusion.  Odd, since her writing and characterizations were very good for most of the series.  Likely burnout at the time of reading that novel this spring.

There were several steampunk offerings this year; I usually stuck with the anthologies (Steampunk II:  Steampunk Reloaded; Vaporpunk), but I did read the steampunkish paranormal romance satires that Gail Carriger wrote, Changeless and Blameless.  While both were fine in and of themselves, I did detect signs of weariness with this series, so it might be a bad foreboding for future volumes in this series.

Karin Lowachee's The Gaslight Dogs I thought was a very good, solid effort, but for some reason, the characterizations were not as appealing to me as they were in her three previous SF efforts.  Might be a personal thing rather than a true problem with the prose, since I seem to recall reading this while under the weather back in March.

Ian McDonald's The Dervish House I found to be a step down in quality from his recent near-future/developing powers SF novels.  Just did not buy the premise of 2027 Turkey being such a regional power, nor did I find the plethora of characters to add to the narrative.  Sometimes, less is more, I suppose.

Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death was her first "adult" novel and I liked the premise for the most part, although there were a few slow moments in the middle of the novel.

I've already weighed in elsewhere about how China Miéville's Kraken was a very disappointing read for me.

Portuguese writer David Soares' O Evangelho do Enforcado, on the other hand, was excellent and hopefully some of his fictions will be translated eventually into English, as his blend of horror, historical novel, and "weird" elements has made for some captivating reads for me this year.

Finished reading Felix Gilman's The Half-Made World a few days ago.  Better than his previous two efforts and I am very intrigued to see what he comes up with for the future.

Two more translated fictions, Michal Ajvaz's The Golden Age and Zoran Živković's Escher's Loops, were much better than virtually all of the books I've read this year.

Hiromi Goto's Half World, published in the US for the first time in 2010, was an impressive novel that mixes Japanese cultural elements with a quest narrative, producing a fast-paced narrative that was a joy to read.

Michael Cisco's The Narrator might be his best work yet and I've been a fan of his for three years now.

Looking back, it seems I favored novels that were set in either very "weird" locales or which had some connection or the other to the "real world."  Perhaps it's as much a disinclination to read more of the same than it is that several of the reads just plain sucked hairy camel ass, but I suspect this shift in attitudes might be a portent of something to come in the near future.

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