The OF Blog: Because all of the (not-so) cool kids are doing it, a mid-year list of superlative 2012 releases

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Because all of the (not-so) cool kids are doing it, a mid-year list of superlative 2012 releases

This list is the result of some snarky remarks I made on Twitter today after seeing that people are already trying to list their top 5, 6, 10, 13, etc. 2012 releases (mostly limited to certain subgenres of SF/F/H).  At first, I thought I hadn't even read 10 2012 releases (whenever I get around to typing my reads for May and June of this year, it'll be obvious that I haven't been reading as much as I usually do), but after I examined my written 2012 reading log, I saw that I actually had read almost 20.  So in a non-ranked, alphabetized fashion, here are the top 9 out of those, followed by the others:

Matt Bell, Cataclysm Baby.  I meant to review this short novel months ago, when Matt's publisher offered me an e-book review copy (I have enjoyed almost all of his short fiction), but time constraints would pop up.  So here is a little passage that I bookmarked at the time that might give some sense of why it appealed so much to me:

Our only answers are the church's silent histories, those sequenced promises written in terrible stone, decorating each circling step from the vestibule to the altar, from the sacristy to the last unburned pews.  Each station a horrid hope too unbearable to believe, this world made only the end of mystery, only the opposite of miracles.

Inside my wife, perhaps there is only the same, only these doubling doubts, these many questions that fill my own still-beating heart:  Oh lord, for who else might be promised the inheritance of the earth?  For who else is meant the receiving of the kingdom?  If not our impossible, short-lived children, then what new race still to come, undreamt in our present darkness?  Who are these next babes, about to be poured down upon the earth, come at last to wash us from off its tear-soaked face?

Nathan Englander, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.  Although some might scoff at seeing what to them is yet another short story collection dealing with Judaism (among other topics), those thinking such might have their opinions disabused after reading the eight stories found within.  Englander's talent for developing characters subtly and for creating situations which entice readers to read "just one more story before bedtime" makes this collection a very strong one that may be a contender for major literary prizes later this year and next.

Steve Erickson, These Dreams of You.  Erickson (not to be confused with the Canadian SF/F writer Steven Erikson) is a master at taking those breaking moments in our lives, those times where it seems that time has slipped and something odd has leaked through, and spinning absorbing tales about individuals searching for identity (in this particular case, an adopted child's) while the world around them threatens to implode.

Brian Evenson, Immobility; Windeye.  Evenson has released two outstanding books this year.  The novel Immobility I want to revisit before writing about it at length, but its conceit of an entrapped man at the heart of a deeper mystery works extremely well.  The collection Windeye is perhaps an even stronger corpus of short fiction than his critically-acclaimed prior collections such as Altmann's Tongue or The Wavering Knife.  These stories unsettled me when I read them back in April and I have no doubt they will continue to do so for years to come.

Tupelo Hassman, Girlchild.  Some writers are fortunate to have their debut novels possess a strong, assured voice.  The protagonist, young Rory Hendrix, makes Hassman's novel memorable because her voice feels so "real," so "true" to the experiences of those who have grown up in less-than-ideal conditions, that her struggles to make her own path, while dealing with those men who hover like vultures around her mother, it all just leads to moments where the heart aches and then rejoices.  It is one of the better debuts I've read in recent years.

Jac Jemc, My Only Wife.  When I was sent a PDF file of this for consideration by Matt Bell several months ago, I wasn't for sure when I would get around to reading it.  After I browsed through the first couple of pages, I found myself reading more and more about this obsessed husband's memoir of his life.  The narrative is deceptively simple, as he relates those moments he remembers about her before her disappearance:

My wife would come home and recite the story of this girl into a tape recorder.

My wife created narratives to connect the facts.

My wife fell a lot.  Even when she was climbing through her days, she was falling a bit along the way.  At night there didn't appear to be far to drop.  She was careful in the dark.  She took fewer risks and recuperated for the day.  "The night," she used to say," should be for rest and repair."

In the evening, my wife nursed her scraped palms, a chronic injury from stopping her tumbles with her hands.

In the morning, she was ready to work again.  I never knew her when she wasn't toiling away at something.
Within these snippets, several of which purposely lack transitions, a larger picture of this wife and the husband-narrator emerges.  It is an engrossing read, perhaps because of what isn't being said as much as all of the seemingly-extraneous detail that is being provided.

Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles.  This novel, which won the 2012 Orange Prize, is a retelling of story of Achilles through the eyes of Patroclus, his companion and later lover.  It is too easy to make this tale into something much less than the Homerian original, so it is a testament to Miller's abilities as a writer to take the almost-clichéd sexual tension between the two and weave something different and more encompassing than the bonds between two human beings.  Her Achilles and Patroclus behave in a complex yet realistic manner to the prophecies dealing with Achilles' life and death.  It is her treatment of that issue which deepens and strengthens this novel and makes it worthy of being read and re-read.

Matthew Stover, Caine's Law.  I have been a fan of Stover's Caine novels for a decade now.  Despite generally despising action-filled, violent novels, I found there to be a certain sensibility within his fiction that showed not only the consequences of acts of violence, but the transformations that can occur when strong emotional bonds are altered.  In his fourth Caine novel, Stover becomes almost lyrical in his exploration of cause-effect and of our desires to change and rewrite the world around us.  Caine's Law is the most complex of the four novels in the series to date and at times the transitions between past and present, between grief and hope, and between remorse and determination not to fail again can be dizzying.  But somehow, Stover manages to bring this all together into a conclusion that is one of the best I've read for any SF/F work.

Other 2012 Releases Read: 

Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the Crescent Moon

Leah Bobet, Above

Anne Enright, The Forgotten Waltz

Elizabeth Hand, Available Dark

Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child

N.K. Jemisin, The Killing Moon

Mario Vargas Llosa, La civilización del espectáculo

Ben Marcus, The Flame Alphabet

Toni Morrison, Home

Joyce Carol Oates, Mudwoman


Radu Romaniuc said...

The snippet from My Only Wife is mesmerizing.

Larry said...

It maintains that rhythmic quality throughout the story, like a series of crescendos slowly crashing down to a devastating finale. Maybe I should have said that in my original post, as I may have understated its poignant beauty.

Anonymous said...

I see you are determined to ensure I continue to by books before finishing old ones. :-P


Alrin said...

Any chance of a Stover review? Maybe even a mega-review of the entire sequence?

Larry said...

It'll be a while, as I haven't been in the mood to write reviews for a few months now, but at some point, I might do that for the first two and Caine's Law (I already reviewed Black Knife when it came out a few years ago).

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