Damn Fine Books I read in 2018

Sure, I’ll do a list. Everyone does. These were not all published in 2018, just read in the year.

Seriously, some of these were the best things read in any or all years. Presented in no particular order:

Tender by Sofia Samatar. This was probably on my list last year because I started in in 2017 and finished it in 2018. Simply a stunning collection of stories.

The only Harmless Great Thing by Brook Bolander. Elephants, radiation, and suffering, what more could anyone want? This book is easily the most emotional of the year.

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle. If you ever wondered what really happened in Red Hook when Lovecraft wasn’t paying attention.

Dreams of Distant Shores by Patricia McKillip. A treasure of a collection by one of Fantasy’s grandest masters.

The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor. If you were wondering how the world of Who Fears Death got that way, this book answers it and is just as good.

Father Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism: A Novella by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden. This story about orphans and puppets just grabbed me.

Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic Edited by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and Chris N. Brown. This is also one I started in 2017 but finished in 2018. This is one of the best collections of Fantasy stories I have ever read.

Recent Short Reading

My to-be-read list of short stories, novelettes, and novellas is growing. So many good things being published right now it’s hard to keep up, but I did work my way through a few items lately and here are the most remarkable:

The Only Harmless Great Thing” The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander is a terrific novelette. If you like alternate history Fantasy and Science Fiction this should be on your reading list.

Stories:
Origin Story, T. Kingfisher

River Doll, Tariro Ndoro @MissTariN
https://omenana.com/2018/04/21/river-doll-tariro-ndoro/

Writer Reading

I have noted before how I’m a slow reader. I read each word and then I re-read as I go because, as a writer, I can’t help it. Despite my slowness, I have managed to read more by making reading a priority. If I consider myself a serious writer I have to spend time writing, and reading.

What to read?

As widely as I can. I know, that sounds more like a ‘how’ rather than a ‘what’ question but really it is about what to read.

How wide is wide?

This is a question about genre. How many genres or sub-genres is only part of the equation. I see Format as part of widening a genre. Short stories, novellas, and serials, even within a genre, provide a rich and varied set of voices.

The same is true with publishers. The Big Five and their imprints are fine but small presses and small magazines are publishing some of the best, and award winning fiction. The best things I read recently came from small presses like Small Beer Press and small magazines such as Shimmer.

Readers seem to be embracing the diversity of format and sources given the success of novellas and serials recently. I’m excited to see this trend because as a writer it provides me with more ways to reach an audience. More chances for an acceptance letter.

It also means I need to read in the emerging wider world and I’m happy with that.

Best Novels Read in 2017

Here is my short list of favorite novels read in 2017, provided in no particular order.

Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay. In my mind this is a modern fantasy classic.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. In addition to reading this wonderful book I met David Mitchell at the World Fantasy Convention this year and I was fascinated and inspired by our all-too-short conversation.

The Non-Existent Knight & The Cloven Viscount by Italo Calvino. Not a recent title but a recent find for me.

The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan

Best Short Reading 2017

I put an emphasis on reading short stories this year, and keeping track of the best ones. Here they are, in no particular order.

Anthologies:

  • Tender: stories by Sofia Samatar. This collection is among the two best things I read all year. Each is a truly immersive fantasy and effortless prose.
  • Three Messages and a Warning edited by Eduardo Jimenez-May & Chris N. Brown. Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic. This book was a give-away for my purchase of Tender at the Small Beer Press booth at the World Fantasy Convention this year. It was an unexpected gem filled with so many talented Mexican authors.
  • Red Dust and Dancing Horses and Other Stories by Beth Cato. The Souls of Horses captured me with its humanness and its ‘horseness.’ I think the author would know what I mean as would any reader.
  • Dreams of Distant Shores by Patricia A. McKillip. Patricia McKillip makes writing feel simple and elegant at the same time. The stories are full of imagination.

Uncollected Stories:

Best Online Short Stories July 2017

I have created a new feature, a monthly Best Online Short Stories list so welcome to the first edition.

This is a list of the best short stories I’ve read in the past month. These stories were published online, though some may also have been published in a print journal or e-zine. These online stories represent excellent work, often by new writers, and I simply wish them well and a wider audience.

If you read something great this month, share it.

  • The Dead Father Cookbook by Ashley Booms

http://strangehorizons.com/fiction/the-dead-father-cookbook/

Ashley Bloom: http://www.ashleyblooms.com/

A creepy story that may say too much about me in the fact I thought it was fun.

  • What if I Fall by Anne Dafeta

http://omenana.com/2017/04/06/what-if-i-fall/

Anne Dafeta: https://ajdafeta.wordpress.com/

The tension and pacing are very well done.

  • Ten Thousand Sleeping Beauties by Jocelyn Koehler

http://lunastationquarterly.com/story/ten-thousand-sleeping-beauties

Jocelyn Koehler: http://www.teamblood.org

A thoughtful, poignant tale with big themes in a small space.

Each of these stories are by writers without long publishing credentials but they are all strong writers with excellent voices.

Other good stories for July 2017

Priming the Creative Pump

I enjoy reading about history and often, when the creative juices just aren’t bubbling the way I’d like, I randomly pick up a book of history and start reading. Usually what I read does not produce a direct result on what I am writing but the very act of reading about and thinking about history gets my writing muscles going again. It is a way to focus again on the creative.

There are other times when reading history actually stimulates new ideas. The story of Barbara Follett, a young writer with fierce independence and endless creativity, who vanishes, is one such example. These stories bring together the human elements of a tragic or mysterious life that have intersected with something universal like a well known event, or well known person, or even a widely used technology. These stories create a launching point – better yet – an opportunity for setting up a story.

This does not mean I would look at the Barbara Follett story and write a novel about a writer who has her enormous potential squashed, romance(s) ruined, and then disappears. Fictionalizing real events is not what I’m after here. What I want to do is inspect the elements and create something new. Perhaps the troubled writer actually disappears into her story world. The novel might happen there. Is life any better  in the story world because she, as creator of it, has an advantage? Or is she surprised by what she finds in ‘her’ story world?

Riffing on things we find in the real world is what writers do, but sometimes just observing others fails to capture the larger than life elements that drive great stories. Finding and studying these better documented stories can provide the spark an author needs.