2011 Overlooked Books? Unique Fantasy, SF, and Horror You Might Have Missed
Every year interesting and amazing books slip through the cracks. Some reach a wide audience and yet still get overlooked at the end of the year, while others reach a select if enthusiastic audience and miss a wider readership. Here’s a run-down of some great titles from the past year or so that you should definitely check out, with a few science fiction books in the mix as well.
The Great Lover by Michael Cisco (Chômu Press) - At this point, it appears Cisco is simply operating in a sphere that most weird fiction writers never reach, or attain only rarely, and is doing it effortlessly. The best work of the weird in 2010, The Narrator, Cisco’s prior novel, may be more accessible, but once you become accustomed to the rhythms of this new book, it is an unforgettable experience. The Great Lover of the title is a sewerman and undead hero and the novel, to some measure, follows his strange adventures. (And if you’re into weird fiction generally, check out this list of weird fiction I put together.)
The Best Horror of the Year: Volume 3, edited by Ellen Datlow (Night Shade Books) – Iconic horror editor Datlow’s latest installment of her best-of reprint series includes chilling stories by Laird Barron, Stephen Graham Jones, Tanith Lee, Joe R. Lansdale, M. Rickert, Catherynne M. Valente, and many more. With great cover art by Allan Williams.
The Emergence of Latin American Science Fiction by Haywood Ferreira (Wesleyan) – This fascinating exploration of Latin American SF prior to 1920 points to a parallel tradition to the much better-known North American one. Some of the more interesting sections bring to light a Latin American Frankenstein and chart the course of influence across Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. The book also includes some fascinating images, not least of which is the magnificent cover art.
Roil by Trent Jamieson (Angry Robot) – In this fantasy novel with some SF details, the talented Australian author Jamieson gives readers a truly vast and awesome monster-bearing storm and strange machines. Whole cities are being devoured by the storm and only a four thousand-year-old man, a young woman, and a decadent wastrel stand in the way. Although this might look like generic fantasy from the cover, it’s definitely something much more interesting.
The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit) – The World Fantasy Award-nominated "Inheritance" fantasy series comes to its stunning conclusion with this epic third volume. The gods have been let loose and the traditional powers are threatened in Jemisin’s fascinating secondary-world creation. Caught in the middle is the protagonist, Shahar. Although this series has gotten plenty of press, this is a great time for those who haven’t yet picked up the books to get on board.
What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower by Margaret Killjoy (Combustion Books) – Plugged by Cory Doctorow, this cutting-edge steampunk novel details political struggles, decadent excesses, air balloon rides, and more. From the founder of SteamPunk Magazine comes a first novel that’s also interactive for the reader. If you’re a Steampunk fan looking for your next literary meal, consider this odd little treat.
Somewhere Beneath Those Waves by Sarah Monette (Prime Books) – Monette is a consummate storyteller and stylist whose evocative, sometimes disturbing tales will take you away to strange places with even stranger characters. One of the best stories involves a museum of dragon skulls. Highly recommended for fans of fantasy and horror.
Women and Monsters by J.M. McDermott (Bad Ducky) – Another great story collection, somewhat themed, among the best of the year. The stories revolve around the women and monsters of Greek mythology but in new contexts. For example, Eurydice wanders an abandoned amusement park and Korey thinks of leaving her mother, her small town, her mundane, simple life. Monsters making an appearance include Charybdis, Scylla, and Gorgon.
Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail, edited by Gary Phillips and Andrea Gibbons (PM Press) – A powerful anthology of original and reprint stories about revolution, crime, riots, and revolts that includes work by Michael Moorcock, Kim Stanley Robinson, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, and more.
The Orphan Palace by Joseph Pulver, Sr. (Chômu Press) - A first novel in which the protagonist is heading east through the night-bleak cities of America and back to confront the past he has never escaped, as a resident of Zimms, an orphanage-cum-asylum and a true palace of dementia, presided over by the “Chaos Lord,” Dr. Archer. This is a chaotic and sometimes rough-edged debut that combines various influences, including William Burroughs. It has undeniable energy and a unique imagination driving its weird engines.
Regicide by Nicholas Royle (Solaris) – The narrator of this novel by this underrated British novelist begins to get glimpses in the real world of an odd and nightmarish other place that cannot possibly exist. Some of the opening scenes are among the creepiest I’ve read recently, and although the ending can’t quite live up to the power of the set-up, the novel is still among the more original page-turners of the year.
Nested Scrolls: The Autobiography by Rudy Rucker (Tor Books) – A kind of recent history of SF conveyed through the life and times of transrealist speculative fiction writer Rudy Rucker, once known as a member of the cyberpunks that included Bruce Sterling and William Gibson. The best parts provide good insight into the life of a working writer, and ample context about the science fiction scene.
Heart of Iron by Ekaterina Sedia (Prime Books) – This underrated alt-history Steampunk romp posits a Russia where the Decembrists' rebellion was successful and the Trans-Siberian railroad was completed before 1854. Sasha Trubetskaya wants nothing more than to have a decent debut ball in St. Petersburg. But her aunt's feud with the emperor lands Sasha at university, where she becomes one of its first female students. The university holds secrets galore, and Sasha is soon trying to stop a war from starting between three empires. Dame Florence Nightingale is reimagined as a terrifying British Secret Service agent.
Osama by Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing) – Evocative, subtle, forceful, and beautifully written, this nuanced and fascinating novel is at heart a compelling alt-world mystery. In a world without global terrorism, Joe, a private detective, is hired by a mysterious woman to find a man: the obscure author of pulp fiction novels featuring one Osama Bin Laden.
The Folded World by Catherynne M. Valente (Night Shade Books) – Given the recent popularity of Valente, it might seem silly to include her fiction on a list of overlooked books. But her Prester John fantasy series, of which this is book two, appears to be flying under the radar at the moment. This installment features the Crusades and Prester John’s daughter. Oh yes—and monsters.
Sleeping Helena by Erzebet Yellowboy (Prime Books) – A lovely fantasy novel released in November 2010 that got lost in the end-of-year scrum of best-of lists featuring titles from earlier in the year. The orphan Helena receives eight gifts from eight extraordinary aunts, only to receive one final gift that puts everyone in her domain to sleep. Broken mirrors, the distant past, and much more figure into this beautifully realized modern fairy tale suitable for both teens and adults.