Hard as it is to believe, 2018 is almost out the door. Though we take heed to the experience and admonitions of Eva on Twitter, we are revved up, pencils sharpened, devices fully charged, ready to dive into the crisp, new box of resolutions and challenges that will be 2019. But before we do, the contributors here at Fiction Unbound would like to look back over our collective shoulders and revel in our favorites from the year gone by.
Gemma Webster: The Interviews
My favorite writing of 2018 was getting to interview two authors that blew my mind with their work. Priya Sharma wrote a beautiful book of short stories, All the Fabulous Beasts, which draws from her medical knowledge, the English countryside, and a sense of wonder fostered by her parents. The story Rising Tide, about a doctor who fails to save her patient, still haunts me. Gabino Iglesias showed me the darkness of La Frontera with his book Zero Saints and again with his latest Coyote Songs. I will never forget the mystery thing in the bucket during the opening of Zero Saints, or the love between Consuelo and Fernando.
It was so fun to talk to these writers and plumb the depths of their imaginations. The thing these two writers have in common (besides their penchant for visiting dark places) is that they are both thinking deeply about love and pain. That they can capture that love so well allows us to journey to the underworld of pain and return with our spirit intact but changed, hopefully for the better.
Theodore McCombs: Double-Dipping into Peng Shepherd’s The Book of M
It’s too hard to pick a favorite book of 2018, but clearly I had a favorite book to write about: Peng Shepherd’s debut fantasy novel, The Book of M. This uncanny post-apocalyptic adventure sees people across the world losing their shadows, and with their shadows, their memories; but at the same time, gaining a terrifying power to reshape reality according to their distorted perceptions. It is, frankly, a really weird apocalypse, but for me, so thought-provoking I needed two essays to get them down. It’s a book that scrambles literary and speculative genres by plopping realistic characters in a literary-absurdist dreamscape, and in doing so, comments on our own really weird apocalypse of alternative facts and subjective realities.
Amanda Baldeneaux: Midsummer Speculative Short Story Round Up
My New Year’s resolution for 2018 included reading more short fiction coming out on the market now, rather than revisiting my worn copy of the collected works of Flannery O’Connor over and over. This resolution led me to subscribe to a few lit mags, including the Journal of the Month, and to proactively visit and support online literary magazines (Uncanny, Lightspeed, The Dark, etc.). I found so many new writers to admire and stories that break the rules of structure in ways I couldn’t have imagined (one of my favorite rule-bending stories is “Old Fighter Pilots” by Samuel Jensen, my classmate in last June’s Lighthouse Lit Fest Master Class with Min Jin Lee). This resolution led to my compilation of favorite stories I’d read by mid-summer, and I hope they led a reader or two on their own literary-magazine journey of discovery.
Favorite overall: Sean Cassity has been doing a year-long reading of science fiction and fantasy by black authors and highlighting their work in his posts. Check out his reviews of How Long Till Black Future Month? and The Black God’s Drums to get started. He also edited my story on the re-release of the Binti Trilogy.
Lisa Mahoney: The Present Haunted by the Past
Amanda Baldeneaux and I delved into the crumbling world of Southern Gothic in a series of posts early this year, and I haven’t found my path back out of the impenetrable forests of Florida and Mississippi since. I’d read European Gothic classics tales peopled by twisted priests and sickly, childless aristocrats, but I hadn’t explored the link to Southern literature. In Southern Gothic stories, depraved pastors or preachers hark back to the priests and monks of European Gothic stories, and steamy, overgrown Southern forests and decrepit mansions stand in for the maze-like, crumbling castles of Europe. In these works, without slavery’s bounty, worthless landowners are stuck in a past they idealize like ghosts who won’t go quietly. The best part about these posts was rereading Beloved. Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is arguably the pinnacle of the new Southern Gothic, a literary masterpiece set against the monstrous yet true horrors inflicted upon former slaves and their loved ones. The ghosts of family and friends abused and murdered by slave owners linger, like a mental scarring, and prevent the former slaves from loving each other too much.
Danyelle Overbo: Interviewing The Past is Never Author Tiffany Quay Tyson
This has been a crazy, crazy year for me. What with starting a business, finishing a draft of my novel, and having a baby (no big deal), I didn’t have a lot of time for reading. This was unfortunate since my New Year’s resolution for 2018 was to read 100 books! While I did not get anywhere near that number, I did have the chance to read Colorado’s own Tiffany Quay Tyson’s novel The Past is Never. Wow, what a book. I don’t normally read Gothic novels, but Tyson’s looked too good to pass up. Intense and beautiful with a strong-minded, female protagonist, The Past is Never is a story about the reverberations of deeds long done through time, how the past can affect the present and change the future. It was a riveting read that has stuck in my mind long after I was done with the book. Our post interviewing Tyson about her book is a great companion read to this awesome novel.
CS Peterson: The Wild Raging Girls
It was early in 2018 that the post went up for The Wild Raging Girl but it has stuck with me all year. Once I noticed this particular character, she has shown up in such diverse corners of my regular eclectic reading frenzy that I’m astonished I didn’t see her before. I’ve seen her echo in older characters as well—think Jessica Jones, Lisbeth Salander, and even Katniss Everdeen (did that epilogue feel off to anyone else? Anyone?). In her young-woman manifestations, wild raging girl is usually part of both the problem and the solution in the story. This older girls still struggles with articulating, but far from being stuffed into a refrigerator as a plot device, she is often the character whose agency brings about the resolution to the story. Once the dust settles though, she’s still a problem. The endings to stories featuring this character do not seem to settle the way endings to stories about wild raging boys or angry young men do. Authors Archer and Jockers assert that our society throws up its collective hands and hollers “we don’t know how to ‘solve for’ this character.” I’m certain this intriguing character will be wild and raging in the coming year, too. Keep your eyes out for her.
Mark Springer: Post-Human Worlds
I have seen the future and it is not us. Between Murderbot, the half-human rogue android in Martha Wells’s The Murderbot Diaries, and the titular protagonist of The Strange Bird by Jeff VanderMeer, I spent a lot of time this year in the company of “post-human” fictional characters. The experience was liberating. In the same way that a fish in water doesn’t know it is wet, it can be difficult for homo sapiens to imagine a consciousness that doesn’t conform to our human-centric perspective. Once you transcend the myth of human exceptionalism, however, there’s no going back. That’s why I can’t stop thinking about The Strange Bird. The bird in question is more than a bird—she is sentient biotech, a hybrid of many species, a made thing. VanderMeer’s rendering of her consciousness is spellbinding. A companion to the author’s sublime biotech apocalypse novel, Borne, the Strange Bird’s story is both tragic and hopeful—not the kind of hope that looks evil in the face and blithely asserts that everything will be all right, but the kind of hope that makes it possible to survive in a world where “all right” means something else entirely. A world where life goes on with or without us, and in ways we might never imagine.