Jaffalogue’s Best Reads of 2015: Part 2

In Jaffalogue’s Best Reads of 2015: Part 1, I note the tops in Poetry, Nonfiction, Graphic Publications, Anthologies, and Creative Writing Blogs. Part 2 continues and concludes with the Prose Fiction Categories. Most of the 300+ reviews I’ve done this year have been short stories and novellas thanks in part to a hefty dose of anthologies. I considered all stories and novellas for the anthologies published this year even if the tale had been previously published elsewhere. Very few are older than 18 months.

FANTASY [Novel]:

Half the World (Shattered Sea, #2)–Joe Abercrombie’s Half the World (Shattered Sea, #2) continues and builds on a wonderful story in a dark world. [5 sea-faring stars]
Starwatch–Honorable Mention #1 goes to Ian Blackport’s Starwatch that centers on a fantasy world heist. [4 clandestine stars]
1001 Islands–Honorable Mention #2 is for K. T. Munson’s 1001 Islands for its sea battle and island-hopping tactics. [4 pirate stars]
 
 
 
 
 
FANTASY [Novella]:

–Patrick Rothfuss’ The Lightning Tree (The Kingkiller Chronicle #0.5). Tightly plotted and extraordinarily moving, this tale outshines the novels in the series. [5 stars, YBSF&F:N 2015]

FANTASY [Short Stories]:

–Kali Wallace’s “Water in Springtime”. Like a prose version of the animation Howl’s Moving Castle. [5 stars, YBDF&H 2015]

STEAMPUNK [Novel]:

The Shadow Revolution (Crown & Key, #1)–Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith’s The Shadow Revolution (Crown & Key, #1). Victorian era mash-up of steampunk and urban fantasy levels magicians and alchemists against werewolves. [4 bloody-fun stars]
 

STEAMPUNK [Novella]:

–Stan Swanson’s “Wind Up Hearts”. So good, so moving. If the opening montage of the animation Up was steampunk, this would be it. [5 stars, Chronology 2015]

SCIENCE FICTION / SPECULATIVE FICTION [Novel]:

Golden Son (Red Rising Trilogy, #2)–Pierce Brown’s Golden Son (The Red Rising Trilogy, #2). When the sequel tops its predecessor which was my top pick for 2014, you know this is special. Dystopian, space series with class warfare layered with civil war and intrigue. [5 War-mongering stars]
Déjà VuChaos StationAlive
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Honorable Mentions:
–Ian Hocking’s Deja Vu (Saskia Brandt, #1) is a speculative decades-spanning policing story with murder and mayhem to be solved. [4 stars]
–Jenn Burke and Kelly Jensen’s Chaos Station (Chaos Station, #1). Space-based, post-war tale with military secrets to drudge up and an interesting little ship of queer-inclusive characters. Firefly-like. [4 stars]
–Scott Sigler’s Alive (The Generations Trilogy, #1). Young adult, lost-in-space version of Lord of the Flies when memory-deprived teens awake from deep sleep on a space ship. [4 stars]

SCIENCE FICTION / SPECULATIVE FICTION [Novella]: [tie]

The Churn (Expanse, #0.2)–James S. A. Corey’s The Churn (Expanse, #0.2). A cross section of the undesirables left on Earth try to get by when anybody who’s anybody has left for space. [5 stars, YBSF&F:N 2015]
–Rachel Swirsky’s “Grand Jete (The Great Leap)” relates the moving tale of an immigrant’s dying daughter and his attempt to capture her consciousness in a clone-like living doll. [5 stars, YBF&SF 2015]

SCIENCE FICTION / SPECULATIVE FICTION [Short Stories]:

–Matthew S. Cox’s “Innocent Deception” shows a dystopian future of haves with their clones and privilege and the have-not’s left without treatment from a pandemic called “The Fade”. [5 stars, Chronology 2015]
–Samuel R. Delaney’s “Driftglass” shows the daring pioneers on the forefront of exploration and life below the ocean as human’s experiment with mutational and bodily changes. [5 stars, Mermaids 2015]
–Robert Reed’s “Pernicious Romance” chronicles a bizarre, time-bending event experienced by a stadium full of sports’ fans. [5 stars, YBSF&F 2015]

HORROR / DARK FANTASY [novel]:

Cynopolis (Nightscape #2)–David W. Edwards’ Cynopolis (Nightscape, #2) brings outre shape-shifting monsters to down-trodden Detroit. [4 Lovecraftian stars]

HORROR / DARK FANTASY [novella]:

Ghost Summer–Tananarive Due’s “Ghost Summer” which literally brings spectres of the racially-tense past up from the depths of the Florida swamp. [5 stars, GS]
 
 
 
 
 
 
HORROR / DARK FANTASY [short stories]:

Unknown Sender–Ryan Lanz’s Unknown Sender. An urban legend turns real as a cell phone without reception brings threats to an isolated location. [5 stars]
–V. H. Leslie’s “The Quiet Room” sees absence-by-death take form in a lofty house. [5 stars, YBDF&H 2015]
–Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter’s “The Female Factory”details terrible abuses at a Tasmanian women’s prison in the 1800’s. [5 stars, YBDF&H 2015]
–Wilbert Stanton’s “The Room Below” is a psychological nightmare at a girls’ mental hospital. [5 stars, YBDF&H 2015]
–Damien Angelica Walters’ “The Floating Girls: A Documentary” verges on absurdism as it provides social commentary on gender disparities still present in treatment between the sexes.

POST-APOCALYPTIC [novel]:

The Alpha PlagueThe Alpha Plague 2The Alpha Plague 3–Michael Robertson’s Alpha Plague series [The Alpha Plague, The Alpha Plague 2, The Alpha Plague 3] details the first few days of a rage-style zombie outbreak. While the read is guilty pleasure, the pacing and growing intrigue through the series rise to the top. [5, 4, & 5 predatory stars]

POST-APOCALYPTIC [novella]:

The Beauty–Aliya Whiteley’s The Beauty takes a Lovecraftian turn after all females die in a pandemic. [4 stars]

POST-APOCALYPTIC [short stories]:

–Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due’s “Danger Word” which show a grandfather and grandson trying to outlast a predatory zombie apocalypse. [5 stars, GS]
–Tananarive Due’s “Herd Immunity”, the second of a short story trilogy, shows the isolating bleakness after a pandemic nears reaches 100% fatalities. [5 stars, GS]

URBAN FANTASY / SUPERNATURAL [novel]:

Superhighway–Alex Fayman’s Superhighway ( Superhighway Trilogy, #1) is a young adult, cyber-thriller, superhero story. This coming-of-age tale sees an orphan-turned-man take a Robinhood-like stance with his new abilities. [5 Cyber Stars]

URBAN FANTASY / SUPERNATURAL [novella]:

–Seth Chambers’ In Her Eyes follows a Chicago-based shape-shifter in her troubled relationship with a museum curator. Issues of gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia emerge. [5 stars, YBSF&F:N 2015]

URBAN FANTASY / SUPERNATURAL [short stories]:

–John Grant’s “Ghost Story” has a guy potentially experience an ultra-dimensional event as his memories and realities no longer align for his life. [5 stars, YBSF&F 2015]
–Caitlin R. Kiernan’s “The Cats of River Street (1925)” [5 stars, YBDF&H 2015] and “The Transition of Elizabeth Haskings” [5 stars, NC2] both make the list. The former explores the disconnectedness of various relationships, while the latter shows a deeply intimate analogy to cancer in one of the most devastating stories I’ve read in years.
–Tanith Lee’s “Magritte’s Secret Agent” shows a student obsessed with an wheelchair-bound stranger’s uncommunicative, unresponsive mental and emotional state. Isolation and secrets oppressively persist. [5 stars, Mermaids]
–Sarah Monette’s “Somewhere Beneath Those Waves Was Her Home” has two rival women find commonality in their situations despite one being a mythic selkie. [5 stars, Mermaids]

DETECTIVE / THRILLER [novel]:

All the Old Knives: A NovelOlen Steinhauer’s All the Old Knives weaves a tale of political intrigue over decades and from two unreliable sources. [4 spy-vs-spy stars]

DETECTIVE / THRILLER [novella]:

John P. Murphy’s Claudius Rex is a near-future detective story in which advanced AI hijacks the detective’s neural implant to solve its own cases. [5 stars, YBSF&F:N 2015]

DETECTIVE / THRILLER [short story]:

Steve Pantazis’ “Switch” is a near future detective noir told through a haze of psychedelic drugs. [5 stars, WotF 31]

HISTORICAL FICTION [novel]:

Hawser–J. Hardy Carroll’s Hawser is a fascinating, immersive WWII tale narrated by a B-52 bombardier.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
These are my picks for 2015. Do you agree? Disagree? Did I overlook a big one? Feel free to let me know.

For novellas and short stories, the following abbr. were used to denote specific anthologies:
ChronologyChronology
GS–Ghost Summer
MermaidsMermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep
NC2–New Cthulhu 2: More Recent Weird
WofF 31–Writers of the Future Volume 31
YBDF&H 2015–The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2015
YBSF&F 2015–The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015
YBSF&F:N 2015–The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas: 2015

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Jaffalogue’s Best Reads of 2015: Part 1

What a great year for reading! I posted more than 300 reviews this year and have some recommendations to give in many different genres. I will try to limit the “Best of” Awards to things published in 2015 or re-published in 2015 after getting first noticed in 2014. [This is common for short stories and novellas.]

POETRY: [tie]

If Your Matter Could Reform
–Robert Okaji’s If Your Matter Could Reform is exquisite. [5 beautiful stars] Note that his poetry blog is listed below in best creative writing blogs of the year, too.
Cut-up Apologetic
–Jamie Sharpe’s Cut-up Apologetic is funny, sharp, and poignant. [5 pointed stars] Canada should be proud.

Cat Lady
Honorable mention to the best long narrative poem I read this year: Mary M Schmidt’s Cat Lady. [4 fantastical stars]
 
 
 
 

GRAPHIC PUBLICATION:

Saga, Volume 5–Fiona Staples [illustrator] and Brian K. Vaughan [writer] for Saga, Volume 5. [5 imaginative stars] Read the whole series; it’s half guilty pleasure and half brilliant political commentary.

Trees, Vol. 1 (Trees #1)Honorable mention to Warren Ellis [writer] and Jason Howard [illustrator] for Trees, Vol. 1. [4 socially-aware stars] This is a series to watch out for.
 
 
 
 
 

NONFICTION:

Evolving Ourselves: How Unnatural Selection and Nonrandom Mutation are Changing Life on EarthEvolving Ourselves by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans. [4 delving stars] Speculative science probing the forefront of the genetics game.
 
 
 
 
 
 

ANTHOLOGIES [single author]: [tie]

Nothing Is Strange–Mike Russell’s Nothing Is Strange. [4 absurd stars] Absurdism at its best, and unrelentingly so.

Ghost Summer–Tananarive Due’s Ghost Summer [4 eerie-&-bleak stars] Southern decadence, apocalypse and horror stirred together.
 
 
 
 
 

ANTHOLOGIES [themed, multiple authors]:

Mermaids and Other Mysteries of the DeepMermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep editted by Paula Guran for Prime books. [4 dysmorphic stars] Gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia are explored across cultures and traditions.
 
 
 
 
 

ANTHOLOGIES [unthemed, multiple authors]: [tie]

Writers of the Future Volume 31Writers of the Future Volume 31. [4 emergent stars] A diverse cast of previously unpublished fantasy and sci-fi competition winners.

The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, 2015 EditionThe Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas 2015
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 –The 3 tome set of Prime Books “Best of 2015” series [4 synthesizing stars]:
     The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2015 editted by Paula Guran.
     The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015 editted by Rich Horton.
     The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas: 2015 editted by Paula Guran.

BLOG [poetry, single author]

–Robert Okaji’s O at the Edges. He also authored one of the poetry collection picks above.

BLOG [creative writing, single author]

–Dakota Lopez’s Tales from Atelinor. A series of fantasy shorts spanning millenia on one non-Earth world.

BLOG [creative writing e-magazine]

The Eunoia Review. Mostly poetry, some short fiction. Posts twice daily.

Do you agree? Disagree? Did I overlook a big one? Feel free to let me know.

In Jaffalogue’s Best Reads of 2015: Part 2, I conclude my “Best Of” picks with fiction short stories, novellas and novels broken down by genre including fantasy, urban fantasy, sci-fi, horror, thriller and more. Happy reading.

Review: Saga, Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughan [w/ Fiona Staples]

Saga, Volume 5Saga, Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Veering back into its A-Game, Vol. 5 of this graphic series shows the clash between the atrocities and fallout of war and the sacrifice that accompanies love. Consistently and brilliantly, Fiona Staples continues to graphically represent the humor, emotions, and actions of a very diverse cast of characters. [Notably absent from this volume are any queer characters or sub-themes which I had previously appreciated.]

This Romeo-&-Juliet saga centers on Alana from the planet of Landfall, Marko from Landfall’s moon Wreath, and their lovechild, Hazel, who manages to tell the widely diversifying tale from some point in the distant future.

Landfall and Wreath began clashing over strategic interests far away from their own solar system. To augment dwindling armies, the two sides each enlisted (or outright press-ganged) foreign fighters to join their ranks. Before long, almost everyone in the universe had skin in the game. But as the conflict moved further into the cosmos, an unfamiliar quiet fell over the two worlds that had given birth to this bloodshed. Civilians finally had the luxury to concern themselves with matters beyond life or death. Everyone still supported the troops, of course, but in a more . . . abstract way than past times.

With nearly every species in the galaxy affected by war, complicated and shifting alliances and animosities set the tone. None moreso than the socially abhorrent union of Alana and Marko who’re wanted by both sides. They are still separated from the previous volume. Alana, along with Hazel, and Marko’s mother are held by the android Dengo who also holds the royal baby Robot Princeling after killing the princess. Marko finds himself in a strange alliance with the Princeling’s father, Robot Prince IV, and a couple of lovable oddities in Ghus and Yuma. A third band includes Marko’s ex, Gwendolyn, who previously teamed up with the bounty hunter, The Will, and his Lying Cat, and his adopted daughter-figure that he broke out of child prostitution, Sophie. The Will remains indisposed, so Gwen, Sophie and Lying Cat team with The Will’s bounty hunter sister, The Brand, and her companion dog to find a cure.

A new group emerges, The Last Revolution, comprised of individuals from many systems. They stand against both Wreath and Landfall in the war due to the destruction of their worlds. The upper hand shifts rapidly between the forces of Landfall, Wreath, Last Revolution, and Robots.

But ultimately, the story boils down to family and how one defines it. Many actions are done for the children whether it be Hazel, the Princeling or Sophie. And lives are lost . . .

Ask a child’s guardians what it takes to be good at their jobs, and most will answer with a single word . . .SACRIFICE. Parents give up so much: time, sleep, freedom, money, intimacy . . .pretty much everything but complaining about how much they sacrifice. . . .Granny used to describe giving your life as the “ultimate sacrifice,” but I don’t know about that. Dying is definitely the LAST sacrifice you can make . . . but sometimes it’s your first one that sets the tone for everything that follows.

This entire series is highly recommended. The previous volume of Saga won Goodreads’ Graphic Publication of the Year. Check out my reviews for other installments of Saga:
Saga, Volume 1
Saga, Volume 2
Saga, Volume 3
Saga, Volume 4

 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “Respects” by Ramsey Campbell

3 of 5 stars.

Grief is an isolating affair–an us vs. them situation tinting the spectacles through which one views the world. This subtle horror tale explores many facets and reactions to death.

Dorothy is a year widowed and still finds herself wanting to ask Harry a question or senses him in a room with her. She tends to flowers in her gardens which she gathers to enliven her house, despite her rundown neighborhood. And she often buys floral wreaths to don Harry’s grave.

Her house is broken into–par for the course in the neighborhood–by her neighbor’s eldest boy, Keanu. Later that day, Keanu dies in a single car accident right in front of the house when police give chase to the boy who’s stolen a vehicle. He’s treated like a folk hero with flowers and wreaths encircling the light pole which ended his car chase.

Keanu’s mother and siblings canvas the neighborhood looking for witnesses to the accident. They intimidate and threaten meek Dorothy repeatedly. She responds by retreating further into her lonely house that’s been violated already. The eeriness of the violation and heavy absence of her husband melds into a psychological horror.

This short story was included in the anthology The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2010 edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “Bruise for Bruise” by Robert Davies

2 of 5 stars.

This tale is an unsubtle Christian allegory where human-monsters are the norm and the rare individual that is not a monster is alternately persecuted and/or an object of reverence.

In the town of Promise, literal monsters are born–humans with an extra mouth on their foreheads or knives for fingernails . . . Until plain Ruth was born. She wasn’t extraordinary in any way so her monstrous mother and twin brothers hid her away from sight in their farmhouse. However, the town knew of her and stoned the farmhouse windows frequently until the yard was forever littered with glass. The rest of the town monsters put on an eternal circus freakshow reveling in their monstrosity.

Then Ruth morphs. Her bones shatter and twist causing bruises to appear all over her body. Each bruise depicts a scene from the Bible. Crucified Jesus dons on her back, Moses parts the Red Sea on her thigh . . . Ruth becomes the object of pilgrimages which draws Joss from beyond the monster area, and he loves her without knowing her. And he knows he has to get her away from Promise . . .

Allegory has its place, but it can take away from the characters and characterizations to its detriment. Unfortunately, Joss as the hero is the only character with a personality in this tale. Ruth deserves equal if not greater treatment to break the cycle of being a helpless character always manipulated by others regardless of their intentions.

This short story was included in the anthology The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2010 edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “Everything Dies, Baby” by Nadia Bulkin

2 of 5 stars.

The transition from life to death is rarely an easy one for any of the parties involved. This absurdist tale explores many angles of that transition when a plane carrying dozens of passengers and a coffin crashes en route from Denver to Milwaukee. Dozens of suddenly dead souls are jolted by their circumstances, while the deceased occupant of the coffin in the cargo hold suddenly and confusingly finds himself alive.

Beth is a lonely single mother of baby, Janelle, when her husband, Joe, dies. Her Nebraska yard is barren and hard-baked and becomes the landing place of a smashed coffin ejected from a crashing plane. The man in the coffin, Hamzah, comes to the house for help–slowly he remembers the circumstances of his death in a hit-and-run. Meanwhile, the backyard brims with weeds and vines and insects starting at the crash site. Hamzah stays, but ghosts of the plane crash start to descend upon the house . . .

While the premise of someone dead jolting to life while many are suddenly killed provides an interesting situation, no explanations are ever offered. Nor is it clear if the entire scenario occurs in the mind of clearly depressed Beth. Adding extra weight to the Beth’s Crazy Theory is the overly precocious if not sarcastic dialogue provided by the baby. Unfortunately, the baby’s dialogue disrupts the suspended disbelief in the story.

This short story was included in the anthology The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2010 edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously read this author’s “Absolute Zero” and “Only Unity Saves the Damned”.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “White Charles” by Sarah Monette

3 of 5 stars.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has inspired much analysis, exploration, and extrapolation on behalf of writers over the centuries. Many works inspired by Shelley, show the scholar/scientists “playing god” without regard to those they hurt. The Island of Dr. Moreau is a famous example. A few look to the psychology of the “monster,” as is the case with this tale.

The Frankenstein connection is boldly called out for comparison by the museum archivist, Mr. Booth, that narrates this story. A golem-like creature is discovered to have been brought to “life” by a centuries-dead alchemist-necromancer. Mr. Booth discovers the creature when attending to a donated estate–the creature immediately prepares to defend itself. However, the creature is not happy being a not-quite-living thing when it was never meant to be alive. . .

An interesting post-slavery, racial perspective on the golem’s position of servitude stands as a welcome surprise. Less enamoring is the archivist’s analytic voice which reminded me of Shelley’s impassive, distant narration style.

This short story was included in the anthology The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2010 edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously read this author’s brilliantly crafted “Somewhere Beneath Those Waves Was Her Home” and her collaborative sci-fi with Elizabeth Bear “The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward. The latter piece also thematically touches on Shelley’s Frankenstein, though it focused on the perpetrator/scientist and not on the victims.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]