I did get through a metric crapton(1) of books this year, and a lot of them were very good. I’m not going to do a ‘best of’, but I want to flag up a few reads that people might not have come across, and that I think deserve some attention. If you’re looking for a good, solidly written book with a different perspective, you could do a lot worse. Also late Christmas presents (2).

David Tallerman has brought what could be a final volume to the trilogy that started with Giant Thief this year. David’s writing goes from strength to strength. I especially enjoyed Crown Thief, the second volume, and Prince Thief does a good job of bringing the overarching storyline home. There’s quite an art to writing the story of a character trying to escape the plot at every turn and David certainly has it.

Also in secondary world fantasy, Daniel Polansky’s sequel to The Straight Razor Cure is Tomorrow the Killing and it is frankly the grimmest and darkest of the grimdarks, vicious, brutal, pulling no punches and yet extremely compelling reading. For a first chapter of a new story, you could do a lot worse than look out Jen Williams’ The Copper Promise, which I was lucky enough to score an advance reader copy of. This is a more traditional heroic fantasy, but with a lot of twists and some seriously conflicted lead characters. I can see it ranking highly in the Morningstar Award for new writers in the Gemmells.

I’ve read some good urban fantasies this year as well. Tom Pollock’s The City’s Son takes the genre somewhere west of Vandermeer and Mieville in sheer wierdness, while Emma Newman’s Split Worlds series, starting with Between Two Thorns, is a beautifully written account of a clash between our world, the hostile realm of faerie, and a weird middle ground where it’s always 1800 and never Christmas. The entire series has come out on its own heels, and Emma’s fluent, elegant writing style make them swift and engaging reading.

Superhero novels are a thing, now, in that there’s more than just the odd one or two. Samit Basu’s Turbulence is one of the best I’ve read, intelligent, action-packed, well characterised and with the added interest of setting the story in India: the book has a very fresh feel and avoids the clichés.

The Fictional Man is a novel by comics creator Al Ewing, and is fairly heavily metaphysical. The setting is a world where actors are being replaced by vat-grown engineered ‘Fictionals’, which becomes the backdrop to explore a whole lot of the human nature – identity, prejudice, the lies we tell to ourselves. It’s very funny in places, very sad in others, and it gets quite heavy at times, but it’s very good.

Last we have the SF, and this year most of my SF diet came in small bites. Ian Sales’ first two Apollo Quartet instalments are weird and strange and crammed with verisimilitude (I’ve not read the third yet), and seem to chime perfectly with the burgeoning fascination with the space race, old and new, that seems to be springing up everywhere like extrasolar mushrooms. I read a lot of shorts collections this year, too (and I really want to plug some I’m in, but that would be somewhat unethical. And anyway, already did that.) but I think the two I enjoyed the most were veteran author Paul McAuley’s A Very British History from PS Publishing, and Mercurio Riviera’s Across the Event Horizon. I hadn’t ever come across Riviera until Eastercon this year, but his writing is superb, imaginative and very thought-provoking.

I also saw a relatively small number of films over a year which seemed to have more than its share of turkeys. There were an awful lot of films coming out that I was extremely glad not to be shelling out nine quid for at the local Vue, frankly, and I’m not sure how many Lone Rangers the world can survive before the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse feel they need to stage some sort of intervention. In no particular order, though, I did enjoy Iron Man 3, Thor 2 and the second Hunger Games film, all of them good, enjoyable viewing experiences. Gravity was very good, although it was one of those films that really didn’t have much beyond those tense, beautifully crafted moments on-screen – not a film I felt posed questions or set the mind working. I think the film that touched me most in 2013 – and here I am going to do a personal ‘best of’ – was another rigorous SF offering, The Europa Report – perhaps not as technically perfect as Gravity, but dealing with a story I find inherently more interesting. I find myself thinking far more on the decisions – especially the fateful final decision – made by the members of the Europa expedition than I do about the tribulations of Bullock and Clooney’s desperate astronauts – the Gravity story is exactingly concluded at the end of the film; Europa Report‘s is only starting.

(1) I was aiming for the Imperial crapton, but stuff got in the way.

(2) Only if the recipient already has all of mine, though, obviously.

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