Best Short Novels 2016 – An imaginary list

I may post about my picks for Best Novella of 2016 as we work our way through the ‘year in review’ period, but for the moment I was pondering what I’d put into my old Best Short Novels series, if I was still editing it for someone today.

After a bit of reflection I came up with the following list. I wasn’t restricted to Hugo length requirements, so one story is actually a long novelette, but this list would still come close to 200,000 words which is about right for the old series.

So, herewith, the fantasy contents for Best Short Novels: 2016.

  • The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson (Tor)
  • The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle (Tor)
  • Every Heart A Doorway, Seanan McGuire (Tor)
  • This Census-taker, China Mieville (Del Rey)
  • The Charge and the Storm, An Owomoyela (Asimov’s)
  • The Devil You Know, K.J. Parker (Tor)
  • The Iron Tactician, Alastair Reynolds (Newcon)
  • The Best Story I Can Manage, Robert Shearman (Five Storeys High)
  • The Vanishing Kind, Lavie Tidhar (F&SF)
  • A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor)

It surprises me a little, in this era of digital publishing, that none of these are available to read online.

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The Loud Table, Jonathan Carroll

The Loud Table by Jonathan Carroll (Tor.com)
The Loud Table by Jonathan Carroll (Tor.com)

At his best, Jonathan Carroll is a master at subtly and perceptively portraying the foibles of the human condition. You can see it in everything from early novels like Bones of the Moon and Sleeping in Flame to more recent work like The Ghost in Love and Bathing the Lion. And while he’s not best known for his short fiction he has nonetheless managed to build quite an impressive bibliography. His fine 2012 collection The Woman Who Married a Cloud collects his slightly strange, intimate, and humane ruminations on the oddities of the human condition and is endlessly impressive. Although, perhaps “Friend’s Best Man” aside, he’s not been widely awarded or applauded for his short fiction, his recent work holds up remarkably well. I think a story like 2005’s “Home on the Rain” should’ve made awards ballots and would have made my own year’s best were conditions different, while novella Teaching the Dog to Read repays close attention.

Carroll can usually be depended on to produce a new work of short fiction every year or two, and they often stand out as being among the year’s very best. Which is why I was very interested to see his new short story, “The Loud Table“, appear at Tor.com today. It’s a really interesting piece, but I’m not sure it’s completely successful. Edited by Ellen Datlow, “The Loud Table” tells the story of four elderly men who meet every day at a local cafe to sit, talk, drink coffee, solve the world’s problems, and more importantly, to fill their long, empty days.

Carroll beautifully sketches in the quartet, touching movingly on the hard won matters of old age; the friends and loved ones lost to time or illness; the ravages time has wrought on body, soul and memory. And the unexpected friendships found late in life that fill long, lonely days with something that is fulfilling and worthwhile.  The driver behind the story is that the quartet’s meeting spot is closing for renovations. For a month or two or three, these lost souls will be without a cafe to call home and they’re unhappy about it. They try this cafe, which is too loud, and that one, which has lousy coffee. Eventually it’s suggested they try a local gay cafe, the Tough Nut. They balk for a moment, but are surprised to find, opening hours aside, that it’s a wonderful fit where they feel welcome (it doesn’t hurt that the cake is good).

And then Carroll adds the second driver to the story. One of the quartet, Conrad, fears he may be suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. When Tough Nut‘s much younger proprietor joins them for coffee one morning, they end up discussing what they miss, what they’d like restored that they may have lost in their journey from young to elderly men. Conrad can’t remember a long ago lover’s face, but he dearly wants to. It’s here that Carroll adds his intimations of mortality and for a moment the story sings. And then…

This is where you need to go and read the story. I’m not going to fill in the gaps, but Carroll makes some unexpected choices in telling his tale, moving it firmly into science fictional territory. I felt this part of the tale really doesn’t seem to fit what came before, and seemed both out of place and strangely old-fashioned. Almost like a slice of ’50s or ’60s Ray Bradbury dropped into the mix. I don’t think the story really recovers from this, moving it from being potentially wonderful to being oddly disappointing. I don’t think “The Loud Table” ranks among Carroll’s best, or among the best of the year, but he’s always interesting and it’s worth reading.

I’m grateful to Datlow and Tor.com for the chance to read “The Loud Table“, but hope for something even better next time.

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Going to San Antonio next year?

I have just signed up to join the 190 other people who are planning on attending the 2017 World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio, Texas in November 2017. Now is a great time to buy a membership, given the price will rise tomorrow (from $150 to $225).

I think it’s also a great time to show support for the convention. There were some issues in the run up to the Columbus event, which seems to have gone off very well, but the convention did attempt to address them. I think there’s a good chance 2017 will be great, though that depends on everyone showing up!

With Karen Joy Fowler, Greg Manchess, David Mitchell, Gordon Van Gelder and Martha Wells lined up as guests, it certainly looks great. And with all sorts of cool people already signed up to attend, it should be a lot of fun.

Still, 190 out of a possible 950 attendees… There could be more. I know that number is low because Garth and Sean and I just bought memberships. Will we see you there? Aussies? I hope so!

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Keeping busy in 2017

With the year nearly over, how does 2017 look for me? It looks a little quieter, to be honest. Book-wise, I should have two new anthologies out. Infinity Wars, the sixth Infinity anthology, should be out from Solaris some time in June. It will follow The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 11, which should be out in May.

Passing Strange, Ellen Klages
Passing Strange, Ellen Klages

There should also be some novellas I’ve edited coming out from Tor.com. First up is Passing Strange by Ellen Klages (January), followed by Caitlin Kiernan’s Agents of Dreamland (February), Gwyneth Jones’s Proof of Concept (April), and something from Ian McDonald later in the year. I’ve also acquired several short stories from Yoon Ha Lee, Lavie Tidhar and others that will be coming out through the year.

I don’t currently have any plans to edit any single-author collections, though I am overdue on working on the Best of Lafferty. I’ll be working on Locus as always (my 20th year!), and maybe one or two other things if I can interest publishers.

As always, I’ll be co-hosting the Coode Street Podcast with Gary Wolfe. We should hit our 300th episode some time before the end of 2016, so we’ll be cruising on into our next hundred with assorted guests. We’re keen to do more short story episodes with Kij Johnson, and there’s always the Roundtable with Ian and James (which I’ve been holding up, but am very keep to get back to).

What else? Conventions. I plan to attend WorldCon 75 in Helsinki, Finland this August. It’s my main convention for 2017. I ate also purchased a membership to World Fantasy 2017 in San Antonio, and really hope to be there, though we’ll have to see what plans and finances permit. If the world is insanely generous I may also make it to Continuum 13, the 57th Australian National Science Fiction Convention in Melbourne this June. We’ll have to see though.

I think that’s it. It sounds like a lot, I guess, but I’m feeling like I need to get on with things and add another project or two to the mix. Hopefully I can come up with something interesting before 2016 is done.

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Sheri S. Tepper

I was very sorry to hear this morning that Sheri S. Tepper had passed away. She started writing later in life, or at least publishing later in life, as a number of fine writers have, and ended up being extremely prolific through the 1980s and into the 1990s.

I first encountered Tepper’s work through her early novels in the ‘True Game‘ trilogy of trilogies and the ‘Marianne’ series, all books that read like fantasy but mixed science fiction and fantasy in a way that now seems prophetic. She wrote horror and mystery just as effectively, but probably hit her peak with Grass, a Hugo nominee (it lost to Dan Simmons’ Hyperion) and first in the ‘Arbai’ trilogy. I think it’s a masterwork that far outstrips her later work from the 1990s and 2000s.

A number of her more than 30 novels remain in print, but sadly, despite being awarded the World Fantasy Life Achievement, I don’t think she ever achieved the level of recognition she deserved. I could speculate on why (her gender, her politics, her somewhat more frank and even heavy-handed approach in her later novels), but I can only hope that will change.  She was remarkable.

 

Obituary: Locus; Whatever

 

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