There was plenty to love about the year in speculative fiction by local authors, especially for those whose thoughts turn toward the stars.
Mur Lafferty's Six Wakes sets interstellar sail for a distant colony with a motley crew of clones at the controls. Unfortunately, all six wake up in the cloning bay surrounded by their own murdered bodies, with no memories of who killed whom or why their ship is now drifting off course.
John Kessel's The Moon and the Other envisions a system of colonies on the moon. In one, the Society of Cousins, women have nearly all political power, leaving men to pursue athletic, musical, and sexual interests. In another, Persepolis, those who can't afford air and water are frozen until a capitalist thaws them out and makes them indentured servants. When a prodigal expelled from the Society of Cousins after a failed rebellion returns from Persepolis, histories and cultures collide, with high technological stakes threatening the balance of power.
Gray Rinehart's debut novel, Walking on the Sea of Clouds, follows three couples on the frontier of the first lunar colonies, with excellent technical attention to detail and well-drawn, diverse characterizations—no surprise, as Rinehart is both a former commander of the Air Force's largest satellite-tracking station and a Hugo Award nominee for his short fiction.
David Drake's The Spark is unlike anything else of his I've read. Best known for his military science fiction, space opera, and epic fantasy, Drake blends far-future world-building with a fantasy sensibility drawn from Arthurian legend. In naïve, earnest Iowan prose, young Pal embarks on his path from frontier farming to becoming a Champion of Humanity. He explores a surreal cyberpunk road connecting disparate human settlements, threatened by frightening creatures and using rediscovered ancient artifacts as energy weapons and shields.
Lewis Shiner's first collection in eight years, Heroes and Villains, collects his Subterranean magazine novellas The Black Sun (2014, nominated for both the Locus Award and Sidewise Award) and Doctor Helios (2013), and two new novellas. These unconnected pieces tide us over as we wait with high anticipation for his next full-length novel.
When the apocalypse arrives, it probably won't take the form of a retroviral plague loosed by an unsavory manufacturer of hair relaxers. Nonetheless, Michele Tracy Berger's Reenu-You takes us through the lives of five women in the early days of just such a scenario. Profane, funny, and moving, it's a taut, well-woven novella of friendship, loss, and abuse of power.
Fear not, fantasy fans: you have not been forgotten. Natania Barron has two novellas for you. In her dark, lush, lyrical epic fantasy Wothwood, revenge, desire, and adventure await in "the wood where the world is broken." Meanwhile, in her smart, wickedly fun historical urban fantasy Frost & Filigree, we meet a pair of supernatural beings living in a Gilded Age Tarrytown, New York, who are investigating murders being committed by an unknown beast of darkest evil.
It's hard to pin down a genre for John Darnielle's second novel, Universal Harvester, in which a small-town video clerk discovers disturbing footage on returned tapes. Like Darnielle's impeccable debut, Wolf in White Van, the book is unsettling and riveting—an intense character study with more questions than answers. Darnielle pulls the reader along with a gravity generated by the twin stars of suspense and longing.
If you're looking for something outside of speculative fiction, Eryk Pruitt's What We Reckon perfects his Southern-fried Fargo-noir sensibility, taking a pair of career drifters into the East Texas countryside and letting all hell tear loose.
For those interested in writing as well as reading, Lafferty's I Should Be Writing: A Writer's Workshop is much more than a simple distillation of her award-winning podcast. Lafferty offers no-nonsense tips, engaging exercises, and encouragement in a wonderfully designed book. Plus, colorful speech bubbles of sarcasm (both a "Bully" and a "Muse") entertain and motivate you along the way.