Contributor Fleetwood Robbins is an editor, writer, and speculative fiction enthusiast.
The Goodreads Choice Awards are in full
swing for the best books of 2013. Conveniently, they break down all the
nominees into categories; science
fiction and fantasy
are separated so we don’t have to wade through anything we aren’t interested
in. My understanding of the Choice Awards is that this is a true people's
choice award. Of the 250 million books added, rated, and reviewed on the site,
the good folks at Goodreads nominate 15 books per category based on statistics
like number of reviews and average rating. You can read their full rules for
They then post them and let the registered users of Goodreads vote on which
ones are their favorites. It’s like Apollo Creed getting into the ring with
Rocky Balboa to see, once and for all, who the people’s champion is. Except, of
course, it’s for books. And no one gets punched or eats raw eggs.
As for those nominated in science
fiction, it's your typical murderer's row of authors. John Scalzi, Peter F.
Hamilton, Margaret Atwood, and the enfant
terrible of digital publishing, Hugh Howley, are among the heavyweights
listed in the science fiction category in the opening round, but there are a few surprises as well.
Wesley Chu's The Lives of Tao
has 148 reviews and 547 ratings with an average of 3.88 out of five stars. While
the popularity of this book may come as no surprise to readers, I’m sure the
Apollo Creeds of the publishing world are taking note.
The book is very contemporary. It
captures modern existential truths about being lazy and overweight in a way
that few recent novels have. But seriously, it is a very fun read about an
alien life form that takes up residence in the head of a schlumpy IT tech. I
would love it if Wesley Chu, a man whose dreams of being an NFL punter were
dashed early, could sneak in and take an award from the writers I mentioned
If there are faults with awards like
this, however, it’s that rare works like Salvage and Demolitionby
Tim Powers go unheralded. A compact 21,000-word novella, Salvage and Demolition still manages to cover time travel, Beat
poetry, a Sumerian diety, and a nihilistic apocalypse cult. Powers, who is best
know for his classic The Anubis Gates,
is truly a writer worth reading. Salvage
and Demolition will not disappoint.
The initial fantasy ballot includes
favorites like A Memory of Light,
the final novel in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and entries from
well-known writers like Neil Gaiman, Robin Hobb, and Scott Lynch. There are
more than a few that I’d like to read among the nominations, but the one that
stands out to me is The Golem and the Jinni
by Helen Weckler, which Amazon’s editors chose as the best science fiction and fantasy
book of the year from their recently released Best
of 2013 list.
But Weckler is a writer you are likely
to hear a lot about in the coming months. Not on the list, Australian author
Margo Lanagan, quite likely, is a writer who won’t make it into the spotlight.
That isn’t to say she isn’t known or deserving of more attention. With
considerable peer admiration, Ms. Lanagan is a four-time World Fantasy Award
winner. But one of the reasons she hasn’t become a bigger name with fantasy
readers is that she is categorized as a YA author.
Considering her sophistication as a
stylist, the depth of her characters, and the detail of her worlds, she is
certainly an author that won’t disappoint as a crossover artist. There is
something about Lanagan's writing that sticks with you. My first exposure to
her writing was with the imperfect but beautiful Tender Morsels,
a sort of twisted fable of youth and innocence that I find myself thinking
about, unbidden, from time to time.
Her latest collection, Cracklescape,
a concise four-story tome, is no less effecting. Lanagan uses language in a way
that will make you want to reread sentences, and her themes will make you want
to talk about what you read. At the very least, the third story, “Bejazzle,”
will foster some good discussion for a book group. What’s it about? I’d rather
not say. Lanagan is a writer who is best read without preconceptions.
The end of the year lists are going to
be coming hard and fast in the weeks ahead, but the Choice Awards are the one
list that we, as readers, can effect. Get out there a let yourself be heard.
Your favorite may go the distance.