Reviewing the Reviews

Almost an entire year has passed and my marketing department is having kittens; I’ve co-ordinated two HumberSFF meet ups and have had articles and reviews published but no updates on my blog. How very dare I. Anyone would think life, family, and a pandemic happened. Despite that maelstrom, I managed to coSFFWORLD: Best of the Decade mplete two short stories, but many other opportunities have had to slide. There will be more.

The fabulous gang at SffWorld asked me to contribute to their Decade in Review this year, a real honour for me. I’ve been part of the genre website for 5 years now. It’s been an important part of my writing life. Thanks to them, I’ve made friends, attended events, and, doh, discovered to books I would never have selected from a shelf in Waterstones.

An honour, yes, and a horrible challenge. My reading habits have changed. In 2020 non-fiction took up a lot of my time. My interests have developed and what I value in a story has also altered. However, it doesn’t mean past novels are ‘weaker’ or ‘less’.

Still. How am I supposed to pick ONE? Fortunately, I wasn’t asked to whittle it down to one, the aim was five.

But, FIVE? How? What about all those indie books? What about those brilliant small presses. And those under-represented authors?

Yeah, it took a while, and my selection didn’t include any of the books I’d simply read because I wanted to read them. (It does happen.) You can read my top speculative fiction choices here.

So what other books did I want to shout about?

All of them.

Books don’t compare.

You can’t put Shona Kinsella’s Ashael Rising beside Genevieve Cogman’s The Lost Plot. Well, you can. They look pretty good side by side on my bookshelf, but that’s not the point. Both books are genre, written by women, intense characterisation, complex world building and lose-yourself-in plots. Both stand out. They have something different from others out there or they wouldn’t have seen publication, would they? Both are books I recommend to others for different reasons.

How about Sarah Chorn’s Seraphina’s Lament, against Steve Mchugh’s Crimes Against Magic? Both are Fantasy and self-published, but you wouldn’t know it. I wish I’d picked up Crimes Against Magic sooner, it’s a fun read for those who like their muscular, confident heroes to have deep-seated issues. Seraphina’s Lament offers some complex, tormented characters. It’s brutal yet hopeful, and doesn’t waste time.

While we’re talking about issues, Starborn verus The Record Keeper. Two female writers taking on some worldly topics and weaving them into fantasy worlds rich in mythology, magic and mystery. What I adored about these (and most of the other novels I truly click with) are the roles in life the principal characters are trapped by, and how they move on from it.

There isn’t a level for the local authors I know and have read. The world building and ‘cheery chaps’ in The Bastard Wonderland will never get the recognition I want them to. The Community gathers up all the grit that is Hull and mashes it into a scifi novel. Both capture the northern mentality, just as Keith W Dickinson’s Dexter & Sinister: Detecting Agents does. But each novel is unique.

You can read everyone’s top 2010-2020 science fiction, horror and fantasy picks on SFFWorld here.

My suggestion to those who read the reviews and hesitate is to do like Tony Mortimer does and just ‘escape’ in a book. Travel to places beyond the trade deals, make friends in the pages without the worry of viruses, give your mental health a boost and stay cosy at home.