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Year in Review
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The February issue of A Certain Magazine is out now -- whoo! It's always been my favorite issue to read, because of the great year-in-review essays and the recommended list. And these past two years I've contributed a year-in-review essay (though I make no claims regarding its greatness). And this year, for the first time, I have work on the recommended list -- two stories, "Fable from a Cage" and "Captain Fantasy and the Secret Masters", and my collection, Little Gods. Lest you think my position of employment at A Certain Magazine has any bearing on my inclusion on the list, let me assure you otherwise -- the stuff on the list only gets there by having sufficient recommendations from the editors, reviewers, and pundits who contribute to its composition. (If you'd like further proof, note that I didn't have anything on the list last year, even though I had a story nominated for a big award; it didn't make the list because it didn't get enough recommendations.)

Anyway, pick up an issue, look at the pretty pictures and read the essays and see what kind of good stuff you missed. Here's a little teaser -- my year-in-review essay, just one of a baker's dozen of essays, written by people like Gardner Dozois, Michael Swanwick, Gary K. Wolfe, and etc.

2003 In Review

Tim Pratt

As always, my interest lies mainly in small-press publications, offbeat fantasy, horror, and the occasional mainstream book of genre interest. I found plenty to like this year. I read two exceptional first novels: The Etched City by K.J. Bishop begins in a Western-infused desert land following a revolution, and follows a pair of refugees to more decadent tropical climes. The writing is lush and the characterization assured, but the city of Ashamoil and its strange denizens make up the book's greatest strengths. Quite different, but equally impressive, is Audrey Niffenegger's The Time-Traveler's Wife, a romance of temporal instability about a woman and her involuntarily time-traveling husband. Nearly every sentence sings -- it is astonishingly well-written for a first novel.

As others will doubtless note, it was a bang-up year for collections, and I'll mention a few: Things That Never Happen features the best of M. John Harrison's dark, masterly stories from the past several decades, and is a strong contender for the title of best collection of the year, a staggering work of sustained genius. Anna Tambour's Monterra's Deliciosa & Other Tales & is a first collection composed largely of quirky vignettes and strange fables, with the flavor of a miscellany; it is somewhat uneven, but Tambour has a brilliant eye for detail, and at its most assured her writing is breathtakingly poetic. Michael Marshall Smith weighed in with More Tomorrow & Other Stories, an impressive survey of his best short fiction, including some rarities and four original stories.

Small Beer Press published two first-rate books this year. Angélica Gorodischer's Kalpa Imperial (lovingly translated by Ursula K. Le Guin) is a magical, discursive story suite about the "greatest empire that never was," full of beautiful sentences, lush images, and stories that work very nearly at the level of myth. Trampoline, edited by Kelly Link, was one of the year's odder anthologies, with stories ranging from straight spaceships-and-colony-planets-SF to surrealism to mainstream literary work; the best stories are Maureen McHugh's "Eight-Legged Story" and Karen Joy Fowler's "King Rat", and there's plenty more to love in this eclectic treasury.

Small Beer also produced two chapbooks: Christopher Rowe's Bittersweet Creek and Other Stories, a collection of Southern fantasy tales as smooth and heady as good Kentucky bourbon; and the charming Other Cities by Benjamin Rosenbaum, working in a miniaturist mode reminiscent of Borges or Calvino. Rabid Transit: A Mischief of Rats, a five-story chapbook from Velocity Press, had good stories by Haddayar Copley-Woods, Douglas Lain, and Nick Mamatas. Mamatas also published his first collection this year. 3000 MPH in Every Direction at Once is a mix of fiction and non-fiction that includes some fine work by a distinctive new voice.

In a darker vein, Peter Straub's lost boy lost girl is a superb novel of loss, trauma, and the desperate search for consolation, while Caitlín R. Kiernan's Low Red Moon is a fast-paced, brutal, absorbing book full of monsters (human and otherwise). Ellen Datlow's substantial ghost story anthology The Dark is a varied and impressive volume, with particularly good stories by Kelly Link and Glen Hirshberg.

Top Five:
The Etched City
, K.J. Bishop
Kalpa Imperial, Angélica Gorodischer
Things That Never Happen, M. John Harrison
The Time-Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
lost boy lost girl, Peter Straub

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