It is once again that time of year! Lo, the 2016 Recommended Reading List is live! :D
This year I am foregoing the posting of books read in 2016 because I spent much of the last year catching up on books from 2015 and earlier. As well as doing a fair bit of comfort reading because 2016 was a motherfucker of a year, wasn’t it?
For those curious, the encapsulation of the Books Read in 2016 list looks like this: 114 books read. 129 DNF (did not finish). Almost no non-fiction beyond novel-writing research. And a lot of comics in TPB form (the aforementioned comfort reading). I did not read nearly as widely as I would have liked to, and many of those unfinished books were left so because I was not engaged, not because they were awful. Though some most certainly were flaming piles of shit.
But I digress. I have come here to bury 2016, not to praise it.
For those not familiar with how this recommendations list works:
- I organize the things I am interested in recommending into various loose categories and link to many where/if they’re available online. My recommendations are entirely subjective because I approach this list as both editor/reviewer and reader/audience. It is likely I have missed something you loved. It is likely I have included something you hated.
- For anyone looking to use the list for awards consideration reading, the categories I use are not directly analogous to every award, but are often at least loosely equivalent.
- Bolded titles/items are things I think worthy of extra note.
- Sometimes I include notes on an entry. There are also additional notes on some categories as a whole.
- I am once again including commentary on magazines I have read or looked into while compiling the list this year. These commentaries, also, are subjective.
- I would hope this goes without saying, but just in case: The list covers things both speculative and non.
If there are mistakes in the following information, it is almost certainly my fault. In the event of any errors (misspellings, faulty allocations, broken links, and so on) please don’t be shy about letting me know. (Case in point, I’ve already had to go in and fix one pair of entries because Notepad, in which I keep my initial notes when compiling this list, changed several characters.) I’d prefer to fix problems with the lists as soon as possible. (My not having read your work does not count as a mistake for these purposes. :p )
Before we begin, here is a fairly random list of other people’s recommendations lists/interesting articles (shorter this year because between A.C. Wise and Cat Rambo’s compiled lists of award eligibility posts/recs lists, most of what I would otherwise post is covered in those two mega posts). Following which is the start of the actual recommendations list.
Other People’s Recommendations/Lists of Things
- A.C. Wise – What Have You Done, What Have You Loved? 2016 Edition
- Cat Rambo – What I Wrote in 2016 and The List of Award Eligibility Posts I’ve Found
- NYPL – New York Public Library Reveals its List of Best Books for Kids and Teens Just in Time for The Holidays
- Sam J. Miller – Life in Fiction 2016: Highlights as a Reader & a Writer
- Fran Wilde – Things to Read While Rebooting – An Award Post of Sorts With Lots of People In it
- 2016 MG & YA Titles by African Americans
- ComicsAlliance’s Best of 2016: The Best Horror Comic of 2016
- Ada Hoffmann – My Favourite Short Speculative Fiction of 2016
- The Mary Sue’s Most Favorite Women Comics Writers of 2016 and Beyond!
- Charles Payseur – The 108 Recommendations of Destiny (2016 Edition)
2015 Long Form Recommendations (All)
A brief interlude before 2016’s recommendations, to note recommended works from 2015 that I finally got around to reading last year:
- The Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015 – John Joseph Adams & Joe Hill, eds.
- Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine – DeConnick & De Landro
- Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars – Lemire & Nguyen – Logic flaws in the larger worldbuilding, but succeeds in spite of that.
- Maria Dahvana Headley – Magonia
- Nalo Hopkinson – Falling in Love with Hominids
- N.K. Jemisin – The Fifth Season
- Kelly Link – Get in Trouble
- Noelle Stevenson – Nimona
- Daniel José Older – Half-Resurrection Blues
- Catherynne M. Valente – The Boy Who Lost Fairyland
2016 Recommendations (Long Form)
- Indrapramit Das – The Devourers
- Stephen Graham Jones – Mongrels
- Victor LaValle – The Ballad of Black Tom
- Yoon Ha Lee – Ninefox Gambit
- China Miéville – This Census-Taker
- Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Certain Dark Things
- Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home – That end to the series was perfect, and so incredibly well earned.
- Nicole S. Cohen – Writers’ Rights: Freelance Journalism in a Digital Age
- Jennifer Welsh – The Return of History: Conflict, Migration, and Geopolitics in the Twenty-First Century
Collections and Anthologies (Fiction and Poetry)
- Lisa Bird-Wilson – The Red Files
- Kim Fu – How Festive the Ambulance
- Katherine Leyton – All the Gold Hurts My Teeth
- Love Beyond Body, Space, & Time: An Indigenous LGBT Sci-Fi Anthology – Hope Nicholson, ed.
- Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling – Jaym Gates & Monica Valentinelli, eds.
- Vivek Shraya – even this page is white
Comics (TPB)/Graphic Novels
- All-New All-Different Avengers Vol. 1: The Magnificent Seven – Waid, Kubert & Asrar
- All-New All-Different Avengers Vol. 2: Family Business – Waid, Kubert & Asrar
- Black Panther, Book One: A Nation Under Our Feet – Coates & Stelfreeze
- Tony Cliff – Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling
- Descender, Vol. 2: Machine Moon – Lemire & Nguyen
- Gotham Academy Volume 2: Calamity – Cloonan, Fletcher, Kerschl
- Hellboy in Hell Vol. 2: The Death Card – Mignola & Stewart
- I Hate Fairyland, Vol. 1: Madly Ever After – Skottie Young – The M rating does not begin to cover it. So utterly fucked up. Not for those put off by gore.
- Monstress, Volume One: Awakening – Liu & Takeda
- Ms. Marvel, Vol. 4: Last Days – Wilson & Alphona
- Ms. Marvel, Vol. 5: Super Famous – Wilson & Miyazawa – I love this series. The writing is fantastic, the art excellent, and the evolutions of multiple characters across the series has been painfully, beautifully real.
- Pretty Deadly Vol. 2: The Bear – DeConnick & Ríos – Vol. 1 was good. Vol. 2 is fucking glorious.
2016 Titles (Not Read) of Note/To Read in 2017
- An Alphabet of Embers – Rose Lemberg, ed.
- Madeline Ashby – Company Town
- Clockwork Phoenix 5 – Mike Allen. ed.
- Hidden Youth – Mikki Kendall & Chesya Burke, eds.
- N.K. Jemisin – The Obelisk Gate
- Livia Llewellyn – Furnace
- Daniel José Older – Midnight Taxi Tango
- The Starlit Wood – Dominik Parisien & Navah Wolfe, eds.
- Sunny Moraine – Singing With All My Skin and Bone
- A.C. Wise – The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories
2016 Recommendations (Short Form)
Fantasy Magazine entries have been filed under Lightspeed Magazine in the following categories, though where content appeared in People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy! that is noted.
- Nick T. Chan – Salto Mortal (People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction!, June 2016)
- Meghan Chaudhuri – Good Breeding (GigaNotoSaurus, August 2016)
- P. Djèlí Clark – A Dead Djinn in Cairo (Tor.com, May 2016) – Not quite as tight as it needed to be, but close enough. And Clark really is an exceptional writer.
- P. Djèlí Clark – The Things My Mother Left Me (People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy!, December 2016)
- Aliette de Bodard – Memorials (Apex, June 2016)
- Carolyn Ives Gilman – Touring with the Alien (Clarkesworld, April 2016) – Ending’s slightly off, but exceptionally well written.
- Maria Dahvana Headley & China Miéville – Ledge Bants (Dead Letters)
- Maria Dahvana Headley – The Virgin Played Bass (Uncanny, January 2016)
- Kameron Hurley – The Judgement of Gods and Monsters (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2016) – May not be eligible for some awards as this was originally published via Patreon in 2015.
- Kameron Hurley – The Plague Givers (Uncanny, May 2016)
- Stephen Graham Jones – The Night Cyclist (Tor.Com, September 2016)
- Jessica Lack – Superior (The Book Smugglers, August 2016)
- Yoon Ha Lee – Foxfire, Foxfire (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, March 2016)
- Rose Lemberg – The Book of How to Live (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, September 2016)
- Louis Santiago – Aixa the Hexcaster (Mirror Dance, Fall 2016) – Writer’s first publication. Still somewhat raw, as one would expect from a first sale, but Santiago’s a writer to watch.
- Lucy Stone – Bronzeheart (GigaNotoSaurus, June 2016)
- Rachel Swirsky – Love Is Never Still (Uncanny, March 2016)
- Bogi Takács – Standing on the Floodbanks (GigaNotoSaurus, November 2016)
- Catherynne M. Valente – Snow Day (Uncanny, July 2016)
- Susana Vallejo – Gracia (Strange Horizons, October 2016)
- Tamara Vardomskaya – Polyglossia (GigaNotoSaurus, March 2016)
- Alyssa Wong – You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay (Uncanny, May 2016)
- Isabel Yap – Hurricane Heels 1, We Go Down Dancing (Book Smugglers, December 2016) – I would probably be including more of this sequence on the list, this is just the only part of the series I’ve read thus far.
- Rachael Acks – .SUBROUTINE:ALL///END (Shimmer, May 2016)
- Layla Al-Bedawi – To Escape the Witch’s House (Liminal, October 2016)
- Rafeeat Aliyu – Sweet Like PawPaw (Omenana, August 2016) – Not a full story (stops when it’s just getting going), but compelling nonetheless.
- Megan Arkenberg – In the City of Kites and Crows (Kaleidotrope, Autumn 2016)
- Megan Arkenberg – Palingenesis (Shimmer, January 2016)
- Madeline Ashby – Dreams in the Bitch House (Postscripts to Darkness, February 2016)
- Nancy Au – Odonata at Rest (Liminal, October 2016) – This one’s a 50/50. The writing’s gorgeous and worth sharing, though I find the piece doesn’t hold together for me.
- Aliette de Bodard – A Hundred and Seventy Storms (Uncanny, July 2016)
- Aliette de Bodard – A Salvaging of Ghosts (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, March 2016)
- Aliette de Bodard – Lullaby for a Lost World (Tor.com, June 2016)
- Brooke Bolander – Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies (Uncanny, November 2016)
- K.T. Bryski – La Corriveau (Strange Horizons, October 2016)
- Nadia Bulkin – Wish You Were Here (People of Colo(u)r Destoy Horror!, October 2016)
- Tara Isabella Burton – The Destroyer (Tor.com, April 2016)
- Rebecca Campbell – The High Lonesome Frontier (Tor.com, September 2016)
- L Chan – The Symphony of Park Myong Lee (Liminal, October 2016)
- Vajra Chandrasekera – Caul (Mithila Review, June 2016)
- Onu-Okpara Chiamaka – When She Comes (Apex, November 2016)
- Michael Choi – Those Who Leave (Upside Down)
- Elaine Cuyegkeng – The House That Creaks (The Dark, October 2016)
- Julie C. Day – A Pinhole of Light (Black Static, September 2016)
- Kristi DeMeester – All the World When it is Thin (The Dark, February 2016)
- Kristi DeMeester – Damnatio Ad Beastias (Apex, October 2016)
- Malcolm Devlin – The End of Hope Street (Interzone, September 2016)
- Malon Edwards – Delta Child (Fireside, September 2016)
- Amal El-Mohtar – Seasons of Glass and Iron (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales)
- Chikodili Emelumadu – Soursop (Apex, January 2016)
- Sarah Gailey – Haunted (Fireside, March 2016)
- Sarah Gailey – Homesick (Fireside, September 2016)
- Max Gladstone – Big Thrull and the Askin’ Man (Uncanny, March 2016) – Doesn’t quite manage to land as need be at its close, but well done nonetheless.
- Lora Gray – Shadow Boy (Shimmer, September 2016)
- Maria Dahvana Headley – Little Widow (Nightmare, September 2016)
- Maria Dahvana Headley – See the Unseeable, Know the Unknowable (Lightspeed, September 2016)
- Ada Hoffmann – A Spell to Retrieve Your Lover from the Bottom of the Sea (Strange Horizons, November 2016)
- Kat Howard – The Green Knight’s Wife (Uncanny, November 2016)
- Kat Howard – The Key to St. Medusa’s (Lightspeed, October 2016)
- Kat Howard – Maiden, Hunter, Beast (Lightspeed, January 2016)
- Kat Howard – The Sound of Salt and Sea (Uncanny, May 2016)
- Acan Innocente Immaculate – Wishful Thinking (Omenana, November 2016)
- N.K. Jemisin – The City Born Great (Tor.com, September 2016)
- Rachael K. Jones – Indigo Blue (Shimmer, March 2016)
- Rachael K. Jones – The Night Bazaar for Women Becoming Reptiles (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, July 2016)
- Rachael K. Jones – When First He Laid Eyes (Fireside, February 2016) – Recommended equally as much for the author’s notes on the story’s genesis as for the story itself.
- Daniel Heath Justice – The Boys Who Became the Hummingbirds (Love Beyond Body, Time, & Space)
- Isha Karki – Rooting (Mithila Review, August 2016)
- Cassandra Khaw – The Bones of the Matter (See the Elephant, ? 2016)
- Cassandra Khaw – Breathe (Clarkesworld, May 2016)
- Cassandra Khaw – Degrees of Beauty (Terraform, October 2016)
- Cassandra Khaw – Some Breakable Things (The Dark, September 2016)
- Michelle Ann King – Where There’s Magic (Kaleidotrope, Spring 2016)
- Gwendolyn Kiste – All the Red Apples Have Withered to Gray (Shimmer, March 2016)
- Gwendolyn Kiste – The Tower Princesses (Interzone, May 2016)
- Carrie Laben – Postcards from Natalie (The Dark, July 2016)
- Yoon Ha Lee – Shadow’s Weave (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2016)
- Leena Likitalo – The Governess with a Mechanical Womb (Clarkesworld, March 2016) – I am so incredibly frustrated that this story does not stick its landing. It comes so close, and yet…
- Darcie Little Badger – Black, Their Regalia (People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy!, December 2016)
- Darcie Little Badger – Né łe! (Love Beyond Body, Time, & Space)
- Rochita Loenen-Ruiz – Magnifica Angelica Superable (Lightspeed, July 2016)
- Karin Lowachee – A Good Home (People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction!, June 2016)
- Karin Lowachee – Gold Mountain (Clockwork Canada)
- S. Qiouyi Lu – Her Sacred Spirit Soars (Strange Horizons, July 2016)
- Alex Dally MacFarlane – Teeth, Tapestries (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, September 2016)
- Carmen Maria Machado – My Body, Herself (Uncanny, September 2016)
- Haralambi Markov – Her Curse, How Gently it Comes Undone (Upside Down)
- Arkady Martine – All the Colors You Thought Were Kings (Shimmer, May 2016)
- Arkady Martine – Fear Death by Water (Unlikely Story, June 2016)
- Arkady Martine – How the God Auzh-Aravik Brought Order to the World Outside the World (Strange Horizons, January 2016)
- Sam J. Miller – Things With Beards (Clarkesworld, June 2016)
- Mary Anne Mohanraj – Plea (Lightspeed, October 2016)
- K.L. Morris – The Wombly (Shimmer, July 2016)
- Michelle Muenzler – Thwock (Upside Down)
- Samantha Murray – Of Sight, of Mind, of Heart (Clarkesworld, November 2016)
- David Nickle – The Caretakers (Tor.com, January 2016)
- Pear Nuallak – With Her Diamond Teeth (The Dark, September 2016)
- Suyi Davies Okungbowa – Of Tarts and New Beginnings (Omenana, November 2016) – Feels like this ends too soon, but I love what gets us there.
- Chinelo Onwualu – The Night Market (West Branch Wired, Fall 2016)
- Tochi Onyebuchi – Screamers (Omenana, Novemeber 2016)
- Mallory Ortberg – Classic Characters You May Not Remember From Childrens’ Literature (The Toast, January 2016)
- Tony Pi – The Sweetest Skill (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, April 2016)
- Rhiannon Rasmussen – As You Were Aggie (Or: A Fortunate Time for Reflection) (The Sockdolager, Spring 2016)
- Margaret Ronald – And Then, One Day, the Air Was Full of Voices (Clarkesworld, June 2016)
- Margaret Ronald – The Witch’s Knives (Strange Horizons, October 2016)
- Tim Pratt – The Angel of Divine Intent (Strange Horizons, March 2016) – Doesn’t quite stick the landing, but it comes damn close.
- Lauren M. Roy – In Memoriam: Lady Fantastic (Fireside, August 2016)
- Lauren Rudin – A World Alone (GigaNotoSaurus, December 2016)
- Karen Russell – The Bog Girl (The New Yorker, June 2016) – An excellent story that looked like it was going to stick its landing right up until the final few paragraphs, but worthy of note nonetheless.
- A. Merc Rustad – Iron Aria (Fireside, July 2016)
- A. Merc Rustad – This is Not a Wardrobe Door (Fireside, January 2016)
- Carlie St. George – Every Day is the Full Moon (Lightspeed, December 2016)
- Kelly Sandoval – The Right Sort of Monsters (Strange Horizons, April 2016)
- Maggie Slater – The Behemoth Breaches (Apex, May 2016)
- A.K. Snyder – All That Holds Me Together (Fireside, January 2016)
- Bogi Takács – Toward the Luminous Towers (Clarkesworld, September 2016)
- Alexis Teyie – At the Speed of Life (Omenana, March 2016)
- Natalia Theodoridou – The Island in the Attic (Apex, November 2016)
- Natalia Theodoridou – Manapolis (Lackington’s, Winter 2016)
- Natalia Theodoridou – Now We’ve Lost (Shimmer, November 2016)
- Natalia Theodoridou – The Singing Soldier (Shimmer, July 2016)
- Natalia Theodoridou – The Solace of Counted Things (Liminal, October 2016)
- Karin Tidbeck – Starfish (Lightspeed, February 2016)
- E. Catherine Tobler – The Abduction of Europa (Clarkesworld, January 2016)
- E. Catherine Tobler – Andromeda of the Stars (Interzone, March 2016)
- E. Catherine Tobler – Ebb Stung by the Flow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, July 2016)
- Jeremiah Tolbert – Not by Wardrobe, Tornado, or Looking Glass (Lightspeed, February 2016)
- Valerie Valdes – A Diet of Worms (People of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror!, October 2016)
- Catherynne M. Valente – The Beasts Who Fought for Fairyland Until the Very End and Further Still (author’s website)
- Amber van Dyk – And the Woods Are Silent (The Dark, February 2016)
- Sabrina Vourvoulias – El Cantar of Rising Sun (Uncanny, July 2016)
- Andrew Wilmot – Just a Little Spice Will Do (Glittership, May 2016)
- A.C. Wise – A Guide to Birds by Song (After Death) (Clockwork Phoenix 5)
- A.C. Wise – The Last Sailing of the Henry Charles Morgan in Six Pieces of Scrimshaw (1841) (The Dark, July 2016)
- A.C. Wise – The Men From Narrow Houses (Liminal, April 2016)
- A.C. Wise – Seven Cups of Coffee (Clarkesworld, March 2016)
- Alyssa Wong – A Fistful of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers (Tor.com, March 2016)
- Alyssa Wong – Rabbit Heart (Fireside, October 2016)
- J.Y. Yang – The Beachings (The Sockdolager, Fall 2016)
- J.Y. Yang – The Blood That Pulses in the Veins of One (Uncanny, May 2016)
- J.Y. Yang – Secondhand Bodies (Lightspeed, January 2016)
- Caroline M. Yoachim – Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0 (Lightspeed, March 2016)
- E. Lily Yu – The Witch of Orion Waste and the Boy Knight (Uncanny, September 2016)
- Arlene Ang – After a long period (Mirror Dance, Winter 2016)
- Lisa M. Bradley – Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas Lost at Sea, 1527 (Strange Horizons, September 2016)
- e.c.c. – Revenge (e.c.c. poetry Tumblr)
- Zainab Ummer Farook – The Nation Wants to Know (Mithila Review, March 2016)
- Neile Graham – The Ozette Tartan (Interfictions, October 2016)
- Alex Harper – A Spell a Day (Kaleidotrope, Autumn 2016)
- Ada Hoffmann – Million-Year Elegies: Oviraptor (Strange Horizons, September 2016)
- Iori Kusano – Suzuka (Goblin Fruit, Winter 2016)
- Sandi Leibowitz – his first spring (Mirror Dance, Spring 2016)
- Rose Lemberg – The Ash Manifesto (Strange Horizons, October 2016)
- Amanda Lord – The Path of Needles (Goblin Fruit, Winter 2016)
- Karin Lowachee – Swallowing the Earth (Strange Horizons, September 2016)
- Toby MacNutt – Amber and Ash (Goblin Fruit, Winter 2016)
- Shweta Narayan – To My Shyaam (Strange Horizons, August 2016)
- Mari Ness – Ice(/Shadow) (Strange Horizons, December 2016) – Of special note for its transformative nature, shifting in title and form when explored in full.
- Sara Norja – Village Woman (Goblin Fruit, Winter 2016)
- Brendan O’Brien – god-date (Uncanny, March 2016)
- Kelly Rose Pflug-Back – Miscarriage (Goblin Fruit, Winter 2016)
- Sofia Samatar – Notes Toward a Theory of Quantum Blackness (Strange Horizons, February 2016)
- M Sereno – Brown woman at Safety Beach in Victoria, in June (Uncanny, May 2016)
- John W. Sexton – Your Next Journey of Eight Stops (Mirror Dance, Fall 2016)
- Sonya Taaffe – For Saint Valentine, on the Occasion of His Martyrdom (Goblin Fruit, Winter 2016)
- Sonya Taaffe – The Process (Mithila Review, January 2016)
- Margaret Wack – Apotropaic Magic (Strange Horizons, January 2016)
- Margaret Wack – Classification of Folktales (Strange Horizons, September 2016)
2016 Recommendations (Media)
I didn’t make it to the cinema much in 2016 either, and I tend to play most video games (console and computer) long after they come out. But I did get to a few things from 2016 as I went. Would have much preferred to get to more indie, women-authored/helmed/focused media in 2016, but hopefully next year I’ll do better with that.
- Arrival – Seen some valid complaints about aspects of the film, but by far one of the better things I saw this year.
- Captain America: Civil War – Flawed and broken as it is (oh my but it’s flawed), I still enjoy much of what the film managed to pull together. Though I am still laughing at the attempt to portray Lagos. Or, you know, have the actors pronounce it…
- Deadpool – Again a film with a lot of problems, but enjoyable nonetheless.
2016 Films (Not Seen) of Note/To See in 2017
- Hidden Figures
- Rogue One
- Anatomy – kittyhorrorshow – Largely quiet horror. But an absolute mindfuck, well executed.
- Inside – PlayDead – Very different from Limbo, their prior outing, if building on some of the same concepts/gameplay components.
- The Last Guardian – Team ICO – I feel like this is the game I’ve been waiting for Team ICO to make. I mean, literally, yes, there was a lot of waiting. But my love for Shadow of the Colossus is unyielding (hell, I’m writing a story cycle in conversation with it), and The Last Guardian tops it by taking many of the concepts in SotC, combining them with some from ICO, introducing entirely new ones, and runs with all of that to extraordinary effect.
- Thumper – Drool – Gorgeous, brutal to play, and absorbing in its conceptual simplicity and quickly ramping difficulty level.
Though I did some reading for this list prior to the end of 2016, the bulk of it has been done in the last five weeks. This year I looked at the 2016 output of close to 40 magazines. That’s on top of the (admittedly few) 2016 anthologies I had access to and the individual works I came across for a variety of reasons.
As with last year, I have thoughts (largely procedural updates, trivial notes) on various magazines in the field. Though this year’s selection of magazines is somewhat different from last year’s. Yes, obviously I covered more magazines than last year’s ~30. But also because owing to a combination of lack of time, access, and funds for reading most of the print mags published in 2016 that means I wasn’t able to cover F&SF, Asimov’s, Analog, On Spec, Neo-Opsis, and a few others. I did manage to get to Interzone’s 2016 run and some of Black Static’s, but that means the above list is still heavily slanted to (mostly) free online publications.
Additionally, the following entries only cover mags with new content available in or before 2016, so I won’t be able to cover Arsenika, Fiyah, Gamut, Reckoning, or Samovar until next year. But those mags look fantastic so far and you should absolutely be reading/supporting them.
AE SciFi – I might have issues with the filing system AE SciFi uses (no record of date of publication in their archives), but for a magazine with generally rather good content year to year they appear to have had a pretty crappy 2016. And it wasn’t the fiction that was at issue: I gather AE SciFi was hacked last year and they’re still trying to put things back together. As luck would have it I hadn’t read any of their 2016 content prior to that, so I’ve no idea what they ran last year. Ordinarily, a couple pieces from their yearly run find their way onto the recommendations list, so the absence of any here is down to being unable to read their content. It’s been a few months now they’ve been down, so I’m hoping they’re back up and running sometime in 2017. I’d really rather not see them go under.
Apex – With four editorial changeovers in the last six years, Apex has had a very strange progression in terms of its voice. Though their quality is still good, the current tone has settled more on a kind of mainstream dark fantasy and horror that doesn’t usually appeal to me. Though there are exceptions, as noted by the presence of several pieces on this year’s recommendations list. But I find myself more and more not connecting with what Apex is doing. Which really only matters to me in the end: Apex has always had a broad audience and no matter what voice they engage they’ll maintain at least some element of it, or build an entirely new one. I just miss the more whimsical darkness and sharper edge it once wielded.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies – BCS is another publication where my response to the content is highly variable, despite a largely consistent approach to tone on their part. BCS has a fondness for a particular type of emotional progression that I don’t always find appealling, but they have a high editorial standard so the work is always of excellent quality and I do love finding the gems they run. And there were a number of them this year. I’m also drawn back year after year specifically because of their focus on prose work. Another point in their favour is, in contrast to their tonal consistency, the range of worldbuilding on display.
Black Static – Had only a chance to read a small sampling of Black Static’s 2016 run before I put this list up. I expect there’d be several more stories from the mag in the list had I managed all their issues last year; I tend to enjoy Interzone/Black Static/Crimewave’s run of fiction. I’m not always the right audience for it, but it’s always well-wrought. And Black Static has a tradition of running quiet, heavily understated (and often heavy hitting) horror. It’s also nice to have another print venue running longer fiction, up into novelette territory.
The Book Smugglers – Though The Book Smugglers started with a small set of output year to year, they’ve been ramping that up, especially in 2016. Last year saw the release of themed stories, an interconnected series of novelettes (also collected into a single book), novella work, and a four novel sequence from yet another author. It was a decidedly impressive year’s worth of content, perhaps especially so because the level of content was so high. I’ve read only part of 2016’s output – what was readily accessible – but I trust the taste the Book Smugglers bring to bear on the rest of their curated content, seen and unseen. They’re fast growing to be one of my favourite markets.
Clarkesworld – From year to year they have one of the strongest outputs of any of the online pro mags. There are years I don’t connect as much with their content, but that’s entirely up to whatever’s in their lineup. And over the course of 2016 I found a fair amount of fiction that spoke very well to the kind of work Clarkesworld runs when they’re at the top of their game. Clarkesworld’s voice has changed quite a fair bit over the years. And there are times I wonder if they haven’t solidified their voice overmuch (see my problem with DSF in the entry below). But mostly I’ve just been happy to watch Clarkesworld continue to grow and expand the amount of content they can run, and continue to run translated works. And they’ve also bumped up their maximum word count for submissions, providing one more much-needed home for novelettes.
Daily Science Fiction – Those who read last year’s writeup for DSF may recall that I’m not really a fan of the mag in its current iteration. This year I decided to give it a go, rather than skipping them entirely as I did with their 2015 content. (Long story.) I got through three months worth of fiction this time before I gave up. While it’s true that flash fiction is often a harder sell for me, and equally true that I find the quality of the work DSF runs highly variable, my larger problem with DSF is that because they run content nearly every day it becomes very easy to see the preferred voice toward which the editors gravitate. The problem being that I don’t share a predilection for the writing voice that DSF’s editors favour. And since they only seem to care for that one style of voice, it seems I never (well, rarely, it does happen) connect with DSF’s output. There’s a larger, unaddressed point to be made here about tonal (as opposed to merely stylistic or form-related) variety, and how narrow themes/repetitive emotional notes are not ideal for a mag to rely on. But as DSF isn’t the only mag with this problem I’m not going to put that larger argument on their head. Maybe another time, somewhere else.
The Dark – In 2016 I finally got a chance at The Dark’s full run of content. And as the recommendations list above will tell you, they had an excellent year. Though they have a definite preference for a particular kind of quiet horror, they also run a wide variety of voices within that range. With Silvia Moreno-Garcia coming on board as co-editor (her first co-edited issue came out this year) there’s a noticeable broadening of that already excellent voice. I’m especially excited to see what The Dark does this year by virtue of being familiar with Silvia’s editorial work as an anthologist and other prior editing (various anthologies, People of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror!, Innsmouth Magazine). 2017’s going to be a very good year for The Dark.
Escape Pod/PodCastle/Pseudopod – Collapsing these publications together as in many ways they’re a complementary set. An interesting year of fiction from all three, along with the Artemis Rising special issues (Artemis Rising at Pseudopod, Artiemis Rising 2 at PodCastle, and Artemis Rising 3 at Escape Pod, all specifically designed to give space and voice to female and nonbinary authors). I found myself much more drawn to the reprint fiction than the original content this year, though I did like the Artemis Rising content and the quality of writing is never an issue. It’s also interesting that though the three podcasts each hew to a fairly broad but nonetheless defined category, they do tend to play around with the confines thereof quite a fair bit. It makes for interesting reading. Or listening, as is more often the case.
Fireside – As with some of the other magazines covered here, Fireside’s 2016 output was more variable than in prior years, but it was still excellent and there were some fucking fantastic things out from them last year. Though, really, the most important thing I would note about Fireside (above and beyond their excellent fiction) is that 2016 was the year Fireside published their (multi-authored, multi-contributor) #BlackSpecFic report, highlighting (as a starting point) the fact that “Out of 2,039 original stories published in 63 magazines in 2015, only 38 stories could be found that were written by black authors.” I assume you’ve all read the report and accompanying essays/articles? If not, go read the report. We spend a lot of time talking about marginalised voices in the industry and how to address the systemic racism and other issues alive and festering in publishing; understanding the data here is a huge part of how we start to redress those problems.
GigaNotoSaurus – I love longer fiction but seldom find the time to finish mid-length works. GigaNotoSaurus though invariably runs stories I find deeply captivating. Even when I’m not the right audience for some of the stories, there’s always an excellent level of quality to what the magazine runs, and I look forward to seeing what they’re putting out month to month. (GigaNotoSaurus runs only a single story each month.) There were some absolute gems in their lineup this year, as noted in the recommendations list. They’re also one of the few venues catering to fiction up into novella length online, so for those seeking to place novella length work, they’re a good market to be aware of, and they have a very high editorial standard.
Glittership – Really good story selection, and even where I don’t connect with a story the writing is uniformly excellent. Many reprints in Glittership’s 2016 run that would be on this list were they original content. The work of Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam and A.C. Wise come to mind as immediate examples. Strong reprint selection, as well as a good eye to new content, proves time and again key to the success of a magazine running both, so I’m glad to see Glittership’s strong start continued in their second year. Especially given their focus on queer representation; it’s very welcome in the field.
Goblin Fruit – My favourite poetry mag, and in many ways my favourite mag from year to year. After a hiatus, Goblin Fruit returned in 2016 strong as ever and in fine fettle. They’re still the poetry mag to beat in so many ways. There were less standouts and more solid, if still exquisite, works from them in 2016. But even that is cause to rejoice, given that they run fairly large issues. And whether running quarterly or putting out a lone issue as in 2016, their content is always worth waiting for.
Grendelsong – In its second year of resurgence, Grendelsong has had another fairly wide-ranging lineup. A different feel to the second issue, and I find myself quite pleased that they’re more interested in curating excellent content than in mining similar voice ad nauseum. Which is not to say that Grendelsong is not noticeably a product of Paul Jessup’s tastes as editor – it maintains the same general feel as Coffinmouth and much of Jessup’s own work, but not at the expense of varied voice. The publication’s set to change format somewhat in 2017 and we’ll see how that shakes out when all is said and done.
Interfictions – This was Interfictions’ final year of publication, and they went out well with a small but strong issue. Though it didn’t have inordinate longevity, I would argue Interfictions added greatly to the landscape of the last few years, across several content types. Also perhaps because Interfictions was specifically concerned with blurring boundaries/borders and engaging liminal states in its content. A goal at which they most ably succeeded. Through general and guest editorship both they carved out a most intriguing space and made it their own. Their entire run from first issue on is well worth rereading. I’m aware their hiatus is currently indefinite, but I do still hope to see them back one day. They will be missed.
Interzone – Everything I read in Interzone’s 2016 publications was impeccably well written. I connected with less of it than in prior years, but I think that has more to do with my preferences as a reader than anything to do with the magazine itself. And the art, cover and interior, is as always absolutely gorgeous. Like its sister publication, Black Static, Interzone is one of the most beautifully produced of the print spec mags, and it’s a joy to read because of that. The resizing and reformatting a couple years back have absolutely been to the mag’s benefit. The quality of Interzone’s production is also in stark contrast to many of the North American spec print mags. Honestly, it makes me miss Realms of Fantasy still more than I already do.
Kaleidotrope – I’m never entirely sure what to make of Kaleidotrope. They have such highs and lows to their content. And there is a specific voice to their content, but it’s more that feeling of something consistent than specific recognition of how to frame it. Still, there were some excellent standouts in their lineup this year. And that alone is enough to keep me coming back to see what they’re doing from year to year.
Lackington’s – I love the tone and the style of their output, and I always feel bad that there’s not as much content from them represented in the recommendations list as I’d like. Which is entirely due to reading like an editor – I find that a lot of their content doesn’t gel for me on multiple fronts, or that the stories feel unfinished. I have the same problem with a lot of what Strange Horizons runs. And, honestly, that’s personal preference. I’ve just named two magazines that run excellently written content, and I’d still recommend reading both.
Lightspeed/Fantasy – I’m covering these two together this year since they’ve been under the same banner for a while now. And between them they had a really good year. Obviously, for me, a large part of that was the People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! and People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy! issues. But they’re both robust publications to begin with, and their quality doesn’t tend to flag. Admittedly, Fantasy is becoming much closer to Lightspeed in tone, whereas when Cat Rambo was helming it Fantasy’s tone was much closer to Realms of Fantasy’s later output. But it remains to be seen whether the two magazines growing closer in voice will help or hinder their continued growth. I’d rather the voices of those two magazines remained more distinct, but I’ll still be back to read them whichever way that goes.
Liminal – With their first two issues launched in 2016 that was a hell of a start. Liminal’s first issue was wider-ranging in terms of style and tone, but it was also book-ended with excellent fiction and the other pieces didn’t quite hit the level of its opener and anchor. Then their second issue went live and it was clear that Liminal had found its voice. There’s several stories from that second issue on the recommendations list. The quality of writing was good from their launch, but it smoothed out into uniform excellence with that second issue, and noticeably so. It’s going to be very interesting to see what Liminal’s second year looks like as they continue to mine the vein of strong, often fabulist, fiction they’ve tapped.
Mirror Dance – I love the aesthetic of Mirror Dance, both in terms of their content and presentation. Probably because Megan Arkenberg brings to the magazine that same ethereal, almost dreamlike quality that infuses so much of her own work. With its sister magazine, Lacuna: a Journal of Historical Fiction (closed in 2013, but still available to read online), Mirror Dance frames a rare and highly poetic niche in the magazine landscape. Mirror Dance does of course run poetry as well, but it has more to do with editorial preference, and the kind of prose they tend to run. It’s one of the better journals online.
Mithila Review – Mithila Review’s another publication that came strong out of the gate in 2016. Between their excellent fiction, beautiful poetry, and some decidedly good interviews, they very quickly became a publication to watch. It’s also worth noting that while their original content is generally good, their reprint content is fucking amazing. And they’re featuring a variety of voices, both stylistic and authorial. Though, honestly, even if all they were running were their interviews I’d still say this is a magazine you absolutely should be reading.
Mythic Delirium – It is genuinely odd that I have connected with pretty much none of Mythic Delirium’s content this year. Not least of all because Mike Allen’s Clockwork Phoenix series is one of the ongoing original anthology series I most enjoy reading – its work ranges from slipstream through fabulist and weird on to entirely other forms and convolutions, and so I am, of course given my predilections as a reader and a writer, interested in what it is doing. Mythic Delirium also, like Clockwork Phoenix, tends to focus primarily on prose-conscious writing, and there was undeniably beautiful writing in both their 2016 issues, so I am doubly baffled by the state of affairs this year. I suspect the disconnect lies with me, and not with the magazine, though we’ll see what 2017 brings in that regard. Regardless of my disconnect with Mythic Delirium’s content this year, it is entirely a magazine you should be reading.
Nightmare – 2016 was an interesting year for Nightmare. Not their strongest in terms of output, but definitely some high points. I’d count their People of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror! issue as one, and several individual stories outside of that as well. All evidence that even when Nightmare has a less effusively excellent year they’re still going strong. Which works for me because pro paying horror mags aren’t exactly growing on trees at this point, and Nightmare is decidedly one of the better ones.
Omenana – Omenana’s always a good year’s worth of reading, however many issues get produced. 2016 was no different, and though the first two issues started out somewhat uneven – a lot of stories that felt unfinished or like emulations of other stories, despite the quality of their writing – that final issue was stellar. So much so that you’ll find three of the four stories from it on the recs list. Omenana’s gone from non-paying to paying this last year, and that looks to have further upped the quality of what they’re running. Looking forward to seeing their issues in 2017. (Note on potential bias: Chinelo Onwualu, co-editor of Omenana, is one of my co-editors on Anathema, along with Andrew Wilmot.)
Persistent Visions – With its first content running in 2016, Persistent Visions has had a strong start: clean website design, excellent artwork, and a run of good writing. The mag really needs a copy editor, but that bothers me more than I think it will most readers because of what I do for a living. I feel bad that there are no stories from Persistent Visions on the recommendations list, and it’s not a commentary on quality of works featured, it’s down to my just not connecting with any of the fiction – it’s very mainstream SF, and I’m not that audience. Hell, given the quality of writing they ran in 2016 I’m looking forward to seeing what they do in 2017. I may still not be the audience for their output (we’ll see how it goes), but I don’t doubt that what they run will be of high quality.
Scigentasy – It looks like Scigentasy stopped publishing in 2016? There’s non-fiction content there, but the only fiction content available is a piece originally published in 2015. Not entirely sure what’s going on with the site, to be honest. But the Twitter and FB feeds stalled out in 2015, so it looks like they’re done. It’s a damn shame, I quite enjoyed what Scigentasy published.
Shimmer – 2016 was a good year for Shimmer. I love their focus on prose and tendency toward fabulism anyway, but there was a great deal of beautiful work in their lineup this year. I’m also delighted that they’ve gone back to producing print versions even if just in tangential form (anthologies of the best of the preceding year) given that Shimmer used to produce physical editions of their issues (at least some?) early on and they were always gorgeous. They’ve always been a magazine to keep up with; broad enough in content that each issue feels different from the last, but with a honed sense of voice that ties everything together.
The Sockdolager – The Sockdolager’s primary focus is on hosting a fascinatingly eclectic mix of genres, and there’s something very freeing about a publication that just runs whatever the editors enjoy regardless of what genre or category it falls into. I think that’s why The Sockdolager and Fireside both work as well as they do; they both have a very distinct sense of editorial voice, but they’re also all over the field in terms of content. The Sockdolager runs less frequently (every quarter), but they’re running pretty full issues. Given the eclecticism of their approach I find their content can be hit and miss for me specifically, but I always like coming back to see what they’ve done regardless.
Stone Telling – Why the writeup with no 2016 content from Stone Telling? Because the last issue (13: Hope) still lingers strong in memory and Stone Telling is still one of the best spec poetry mags in the field – alongside Goblin Fruit, and this year Strange Horizons as well. And because I’m very much looking forward to their return this year in 2017. Though you can go read their most excellent archives while you wait.
Strange Horizons – I honestly can’t remember if the website redesign happened last year or whether that was after the new year. I’m still getting used to it, and at times I find that front page overly chaotic, but that might just be because I’m so used to the old interface. Regardless, Strange Horizons had a very good year for poetry, specifically with the Our Queer Planet issue, but generally speaking as well. And their issue focused on Spanish SF also featured some excellent work in a wide variety of content. As for their regular fiction, I find it highly hit and miss. Some of their 2016 fiction was fucking gorgeous, other pieces felt half-finished and unwieldy. Which is always my complaint with Strange Horizons; I don’t think it’s ever been specific to one editorial team, it just seems to be the way they approach fiction. I mean it might be due to using multi-editor teams? (This was always my problem with On Spec.) But I honestly don’t know. And given the best of their content I always come back to read it anyway.
Terraform – I’ve been connecting more with Terraform’s subversive content and their political stance than their fiction this last year or so, though I do enjoy the quality of the latter. The fiction Terraform runs is uniformly well-written, I just find their working length is generally too short for me to invest in. And I’m the wrong audience (outside of broad conceptual engagement) for mainstream SF, which is a lot of what they run. Though if nothing else it’s fucking fantastic to have another mag in the field paying $0.20/word for unsolicited submissions now that Tor.com (yes, I’m aware they paid slightly more) only takes solicited subs.
Three-lobed Burning Eye – Though it has longevity, I find I haven’t connected with 3LBE’s content in a while. But I wanted to list it here because having read through their 2016 content 3LBE is still running the work of excellent writers and providing space for stories that can be harder to find a home for. They also cater to a spread of subgenres I quite enjoy reading, and I like their aims. Also, they seem quite well known in some circles, and not at all in others, so I feel I should note that 3LBE is in fact there for anyone not already aware.
Tor.com – While it’s true that Tor.com only ever bought a small amount of unsolicited work (by their own admission), the switch to solely solicited work has had an oddly noticeable effect. We’re starting to see less variation in the tonal output than previously. Now, that may well have to do with acquisitions already in the works before that shutdown, given the general length of time from purchase to publication, even with short fiction. But Tor.com was always more varied in tone and voice than the book side’s output, and that tone is gradually shifting almost entirely to match the latter. I’m left wondering how that will continue to develop. Having excellent acquiring editors on staff has meant that there are several editorial hands (both competing and complementary) at work in the story selection, and there’s never really been a drop in quality. But from reading 2016’s content, I don’t know that that’s going to be enough to keep Tor.com’s more distinctive elements showing up in the lineup; there’s a distinct chance all the stories are going to sound unnervingly similar going forward and I’ll be sad to see that happen if it does.
Uncanny – It’s an interesting juxtaposition having Uncanny right after Tor.com in this writeup, because Uncanny shares the issue I was just talking about – growing uniformity of output. Uncanny has always had a very specific voice to the work, and the writing has always been gorgeous across both fiction and poetry, but I have a hard time distinguishing one issue from the next because every issue sounds largely the same. The non-fiction, admittedly, has greater variation, but part of what’s causing the limited range of voice is a heavy reliance on running the same authors fairly frequently as a way to create a baseline for the magazine’s output, and part of it is editorial preference for a very specific kind of story. And though I would like greater variation of content, I’ve made my peace with what range is there because the reason I keep coming back to read Uncanny is that I love the writing, I love the focus and aims of many of the stories, and I love when they swing thoroughly subversive and/or raging. Uncanny is still actively seeking to redress issues of underrepresentation and to engage a more inclusive approach across a broad spectrum of axes, and that’s exactly where I want to see the field go.
Unlikely Journal – At the end of last year Unlikely Journal’s editors noted that the magazine is going on hiatus in 2017, until the editors can again devote sufficient time to it. They are, thankfully, not shutting it down because the mag has through its many changes in state and rolling themes always been consistently well edited and their output thoroughly excellent. 2016 saw the release of only one issue from Unlikely Journal, but there too the quality of writing on display was consistent. That issue was more solid than standout, but it’s a good reminder of why we’d all be well served to have Unlikely Journal come back as soon as able.
And that, my friends, is the 2016 Recommended Reading List. Clearly, given what I managed to get to in 2016, I need to read more books, watch more movies, and play more games in 2017 (the latter two with an eye to better gender and POC representation both in foreground and in terms of development).
Oh, what truly heinous requirement, this … necessary engagement of leisure?
But in all seriousness, 2016 may have been a shit year in a lot of ways, but it was a good year for literary and media output. There was far too much excellent and intriguing work to get to in one year across all fronts. In truth, I may decide to focus more directly on a narrower approach to the Recommendations list for 2017. This one took far longer than expected to compile and write up. Enjoyable to do, but perhaps this calls for a less time-consuming approach next year.
In the meantime, you are all free to share this list as widely as you’d like.
Until next we meet. :)