It’s that time of year – when everyone comes out with an end-of-the-year “best of” list. Maybe I’m more sensitive to them now, or perhaps it’s because I’ve added so many literary and publishing sites to my social media feeds, but this December seems to be absolutely bursting with them. I actually enjoy these lists, especially when I stop giving much credence to them and look at them more as entertainment, like Facebook quizzes (“What Disney Witch Are You?”, “Which Hogwarts House Would You Be Sorted Into?”).
But today, I want to look back at something different. Today, I don’t want to list the best books of 2015. (I’ll save that for later!) Instead, I want to look back at literary events that made an impact on me personally over the past year. My own highlight reel, as it were.
And, since this is my column, I can do just that! So here is a countdown of my own:
Personal Literary Highlights of 2015
- The Diversification of the Marvel Universe
I’m really enjoying watching the explosion of the Marvel Universe into pop culture. The resurgence of comic books, the success of the franchise movies (“The Avengers”, “Thor”, “Captain America”, etc.), the tie in movies (“Guardians of the Galaxy”, “Ant-Man”), dovetailing with television series (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, “Agent Carter”) and now the darker and grittier streaming series “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones” – a virtual adrenaline rush of consumption. And there is so much to come: Captain Marvel, Luke Cage, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, the Inhumans, the Defenders, Spider-Man (finally back into the Marvel fold) – all on tap to become movies or television shows in the next few years, possibly more if the profits remain high.
And this opened the door for DC to follow suit with the DC Extended Universe, not just remaking its franchises over and over, but actually committing to arc-ing their heroes: Batman, Superman, “Supergirl”, “Gotham”, “The Flash”, “Arrow”, with a robust future: Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, Justice League, Aquaman…
While this resurgence of Marvel (and DC) started far before 2015, this seemed to be the year that it truly passed the “OMG!!!” fandom stage to be accepted and legitimized in wider and wider circles. Sure, fandoms still reign supreme, but they now out of the basement and at the center of a larger moment.
And yes, I consider this a literary achievement, even though it is being realized in visual mediums. All the movies, the television shows, the streaming series, came from comic books, and remain rooted in comics and graphic novels. Each may feed off the other, but comics remain the wellspring, and will continue even if/when the cinematic aspect becomes passé/bloated. But now, in 2015? It’s awfully exciting to experience what is here and to anticipate what is yet to come.
- Mary Robinette Kowal
I have admired Mary Robinette Kowal for years. Not only is she an extremely talented writer, she’s also incredibly accessible. She doesn’t merely promote her brand (as so many authors on social media seem to do), but shares her thoughts, joys, struggles, and her wry humor on Twitter and on her website. Heck, she’s even been known to ask for fan feedback during her writing process!
But she does so much else, besides, such as spearheading the “A Month of Letters Challenge“, where she urges folks to mail at least one item through the postal service every serviceable day in the month of February. She even publishes a P.O. box where she will respond with a handwritten letter to each correspondence she receives. Then there’s the mimicry of the cover of Poul Anderson’s Young Flandry along with other sci-fi/fantasy authors, as part of a fund-raising campaign for the Aicardi Syndrome Foundation. Or her joy in puppetry (she is a professional puppeteer), or how she narrates her own audio books (and voices others’, as well). And how she herself actually designed and sewed the historically accurate Victorian era dress that the model is wearing on the cover of her most recent book, Of Noble Family.
This year, I had the opportunity to meet Mary at NerdCon: Stories, and she exceeded even my outrageous expectations of her. During panels, she was organized and astute. When she was on the main stage, she was tremendously entertaining – her performance as Baroness Wilhelmina of Whetonia in a round of “The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen” was one of the funniest things I have seen in ages. Her quick wit and her flair for performance were extraordinary.
I made sure to attend her signing session, where, despite meeting many, many adoring fans, she took the time to look at me, to interact with me, and even to recognize me through the times that we have interacted remotely even though we had never met. I felt like she truly, honestly, saw me, not just another conference attendee. Then later, I happened to run across her in one of the convention center’s public restrooms. Yes, I had a bathroom encounter with Mary Robinette Kowal! (Ha! Take that as you will, internet!) We chatted just like typical acquaintances that had happened to bump into each other while washing hands and primping hair in the mirror in a public restroom. Dang! So accessible, so talented, so… genuine. Meeting Mary Robinette Kowal – really meeting her – was a highlight of my year, for sure.
- The Hugo Awards Controversy
Not everything that is memorable is good. The controversy surrounding the Hugo Awards this year, where a conservative, some (including me) would say misogynistic group of disgruntled, white, male authors, decided to recruit other conservative, misogynistic social groups to form voting blocks and skew the balloting process, marginalizing what many consider to be the genre’s highest honors.
While the process was painful to watch from afar, and must have been excruciating for those caught up in it, what impressed me the most – and what made me add this malarkey to my end of the year list – was how passionately science fiction and fantasy lovers of all ilk defended their genre, and how many of us had to examine and define just what was it about works of science fiction and fantasy that spoke to the core of who we.
Not a lot of what went on this year during the Hugo Awards balloting was pretty or honorable, on both sides of the table. But oh, some of it definitely was. Some of it was impassioned yet gracious, intelligent yet open minded, resolute and yet not condescending. Some of it was inspired. And even though there was a lot that was hard to read, a lot that was upsetting, it all came about because of a love of the genre, and that is never a completely bad thing.
If you follow LitStack, you might have noticed my posts regarding National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. I had seen lots of buzz about this challenge for many years – where participants pledge to write at least 50,000 words during the month of November towards the first draft of a novel. I never really entertained the thought of actually participating myself – until this year. It turned out to be an amazing experience.
I won’t belabor the point here, but I do invite you to read theLitStack posts chronicling my experience if you are interested and have not yet done so (It’s Time!, Week One, Week Two, Week Three, Week Four). I’m not sure if I’ll participate in NaNoWriMo again next year. Maybe if I have another idea that could be supported in novel form. For now, I am happy to have participated at least once, and to have been able to experience the rush, the joy and the thrill of the unbridled creative process.
- The Resurgence of Science Fiction
It’s not like science fiction ever really went away. It didn’t even go dormant. But it seems like the genre landscape has really been overwhelmed in the last decade or so by fantasy, high fantasy, and speculative fiction. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! I love fantasy, I love speculative fiction, I love epic fantasy and urban fantasy and those fantasy fictions that defy labeling.
But this year, for the first time in a long time, I’ve read loads – and loads – of absolutely wonderful honest to goodness science fiction; you know, the stuff that incorporates science, and takes place in outer space, involving spaceships and whatnot. Hardcore stuff like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora and Andy Weir’s The Martian. Culminations or continuations of science fiction series, such as Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy, John Scalzi’s The End of All Things, and James S. A. Corey’s Nemesis Games. Promising, smaller release novels such as Linesman by S. K. Dunstall, or Karen Lord’s The Galaxy Game, Wesley Chu’s Time Salvager, Carolyn Ives Gilman’s Dark Orbit, Ian McDonald’s Luna: New Moon.
It’s been wonderful. It feels like coming home.
- NerdCon: Stories
This was definitely The Big One. THE event of 2015, for me.
NerdCon: Stories was/is a two day convention that celebrates, well, stories. According to the website:
Story-telling is as old as humans. In fact, it might be one of the things that helped us become humans. NerdCon: Stories is here to honor that institution with a diverse gathering of story tellers. Podcasters, novelists, cartoonists, musicians, poets, and more will gather in Minneapolis for an exceptional celebration.
And exceptional it was.
This was the first year for NerdCon: Stories, and I was incredibly lucky that it was taking place less than two miles from where I live. It was still was fairly small, intimate, friendly, unguarded. For the most part, the delegates were respectful and enthusiastic. The roster of NerdCon guests was impressive and diverse – amazingly, dizzyingly so, and they were, without exception, very approachable. The panels were informative, entertaining, and enriching, the signings were comfortable and well managed, and the main stage sessions were brilliant, unforgettable.
I keep looking back at my experiences at NerdCon: Stories: meeting other people from all over the world (I don’t think I attended a panel, a signing, or even a main stage session where I didn’t have at least one solid conversation with someone – or ones – around me), to meeting authors I had admired for years (I was embarrassed with how tongue tied I got when meeting Jacqueline Carey!), to actually having conversations with the likes of Paolo Bascigalupi, Lev Grossman, and Mary Robinette Kowal. To see other authors and “celebrities” in action, such as Hank and John Green, who had been superheroes for my children, as well as Holly Black and Rainbow Rowell, and folks from the weird and wacky podcast Welcome to Night Vale including creators Cecil Baldwin and Joseph Fink, as well as many of its cast, and rapper/storyteller Dessa, and comedic musicians Paul and Storm… and oh, so many others.
They all became so real to me, no longer just photos on the dust jackets of their books or pictures on a website. They became people who rode subways to work and struggled with writers block and who lost loved ones and who learned about themselves, and who leaned on each other, just like how we lean on our friends. It was so humbling and so uplifting, so empowering and so energizing.
I could go on and on….
But I already have, both in earlier posts on LitStack, and here, on this Gimbling in the Wabe. I’ve quite let my brain run away with my fingers. I think you all get the gist of it, if you’ve followed me this far (and a huge thank you for those who have).
So there you have it. Six of them most amazing literary highlights of my year.
I hope your year was just as fantastic. Here’s to 2016 being even better!
~ Sharon Browning
(Note: The stunning featured photo at the top of this page comes from Italian costumer Giusy Nuno; the photographer is Novita Beytrison. Check out Ms. Nuno’s page on Deviant Art to learn more about her work.)