2018 Year-in-Review by Carolyn Cushman

Carolyn Cushman (2016) by Francesca Myman

There wasn’t much that really blew me away in 2018, but some entertain­ing titles turned up. At the top of my SF read­ing this year are Martha Wells’s Artificial Condi­tion, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy, the last three novellas in the Murderbot Diaries quartet featuring the deadly yet oddly endearing android Murderbot, a corporate-owned security guard that apparently once went berserk and killed humans (hence its chosen name of Murderbot). It was reprogrammed and no longer remembers the killing, but has hacked the governor that controls its actions, yet still chooses to protect humans in its care while investigating its past and the powerful corporation that owns it. W. Michael Gear’s Donovan trilogy opens with Outpost, a hard-hitting tale of a human colony struggling to survive on a deadly planet, a fa­miliar premise made fresh with strong characters, some interesting alien lifeforms, and a creepy mystery surrounding six years of mysteriously missing supply ships.

In fantasy, several series saw interesting new installments. I particularly enjoyed Lies Sleep­ing by Ben Aaronovitch, the seventh volume in the amusing Rivers of London series featuring police detective/apprentice wizard Peter Grant; the series comes full circle in a fascinating way, bringing back major elements from the first novel, while adding some interesting Arthurian bits and Tolkien references, plus new personal complications for Peter, who keeps his snarky wit even as the danger builds to an impressively weird final battle. Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series wraps up with its tenth volume, Magic Triumphs, in which Kate goes to extreme lengths to keep her mad god of a father away from his brand new grandson, with an epic and occasionally over-the-top final battle calling in all the heavy hitters Kate knows. Lake Silence by Anne Bishop opens a new arc in the world of the Others, with new characters and setting but familiar themes, in the story of a newly divorced human woman who finds a body while trying to restart a lakeside resort on land actually owned by the shapeshifting Others, leading to a mystery that’s alternately funny and harrowing. D.J. Butler’s Witchy Winter is a strong second book in the alternate-history fantasy series begun in Witchy Eye, where the reality of magic has made drastic and fascinating changes in American history. Seanan McGuire’s consistently entertain­ing InCryptid urban fantasy series returns with seventh volume Tricks for Free, which finds Antimony Price working at a popular Florida theme park, where the crowds will hide her from the cryptid-hunting Covenant’s blood magic; the insider’s look at the park adds a new layer of fun to the Price family’s usual adventures with cryptids and magic. In the same world, McGuire’s The Girl in the Green Silk Dress, sequel to Sparrow Hill Road, continues the gripping adventures of hitchhiking ghost Rose Marshall, once again facing down the immortal man who killed her. Vivian Shaw’s Dreadful Company, second in the series featuring Dr. Greta Helsing, finds the doctor to the undead in Paris for a medical conference, where she runs into some vampires who have gotten a little too into the goth vampire image and have a serious grudge against one of her friends, resulting in a thrilling romp through some of Paris’ most notoriously gothic scenery.

I didn’t get to as many first novels as usual this year. The French Revolution gets a fantasy makeover in Rowenna Miller’s Torn, the story of a seamstress with the ability to sew charms into clothing, just getting her first chance to work for the aristocracy even as rebellion brews, leaving her torn between her roots and her new life; a charming first novel and the first book in a series. W.L. Goodwater spins a thrilling magical Cold War thriller in Breach, which finds American magician Karen O’Neil on a secret mission to investigate cracks in the magical Berlin Wall. Christopher Ruocchio’s Empire of Silence opens an epic new SF series with something of a fan­tasy/historical feel as it follows Hadrian Marlowe, scion of a powerful lord in the oppressive Sollan Empire, which Hadrian barely begins to see as wrong despite some desperate trials.

In young-adult titles, Rachel Hartman follows up on her Serafina duology with Tess of the Road, the first book in a new series following Serafina’s half-sister Tess, who remembers their childhood very differently and grows up to be enough of a problem her family plans to put her in a convent – only Tess runs away on a quest full of adventure, amusing characters, wry observations, and some poignant moments of re-evaluation. Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce begins a new series in her popular Tortall fantasy series with an intriguing look back at the early days of the powerful mage Numair, and the eventual Emperor-Mage Ozorne, at the School for Mages in Carthak. A Problematic Paradox by Eliot Sappingfield is upper-middle-grade SF with a gonzo Lovecraftian tinge, the frequently hilari­ous first novel and first book in a series about a teen genius sent to a very strange boarding school after her father is kidnapped by aliens.

A few collections caught my eye. Kelly Barnhill’s first collection Dreadful Young La­dies and Other Stories offers nine magical and distinctively quirky stories, including the joyfully grim satirical dystopian fantasy novella “The Unlicensed Magician”. Jim Butcher’s Brief Cases puts together 12 truly entertaining urban fantasy stories in the Dresden Files series, many featuring side characters, plus a poignant new novella about a day at the zoo with Harry and his daughter. Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds by Brandon Sanderson brings together three novellas in the Legion series about a genius who splits off specialized aspects of himself, imaginary to others but real to him as autonomous people, which gives these mysteries some fascinating complications and twists.

Carolyn F. Cushman, Senior Editor, has worked for Locus since 1985, the longest of any of the current staff, and handles our in-house books database, writes our New and Notable section, and does the monthly Books Received column. She is a graduate of Western Washington University with a degree in English. She published a fantasy novel, Witch and Wombat, in 1994.

This and more like it in the February 2019 issue of Locus.

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