The Year in Review 2021 by Arley Sorg

Arley Sorg

“As rough as the year has been for the country, it’s been a great time for reading.” As I write this, a New Year is around the corner, bringing with it the hope of better times. And yet, this opening line from last year’s “Year In Review” piece still holds true: it’s been another rough year, but the reading has been awesome!

My 2021 reading choices were anthology-heavy, mostly because I love short fiction. But several notable collections also came out, such as Charlie Jane Anders’s Even Greater Mistakes, which is full of daring stories, and Tobias S. Buckell’s Shoggoths in Traffic, a “mixtape” of fiction that imbues the weird with heart. Isabel Yap put out a gorgeous collection of unforgettable stories in February, called Never Have I Ever. Yap’s mastery of short form is on full display, as well as her ability to play in different moods and settings. Tenea D. Johnson, an author more people should read, published a stellar set of fiction called Broken Fevers. Johnson pulls no punches while also giving readers layered, thought-provoking stories. Anders’s book came out with Tor, the other three came from indie publishers: Fairwood, Small Beer, and Rosarium respectively. A sign that money is often well-spent when spent indie.

So let’s talk anthologies. Flame Tree set the tone for the year in April with Black Sci-Fi Short Stories, a wonderful set of original and reprinted fiction which stands on the shoulders of Sheree Renée Thomas’s Dark Matter anthologies – among one or two others – and in companionship with Nisi Shawl’s “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction”. July brought Paula Guran’s Far Out: Recent Queer Science Fiction and Fantasy, a dazzling assortment of reprints by genre’s queer glitterati. July also brought the breathtaking, and frankly, surprisingly good Sword Stone Table: Old Legends, New Voices, edited by Swapna Krishna & Jenn Northington. This book offers original Arthurian tales told from diverse perspectives. “The Once and Future Qadi” by Ausma Zehanat Khan is an absolute “must read.” Simply put: stunning storytelling. In August, Neon Hemlock published We’re Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction 2020, edited by C.L. Clark & Charles Payseur. Whereas Guran’s volume covered mostly glitterati, Clark and Payseur’s book was more about the up-and-coming authors; and the two books together make a powerful (although unintended) statement about the volume of quality queer fiction just waiting for reader discovery. In September, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki published groundbreaking  African Speculative Fiction (2021), which highlights incredible fiction by Black African writers in a way that editors like Ivor Hartmann edged up to but didn’t quite manage. (But do read Hartmann’s books! They’re good, too.) Makena Onjerika’s “Disassembly” is astonishing and Shingai Njeri Kagunda’s “And This Is How to Stay Alive” will have you bawling. Unfettered Hexes came out from Neon Hemlock in October, edited by dave ring himself: a bold anthology stuffed with great original fiction and filigreed by cool art. Standouts include Danny Lore’s “The Passing of Sinclair Manor, or, The House of Magical Negroes” and Suzan Palumbo’s “The Bride”. Finally, any discussion of 2021 anthologies should include Xueting Christine Ni’s important Sinopticon, gathering work from some of the best Chinese genre fictioneers into one book.

I called Sinopticon “important” but, really, so many of the books I’ve just listed are important and groundbreaking; so many of them have helped (and are helping) to crack open genre, to broaden the scope of wonder.

I enjoyed a few other titles in 2021, besides anthologies and collections. These include Justin C. Key’s Spider King over at Realm, an intimate, grounded exploration of the horrors inflicted by the prison system. Cadwell Turnbull’s No Gods, No Monsters demonstrates the author’s mastery of crafting tangible moments and fascinating characters, as well as challenging but meaningful narrative. Elly Bangs’s innovative Unity rounds out the list, an interesting book by an interesting author.

Here’s hoping for a vastly different and hopefully better 2022! But hey, keep up the great work in terms of publishing. The direction things seem to be heading is a good one. And when it comes to this kind of wonder, I’m always eager for more.

ARLEY SORG, Senior Editor, has been part of the Locus crew since 2014. Arley is a 2021 World Fantasy Award finalist for his work as co-Editor-in-Chief at Fantasy Magazine. He is also Associate Editor and reviewer at Lightspeed & Nightmare magazines, columnist for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and interviewer at Clarkesworld Magazine. He grew up in England, Hawaii, and Colorado, and lives in Oakland, CA. A 2014 Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate, he can be found at – where he has started his own “casual interview” series with authors and editors – and on Twitter (@arleysorg).

This review and more like it in the February 2022 issue of Locus.

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