The Year in Review 2022 by Ian Mond

Ian Mond (2023)

I had already read my favourite book of 2022 while writing my Locus wrap-up for 2021. I knew as much at the time, re­marking in my review: ‘‘I know it’s only January, but I’m sure [this] will be one of my best nov­els of the year.’’ The novel in question was John Darnielle’s Devil House, an astonish­ing metanarrative that questions the ethics of true crime books while recognising that truth is a slippery commodity. Here’s the thing, though. Despite its florid title and a focus on a group of allegedly Satan-loving teenagers, nothing overtly supernatural or fantastic occurs in Devil House. As such, some will argue that the novel shouldn’t be classified as genre. Clearly, I’m not in their camp. I firmly believe that Devil House’s epistemic approach to objective and sub­jective reality gives it a liminal quality. And I’m not alone. I cheered when Leah Schnel­bach, from, nominated Devil House as one of her top genre books for the year.

My adoration for Darnielle’s novel and my thoughts about its genre creden­tials are emblematic of my tastes. To be clear, I have no issue with mainstream genre fiction. The way the field has become more diverse over the last decade has been truly remarkable. But. Those are not the books I’m drawn to. Take, for exam­ple, Jawbone by Mónica Ojeda (su­perbly translated by Sarah Booker), my pick for best horror novel of the year (and not far off pipping Devil House as my best book for 2022). Not since Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream have I read a novel this distressing. The story begins with a teenage girl kidnapped and tied to a chair by her school teacher, who has tipped over into insanity. What unravels is this extraordi­nary literate and structurally inventive novel about female sexuality, cruelty, desire, and trauma that echoes the work of Lovecraft and Melville. A book this good, this devas­tating, should factor on all the award lists, and yet, sadly, I’ve barely heard a whisper about it.

Then there’s Checkout 19 by Claire-Lou­ise Bennett and Poguemahone by Patrick McCabe, two of the most innovative and eclectic fantasy novels I read this year. The former, like Devil House, falls between genre spaces, where the fantastic sec­tions (which are amazing) are the product of the narrator’s imagination. But Bennett’s passion for literature – the book is steeped in the works of great feminist authors – will resonate with anyone who loves fiction. Poguemahone is a novel where the texture and rhythm of the language are essential. Written in free verse, with more than a smatter­ing of Irish vernacular, Poguemahone (loosely translated from the Gaelic as ‘‘kiss my arse’’) is a devastating ballad told by Dan Fogarty about his sister Una and their family, who were exiled to England from their hometown in Ireland. The bulk of the story takes place in ’70s London, where Una is surrounded by bohemians and revolutionaries (none of whom are especially nice to poor Una) and a vengeful spirit that haunts the squat they live in. Masterpiece is an overused descrip­tor for a piece of art, but it most definitely applies here.

Aside from Adam Roberts’s The This and E.J. Swift’s The Coral Bones (both of which I’ll come back to), the most provocative science-fiction I read in 2022 were all debut novels that came from outside the genre. First, there’s The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan, which made waves in literary circles when published earlier in the year. Chan tells the harrowing tale of a mother who loses custody of a child because of a significant lapse of judgement and is forced by the Government to attend the titular school if she ever wants to see her daugh­ter again. More than proffer a dystopian vi­sion of parenthood, the novel also features an unnerving take on AI children, explicitly bred to teach these ‘‘bad’’ mothers. Julie Armfield’s strange, tragic, and beautiful Our Wives Under the Sea (I previously viewed her collection Salt Slow) sees Miri’s wife, Leah, return from a mission exploring the ocean depths radically changed. The novel is a magnificent slice of gothic horror and a moving story about love and loss. Missouri Williams’s The Doloriad is a post-apocalyp­tic novel unlike anything I’ve read. Nearly as disturbing as Jawbone, Williams chronicles the end of human civilisation – wiped out by an unnamed cataclysm – from the twisted perspective of the last family on Earth, an incestuous clan trying to eke out an existence in a deserted city some­where in the Czech Republic. While The Doloriad’s subject matter makes for a difficult read, the sheer quality of Williams’s prose pulls you through the narrative.

Two authors, as they have pre­viously done in the past, bridged the divide between literary and genre fiction. Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel and The Candy House by Jennifer Egan had several things in common. Both books were published in April, follow-ups to the author’s previous work (Visit from the Goon Squad [Egan], The Glass Hotel [Mandel]), and both drew on ‘‘core’’ science fiction tropes. In Sea of Tranquility, Mandel imagines a far future of moon colonies, a climate-affected Earth and the ability to time travel. I noted some reviewers were grumbling over Mandel’s lack of hard science (she certainly doesn’t match the scientific fidelity of Paul McAuley or Ian McDonald regarding the moon). Still, Mandel’s crackling imagination and sense of the weird and unexplained makeup for any flaws. One could also argue that Jen­nifer Egan’s portrayal of a technology that can download your memories is thin in de­tail. But that would be missing the point of The Candy House, a thoughtful and human story about memory, the legacy we leave behind, and how technology will shape our future (a concern now top of mind given the situation with Twitter).

If The Candy House was the ‘‘literary’’ take on transformative technology, then Adam Roberts’s The This is the response from the ‘‘core’’ of the field. Well, it would be if Roberts wrote conventional science fiction. The novel, which introduces a so­cial media app injected into the roof of the mouth and a human-sized phone that acts as a sexbot, is also an adaptation of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Very few (Lavie Tidhar, Nina Allan, M. John Harrison) are writing SF this inventive, this imaginative, and this accessible.

I didn’t read many novels about the An­thropocene this year, but the two I did sit on either side of the literary / genre divide. Jessie Greengrass’s The High House (who wrote the incredibly clever Sight) is a dis­tressing but exacting depiction of our in­ability as a species to appreciate the grad­ual climate change apocalypse that we’re walking into. As Greengrass puts it so el­egantly, so powerfully: ‘‘after years of incre­mental alteration, you stand, surrounded by your accommodations, and wonder for the first time at the fact that everything should, somehow, have come to this.’’ Similarly powerful is E.J. Swift’s The Coral Bones, which outlines the unfurling of climate change from the perspective of three wom­en across three centuries. As an Australian who cringes at how non-Aussies represent my country, I found Swift’s portrayal to be both accurate and evocative, particularly the bleaching of the Barrier Reef, which I’m aware is occurring, but still hurts deeply to read about in such vivid detail.

Last year I remarked how much of my reading was shaped by ‘‘comfort authors,’’ returning to novelists whose work I’ve long adored. This year, though, I became acquainted with a whole bevy of fresh au­thorial faces (some of whom I’ve already mentioned above). This includes My Vol­cano by John Elizabeth Stintzi, which opens with a volcano ‘‘sprouting’’ from the middle of Central Park. Stintzi presents an allegori­cal climate catastrophe that plays heav­ily into real-world concerns about an America slipping into fascism post-2016. Massoud Hayoun’s colourful Last Night in Brighton has a similar absurdist bite: a queer love story set in Brighton and a gender-fluid journey to the Egyptian port city of Alexandria in the 1930s. It’s an empathic novel, prioritising love and hope over anguish and fear. In stark contrast, the gruesome, horrific Man­hunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin savagely satirises the ‘‘Gendercide’’ trope where a virus or technology removes or radically changes half the population. Told from a trans perspective, Martin’s deconstruction of the trope involves a world where biologi­cal men have become rabid, flesh-eating beasts. Also satirical and flecked with gore (though nowhere near as much) is the hi­larious Patricia Wants to Cuddle. Saman­tha Allen’s piss-take on The Bachelor is reminiscent of the TV show Unreal, except it’s far more queer-friendly and involves a rampaging Sasquatch. Here Goes Nothing by Steve Toltz doesn’t feature cannibal men or a lesbian Sasquatch. But, like those nov­els, Toltz delivers a bleak, albeit funny (and sometimes shocking) satire of the afterlife that argues that humanity ruins everything it touches – even heaven.

My appreciation of the new voices I came upon extends to translated works. Mado Nozaki’s Titan (translated by Evan Ward) is this fascinating and captivating blend of HBO’s In Treatment and the mechas that appear in Japanese anime and manga. The deliberately bewildering but play­ful Present Tense Machine by Gunnhild Øyehaug (translated by Kari Dickson) is a story of motherhood and the multiverse (much like Everything, Everywhere All At Once) but where the mother in question loses her daughter to a crack in reality. I also loved Rouge Street: Three Novel­las by Shuang Xuetao (translated by Jeremy Tiang), a writer whose fiction has long been celebrated in China. The three novellas, which take place around the titular street in China’s Northeast, are a mix of magic real­ism, fantasy and detective fiction and speak to the profound effect China’s acceptance of private business had on the economy, but more notably, the working class.

When it comes to ‘‘comfort’’ authors, I was elated to see books from two of the best contemporary fantasists in the field: An­gela Slatter and C.S.E. Cooney. I savoured A.G. (‘‘Angela’’) Slatter’s gothic fantasy The Path of Thorns, set in the Sourdough Uni­verse, along with one of my favourite novels for 2021: All The Murmuring Bones. As I said in my review, it’s a novel that brilliantly showcases Slatter’s love for storytelling: the mechanics and its broader cultural purpose. Like Slatter, the five stories collected in Dark Breakers by C.S.E. Cooney are also part of a shared universe – the same Gilded Age sec­ondary world that features in Cooney’s Tor­dotcom novella Desdemona and the Deep. Cooney’s luscious world building, contain­ing three nested realities (human, fairy, and goblin) cleaved apart by a cen­turies-old war, makes for some potent storytelling (a strength that Cooney shares with Slatter). Not featuring a shared Universe but wildly inventive all the same is Robert Freeman Wexler’s The Silverberg Business. With its historical setting (Texas in the late 19th century), and a narra­tive that includes Jewish refu­gees, the 1900 Galveston hurricane, Zlateh the goat, and skull heads playing a never-ending game of poker, Wexler’s book is pos­sibly the most original work I read all year. Having said that, Alex Pheby’s Malarkoi, his sequel to the magnificent Mordew, is similarly anarchic. If middle volumes of trilo­gies are meant to firm up the world building and narrative, then Pheby has ignored the rule book, delivering a second volume that ricochets in all manner of directions. On the topic of epic fantasies, a shout out to W.P. Wiles (aka Will Wiles) and the first volume of his fantasy series The Last Blade Priest, which continues the tradition of literary au­thors turning their hands and delivering as­tute and subversive secondary world fiction.

2022 was a terrific year for short story col­lections. It began with a bang with the much-anticipated second volume of The Best of Lucius Shepard from Subterranean Press, a mammoth, beautifully designed book that illustrates Shepard’s preference for longer short fiction – a length he excelled at. Also published in the early months of 2022 was Kim Fu’s debut collection, Lesser-Known Monsters of the 21st Century. As I noted in my review, what struck me about her collection, aside from her eclectic attitude to genre, was the physical and tactile quality of her prose, the way she engages all the sens­es. Around the middle of the year saw the release of collec­tions from two of my favourite authors: Kirstyn McDermott and Sayaka Murata. Yes, McDermott is a close friend, but that doesn’t change the fact that she is one of the best practitioners of horror and dark fantasy writing in the field today who deserves wider recognition. Her collection, Hard Places, only reinforces this. As with her novels, the 13 stories that com­prise Murata’s first English language collec­tion, Life Ceremony (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori), explores her fascination with the human condition, using the surreal, the absurd, and the shocking to question our preconceived views of normality. The best collection of the year, Ling Ma’s Bliss Mon­tage, came out in September. It’s a mingling of strange and conventional pieces that speak to the same themes that informed her novel Severance: the alienation felt as a Chinese American and a woman. The end of the year saw a flurry of top-drawer collec­tions from Adam Soto (Concerning Those Who Have Fallen Asleep), Anil Menon (The Inconceivable Idea of the Sun), and Chris Flynn (Here Be Leviathans). The three col­lections are very different in the way their respective authors construct a short work of fiction, but they are all delightful examples of the art of storytelling.

And finally, as the orchestra plays me off the stage, a quick mention of two excellent novellas. Helpmeet by Naben Ruthnum is a wonderfully grotesque story about physi­cal frailty, death, and infidelity that takes an unexpected swerve toward the bizarre. Also compelling and disturbing is Malcolm Devlin’s And Then I Woke Up, a story that resonates because it’s about the infectious and tragic nature of false narratives.

Given the length of this column, the num­ber of books I’ve mentioned, and those I haven’t gotten around to reading (I’m look­ing at you, Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi and Neom by Lavie Tidhar), I can say with some confidence that 2022 was an exceptional year for fiction. I’ve already started reading for 2023, and while I haven’t yet come upon what I think will be the best book (though Marisa Crane’s I Keep My Exoskeleton to Myself is one worth keeping an eye out for), I’m eager to see what the year will bring.

Ian Mond loves to talk about books. For eight years he co-hosted a book podcast, The Writer and the Critic, with Kirstyn McDermott. Recently he has revived his blog, The Hysterical Hamster, and is again posting mostly vulgar reviews on an eclectic range of literary and genre novels. You can also follow Ian on Twitter (@Mondyboy) or contact him at

This review and more like it in the February 2023 issue of Locus.

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