So I guess this is a tradition now. Here’s my year end round up. First, housekeeping; this is based on what I read for the first time in 2015, not necessarily material released in 2015, so bare that in mind. The categories are similarly arbitrary, and in part reflect what I have and haven’t been reading this year in terms of form (and of course, these are the opinions of just one tired, forgetful, slightly deranged indie writer, so please don’t be offended by omission or, indeed, surprised by eccentricity - both are inevitable).
So, here we go…
Flash fiction story of the year:
Not read a lot of short fiction this year, as part of my attempt to reconnect with what’s been going on in the long form, but I will never not pick up and devour Splatterpunk, and issue #7 contained a blinder from Jeff Strand called Awakening. Blunt and yet to the point, it just crackled with manic glee and dark humour. As with the magazine itself, this story is quintessential splatterpunk. Joyus and nasty.
Short story of the year: /END USER - Duncan Ralston. Objectively, this probably isn’t the best story in his Gristle and Bone collection, but it… well, I was going to say it gave me nightmares, but that’s not quite right either. What it did, in its closing moments, was actually pluck a nightmare I’d already had and half-remembered, and put it on the page in vivid detail. And as a reading experience, I have to tell you that’s very hard to top.
Novella of the year:
The best novella I read this year won’t actually be out until at least 2016 - it’s one of the most amazing privileges of being part of this community that writers whose work I respect and admire very occasionally allow me to get a look at early drafts of their work. And this one… it’s something very special, people. I can’t wait for y’all to get hold of it.
Sticking to published works, well, it’s very tough. It’s been amazing year for this form, I think. That said, my best of year goes to…
Leytonstone by Stephen Volk. A borderline perverse pick, given that I also read Newspaper Heart by the same author, which won the BFS award. To be clear, Newspaper Heart was a worthy winner and I highly recommend the story.
But Leytonstone… man. See, Whitstable won it for me last year, and for my money Leytonstone is the superior article to even that superlative novella. Why? A number of reasons, but starting with a far less immediately likable protagonist. Mr. Volk’s portrayal of young Master Hitchcock was simply the most vivid and skillful character portrait I read this year (and I’ve been lucky enough to read some crackers). Add to that a sense of place and time so vivid you can smell it, a genuinely twisty, unpredictable plot, and a compelling and precise use of language, and you have what I think is simply a masterpiece and exemplar of the form. It really doesn’t get much better than this.
Very honourable mentions:
Albion Fay by Mark Morris. The problem I have with this book if finding a way to describe it that accurately portrays just how special and superb it really is. The trouble is that my standard MO of bombastic hyperbole just isn’t going to cut it; this is an altogether subtler affair than that. Albion Fey does not yell. It does not proclaim its virtues with a rock star swagger or a salesman's charisma. It is far more assured than that. Albion Fey talks to you. It speaks with the calm, cultured voice of an educated englishman, and wraps you up in the tale of a family on the edge of disintegration, and a fateful summer holiday. The narrative slips between the vivid past of childhood and the bland horrors of adulthood, weaving a dense, complex narrative. That same calm telling prevents confusion, and I was utterly drawn in and propelled through this quietly amazing, subtlety explosive tale. See? I sound like an idiot. I knew I would. I don’t care. Albion Fey is a ludicrously accomplished piece of work from a shining talent, and it was a privilege to read it. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, and gobsmacking, subtle slow-burn storytelling is your thing, run, don’t walk. You can thank me later.
Tribesmen by Adam Cesare: Yeah, it came out, like 4 or 5 years ago. I don’t care. I read it this month in a few hours, and I still haven’t recovered. I don’t have a lot to add to my review, except to say that Adam is one of the most consistent writers I’ve discovered in the last couple of years, and has become a must-read writer for me at this point. When I grow up, I want to be this good, basically.
The Shelter by James Everington: Not that the horror in this tale isn’t either good or scary (it’s very much both), but what stuck with me from this one was the intense and spookily clear portrayal of four boys on the cusp of adulthood. I can’t remember the last time I read someone who wasn’t a teenager capture so accurately what teenagers are actually like, inside and out (as opposed to presenting caricatures of teenagers, which is what seems to pass for many). It’s a breathtaking piece of writing.
Novel of the year:
Not a galloping shock for those of you who follow my reviews, I suspect, but it’s got to be Adam Nevill’s No One Gets Out Alive. Again, I don’t have a lot to add to my review, except to say that what makes this novel so exceptional, for me, is that it manages to be both one of the very best haunted house stories I’ve ever read, and also a devastating and quietly furious meditation on the reality of poverty. At the same time. Oh, and it also has what is simply one of the most unexpected and original final acts I have ever read. And it is phenomenally well written. In fact.. ah hell. Read the review, then read the book. And don’t blame me for any lost sleep
Very Honourable Mentions:
Salvage by Duncan Ralston. This cat is a major talent, and it is scary how accomplished this debut novel is. Highly recommended on its own merits, but also because I have a strong hunch you’re going to be glad to have been there for the beginning - this guy is going places.
Larry by Adam Millard - Toss up between this and Vinyl Destination, both of which I read this year, but Larry wins by virtue of being fucking glorious in every way, and I thought just slightly funnier. This is hands down the most readable book on this list, and if you have any kind of even passing familiarity with the slasher movie genre, I guarantee you this book will be a pleasure from start to finish. Millard is a seriously talented writer, as well as riotously funny, and Larry is Millard firing on all cylinders. If Douglas Adams on amphetamines writing comedy horror remotely appeals, you need Millard in your life. And if it doesn’t, know we can still be friends… but I will judge you, a bit.
Non-Fiction essay of the year:
Guided By The Beauty Of Their Weapons - I periodically mention Philip Sandifer on Facebook. His piece taking down the ‘Rabid Puppy’ failed Hugo hijacking is everything I want in this kind of essay: fiercely intelligent, well researched, powerfully put, humorous, and raging.
I frankly haven’t read enough this year. Nor have I written enough. I aim to fix both of these things in 2016. Possibly along with a cure for sleep. Nevertheless, it remains an enormous joy and privilege to be a part of this community. Wishing a happy, successful and productive 2016 to you all. Write on, people.