The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of 2013: An Eclectic List

It’s that time again, when standing in January we look back at the year that was. 2013 was a busy one for me, and I unfortunately didn’t get to read as much or as widely as I would have liked. So my list will be limited and varied, but still, I wanted to point to some of the most important science fiction and fantasy moments of the year. Here they are, in no particular order:

'The Coldest Girl in Coldtown' by Holly Black

She’d fought back, screaming and crying, kicking her chubby little‐kid legs and scrabbling with the nails of her pink child fingers. All that had done was make her mother squeeze her more tightly, make the flesh of her inner arm tear, make her blood jet like pumps from a water gun.

That was seven years ago. The doctors told her father that the memory would fade, like the big messy scar on her arm, but neither ever did.

If you had told me last year that a vampire novel would be on my best-of list, I would have though you were crazy. But Holly Black’s brilliant YA novel was one of the best books I read last year. It helps that Black is such a wonderful writer — her writing seems effortless — but even more than that, she brings the danger back to vampires, making them creatures of horror. Which is not to say the novel is without romance. One of her scenes had me fanning myself, which is quite an accomplishment.  Don’t be put off by the vampires or the fact that it’s YA. Pick this one up. 

Buy The Coldest Girl in Coldtown from Amazon.com

 

'Sleepy Hollow'

When I beheaded him, that man didn't die. Because he was never a man at all. He is death itself, Lieutenant. And somehow... he had returned to Sleepy Hollow to finish what he started.

You’ll probably either love or hate this television show, but put me firmly in the ‘love’ camp. Ichabod Crane, former Revolutionary War spy, awakens in modern day Sleepy Hollow where he discovers that the Headless Horseman is really Death, of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. And Death, who also awakens, is looking to get the band back together. Ichabod teams up with Leftenant (that’s how he pronounces it) Abbie Mills, a local cop, to help stop them. Yes, it’s over the top. Yes, it’s often ridiculous, but Sleepy Hollow throws so much into its genre kettle that the resulting boil is full of flavor. Not only that, but it has a strong female lead and more diversity than most of its fellow shows. It also moves at a brisk pace with no stringing out of plot points or pointless meandering. My favorite new show of the year. 

Buy Pilot from Amazon.com

 

'Six-Gun Tarot' by R.S. Belcher

The Nevada sun bit into Jim Negrey like a rattlesnake. It was noon. He shuffled forward, fighting gravity and exhaustion, his will keeping him upright and moving. His mouth was full of the rusty taste of old fear; his stomach had given up complaining about the absence of food days ago. His hands wrapped around the leather reins, using them to lead Promise ever forward. They were a lifeline, helping him to keep standing, keep walking.

I read this novel at the beginning of the year not knowing what to expect. But it ended up being one of the best weird westerns I’ve ever read. Six-Gun Tarot has a bewildering mix of characters and elements. Set (largely) in 1869, the novel features sheriffs, cowboys, angels, Mormon defenders, ancient evils, tricksters, and a strange, jade eye. The story begins with young Jim Negrey, a boy of fifteen years, on a long journey, fleeing something that’s not yet clear. His father is dead, his horse is close to it, but he keeps going. He’s found by a young deputy named Mutt who helps bring him to the nearby town of Golgotha, a Mormon-settled town which built up around a silver mine. It soon becomes clear that Golgotha is not like other towns. Strange things happen in and around the town, and the people who live there all have their own particular stories, the focus of the narrative jumping around, weaving the novel’s tale. This isn’t just Jim Negrey’s tale; this is Golgotha’s. And Golgotha, as mentioned, is not just any town. Fans of Buffy will surely see some similarities with Sunnydale.

Buy The Six-Gun Tarot from Amazon.com

 

'Pacific Rim' directed by Guillermo del Toro

Today we face the monsters that are at our door and bring the fight to them. Today, we are cancelling the Apocalypse!

2013 wasn’t a great year for genre movies, unfortunately. Elysium was a huge disappointment, Man of Steel made me mad, and the second of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek films fell flat for me. But Pacific Rim made me happy. Again, it’s probably a love or hate pick, but the gist of the film is simple — giant mechs fight kaiju. I would understand it if you had problems with the movie, but it does feature a giant mech hitting a giant monster with a ship. Not perfect by any means, but certainly the most fun I had in a theater all year. 

Pacific Rim (Blu-ray) ()

 

'East of West' by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta

He's really left us. We were four, but now it's just us three. Well...that settles it then. We kill him...And then the world can follow. 

I didn’t read a lot of new comics this year, but I did read East of West by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta. Like Sleepy Hollow, it features the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. Like Six-Gun Tarot, it’s a weird western with both science fiction and fantasy elements. But it’s all awesome. Anyone who’s read Hickman’s work on Fantastic Four knows that he is a unique voice in comics. Here he uses creative storytelling techniques to tell the story of a Death on the run from the other Horsemen in a world that’s just dying (pun intended) for the Apocalypse. Well worth picking up. 

Buy East of West Volume 1: The Promise TP from Amazon.com

 

'Something More than Night' by Ian Tregillis

They murdered one of the Seraphim tonight.

Ian Tregillis’ latest novel makes me angry. Angry that he took a bunch of ideas I really love and made them into something excellent before I could. I love it, though. It’s a noir mystery involving Angels and Heaven. It begins with Gabriel’s murder, and in typical noir fashion, spins out into a much larger conspiracy enveloping Heaven and Earth. This one may be a cheat since I’m still in the process of reading it, but it’s definitely one of my favorite things to come out of the end of 2013. 

Buy Something More Than Night from Amazon.com

 

"The Day of the Doctor"

And in that battle there was a man with more blood on his hands than any other. A man who would commit a crime that would silence the universe. And that man was me.

I’ve had problems with the last few series of Doctor Who. I like Matt Smith’s Doctor, but I haven’t been a fan of Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner. I was surprised, therefore, when "Day of the Doctor" was the best single episode of Doctor Who in years. It needed to be special, but it exceeded all my expectations. It was funny, touching, and overall it worked. It also marked a huge change to the direction of the show, something I’ve been hoping for for a while. Smith and Tennant worked well together and, well, John Hurt is always amazing. It works even better with the prequel minisode, "Night of the Doctor," which makes me long for a Paul McGann 8th Doctor flashback series. 

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special: The Day of the Doctor (Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray / DVD Combo) ()

 

'The Summer Prince' by Alaya Dawn Johnson

When I was eight, my papai took me to the park to watch a king die.

Alaya Dawn Johnson is a friend of mine, but that in no way takes away from what she’s accomplished with The Summer Prince. Marketed as YA, The Summer Prince is set in a future Brazil in a kind of post-apocalyptic/dystopian culture where a matriarchal society has grown out of the ashes of the previous, failed society. The novel centers on June, her friend Gil, and Enki, the Summer Prince, a young man who is elevated to the top of society for a year before being ritualistically sacrificed. Johnson examines class, sexuality, love, art and revolution, all with her beautiful writing style. But it's not just me — The Summer Prince made the long list for the National Book Award last year. 

Buy The Summer Prince from Amazon.com

 

'The Sounds of Old Earth' by Matthew Kressel

Earth has grown quiet since everyone’s shipped off to the new one.

I wanted to include a short story on this list and wanted it to be one that touched me. The first one that came to mind was Matthew Kressel’s "The Sounds of Old Earth", which was published on the Lightspeed Magazine website back in January. Matt is a friend of mine, and I read this story when it was just an early draft, but the final version was still a punch in the gut. I've read it multiple times and heard it read at least twice, but it never seems to lose its power. Set in the future, when most of Earth's population has moved off-world, it focuses on Abner, an older man who doesn't want to leave his home, who still sees the value in the used-up, worn out planet. Emotional without being saccharine. Read it for free here.

Buy Lightspeed Magazine, January 2013 from Amazon.com

 

'Breaking Bad'

I am the danger. 

I know what you’re probably thinking — Breaking Bad is neither fantasy nor science fiction. But it’s been explained as the rise of a super villain and I feel free to claim that as part of this focus. This year saw the end of the series, which most people I know regard as one of the best to ever hit television. Its ending this year was, unlike the endings of many other television shows, just right. It delivered on what the show set up, didn’t shy away from any of the promises the series had made, and was both touching and unapologetic. A fitting end to a wonderful series. 

Breaking Bad: The Final Season ()


Those were my favorites of the year. What were yours? 

Rajan Khanna

Column by Rajan Khanna

Rajan Khanna is a fiction writer, blogger, reviewer and narrator. His first novel, Falling Sky, a post-apocalyptic adventure with airships, is due to be released in October 2014. His short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and several anthologies. His articles and reviews have appeared at Tor.com and LitReactor.com and his podcast narrations can be heard at Podcastle, Escape Pod, PseudoPod, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Lightspeed Magazine. Rajan lives in New York where he's a member of the Altered Fluid writing group. His personal website is www.rajankhanna.com and he tweets, @rajanyk.

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Comments

Kas Thomas's picture
Kas Thomas January 6, 2014 - 7:59pm

Where is the science fiction here? Based on the headline I expected to see a lot of good sci-fi books listed here. What I got was a bunch of pop-culture nonsense and links (presumably income-generating) where I could buy this crap. This was a terrible waste of time. You do your own site a disservice.

Luke Matthews's picture
Luke Matthews January 8, 2014 - 10:52am

Judging by your list above, you should also check out the comic book Lazarus by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark. Fantastic post-apocalyptic world witha great story and an awesome female lead. 

Luke Matthews's picture
Luke Matthews January 8, 2014 - 11:03am

Oh, and don't listen to that Kas guy. It's blatantly obvious that Pacific Rim, Day of the Doctor, East of West, The Summer Prince, and Sounds of Old Earth are all sci-fi. Nowhere in the title of your article does it specify "books" (just genres of entertainment), and providing links to Amazon is helpful. And I'm not sure what he means by "pop-culture nonsense", because I haven't heard of half the stuff on this list - but I plan on picking some of it up now.

If he thinks *this* was a "terrible waste of time", he should check out some of the best-of lists on Buzzfeed for some pespective.