At the World Fantasy Convention this weekend, I moderated a panel about the most notable books of the past year. Experts from the worlds of publishing, bookselling, and fandom weighed in. Here are their picks.
The panel included a lively discussion of trends over the past two years in fantasy and science fiction, and included Gollancz associate editor Jo Fletcher, Locus magazine editor-in-chief Liza Trombi, book critic Tom Whitmore, and bookseller Justin Ackroyd, who runs Australian mail order bookstore Slow Glass Books.
I asked panelists about whether there is a recent trend in which fantasy has overtaken science fiction in popularity, and everyone seemed to agree that this idea isn't a recent trend at all. Jo and Justin pointed out that fantasy has been more popular since the early 1980s, and that there hasn't been a big science fiction bestseller in years (though there have been big fantasy bestsellers, and bestsellers by mainstream authors who have written science fiction novels, like Michael Chabon). Tom pointed out that almost since science fiction became a recognizable genre, people have been declaring it dead.
Other trends we talked about included young adult science fiction, which is one of the most exciting, growing areas where science fiction is being published. Liza suggested that YA fiction is intriguing because authors can be more overtly polemical in it. Younger audiences have more patience for overtly didactic stories. We also talked about how YA fiction allows authors to tell SF "starter stories" aimed at people who aren't familiar with the SF canon. "It's about storytelling," Jo asserted, "plain and simple." When authors aim at younger audiences, they are free to tell stories that break away from SF traditions.
Finally, we talked about how paranormal romance is one of the biggest-selling subgenres that crosses over with SF and urban fantasy. I mentioned that I think there is a lot of prejudice against paranormal romance, especially among SF readers, because it's viewed as silly and girly. Jo explained that there is a lot of great writing in the paranormal romance genre, and mentioned that Charlaine Harris' non-Sookie Sackhouse novels are really quite interesting and multi-layered.
Then we talked about our book lists, which are linked below. Tom didn't have time to put together a list, but he did mention that he was excited about Terry Pratchett's latest Discworld novel, UNSEEN ACADEMICALS.