Another year at Ancillary! Whatever else has happened this year, it’s been a good one for books. We asked our editors and contributors for works that really struck them this year; here’s ten of our favorites:
What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher
T. Kingfisher, aka Ursula Vernon, is an award-winning author, but seems to be less well known than those awards suggest. Her recent title What Moves the Dead is a retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”, expanded into a full novella. Kingfisher writes with gentle humor, empathy, and conviction. Featuring a nonbinary soldier protagonist, elegant and gothic descriptions, and richly-drawn characters, What Moves the Dead deserves more attention than it has received—similar, I suspect, to T. Kingfisher’s other works.
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Be Here to Love Me at the End of the World by Sasha Fletcher
Sasha Fletcher’s first novel is full of the kinds of sentences that make it impossible to forget that he got his start as a poet. Be Here To Love Me at the End of the World is a tender, tragic, and startlingly vivid portrait of what it feels like for time to pass in contemporary America. Flitting between times, spaces, and scales of magnitude, a scattered but sentimental narrator relates the tale of Sam and Eleanor (and others), who are in love even though the world is falling apart around them. It’s a simultaneously sensible and bizarre must-read.
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Some Features of Living Matter in the Neighborhood of the Sun by Zachary Tanner
I absolutely loved this novella, which I truly consider a modern classic. The human relationship between mother and daughter in a climate apocalypse setting is the perfect answer to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Where McCarthy is fascinated by male violence and bonding, Zachary Tanner offers un-gendered love and affection through solidarity and respect. Although not exactly a SolarPunk text, it could be seen as a fascinating and idiosyncratic offshoot of the genre. Written in prose with a Pynchonian twist, it is definitely one of the most beautiful and optimistic hymn to humanity I have read for a long time. A must-read.
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The Villagers by Derek Owens, art by Caroline Golden
Owens wrote 37 vignettes in response to Golden’s surreal collages, bidding the reader enter a phantasmagorical world reminiscent of Alice’s, of Une semaine de bonté, of fairy tales, of Dadaist theater. Whimsical and grotesque by turns, The Villagers is a “read one chapter every night before bed” (and then record your dreams the following morning) sort of book. We need more such inventive collaboration between writers and visual artists. Word and image are each powerful in The Villagers, and taken together they moved this reader still further. In a digital world, this book is a physical wonder, gorgeously produced.
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The Pain Eater by Kyle Muntz
Ostensibly part of the growing literary and film movement of “grief horror”, The Pain Eater expands beyond its provenance to challenge established genre norms. An emo-era period piece, Muntz’s most recent novel traffics in the literal embodiment and expression of emotion, wrapping a family story in layers of gruesome physical need. Calling back to greats such as Kathe Koja and in conversation with contemporaries Eric LaRocca and B.R. Yeager, The Pain Eater is equal parts creature-feature and psychological drama, delivered with bleak humor, dark erotics, and singular style.
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Helpmeet by Naben Ruthnum
A pitch-perfect blend of body horror and the classic weird tale, Naben Ruthnum’s Helpmeet is a book that manages to be both beautiful and foreboding, loving and grim, historical and modern. It’s about true dedication in the form of a woman caring for her dying husband, but also about class and monstrosity, which develop throughout a truly unpredictable narrative. The prose is spare and unflinching, presenting abject physical decay and fin de siècle manners with the same stark clarity. It’s a series of incredible dialectics, all packed into a novella under 100 pages.
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Venomous Lumpsucker by Ned Beauman
Ned Beauman’s Venomous Lumpsucker is a swarm of laughs—some bitter, some nervous, some allowing only the painful registers of truth—about the market value of species extinction, set not too far in the near future, narrated by characters as sharp as they are gorgeously idiosyncratic. Few novels can paint a picture of the financial industry brightly and whimsically, but this one does!
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The Liar’s Knot by M.A. Carrick
A magnificent tale set in a brilliantly constructed world. Political intrigue, social long-cons of the very best sort, hidden identities stacked two and three deep, telepathic spiders, sparkly gowns and masked balls, and chosen family in all shapes and flavors. The plot is subtle, the social commentary thoughtful, and the whole tale is a featherbed that you want to sink into, disappearing from the world until the reading is done.
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The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez
This novel is astonishing—a resoundingly successful formal experiment, an intricately and thoughtfully braided approach to story that folds together intense themes of identity, power, and history. It’s a solid fantasy story in its own right, but more remarkably a demonstration of the recursive and expansive powers of narrativity. I’m going to keep shouting about this until more people are talking about it.
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Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White
Hell Followed With Us is a fascinating piece of trans-centered horror-fantasy that examines the interplay of evangelical Christianity and eco-facism. It provides a bleak image of the future tempered with the warmth of a group of queer people banding together. When the world is ending, people hold onto what’s important to them: their identity, their beliefs, and each other. In a cultural moment in which conservatives like to call LGBTQ+ people “sensitive snowflakes,” this novel is an excellent reminder that queer people are — often by necessity — some of the toughest people on the planet.
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