Fiction Reviews: A 2011 ‘Top Ten’

-Decided by Richard T. Watson

It’s the time of year for lists again: lists of things, lists of people, lists of events and occasionally, just occasionally, lists of lists. I think lists of lists are my favourite.

It’s also a time to look for Christmas presents. Sabotage’s own Claire Trévien has already provided a Top Ten list of pamphlets for the poetry-lover in your life (or soon-to-be poetry-lover, once you’ve wowed them with your poetry pamphlet selection), so now here’s a list of suggestions from Sabotage’s fiction division. A Christmas Top Ten, if you like, of prose presents for the people in your life who like a bit of short story or novella every now and then.

I say it’s a Christmas Top Ten… It’s not a Top Ten based on any sort of reader feedback, bestseller charts or in-depth critical reading on my part. [The critical thinking has mostly been done by Sabotage’s reviewers, who are a lovely and hard-working bunch – thanks, guys!] I’m basing my list roughly on our most popular reviews on Sabotage, so maybe even if you don’t get the books themselves you can enjoy the reviews while hiding away from the family over Christmas and New Year. But y’know, the books are worth getting hold of too.

It’s more of a ‘Who did well this year’ list. Oh, and there’s only three entries, not ten. So, maybe a Christmas Sabotage Fiction Top Three…

1. Armchair/Shotgun #2 (indeed, all of their issues, but we covered the second) has an admirably egalitarian attitude to authorship, claiming: ‘Good writing does not know one MFA program from another. It does not know a PhD from a high school dropout…and it does not care what you have written before. Good writing knows only story.’ Good storytelling is central to Armchair/Shotgun #2, with our reviewer (Rory O’Sullivan) saying: ‘Many of the pieces illustrate grassroots story-telling at its very best […] and there is a freshness and a spice to this collection that brings to mind the originality of the Beat generation.’

2. We’ve had a review of Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories before Sabotage had a fiction division (I’m going to keep calling it a division, until someone suggests a better word), but the follow-up publication, Steam-Powered II: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories definitely makes this list in its own right. Both collections have been popular on Sabotage, and they sound like really great reads. Certainly if our reviewer’s opinion is anything to go by (and it is). The review (by Tori Truslow) says: ‘this anthology was a marvel to read, a real magical mystery airship tour crewed by rebel mechanics and guerrilla historians. If the first Steam-Powered was daring, the second is dazzling.’

3. My third entry to this list is a bit of a cop-out. We’ve reviewed both of the anthology publications from Unthank Books this year, winningly entitled Unthologies, and both have sounded well worth the read. Ian Chung reviewed Unthology #1 back in April, and agreed that it ‘largely achieves what it sets out to do in terms of ‘showcasing unconventional, unpredictable and experimental stories’ and ‘inject[ing] fresh venom into the shorter form’.’ Then Elinor Walpole reviewed Unthology #2 in October and concluded: ‘With such a variety of styles, voices and visions of what it is to be human, I believe that this makes up a very decent and edgy selection of ‘resonant tales for anxious times’.’

I’m also going to add this one (Ian Farnell’s review of Stefan Tegenfalk’s Anger Mode) in as a consolation fourth place, mainly because it’s amusing and references Bruce Springsteen a few times.

Finally, on a deliberately Christmas-themed note: if you haven’t bought presents yet, can I ask a favour of you? It’s not a difficult one, don’t worry.

If you’re willing to shop online, please have a browse through the retailers on Sabotage’s Spend and Raise page. Spend and Raise allows not-for-profits like Sabotage to raise a bit of cash via the commission on your online Christmas shopping – most importantly, it doesn’t cost you anything extra: you pay the amount you’d pay anyway, and Sabotage is given a percentage. All you have to do is go to the retailers through our Spend and Raise page, instead of directly.

Thanks a bunch, we really appreciate it.

Happy Christmas, and merry reading!

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