Recommended?

I’m not sure whether it’s my preferences changing, or my awareness of the field broadening, or both or something else, but as time goes on I find the Locus Recommended Reading List overlaps less and less with my taste in sf and fantasy. It feels faintly absurd, having this reaction, because the list is so bloated as to make inclusion almost meaningless — there are comfortably more books on the list than I read in a year, and that’s before you start on the short fiction categories. This also means that there’s a fair number of things I like listed; yet I look at it, and think: from Interzone, you recommend “Monetized“, and not “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest…“? You recommend Ken Scholes’ A Weeping Czar Beholds the Fallen Moon“, but not Helen Keeble’s “A Lullaby“? As a science fiction novel, you recommend Steal Across the Sky but not UFO in Her Eyes? In the fantasy novel category, it’s marvellous to see In Great Waters, but where on earth is The Other Lands? This is not frustrating simply because unenlightened fools disagree with me. It’s frustrating because the size of the Recommended Reading List is an indication of one of its goals — basically, canon-formation — and because that goal is not challenged elsewhere in the sf community as much as I would like. If the Locus list was more focused, or if there were other lists the same size treated as equivalent authorities, I wouldn’t be so bothered. But I know that when I want to know what was big ten years ago, the first thing I do is Google the Locus list for that year, because it aims to include everything of significance. And more and more I want to know what they missed.

32 Responses to “Recommended?”

  1. Rachel Swirsky Says:

    Do some of the ones that get missed get picked up by other kinds of lists, like the year’s best lists? I’ve had stories in ybs that weren’t on the recc reading list — even ones collected in Horton’s yb. Is that a useful source, or do I exaggerate its importance in my head?

  2. Niall Says:

    You’re right, of course — some do get picked up, and that probably has at least as much benefit, if not more, in terms of establishing story and writer in readers’ minds. I might do a count and see how many stories are on the list that are not in Dozois/Strahan/Horton (who, as you hint, are all involved in the production of the list) … and, this year, neither Foster nor Keeble were picked up by any of them. Similarly, some novels left off get nominated for awards, and, indeed, there are other recommendation lists. I just can’t think of any others that get such attention when they’re released, or that come close to covering such a range of material. Though the attention the Locus list gets is in part a function of the amount of material it covers — this post is probably also a function of fatigue, having seen the list linked just about everywhere I’ve gone online today!

  3. Niall Says:

    OK, by my count:

    Of 32 stories in Dozois, 3 are not in the Locus list:
    “The Integrity of the Chain” by Lavie Tidhar
    “Three Leaves of Aloe” by Rand B Lee
    “Solace” by James van Pelt

    Of 30 stories in Horton, 5 are not in the Locus list:
    “The Endangered Camp” by Ann Leckie
    “Necroflux Day” by John Meaney
    “A Painter, A Sheep, and a Boa Constrictor” by Nir Yaniv
    “Glister” by Dominic Green
    “Images of Anna” by Nancy Kress

    And of 29 stories in Strahan, one is not in the Locus list:
    “Jo Boy” by Diana Wynne Jones

  4. iansales Says:

    I had much the same reaction when I saw the list.

    Ah well, at least people will know to nominate for the Hugos…

  5. Niall Says:

    Someone else had to point out to me that The Caryatids isn’t there, but when they did I thought of you. :-)

  6. iansales Says:

    Still, we can’t complain too much – just look at the BSFA Award short story shortlist…

  7. Niall Says:

    Well, half of the BSFA list is on the Locus list … but this is why I’m saying we need something to compare the Locus list to, rather than saying the Locus list is bad. The BSFA Award shortlists don’t exist in the same splendid isolation the Locus list does.

  8. Rich Horton Says:

    We probably didn’t nominate Helen Keeble’s story because it would have taken up a whole page to print the title … [grin]

    Obviously I — and every other participant — disagree with some that made it and some that didn’t … it is a list that asks for some (but not necessarily much) consensus.

    Sometimes stories don’t work for everyone … I found Eugie Foster’s “Sinner …” an intriguing effort that didn’t quite come together, for example. (To be sure, I had problems with “Monetized” as well.)

    Both it and the Keeble story are ones that I would have supported for inclusion had someone else pushed for them, but that didn’t show up on my own list. (In retrospect, I think I probably should have listed the Keeble story, though I’m still not sure about Foster’s piece …)

    It does seem to me that the Novel list runs into problems — especially as regards long novels — because not enough people have read them. Or perhaps I am reflecting my own experience — I am woefully behind on my novel reading for 2009. And for example last year I read THE WAR WITH THE MEIN and liked it, and I suspect I would have happily recommended THE OTHER LANDS, but it’s a long book and I have lots of books I really need to read and I just haven’t got there yet …

  9. Christopher Barzak Says:

    I don’t know. When you first look at the list, it seems immense and ridiculously too inclusive. Until you recognize that they’re breaking these down by categories and within each category, it’s not as overwhelming as all that.

    Until you come to the novelettes and short story categories. Then, you think, really? All of those? Those two sections are the ones for me that seem a bit too baggy, maybe.

  10. Ian Mond Says:

    You’re right about the list providing more recommendations than you could possibly read in a year. I use the list mostly to look at the new writers who I might have missed. Usually, there’s a couple of interesting authors there that would have passed me by otherwise.

    You talk about challenging the list. I think that’s important, but how do you do that without getting into a debate about the subjectivity of taste?

    Ian

  11. Niall Says:

    Rich, Ian M: Yes, the subjectivity of taste is absolutely the issue. But my impression of the Locus list is that it errs on the side of needing a low consensus to make the list so that a wide spectrum of taste can be included; hence my related impression that anyone whose taste isn’t really reflected is considered to be pretty far out towards the end of the bell curve, as well-informed genre readers go. As I say, I’m not sure the solution is to be even more inclusive, but the problem is that the reason nobody else produces a comparable list is that it’s hard! As Rich suggests, the field is so big that even among voracious readers there isn’t necessarily the sort of overlap you need to establish a stronger consensus. This is a big part of why the two similar projects I’m involved in — reviews-of-the-year for Vector and Strange Horizons — emphasise individual recommendations rather than trying to come up with an aggregate list, and emphasise “what have you read this year?” (whether or not published this year, and even whether or not genre) rather than trying to agree the best. And of course while that has advantages in some ways, it has disadvantages in others.

    Chris: true, but then I start thinking about the number of categories. You can make an argument for each of those categories … but really, should you? Part of me would prefer just the thirty recommended books of the year, whether they happened to be novels or collections or anything. The sf/fantasy novel split seems particularly artificial, given that the other categories aren’t split that way.

  12. Christopher Barzak Says:

    I think you could argue to merge the sf/fantasy, but if the list is to be useful for readers who have particular tastes, it might be best to keep these two separate. Some of the other splits make more sense, though. YA, in particular, seems sensible to split off, for those readers who are interested in age group related work versus those that aren’t. Of those that could be merged, it would probably be the SF/Fantasy titles, but I think these two really do different things, despite being related; and while many of us read both, a lot verge on one or the other.

    It’s the shorter works that baffle, for me. They look like huge walls of text.

    It would be nice to have challenging lists elsewhere. This would most likely mean that a challenger would have to have built a reputation as a critical/trade/review institution. There’s not a lot of competition in this genre in those regards, but there’s also not a lot of money in it, which may be part of the reason why there aren’t many challengers. Your site here is probably the best contender, in a lot of ways.

  13. Rachel Swirsky Says:

    There’s Best American Fantasy, too, which seems to me to provide for a different kind of taste.

  14. Martin Says:

    I think you could argue to merge the sf/fantasy, but if the list is to be useful for readers who have particular tastes

    Then they should be persuaded away from such silo-based taste! I would certainly like to see these categories merged and similarly first novel (although I appreciate that it is used by people like Ian for a specific purpose).

    Look at the collections though: there are fifty of them over four categories. It is absolutely ridiculous. First of all, the Best Of anthologies should simply be excluded since they have no place here. The rest could be merged to a more manageable number, perhaps the thirty Niall suggest for novels.

  15. Jonathan McCalmont Says:

    All attempts at genre-based categorisation are arbitrary and therefore worthless, but some are more worthless than others…

    I know that there are people out there who read only on the basis of genre but are there really people out there who a) are aware of the existence of Locus and b) only read Young Adult fiction?

  16. Martin Says:

    There are probably people who are aware of Locus who buy books on behalf of people who only read YA.

  17. Jonathan McCalmont Says:

    Possibly, but is the Locus list supposed to be in the business of (as Niall puts it) setting a canon or is it in the business of suggesting purchases for Christmases and birthdays?

    If its the former then I’m not sure how useful a YA shortlist is. But then I don’t think that YA is in any way a useful critical term (even by the standards of most genre labeling systems). You might as well be discussing books published in 2009 with red covers.

  18. Christopher Barzak Says:

    Then they should be persuaded away from such silo-based taste!

    To do this there will need to be an alternative. Get to making it, and good luck.

  19. kevmcveigh Says:

    For novels I find lists like the Vector best of the year lists more useful because people often include slightly older works that they got around to in the year under scrutiny or less well publicised works. Also as they are individually identified I know that i can trust my tastes to coincide with X for instance.

  20. Jonathan McCalmont Says:

    Wow… it doesn’t look good for dead tree does it? They’re up against it financially and now they’re struggling to bring in the notable stories too.

  21. Niall Says:

    Well, the share provided by (dead-tree) books accounts for some of the decline in the share provided by dead-tree magazines.

  22. Jonathan McCalmont Says:

    I’m not looking at it from the point of view of online being victorious. It’s more that the Locus list provides a compelling argument for people to buy collections and read online mags rather than renew their subscription to the likes of Asimov’s.

    At a time when dead tree magazines are really feeling the pinch, the apparent loss of their editorial edge in finding good stories is not necessarily a good development.

  23. Lois Tilton Says:

    Clarke’s stats contain at least one error: there was a story on the Locus list from Jim Baen’s Universe – “Riders of the Three-Toed Horse” by Garret W Vance

  24. Rachel Swirsky Says:

    Asimov’s gained a slot, didn’t it? While the losses were showing from F&SF?

  25. Lois Tilton Says:

    And there were -7- stories on the list from Subterranean, where Clarke only gives them 2 (but I believe the Baker was from a print edition, not the online zine). In fact, I suspect that Subterranean was the overall short fiction winner.

  26. Lois Tilton Says:

    Jonathan – I suggest a possible reason for this in my last column for IROSF.

  27. Abigail Says:

    I haven’t gotten very far in my reading of Asimov’s yet, but I was deeply disappointed in F&SF’s 2009 selections. I suspect that part of the problem is that it’s publishing less new fiction – not only did the magazine switch to bi-monthly publication early in the year, but up until October/November issue there were one or two ‘classic reprints’ in each issue to celebrate the its 60th anniversary. A nice idea, and most of the reprint selections were worth reading (though for some reason rather heavily slanted towards ghost and horror stories), but not only did they leave less room for new fiction, they rather inevitably showed up what new fiction there was.

  28. Lois Tilton Says:

    hmm – I perceive that Clarke’s stats are for “short stories” rather than “short fiction”, so I may be mistaken in his being mistaken.

  29. Sean Wallace Says:

    Yes, Neil’s stats are only for the short story category. I’ve also worked on stats for the novelette category, but they reflect some of the trends from the ss category, too, oddly enough. I might, or Neil might, post them over the weekend.

    Abigail: according to Horton’s summaries, F&SF has been running about 600,000 words worth of original fiction, except for this year, which came in at 517,000. The difference was basically reprints, as you point out.

    Niall is correct that books contributed to the drop, to a degree, especially when POSTSCRIPTS switched from a magazine to an anthology. So the declines can’t be all attributed to online venues taking a bite out of print magazines.

  30. Lois Tilton Says:

    So many of those F&SF reprints were LONG

  31. Jim Van Pelt Says:

    Making the Locus list is great, but being reprinted in one of the YB collections is even better. Go Dozois, Horton and Strahan!


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