2011 in Review: Novels and Webcomics

2011 was a good year. I thought I’d share some of the amazing stories I came across, in no particular order:

Novels

For seven months, I challenged myself to read only books by female authors. I’ve tended towards reading mostly white male (hetero?) authors, and I figured if I could pick up some new insta-read authors, I could help change the disparity in publishing (if not literary criticism) with my money. As expected, I found a lot of great fiction by incredibly talented women:

  • Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon: Has a different flavor than the movie, but both are equally entertaining. The abridged audio is read by David Tennant, who does all the voices (squee).
  • Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett’s Shadow Magic: By far my favorite book from Jones and Bennett. I don’t care for Rook, a protagonist of Havemercy and Dragon Soul, and his absence in this book allowed me to enjoy the worldbuilding and the authors’ trademark ability to play characters off of each other.
  • Ursula K. LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness: Classic sci-fi about an ambassador trying to obtain the trust and understanding of a foreign world with a unisex race. The worldbuilding is excellent.
  • Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell: Positively beautiful, elegant prose. Reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s books, where the magic often occurs in the shadows, just out of the corner of your eye.
  • Robin Hobb’s The Farseer: The Assassin’s Apprentice: I bought the trilogy for $3, but these books are definitely worth a lot more. In this, the first book, the bastard son of a prince is given a place to stay and a vocation by his grandfather, the king. The characters give this book heart (and kept me from putting it down).
  • Cherie Priest’s Dreadnought: Civil War-era steampunk and zombies. A quick-and-dirty read, with possibly some of the best action scenes I’ve read.
  • Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games: I’ve been recommending this to people right and left. It’s like Battle Royale, but not nearly so dark and definitely not as sexual. And even if you’re not normally into darker books with good people dying at the hands of other (good?) people, it’s short, often cheap, and you won’t lose much by picking it up. But really, I don’t expect you’ll be able to put it down until it’s over.
  • Melanie Rawn’s The Exiles: The Ruins of Ambrai: Liz recommended this to me years ago, and I finally picked it up when the C-U Borders closed. (I am now kicking myself for not grabbing book 2 in the series as well.) The book follows three sisters, separated from each other early in life, as they take very different political paths. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the primary culture in the book is matriarchical, and that Rawn is very careful to make the matriarchy feel realistic (think power struggles, institutionalized misandry, ‘protecting’ men from the female gaze by having them cover their hair).
  • Toni Morrison’s Beloved:
    “Paul D did not answer because she didn’t expect or want him to, but he did know what she meant. Listening to the doves in Alfred, Georgia, and having neither the right nor the permission to enjoy it because in that place mist, doves, sunlight, copper dirt, moon – everything belonged to the men who had the guns. Little men, some of them, big men too, each one of whom he could snap like a twig if he wanted to. Men who knew their manhood lay in their guns and were not even embarrassed by the knowledge that without gunshot fox would laugh at them. And these “men” who made even vixen laugh could, if you let them, stop you from hearing doves or loving moonlight. So you protected yourself and loved small. Picked the tiniest stars out of the sky to own; lay down with head twisted in order to see the loved one over the rim of the trench before you slept. Stole shy glances at her between the trees at chain-up. Grass blades, salamanders, spiders, woodpeckers, beetles, a kingdom of ants. Anything bigger wouldn’t do. A woman, a child, a brother – a big love like that would split you wide open in Alfred, Georgia. He knew exactly what she meant: to get to a place where you could love anything you chose – not to need permission for desire – well now, that was freedom.”

Webcomics

I mostly read newly-begun/short-archived webcomics in 2011, because I hadn’t the energy to go through massive archives (with one notable exception). Linkage goes to the first pages of each one.

  • Homestuck: What can I say about Homestuck? It’s epic in scope, with amazing worldbuilding. And the characters – Hussie keeps introducing new ones, yet each one is distinct and interesting. And there is so much wordplay, my god, it’s beautiful. (Last link put in ironically.) Check it out, if you haven’t already.
  • Power Nap: Go read the first three pages. (Giggle furiously.)
  • Monster Pulse: It’s like Pokemon, except that your monster was once a part of your body! Cute art and characters, plus ongoing intrigue as to the origins of the monsters. The formatting and art style made me rethink my plans for Multivers’d.
  • Ever Night: Kind of slow going, but definitely worth a look for the worldbuilding, action sequences and beautiful art. I recently reread the beginning narration (as research for a bit of fanart I’m planning), and it wowed me all over again.
  • Widdershins: By the author of the recently-completed Darken. This comic pairs a hapless wizard (okay, so he dropped out) with a bounty hunter, and shenanigans ensue. Hilarity!
  • Shadoweyes: In a dark and grimy future, a young woman decides to be a superhero and turns into a mutant (in that order). Like most of the webcomics on this list, the art makes me drool in envy. (Bonus: curvy ladies!)
  • Leftover Soup: As anyone who has read 1/0 knows, Tailsteak is at his best playing philosophies and worldviews off of one another, while keeping characterization high and strawmen out. This webcomic gives him plenty of opportunity to do so.
  • Dumbing of Age: This comic is set in a different universe than Shortpacked!, though the enterprising David Willis fan will enjoy seeing familiar characters in new roles. For everybody else, enjoy four-panel humor strips that might just make you think.
  • Adventures of Superhero Girl: A funny take on the superhero genre.  Faith Erin Hicks also does Friends With Boys, which is more story-oriented and character-driven.
  • Sinfest: I’m linking to the front page, because I’ve been reading this for a few years. Within the last year, however, Sinfest has picked up some enthralling plot – Fuschia’s romance with Seymour, for instance. My favorite development was the introduction (?) of the Patriarchy storyline, which is so dead-on in its Matrix comparison that I can’t believe I didn’t see it before.
  • The Secret Knots, “Music for Stray Days: made me smile. Listen to the song and reread the comic after.
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