2001 In Review

Posted 29 December 2001

Overall, this was the weakest year in fiction published in English in at least a quarter of a century. It wasn't just a problem in speculative fiction; the mainstream was also incredibly weak. In most years, Jonathan Franzen's pseudosophisticated bombast wouldn't have even been a finalist for a major award, let alone a winner. There were a very few worthwhile works, but in even lower proportion than usual. The realm of short fiction… well, better left unsaid. It will certainly be unlamented.

This is not to take away from the excellence demonstrated by a few, but to decry the vast majority of works that strove for mediocrity—and didn't quite make it.

And now, without further ado, the envelope, please:
Best Speculative Fiction Novel of the Year Ursula K. Le Guin, The Other Wind
Honorable Mention: Jonathan Carroll, The Wooden Sea
Honorable Mention: Sean McMullen, Eyes of the Calculor (review forthcoming)
Most Overblown Big-Name Speculative Fiction Novel of the Year Stephen King and Peter Straub, Black House
Best Speculative Fiction Anthology of the Year Ursula K. Le Guin, Tales From Earthsea
Although it's not technically an "anthology," as it is all works by a single author, Tales is such a superior work that it deserves close attention.
Honorable Mention: Patrick Nielsen Hayden (ed.), Starlight 3
Best Book Publisher Harcourt
I almost wish that Harcourt would expand its list from a piddling one per month, but that way lies madness: In a given calendar year, there probably aren't much more than thirty works of high literary merit published in speculative fiction. (In 2001, there weren't even that many.) Harcourt simply cannot compete with the mass-marketing techniques of AOLTimeWarner, HarperCollins, Tor, and Bertelsmann. So, wisely, it doesn't try. The recent acquisition by Reed Elsevier (the Anglo-Dutch publishing behemoth) bodes ill for continued editorial independence.
The Aegean Stables Award iPublish (now thankfully extinct) for trying to pretend that it was something other than a vanity press
Dishonorable Mention: XLibris, for that horrible shades-of-Edit-Ink proposed kickback referral program that obviously was not cleared by competent counsel
Best Professional Periodical The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
Honorable Mention:Interzone
Best Semiprofessional Periodical Speculations
Continues to be the top of the line in writing publications. Although it is now an electronic publication, it still feels like a print magazine.
Best Webzine SciFiction
I remain thoroughly displeased with the design, which was obviously executed by an art director with more software tools than sense. However, the quality of the material available is now consistently better than all but three of the professional print periodicals.

Overall rating for 2001: 1 stars
Almost Mediocre.
What a horribly disappointing year in prose fiction. That there were two much-better-than-average speculative fiction films at the end of the year—Harry Potter and The Fellowship of the Ring—cannot make up for the black hole in quality prose. Hopefully, this is merely a lacuna; the publishing schedule for the next few months gives me little hope, but the second half of 2002 looks much more promising.

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