Shit I’ve Read in 2020: A List

1. The Stars Are Legion – Kameron Hurley
2. I’m a Gay Wizard – V.S. Santoni
3. Wizards Are So Gay – V.S. Santoni (unpublished MS—edited)
4. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous – Ocean Vuong
5. Yes, You Are Trans Enough: My Transition from Self-Loathing to Self-Love – Mia Violet
6. Water Into Wine – Joyce Chng
7. Locations of Grief – Catherine Owen, ed. (unpublished MS—edited)
8. Born From Chaos – Wendii McIver (unpublished MS—edited/re-read)
9. Surface Area – Terese Mason Pierre
10. The Deep – Rivers Solomon
11. Propositions and Prayers – Lise Downe
12. K – Costi Gurgu (unpublished MS—edited)
13. Creatures of the Night – Grace Collins (unpublished MS—edited)
14. Schism – Benjamin Kinney (unpublished MS—evaluation)
15. Looking Through Stained Glass: The Days and Nights of a Raivenne – Rai Venne
16. Bone Black – Carol Rose Goldeneagle
17. Heavy: An American Memoir – Kiese Laymon
18. The Last She – Hannah Nelson (unpublished MS—edited)
19. The Future of Another Timeline – Annalee Newitz
20. Trans Like Me: Conversations for All of Us – CN Lester

2019 Reading List

1. Summerland – Hannu Rajaniemi
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 11: The Spread of Their Evil – Whedon, Gage, Isaacs
3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 11: One Girl in All the World – Whedon, Gage, Isaacs
4. Giles: Girl Blue – Whedon, Alexander, Lam
5. Angel, Season 11: Out of the Past – Whedon, Bechko, Borges
6. Angel, Season 11: Time and Tide – Whedon, Bechko, Carlos
7. Angel, Season 11: Dark Reflection – Whedon, Bechko, Borges
8. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 12: The Reckoning – Whedon, Gage, Jeanty
9. The Private Eye – Vaughan, Martin, Vicente
10. Beyond Black – Hilary Mantel (DNF)
11. The Western Alienation Merit Badge – Nancy Jo Cullen (manuscript edit)
12. We Shall Be Monsters – Derek Newman-Stille
13. Berlin: City of Stones – Jason Lutes (re-read)
14. Berlin: City of Smoke – Jason Lutes (re-read)
15. Berlin: City of Light – Jason Lutes
16. Batman: Hush (Volume 1) – Loeb, Lee, Williams (re-read)
17. Batman: Hush (Volume 2) – Loeb, Lee, Williams (re-read)
18. The Mothers – Brit Bennett
19. Freshwater – Akwaeke Emezi
20. Batman: White Knight – Murphy and Hollingsworth
21. The Agony House – Priest, O’Connor
22. On the Come Up – Angie Thomas
23. The City in the Middle of the Night – Charlie Jane Anders (DNF)
24. Only Pretty Damned – Niall Howell
25. Black Writers Matter – Whitney French
26. Black Leopard, Red Wolf – Marlon James (DNF)
27. Lancelot: A Mutants and Masterminds Novella
28. Untitled Playwrights Canada Collection about Immigration
29. Half World – Hiromi Goto
30. Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas – Ant Sang and Michael Bennett
31. Treed – Ariel Gordon
32. Horrorstör – Grady Hendrix
33. One Thousand Fireflies – Charlene Challenger (re-read)
34. Nisaba Journal Issue 3 – Jaym Gates, ed.
35. Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay – Phoebe Robinson
36. We, Old Young Ones – Dominik Parisien
37. The Uncertainty Principle – Roxanna Bennett
38. What We See in the Smoke – Ben Berman Ghan
39. It’s a Big Deal! – Dina Del Bucchia
40. Friday Black – Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
41. Death Threat – Vivek Shraya, Ness Lee
42. Shut Up You’re Pretty – Téa Mutonji
43. All the Birds in the Sky – Charlie Jane Anders
44. Lab Partners – Unpublished MS
45. Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton (re-read)
46. The Lost World – Michael Crichton (re-read)
47. White Fragility – Robin Diangelo
48. Touching Strangers – Stacey Madden (DNF)
49. Thick and Other Essays – Tressie McMillan Cottom
50. Heart Berries – Terese Marie Mailhot
51. Gender Outlaws: The Second Generation – Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman
52. Falling for Myself – Dorothy Ellen Palmer (manuscript edit)
53. Bunny – Mona Awad
54. Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl – Andrea Lawlor
55. Love Lives Here – Amanda Jetté Knox
56. Little Fish – Casey Plett
57. Exhalation: Stories – Ted Chiang
58. Nought – Julie Joosten
59. Archivist Wasp – Nicole Kornher-Stace
60. Latchkey – Nicole Kornher-Stace
61. The Ticking Heart – Andrew Kaufman
62. Black Flows the Blood of the Earth – Michael Matheson (unpublished MS)
63. Paper Girls Vol. 1 – Vaughan, Chiang, Wilson, and Fletcher
64. Paper Girls Vol. 2 – Vaughan, Chiang, Wilson, and Fletcher
65. Paper Girls Vol. 3 – Vaughan, Chiang, Wilson, and Fletcher
66. Paper Girls Vol. 4 – Vaughan, Chiang, Wilson, and Fletcher
67. Paper Girls Vol. 5 – Vaughan, Chiang, Wilson, and Fletcher
68. Paper Girls Vol. 6 – Vaughan, Chiang, Wilson, and Fletcher
69. Born from Chaos – Wendii McIver (unpublished MS)
70. Significant Zero: Heroes, Villains, and the Fight for Art and Soul in Video Games – Walt Williams
71. Black Life: Post-BLM and the Struggle for Freedom – Rinaldo Walcott and Idil Abdillahi
72. Echolocation – Karen Hofmann
73. The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes (re-read)
74. Semen – C.C. Adams (unpublished MS)
75. Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo
76. Frying Plantain – Zalika Reid-Benta
77. I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes From the End of the World – Kai Cheng Thom
78. Hustling Verse: An Anthology of Sex Worker’s Poetry – Amber Dawn and Justin Ducharme (eds.)
79. Gingerbread – Helen Oyeyemi (unfinished)
80. Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements – Charlene A. Carruthers
81. Little Blue Encyclopedia (For Vivian) – Hazel Jane Plante

The 2018 Reading List

1. Parable of the Talents – Octavia Butler
2. A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James
3. Why Indigenous Literatures Matter – Daniel Heath Justice
4. Binti – Nnedi Okorafor (re-read)
5. Binti: Home – Nnedi Okorafor
6. Binti: The Night Masquerade – Nnedi Okorafor
7. Q2Q: Queer Canadian Performance Texts (plays) – Various (unpublished manuscript)
8. The Whole Beautiful World – Melissa Kuipers
9. Altered Carbon – Richard K. Morgan (re-read)
10. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur: BFF – Reeder, Montclare, and Bustos
11. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur: Cosmic Cooties – Reeder, Montclare, Failla, and Bustos
12. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur: The Smartest There Is – Reeder, Montclare, Bustos, and Height
13. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur: Girl-Moon – Montclare, Bustos, and Bonvillain
14. Indian Act (plays) – Various (unpublished manuscript)
15. Broken Angels – Richard K. Morgan (re-read)
16. Woken Furies – Richard K. Morgan (re-read)
17. One Thousand Fireflies – Charlene Challenger (unpublished manuscript)
18. Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach – Kelly Robson
19. Sodom Road Exit – Amber Dawn
20. The Plague – Kevin Chong
21. Adjacentland – Rabindranath Maharaj
22. So You Want to Talk About Race – Ijeoma Oluo
23. Before I was a Critic, I Was a Human Being – Amy Fung (unpublished manuscript)
24. The Plague – Kevin Chong
25. Adjacentland – Rabindranath Maharaj
26. Out of Line: Daring to be an Artist Outside the Big City – Tanis MacDonald (unpublished manuscript)
27. The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
28. Sphinx – Anne Garréta
29. Hygiene and the Assassin – Amélie Nothomb (re-read)
30. Clean Room: Immaculate Conception – Simone, Davis-Hunt, Winter
31. Mapping the Interior – Stephen Graham Jones
32. Exit West – Mohsin Hamid
33. The Beauty – Aliya Whiteley
34. The Antagonist – Lynn Coady (re-read)
35. Listen Before Transmit – Dani Couture
36. Ten-headed Alien – David James Brock
37. An Unkindness of Ghosts – Rivers Solomon
38. Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture – Roxane Gay (ed.)
39. Autonomous – Annalee Newitz
40. Has the World Ended Yet? Tales to Astonish – Peter Darbyshire
41. Dear Current Occupant – Chelene Knight
42. Steroblind – Emma Healey
43. Ayiti – Roxane Gay
44. The Seven Autopsies of Nora Hanneman – Courtney E. Morgan
45. We All Need to Eat – Alex Leslie
46. Love is Never Wasted – Carol Diana Patterson
47. Crow Jazz – Linda Rogers
48. The Book of Universes – John D. Barrow
49. Clean Room: Exile – Simone, Davis-Hunter, Winter
50. Clean Room: Waiting for the Stars to Fall – Simone, Geovani, Anwar, Winter
51. The Magus – John Fowles
52. Not One Day – Anne Garréta
53. Stranger Things Happen – Kelly Link
54. Demon Theory – Stephen Graham Jones (DNF)
55. In the Night Garden: The Orphan’s Tales Volume 1 – Catherynne M. Valente (DNF)
56. I’m Afraid of Men – Vivek Shraya
57. Negroland – Margo Jefferson
58. Be With: Letters to a Caregiver – Mike Barnes
59. Notes from a Feminist Killjoy – Erin Wunker
60. Self-Defence for the Brave and Happy – Paul Vermeersch
61. Let’s Talk About Love – Claire Kann
62. Get in Trouble – Kelly Link
63. Port of Being – Shazia Hafiz Ramji
64. The Saturday Night Ghost Club – Craig Davidson
65. Holy Wild – Gwen Benaway
66. Strike Your Heart – Amélie Nothomb
67. Nothing is Okay – Rachel Wiley
68. A Colony in a Nation – Chris Hayes
69. Split Tooth – Tanya Tagaq
70. Broken Monsters – Lauren Beukes (re-read)
71. Washington Black – Esi Edugyan
72. Find You in the Dark – Nathan Ripley
73. We Have Feelings. We Are Serious. – Julie McIsaac
74. Swing Time – Zadie Smith
75. Heartbreaker – Claudia Dey
76. Something for Everyone – Lisa Moore
77. Moon of the Crusted Snow – Waubgeshig Rice
78. Refuse: CanLit in Ruins – Erin Wunker, Julie Rak, Hannah McGregor
79. A Mind Spread Out on the Ground – Alicia Elliott
80. How Long ’til Black Future Month? – N.K. Jemisin
81. My Sister, the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite

2017 Wrap Up

Another year has passed, another year where my inability to drink had me at a distinct disadvantage. Fortunately, as is always the case in times of darkness, entertainment and media of all forms excelled. While I felt like I consumed less this year than in years prior (especially with respect to books), I do feel as though my consumption had more merit or worth to it than is sometimes the case. In some instances I felt like I needed to absorb or fall into specific things this year, to stave off some of the more harrowing aspects of reality, or to further/better educate myself on the task at hand (i.e., overthrowing the patriarchy, making racists afraid again… you know, the usual).

Let’s start with games. Didn’t play all that much this year in terms of breadth of titles, but the few that I did play… let’s just say that I used games as an escape in 2017 more than I have in the past. Part of that involved being completely and utterly taken by a narrative and world, as in the 100-plus hours I spent hunting robot dinosaurs in Horizon: Zero Dawn (which, point of fact, excels in representation, matters of class, race, sexuality, gender roles, etc., all wrapped up in a cogent, thought-provoking narrative involving a post-post-apocalyptic world, shattered in the past due to the actions of a single, exceedingly wealthy, war-mongering white dude—aspects of Native American appropriation aside, the game’s narrative blew me away). Part of it was spent alongside Wolfenstein II’s completely-over-the-top-yet-still-unnervingly-grounded-in-our-current-shitty-reality revolution against the Nazi takeover in 1960’s America. And yet another part of it was spent catapulting through the joy-for-joy’s-sake of Super Mario Odyssey, which proved to be a perfect, and perfectly happy balm for the open wound that was 2017’s news cycle.

The real story for me and gaming this year, however, is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or, How Andrew Reconnected with his Sister over a Cumulative 500+ hours spent Lost in Hyrule. Yeah. That happened. Both of us had hellish years in terms of stress and overwork, and during the summer, when I was out west and helping the family deal with a (thankfully small) medical crisis, this was the thing that we both found we needed, even if we didn’t know it at the time—an enormous, puzzle-based open world full of endless nostalgia and discovery. That they finally go all the way and make Zelda that badass she should have been from the jump, and not just another damsel in distress, is just icing on the cake. And we’re still both engrossed in this damn game, having done almost everything there is to do, which is testament both to how wonderful an experience it is (especially having grown up with the now-thirty-year-old series), and how much we needed something to help us step outside of ourselves and our usual routines.

I managed to see more films in theatres this year than the past few, and was impressed by more than I usually am. Without wanting to recount them all (because I can’t), I’ll say that my top two spots go, without question, to Get Out and The Shape of Water, with honourable mentions to Lady Bird, War for the Planet of the Apes (unexpectedly, one of the best modern SF trilogies), Logan, Baby Driver (despite Kevin Spacey’s assholery), Atomic Blonde, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi—a.k.a. the most interesting Star Wars has been in… forever. Probably others, too, that I’m forgetting, but these are the ones that stand out most in my brain.

For books… well, due to a number of factors—work, school, starting a magazine requiring I read more short fiction than ever before—I actually read fewer books this year than the last ten. In fact, this is the first time since, I think, 2006, that I’ve read fewer than 100 books in a year. That said, the latter half of this year has included some of the strongest experiences I’ve had with books in some time. Because there’s nothing quite like a flood of terrific, soul-destroying reads to let you know that you’re not as jaded as you fear you’ve become, and you can in fact fall in love with reading again—you just need to find the right material.

For reference, a brief demographic breakdown:

Books read (including graphic novels and edited collections: 90 (DNF: 2)

Books by male-identified authors: 35

Books by female-identified authors: 47

Books by more than one author (i.e., edited anthologies): 10

Books by white authors: 39

Books by non-white/POC authors: 51

Graphic novels: 24

Best of the year (in order read): Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay; The Devil in Silver, by Victor LaValle; Surviving Canada: Indigenous Peoples Celebrate 150 Years of Betrayal, by eds. Kiera Ladner and Myra Tait (full disclosure: I was copy editor for this collection, but still think it’s a must read, despite my obvious bias); The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, by Ken Liu; Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay; Wild Seed and Mind of My Mind, by Octavia Butler; The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin; Brother, by David Chariandy; Son of a Trickster, by Eden Robinson; Scarborough, by Catherine Hernandez; What We Lose, by Zinzi Clemmons; What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, by Lesley Nneka Arimah; An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay; Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado (apart from the terrible novella in the middle that kills almost all momentum); The Break, by Katherena Vermette; Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler. (Not listed: books I’d already read, like Daytripper and How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, which are perennial faves.)

The worst: Beforelife, by Randal Graham (dear god it was terrible); White Noise, by Hari Kunzru (mostly just disappointing, as I’d heard such glowing praise for this book but felt nothing for it in the end); Dhalgren, by Samuel Delaney (did not finish); The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis (did not finish); Brown Girl in the Room, by Priya Ramsingh.

And that’s it for my 2017 media wrap-up. And may 2018 provide both the content we need and a better social and political climate in which to enjoy it.


The 2017 List

1. Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie
2. Ancillary Mercy – Ann Leckie
3. Beloved – Toni Morrison
4. The Vegetarian – Han Kang
5. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe – Charles Yu (re-read)
6. Yardwork – Daniel Coleman (unpublished manuscript)
7. Falling in Love with Hominids – Nalo Hopkinson
8. Berlin-Warszawa Express – Eamon McGrath
9. Rough Patch – Nicole Marcotic
10. Oreo – Fran Ross
11. Difficult Women – Roxane Gay
12. Concrete Park Vol. I: You Send Me – Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander
13. Concrete Park Vol. II: R-E-S-P-E-C-T – Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander
14. Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? – Kathleen Collins
15. The Devil in Silver – Victor LaValle
16. Surviving Canada: Indigenous Peoples Celebrate 150 Years of Betrayal (unpublished manuscript) – ed. Kiera Ladner and Myra Tait
17. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 10 Volume 3: Love Dares You – Christos Gage, Nicholas Brendon, Rebekah Isaacs, and Megan Levens
18. Angel & Faith, Season 10 Volume 3: United – Victor Gischler, Will Conrad, Kel McDonald, and Cliff Richards
19. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 10 Volume 4: Old Demons – Christos Gage, Nicholas Brendon, Rebekah Isaacs, and Megan Levens
20. Angel & Faith, Season 10 Volume 4: A Little More Than Kin – Victor Gischler, Cliff Richards, and Will Conrad
21.Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 10 Volume 5: In Pieces on the Ground – Christos Gage, Rebekah Isaacs, and Megan Levens
22. Angel & Faith, Season 10 Volume 5: A Tale of Two Families – Victor Gischler and Will Conrad
23. Buffy the Vampire Slater, Season 10 Volume 6: Own It – Christos Gage, Rebekah Isaacs, and Juanan Ramírez
24. The Killing Moon – N.K. Jemisin
25. The Shadowed Sun – N.K. Jemisin
26. Thou – Aisha Sasha John
27. MxT – Sina Queyras
28. The Effects of Isolation on the Brain – Erika Rummel
29. All That is Solid Melts Into Air – Carole Giangrande
30. Everything is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person – Daniel Zomparelli
31. Universal Harvester – John Darnielle
32. Journeys of Embodiment at the Intersection of Body and Culture: The Developmental Theory of Embodiment (unpublished manuscript) – Niva Piran
33. The Slow Regard of Silent Things – Patrick Rothfuss
34. The Twenty Days of Turin – Giorgio de Maria
35. Tomie: Deluxe Edition – Junji Ito
36. The Sum of Us – Ed. Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law
37. Let’s Play White – Chesya Burke
38. 100 Bullets: First Shot, Last Call – Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
39. 100 Bullets: Split Second Chance – Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
40. 100 Bullets: Hang Up on the Hang Low – Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
41. 100 Bullets: A Foregone Tomorrow – Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
41. 100 Bullets: The Counterfifth Detective – Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
42. 100 Bullets: Six Feet Under the Gun – Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
43. 100 Bullets: Samurai – Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
44. 100 Bullets: The Hard Way – Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
45. 100 Bullets: Strychnine Lives – Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
46. 100 Bullets: Decayed – Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
47. 100 Bullets: Once Upon a Crime – Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
48. 100 Bullets: Dirty – Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
49. 100 Bullets: Wilt – Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
50. Read, Listen, Tell: Indigenous Stories from Turtle Island – eds. Sophie McCall, Deanna Reder, David Gaertner, and Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill
51. Transparency, Conspiracy, and Surveillance: Information Politics and Street Vendors in Urban Indonesia (unpublished manuscript) – Sheri Gibbings
52. Beforelife – Randal Graham
53. Normal – Warren Ellis
54. The Princess Diarist – Carrie Fisher
55. One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter – Scaachi Koul
56. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories – Ken Liu
57. Revolution for Dummies: Laughing Through the Arab Spring – Bassem Youssef
58. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body – Roxane Gay
59. White Noise – Hari Kunzru
60. Eileen – Ottessa Moshfegh
61. Wild Seed – Octavia Butler
62. Mind of My Mind – Octavia Butler
63. Clay’s Ark – Octavia Butler
64. Patternmaster – Octavia Butler
65. The Ecstatic – Victor LaValle
66. Dhalgren – Samuel Delaney (did not finish)
67. The Doomsday Book – Connie Willis (did not finish)
68. Seizure the Day! (Happiness in Spite of Illness) – Brian Orend (unpublished manuscript)
69. Don’t Tell Me What to Do – Dina Del Bucchia
70. The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemisin
71. The Obelisk Gate – N.K. Jemisin
72. The Stone Sky – N.K. Jemisin
73. Brother – David Chariandy
74. Son of a Trickster – Eden Robinson
75. The Changeling – Victor Lavalle
76. Brown Girl in the Room – Priya Ramsingh
77. Voodoo Hypothesis – Canisia Lubrin
78. Scarborough – Catherine Hernandez
79. Oracle Bone – Lydia Kwa
80. What We Lose – Zinzi Clemmons
81. A Separation – Katie Kitamura
82. What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky – Lesley Nneka Arimah
83. Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall – Suzette Mayr
84. An Untamed State – Roxane Gay
85. Daytripper – Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá (re-read)
86. Her Body and Other Parties – Carmen Maria Machado
87. Bad Feminist – Roxane Gay
88. The Break – Katherena Vermette
89. Downwind Alice – C.C. Adams (re-read)
90. Parable of the Sower – Octavia Butler

2016: Hell Year Wrap-Up



That was an… interesting twelve months. And by interesting, I mean harrowing, depressing, occasionally downright terrifying and void of hope. But also, personally, weirdly great. More than great, actually. Kind of amazing, both in terms of my life and relationships, and my career. This was the year my work finally started appearing in anthologies, that I gave my first public reading—and didn’t totally shit the bed, even if I did talk a mile a minute. It was also the year my first novel sold, and to a publisher I both love and respect. It was the year I was forced to put this blog on hiatus, not because I lost interest in it or was overwhelmed by the shittiness of life but because I was drowning in paid reviews, as well other forms of editorial work. As a result, Backlisted, for which I’ve never seen a cent, had to go and sit on the bleachers for a while.

Technically, it’s still there, chilling on the sidelines, waiting for its time to again step out onto the field. That day will come at some point in 2017 (I really want to get around to writing a review for Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, among other titles currently vying for my attention), but for now I wanted to take a moment and reflect on the year that, thankfully, is coming to a swift end.

For the first time since starting Backlisted, I think I was moved this year more often by experiences outside of books. The films Moonlight, Midnight Special, Arrival, Sing Street, Loving, and Under the Shadow all managed to burrow deep into my psyche, as did the video games Thumper, Inside, Virginia, The Witness, and The Last Guardian—complete opposites all in terms of style and approach, but each something that spoke to me on an almost impossible to describe level, doing things with narrative and/or style (because Thumper is nothing if not wall-to-wall style) that I felt missing in a lot of what I read this year. I don’t think this is as much about the quality of the books I read so much as, perhaps, feeling a bit of burnout within the medium, as well as simply not finding myself as capable of detaching from my own writing and editing work enough to truly sink into certain books. In short, I felt for a lot of this year wanting to step outside of books and absorb experiences in which I had no stake, professional or otherwise.

That being said, I still read over 100 books again this year, and wanted to take the time to give some shout-outs where deserved. (The full list of titles I read this year can be found here:

While I don’t normally like to rank things, the two at the very top of my list for 2016 are N.K. Jemisin’s The Inheritance Trilogy and China Miéville’s The Last Days of New Paris. The former is a 1000+-page epic detailing the rise and fall of a single kingdom, the family of feuding gods at the centre of it and all creation, and the interplay between them. It’s enormous in scope but remains personal at all times. It is dramatic, hilarious, incredibly fucking dark and intense, and at no point failed to completely, utterly impress. It plays freely and fearlessly with race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, art, and destiny, and… I really can’t say enough good things about it (it’s the only 7,000-word review I’ve ever written: ).

The latter, to the total opposite end of the spectrum, is a tight, 170-page novella in which a surrealism bomb is detonated near the end of World War II, thus extending the war and bringing all surrealist art into the battle, as a normalized, nightmarish part of it.

A fucking surrealism bomb. Christ, why didn’t I think of that…

This entire book is an experiment in repeated visual orgasming, and I loved every goddamned page of it.

Other notable titles this year (in no particular order other than that in which I read them):

The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson
On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light, by Cordelia Strube
God in Pink, by Hasan Namir
Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine
Somewhere a Long and Happy Life Probably Awaits You, by Jill Sexsmith
North American Lake Monsters, by Nathan Ballingrud
The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor Lavalle
White Teeth, by Zadie Smith
Gutshot, by Amelia Gray
The Best Kind of People, by Zoe Whittall
Stories of Your Life and Other Stories, by Ted Chiang
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander

Books I loved but didn’t want to rank because they’re written/edited by close friends, but I still loved them and want to give them the attention they deserve:

The Society of Experience, by Matt Cahil
The Humanity of Monsters, ed. by Michael Matheson
The Angels of Our Better Beasts, by Jerome Stuart (doubly cannot rank this title as I edited the bloody thing, but it’s great and you should read it)
Those Who Make Us, ed. by Kelsi Morris and Kaitlin Tremblay (I mean, I have a story in this collection, and it’s one of my favourites, so like hell I wasn’t going to mention it. Good thing the rest of the book is pretty goddamn terrific, too)

Books I was severely disappointed in:

Three Moments of an Explosion, by China Miéville (case study in why it’s not a good idea to just stuff everything possible into a collection. There’s no sense of cohesion to this bloated mess of ideas, and only five or six stories out of its twenty-plus are actually worth the time)
The Monstrous, ed. by Ellen Datlow (not a good first experience with Datlow, who is a legend of an anthology editor. While there are a handful of good-to-great stories in this collection, the worthwhile reads number fewer than a quarter of the total)
What is Not Yours is Not Yours (I have read all Oyeyemi’s work and generally like what she does, but her short fiction sadly did not work for me—there’s a stark lack of focus to the majority of the stories in this collection, and her exceptional wordplay does not make up for it, or for the lack of truly interesting characters)
I’m Thinking of Ending Things, by Iain Reid (how this mental illness-phobic piece of shit has become one of the year’s best sellers and best-reviewed titles is utterly beyond me. It’s like my experience with Andrew Pyper’s The Demonologist all over again—that book was complete trash yet wound up on so many year-end best-of lists that it hurt my brain to think about)
Three Years with the Rat, by Jay Hosking (another best seller. Big ideas in this one, but did not carry any one through to the end with any degree of satisfaction)

All right, I think that’s all I have to say for now. Like I mentioned up top, Backlisted will return in full at some point in the coming year, but for now I wish nothing but the best in 2017 for everyone reading.


Review: And Again, by Jessica Chiarella

25110965>>Published: January 2016

>>Finally got around to it: May 2016

“Is it what they were talking about on the radio?” he asks, releasing my hand and sitting back in his chair. “A few years ago all anyone could talk about was the UN passing an exception to the ban on human cloning. They were saying it was probably for medical research.”

“It was,” I reply, though I shouldn’t be surprised that Dr. Grath would put the pieces together. “There are four of us, in Chicago at least. I’m not sure how many across the country.”

“How does it work?” He’s very calm, for someone who’s just realized he’s sitting across the table from a clone of his best friend. It makes me want to hug him, though I don’t.

“They cut into your brain. The process kills you, but they’re able to extract pieces of the memory center of your brain and transfer it into a new body, into a clone of yourself. It’s sort of like injecting stem cells. The brain matter takes room in the clones and grows there. You become a new person,” I say. “Well, the same person, but a new body.”

“So how old are you?” he asks. He looks a little pale. I wonder if it was a good idea to tell him, if he’s too old and too fragile for these sorts of revelations.

“I guess, maybe a few months old? But they use hormones to rapidly age the clones so they match up with the age you are at the time of transfer. I guess they figured it would be a bit unnerving for adults to wake up in the bodies of infants. They’re all about the psychological effects, let me tell you. I have to go to a support group every week for a year.”


SUBlife: an experimental procedure, up for FDA approval, in which participants are selected via lottery to receive a new lease on life—quite literally. The lucky few, all of whom are dying from one thing or another, are cloned, their bodies aged to be what they were upon the death of their original models, and then given a transfer—bits of the brain’s memory centre are ported into the clone, so that the individual in question is able to start a second life with a full memory of their first.

If only it were so simple, though; as with any experimental procedure, the humans at the heart of it have their own issues, agendas, and reasons for wanting the ultimate of do-overs. Only in this instance they are forced to grapple with some larger-than-life questions, such as whether or not they are in fact the same people they once were, or if the transfer process, if vacating one body for another, has changed them or made them somehow less human.

Author Chiarella focuses the narrative on only one of these groups of people, cloned at Northwestern in Chicago: Hanna, an idealistic young painter with metastatic lung cancer; Linda, a mother and scholar trapped in a waking coma for eight years following a car accident; Connie, an actress who burned bright, got into drugs, and contracted HIV; and David, a right-wing US Congressman with a brain tumour the size of a golf ball.

Upon winning this lottery of lotteries, the four are given certain stipulations—they’re not to take up potentially life-altering pursuits such as skydiving and smoking, for example. Additionally, they are to meet as a support group every week for a year, to chart their progress, as the success of the program’s wider implementation rests on their cloned shoulders.

It’s during the support group, however, that we learn the most from these characters—both of their pasts (all of which are troubled in some way, shape, or form, though none more than Linda’s) and of the challenges and fears they must confront due to the fact that, effectively, they’ve died and pulled a Jesus 2.0. Some of their challenges are quite personal, such as Hannah realizing that her muscle memory for painting has not carried over to her new body; on the other hand David’s plot deals not only with the fact that he bought his way into the experiment but that he did so knowing that the God his constituents believe in, and indeed their beliefs in general, starkly oppose human cloning and, in essence, humans playing god.

Right about now I need to say a couple of things, in the interest of fair play: first, I greatly enjoyed Chiarella’s novel. It plays fast and loose with the science, naturally, but she sells it about as much as she needs to. Because it’s not about the hows or the whys, or if it’s even possible, on any conceivable level, for something like this to work; it’s about the characters, and the asking of a very real, very straightforward question: What is it that makes us human?

The second thing I need to say, and this is where it gets a bit awkward for me, is that I am a very biased reviewer with respect to this specific book, and that what prompted me to pick this title up in the first place was in reading the synopsis and saying aloud in the bookstore, “Well, fuck me, this sounds familiar.” In short, my second book, which I’ve been working on for six years now and which is currently in its fifth round of edits, shares a number of elements with Chiarella’s at the DNA level—from the cloning and transferring of minds to the resultant questions and attempts to understand what’s lost in the process, as well as what’s gained. In short, this was both exciting and a little unnerving, because the last thing any writer wants to see is their ideas or similar approximations in another’s text—we all want to view ourselves as original snowflakes, after all.

Thankfully, however, Chiarella and I differ in our focus, and with respect to the specificity of certain things. As such, I was able to detach a little more from my own work and enjoy this for what it is—a fast-paced character study with some rather lofty ideas.

While I never lost interest in what was happening or the ways in which the story progressed, I do have a few issues with certain narrative choices, and things dropped too quickly or not touched upon at all.

On the strictly narrative side of things, the affair between Hannah and David, who on paper are ethical opposites that despise one another, never really rang true. While it’s justified as two basically reborn people attempting to rationalize their new and old lives and to better understand how to define their current existence, it still felt like one of those things that is inserted into the text because the author simply needed to create further conflict. In short, it didn’t feel earned, and was not helped in this regard by the gaps of sometimes months between each part, in which a fair amount of off-the-page development seemed to occur.

I also would have loved to see further exploration into questions of their autonomy, and whether or not their lack thereof in certain circumstances alters their individual perspectives on what they now are: humans, or products of a larger corporate and/or scientific entity. This concern is most evident when Linda becomes pregnant, at her husband’s request, to try and save their splintering family, only when she has second thoughts she learns she cannot abort the child because the SUBlife committee needs the data from her pregnancy. And because her life and body had been signed over to them, she is given no say in the matter.

It also would have been interesting to witness more of the political and societal fallout from the story getting leaked to the outside world. While yes, this is meant to be an intimate tale of what’s lost and what can be regained or reset on a life-by-life basis, it’s difficult, sometimes, to take a story like this and place it in such a tight bottle—because the ramifications of such a thing merely existing would be so far reaching and dramatic as to change the tenor of the world. It’s the Robert Sawyer problem—stories that change the world but feel like they’re the size and scope of a stage play. Where Chiarella succeeds, though, and where Sawyer fails and fails and fails some more, is in having strong, intelligent characters who are struggling to figure out what their changed identity means.

To bring it back around to my aforementioned bias, I felt while reading And Again that certain character changes came about a little quickly. There’s nothing paid to the idea that their bodies are new save for their fresh and youthful appearances and an inability to taste as they once did, or handle their liquor—or, as revealed later, to be able to carry a pregnancy to term. But there’s nothing to the idea that these bodies, prior to waking up, are unused and would need extensive physical rehab; there’s also little on the medical side of things concerned with the ways in which they function differently, with respect to remembering certain skills but not having the muscle memory to carry them out (ie: Hannah and her painting). One would think they’d be given more attentive care throughout, to adjust and track such things, given all that’s riding on their ability to re-enter their lives as effortlessly and conflict-free as possible. But again, I’m projecting my own ideas onto what is, in the end, a very different story with only a similar overarching conceit.

What carries this book in the end is the journey of its four main characters. Their paths are unpredictable, for the most part, and even when they do fall into either uncharacteristic or seemingly unearned behaviours, we give them grace because they are, in some ways literally, no longer themselves. And they are figuring out what that means at the same time we are learning both who they were and who they now are.

And Again is a quick read, and while I’m not always a fan of the first person, especially when switching between characters, Chiarella gives them each a unique enough voice that one never becomes lost. This is terrific summer reading that asks a little more of its readers than the standard popcorn fare, and is successful in what it sets out to do. Definitely recommended.