January 08, 2013

CYBILS F/SF: And Now, The Post-Mortem...

So, yeah. The Cybils, 2012, YA Fantasy/Sci Fi.

205, at final count, in our category. 99.7% books read by one person, 98.6% of the books were read by two people, .03% unread (the discrepancy is because some books were difficult to get - some individual self-pubbed authors and smaller presses just didn't have the wherewithal to send copies or give us digital access), and 199 books were read by me.

Around the end of last month, I be tard, which is why you're getting your post mortem just over a week after all the confetti was thrown. Lord. Have. Mercy. What a year.

The 2013 Cybils wasn't easy for YA F/SF. It wasn't so much the number of books - for the first time in five years, it was easier for me to access them than not; I have three counties library systems from which to choose, and was willing and able to poach my sisters' library cards - but it was the deliberations. Sheila often calls it the Survival of the Book Fittest. Either you read a book and the plot sticks with you, or it ...goes by the wayside as a readalike or just another piece of plot in an endless mountain of story. There were simply Too. Many. Good. Books. Should I shortlist this silly, lightweight novel which immediately caught my eye? Should I downgrade silly when something heavier-hitting came my way? Should I add this one, despite the fact that the hero annoys me a bit, because we need more books guys would enjoy? These are the types of things that go round and round and round in the secondary phase of narrowing down our lists. Sure - the knee-jerk, uncritical pleasure we have in cracking each book is there, and some people have an initial shortlist and have sixteen books on it -- and then they agonize as they pare it down. My style tends toward more critical reading early on, and this year, the paring started on day one, and went on and on and on.

It didn't make deliberations any easier when adding others to the mix. For the first time since I've been on a Cybils panel -- since the very beginning; a year on YA Fiction and five on YA F/SF - the judges met and were unable to come to a consensus in a single three hour session. We had to go away and come back, and after some heated exchanges and outbursts some returned owing to others sincere apologies And some sincerity is still owing, but I will belt up and let that go. Eventually. Deliberations took, all told, nine hours. All flippin' day. (Imagine if I'd still been in Scotland, having to get up at 3 a.m. for deliberations...!)

We came up with a list I mostly like. There is never 100% LOVE from anyone for any list; there are a couple of books on the list which are iffy for me -- and there are a couple of books on the list which are clearly hot-button books for others. For the most part, though, it is a good, sturdy list of worthy books. However! I still wish we'd had room for...

GRAVE MERCY, by Robin LaFevers. Now, y'all know I LOVED this book. LOVED IT. It is not every day when you start the day just thinking you'll read a chapter or two of a book, and then the day gets eaten up with you and your book, and by evening, you pretty much have to sit down and write a thank-you note to the author because she'd helped you pleasurably waste an entire day. (This may not happen to you a lot, but I always try and let myself be happy when it happens to me. Life is short. Truly great books are rare.)

Robin wrote up one of my favorite adult-style tales for young adults, about a Wronged Woman who morphs into a Castaway, and then by the turn of the Wheel and on a whim of the Fates, she becomes A Warrior Woman. So many tropes, so freshly scrubbed up and nicely presented! It was so satisfying - beginning, middle, end, DONE. No dangling bits of this fair assassin's tale, nope. She was all tied up in a pretty bow, and yet, the worldbuilding leaves room for more stories. I cannot wait for the next, and it was really disappointing to be unable to include this book in our finalist list. I was fair gutted. But, what to do, what to do?! There were just so many great books we couldn't include, like...

LOSERS IN SPACE, by John Barnes. I was SO SURE this book would be a shoo-in for the list; I was certain. But my shortlisting it on my personal list was met with a few folk scrambling and complaining that they couldn't find it. Like so many others this time around, this book suffered from lack of easy access and time issues. Many people weren't able to make it past the first few chapters of set-up, and if you don't persevere with this one, it's easy to say, "WHAT? She's SO annoying!" I agree that the book starts carefully, with the character equivalent of stepping gingerly on sidewalks and avoiding cracks, but by a third of the way through, the narrative pelts along, running full out, cracks be darned. The narrative starts the way it does for a reason, I promise you: KEEP READING past the first quiet - and possibly annoyingly voiced - beginnings.

A lot of people had the same reaction to M.T. Anderson's FEED. Why they wondered, do we have to read about disaffected teens? Because, there's something called a CHARACTER ARC in which they BECOME. Please give this book a shot - it's worth your time. If you enjoyed Beth Revis' book last year, or any of the other going-away-to-space/new-civilization books pubbed recently, you'll like this. Persevere!

SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo. For many, this book was a sleeper, and snuck in under the radar. (If you haven't yet read it, you have time; the sequel comes out June 4, so maybe it's Spring Break reading?). It takes the appearance of a quiet Orphan Tale, and morphs comfortably and hopefully into a near traditional Cinderella story. But then... it morphs one more time into a place of ambiguity, with less readily identifiable Good vs. Evil, which makes it an enticing read for me. Without too many spoilers, there's a moment of, "What, seriously!?" in the novel which might come as a hairpin turn for some. I somewhat saw it coming, and thought, "Naaaah," but it turned out that the narrative was indeed leading that direction. The novel explores our very human tendency to drift toward embracing might instead of right, and our very human rationalizing, "Well, would it be so bad, if...?" tendencies. That this is a debut novel only makes me happier - we have a lot of great stuff to anticipate from this author who hopefully has a long, long, long career to go.

EREBOS, by Ursula Poznanski. I'll say up front that I won't be able to give much description of this novel without giving too much away, so I will only say that this novel isn't at all straightforward.

Having attended and taught at a school, I can easily understand the realism of some in-group kids having Something which other people are curious about -- but to which information is limited to an Invitation Only list. That was really realistic for me. Here, everyone is playing this GAME, and human nature makes desire a huge component in giving it a try. Others affect indifference, but we know that their indifference is certainly put on - for the most part. Other people can play but aren't risk-takers, so they come to a point in the game, say, "Meh," and give it up. The novel covers all of these real reactions. And then, it moves forward from there...

In the end, it was all about responsibility - if you're under orders, it's not on you if something goes wrong, right? I mean, you were doing what you were told... I enjoyed the ambiguity of this plot - not knowing who is to blame, or if there IS anyone to blame is a plot device which dangles a fat juicy little snippet of interest the reading hook, and lured me in. Other people don't do well with not knowing all the facts up front - for me, this was a race to figure out if I was right, or if the book would Reveal All before I got all my clues in order. You might enjoy pitting your wits against a game that plays back...!

SHADOWFELL, by Juliet Marillier. I was sure I'd reviewed this novel on this site, but alas, I find no evidence of such. Ah, well. This book is about a place - but it's such a mystical and secret-laden place that nobody actually knows where it is. All Neryn knows is that it had better exist - if not, she's going to die. She's hiding a magical secret in anti-magical Alban, and it's a secret which has lost her family everything, and has driven she and her father onto the road. Or, rather, it's her father's gambling habit which has led them to the road. They have nothing, sure, but then her father gambled away everything else, and then stands her as a stake in a game. Neryn is won by a man whose very face terrifies her, and she's on the run again -- not knowing who she can trust, and fearing to use the little bit of magic that is trying so hard to help her... There's something amazing about each and every one of Juliet Marillier's books. This is the start of a Journey series - with a lot of hiking, even - and if you're not a person who can wait well through a first book which has a lot of set-up for tension-filled relationships and such, wait 'til July when the sequel is released, and then read straight through.

There's a lot to look forward to in 2013 - and if you're looking to be on the YA Cybils F/SF team, my advice is to begin reading NOW and stay on top of the new releases that are buzzed about from The Big Six publishing houses (or is it five now that we have a megalith?), as well as some of the quieter books from indie houses whose greatness tends to be shared by word of mouth instead of flashy book trailers and endless blog tours and interviews. There's a lot of great worthy stuff you might not know about. 205 books might look like small fry next year!

Finally, if I haven't already said it, THANK YOU, and kudos to the people who brought the sleeper and quiet books to greater attention this year. The Cybils is nothing without those who nominate, and we appreciate all of you!

7 comments:

Hallie Tibbetts said...

You sneaked in some more books!

Everything you said, except that my "I wish" list looks a little different. I just don't have time to really sit down and put it together; besides, it would be too long...

missprint said...

Grave Mercy was one of my personal favorites this year (er . . . last year) too.

In terms of hype I was also a little surprised Bitterblue and Cinder didn't get into the mix but enjoying my Round 2 reading so far :)

tanita davis said...

@ Hallie - Yeah, there should have been EVEN MORE books...

@ missprint - DRAT IT! I knew I was missing one. CINDER is awesome, and I wanted that to make my list as well. We really try so hard for a balanced list... it's difficult to make a case for all of my personal faves with everyone else doing the same. It was war! But, I think the list we finished with was a good one.

Charlotte said...

That is just SO MANY books to have to choose from! (I have Shadowfell in my pile, and am looking forward to....Loosers in Space I was one who bailed! Someday I'll try it again...)

tanita davis said...

@ Charolotte: I'm not clear what kept me reading, but it turned out to be SO worth it.

aquafortis said...

I look forward to a new Juliet Marillier. I've really enjoyed hers in the past.

Last time I was at the library I picked up Shadow and Bone and then put it back on the shelf...wasn't in the mood, but it's been getting a lot of buzz, so maybe I'll give it a shot. :)

tanita davis said...

@ aquafortis ~ I just realized that I missed HOLD ME CLOSER, NECROMANCER from this list - how I LOVED that one, but we find that sequels generally don't do well, even though it and CROWN OF EMBERS were oh, so good...

SO many awesome books, and we just couldn't pick them all. Boo!