The science-fiction/fantasy genre has never been more exciting — or more inclusive. Suzanne examines the new directions of an old favorite and highlights the genre’s new must-reads.
Suzanne's best fiction reads of last year include more than one addictive series, plus haunted houses, Sherlock homages, classic Hollywood in space, and more.
Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!
It’s a good week in reading when your stack of ‘books I enjoyed’ is taller than your ‘meh’ stack. It’s a great week in reading when you find one of those books that you know you’ll be recommending to friends (and friends-of-friends and acquaintances and innocent bystanders and random passers-by) for years to come. It’s an extraordinary week in reading when you can’t decide which of two outstanding books to gush on at length about first. This week, Ada Palmer and Rebecca Solnit were definitely at the top of my list:
Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer
First Ann Leckie and now this—there are some incredible things happening right now in the science fiction genre, folks. In the high-tech future of 2454 where affinity-based Hives have replaced geographically based nation-states and mini-communes called bash’es have replaced the nuclear family, ex-criminal Mycroft Canner tells a story of high politics and forbidden theology, deliberately choosing to do so (as he tells us repeatedly) in the outdated style of an 18th-century novel, referencing heroes of the Enlightenment along the way. Plus there’s a young boy who can bring inanimate objects to life with a touch, living in secret and protected by a bodyguard of tiny green plastic army men—but that’s only the beginning. This book is hard to for me to talk about (just ask Amy) without a lot of excited hand-waving and “oh, yeah, I forgot about this other thing” and “but wait ‘cause meanwhile” and “AND THEN” sorts of sentences. About three-quarters of the way through, I thought I was starting to get a handle on what was happening, which is when the author lifted up the top of this carefully-crafted society to show the ugliness and corruption underneath, an unexpectedly dark turn that I was completely unprepared for. This is volume one of a series—warning: the action doesn’t so much wrap up at the end as come to a brief pause —and I have no idea what’s going to happen and I WOULD LIKE TO READ THE NEXT BOOK NOW PLEASE.
(LC Score: +1)
Anyone who has read accounts of real-life disasters knows that, unlike what we’ve been repeatedly told by Hollywood and our political leaders, people in the midst of catastrophe do not inevitably devolve into panicked every-man-for-himself monsters. Instead, the vast majority of people turn to each other to provide help and support, coming up with creative and intelligent solutions for immediate problems. Often, the greatest danger in the aftermath of a natural disaster is actually a phenomenon called “elite panic”, where the Powers That Be, experiencing their own panic at their loss of control and fearing the hordes of humanity that will be unleashed now that the thin veneer of civilization has been ripped off, treat the citizens they’re supposed to be protecting as the enemy, giving orders to shoot looters, withholding information from the general public, and blocking “non-official” relief efforts. In this book, Solnit gathers historical accounts of how people have reacted to disaster, showing that human decency is not the first casualty in times of chaos, and that in fact these disasters often bring out the very best in those people who are most affected. She goes on to meditate on the nature of utopia (with assists from the likes of William James and Peter Kropotkin) and to explore why communities can respond with hope and even find joy in times of fear and enormous loss. What is special about how people react during disaster, and how can we create that sense of purpose and connection when we’re living our everyday non-catastrophic lives? This book made me cry and also made me BURN-IT-ALL-DOWN angry (I recommend frequent breaks while reading the Hurricane Katrina chapter) but mostly it made me feel hopeful about human nature and the choices we can make in our own lives to create meaning and community. Also, while I wouldn’t necessarily compare our current political situation to an earthquake or a hurricane (I’d actually probably go with zombie apocalypse), I found this book (published in 2009) incredibly relevant to what many of us are experiencing right now—both the fear and sorrow, and the hope and joy people are finding in coming together as activists. Sometimes you read the right book at the right time and it just might end up changing your life. (Also, I’m putting together a fund to send a copy to every writer on he Walking Dead because you people need to LIGHTEN UP. Seriously.)
(LC Score: +1⁄2, returned overdue)
After O’Connor: Stories from Contemporary Georgia edited by Hugh Ruppersburg
I was feeling very virtuous and self-sacrificing about picking up this collection (given that I’m not the biggest fan of so-called Southern fiction), but wow, once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down. There are 30 stories here—some Southern-y, many not—written in 1990-2005, by authors with a connection (sometimes a bit tenuous) to Georgia. There are the authors you’d expect to see (Alice Walker, Bailey White) and ones you might not expect (Michael Bishop, Ha Jin) and there’s not a bad story in the bunch. If you need a pick-me-up, do yourself a favor and find a copy of “The Widow’s Mite” by Ferrol Sams. You can thank me later.
(LC Score: +1)
The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
Every once in a while a book comes along that seems tailor-made for me, but somehow we just don’t click. A mysterious Library that sends Librarian agents to alternate worlds to collect one-of-a-kind literary creations? Check! An adventure that involves zeppelins, vampires, remote-controlled alligators, and a Sherlock-alike? Check!! A universe where the Forces of Order, represented by dragons, and the Forces of Chaos, represented by the Fairy Folk, are battling it out?!? CHECK, CHECK, and CHECK! I expected to fall in love with this series, but for whatever reason this novel didn’t quite work for me, which is a bummer. I’m firmly of the “it’s not you, it’s me” camp, so if that sounds interesting for you or for your favorite middle/high schooler, I’d say go ahead and give it a try. (You gotta at least read the remote-controlled alligator scene.)
(LC Score: +1)
The Wishing-Ring Man by Margaret Widdemer
And, speaking of delightful, this is a follow-up (of sorts) to The Rose-Garden Husband from a couple of weeks ago, where Phyllis and Allan return to help out a young woman who is tired of being a muse to her famous poet grandfather and just wants to be a normal girl. There’s a romance kicked off by a ridiculous coincidence (and very briefly imperiled by a ridiculous misunderstanding) and it’s all very fun. Plus, considerably less racism than in The Rose-Garden Husband!
(LC Score: 0, read on Kindle)
The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang
Chinese-American businessman Charles Wang loses his cosmetics empire fortune and goes bankrupt, forcing his family to come together to deal with their new reality. I am a sucker for any kind of “family-comes-together-to-deal-with” plot and I thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel and all the Wang children, who include a once-famous-now-disgraced New York artist and as aspiring stand-up comedian.
(LC Score: +1)
The Gay Revolution by Lillian Faderman
I’ve been reading a lot more about activism and the history of civil rights lately, but I just couldn’t get to this book before it was due. RETURNED UNREAD.
(LC Score: -1)
Fanny Burney: A Biography by Claire Harman
I recently read a great biography of King George III—Royal Experiment: The Private Life of King George III by Janice Hadlow—which reminded me that I need to read more about Fanny Burney, famous author and courtier to George’s wife, Queen Charlotte, but then I got caught up in 18th-century-style science fiction and Hurricane Katrina and everything else. RETURNED UNREAD (which is okay because I need to read Burney’s Evelina anyway).
(LC Score: -1)
Library Chicken Score for 5/2/17: 5 1⁄2 Running Score: 17
On the to-read/still-reading stack for next week:
Southern Daughter: The Life of Margaret Mitchell and the Making of Gone With the Wind by Darden Asbury Pyron (the quest to read all things Georgian continues)
Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education by Mychal Denzel Smith (heard great things about this one)
Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn (I LOVE EPISTOLARY NOVELS GIVE THEM ALL TO ME)
Iron Cast by Destiny Soria (because wow, that is a GORGEOUS cover!)