There are some books that achieve a nearly mythical status among SF geeks. These tend to be acclaimed works from small presses that rarely get reprinted. Red Spider, White Web is one such holy grail.
Published by Morrigan Press in 1990 it is introduced by Brian W. Aldiss, post-scripted by James P. Blaylock and nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke. It currently sits with a 4.28 rating on Goodreads and 92% positive ratings. Yet, in spite of its acclaim, it is incredibly hard to attain, with copies on Amazon currently going for £150. So, when a lower priced edition became available, myself and C from The Middle Shelf decided to split the cost and share our copy.
But does it stand up to its reputation? After finishing it, I would give it a resounding Yes!
There are many elements that make this such an amazing book, but I will pick out a few. Firstly, the atmosphere is very strong. This comes from a combination of the world building and the writing.
Take the opening of chapter one:
It is a world of living metal.
Silicon and cobalt fibers stretched a web of shining strands across his face and hands. He stood on the suspension bridge near Gaia. The winds in the wire warned in a steel cathedral sonata. He leaned over the cold rail, his hands twitching in vertigo and distress. He was next to no one here. A river of chemicals, effluvium and strange mailed fishes ran below. Molten ripples caught the fallen sun in peaks of oily copper. A storm of brown clouds and cold winds was rolling up the river.
In this rhythmic prose we are carefully transported to this ruined world. Able to feel both a part of it and also get a sense of the pace, style and ideas of the story right away.
Secondly the character work here is wonderful. Whilst there are several key characters, the two main ones are Tommy and Kumo. They are just trying to survive in this horrible world in their own ways, sometimes this involves doing things we would see as unpleasant but as we follow them, we come to understand what is important to them and how they are trying to remain human and real.
Finally, and most important for me, is the value put on art in this world. These kind of decaying futures have been common since the 1950s, but they tend to focus on the horrible nature of humanity and how we are doomed as a species. It is very rare they will allow for creativity to still be able to flourish in a declining world.
This only goes some way to convey the beauty of this book. It is such an experience to go through it, I would say that it has to be walked by each individual and see how you come out the other side.
So, either see if you can hunt down a copy of Red Spider, White Web, or else discover who it is we need to pester to get a new edition out!
There are so many great works of speculative fiction by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and Women of Colour) women to check out. I have compiled a list of 100 covering numerous different types of stories for different tastes to try:
The Poppy War by RF Kuang
A brilliantly imaginative epic fantasy debut, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic.
When Rin aced the Keju – the test to find the most talented students in the Empire – it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who had hoped to get rich by marrying her off; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free from a life of servitude. That she got into Sinegard – the most elite military school in Nikan – was even more surprising.
But surprises aren’t always good.
The Leopard Mask by Kaoru Kurimoto
In a single day and night of fierce fighting, the Archduchy of Mongaul has overrun its elegant neighbor, Parros. The lost priest kindgom’s surviving royalty, the young twins Rinda and Remus, hide in a forest in the forbidding wil marches. There they are saved by a mysterious creature with a man’s body and a leopard’s heas, who has emerged from a deep sleep and remembers only his name. Guin.
The Broken Crown by Michelle (West) Sagara
Tor Leonne — the heart of the Dominion of Annagar, where the games of state are about to become a matter of life or death – and where those who would seek to seize the crown will be forced to league with a treacherously cunning ally… Tor Leonne, ancestral seat of power, where Serra Diora di’Marano – the most sought-after beauty in the land, a woman betrayed by all she holds dear – may strike the first blow to change the future of Dominion and Empire alike…
Averalaan Aramarelas — that most ancient of civilized cities, the home of the Essalieyan Imperial Court, has long been a centre of magics both dark and bright. And though the Empire won it’s last war with the Dominion, and survived a devastating, magic-fueled battle with a far deadlier foe, both those victories were not without their cost…. But now the realm is on the brink of a far greater confrontation, faced with an unholy alliance that could spell the end of freedom for all mortalkind….
The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso
Born under the crumbling towers of her kingdom, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves. It nearly tore her nation apart. But her arranged marriage to the son of a rival clan heralds peace.
However, he suddenly disappears before their reign can begin, and the kingdom is fractured beyond repair.
Years later, he sends a mysterious invitation to meet. Talyien journeys across the sea in hopes of reconciling their past. An assassination attempt quickly dashes those dreams. Stranded in a land she doesn’t know, with no idea whom she can trust, Talyien will have to embrace her namesake.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.
Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for an enemy.
Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim
Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.
Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.
And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.
The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera
The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach—but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.
Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.
This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.
A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar
Jevick, the pepper merchant’s son, has been raised on stories of Olondria, a distant land where books are as common as they are rare in his home. When his father dies and Jevick takes his place on the yearly selling trip to Olondria, Jevick’s life is as close to perfect as he can imagine. But just as he revels in Olondria’s Rabelaisian Feast of Birds, he is pulled drastically off course and becomes haunted by the ghost of an illiterate young girl.
In desperation, Jevick seeks the aid of Olondrian priests and quickly becomes a pawn in the struggle between the empire’s two most powerful cults. Yet even as the country simmers on the cusp of war, he must face his ghost and learn her story before he has any chance of becoming free by setting her free: an ordeal that challenges his understanding of art and life, home and exile, and the limits of that seductive necromancy, reading.
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Ambhan Empire for the power in their blood.
Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited. When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda.
And should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance…
The Sword of Kaigen by M. L. Wang
Born into Kusanagi’s legendary Matsuda family, fourteen-year-old Mamoru has always known his purpose: to master his family’s fighting techniques and defend his homeland. But when an outsider arrives and pulls back the curtain on Kaigen’s alleged age of peace, Mamoru realizes that he might not have much time to become the fighter he was bred to be. Worse, the empire he was bred to defend may stand on a foundation of lies.Misaki told herself that she left the passions of her youth behind when she married into the Matsuda house. Determined to be a good housewife and mother, she hid away her sword, along with everything from her days as a fighter in a faraway country. But with her growing son asking questions about the outside world, the threat of an impending invasion looming across the sea, and her frigid husband grating on her nerves, Misaki finds the fighter in her clawing its way back to the surface.
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers maintains the magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman as their Sorcerer Royal and allowing England’s stores of magic to bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession…
At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up, an adventure that brings him in contact with Prunella Gentlewoman, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, and sets him on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.
To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood.
Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history–but only if they can stay alive.
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
Seventeen-year-old Li Lan lives in 1890s Malaya with her quietly-ruined father, who returns one evening with a proposition – the fabulously wealthy Lim family want Li Lan to marry their son. The only problem is, he’s dead. After a fateful visit to the Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also her desire for the Lims’ handsome new heir. At night she is drawn into the Chinese afterlife – a world of ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, monstrous bureaucracy and vengeful spirits. Enlisting the help of mysterious Er Lang (a dragon turned clerk) Li Lan must uncover the secrets of the ghost world – before she becomes trapped there forever.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno Garcia
The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty, small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own. Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it–and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan God of Death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true. In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey, from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City–and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Trained at Miss Preston’s School of Combat for Negro Girls in both weaponry and etiquette, Jane McKeene is poised for a successful career protecting the wealthy from the encroaching plague of walking dead. But when families begin to go missing, Jane uncovers a conspiracy that pits her against some powerful enemies. Sent far from home, Jane will need all her resourcefulness, wit and strength of character to survive.
Witchmark by C. L. Polk
Magic marked Miles Singer for suffering the day he was born, doomed either to be enslaved to his family’s interest or to be committed to a witches’ asylum. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man, but he couldn’t leave his past behind. The war between Aeland and Laneer leaves men changed, strangers to their friends and family, but even after faking his own death and reinventing himself as a doctor at a cash-strapped veterans’ hospital, Miles can’t hide what he truly is.
When a fatally poisoned patient exposes Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark, he must put his anonymity and freedom at risk to investigate his patient’s murder. To find the truth he’ll need to rely on the family he despises, and on the kindness of the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen.
Ormeshadow by Priya Sharma
Uprooted from Bath by his father’s failures, Gideon Belman finds himself stranded on Ormeshadow farm, an ancient place of chalk and ash and shadow. The land crests the Orme, a buried, sleeping dragon that dreams resentment, jealousy, estrangement, death. Or so the folklore says. Growing up in a house that hates him, Gideon finds his only comforts in the land. Gideon will live or die by the Orme, as all his family has.
Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng
Catherine Helstone’s brother, Laon, has disappeared in Arcadia, legendary land of the magical fae. Desperate for news of him, she makes the perilous journey, but once there, she finds herself alone and isolated in the sinister house of Gethsemane. At last there comes news: her beloved brother is riding to be reunited with her soon – but the Queen of the Fae and her insane court are hard on his heels.
Now You Are One of Us by Asa Nonami
In the tradition of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, here is a new classic about the bride who’s no longer sure what to think. All families have their own rituals, secrets, and credos, like a miniature religious cult; these quirks may elicit the mirth or mild alarm of guests, but the matter is rather more serious if you’re marrying into a household. If its’s a Japanese one with a history, the brace yourself: some surprising truths lurk around the corner.
White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
There’s something strange about the Silver family house in the closed-off town of Dover, England. Grand and cavernous with hidden passages and buried secrets, it’s been home to four generations of Silver women—Anna, Jennifer, Lily, and now Miranda, who has lived in the house with her twin brother, Eliot, ever since their father converted it to a bed-and-breakfast. The Silver women have always had a strong connection, a pull over one another that reaches across time and space, and when Lily, Miranda’s mother, passes away suddenly while on a trip abroad, Miranda begins suffering strange ailments. An eating disorder starves her. She begins hearing voices. When she brings a friend home, Dover’s hostility toward outsiders physically manifests within the four walls of the Silver house, and the lives of everyone inside are irrevocably changed.
Fairytales & Mythology
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.
She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and break the cycle once and for all.
The Forest of Enchantments by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
The Ramayana, one of the world’s greatest epics, is also a tragic love story. In this brilliant retelling, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni places Sita at the centre of the novel: this is Sita’s version. The Forest of Enchantments is also a very human story of some of the other women in the epic, often misunderstood and relegated to the margins: Kaikeyi, Surpanakha, Mandodari. A powerful comment on duty, betrayal, infidelity and honour, it is also about women’s struggle to retain autonomy in a world that privileges men, as Chitra transforms an ancient story into a gripping, contemporary battle of wills. While the Ramayana resonates even today, she makes it more relevant than ever, in the underlying questions in the novel: How should women be treated by their loved ones? What are their rights in a relationship? When does a woman need to stand up and say, ‘Enough!’
Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
All her life, Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King. They’ve enraptured her spirit and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen, Liesl can’t help but feel that her musical dreams and childhood fantasies are slipping away. But when her sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl must journey to the Underground to save her. Drawn to the strange, captivating world she finds-and the mysterious man who rules it-she soon faces an impossible decision. With time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed.
Karna’s Wife: The Outcast Queen by Kavita Kané
Karnas Wife: The Outcasts Queen tells the extraordinary story of Karna, the unsung hero of the Mahabharata, through the eyes of his wife Uruvi, bringing his story to the reader from a unique perspective. An accomplished Kshatriya princess who falls in love with and dares to choose the sutaputra over Arjun, Uruvi must come to terms with the social implications of her marriage and learn to use her love and intelligence to be accepted by Karna and his family. Though she becomes his mainstay, counselling and guiding him, his blind allegiance to Duryodhana is beyond her power to change. The story of Uruvi and Karna unfolds against the backdrop of the struggle between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. As events build up leading to the great war of the Mahabharata, Uruvi is a witness to the twists and turns of Karnas fate; and how it is inextricably linked to divine design. A splendid saga from the pages of the Mahabharata, Karnas Wife: The Outcasts Queen brings its characters alive in all their majesty.
The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino
Two sisters, Namima and Kamikuu, born to the family of the oracle, are separated as children. Kamikuu begins her training to become the next oracle, while Namima becomes Priestess of the Night.
The Goddess Chronicle—a retelling of the ancient Japanese myth of Izanami and Izanagi—pulls the reader deep into the realm of the undead.
Japanese crime queen Natsuo Kirino’s dark, twisted tale is a fantastical, fabulous tour-de-force. It is a dazzling story of sex, death, gods and revenge that will draw the reader in and won’t let go until the exhilarating end.
Ash by Malinda Lo
In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, re-reading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.
The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love—and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.
Minion by L. A. Banks
A Vampire Huntress is born every thousand years – someone to lead the Warriors of Light as they fight against the Dark Realms. Damali Richards, born on to the streets of L.A., brought up in the Projects, is our Huntress.
The Hunters and the Vampires are fighting in hell and on our streets and Damali will lead the Hunters in the Final War.
Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz
Schuyler Van Alen has never fit in at Duchesne, her prestigious New York City private school. She prefers baggy, vintage clothes instead of the Prada and pearls worn by her classmates, and she lives with her reclusive grandmother in a dilapidated mansion. Schuyler is a loner—and happy that way.
But when she turns fifteen, Schuyler’s life changes dramatically. She has a mosaic of blue veins on her arms, and craves raw meat. The death of a popular girl from Duchesne is surrounded by a mystery that haunts her. And strangest off all, Jack Force, the most popular boy in school, is showing a sudden interest in her.
Schuyler wants to find out the secrets the Blue Bloods are keeping. But is she herself in danger?
The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan’s life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school…or at home.
When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she’s known is about to change.
But she could never have guessed the truth — that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she’ll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face…and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.
Food of the Gods by Cassandra Khaw
By day, Rupert Wong—sorcerer, chef, former triad—prepares delicious meals of human flesh for a dynasty of ghouls in Kuala Lumpur; by night, he’s an administrator for the Ten Chinese Hells. It’s a living, of sorts.
When the Dragon of the South demands that Rupert investigate the murders of his daughter and her mortal husband, Rupert is caught in a war between gods that’s as bewildering as it is bloody.
If he’s going to survive, he’ll need to stay sharp, stay lucky, and always read the fine print…
Jade City by Fonda Lee
Jade is the lifeblood of the city of Janloon – a stone that enhances a warrior’s natural strength and speed. Jade is mined, traded, stolen and killed for, controlled by the ruthless No Peak and Mountain families.
When a modern drug emerges that allows anyone – even foreigners – to wield jade, simmering tension between the two families erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all in the families, from their grandest patriarch to even the lowliest runner on the streets.
A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
In a society determined to keep her under lock and key, Tavia must hide her siren powers.
Meanwhile, Effie is fighting her own family struggles, pitted against literal demons from her past. Together, these best friends must navigate through the perils of high school’s junior year.
But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice at the worst possible moment.
Soon, nothing in Portland, Oregon, seems safe. To save themselves from drowning, it’s only Tavia and Effie’s unbreakable sisterhood that proves to be the strongest magic of all.
Angelfall by Susan Ee
It’s been six weeks since the angels of the apocalypse destroyed the world as we know it. Only pockets of humanity remain.
Savage street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night.
When angels fly away with a helpless girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back…
The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
This is the way the world ends… for the last time.
It starts with a great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.
It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.
It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.
This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last best hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much more terrifying than anything she could imagine.
Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel the rez, unraveling clues from ancient legends, trading favors with tricksters, and battling dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.
As Maggie discovers the truth behind the killings, she will have to confront her past if she wants to survive.
Literary Fantasy and Magical Realism
The House of The Spirits by Isabel Allende
As a girl, Clara del Valle can read fortunes, make objects move as if they had lives of their own, and predict the future. Following the mysterious death of her sister, Rosa the Beautiful, Clara is mute for nine years. When she breaks her silence, it is to announce that she will be married soon to the stern and volatile landowner Esteban Trueba.
Set in an unnamed Latin American country over three generations, The House of the Spirits is a magnificent epic of a proud and passionate family, secret loves and violent revolution.
The Island of Eternal Love by Daína Chaviano
Alone in a city that haunts her, far from her family, her history, and the island she left behind, Cecelia seeks refuge in a bar in Little Havana where a mysterious old woman’s fascinating tale keeps Cecelia returning night after night. Her powerful story of long-vanished epochs weaves the saga of three families from far-flung pieces of the world whose connection forms the kind of family that Cecelia has long been missing-one cast from legendary, unbreakable love. As Cecelia falls under the story’s heady sway, she discovers the source of the visions that plague her, and a link to the past she cannot shake.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Set in the mid-1800’s in the aftermath of the American Civil War, Beloved chronicles the experiences of Sethe, abandoned by her sons and living with her youngest daughter in Cincinnati. Sethe’s is a house haunted by secrets; of the violent, traumatic memories of her former enslaved life at Sweet Home, Kentucky and by shameful secrets that refuse to stay buried.
When another Sweet Home survivor, Paul D, appears at Sethe’s door, his arrival heralds the mysterious coming of a woman, calling herself only ‘Beloved’. As the revenant Beloved makes her home with Sethe, so her life becomes increasingly devoted both to her ever-increasing and contrary demands for love and her insatiable need for atonement.
Mama Day by Gloria Naylor
On an island off the coast of Georgia, there’s a place where superstition is more potent than any trappings of the modern world. In Willow Springs, the formidable Mama Day uses her powers to heal. But her great niece, Cocoa, can’t wait to get away.
In New York City, Cocoa meets George. They fall in love and marry quickly. But when she finally brings him home to Willow Springs, the island’s darker forces come into play. As their connection is challenged, Cocoa and George must rely on Mama Day’s mysticism.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Ruth discovers a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore of her beach home. Within it lies a diary that expresses the hopes and dreams of a young girl. She suspects it might have arrived on a drift of debris from the 2011 tsunami. With every turn of the page, she is sucked deeper into an enchanting mystery. In a small cafe in Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao Yasutani is navigating the challenges thrown up by modern life. In the face of cyberbullying, the mysteries of a 104-year-old Buddhist nun and great-grandmother, and the joy and heartbreak of family, Nao is trying to find her own place – and voice – through a diary she hopes will find a reader and friend who finally understands her. Weaving across continents and decades, and exploring the relationship between reader and writer, fact and fiction, A Tale for the Time Being is an extraordinary novel about our shared humanity and the search for home.
Through the Arc of the Rain Forest by Karen Tei Yamashita
A Japanese man with a ball floating six inches in front of his head, an American CEO with three arms, and a Brazilian peasant who discovers the art of healing by tickling one’s earlobe, rise to the heights of wealth and fame, before arriving at disasters both personal and ecological that destroy the rain forest and all the birds of Brazil.
Becoming Alpha by Aileen Erin
Tessa McCaide has a unique talent for getting into trouble. Then again, it isn’t easy for a girl with visions to ignore what she sees. Luckily Tessa and her family are leaving California and moving halfway across the country, giving her the perfect opportunity to leave her reputation as “Freaky Tessa” behind.
But Tessa doesn’t realize that kissing the wrong guy in her new Texas town could land her in far more trouble than she ever imagined. Like being forced to attend St. Ailbe’s Academy, a secret boarding school for werewolves.
Even if the wrong guy did accidentally turn her into one of “them” and doom her to attending the weirdest high school ever, Tessa can’t help her growing attraction to the mysterious Dastien Laurent.
When vampires attack St. Ailbe’s and her visions pinpoint an enemy in their midst, Tessa realizes that boy drama and her newfound canine tendencies might just be the least of her problems.
Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai
At turns whimsical and wry, Salt Fish Girl intertwines the story of Nu Wa, the shape-shifter from Old China, and that of Miranda, a troubled young girl lving in the walled city of Serendipity circa 2044. Miranda is haunted by traces of her mother’s glamorous cabaret career, the strange smell of durian fruit that lingers about her, and odd tokens reminiscent of Nu Wa. Could Miranda be infected by the Dreaming Disease that makes the past leak into the present?
Silver Silence by Nalini Singh
Control. Precision. Family. These are the principles that drive Silver Mercant. At a time when the fledgling Trinity Accord seeks to unite a divided world, with Silver playing a crucial role as director of a worldwide emergency response network, wildness and chaos are the last things she needs in her life. But that’s exactly what Valentin Nikolaev, alpha of the StoneWater Bears, brings with him.
Valentin has never met a more fascinating woman. Though Silver is ruled by Silence—her mind clear of all emotion—Valentin senses a whisper of fire around her. That’s what keeps him climbing apartment buildings to be near her. But when a shadow assassin almost succeeds in poisoning Silver, the stakes become deadly serious…and Silver finds herself in the heart of a powerful bear clan.
Her would-be assassin has no idea what their poison has unleashed…
Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
Arrah is a young woman from a long line of the most powerful witch doctors in the land. But she fails at magic, fails to call upon the ancestors and can’t even cast the simplest curse.
Shame and disappointment dog her.
When strange premonitions befall her family and children in the kingdom begin to disappear, Arrah undergoes the dangerous and scorned process of selling years of her life for magic. This borrowed power reveals a nightmarish betrayal and a danger beyond what she could have imagined. Now Arrah must find a way to master magic, or at least buy it, in order to save herself and everything she holds dear.
Of One Blood by Pauline Hopkins
Hopkins tells the story of Reuel Briggs, a medical student who couldn’t care less about being black and appreciating African history, but finds himself in Ethiopia on an archeological trip. His motive is to raid the country of lost treasures — which he does find in the ancient land. However, he discovers much more than he bargained for: the painful truth about blood, race, and the half of his history that was never told.
Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara
The forces of the God of Light and the Goddess of Darkness have waged a ruthless war across the land of Toyoashihara for generations. But for 15-year-old Saya, the war is far away and unimportant–until the day she discovers that she is the reincarnation of the Water Maiden and a princess of the Children of the Dark. Raised to love the Light and detest the Dark, Saya must come to terms with her heritage even as she tumbles into the very heart of the conflict that is destroying her country. The armies of the Light and Dark both seek to claim her, for she is the only mortal who can awaken the legendary Dragon Sword, the fearsome weapon destined to bring an end to the war. Can Saya make the dreadful choice between the Light and Dark, or is she doomed–like all the Water Maidens who came before her…? The magatama are stones of destiny, magical amulets passed down to a chosen few. But all knowledge of the stones’ true nature has been lost, and each bearer must discover the power of the magatama to calm the Dragon’s destructive spirit before it destroys the world.
The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
The pirate Florian, born Flora, has always done whatever it takes to survive—including sailing under false flag on the Dove as a marauder, thief, and worse. Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, a highborn Imperial daughter, is on board as well—accompanied by her own casket. But Evelyn’s one-way voyage to an arranged marriage in the Floating Islands is interrupted when the captain and crew show their true colors and enslave their wealthy passengers.
Both Florian and Evelyn have lived their lives by the rules, and whims, of others. But when they fall in love, they decide to take fate into their own hands—no matter the cost.
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
Searching for a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas expects the usual: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.
Yet she spares Cas’s life.
My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due
When Jessica marries David, he is everything she wants in a family man: brilliant, attentive, ever youthful. Yet she still feels something about him is just out of reach. Soon, as people close to Jessica begin to meet violent, mysterious deaths, David makes an unimaginable confession: More than 400 years ago, he and other members of an Ethiopian sect traded their humanity so they would never die, a secret he must protect at any cost. Now, his immortal brethren have decided David must return and leave his family in Miami. Instead, David vows to invoke a forbidden ritual to keep Jessica and his daughter with him forever.
The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike
This tale of a young married couple who harbor a dark secret is packed with dread and terror, as they and their daughter move into a brand new apartment building built next to a graveyard. As strange and terrifying occurrences begin to pile up, people in the building start to move out one by one, until the young family is left alone with someone… or something… lurking in the basement. The psychological horror builds moment after moment, scene after scene, culminating with a conclusion that will make you think twice before ever going into a basement again.
The Hunger by Alma Katsu
After having travelled west for weeks, the party of pioneers comes to a crossroads. It is time for their leader, George Donner, to make a choice. They face two diverging paths which lead to the same destination. One is well-documented – the other untested, but rumoured to be shorter.
Donner’s decision will shape the lives of everyone travelling with him. The searing heat of the desert gives way to biting winds and a bitter cold that freezes the cattle where they stand. Driven to the brink of madness, the ill-fated group struggles to survive and minor disagreements turn into violent confrontations. Then the children begin to disappear. As the survivors turn against each other, a few begin to realise that the threat they face reaches beyond the fury of the natural elements, to something more primal and far more deadly.
Internment by Samira Ahmed
Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens. With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the camp’s Director and his guards. Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.
Suicide Club by Rachel Heng
Lea Kirino is a ‘Lifer,’ who has the potential to live forever – if she does everything right. She has lived her life by religiously following the state directives that ensure she remains fit and healthy. She knows she wants to live forever, and she is going to green juice, yoga-cise and meditate her way to immortality.
Yet, when a brush with death brings her face to face with a mysterious group who believe in everything the state has banned, memories of now-forbidden childhood pleasures resurge alongside ghosts of her past. As Lea’s long-held beliefs begin to crack, she is forced to consider: What does it really mean to live?
An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King
China’s One Child Policy and its cultural preference for male heirs have created a society overrun by 40 million unmarriageable men. By the year 2030, more than twenty-five percent of men in their late thirties will not have a family of their own. An Excess Male is one such leftover man’s quest for love and family under a State that seeks to glorify its past mistakes and impose order through authoritarian measures, reinvigorated Communist ideals, and social engineering.
The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa
Hat, ribbon, bird, rose. To the people on the island, a disappeared thing no longer has any meaning. It can be burned in the garden, thrown in the river or handed over to the Memory Police. Soon enough, the island forgets it ever existed. When a young novelist discovers that her editor is in danger of being taken away by the Memory Police, she desperately wants to save him. For some reason, he doesn’t forget, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for him to hide his memories. Who knows what will vanish next?
Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter
For years the human race was under attack from a deadly Syndrome, but when a cure was found – in the form of genetically engineered human beings, Gems – the line between survival and ethics was radically altered. Now the Gems are fighting for their freedom, from the oppression of the companies which created them, and against the Norms, who have always seen them as slaves. The conference at which Dr Eli Walker has been commissioned to present his findings on the Gems is the key to that freedom. But with the Gemtech companies fighting to keep the Gems enslaved, and the horrifying godgangs determined to rid the earth of these ‘unholy’ creations, the Gems are up against forces that might just be too powerful to oppose.
Ink by Sabrina Vourvoulias
Her name is Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.” America has lost its way. The strongest of people can be found in the unlikeliest of places. The future of the entire country will depend on them. All across the United States, people scramble to survive new, draconian policies that mark and track immigrants and their children (citizens or not) as their freedoms rapidly erode around them. For the “inked”—those whose immigration status has been permanently tattooed on their wrists—those famous words on the Statue of Liberty are starting to ring hollow. The tattoos have marked them for horrors they could not have imagined within US borders. As the nightmare unfolds before them, unforeseen alliances between the inked—like Mari, Meche, and Toño—and non-immigrants—Finn, Del, and Abbie—are formed, all in the desperate hope to confront it. Ink is the story of their ingenuity. Of their resilience. Of their magic. A story of how the power of love and community out-survives even the grimmest times.
Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Sephy is a Cross – a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a nought – a ‘colourless’ member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses.
The two have been friends since early childhood. But that’s as far as it can go. Until the first steps are taken towards more social equality and a limited number of Noughts are allowed into Cross schools… Against a background of prejudice and distrust, intensely highlighted by violent terrorist activity by Noughts, a romance builds between Sephy and Callum – a romance that is to lead both of them into terrible danger…
Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo
What if the history of the transatlantic slave trade had been reversed and Africans had enslaved Europeans? How would that have changed the ways that people justified their inhuman behavior? How would it inform our cultural attitudes and the insidious racism that still lingers today? We see this tragicomic world turned upside down through the eyes of Doris, an Englishwoman enslaved and taken to the New World, movingly recounting experiences of tremendous hardship and the dreams of the people she has left behind, all while journeying toward an escape into freedom.
The Apple-Tree Throne by Premee Mohamed
It is the turn of the century in an England that never was. Bright new aqua-plants are generating electricity for the streetlights; news can be easily had on the radio-viz; and in Gundisalvus’ Land, the war is over and the soldiers are beginning to trickle home. Amongst these is Lt. Benjamin Braddock, survivor of the massacre that ended the war, and begrudgingly ready to return to a world that, well, doesn’t seem to need him any more than it did in peacetime. His friends have homes and families to return to, while he’s got nothing but his discharge papers and a couple of unwanted medals. Oh, and one new thing: the furious ghost of his commanding officer.
Everfair by Nisi Shawl
What if the African natives developed steam power ahead of their colonial oppressors? What might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier?
Fabian Socialists from Great Britain join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.
On A Red Station Drifting by Aliette de Bodard
For generations Prosper Station has thrived under the guidance of its Honoured Ancestress: born of a human womb, the station’s artificial intelligence has offered guidance and protection to its human relatives.
But war has come to the Dai Viet Empire. Prosper’s brightest minds have been called away to defend the Emperor; and a flood of disorientated refugees strain the station’s resources. As deprivations cause the station’s ordinary life to unravel, uncovering old grudges and tearing apart the decimated family, Station Mistress Quyen and the Honoured Ancestress struggle to keep their relatives united and safe. What Quyen does not know is that the Honoured Ancestress herself is faltering, her mind eaten away by a disease that seems to have no cure; and that the future of the station itself might hang in the balance…
Trafalgar by Angélica Gorodischer
Part pulp adventure, part otherworldly meditation, this is the story of Trafalgar Medrano: intergalactic trader and lover of bitter coffee and black cigarettes. In the bars and cafés of Rosario, Argentina, he recounts tall tales of his space escapades – involving, among other things, time travel and dancing troglodytes.
Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi
Alana Quick is the best damned sky surgeon in Heliodor City, but repairing starship engines barely pays the bills. When the desperate crew of a cargo vessel stops by her shipyard looking for her spiritually-advanced sister Nova, Alana stows away. Maybe her boldness will land her a long-term gig on the crew. But the Tangled Axon proves to be more than star-watching and plasma coils. The chief engineer thinks he’s a wolf. The pilot fades in and out of existence. The captain is all blond hair, boots, and ego… and Alana can’t keep her eyes off her. But there’s little time for romance: Nova’s in danger and someone will do anything — even destroying planets — to get their hands on her!
Warchild by Karin Lowachee
The merchant ship Mukudori encompasses the whole of eight-year-old Jos’s world, until a notorious pirate destroys the ship, slaughters the adults, and enslaves the children. Thus begins a desperate odyssey of terror and escape that takes Jos beyond known space to the home of the strits, Earth’s alien enemies.
To survive, the boy must become a living weapon and a master spy. But no training will protect Jos in a war where every hope might be a deadly lie, and every friendship might hide a lethal betrayal. And all the while he will face the most grueling trial of his life… becoming his own man.
Do You Dream of Terra Two? by Temi Oh
A century ago, an astronomer discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting a nearby star. She predicted that one day humans would travel there to build a utopia. Today, ten astronauts are leaving everything behind to find it. Four are veterans of the twentieth century’s space-race.
And six are teenagers who’ve trained for this mission most of their lives.
It will take the team twenty-three years to reach Terra-Two. Twenty-three years locked in close quarters. Twenty-three years with no one to rely on but each other. Twenty-three years with no rescue possible, should something go wrong.
And something always goes wrong.
Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes
Captain Eva Innocente and the crew of La Sirena Negra cruise the galaxy delivering small cargo for even smaller profits. When her sister Mari is kidnapped by The Fridge, a shadowy syndicate that holds people hostage in cryostasis, Eva must undergo a series of unpleasant, dangerous missions to pay the ransom.
But Eva may lose her mind before she can raise the money. The ship’s hold is full of psychic cats, an amorous fish-faced emperor wants her dead after she rejects his advances, and her sweet engineer is giving her a pesky case of feelings. The worse things get, the more she lies, raising suspicions and testing her loyalty to her found family.
To free her sister, Eva will risk everything: her crew, her ship, and the life she’s built on the ashes of her past misdeeds. But when the dominoes start to fall and she finds the real threat is greater than she imagined, she must decide whether to play it cool or burn it all down.
Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett
A computer program etched into the atmosphere has a story to tell, the story of two people, of a city lost to chaos, of survival and love. The program’s data, however, has been corrupted. As the novel’s characters struggle to survive apocalypse, they are sustained and challenged by the demands of love in a shattered world both haunted and dangerous.
Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman
The Natives of the Colony are restless. The Settlers are eager to have a nation of peace, and to bring the savages into line. Families are torn apart, reeducation is enforced. This rich land will provide for all.
This is not Australia as we know it. This is not the Australia of our history. This Terra Nullis is something new, but all too familiar.
Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Thirty-two-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.
Cedar feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, to understand both her and her baby’s origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity. There are rumors of martial law, of Congress confining pregnant women, of a registry, and rewards for those who turn these wanted women in.
It will take all Cedar has to avoid the prying eyes of potential informants and keep her baby safe.
Severance by Ling Ma
Candace Chen, a millennial drone self-sequestered in a Manhattan office tower, is devoted to routine. With the recent passing of her Chinese immigrant parents, she’s had her fill of uncertainty. She’s content just to carry on: She goes to work, troubleshoots the teen-targeted Gemstone Bible, watches movies in a Greenpoint basement with her boyfriend.
So Candace barely notices when a plague of biblical proportions sweeps New York. Then Shen Fever spreads. Families flee. Companies cease operations. The subways screech to a halt. Her bosses enlist her as part of a dwindling skeleton crew with a big end-date payoff. Soon entirely alone, still unfevered, she photographs the eerie, abandoned city as the anonymous blogger NY Ghost.
Candace won’t be able to make it on her own forever, though. Enter a group of survivors, led by the power-hungry IT tech Bob. They’re traveling to a place called the Facility, where, Bob promises, they will have everything they need to start society anew. But Candace is carrying a secret she knows Bob will exploit. Should she escape from her rescuers?
The Book of M by Peng Shepherd
In the middle of a market in India, a man’s shadow disappears. This mysterious phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.
Two years later, Ory and Max have escaped the Forgetting by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears.
Knowing that her condition makes her dangerous, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memories disappear, he sets out into a perilous, unrecognizable world.
Wild Seed by Octavia Butler
Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex — or design. He fears no one — until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu is a shapeshifter who can absorb bullets and heal with a kiss…and savage anyone who threatens those she loves. She fears no one — until she meets Doro. From African jungles to the colonies of America, Doro and Anyanwu weave together a pattern of destiny that not even immortals can imagine.
The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor
Phoenix was grown and raised among other genetic experiments in New York’s Tower 7. She is an “accelerated woman”—only two years old but with the body and mind of an adult, Phoenix’s abilities far exceed those of a normal human. Still innocent and inexperienced in the ways of the world, she is content living in her room speed reading e-books, running on her treadmill, and basking in the love of Saeed, another biologically altered human of Tower 7.
Then one evening, Saeed witnesses something so terrible that he takes his own life. Devastated by his death and Tower 7’s refusal to answer her questions, Phoenix finally begins to realize that her home is really her prison, and she becomes desperate to escape.
But Phoenix’s escape, and her destruction of Tower 7, is just the beginning of her story. Before her story ends, Phoenix will travel from the United States to Africa and back, changing the entire course of humanity’s future.
The Bees by Laline Paull
Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is deemed fit only to clean her orchard hive. Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. And while mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is reassigned to feed the newborns before becoming a forager, collecting nectar and pollen on the wing. Before long she finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctuam, learnng secrets both sublime and ominous. Flora’s ascent disturbs the natural heirachy of the colony, incensing powerful enemies. But when she feels compelled to break the most sacred law of all, her instincts are overwhelmed by love, as all-consuming as it is forbidden.
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.
Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?
The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
As the daughter of a time traveler, Nix has spent sixteen years sweeping across the globe and through the centuries aboard her father’s ship. Modern-day New York City, nineteenth-century Hawaii, other lands seen only in myth and legend—Nix has been to them all.
But when her father gambles with her very existence, it all may be about to end. Rae Carson meets Outlander in this epic debut fantasy.
If there is a map, Nix’s father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place and any time. But now that he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, the year before Nix’s mother died in childbirth—Nix’s life, her entire existence, is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who’s been part of their crew for two years.
The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson
In 1804, shortly before the Caribbean island of Saint Domingue is renamed Haiti, a group of women gather to bury a stillborn baby. Led by a lesbian healer and midwife named Mer, the women’s lamentations inadvertently release the dead infant’s “unused vitality” to draw Ezili—the Afro-Caribbean goddess of sexual desire and love—into the physical world.
As Ezili explores her newfound powers, she travels across time and space to inhabit the midwife’s body—as well as those of Jeanne, a mixed-race dancer and the mistress of Charles Baudelaire living in 1880s Paris, and Meritet, an enslaved Greek-Nubian prostitute in ancient Alexandria.
Bound together by Ezili and “the salt road” of their sweat, blood, and tears, the three women struggle against a hostile world, unaware of the goddess’s presence in their lives. Despite her magic, Mer suffers as a slave on a sugar plantation until Ezili plants the seeds of uprising in her mind. Jeanne slowly succumbs to the ravages of age and syphilis when her lover is unable to escape his mother’s control. And Meritet, inspired by Ezili, flees her enslavement and makes a pilgrimage to Egypt, where she becomes known as Saint Mary.
Tentacle by Rita Indiana
Plucked from her life on the streets of post-apocalyptic Santo Domingo, young maid Acilde Figueroa finds herself at the heart of a Santería prophecy: only she can travel back in time and save the ocean – and humanity – from disaster. But first she must become the man she always was – with the help of a sacred anemone. Tentacle is an electric novel with a big appetite and a brave vision, plunging headfirst into questions of climate change, technology, Yoruba ritual, queer politics, poverty, sex, colonialism and contemporary art. Bursting with punk energy and lyricism, it’s a restless, addictive trip: The Tempest meets the telenovela.
An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim
Polly and Frank are young and in love, a lifetime together before them. But one evening in 1980, as the Texas sun sets over their shoulders, the world is suddenly pulled apart by a deadly virus. Within months, Frank is dying. Polly can save him, but only if she agrees to a radical plan: to time travel to 1993 for a corporation who can fund his life-saving treatment. She can only go forward, she cannot go back. And she must leave everything she loves behind, including Frank.
All they have is the promise of a future together: they will find each other again in twelve years’ time, in Galveston, Texas, where the sea begins. But when something goes wrong and Polly arrives late, Frank is nowhere to be found. Completely alone, Polly must navigate a terrifying new world to find him, and to discover if their love has endured.
The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
Four female scientists invent a time travel machine. But then one of them suffers a breakdown and puts the whole project in peril…
Ruby knows her Granny Bee was the scientist who went mad, but they never talk about it. Until they receive a message from the future, warning of an elderly woman’s violent death…
Odette found the dead women at work – shot in the head, door bolted from the inside. Now she can’t get her out of her mind. Who was she? And why is everyone determined to cover up her murder?
Technothriller & Cyberpunk
Zero Sum Game by S. L. Huang
Cas Russell is good at math. Scary good. The vector calculus blazing through her head lets her smash through armed men twice her size and dodge every bullet in a gunfight, and she’ll take any job for the right price.
As far as Cas knows, she’s the only person around with a superpower…until she discovers someone with a power even more dangerous than her own. Someone who can reach directly into people’s minds and twist their brains into Moebius strips. Someone intent on becoming the world’s puppet master.
Cas should run, like she usually does, but for once she’s involved. There’s only one problem…
She doesn’t know which of her thoughts are her own anymore.
Warcross by Marie Lu
For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down Warcross players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty-hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. To make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.
Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.
Red Spider White Web by Misha
In the sealed city of Mickey-san the skies are still blue. There is no crime. No pollution. No one is unemployed and entertainment is the primary industry. In the tunnels below lies Dogton. Hard, dirty, industrial and restless with a subterranean rage, its night-life neon and garish. But surrounding all is Ded-Tek, grim, violent and predatory, with survival being the sole occupation of its inhabitants, and The Market its one hope.
Admist this city of outcasts is Tommy Uchida, enigma, god, a mind too brilliant for his artificially enhanced body: and Kumo, trickster chimera, living by her wits and for her art, trying to assert her humanity.
All are interconnected by the uncertainty of their future; fifteen minute viruses, a cold blistering sun, savage police ‘wire-dogs’, offbeat cult groups, roving gangs of rich boys, and the punishment of the ‘Bell Factory’, and the spectre of a brutal murderer, a foreshadow of a change none of them can comprehend.
Infomocracy by Malka Ann Older
It’s been twenty years and two election cycles since Information, a powerful search engine monopoly, pioneered the switch from warring nation-states to global micro-democracy. The corporate coalition party Heritage has won the last two elections. With another election on the horizon, the Supermajority is in tight contention, and everything’s on the line.
With power comes corruption. For Ken, this is his chance to do right by the idealistic Policy1st party and get a steady job in the big leagues. For Domaine, the election represents another staging ground in his ongoing struggle against the pax democratica. For Mishima, a dangerous Information operative, the whole situation is a puzzle: how do you keep the wheels running on the biggest political experiment of all time, when so many have so much to gain?
Want by Cindy Pon
Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits, protecting them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.
With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.
Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO.
Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is, or destroying his own heart?
Project 17 by Eliza Victoria
It’s the late 2020s, and robots can do pretty much anything-they can clean your house, they can keep the peace, and if you know where to look, they can even provide “e;company”e; to the lonely. Still, there are things only humans can do. Lillian is a college student looking for a summer job, and thinks she’s hit the jackpot when offered a caretaking gig by one Paul Dolores-the pay is awesome, and he even gives her a Titanium card for her meals. But why can’t she find any information online about Paul, his brother Caleb, or the weird meds Caleb is supposed to take? Time for a little more in-depth research-firewalls be damned.
Sultana’s Dream by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain
Sultana’s Dream is a feminist fable about a utopian world of reversed purdah, where men are kept in seclusion and women control the public sphere, bringing peace, health and beauty to the community.
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
The lush city of Palmares Tres shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist. Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Tres will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.
The Swan Book by Alexis Wright
Oblivia Ethelyne was given her name by an old woman who found her deep in the bowels of a gum tree, tattered and fragile, the victim of a brutal assault by wayward local youths. These are the years leading up to Australia’s third centenary, and the woman who finds her, Bella Donna of the Champions, is a refugee from climate change wars that devastated her country in the northern hemisphere.
Bella Donna takes Oblivia to live with her on an old warship in a polluted dry swamp and there she fills Oblivia’s head with story upon story of swans. Fenced off from the rest of Australia by the Army, its traditional custodians left destitute, the swamp has become “the world’s most unknown detention camp” for Indigenous Australians. When Warren Finch, the first Aboriginal president of Australia invades the swamp with his charismatic persona and the promise of salvation, Oblivia agrees to marry him, becoming First Lady, a role that has her confined to a tower in a flooded and lawless southern city.
Mindscape by Andrea Hairston
Mindscape takes us to a future in which the world itself has been literally divided by the Barrier. For 115 years this extraterrestrial, epi-dimensional entity has divided the earth into warring zones. Although a treaty to end the interzonal wars has been hammered out, power-hungry politicians, gangsters, and spiritual fundamentalists are determined to thwart it. Celestina, the treaty’s architect, is assassinated, and her protegée, Elleni, a talented renegade and one of the few able to negotiate the Barrier, takes up her mantle. Now Elleni and a motley crew of allies risk their lives to make the treaty work. Can they repair their fractured world before the Barrier devours them completely?
Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang
This genre-bending novel is set on Earth in the wake of a second civil war…not between two factions in one nation, but two factions in one solar system: Mars and Earth. In an attempt to repair increasing tensions, the colonies of Mars send a group of young people to live on Earth to help reconcile humanity. But the group finds itself with no real home, no friends, and fractured allegiances as they struggle to find a sense of community and identity, trapped between two worlds.
The Stars Change by Mary Anne Mohanraj
On a South Asian-settled university planet, tensions are rising, and as they reach the brink of interstellar war, life (and sex) continues. Humans, aliens, and modified humans gather at the University of All Worlds in search of knowledge… and self-knowledge… but the first bomb has fallen and the fate of this multicultural, multispecies mecca is in question. Some people will seek solace in physical contact, some will look for spiritual answers, while others will find their strength in community, family, and love. Some will rush home to make love to their wife. Or wives. Or husbands. Or indeterminate gender human and/or alien partners. Others will be forced to decide where they stand — what is worth fighting for, or maybe even worth dying for.
The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord
A proud and reserved alien society finds its homeland destroyed in an unprovoked act of aggression, and the survivors have no choice but to reach out to the indigenous humanoids of their adopted world, to whom they are distantly related. They wish to preserve their cherished way of life, but doing so may mean changing their culture forever. Working together to save this vanishing race, a man and a woman from two clashing societies will uncover ancient mysteries with far-reaching ramifications. And as their mission hangs in the balance, the unlikely team—one cool and cerebral, the other fiery and impulsive—just may find in each other their own destinies . . . and a force that transcends all.
Science Fiction- Fantasy Crossovers
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
Camellia and her sisters control beauty.
They are Belles and they can make you ‘perfect’.
Glossy hair, smooth skin, flawless body.
You’ll feel better once it’s done. The results are worth the pain.
And when they fade, the Belles will fix you all over again . . .
But beauty has a price.
The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden
In South Africa, the future looks promising. Personal robots are making life easier for the working class. The government is harnessing renewable energy to provide infrastructure for the poor. And in the bustling coastal town of Port Elizabeth, the economy is booming thanks to the genetic engineering industry which has found a welcome home there. Yes—the days to come are looking very good for South Africans. That is, if they can survive the present challenges:
A new hallucinogenic drug sweeping the country . . .An emerging AI uprising . . . And an ancient demigoddess hellbent on regaining her former status by preying on the blood and sweat (but mostly blood) of every human she encounters.
It’s up to a young Zulu girl powerful enough to destroy her entire township, a queer teen plagued with the ability to control minds, a pop diva with serious daddy issues, and a politician with even more serious mommy issues to band together to ensure there’s a future left to worry about.
The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel
It’s the year 2200, and Azucena Martinez is a lonely astroanalyst living in Mexico City. She has finally repaid the karmic debts she accumulated during her previous fourteen thousand lives, and in recognition of her newfound purity of spirit, she will at last be permitted to meet her twin soul, Rodrigo Sanchez. But their perfect union is limited to just one night of bliss, as Rodrigo is framed for murder soon after and banished. As Azucena sets off in search for her lost love, she will trigger a chain of events that puts her in the midst of an intergalactic political uproar.
The Gilda Stories by Jewelle L. Gómez
This remarkable novel begins in 1850s Louisiana, where Gilda escapes slavery and learns about freedom while working in a brothel. After being initiated into eternal life as one who “shares the blood” by two women there, Gilda spends the next two hundred years searching for a place to call home. An instant lesbian classic when it was first published in 1991, The Gilda Stories has endured as an auspiciously prescient book in its explorations of blackness, radical ecology, re-definitions of family, and yes, the erotic potential of the vampire story.
The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell
On the banks of the Zambezi River, a few miles from the majestic Victoria Falls, there was once a colonial settlement called The Old Drift.
In 1904, in a smoky room at the hotel across the river, an Old Drifter named Percy M. Clark, foggy with fever, makes a mistake that entangles his fate with those of an Italian hotelier and an African busboy.
So begins a cycle of unwitting retribution between three Zambian families as they collide and converge over the course of the century, into the present and beyond.
The Old Drift was a book I had on my radar for a while, hearing very positive buzz from the literary book community. However, I was surprised to hear it turn up on the Clarke Award shortlist as I didn’t realize it had a speculative element.
Reading through it now I see that, whilst it may not be an obvious element, what the book is trying to do is very much a tale of speculative fiction. It is about the history of Zambia but also about where it is going in the future. It is about a family coming through changing times but also about how science changes society for better or worse.
Whether it is the combination of technologies that leads to the colonial project or the short lived attempt for a Zambian space project, the experimentation on black people for vaccines or nanotechnology, this does what the best science fiction should do. Tell us how the changing world is going to affect ordinary people and use it as a lens to explore the issues of our times.
It should also be noted there is some careful sprinkling of magical realism in here as characters will display unusual attributes which act as clever metaphors for what is happening in their lives, along with making more general points about the treatment of African women in some cases.
This book covers a huge span of characters, time and concepts for a 600 page novel, and yet Serpell manages to ensure it never feels dense or crowded. She is a master of prose managing to dance between bitter irony, polemic and technothriller in a short space without you even noticing the change.
One of the great challenges of reviewing such a complex book is that I do not want to give away too much detail, it is an experience that you need to have for yourself. Not one that a less skilled writer, like myself, should attempt to explain here.
A good comparison on this would be The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which won the Clarke in 2017. For some that is a work of literary historical fiction, for others it is the perfect encapsulation of what science fiction should set out to do. Whichever way you end up reading this, it is one you should seek out. It is the first book from an extremely talented writer, and I hope Serpell becomes just as well known as Whitehead in the future.
I know we have been more absent than usual. This is due to a combination of mental health, a new baby in the family and the complexities of the pandemic getting on top of us. Let us see if 2021 will allow us to do more.
On a happier note, it is time for the 2021 Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards, nominees:
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune The Midnight Bargain by CL Polk Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by KS Villoso Comet Weather by Liz Williams
Science Fiction Novel:
Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson Goldilocks by Laura Lam Deal With The Devil by Kit Rocha Repo Virtual by Corey S White
The City We Became by NK Jemisin Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
Ring Shout by P Djèlí Clark Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey The Four Profound Weaves by RB Lemberg Sweet Harmony by Claire North Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
Dominion of the Fallen by Aliette de Bodard Islands of Blood and Storm by Kacen Callender Daevabad by SA Chakraborty Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell The Poppy War by RF Kuang Sweet Black Waves by Kristina Pérez
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A Brown The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke Legendborn by Tracey Deonn Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
This year our SCKA awards had a larger number of women and non-binary people and as such I wanted to give my thoughts on the categories:
I am not as big a fan of the Wayfarers series as some, so unfortunately To Be Taught, If Fortunate did not grab me as much as it has other people. The concepts were certainly interesting, but neither the style nor character work were to my tastes.
Silver in the Wood has a lot going for it that I liked, with folk horror, the sense of melancholy and the queer elements. I did wish it had more of an emotional punch but still a strong contender.
My choice of We Are Made of Diamond Stuff was a curveball but I really enjoyed a story that revels in being this stylistically interesting whilst also exploring the near-future through metaphor.
This is the third iteration of The Deep and as such Solomon keeps the myth evolving. They produce a story with a beautifully musical rhythm and major world-building to tell us about how our past still impacts us today. A show of real skill being able to show this in novella length.
But there is a reason why This Is How You Lose The Time War was the most acclaimed work of science fiction last year. An epistolary novel that unfolds beautifully and brimming with ideas, themes and metaphors that I see new things every time I go through it. An instant classic.
Additional Nominees: Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Incompleteness Theories by Wole Talabi
Black Matter is a fun urban fantasy idea. I didn’t feel like it was doing anything particular new but a very enjoyable piece. Also from Pseudopod we have another intriguing piece.
I enjoy monologues that tell a story in themselves ever since we started exploring the concept in primary school. As such In Regards to Your Concerns About Your Scare BnB Experience was one I really liked. It wasn’t as deep as some of the other stories but still great.
I felt Even When The World Has Told Us We Have Ended had a lot of interesting ideas in it they were not all as fully developed as I would have liked. One which definitely shows a lot of promise and I will keep my eyes out for more work by Hellisen.
Doll Seed is a germ of a story that I feel like could do with being grown. I like the imagery but felt like it should have been longer and have more to it.
This Book Will Find You is a fascinating collaboration to open the great collection, The Outcast Hours. The story does interesting things with the concept and has a wonderful atmosphere.
Do Not Look Back My Lion is the only piece of the SCKA shortlist and also on the hugo shortlist, and it is easy to see why. It is a great piece of epic fantasy, really well made. Alix E. Harrow is definitely proving to already be one of the great talents of the fantasy genre.
The Blanched Bones, The Tyrant Wind is almost flash fiction but Karen Osborne manages to do a very interesting take on standard fantasy tropes in such a short space of time. I really liked it a lot.
But my personal favourite of these has to be The Ocean That Fades Into Sky. Since I first read it I was entranced. Amazing imagery, great ideas and wonderfully weird
Additional Nominees: In This Moment, We Are Happy by Chen Quifan, The Migration Suite: A Study in C Sharp Minor by Maurice Broaddus
The Winternight Trilogy is a great atmospheric work. It really manages to capture the feel of the Russian winter as well as the magic of the folktales of the region. It is also very well-written marking Aden out as a great writer. I didn’t feel it had as much to say as many other recent stories we have set in a fantastic version of Eastern Europe or Russia, but purely as a work of enjoyment, it is wonderful
The Empires of Dust series is one I admired more than liked myself. To be honest I am not a big fan of this kind of grimdark story and so, whilst I had a lot of appreciation for Anna Smith Spark’s craft, subjectively it was not one I enjoyed reading.
One of the more interesting choices this year is Laurie J. Marks’ Elemental Logic series. This definitely has very traditional fantasy routes but was also willing to open up to new areas with modern vernacular, new concepts and some great character work.
In our first repeat nominee, The Winnowing Flame returns after The Ninth Rain won our inaugural SCKA. What was present in our reason for choosing the first volume as a great novel continues throughout the trilogy, with memorable characters and Williams’ lightness of touch but that makes these a fast paced but also fascinating read.
Finally, The Swords and Fire trilogy is one of the most complex nominees. On one level it is a fun fantasy romp about two people finding themselves whilst caught up in diplomacy and intrigue of a great empire, it is a story about enslavement and autonomy within a colonial power. Whilst it is not quite as successful as I might have hoped it is one of great ambition and thoroughly enjoyable.
Additional Nominees: Rosewater by Tade Thompson, Luna Series by Ian McDonald, Children of Time Duology by Adrian Tchaikovsky,
But which will go through to the final round? Watch this space to find out.
This year our SCKA awards had a larger number of women and non-binary people and as such I wanted to give my thoughts on the categories:
For me this has been the strongest category this year with none of them being particularly weak.
I was least impressed by The True Queen by Zen Cho but I think this was predominantly due to my aversion to sequels rather than any lacking quality in the book. It was still very well-written and had interesting comments to make on colonialism but compared to the other nominees in the category it didn’t have quite the same wow factor.
A not dissimilar book which impressed me more was Tasha Suri’s Realm of Ash, a sequel to Empire of Sand which manages to achieve the rare feat of outdoing the original. This also addresses ideas of colonialism and control but this manages to delve deeper into the characters and make you feel emotionally invested in a world filled with scheming characters.
Silvia Moreno Garcia is a recurring nominee in the SCKA and someone whose career I have been watching with much interest even if none of her works have yet to be one I consider a future classic. Gods of Jade and Shadow is the work that I think changes that and marks a leap forward in her writing. What this has is the brilliantly evoked atmosphere of jazz age Mexico transporting the reader in the way the best historical fiction does.
Talking of transportation, The Ten Thousand Doors of January was one of the most buzzed about books in 2019 and I can see why. First of all, Harrow brings a great amount of skill in her character work to really draw you in. Secondly, this has a really literary style and a clear intent to be in dialogue with works of the late 19th & early 20th century. Finally, this all comes together to help explore ideas around identity and who has control of a narrative.
However, none of these I loved quite as much as my top two. Gilded Wolves is a fully 3 dimensional fantasy. It has great world-building and atmosphere in an alternative Paris. It has real depth allowing for exploration of colonialism and resilience in the face of racism. But, most importantly, it is also just a great fun heist story which I adored.
But my number one pick, far and away, has to be Kingdom of Souls. This one has everything. Great characters, wonderful mythology and world-building. Loved the journeys and culture and messages about family dynamics and history. Often the fantasy genres can be regurgitating the same old tales in new clothing. This one felt brilliantly fresh in a way I haven’t experience in quite a while.
Additional Nominee: The Bone Ships by RJ Barker
Science Fiction Novel
Velocity Weapon is a novel with a good concept that fails to quite deliver on it. The setup of Sandra suddenly waking up and believing it might be the future and her entire world is dead but not knowing if she can really trust this information sounds great. Unfortunately, the characters and plotting ended up losing me as it went on. Not terrible just not as great as I would have hoped.
Much like The Ten Thousand Doors of January, A Memory Called Empire has been getting a lot of buzz and I can certainly see why. It has a great mystery and the world building and themes are excellent. I am always a sucker for intrigue and political shenanigans, so combining these with themes of imperialism and identity work really well.
All City was a book I got recommended to me early in 2019 and I was absolutely enthralled by it. What this essentially is, is a character study of very different people put into unusual circumstances but DiFrancesco does this with such skill that it elevates into embracing much broader ideas and creating something harsh but beautiful.
Finally, one that consumed me completely. I ended up reading The Outside in almost one sitting, only taking short breaks to calm down from all the tension. Everything was just wonderful. The setting, the mystery, the handling of difficult issues, the character work, the writing of action scenes. Even the sciencey stuff I was interested in. A truly staggering achievement.
Note: With recent allegations against Elizabeth Bear I am taking a personal decision not to discuss her novel in this post.
Additional Nominees: Steel Frame by Andrew Skinner; Fleet of Knives by Gareth Powell
Blurred Boundaries Novel
The Infinite Noise is an interesting one in that it is telling the stories of The Bright Sessions podcast from a different perspective, instead focusing on the romance plot. I am a big fan of the podcast so, unfortunately, this probably worked against me. As such I knew a lot of what was coming and spent too much time recalling the session these parts related to. I enjoyed it all but didn’t wow me the way some others did.
Unlike the other books on this list getting a lot of hype, Gideon The Ninth didn’t live up to it in my mind. It has a good aesthetic and the setup is standard good one. However, the characters and mystery didn’t weld together. Also I felt it had pacing issues in the second half. Still very enjoyable.
From a dark gothic tale, to one that is light and dreamy. The Strawberry Thief, in spite of how tightly put together it is and complex the ideas are, ends up being a charming read. This largely goes to Joanne Harris’ writing which is masterful.
I was a big fan of the first two stories in the Rupert Wong series, so was more than happy to dive into the final story. This moves the setting to America and deals with the Old Gods versus the New. Whilst not quite as strong as the previous volumes it is still one I thoroughly enjoyed.
An interesting story of Disneyland meets Westworld, The Kingdom brings together fairytale elements into ideas around AI rights and what it means to be human. Really grabbed me all the way through.
But the one that stands out for me by far is The Migration. This really hit it all right notes for me. It was a beautiful mediation on the nature of grief and health and using really clever allusions and mythology to really illustrate the themes. It also managed to combine a beautiful dream like atmosphere with some darker twists.
Additional Nominees: The Institute by Stephen King; David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
Coming soon: Part 2: Novellas, Short Stories and Series
I am a great fan of brevity in my stories and think the revival of the novella has been a major boon to science fiction. However, this is one of the first times I have had to put as my criticism, it needs to be longer.
The reason I would say this is there is an incredible amount going on in the world of The Seep. It is an Earth where aliens have attempted to relieve all of the problems of mankind. And as such the complexities of such a world and fascinating when we see them touched upon. Unfortunately, this does not have room to explore them in the depth I would have liked to have seen. The hints we are see are wonderful, but they rarely become more than just hints.
What we have instead is a novel about grief. Trina is happy with her wife Deeba, however Deeba wishes to be reborn as a baby. With Trina not willing to go through this with her, it ends up being as if Deeba has died to her and her life spirals. While people try to be supportive, it is a world where people are expected to be happy and not have to go through this kind of troubles. As such Trina finds herself getting more and more frustrated with the world that is trying to help her move on.
Where Porter excels is in the character work. Being told from Trina’s perspective she is able to articulate the pain that can come from a loss like this and what it can feel like not being able to really find an outlet for your feelings. In some ways it reflects the attitude in our current society as well where an individual is expected to simply stop being sad and get on with life, rather than really being allowed to feel their loss and work through it in the way we are intended to.
Along her journey comes with her is a sentient pamphlet called Pam. Imagine if the old Microsoft Office Clippy was both psychic and able to learn and you will get the gist. Just as Trina is exploring her feelings, Pam starts to understand the world from the opposite end, going from seeing grief as a simple process for humans to move through to seeing it as a more grey and complicated part of existence.
It also touches on issues of cultural identity and appropriation. That if you remove distinction and see people’s merely as empty shells, does that not simply erase the importance of history and culture?
This is where the frustration comes in however, as the ending does not really end up exploring these questions thoroughly enough for me and comes much closer to the libertarian dystopias of the 1990s. Simply stating how important feeling and the bad parts of our lives is to who we are. It is not that there is anything inherently wrong with message. I just wish it could have been more.
I don’t want this review to come across too negative. The amount of positives in it far outway the negatives. I am just left with the sense of something half complete. I think Porter could easily have filled a book 3 times the length and not run out of things to explore in the Earth of The Seep.
So do still pick it up. The writing style, character work and world-building are excellent and I hope you will be as fascinated by what Porter has created as I am.
Sometimes you end up reading not the book you expected but the book you needed. This is one of those cases.
I had heard references to Beggars in Spain in passing over the years. That it was an expansion of a well-received novella. It was nominated for a number of major awards at the time (along with its sequel). But it has largely fallen off people’s radars and appears to be out of the print in the UK. The audiobook is still available, so it became my medium of choice.
I am not sure why but I had expected something more akin to Queen City Jazz or Parable of the Sower. A post-apocalyptic tale of survival and genetic manipulation. Instead it is a near-future tale asking a moral question. If you met a beggar in Spain, should you give them money when they ask you, given they can do nothing for you in return?
In order to explore this Nancy Kress sets up two elements. First of all, the structural. A small group of children are modified so they no longer need to sleep. In doing so they become more intelligent, have increased life-span, and are able to amass much larger wealth. As such you have a group that are actually more successful due to natural advantage than through any systemic bias.
The second element is the philosophical. Kenzo Yagai is a genius who builds an amazing source of energy and sells it to the American government. Setting himself up as a cross between Elon Musk and Ayn Rand, he ends creating the philosophy of Yagaiism, whereby the worth of an individual is what they can supply to the community. The sleepless set this up and see those that do require sleep as simply beggars to their success.
Between these two forms and over a long period of time we follow, in particular, two of the sleepless who operate at different ends of the philosophical continuum. Leticia believes that they should use their increased knowledge and privilege to help the sleepers. Jennifer believes that sleepers will always hate them, wanting to create a separate society. Creating between very much a Professor X vs Magneto situation, albeit one with less super-powered battles and more debates on the nature of wealth distribution.
This story is expertly told, both by Kress’ writing and Campbell’s narration. This could easily descend into dull didacticism but for me it all felt like it flowed naturally and created a believable buildup of the world. Campbell’s voice added to this further being able to beautifully display the increased frustration Leticia is feeling at the world around her.
I don’t want to spoil the ending to this book but needless to say it stands alone well without needing to read the sequels and the conclusion is that the world cannot be as black and white as either Yagaiists or sleeper supremacists like to make it seem.