I loved and hated how this book refuses to be what we want it to be. Alderman’s world where women have exclusive natural rights to physical power starts as a kind of redemptive joyride that quickly devolves into a predatory, merciless freefall. This book examines how gender divisions channel the destructive nature of power, and how the darkness in all of human nature might be closer to the surface than we imagine when we romanticize it. Most of all, I loved the damning critique of how media handles atrocities in the “weather on the ones” interludes. Alderman’s writing is, as the kids say these days, savage.
Appleseed by Matt Bell is a staggering feat of storytelling woven from threads of the possible, the forgotten, the fierce, and the free. I love the exuberance and wondrous vision of Bell’s writing; he can make a colonial apple-planting faun make sense in the same book where a semi-bionic human remnant pilots something called a photovoltaic bubble across a far-future icescape.
Does that sound insane? That’s because it is. It is absolutely insane.
But the most insane thing about this book is its ability to sing all at once to every past, present, and future moment of the human relationship with our planet, this story we are all part of. Human beings have always and will always continue to worship, disrupt, invent, sabotage, and mythologize the earth that they call home. Bell explores these tendencies as a unified and recurring cycle of stories that reveals the best and worst of what we are, and what we could be.
For those of us who automatically punch “buy” on any fiction related to astronauts, In the Quick is a delight. It’s especially wonderful seeing a female hero in a realistic hard science fiction title that is also written by a woman. (Has this ever happened?) The structure of this novel is a double-tiered one, where we get to see both an origin story and a mission. It’s really nuanced how elements of these two pieces of the book echo one another. Kate Hope Day gives us some extraordinarily beautiful scenes in the novel, and above all creates an ode to the combined power of gut instinct and dogged intellect.
Benjamin Percy’s The Ninth Metal is something that every reader secretly and desperately craves: fast-paced. Percy’s mastery of plot is on display in this intricately cast sci-fi thrill ride. The high concept is overlaid by a rocketfuel stortyline that is, among other things, an unabashed homage to comicbook superheroes and supervillains. You’ll find plenty of both in the fictionalized Northern Minnesota of The Ninth Metal. (A region which, by the way, Percy culturally nails down to every detail.)
Eerie, slippery, lush, and dark, the distinct stories in this collection are jointed together by their setting and recurring characters. Vadnais’ writing (by way of Strauss’ translation) does dreamlike horror very well, while imagining how the near-future world, rather than being humanity’s victim, may very well reckon with us. Fascinating stuff.
The Vanished Birds is nothing short of stunning. Simon Jimenez manages to cover a thousand years of history on a galactic scope and somehow still tell a story as intimate as a lullaby. The planets, cultures, and personalities are richly envisioned. Everything feels immediate. Jimenez’s prose is perceptive, agile magic. The unique longing and wonder of this novel is hard to articulate beyond this: I will never forget it.
Klara and the Sun is the first Ishiguro novel I’ve read, and now I understand why his work is so widely loved. He writes with such grace. It takes guts to write a novel about the limitations of love from a robot’s perspective, but in Ishiguro’s hands it is entirely believable. The book itself is like the qualities of human nature that Klara is always observing–both simple and incomprehensible. There is nothing else like this. It is a balm to read, a new favorite.
Rosewater is an innovative read with a lot of interesting takes on classic sci-fi tropes that ultimately make them… well… weirder. The main character is very much an antihero: self-absorbed and funny if not dismissive of nearly everything and everyone. But the positioning of Kaaro as a reluctant narrator not really bent on saving anyone’s life (or even day) creates a unique reading experience that lets us explore Thompson’s city of Rosewater without preconceived notions. It’s a neat trick how Kaaro’s gift is seeing into the minds of others, and as readers we experience something akin to that as we witness his perspective. Everything is presented as a little bit broken and dirty here–grey morality abounds.
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is an odd, hard-to-find, little sci-fi title from 1976. It won the Hugo that year, and reminds me quite a bit of Huxley’s Brave New World, though it came along 50 years later. Both books feature central male protagonists who are cranky about a status quo that works to erase individualism via genetic and chemical means. However, what I really appreciated about this book in comparison to Huxley’s was its massive multigenerational scope, which Wilhelm still somehow handled in a very gentle storyteller way. The tone is strange–half Laura Ingalls Wilder, half hard sci-fi. Even as I’m writing this review I’m not exactly sure how to review it. Ultimately, this is a novel of ideas that rotates around the axis of this question: if you could only prepare for the next generation, and you only knew what the previous generation knew, and that knowledge was shifting with every go-round, could humankind survive? If so, what would it take?
Wilder Girls staggers into a lot of my favorite sub-genres and story elements. It’s a little bit of each from a sampler of dystopian sci-fi, body horror, climate fiction, and feminist fiction. It comes in with a strong concept, intriguing suspense, and a gripping setting. I think it’s a great book to help younger readers discover adult titles in the same territory, like Jeff VanDermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. For me, the high concept was the draw, the memorable world was engrossing, but the character dynamics took a backseat. Byatt’s perspective had me entirely captivated. Hetty’s I did not quite trust and, I suppose, that was part of the point. I do definitely want a vase filled with Raxter Irises, so that’s a testament to Power’s significant worldbuilding chops.