Donna Barba Higuera brings us a radiant YA/middle grade novel that blends folklore and visions of the American Southwest with a futuristic “arc ship” sci-fi tale in which one brave girl is the last human who remembers Earth. It’s a story that celebrates story, and a wonderful, empowering book for young people who see their imagination as their greatest gift. (Also, what a cover!)
Becky Chambers brings us a beautiful, gentle little book in A Psalm for the Wild-Built. The novel envisions a lovely future where human beings have figured it all out and sentient robots are living in their own natural utopia. The descriptions are gorgeous and the book provides a nurturing space for all of us who need to take a moment to remember who we are and why we’re here. It’s a fun solarpunk meditation walk, filled with humor, contemplation, and the earnest hijinks of a delightful robot named Mosscap. Also, this book will really, really make you want to have some good tea and to upgrade your bedroom linens and pillows.
Sidenote: As someone who has also read The Wild Robot, I strongly feel that Mosscap and Roz are related.
How High We Go in the Dark is structurally fascinating. It reminded me of the way family stories get passed down, and we end up remembering names from someone else’s memory because the names were important… even if we don’t really grasp why or to whom. We learn about important moments from lives that never touched ours, but yet treasure those seeds of information and carry them with us, believing they’re a part of our story, too. (Does that make sense?) What I’m driving at is Nagamatsu’s intentional, recursive setting down and picking up of themes in different time periods, and different lives, all ones that are struggling through the great challenges of living on planet earth. This novel imagines the fractal-patterned fallout of grief on a global scale as it manifests in individual experiences. It’s surprising, timely, and affecting.
Star Eater comes out blazing from page one with great worldbuilding that is both transportative and familiar. The story reads as a metaphorical exploration of inherited power and harm. While exploring those themes, Hall brings us interesting imagery, political intrigue, and a quest-driven plot along the way.
Little Eyes is a fascinating science fiction read from a powerhouse writer. It’s an eerie, prescient, and compelling look at how intimate connections with strangers are facilitated by technology. The structure of the novel is in vignettes connected by the overall idea, but in different iterations. What I find most interesting about the narration is Schweblin’s unflinching view and refusal to moralize, even while plumbing the uncomfortable crevices of the human psyche. If you’ve ever wondered if a furby could be evil, if the thought of smart home devices makes you queasy, or if you’ve ever bonded with a tamagotchi on a different level, this book will resonate with you.
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.