Few authors have the guts to write something that is wildly, fantastically strange and dead serious at the same time. Peng Shepherd has the guts, and her novel The Book of M is a stunner. Technically audacious, plotted with clear eyes, and emotionally searing, this sci-fi epic is a new classic. From an emotional standpoint, this one was personally difficult for me to get through. (If you’ve ever been close to someone who has suffered from debilitating memory loss, there are many tough moments to swallow.) But that doesn’t make the book any less brilliant.
I absolutely love the cinematic, pulp-meets-literary quality of Benjamin Percy’s writing. His pacing is fearless and fast, and this second installment in his Comet Cycle is a wild, dark, slippery ride filled with horrors and lots of very wonderfully gross mushroom action. But also banter. I liked this book even more than the first (would totally work as a standalone). I’m excited to see even more of Percy’s twisted imagination unleashed in the next installment. What on earth… or elsewhere… could be next?
We Have Always Been Here is a brave, inventive debut that is full of slow simmering suspicion and robot secrets. Structurally interesting, packed with contemplation and action alike, Lena Nguyen’s novel tackles the classic AI science fiction questions from a perspective I’ve never seen before–that of a protagonist who is very much physically human, but feels more like she herself is an android. Both a hard sci-fi mystery and an allegory for coping with emotional isolation, this story takes new angles on the standard discussions of the genre. Favorite part: Glenn backstory.
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.