Science Fiction & Fantasy
I read some 23 books during the year which fall into the category of science fiction or fantasy.
As you can see, some of these were children’s books (the Moomintroll series by Tove Janssen, for example), which were read aloud to an appreciative audience. But I count these as books I’ve read, too. And to be honest, I enjoy reading children’s and YA books myself. A couple of these were projects for Standard Ebooks.
Of the others, the highlights were:
The Expanse Series (Books 5, 6 & 7): James S. A. Corey
I’m still very much enjoying this hard SF series, which makes me remember why I grew to love science fiction when I was younger. I feared the series might lag after a while, but Babylon’s Ashes in particular re-invigorated it for me, as the crew of the Rocinante split up for a while and we get a lot of back-story for each of the characters.
1Q84: Haruki Murakami
Very strange but remarkably engaging book, translated from the Japanese. This is the first novel I’ve read by Murakami, but probably won’t be the last.
Aomame is a personal trainer in her late 20s. At the start of the book, in the year 1984, she is in a taxi on her way to an urgent appointment, but the taxi is stuck in a traffic jam on a freeway. She won’t make her appointment on time that way. The driver tells her that there’s a service access point with a staircase down to the ground up ahead, so she gets out of the taxi and manages, with considerable difficulty, to make her way to the ground, and is then able to catch a subway train. But something odd happened during this process and she finds that the world is subtly different from what she remembers. So much so that eventually she starts thinking of it not as 1984, but as 1Q84, an alternate reality.
Tengo is a mathematics tutor and aspiring writer, just turning 30. He is persuaded by Komatsu, an editor he knows, to work on a manuscript submitted to a national competition for new writers by a 17-year old girl. The manuscript has an intriguing story and shows a lot of promise, but is basically badly written. Komatsu wants Tengo to rewrite the book entirely but submit it only under the girl’s name, which is essentially a fradulent attempt to win the prize. Tengo reluctantly agrees and meets with the girl, Fuka-Eri, who is very odd. She insists that the fantastical story in the book, involving ‘little people’ and an ‘air chrysalis’ is completely factual. Tengo of course doesn’t believe this. At first.
The connection between Aomame and Tengo is slowly revealed in the first part of the book. They met long ago as children and haven’t seen each other since, but each has been unable to get the other out of their head.
Their interlinked stories wander over some very curious territory, slowly coming together. The world of 1Q84 is odd in several ways, bound up with Fuka-Eri and her story of the little people and the air chrysalis.
It’s a long book, published in three volumes in Japanese, and well over 1000 pages in English translation. Yet it does not lag at all. I found the book fascinating and deeply engaging throughout. Really liked it.
The Second Cure: Margaret Morgan
Very convincing techno-thriller/social commentary/science fiction, proudly Australian in setting and voice.
Set in the near future where the religious right has taken over Queensland and engineers the secession of the northern part of that state to create a new nation called Capricornia. Morgan makes this seem all too plausible.
At the same time, a virus is sweeping the world, spread by cats. The virus has major effects on the human brain, leading to a variety of effects including, in some, intense synesthesia. But it’s the other effects on religious belief which have major implications for society.
Really interesting novel, highly recommended.
American Gods: Neil Gaiman
Wonderful concept of the ancient gods brought to America by waves of immigrants from various countries, in conflict with the newer gods of Media, Technology and Globalism.
Stephen King is always a great read (though I don’t like horror, so I avoid his books which major on that). The Outsider is kind of the fourth book in his Bill Hodges series, but it abandons any pretence of realism, so for me it falls into this category rather than that of crime.
I’ve loved Dave Hutchinson’s “Fractured Europe” series, of which Europe at Dawn is the fourth and final book. But they can be very confusing and it’s too long since I read the other books and really need to go back to the start to properly appreciate this one.
Best SF/Fantasy Reads of the Year
It’s a 3-way tie between Babylon’s Ashes, 1Q84 and The Second Cure!