The great fun I had at the beginning of this year was that I got back into science fiction in a big way, reading novels by Iain Banks, Charles Stross, Ernst Cline, and Jo Walton, among others (although I did not read Among Others).
Perhaps the best of these was Jo Walton’s My Real Children. Rather than post at length about it, I’ll refer you to my blog post about the book. But it’s amazing. With its quiet evocation of two lives (which are livd by the same person) I’ve never read anything like it, except perhaps John William’s Stoner, and in some ways this book is superior to that: or at least it’s able to achieve effects that Stoner couldn’t.
A surprise find was Charles Stross. I’d read his Accelerando years ago, and I remember it as one of those books which impressed me without at all impelling me to seek out more. But I found Saturn’s Children and Neptune’s Brood to be fascinating, mind-expanding books that weren’t entirely lacking in the personal touch. The plotting was pretty barebones: both novels were nothing more than a journey from A to Z, with relatively few hitches or problems along the way. My favorite was Neptune’s Children, with its vast numinous vision of the global finance needed to create interstellar colonies in a universe bound by light-speed restrictions. It had a considerable amount to say about the way that money and debt operate in human societies, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes hard science fiction.
Random Acts of Senseless Violence, by Jack Womack, is mostly noted as a virtuoso performance: the language of its young narrator becomes steadily coarser and more degraded until she’s talking like a street punk. I was impressed by that, but I did not find the change to be imperceptible. There is one section at which there’s a huge leap forward. That’s not the point, though. This book is tremendous! One of the most frightening and emotional dystopian books you’ll ever read. All you want is for this family to hold it together, even though you know they won’t.
Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings was like nothing else I’d ever read (though now that I’ve read Romance of the Three Kingdoms, I can see some of its influences). The pacing is completely different from every other fantasy novel you’ve ever known and loved. This is the book that makes you realize that, far from being thrillers, most epic fantasies are rather ponderous. Within the first hundred pages of this book, more kingdoms rise and fall, rebellions arise and are quenched, factions form and are rent asunder, than within the entirety of most epic fantasy series (and, though I love it, I’m not exempting Game of Thrones from the criticism of slow pacing). This is a book that really zooms, and it’s one of my favorite reading experiences in a long time.
As I’ve posted numerous times, my favorite YA book of the year was Susan Juby’s The Truth Commission. It’s about three kids at an arts high school who decide to go around asking people about their deepest secrets. And also there’s this plot about the narrator’s older sister, and whether she’s exploiting her family in pursuit of her art. The book is so emotional. The theme of how and whether to pursue the truth is one that should resonate with any artist. And every character in this book is amazing and well-drawn. Truly an unforgettable one.
And my favorite graphic novel was Richard McGuire’s Here. It’s one of those arty graphic novels. In fact, ‘novel’ is an incredible misnomer, since there’s no story and nothing happens. It’s the history of a room: a tiny corner of the living room of a house. We see snippets that span thousands of years, forward and back, but largely we see the growth and evolution of one happy. This is one of the few books that manages to capture the passing of time, and it’s impossible to finish it without feeling very sad.