Monthly Archives: February 2018

Announcing: The SF&F Genre Classics (Re)read

Heya, blog readers! Just a quick post today, to tell you about a new blog series I have planned…

As an author trying to keep informed about the market, and a reader excited about new books, I tend to read a lot of recent-ish publications. For example, in 2017, all but 4 of the books I read were published sometime in the last 15 years.

But every once in a while, I like to go back and read a classic — either something I read long ago, or a work I never got around to reading. This often means science fiction and fantasy classics. I also read classics that aren’t part of these genres, but for the purposes of this blog series, I’m focusing on SF&F.

As a former English major, I firmly believe that it’s important to go back and revisit the classics — to understand where one’s genre came from, to trace its development, to understand the basis for the conversation that is happening among the works in the genre. (I didn’t come up with the idea that a genre is a conversation, but I can’t find the correct attribution. If you know it, please chime in.)

Reading something old can be a little disorienting — it might feel trite until you realize that, no, actually, this book was the first to present the idea, or to put two things together this way. All those other books you’ve already read on the same topic? They were riffing off this one — expanding its central idea, complicating it, interrogating it. Here is where it came from. (For example, YA dystopians look a little less fresh if you’ve already read ’80s author William Sleator, and of course Bradbury, Atwood, Orwell, and Huxley.)

I plan to focus on authors who are dead, but I may also dip into very well-known, older works by living authors — works that have attained the status of classics.

To recap: this will be an occasional blog series in which I read (or reread) an SF or fantasy classic and then talk about it here. One work per post. Books, short stories, even films…I’d love for you to join me.

First on my list are works by Le Guin, Tolkien, and Octavia Butler. If there are any other authors you’d love to talk about, drop them in the comments below!

If you liked this post, you might enjoy: Strong Girl Characters: YA and MG Classics

 

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My Top 5 Books of 2017

First, a quick note to say that my short story The House Robot is now up at Turtleduck Press!

blog-Kindred-coverAnd now, on to the main affair…my favourite reads of 2017. (I know, it’s already February 2018. Shhhh.)

Standard disclaimer: I’m often discovering older books for the first time, so when I do these yearly posts, I don’t limit myself to books published in that year. That means this is an eclectic mix of older titles. But hey, there’s no reason they shouldn’t still be celebrated!

Runners-Up

Octavia Butler, Kindred. A nuanced exploration of the Black experience of slavery — subtle where it needed to be, but pulling no punches — through a time travel story. Beautiful, heartbreaking, and utterly brutal.

Georgette Heyer, Cousin Kate. I know many romance readers love Heyer, but she’s new to me, probably because I’m not much of a romance reader (I prefer grand adventures with a side of romance, not the other way around). I am told that this one is atypical Heyer, being a Gothic, but I seriously enjoyed it — it hit all the same reader buttons for me as my top book of the year (more about that below).

blog-Safety Protocols-martinez-coverAngel Martinez, Safety Protocols for Human Holidays. Another romance! *gasp* This one is a novella, short and sweet, but it makes the list because it’s absolutely adorable and hilarious, and was just exactly the sort of comfort read I needed. It’s science fiction, set on a multicultural spaceship. The aliens’ attempts to figure out the inner workings of human culture and psychology were so perfect, and they balanced beautifully with the romance arc.

Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races. Okay, Stiefvater is not exactly an unknown fantasy writer, but again, she’s new to me. Really loved the writing style. She clearly knows horses, and she did a beautiful job of capturing both the normal horse-and-rider relationship and the fantasy angle of the dangerous but alluring water horses. Plus the sea. I was a sucker for Marguerite Henry’s books growing up (like Misty of Chincoteague) so this was a shoo-in.

The Winner

blog-To Say Nothing of the Dog-coverMy favourite book of the year was To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. Ironic, because it was a gift and I wouldn’t have picked it out for myself. I had previously read Passage by the same author, and enjoyed it but found it overly slow for my taste. But since I had this book already, I decided to give Willis another shot.

And boy, was I glad I did! To Say Nothing of the Dog is a riff on Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (which I haven’t read). It’s brilliant comedy writing (screwball, maybe? Madcap? Something like that). It’s also a time travel story in which, unusually, the time travel mechanism itself plays a central role and creates the main mystery of the book. Did I mention part of it takes place in WWII, which is definitely not treated like comedy, and yet everything hangs together? And it’s all very British-Edwardian-upper-class – even though Willis herself is American, she nails it. And, of course, the titular dog is adorable.

Honorable Mentions

blog-Ancillary Justice-coverTwo books that I found really intriguing but didn’t like quite as much as I wanted to: Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway. The first was a bit too dense for me to follow, and the second a bit too thin on plot for my taste (to be fair, it was a novella — not my favourite length — and I knew that going in).

I am planning to continue on with both series, if that tells you anything.

Common Themes

Every year I like to look back and identify the common themes in my reading — what did I love about these books that I identified as my favourites?

  • This year they actually fall into two categories — excellent but heartbreaking (Kindred and The Scorpio Races) and warm, fuzzy, and/or funny (all the rest).
  • Strong character relationships were at the centre of each — sometimes a dangerous dance, other times crackling dialogue.
  • Strong sense of place — I love stories where the location is so vivid it becomes a character.
  • Intimate stakes — some years I love big epic stories, but most of these are about the fate of one person, or one tiny community, or a family or found-family…but no less tense for all that.
  • Diversity — from the Black central characters of Butler and Martinez, to the asexual protagonist in Every Heart a Doorway, to the gender-in-storytelling experiment of Ancillary Justice, my reading is getting more diverse. This is not an accident, as I’m seeking out more diversity in the books I pick up, but I’m pleased to see that many of those are also turning out to be my favourites.
  • All of the authors are women — this is certainly not true every year, but in 2017 my reading was more heavily weighted towards women than usual.

 

And there you have it! Have you read any of these? What were your favourite books last year?

 

If you enjoyed this post, check out my previous reading recaps: 2017 reading stats | 2016 reading recap | 2015 reading recap | 2014 reading recap | 2013 reading recap | 2012 reading recap