Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far This Year

I’ve read some great books this year. Some not so great, of course, but let’s not dwell on those. And we’re only halfway through 2017!

  1. Our Tragic Universe – Scarlett Thomas. This is a charming novel. Its heroine, Meg, starts in a bad place, broke, unfulfilled and in a toxic relationship. By its end, she’s in a much more hopeful place, ready to start moving forward; but the movement between the two is almost imperceptible. It’s a deliberately storyless novel, full of chatting, basically, but Thomas’ skill at characterisation means it’s never boring.
  2. Palimpsest – Catherynne M. Valente. This story of a sexually transmitted city is one to be read slowly and savoured; full of Valente’s lush sensory prose, her instinct for just the right symbol, creating a world that’s fresh and magical and right all at once.
  3. Starbook – Ben Okri. I think Starbook has its issues, ideologically (review to come), but there’s no denying that the writing is masterly. The novel’s written in an oblique, fairytale prose that can be hard going, but which rewards the work you put into it. It transforms the world around you; and it brought home to me, as nothing else has, the absolute monstrosity of the slave trade.
  4. Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood. I loved this tale of madness, of resistance to exploitative patriarchal systems of being. I liked its ambiguity, the way it deliberately resists interpretation. I liked Grace.
  5. Nova – Samuel Delaney. Nova was just utterly unexpected: a 60s SF novel that focused not on hard science but on individual, human experience, especially sensory experience. The universe it evokes feels genuinely full of wonder, even as it’s also (still) full of injustice.
  6. 2312 – Kim Stanley Robinson. Another SF novel that surprised me. On the one hand, it’s exactly what you’d expect from its cover and blurb: hard SF looking at issues like advanced AI, terraforming, interplanetary politics, climate change. On the other hand, the actual writing is technically really good: we have detailed characters with real depth, images and motifs weaving through the text, an actual identifiable prose style that isn’t just conveying information.
  7. The Book of Phoenix – Nnedi Okorafor. This is here, really, because it feels “important”. It’s a novel that takes on terrorism as a product of systematic oppression, while still recognising it for what it is. It’s brutal and horrifying and not one to read lightly.
  8. The Islanders – Christopher Priest. I confess, I enjoyed this primarily not as the Pale Fire-ish murder mystery woven through it, but because, on a fundamentally geeky level, the idea of a gazetteer of an entirely invented chain of islands is really fascinating to me.
  9. The Geek Feminist Revolution – Kameron Hurley. Hurley’s work is always hard-hitting: even a collection of internet essays like this one is unflinching about the amount of work still to do in the social justice arena. Her combative style won’t be to everyone’s taste, but, personally, it did me a lot of good.
  10. The Quantum Thief – Hannu Rajaniemi. I enjoyed the inventiveness of this SF novel, which does the quite tricky work of imagining a post-human future that’s fundamentally different enough to be interesting without depriving readers of any point of reference.

(The prompt for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

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5 thoughts on “Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far This Year

  1. Regarding Nova: “a 60s SF novel that focused not on hard science but on individual, human experience, especially sensory experience.”

    This is far more standard a technique than you might imagine — thankfully! Soft science fiction came to the fore especially in the 60s and 70s. And the New Wave SF movement, inspired by William Burroughs and other experimental authors, fostered SF authors such as J.G. Ballard, Delany, PKD, Le Guin, Kate Wilhelm (and legions of others) who were obsessed with psychology, surrealist tinged Freudian stuff, sociology, history, etc. There’s a lot more to explore in 60s/70s SF if Nova resonated with you 🙂

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      1. Not even Ursula Le Guin? Her famous novel The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) is a vitally important “soft” SF novel tackling gender and myth — I guess people call it anthropological SF.

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        1. Comment edited! “Left Hand of Darkness” has been on my vague mental TBR list for ages – I think I just feel a bit daunted by its reputation. I’m fairly sure my local library has it – I’ll keep an eye out for it next time I go.

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          1. Ah, well, if you want lesser known but novels which might not be as daunting but I’d argue are equally (well, maybe almost) as good let me know! Most of my site is devoted to 50s-70s experimental/”literary” SF 🙂

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