Today's recommendations are by Leah Bobet. Leah Bobet's first novel, Above, was nominated for the 2012 Andre Norton Award and the 2013 Aurora Award, and her short fiction has appeared in several Year's Best anthologies and as part of online serial Shadow Unit. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, where she edits Ideomancer Speculative Fiction, picks urban apple trees, does civic engagement activism, and works as a bookseller at Bakka-Phoenix Books, Canada's oldest science fiction bookstore. Leah's second novel, On Roadstead Farm—a literary dustbowl fantasy where stuff blows up—will appear from Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2015.
Recommending books is a bit of a tricky business: No book's all good or all bad, just good or bad for that reader and what they enjoy in a story. That said, as a reader who loves character-driven, literary SFF which displays an author's sheer skill, here are a few books I think deserve much, much more love:
- Desideria by Nicole Kornher-Stace
Nicole Kornher-Stace's first novel flew way too far under the radar when it came out in 2008, and deserves to be handed to any fan of Caitlin R. Kiernan, China Miéville, Catherynne M. Valente, or Gemma Files. Set in a created city that's not-quite-French, not-quite-Renaissance, Desideria plunges us into the mystery of how its protagonist, amnesiac actress Ange St. Loup, ended up in a madhouse accused of arson and murder—and tells the story of her theatre company's last, fateful play. Where the sheer, impressive ambition comes in is in the third strand of the story: The text of the play itself, written in its own voice, with its own flair and style, tying both Ange's fate, the theatre's, and the company's together. If you're not a structural reader, it's daunting. If you are? It's brilliant. Kornher-Stace's rich, lyrical prose bolsters and ornaments that structure, in the most literal sense of the word: wordcraft to enhance what's already there, which is stylistically gorgeous on a sentence-by-sentence level and transparent enough to not get between the reader and the story.
The one drawback is the pace: Desideria starts slow, and demands patience in the first quarter before it starts to roll full-speed. I'd personally recommend giving it that patience. I found the results ultimately worthwhile.
- Finder by Carla Speed McNeil
Finder has been quietly drawn and written and published since 1996—sometimes in colour, sometimes in black and white—and it is some of the best science fiction work I've ever read: a far-future Earth replete with nomads and domed city-states, massive corporate culture, and an overwhelming sense of socially aware, intelligent wonder. It's been celebrated to the moon and back in comics, and I'm barely sure anyone in SFF has read it.It's also, quietly, one of the most diverse works of science fiction I've ever read: described by its creator as "aboriginal science fiction," its regular cast includes a half-aboriginal protagonist, a South Asian polyamorous academic, a genderfluid teenager, and whole piles of very different assumptions on how people do being people. It's not quite Samuel Delaney, not quite Ursula Le Guin, not quite a lot of things while it tells some incredibly moving stories on the backdrop of this world: The fourth installment, Talisman, is one of the most moving love letters to reading, writing, and books I've ever read.
Start at the beginning: While Finder doesn't need to be read in order, I find it helps.
- Resurrection Man by Sean Stewart
Sean Stewart's work is largely hard to find these days: Sean Stewart has moved onto games writing, and with the exception of a few titles reprinted by Small Beer Press and the award-winning Galveston, his novels are mostly out of print.
Which is too bad, because this book is my heart.
Resurrection Man deals with some of the perennial Stewart topics: families, and the shattering
and mending thereof; what to do when you discover you’re really a rather bad and selfish man;
getting your balance in a world that’s broken; putting the broken right. On a holiday home, Dante Ratkay—scientist, sibling, with the power to see secrets and omens in a world where magic's leaking slowly through the streets—finds his own corpse laid out in the boathouse, and what it spills are the secrets, needs, and tensions in his large and loving family. The outcome is glorious. And tragic. And right.
Stewart's prose is utterly beautiful: It is a musical instrument, delicate and restrained until it's slicing open your belly. He never shies away from acknowledging the complexity of other human beings, and of our own messy selves. The world he builds here, and in companion novels Galveston and The Night Watch, is doom-tinged with subtle magic that takes your breath away.
If I could bribe any author to write just one more book, it would be him.
Stay tuned for the next post where we get more reading recommendations!