What more can be said about this book? It won the Booker. Irvine Welsh called it amazing. I’ve finally got round to reading this book, and it… I don’t even know how to describe it. The style and craft of it is mind-blowing. There’s a bit of lush, prose, and just when you’re thinking that it’s quite beautiful in its own New Yorker-wannabe way, the writer tells us how crap it is. James layers patois, style, culture, and language and makes it looks easy, when it’s actually the sweat of a master at work. It’s worth savouring every single minute
Poor, poor Rupert keeps dying. After managing to wriggle his cannibal chef’s hat out from under the thumb of the Kindly Ones, Ao Qin, and all the supernatural spirits in Kuala Lumpur, Rupert’s got a new mission: London – the Greek gods he’s on loan to are hungry and there’s a dearth of good cannibal chefs.
As you’d expect, Rupert’s not just elbow deep in viscera, but neck deep in shit – figurative and literal. Bullets appear at seemingly random moments and poor Rupert can’t seem to stay dead – even if he wanted to. This book is twisty-turny and bloody (ha!) good.
Kameron Hurley’s all-female universe of tentacled worlds and the cycle of life is absolutely and utterly insane. I read the entire thing torn between “what the hell is going on here” and “I’m really enjoying whatever it is”. Zan wakes up, a warrior without a memory, given conflicting information from those who insist they are her sisters. She must fly off and infiltrate another world – the Mokshi, the only world that has left its orbit, and can take them to freedom. I toyed with wondering if this is a meta-narrative about bacteria, but whatever-tf it is, it is absolutely excellent.
Poor Rupert Wong is in it deep: his Boss has him by the short-and-keeps-you-in-hell, the Dragon King can’t be denied, and he just keeps on dying. It’s a difficult life, caught between the powers that be in Kuala Lumpur. Khaw’s book takes on a world where pantheons live side by side – without comfort – and, it seems, everyone’s due a trip through Diyu. The writing is … look, Khaw makes funny, ridiculous, terrifying, and mashups look easy, when it’s not. It’s bloody good, and Khaw is a writer to watch. Especially if you’re poor Rupert Wong. Dying. Yet again.
This is my favourite read from 2016, hands down. Lee has created the most inventive space opera universe… imaginable. The Hexarchate is an empire who can alter the laws of reality by enforcing belief on a population: altering the calendar. The Hexarchate is brutal, and its six factions don’t even trust each other. A calendrical crisis forces the Hexarchate to unearth a long-dead General, Shuos Jedao — frozen as a ghost after massacring his own army, as a last-ditch gambit to save a critical fortress. The story gets odder and, yet, most comforting. It’s a mind-blowing read – and contains kimchi.
Cat Webb/Claire North is angry – a good thing. She’s written this book that’s a little bit about everything – the end of the world, the world going to shit, our fears and hopes and dreams, and not a little kidnapping.
This book is a serious level up from Webb/North. It’s a little abstract, sensitive, and almost completely unputdownable and unsatisfying in the most satisfying way – you’ll want to read it again immediately.
Charlie’s new job is as Harbinger of Death. He goes ahead of Death – sometimes as a courtesy, sometimes as a warning, & makes the world a little bit better.
What would you do if you were forgotten, fading from everyone’s memory – your parents, friends, lovers? You’d become a thief, of course, and do pretty much whatever you want. The external trappings of the world give you nothing and you give nothing back to them.
It would take something significant to get your attention and draw you in. Something like Perfection. The social network that makes you level yourself up – towards a goal of perfection. Hope loses someone to perfection, and decides to take it on.
Claire North keeps getting better. Keep your eye on her. Go buy this book
A Closed and Common Orbit is a love letter to anyone who’s ever felt awkward, out of place, didn’t know what to say, or didn’t feel quite human. Chambers weaves two parallel stories, twenty years apart, into a gripping, wonderful story posing the questions (and daring you to answer differently) what it means to be sentient and whether or not your feelings – silicon, engineered, or womb-born – have the right to exist. It’s yet another enjoyable romp that isn’t afraid to grapple with big important things without beating you over the head with them – and makes it look effortless. More, please.
Moreno-García has done something amazing: She’s made vampires interesting again, and in 2017 no less. She blends myth and legend from vampires across a range of cultures with commentary on race, class, and mental illness inside of modern Mexico DF. This is a creepy tale of a young man living on the streets after suffering massive abuse who manages to use what little he has to help another person, and gets sucked into an adventure that will bring together blood-drinking Aztecs, ancient wealth, and detectives through a rubbish dump of a heady conclusion. Moreno-García is excellent as always. Read it.
Do you ever wonder when reading history how people felt at critical times – the English Civil War, the tensions leading up to the Great War, or the local citizens watching Perry sail into Edo harbour? Foreshadowing? Doom? Gloom? Or were people caught up in the day-to-day. I’m a bit afraid that we’re currently finding out, but I hope that I’m wrong.
In the midst of the BrexitTrumpPopulistApocalypse that’s been happening, however, there’s been some good stuff. It’s actually been a pretty good year for me personally – assuming that the end of the world doesn’t ruin it.
My personal life & my relationship with my spouse is excellent and keeps getting better.
I managed to visit a big range of countries – the US, UK, Ireland, Franc,e Germany, Bangladesh, Jordan, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Thailand, and Spain. Seeing the outpouring of grief of the Thai people at the death of King Bhumibol was deeply affecting. Climbing to a 2,600 metre pass in Bulgaria was exhilarating. Most of those trips were for work.
I really should point out my minor publications this year- the alt.Sherlock anthology came out with my short story “Half There/All There” and the follow up novella The Power of Media, but there were other books that I should really point out, that I haven’t managed to blog with all the life upheaval since leaving BGV
A few books that you should really be reading include:
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, which is by far one of the most original, amazing things that I’ve read. It looks at perception, the nature of reality, politics, and is a damned fine story full of explodey space explosions to boot.
Don’t let goodreads lie to you – Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef by Cassandra Khaw is not urban fantasy. It’s dark and weird and backwards and full of blood and a poor detective chef who keeps dying but isn’t allowed to and it’s great fun.
I re-read The Grace of Kings which I loved and followed up with The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu. The second book is just as stylised as the first, full of soaring prose and big ideas, and is such a joy to read – you could almost call it the perfect antidote to the tyre fire of 2016. Personal sacrifice based on honour, ideals, and the good of the many versus the good of the few.
The other top read this year was The Obelisk Gate, follow-up to The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. I’m pretty over epic style fantasy but Jemisin’s world-building and “you don’t get to vote on who gets to be people” continually breaks me.
Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia managed to make vampires interesting again. I wouldn’t trust them with anyone else.
Television and film
I haven’t (quite) finished The Night Of but it’s pretty amazing – not only due to the casting of Riz Ahmed and Michael K Williams. Ditto Black Mirror. Game of Thrones seems to be doing better now that it’s unfettered by the confusion going on in the books. Other than that… television hasn’t done that much for me. I enjoyed Stranger Things and the current series of Mr. Robot and Orphan Black but none of them really blew me away. I mostly loved Luke Cage but was a little frustrated that I felt like Luke Cage was more Luke Cage in Jessica Jones and Daredevil than in his own series.
Film-wise was much the same – Arrival and Rogue One did what they were supposed to do. I was a little frustrated with the over-hollywoodisation of the romance in Arrival but enjoyed it immensely, but mostly watch films on aeroplanes which is fine for the Marvel and Star Trek universes, sadly.
So that’s the year that was. Marked. Maybe the 100 word reviews will kick off again.