The Factory — Hiroko Oyamada
A strange, short book with some challenging dialogue formatting. I really loved the small vignettes of slightly-slanted banal work life in The Factory. I’m excited to read more of Oyamada’s work, because despite reading quite a bit of Japanese fiction, I haven’t had the chance to read very many Japanese women. I hope that I either get better at kanji to the point I can read from the source, or more translators translate other women.
Empress of Forever — Max Gladstone
A fun space romp with a Jobsian lesbian protagonist and a strange cast of characters. This quickly shifts into a very different book from what it starts as, but I still loved it. More space lesbians, please.
A Song for a New Day — Sarah Pinsker
Welp, my second book for the month was another plague book, albeit one that largely took place in the aftermath of a pox. I enjoyed this book quite a bit, even if it was a little too hopeful for my usual taste. Honestly, it was a little refreshing to read a book where cool women make music and care about each other, and hope for the future. Thanks Haley for the tip on this one.
Wanderers — Chuck Wendig
Phew, that was a dark fucking book. With the pandemic going on in the world right now, this wasn’t a very good idea to read, but I’m glad I finished it. Just about every bad thing you can imagine happens in this book, so I have a hard time recommending it, but perhaps for folks who don’t believe in global warming or in the danger of a pandemic, this will give them pause.
Lurking — Joanne McNeil
A very interesting look at the history of the internet as a user. One of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in a while.
The Longing for Less — Kyle Chayka
This was far funnier than I expected, and also taught me a lot about a few areas of art and architecture I didn’t know about. A really informative and fun book.
Outline — Rachel Cusk
This was recommended to me, but I can’t say I loved it. The story here read more as a series of strange anecdotes, without a lot of core thread to grasp. There are two more books in this series, but I think I may pass on them.
Agency — William Gibson
A nearly present-day story of AI, art, and San Francisco. I really enjoyed this Peripheral sequel, though I think on the whole the fashion and strange web world of the previous trilogy was more my speed. I hope we get one more book with Netherton, Ash and company.
Mainline — Deborah Christiansen
A fun throwback to the world of cyber decks and assassins. I wish I’d found this in 1996, but it holds up well. The plot got a little convoluted, but supposedly there’s a very recent sequel, so perhaps there will be payoff.
Uncanny Valley — Anna Weiner
Ah, the tech industry. I’ve been working in this world for over a decade and this book felt like a survey of it. I know a few people mentioned in the chapters, and am unfortunately very familiar with many of the events. I think Weiner did a great job of capturing the constant, weird feeling of trying to survive and often getting lost in the self-satisfied world of tech founders and “disruption”.
Throne of Glass — Sarah J. Maas
I was drawn to this book by the front cover and the vague notion that it might be like Gideon the Ninth. It’s not exactly super different, but it’s clearly YA, where Gideon is not. I may continue the series, as it was decently compelling, but I wish it were more genre and less youth.
Unsubscribe — Jocelyn Glei
Although this book is deep in the details of email, most of it applies just as well to Slack and other forms of messaging. I appreciate her approach to mindful work, as well as how she thinks about the problems of people and communication. A worthwhile read, especially if you struggle with a mountain of other people’s problems
The Walking Man — Jiro Taniguchi
The art in this manga is gorgeous. I especially love the way the leaves and grass are drawn. The stories are largely dialogue-less vignettes that meander through cities and the countryside, taking it all in. When I open this book, I wish I were in Japan again, following stray cats around town.
Emily Eternal — M.G. Wheaton
This is an interesting take on apocalyptic fiction. With an AI protagonist and a dying sun, the story careens across the Americas and then even further. There’s a strange love story I didn’t care much for, but otherwise this was a nice romp.
Dept. of Speculation — Jenny Offill
A gorgeous and sad book that captures long relationships so well. I loved for narrator and the strange poetic style of storytelling. I read this in two sittings and was enraptured.
Dead Astronauts — Jeff Vandermeer
This book did some interesting things with time, and some deeply annoying things with text. I feel like I know what he was doing with this book largely, and support his environmental aims (a+ murderous blue fox), but it never really came together for me.
Interference — Sue Burke
A fun follow-up to a great book from last year. I loved seeing how modern Earth folks mixed with the people on the rainbow bamboo planet. I was surprised to find that we only followed a single generation of characters this time, but I did enjoy how they were more fleshed-out.
This is How You Lose the Time War — Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
A deeply strange time-travel romance between two competing spies, Blue and Red. The central conceit of shifting threads of history and letter-leaving was fun, but at times I honestly had no idea what was going on. I really enjoyed this book.
The Starless Sea — Erin Morgenstern
I read this in a delightful haze during the holiday weekend. I love stories like these, that are also about stories, and books, and love. I remember liking the Night Circus, but I absolutely adore The Starless Sea. This is a book for those of us who love exploring, and digging into a fantastical tale.
The Infinite Wait — Julia Wertz
My friend Jenny recommended this one a while ago, and I finally got around to reading it. I couldn’t put it down. It’s hilarious, sad, and very close to home. I’d never heard of Wertz until now, but I plan to immediately buy all her comics.
The Future of Another Timeline — Annalee Newitz
Wow. This book was a triumph, and seriously seals Newitz as a scifi master. I only wish I could explore this world for longer. A perfect blend of history, speculation, and feminism—this book imagines a world in which collective action is possible deep into the past. Dang.
How to Do Nothing — Jenny Odell
Now that I’ve finally finished her book, I can wholeheartedly recommend it. This isn’t the self-help palp that so many books about your phone are, but instead a wildly revelatory piece on bioregionalism, art, mystery, and birds. So many cool birds. This is a book I had to sip, because every few pages were full of so many ideas I wanted to savor them. I learned quite a bit from Jenny in these pages, and I am lucky to count her as a friend. Don’t worry if it takes you a while to read this, just buy a copy and meander through California through it.
Shadow and Bone — Leigh Bardugo
This was a neat YA that ended far before I thought it would—my edition had almost 100 pages of previews after the book. I enjoyed the magic system, despite the unfortunate teen romance that tends to plague YA. I’ll likely read more of this series, in hopes that it continues to build a cool world.
To Be Taught, If Fortunate — Becky Chambers
This is one of the best sci-fi short novellas I’ve read in a while. It’s not quite hard SF, but I love all the little details. The characters are great, and just casually queer, and there’s just enough suspense to make it a real page-turner. A triumph.
The Guest Cat — Takashi Hiraide **
Definitely cried reading this one. I’m a sucker for Japanese cat literature for sure.
Revenant Gun — Yoon Ha Lee
The final book in the Ninefox trilogy, and definitely the horniest one. If you military guys, there’s probably some fun for you in here. For me though, this was a great conclusion to a often confusing and wild series. I still don’t understand all of the math, but I love the world. There were some really interesting character choices here, and even though I wish we’d seen more of Cheris and Jedao chatting, the bits we did get were rad. This series was fantastic overall.
Pattern Recognition — William Gibson
A reread of a favorite. I might or might not partially owe Cayce for a major style inspiration for my daily wardrobe. This story has a lot of artifacts of the early oughts, but most of it feels delightfully timeless.
Hollow Kingdom — Kira Jane Buxton **
Still not sure how i feel about this book. I think the idea of the book was better than the execution.
Gideon the Ninth — Tamsyn Muir
Queer space necromancers! Queer space necromancers! OMG. This book was utterly bizarre, and a hell of a lot of fun. I’m a fan of low-tech future space stories, where for the most part the book seems more like fantasy than sci-fi, so this book was a joy. Plus there was necromancy! Apparently there are going to be two more books in this series, which is a delightful thing to learn, because I want to stretch out and learn more about this strange universe.
Raven Strategem — Yoon Ha Lee
All the world building and deciphering of the strange calendrical system paid off in full in this book. Getting a hint of what Jedao/Cheris might want at the end of Ninefox, this book deals with the aftermath of a dangerously peerless tactician let loose in the galaxy. I enjoyed all the strange details of the hexarchs, and imagining what each moth looked like. It’s been a minute since a sci-fi book got me so excited. This series can feel like a slog at first, but I think it’s worth it.
Ninefox Gambit — Yoon Ha Lee
This was one of the more challenging sci-fi books I’ve read in a while. Ultimately, figuring out what the hell was going on was well worth-it, but the first half or so was a frantic dog paddle to stay afloat. The world of NineFox Gambit is deeply strange, with technology that borders on magic that requires an empire to hold to a strict calendar for it to function. We follow a rad lady, with a homicidal general trapped in her head as she runs what seems like a suicide mission. I’m excited to read the rest of this series.
Masterworks — Simon Jacobs
The Light Brigade — Kameron Hurley
Definite Catch-22 vibes throughout this book, with a hearty helping of Starship Troopers. If you like time-travel and space military, this is a solid read.
The Psychology of Time Travel — Kate Mascarenhas
Ah, time-travel and lesbians: two of my favorite things. This book was an interesting take on time-travel, and inevitable meeting of your future and past selves. I really enjoyed the small strange moments between characters.
From the Fatherland with Love — Ryu Murakami
One of the more bonkers books that Ryu Murakami has written, it combines both his fascination with violence with a scathing satire on bureaucracy. I couldn’t put this down and found myself alternatively horrified and laughing.
The Book of Joan — Lydia Yuknavitch
This was a very strange, disjointed tale of a post-apocalyptic redemption narrative. I can’t say that I know a lot about Joan of Arc, but I trust that Yuknavitch drew from her history to write this. I can’t decide quite how I feel about this, but I will say that I found the author’s obsession with genitals and gender rather much. Does the author dislike trans people? Was she attempting to suggest that they are leading us to a dark, genderless place? This was unclear. There was a blurb that claimed this author is at the forefront of writing about gender fluidity, and I would say instead, she is mired deep in the past.
Magic for Liars — Sarah Gailey **
Ah! I loved this book. What a brilliant marriage of noir and magic school. I devoured it in two sittings with a big grin on my face. Gailey is a delight, and after seeing them read the first chapter in person, I couldn’t wait to dive in. I hope they write more novels soon.
River of Teeth — Sarah Gailey **
What an absurd romp. This would’ve worked better for me if I enjoyed cowboys or the romance of men, but still it was fun enough. I don’t think I’ll read the next few books in this series, but I’m certain my friend in book club will devour them. Well-written and imagined, just not for me.
Dune — Frank Herbert
A classic. I read this when I was a kid, but hadn’t reread it since then. It’s weird, long, and great. The rest of the series is supposed to be bizarre, so I can’t wait. The spice must flow.
Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead — Sara Gran
An alright mystery book, but more than a few times, I think the author attempted to add grit but just ended up sounding like a very awkward narrator. Also points off for a trans slur—like, c’mon, I don’t care who your narrator or, or how much of a fuck-up she is, leave us alone.
Paradise Rot — Jenny Hval
A strange story of roommates, love, and interior mold. I hope Hval writes more strange books.
The Poppy War — R. F. Kuang
This book was brutal. Kuang transformed the rape of Nanking into a fantasy tale of gods, magic, and martial arts. The slow build of the martial arts academy quickly breaks down into the horrors of war. This is a grim book with even grimmer source material. This book was well-researched and skillfully written, and I will definitely continue on with Rin and the Cike into the sequel.
The Fated Sky — Mary Robinette Kowal
More cool space stuff! I enjoyed the pacing more in this book, and despite the frustration with very 50s attitudes that still pervade the modern world, I enjoyed journeying with these two books to mars.
The Bone Clocks — David Mitchell
A delightful collision of strange characters across time. This book is just fantastical enough to scratch my sci-fi itch, and literary enough to keep me satisfied. I hadn’t read Michell in a while, but diving back in was like slipping on a well-fitting shoe. My only complaint is that I got a bit sick of “psycho-“ being applied to every magic thing, as it felt a bit too much like RPG spell naming, lol.
An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good — Helene Tursten
Delightfully wicked tales of a murderous octogenarian. I laughed, and cringed in turn. A short, strange read.
The Calculating Stars — Mary Robinette Kowal
This is an interesting alternate history where a disaster changes the fate of the planet, and accelerates the space race. Unfortunately, no disaster can change the rampant misogyny and racism of the men in power in this world. The protagonist, Dr. York, is a calculator, and dreams of being an astronaut, after years of flying planes as a WASP. I’m excited to read the sequel, but so many of the scenes of men being jerks to everyone else were pretty frustrating.
Exhalation: Stories — Ted Chiang
Chiang is one of the only authors I’ve read that truly puts the “speculative” into speculative fiction. Combining a curiosity about math, physics, and philosophy, Exhalation’s stories show a very adept storyteller playing with quite a few ideas. Each story is so different, and yet similarly great. I really hope Chiang writes a novel at some point, because I want to roam around his world’s for much longer.
Sourdough — Robin Sloan
A fun book on getting into a new hobby, and getting out of tech. I’m not a baker, but I really liked how Robin described the baking process. There weren’t many characters with real depth, but our protagonist was fun.
The Book of M — Peng Shepherd
An interesting take on a plague/zombie-style post-apocalypse. I had trouble putting this book down, and the story kept me reading most of the day. I got to hear Shepherd read from her book at a literary event in the bay, and I’m very glad I did—this book ruled.
Noumenon: Infinity — Marina J. Lostetter
This series ruled. There were pretty significant characters who were trans, or differently abled, and I feel like they were written pretty dang well. The space exploration and discovery plotlines split and re-intertwined many times, and always kept me fascinated. Definitely one of the most interesting sci-fi series I’ve read in years.
Noumenon — Marina J. Lostetter
Ah! Another great multi-generational space exploration story. I don’t really get why so many sci-fi books are doing this sort of thing lately, but I’m into it. What happens when a ship heads into deep space to explore a distant star? This book. It rules.
Exit Strategy — Martha Wells
A delightful end to this quadrilogy. I hope we get more Murderbot stories, but even if not, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.
Rogue Protocol — Martha Wells
I’m really loving this series. Murderbot meets a new pal on this romp on a research station.
Hatching Twitter — Nick Bilton
This was a tour of betrayal, man-children, and absurd amounts of money. I’d love to see an Armando Ianucci adaptation of this book—especially the incredibly awkward visits with Zuckerberg. Well-written, and easy to read, this kept me very entertained on my flight.
Artificial Condition — Martha Wells
It’s really nice to dive back into the series, and the MurderBot continues to be a funny narrator a distant space-bound future. I still think it’s a little odd that these were all published as novellas instead of a full-length, but the episodic quality does give me an easy place to pause and get more to drink. I hope we see more of the new ComfortBot.
Only Human — Sylvain Neuvel
A solid conclusion to an excellent series. It’s too bad there’s not any more to read, but on the upside, it never dipped into uninteresting territory. The tone of this book is a little post-apocalyptic, and I’m a sucker for that kinda thing.
Waking Gods — Sylvain Neuvel
This is a series that seems to amp up the excitement with each installation. The first book set the stage, and this is the play. There is quite a bit of action, and a lot of fallout from the first book. A great sequel.
Sleeping Giants — Sylvain Neuvel
Told through a series of interview transcripts, de-briefings, and diary entries, this rad giant robot story managed to suck me in fast. I burned through this book in a couple of days, and loved every minute. I grew up on Robotech, so some of this plot felt familiar, except without all the singing. If you like giant robots, and somewhat mysterious non-governmental entities, this is a series to check out.
The Traveling Cat Chronicles — Hiro Arikawa
This book was an emotional rollercoaster. I should’ve be surprised, since it’s about a cat—one of the few things that makes me feel all of the emotions, but wow. This book was very, very good from start to finish. I picked it up on a whim, and it’s perhaps my favorite of the year.
How to Break Up With Your Phone — Catherine Price
A pretty solid book on establishing more thoughtful ways of dealing with our devices. The advice to think about why you’re reaching for your phone when you do is extremely good, and deceptively simple. I’ve found myself trying to just be in a place without immediately flipping though phone screens to kill time, and maybe it’s helping? I’m going to keep on following the advice of this book for a while, and see how it helps or doesn’t. There’s good advice on email and other types of organization in here as well.
Killing Commentadore — Haruki Murakami
This novel feels like a return to form, and yet also building on themes and ideas Murakami laid down in earlier books. His obsessions with pits, cats, WW2 history, jazz, and simple lunches are all here. I’m a little tired of the downtrodden male narrator, but despite being first-person, generally our painter guide moved the story along, interspersed with interesting observations. If you enjoy Murakami, there’s much joy here. I hope this author is with us for quite some time to come.
The United States of Japan — Peter Tieryas
An alternate history where Japan and Germany won WW2, then proceeded to divvy up North America. Most of the book is set in the 80s, in a world of internet devices, and giant robots, ruled by the Japanese emperor. It’s a brutal story at times, but was generally interesting and a good sci-fi time.
If Cats Disappeared from the World — Genki Kawarmura **
I love a good devil’s bargain, and this book is full of them. This was a cute, sweet story about the real things we should value in life, and what we’re willing to sacrifice for life. The small details and strange obsessions reminded me a lot of Haruki Murakami’s style.
The City in the Middle of the Night ** — Charlie Jane Anders
A fantastic book about humankind settling on a tidally-locked planet, but instead of seeing how we cope, we learn the stories of their descendants, hundreds of years after our first tentative steps. The light is too bright and hot, and the night too cold and dark. We live on the edge in an eternal dusk/morning light. The two protagonists, Mouth, and Sophie, are on the edges of society, yearning for things they’ve lost or can’t have, and all that leads towards. This book was a beautiful meditation on love and community, as well as memory. If you’ve read the Steerswoman series, you might find some familiarity, but generally the genre of lost technology and future worlds is incredibly fascinating to me.
Vengeful — VE Schwab
An interesting sequel to Vicious, the first of the Villains series. Most of the book serves as a prologue for the lighting-fast action at the end of the book, and I’m very excited to see what these characters do next, if she continues for a third installment. I really enjoyed the character June, because who doesn’t love a shapeshifting assassin?
Genocidal Organ — Project Itoh
A truly grim thriller about the cost of “fighting terrorism,” and the ability of language to tear apart a country. This feels eerily prescient. I can’t say I enjoyed reading this book, but it’s a nihilistic political commentary that at least adds some color to what politicians might be after when they start wars and conflicts. This book is graphic, violent, and in its way, poignant.
Amberlough — Lara Elena Donnelly **
In some ways this reminded me of the show Babylon Berlin—it feels like an alternate reality 20s Germany, replete with spies, dancers, pasties, and patsies. I think it’s building up to a longer series, and so much of the plot slowly churned towards an ellipsis of an ending. I liked it, but I’m not rushing to read the next one. None of the characters necessarily captured my interest, but it was nice that the protagonists were largely gay. This book answers the question, what if folks wrote new stories with their own characters instead of fanfic.
Reclaiming Your Life from IBS — Melissa Hunt
My doctor recommended this, and it’s largely CBT 101 + some good notes on food and stress. I don’t know if it’ll be super useful, but we’ll see! I don’t even know if this is a problem I face, but the doctor said “probably”, so lol.
The Masked City — Genevieve Cogman
Another romp through alternate worlds with the rebellious librarian Irene, and her Sherlock stand-in pal Vale. The world of this book is largely a strange version of Venice, but more than the first book, other world’s tech is sprinkled throughout. I’m starting to doubt that we’ll get a high-tech book in this series, but I still hold out hope. The language is a little too powerful as a deus machina, but Cogman finds ways Irene can’t deploy it constantly, and still manages to provide a level of tension and excitement.
9th Step Station — Malka Older & Co.
This read much like a series of Ghost in the Shell. From the NeoTokyo setting, to the ubiquitous cybernetic body mods, I expected Major Kusanagi to pop up at any juncture. That said, it also ruled. It’s been a long time since I read serialized fiction outside of comics, and the episodic nature made for a fun time. Each author added to the tale, instead of distracting with wild stylistic flourishes. I would happily read another series with Emma, Miyako, and the rest. There were less political machinations that I expected, based on other work from Older, but the story was fun, exciting, and well-told.
Ink and Bone — Rachel Caine
A fun book about an alternate history library that is magical. This is very YA, but was enjoyable.
Semiosis — Sue Burke
A late entry for one of my favorite books of the year. Dang. Lots of excellent bio-SF, along with intergenerational power struggles, and a fascinating way of telling a story. I am excited to see what happens in the second part of this book later this year, but for now, if you like xenobiology, post-apocalyptic fiction, or just interesting SF, read this.
Invisible Library — Genevieve Cogman
A bit steampunk, and a bit interdimensional Doctor Who. I liked this book enough to buy the next one in the series. It’s a fun romp with some promising world-building.
Night Film — Marisa Pessl
Night Film was generally an enjoyable book, but the multiple times Pessl uses trans people as a prop for “isn’t this a weird, twisted, gross thing?” are just boring and betray a fundamental lack of imagination. Trans people exist, and we sure as fuck read books. Grow up.
Provenance — Ann Leckie
A different planet and culture than the Raadchai from her trilogy, but a very compelling story. I got very confused for a while about who was who, but eventually I sorted it out.
The Dark Archive — Victoria Schwab **
A fun, strange YA book about what happens after death, and the teens who defend the afterlife. There were some cool twists, and story details throughout, but the world building could have been better. Honestly every time I read one of these, I think, “wouldn’t this be better if it were gay?”, and reader, yes, yes it would. These sorts of books must really speak to teens though, because they portray adults as largely ineffectual idiots, who occasionally get in the way.
Circe — Madeline Miller **
This book reminded me how much I remember of Greek myth and tragedy. I loved it. Circe is such an excellent protagonist, at the edges of society, ousted from gods and man alike. If you’ve read the Odyssey, this is a must read.
Red Clocks — Leni Zumas
A bit too close to our dystopian reality for my liking, but this was well-written, and full of strong and interesting women. I read this as I was leaving Oregon, and so a lot of it was a little bittersweet. This reads as a more realistic (sadly) handmaid’s tale.
Sympathy — Olivia Sudjic *
Wow, I loved this book. A story centered around sadness, obsession, and longing—for a family, for a lover, for a place. This was very well-written, and compelling, especially for a first effort. Some of the same Instagram ground is covered in this as is in Ingrid Goes West, but this felt more real. It’s also deeply, darkly hilarious, from the description of the awful tech boyfriend, to just how bad families can be for folks.
Invasions — Calvin Gimpelevich
My review. TL;DR it was great. Buy it.
Love & Estrogen — Samantha Allen
I don’t usually read trans memoir—and I have a forthcoming piece that challenges and lampoons it to a degree—but Samantha is a friend and her story is close to my heart because of that. I had the chance to chat with her a lot through the course of part of this love and transition story, and I enjoyed the way she told it. This memoir definitely touched on some of the tropes of the genre, but by also being a wonderful love story, it manages to eschew many more.
The Tea Master & the Detective — Aliette de Bodard **
This was a fun detective tale with a mysterious Sherlock and a spaceship Watson. The setup never quite paid off with its mystery, but I look forward to reading more books in the series.
State Tectonics – Malka Older
A fantastic conclusion to the Centenal Cycle Trilogy. I wish I could read a few more books from this universe, which I always figure is a great sign with any speculative fiction series. I keep recommending this trilogy to friends, both as an interesting political system, and as a gripping techno-political thriller with some truly rad female characters. I didn’t love every PoV character from State Tectonics as much as I did the previous two books, but that makes sense, as this book was about new beginnings, to a degree.
Convenience Store Woman — Sayaka Murata **
Wow. This book was a lot more bizarre than I expected based on the recommendations I’d read—more Abe than H. Murakami. I loved the narrator, and the rich descriptions of convenience store life. This book was hilarious and wild. One of my favorites this year.
Would You Rather — Katie Heaney
A touching memoir of coming-out and learning that past dating disinterest was just latent sapphism, lol. There’s a lot to love about this book, and also quite a bit of cringe. It’s a coming-of-age in a way, and overall I’d recommend it to young dykes and old, or anyone wondering if their sexuality is “real”.
Worth the Wait — Karelia Stetz-Waters *
This was a corny AF lesbian romance. Lots of random sex, and a main plot of “the cute femme can’t come out bc reasons”. Nothing groundbreaking, but it was an easy read.
Record of a Spaceborn Few — Becky Chambers
This was a much slower-paced book than the previous two, and was largely a slice of life about Exodans—the humans who left Earth to take their chances in the universe after Earth became uninhabitable. I enjoyed the various characters, the queer relationships, and the color added to this way of life. Sometimes it’s nice to have a space scifi book that isn’t full of lasers and danger.
Fingersmith — Sarah Waters *
In an odd turn of fate, I’d seen the Handmaiden before I read this book, so the English setting was strange compared to the eerie world of Korean director Park Chan-Wook. I knew most of the twists because of the film, but Waters has a deft way with descriptions, and Maud and Sue came alive on the page. It felt like I was reading this for weeks, but that’s likely because I devoted little time to reading. I’m glad I finished this, and recommend it if you love multi-layered, deftly-woven stories.
Empire Ascendant — Kameron Hurley
A wild second installment in the Mirror Empire trilogy that is so chock-full of characters and their (spoiler alert) doubles, that I got a bit confused. There’s a glossary and character list in the back, but dang, this is some GoT stuff. I enjoyed the descent into chaos in this book, and I’m eagerly anticipating the conclusion(?) in the third. Also one of the only books I know that has a character using ze/hir pronouns, but it also unhelpfully talks about sex as different from and perhaps less malleable than gender, so I wouldn’t call this a “dope representation of trans folks,” so much as “well there’s some genderqueerness I guess”.
Adventure Zone: There Be Gerblins
A masterful adaptation of the podcast D&D romp into a graphic novel. I absolutely loved this. I’m not sure if this would be as fun if you hadn’t listened to the podcast, but if you haven’t, get on it… it’s free and it’s delightful.
La Bastarda — Trifonia Melibea Obono *
A lesbian novel from Equatorial Guinea that tells a short story of a woman abandoned by her father, and orphaned by her mother who finds herself falling for another woman. The first half was full of build-up and world-building, but the back half felt like a very rushed piece, as though Trifonia was hoping to get it all out in a final effort. I enjoyed this book, but the bits that were glossed over about Okomo’s journeys, her grandfather’s death, and other scenes could’ve been fleshed-out.
Blackfish City — Sam J. Miller **
This book ruled, and I was super surprised at how much I loved it. Absolutely riveting, and a blast. The individual characters felt very distict, and were easy to follow, and the world felt really interesting.
Infidel — Kameron Hurley
Really loving this series about a tough AF bounty hunter lady named Nyx. The world-building is pretty interesting, and the story moves forward at a pretty good clip. All-told, this is a fun sci-fi action novel.
Paprika — Yasutaka Tsutsui
A fantasticly bizarre story of science, dreams, desire, and the smallness of men. I’d seen the anime adapted from this book years ago, so I had some predisposition towards envisioning characters a certain way, but this book goes to way different places than I remember the movie going. I liked this quite a bit, save for the weird shit with sexual assault. Like many books written by a guy, it shows.
Little Fish — Casey Plett
Outstanding and devastating. This is a book full of people I’ve known, slept with, and smiled at across the room. Family is a tenuous thing, and Little Fish finds space for it throughout. I’m not sure what I would’ve made with this years ago, but now, it’s a sad and good ache. I hope Casey keeps writing, and sharing her work with us for years to come. I read this in one go, and it was a wild ride that had me laughing and crying.
Swearing Off Stars — Danielle Wong *
Started off alright, but quickly telegraphed to an all-to-common “I can’t really be with you until it’s too late” lesbian novel. I also kept thinking an editor had asked her to just add tons of adjectives, willy-nilly. It was an odd read, and the time-jumps didn’t help. If you can write a lesbian romance in 2017, why would you lean so hard on tropes of one woman dying? Super annoying. It was a pretty quick read at least. Read for a lesbian book club.
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach — Kelly Robson **
A cool scifi short novel where the future is barren, but at least there’s time-travel. I wanted more world-building, and probably a couple more books in this story, but that also means I liked this book quite a bit. The back half of the book felt much faster than the lead-up, and much of the action was compacted, but it was a fun adventure. This is a solid addition to the burgeoning eco-scifi genre.
Gold, Fame, Citris — Claire Vaye Watkins
Interesting book about a post-apocolyptic wasteland America and the ideas of survival and family. I enjoyed this.
Space Opera — Catherynne M. Valente **
Uproriously fun, and silly throughout. Take Douglas Adams, add in some queerness, and an obsession with Eurovision. Loved this from start to finish. I devoured the backhalf of this book in one sitting at a cafe in Copenhagen, and found myself crying in the afterword/credits.
Caszandra — Andrea Höst
Ugh, I wanted to enjoy the rest of this story, but this book was so exceedingly dull. I loathe that the main character was setup to not only get married, but have kids at ~19 years old. Fuck that. This series started off well, but ended up being even worse than Twilight. Read the first book, and skip the rest.
Lab Rat One — Andrea Höst
Ok, this series is exceedingly straight, and that’s a bummer. I wish there was a lot less pining after the sad boy, but the magic and tech continues to be interesting. The pacing is a little lax, and I’ve gotten slightly sick of the cycles of “power then injury” that Cass goes through, but I’m going to finish this out.
Stray — Andrea Höst
This was recommended to me by my buddy Nick, and I’d avoided it for unknown reasons. Maybe the cover was too low-budget? But, this book is really fun. I think this series kinda qualifies as YA, but the journal nature, as well as the mystery of scifi tech/magic systems got me deep into the world. A really nice vacation read.
All Systems Red — Martha Wells
Pretty fun book about a “murderbot” who would rather be watching tv dramas than shooting anything. I’m looking forward to the next few books.
Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country — Chavisa Woods **
A truly excellent short-story collection that pairs well with some of the stories in Her Body and Other Stories. This book reminded me of growing up southern baptist in Texas, after September 11th. Really beautiflly written, and quite melancholy.
A Wrinkle in Time — Madeline L’lengle**
This was a re-read, but I loved diving through it again.
The End of My Career — Martha Grover
Hilarious, sad, and real; the End of My Career is a very intimate look at life in Portland as a chronically ill woman with history and a sense of humor. I loved this. I wish it were gayer, but I wish everything were gayer, so. As a more recent Portlander, the pain, and amusement she talks about watching her city change is similar to how I felt about my home of Austin.
Soulless — Gail Corrigan **
Wow, I hated this. I started reading it with a wry grin, but couldn’t ever decide if it meant to be as insipid as it was. I never want to read about how hot a wereman is again. I never want to read about umbrellas, or petticoats.
Acceptance — Jeff Vandermeer
The final book in the Southern Reach trilogy ties everything together, and provides a lot of backstory and history. There’s so much that’s desperately sad in this book, and I love it.
Authority — Jeff Vandermeer
I loved this second book both times I read it, because so much of it is a slow creep of bueracracy and questions. Why isn’t anyone giving Control a straight answer? What’s with Ghost Bird? Ugh, this series is fantastic.
Annihilation — Jeff Vandermeer
This is a re-read, because right after seeing the movie based on this book, I wanted to dive back into Area X. To me, this series still captures all the best parts of Vandermeer’s wierdness in a cohesive way. If Borne was oddly funny, this book is just odd, and City of Saints & Madmen is, perhaps, homicidal. I’m still not sure if there are many hidden things in this book, but I also haven’t looked too deep, bc City of Saints & Madmen sucked me in in a way I found frightenting.
Goodbye, Things — Fumio Sasaki
What an odd book full of short, declarative sentences. Some bits of this were great, but a lot of it was about what you’d expect from a Medium article. The bit about the owl statues was golden.
The Language of Power — Rosemary Kirstein
A great fourth book in a series I’ve really loved. This book furthers the “what the fuck are the wizards, and what’re they doing” plotline. A lot of suspicions from the past few books have led me here. There’s some really neat stuff left to figure out, so I hope that in a few years we’ll have book 5 & 6.
Girls on Fire — Robin Wasserman
Fantastic coming-of-age book. I really loved all the grunge, and surrepitious drinking, and peer-pressure.
Binti: Night Masquerade — Nnedi Okafor
The trilogy comes to an ok conclusion. This wasn’t my favorite Binti (the first one has that handily covered). Additionally, the pacing was wacky. There was a lot of time spent building up to a conflict that doesn’t go very far, then an unsatisfying conclusion. The main character ends up having so much thrown at her with little-to-no consequence, that the whole thing gets to a comic level of ridiculousness.
Null States — Malka Older
A nice sequel to Infomocracy that explored some new characters while still letting Mishma and Ken run around a bit. Much of this book was a build-up that never seemed to deliver, but it feels like the story will come to a head a bit more in the potential next book.
Infomocracy — Malka Older
This techno political thriller ruled. This story created the kind of world I want to dig around in for some time to come, so I’m glad there’s at least one more.
Autonomous — Annalee Newitz **
Drug piracy, copyright, and queerness. I really loved this story, save for the happy ending for the cops.
On Such a Full Sea — Chang-Rae Lee
Really enjoyed this futuristic look at America and the fall of our current system. Lots of discussion of class, immigration, and identity. The narrator was a little distracting, but it was an interesting narrative conceit.
Reacquainted with Life — Kokumo
The Kingdom of Gods — NK Jemison
Slice Harvester — Colin Atrophy Hagendorf
The Inheritance Trilogy — NK Jemison
The Remedy — Zena Sherman
Texts from Jane Eyre — Mallory Ortberg
I didn’t understand half of this, because Mallory & I have divergent tastes, but she gave me a European paperback, so I read it finally after it being sold out in a bunch of places. Love her.
Freedom is a Constant Struggle — Angela Davis **
This was a coven book club book. It was lovely, but also super repetitive, because most of the talks/essays were written/given around the same time, so the themes & topics are the same. Important, but I probably didn’t need to read them all.
The Small Backs of Children — Lydia Yuknavitch
Objects in Mirror are Closer… — Kate Carroll deGates *
Magician King — Lev Grossman
Magician’s Land — Lev Grossman
100 Crushes — Elisha Lim
Wet Moon Vol. 1 — Sophie Campbell
The Mirror Empire: Worldbreaker Saga 1 — Kameron Hurley
Fire — Elizabeth Hand
Home — Nnedi Okafor **
A Conjuring of Light — VE Schwab
Women’s Barracks - Tereska Torres *
Theresa + Isabelle — Violette LeDuc *
For Your Own Good — Leah Horlick
Difficult Women — Roxanne Gay
Exit West — Moisin Hamid **
Another book club book. This was a really neat exploration of immigration, family, and place. I super loved this book.
Sex Object — Jessica Valenti
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet — Becky Chambers **
A Herstory of Transmasculine Identities — Michael Eric Brown
Literally Show Me a Healthy Person — Darcie Wilder
Saga Vol. 7 — Fiona Staples
A Closed and Common Orbit — Becky Chambers
The Border of Paradise — Esme Wang **
I’m in Friend Love with You — Yumi Sakugawa
Borne — Jeff Vandemeer
Where the Words End & My Body Begins — Amber Dawn
Because They Wanted to: Stories — Mary Gaitskill
Pony Castle — Sofia Banzhaf
The Slow Fix — Ivan Coyote
x-23 Collection — Marjorie Liu
APOSIMZ 1-4 — Nihei Tsutomu
Murcielago Vol.1 — Yoshinarakana
Moshi Moshi — Banana Yoshimoto
The Wicked & Divine — Kieron Gillen
The Orange Eats Creeps — Grace Krilanovich
Nine Cuts — Audrey Chin
Monstress Vol.2: The Blood — Marjorie Liu
Murcielago Vol.2 — Yoshinarakana
Motor Crush Vol.1 — Babs Tarr
I’m really stoked on this queer lady motorcycle racing comic. Like, damn. I can’t wait for the next one. The art is fantastic, and the story is a little light, but hints at a lot more. The world seems interesting. Why do the motorcycles get addicted?
The Idiot — Elif Batuman
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness — Kabi Nagata
Hard Boiled & Hard Luck — Banana Yoshimoto
A nice slice-of life, that’s sad in a way that is very refreshing in the summer. These books are about losses, and how to cope and move forward. I’m really enjoying rediscovering Banana Yoshimoto’s writing.
Bittersweet — Nevada Barr *
An easy-enough read, but the story was too “femme danger & butch power” for me. The “love” story takes place between a late-20s/early-30s woman and a teenager (gross), and at a certain point they basically agree that if a man tries to marry Sarah, she’ll just go along — bc obviously femme women are just waiting for a man, and butches have to fight those men off bc we have no agency. I dunno. This author is also, AFAIK straight… which is doubly strange. Weird shit happens in this, and maybe it’s worth reading if you’re super into the 19th century “west,” but the adult on teen predatory love and the bullshit masc > femme stuff is really not my bag.
Zodiac Starforce: By the Power of Astra — Kevin Panetta
Cute sailor-moon-style girl team of fighters. Really enjoyed how this was drawn, and the queerness of a few of the characters. If you need something lighthearted, it’s worth a read.
Generation Loss — Elizabeth Hand
I’d only read Fire, a short story collection by Hand, before and wasn’t sure what to expect. It was exciting expecting this to be odd literary fiction, then discovering it’s a moody mystery. Definitely fun, and odd, and great.
Witches, Sluts, Feminists — Kristen J. Sollee **
This was a decent non-fiction exploration of witches & to a degree, sluts & feminists through the ages. It focuses primarily on the Americas, and despite my usual disinterest in non-fiction this was fun and informative enough to carry me through on a camping trip during the eclipse. Time to find some DMT for my flying broom.
God’s War — Kameron Hurley **
Queer bounty hunters, devout magicians, and so much sand intermingled in this fun ride through a Islam-based religion colonized planet where organs are bought and sold, and a war between two countries rages on pointlessly. I wanted to stay in this world for longer, as new wrinkles kept being added. Luckily, there’s a sequel.
The Stone Sky — NK Jemison
Wow, this was a fantastic ending to a delightful trilogy. Loved this story of family, world-rending powers, and ecology. Seriously one of the best things I’ve read in years, in fantasy or literature.
The Merry Spinster — Mallory Ortberg
Notes from a Crocodile — Qiu Miaojin **
This book was such a lovely combination of melancholy feelings, and slightly obsessive lesbian love. I loved all of the Abe references.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe — Fannie Flagg *
This was very much like a long conversation with an old woman in the south, like say, a grandma. I had a great time reading this, but there was a long, slow burn until I was crying, from my intitial “meh, this is ok.”
Paper Girls: Vol. 3 — Brian K Vaughn
I still have no idea where this is going, but so far it’s still a fun ride.
Bitch Planet: Vol. 2 — Kelly Sue DeConnick
Trans women were paid to consult on this volume, and it shows. I’m super curious to see where the women on thr prison planet wind up. The art in this isn’t my favorite, but it seems well-written at least.
Ink & Bone — Rachel Caine
This is the first in a series I’ll probably read the rest of. It was a cute and occasionally brutal story about the flow of information, and what might have occurred if the library of Alexandria had become a world-controlling organization. There’s a YA/Harry Potter vibe to the whole thing.
Ash — Malinda Lo *
Retelling and retooling the Cinderalla tale into a lesbian romance, Ash is a pretty fun read. I blazed through this quickly, and am curious to read more from Lo. Compared to most books we read for Lesbian Book Club, this was a very light, but we-written book, and that’s a nice respite. I’m always here for books where the protagonist falls in love with a huntress.
The Witch’s Daughter — Paula Brackston ***
A fun tale told in the present and past of a witch on the run, and her new apprentice. This book drew me in and kept me awake late so I could find out what happened next. I’m excited to read the second one. A definite improvement over the first book for this club, which I quit part-way through.
The Witches of New York — Ami McKay **
This book was great. I read a lot of witch books this month, but this was by far my favorite. It captured the New York or yore well, and delightfully set up for a few more stories about these women and their tea and sympathy shop. The magic in this book was better fleshed-out than The Witch’s Daughter, and I enjoyed the church being the enemy, though demons vs. witches was an odd choice.
The Little Book of Hygge — Meik Wiking
Broke my rule about reading white guys to read this random book about Hygge. TBH I thought the author was a woman for most of the book. Oh well. This is a book all about candles, coziness, and of course, hygge. Turn the lights down low, light some tallow, and drink some gløgg this winter to make even a Copenhagen/Portland winter happy. I was happy to find that I’m already living a hella hygge life, but got some further tips on hyggeligt.
Rose of No Man’s Land — Michelle Tea
This is a lesser-known Tea book, but also one of her few true fiction books. This was kinda cute, and definitely an intense slice of life of a young maybe lesbian near Boston, complete with mall life, and scoring drugs and alcohol. It’s a short book, but I really liked it.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit — Jeaneatte Winterson
This was a re-read, but dang. I’m excited to read the more real-life version of her story Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal soon. Growing up in a religious home, albeit a fortunately less zealous one as a queer woman this book meant a lot.
Her Body and Other Parties — Carmen Maria Machado
Wow. This short-story collection knocked me back with the depth and power of its often odd stories. The midsection of the book satirically and diabolically explores a popular network crime drama, and reading it I immediately went from “what the hell?” to “omg I love this”. I am thrumming with anticipation of more work from Machado. This is probably the best thing I’ve read this year.
Are You My Mother? — Alison Bechdel
A messy tangle of a book and metabook about a mother and therapy. I liked this, but it’s coming from such a strange distant place I wasn’t able to immediately connect to it in the way I did with Fun Home. I’m going to keep thinking about this one.
Basic Witches — Jaya Saxena & Jess Zimmerman **
A series of spells, and a lot of nice discussion of how to care for oneself with witchcraft, presence of mind, and good friends. I liked this a lot, but it was fairly, well, basic. This would be a great introduction to give to a younger person.
Caraval — Stephanie Garber
Some light-hearted YA to close out the year. This was a well-told, if sometimes upsetting story. A lot of this had me wondering: straight people, are you ok?
The Broken Kingdom — NK Jemison
The Laugh of the Medusa — Helene Cixous
Fun Home — Allison Bechdel
Under the Udala Trees — Chinelo Okaparanta
Fair Play — Tove Jansson
Binti — Nnedi Okafor
The Language of Power — Rosemary Kirstein
Fantasian — Larissa Pham
The Dispossessed — Ursula K Le Guin
When the Sick Rule the World — Dodie Bellamy
Year of the Monsoon — Caren J. Werlinger
The Internet of Garbage — Sarah Jeong
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms — NK Jemison
The Lost Steerswoman — Rosemary Kirstein
Women — Chloe Caldwell
Glamourpuss — Cat Fitzpatrick
The Obelisk Gate — NK Jemison
The Fifth Season — NK Jemison
How to Become a Really Not Famous Trans Lady Writer — Torrey Peters
Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones — Torrey Peters
The Outskirter’s Secret — Rosemary Kirstein
Moral Disorder and Other Stories — Margaret Atwood
In Between — Jane Hoppen
The Steerswoman — Rosemary Kirstein
Love Ruins Everything — Karen X. Tulchinsky
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet — Becky Chambers
The Stone Angel — Margaret Laurence
Dora: A Headcase — Lidia Yuknavitch
Black Wave — Michelle Tea
Expecting Something Else — AM O’Malley
By Blood — Ellen Ullman
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit — Jeanette Winterson
Uprooted — Naomi Novik
The Strange Library — Haruki Murakami
The Masker — Torrey Peters
A Gathering of Shadows — VE Schwab
Escapades — MJ Williamz
Lagoon — Nnedi Okafor
Spark Joy — Marie Kondo
Synners — Pat Cadigan
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team — Patrick Lencioni
Desert of the Heart — Jane Rule
Magic for Beginners — Kelly Link
Broken Monsters — Lauren Beuke
Juliet Takes a Breath — Gabby Rivera
Men Explain Things to Me — Rebecca Solnit
Eileen — Otessa Moshfegh
Friendship — Emily Gould
Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe — Yumi Sakugawa
All the Birds in the Sky — Charlie Jane Anders
Feast of Souls — CF Friedman
The Lathe of Heaven — Ursula K Le Guin
The Blue Place — Nicola Griffith
Slouching Towards Bethlehem — Joan Didion
Ancillary Mercy — Ann Leckie
Chelsea Girls — Eileen Myles
The New Fuck You — Various Authors (edited by Eileen Miles)
Pussy, King of the Pirates — Kathy Acker
* Lesbian Book Club
** Ghost Book Club
*** Sci-fi/Fantasy Book Club