This month I reached out to many of our previous Mind Melders to chat about the books they always find themselves thrusting upon their fellow readers.
Tell us about a book that was particularly amazing, possibly one that flew under everyone’s radar, that you always find yourself recommending to people.
These are the books you constantly bring up in conversations. You always have at least one copy on your shelves, and you’re constantly gifting copies to friends and family. What about this book sparked a passion and dedication in you?
Django Wexler is the author of the military fantasy series The Shadow Campaigns and the middle-grade fantasy series The Forbidden Library. You can find him on Twitter at @DjangoWexler or at http://www.djangowexler.com.
The book that unexpectedly blew me away this year was Josiah Bancroft’s Senlin Ascends and its sequel The Arm of the Sphinx. These are self-published books that had a fairly low profile until Mark Lawrence read them as part of his Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, and started telling everyone in sight about them – he convinced me to pick up a copy, and man was that not a mistake!
First and foremost, Senlin Ascends is just great writing, in a wonderfully dry style that blends something like the magical realism of Borges or Gogol with a more “traditional” epic fantasy adventure. It’s a relatively simple story about a man who loses his wife and has to climb the Tower of Babel looking for her, but the excellent characters and creative world design make it a joy to read. I’m eagerly awaiting the third installment.
Usman Malik is a Pakistani writer of strange stories. His work has won the Bram Stoker and British Fantasy awards and been a finalist of the Nebula and World Fantasy awards. He lives in two worlds, but you can find him on twitter @usmantm.
It is a travesty that Naiyer Masud’s work is so under read in the western world. Inspired by Kafka, reminiscent of a subcontinental Kelly Link with shades of Ligotti’s paranoid worldview, Masud’s stories range from uneasy melancholy to the drastically uncanny. He is the best contemporary post-partition Urdu writer and his work is devastating in its precision, clarity, and strangeness.
Yoon Ha Lee
First of three books about a brilliant lady playing the political game to win. When she can’t win? She makes up her own rules. This sweeping epic set in an alternate Japanese culture is full of honor, nobility, and fraught love affairs. I find myself recommending it for the perfection of it’s world building and details of character. It contains everything you could possibly want from epic fantasy without all the things that always annoy me as a female reader about the tropes in this sub genre.
As I pour through my reading list for the last three years, I encounter numerous books I have loved fiercely and cradled into my heart, but there’s one I’ve championed with frequency and that book is Lisa L. Hannett’s A Lament for the Afterlife. It’s one of the most poignant and nuanced depictions of war as it examines the psychological wounds alongside the corporeal ones. The reader is trapped in prose that’s so beautiful it hurts and can’t make out the factual truth of the story. Gorgeous, haunting and unflinching, Hannett comes closest to depicting the fracture in reality after shell shock.
Cassandra Rose Clarke
Cassandra Rose Clarke writes speculative fiction for teenagers and adults. Her work has been nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award, the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award, and YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults, and her latest book is Our Lady of the Ice, out now from Saga Press. Find all her online hangouts at www.cassandraroseclarke.com.
I first read Aura, by Carlos Fuentes, in college at a professor’s suggestion. Technically it’s a novella (my copy is 145 pages and that’s the bilingual edition), but it’s one of those books that had a huge impact on me when I was a baby writer. It’s a horror story, a love story, a story about beauty—and the writing is absolutely gorgeous throughout. It’s also one of the first books I ever read that utilizes second person present tense, my very favorite point of view.
Lee Kelly is the author of City of Savages and A Criminal Magic. An entertainment lawyer by trade, Lee has practiced law in Los Angeles and New York. She currently lives with her husband and two children in Millburn, New Jersey.
The book that I’ve found myself pushing on family, recommending to friends and repeatedly mentioning at conferences this year is Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway. This book is everything: it managed to make me laugh, make me cry and make me believe all in 173 pages. Get yourself a copy, if you haven’t already — it’s phenomenal.
Gareth L. Powell’s alt-history thriller, Ack-Ack Macaque, won the 2013 BSFA Award, and was shortlisted for the 2016 Seiun Awards in Japan. His new trilogy, Embers of War, will be published by Titan Books in 2018.
When I first came across Generation X by Douglas Coupland in the early 1990s, it spoke powerfully to me about what it was to be twenty years old at that time: the sense that all the good musicians were dead, all the good jobs were taken, and all we really had to look forward to was nuclear war. I strongly identified with the main characters. They had all abandoned their “careers” and rejected a consumerist culture they couldn’t possibly afford, in order to move to the desert and search for some meaning and clarity in their lives. I re-read the book about once every two or three years, and it feels like having a conversation with my younger self.
K. C. Alexander is the author of Necrotech, an aggressive transhumanist sci-fi, and is a co-author of Mass Effect: Nexus Uprising. Specialties include imperfect characters, reckless profanity, and an inclination to defy expectations.
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley is often caught in The Hero and the Crown‘s shadow, but it deserves its own mention. Hari’s story, that of a stranger in her own land, mirrored my overwhelming sense of loneliness. It taught me to look beyond the blinders I was raised with, that it was okay to feel out of place in the culture I was born into. Anyone can be a warrior. The Blue Sword is my gifted reminder that those of us who feel trapped in biases we didn’t choose can learn so much more by traveling beyond our walls.
An expat New Yorker unexpectedly finding himself in Minnesota for the last 13 years, reader, writer, podcaster and photographer Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 35 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 30 years. Besides his chatty presence on Twitter (@Princejvstin) Paul can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, Skiffy and Fanty, and many other places online (including here at the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog).
There were a number of books that resonated with me after I read them in 2016. 2016 was replete with followup novels, new discoveries, and dips into new territories for favorite writers. And given my propensity to talk about the books I read, choosing just one is difficult. I ultimately am going to here choose a book that in this somewhat dark season is high on entertainment value, has the advantage of not being a followup novel, and requires no other background or previous books to read. I choose a book that any and all readers can and should pick up and read, today: Michael J Martinez’ MJ-12 Inception.
Martinez’ novel answers the burning question of what you would get if you decided to fuse the X-men with James Bond in early Cold War mode and put it into a novel. With a broad spectrum of characters of all sorts, secrets, lies, betrayals, and excellent and entertaining action pieces, all of the technical development I’ve seen the writer undergo in the Daedalus series really shines off here in a novel that engaged me as a reader and never let go. Martinez carefully, without falling into the perils of didacticism, critiques the sexism and racism of the 1940’s era that the novel is set. Quite to the point, Martinez’s 1940’s feels painfully real, and in this day and age where we still struggle with those questions, feels immersively relevant. And it is the first of a series. I look forward to where the characters and his world go from here. Get in on the ground floor yourself and read it.
Alasdair Stuart is the owner of Escape Artists, the podcast company behind the Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Podcastle and Cast of Wonders short fiction shows. He’s also a tabletop RPG designer, writes for tor.com and MCM Buzz and is totally stoked about getting the Momofuku Milk Bar Corn Cookie recipe right this Christmas. Find him online at @AlasdairStuart.
Alex Bledsoe’s latest novel, Chapel of Ease, is available now. You can find him on Twitter (@AlexBledsoe) and Facebook (Author Alex Bledsoe).
I stumbled across mention of William Sloane’s 1937 novel To Walk the Night on the paranormal/UFO/cryptozoological website Mysterious Universe.* Sloane was an editor, playwright and occasional novelist who (much like another favorite, Henry Kuttner) popped up, did some amazing genre work, and then somehow faded from literary view.
To Walk the Night reads like a British thriller, although Sloane was American and it’s set here. The reserve, the characters’ loyalty, and the upper-crust setting do seem more Anglo than Yank. And when the story moves to the desert southwest, I was most reminded of the sudden locational gear-shift in the first Sherlock Holmes story, “A Study in Scarlet”.
But the author Sloane most resembles in this novel is also American: H.P. Lovecraft. He touches on that same sense of cosmic horror, the idea that there are things man not only shouldn’t know, but that would destroy him if he did. There’s one specific Lovecraft story that this resembles in concept (and I don’t want to say which one, because I don’t want to spoil the novel’s slow-burn reveal), but the execution is completely different.
And that difference is in the characters. No one reads Lovecraft for his compelling characterization, but that’s what Sloane brings to the table. His story is about friendship tested by the advent of maturity, in the form of a woman who may or may not be a femme fatale. Our POV character is one of the friends, who sees his brotherly relationship broken up by his friend’s romance with said mysterious woman. There’s also an unsolved death in the first few pages that hangs over the rest of the book, coloring everything that happens.
The high-society setting can be a little off-putting, but it was a common trope then (see Dashiell Hammett’s 1934 novel The Thin Man for a great comedic riff on this). And freeing the characters from the drudgery of the world (jobs are mentioned but never shown) allows Sloane to concentrate on his story and atmosphere, which he does with great success.
To Walk the Night has been recently reissued as part of a two-novel omnibus (along with The Edge of Running Water, which I’m still reading) by the New York Review of Books, with a new introduction by Stephen King. But as King himself recommends, don’t read his intro first; just dive into To Walk the Night. It’s a tight, haunting little novel that will stick with you long after you’ve read it.
*I feel the need to add that I’m a total skeptic on these things, but nonetheless find them fascinating (and they make great story prompts, too).
What book do you love enough to share with the world?