novin_ha: Buffy: gotta be a sacrifice ([angel] joyful mysteries)
[personal profile] novin_ha
So this started with Renay's post of essential sff reads. Her list was sixty items long.

Mine is about half that. It only contains books I've read. I decided to limit myself to one entry per author, but to give alternative titles for most of the authors (because I always find it so arbitrary when comparing booklists and finding that one book by someone that I *didn't* read). In cases of book series, I always list the first volume (except if the series is made up of loosely connected stand-alones). In choosing the titles and authors, I was guided by my personal affection more than by buzz or critical consensus. In cases of magic realist fiction, I sometimes decided in favour and sometimes against including a title (so some of my favorite genre-adjascent authors and titles may not be here). The list is alphabetical. There's no urban fantasy / supernatural romance here, which I think tells me which genres I've been avoiding... My write-ups are personal rather than informative, because I assume the book descriptions are easy to find.

I will probably re-post this to my book blog later for easier linking.

1. Margaret Atwood,  MaddAddam (v. 3) / The Handmaid's Tale
Oddly enough, I am not terribly fond of Atwood's first Maddaddam novel, Oryx and Crake, but The Year of the Flood worked for me, despite the coincidences and strangeness, and then the third volume in the trilogy really sang. A post-biological disaster dystopia that re-thinks the human/animal boundary and that finds joy in the ruins of humanity. (I know The Handmaid's Tale is the more obvious pick, but I couldn't quite connect with it at the time of reading; it's possible I would appreciate it more now, or if I read it in the original rather than in translation).

2. Sarah Rees Brennan, The Turn of the Story / Unspoken
I was a fan of Brennan's sense of humour laced with heartbreak since her fandom days, but her initial novels disappointed me. The same cannot be said for either her larger publishing success, Lynburn Legacy, or my personal favourite - amazing The Turn of the Story. It is an unrecognised masterpiece - a funny, adorable, poignant and completely unrestrained showcase of Brennan's talents, (and it's available online for free). The main plot - a teen leaves regular non-magical world to train his magic powers he never knew he possessed - may seem unremarkable, but the twists Brennan does, the representation and the humour - to me, are complete stand-outs. (Unspoken is awesome too. I didn't care for her latest :()

3. Octavia Butler, Kindred / Bloodchild and Other Stories
Not sure Butler needs any introduction. I liked her short stories best (they made the strongest impression) but Kindred is, in a way, a class of its own. A must-read for the genre.

4. Jacqueline Carey, Kushiel's Arrow

There are some definite problems with Carey's novels, but the plottiness and the fun of her world make up for it to me. A woman-centric (and much tighter) epic that I could see as an (NC-17-rated) HBO Showtime or FX show, but in a good way (the good parts of Game of Thrones combined with the good parts of Outlander + lots and lots of BDSM = surely ratings gold, right?). The romance isn't bad (especially since it's completely non-traditional), but the relationship between the protagonist and the antagonist/villain is the multifaceted, strange and compelling axis of the series.

5. Angela Carter, Black Venus / The Bloody Chamber
I feel like these collections by Carter should definitely count as genre. Some of my favourite reading during my studies. Fairy tale retellings with feminist and clever twists, and a wicked sense of humour.

6. Zen Cho, Sorcerer to the Crown
I didn't put Jonathan Strange on the list. Perhaps I should have; it's a definite classic and an influential novel, but I really don't remember it well enough to judge. But Cho's novel, while having definite ties to the former, is its own thing. Funny, romantic and unpretentious, this re-imagination of Regency London gives us an amazingly competent an unruffled heroine and an adorably ruffled but competent hero. I can't wait for the sequel.

7. Susan Cooper, The Grey King / Darkness Is Rising

I read them as a child, borrowed from library. Oddly enough, these were the only two volumes that ended up translated into Polish, resulting in my utter frustration with the publisher for depriving me of the full experience (that was before I could speak English and before the Internet). The series of books is uneven, but the atmosphere they evoke is utterly memorable. And the sense of place!

8. Kate Elliott, Cold Magic / King's Dragon
There's little I can say about Cold Magic that I haven't already said five times (and that hasn't been said by others more eloquently). One of my favourite fantasy series ever, balancing its elements perfectly. (I remain in debt to the original recommendation from Mely!)
Alternatively, you can read any other series by Elliott, but Spiritwalker is my favourite ;)

9. Robin Hobb, The Assassin's Apprentice
It was a powerful book for me as a teen. I read the whole trilogy one summer on holiday with my mother and siblings, the book making the rounds between family members.
VAGUE AND POSSIBLY MISREMEMBERED SPOILERS:


I developed intense feelings for the love between Fitz (that homophobic asshole) and Fool (<3), whom I believed to be a woman. When Fool was revealed to be male, I shipped slash for the first time in my young life (I thought Fitz was an idiot not to recognise their pure and true love as what it was, and I thought true love, in fiction, should transcend the minor obstacle of gender. All of that while still being devoutly and mainstream Roman Catholic. But you know, they were in a fantasy world, so it was okay!) And then years later I read somewhere how Hobb thought ff about Fitz/Fool was awful and not true to the spirit or some such (I distinctly remember her using Fitz/Fool as an argument why FF is bad!) and I felt heartbroken and didn't get round to latest sequels.

10. Nalo Hopkinson, Skin Folk / Sister Mine
For me, Hopkinson is a bit of a hit and miss: some books I really got into, others not so much. The collection of short stories Skin Folk was my introduction to her writing (iirc) and the short form worked for me really well, showcasing the imaginativity and powerful writing. But if a novel is more your thing, Sister Mine does some great plotting and storytelling.

11. N.K.Jemisin, The Fifth Season / A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

The latest from Jemisi n feels like such a sprawling achievement and a genuine tour de force. There's vision and clarity and epicness that really impressed me. My only qualms concerned the terribly depressing portrayal of coercive and painful relationships that felt a bit on the side of tragic gayness (confession: I really don't like Jemisin's triads).

12. Mercedes Lackey, Arrows of the Queen / By the Sword

Back when I was a sheltered and terribly uptight teen, I read Lackey's portrayal of free-loving horse-bonded magic girls (and boys) who sometimes had orgies because their horses were horny. Also there was lots of hurt/comfort and gayness (although I never got round to the books about the gay Heralds because I thought the plot sounded like there would be no HEA and I didn't want that). If this wasn't influential on readers and other writers (and on fandom generally), I'll eat my hat.

13. Margo Lanagan, Brides of Rollrock Island / Black Juice
Brides are the best and most compelling selkie story I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Depressing, seriously considering the ramifications of the lack of consent on both the people asking for perfect seal spouses and the children of such unions, Brides is Lanagan at her very best. (The sheer perfection of this novel makes me dislike her Westerfeld & Biancotti collaboration even more, for not being this.)
But her short stories are also great.

14. Justine Larbalestier, Liar / Team Human (with Sarah Rees Brennan)
It was difficult choosing the ultimate Larbalestier, but I guess in some ways Liar is representative of what I love about her writing: compulsive readability combined with a sense of humour that can be a bit dark, and with attention to disturbing detail.
And Team Human is an underrated gem of comic/poignant writing.

15. Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice
Ann Leckie's amazing space opera is going to be on everyone's list, and I have already written about it in many places, so let me just say, it's as good as the hype, and I can't wait to see what she writes next.

16. Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea / The Left Hand of Darkness

I read these two novels of Le Guin's such a long time ago that I feel like I ought to re-read them at some point. They're on everyone's list too, so let me just say reading The Left Hand while sick and excused from school gave me a new appreciation of my father's taste in books (I don't know if he had actually read it, but in the late 1980s/early 1990s he bought and sold books to make ends meet, but kept some he thought worth keeping. This was one of them - the first Polish edition from 1988!).

17. Astrid Lindgren, Ronia, the Robber's Daughter / The Brothers Lionheart
Let's have something non-English on the list, shall we :) Lindgren is perhaps best known for Pippi (whom I didn't quite love) and the terribly beautiful, haunting and depressing Lionhearts, but there's no book in existence that I've read as many times as Ronja / Ronia. Telling the story of the daughter of a robber chief, independent and self-sufficient Ronia and her friendship with the son of rival robber clan, Dirk (culminating in the two of them escaping respective homes in protest of the violent confrontations between their fathers), the book is a masterpiece (with amazing and haunting original illustrations). The world Lindgren created stayed with me from childhood until today. If there's one writer who made me want to write myself, it was Lindgren.

18. Kelly Link, Pretty Monsters / Magic for Beginners
I love good short stories and Kelly Link is imaginative, creative and original. Highly recommended, but everyone probably already knows it.

19. Naomi Novik, Uprooted / His Majesty's Dragon

The Temeraire series had its weaker moments, but ultimately delivered an amazing and well thought-out (not to mention joyful) ending. Still, Uprooted may be an easier introduction to Novik's writing (it was for me) with its fairy-tale retelling occurring in a fictional version of Poland and doing some great work with the concept of Baba Yaga.

20. Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death / Lagoon
I don't always feel like Okorafor's style connects with me (see also Book of Phoenix), but Who Fears Death and Lagoon are both compelling, immersive and strikingly original (although I have an intuition that you could compare some of her writing to Atwood's sff output, at least in some ways; I can't really put my finger on it, but there's something about them that feels familiar).

21. Helen Oyeyemi, Mr. Fox / White Is For Witching
I don't really know how to describe Mr Fox - it's an intensely metafictional novel about the relationship between writer and subject that pokes fun at the tropes I hate (all the dead women) while doing some heavy lifting about mythology, fairy tale, rape culture and feminism. And it stays really readable throughout. Recommended reading after Carter!

22. Terry Pratchett, Night Watch / Lords and Ladies
For my token male writer, I had no choice but to nominate Pratchett. There's no other male writer whose deeply humanist reflections reverberate with me to the same extent.

23. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Not sure it even requires an explanation. I was born at the right time to be swept in the Pottermania and it's the book I learnt English on. Rowling's work may not be flawless, but it has been hugely influential and I loved it to bits. To BITS.

24. Noelle Stevenson, Nimona / Lumberjanes

I really love Stevenson's drawing and writing. Amusing and clever and inclusive, these graphic novels / comics are simply great.

25. Dorota Terakowska, Córka czarownic / W krainie kota [The daughter of witches / In the land of the cat]
The Daughter of witches tells the story of a young girl, the descendant of the royal family, raised by five witches teaching her everything they know so that one day she can rise up and free her motherland from foreign oppression. It was hugely successful (and won some international awards) and was translated into several languages, but English was not one of them. A huge pity, in my opinion :( Terakowska had her better and worse moments (her magic realist story about Down Syndrome child was AWFUL) but I loved these two as a child.

26. Olga Tokarczuk, Anna In w grobowcach świata [Anna In in the tombs of the world]
Remember when Canongate had this amazing idea to do a series of (50?) retellings of myths, authored by writers from around the world, and translated into the languages of all participating countries, and it was supposed to be a huge thing, and newspapers wrote about it? I was over the moon about this idea and followed the project religiously. I read a lot of the books (though I couldn't get my hands on several of them) and Tokarczuk's book was my favourite of them all. A retelling of Sumerian Inanna that combined mythology and metaphor, the novel was good and its ending was breath-taking. Guess what, the project seems to have been abandoned (no new publications since 2013, if Wikipedia is to be trusted) and Tokarczuk is the only author that didn't get translated into English. (The good news is, some of her other,  magic realist and non-sff books have been translated and are available to English-language readers: see here for an example of a review.)

27. Tatyana Tolstaya, The Slynx [Kyś]
This post-apocalyptic novel by the descendant of Leo Tolstoy about inhabitants of post-nuclear remnants of Moscow made a big impression on me when I read it in high school. Bleak and yet funny, intertextual and preoccupied with memory and forgetting.

28. Jo Walton, My Real Children / Among Others
I've now read some other books by Walton, and truth be told, I liked her award-winning Among Others less than others, but My Real Children is so affecting and so beautiful. Walton writing chops shine through, and the way she talks about importance of living one's life with purpose and love is utterly convincing. And I've already pushed my copy on a few friends and they all confirmed my assessment, so it's not just me. My Real Children is such a must-read <3

29.  Elizabeth Wein, The Winter Prince

Another recommendation I owe to Mely and my favourite retelling of Arthurian tales; the whole five-volume series is well-worth reading, but this first volume functions well as a stand-alone. It's emotional, affecting and poignant, and of course dark (like one may expect from the author of Code Name Verity).

30. Connie Willis, Doomsday Book
This is the only time I feel like I'm cheating a little, because I don't remember it that well. Another book I read in high school; what I remember best is that I loved the sense of humour (there was a bit of 'translated gospel' I quoted for months after reading) and the setting, but the length felt... excessive and overwhelming and just really unnecessary. Still, I decided to include it here because even if I don't remember this novel well enough, I do remember "Even the Queen" very well (I read it twice, once as a teen and once during my studies for a seminar on sf), and it's enough to convince me that I need to read more from Willis at some point (soon).


(Bonus old-school reads:

Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca / The Birds and Other Stories

Edith Nesbit, The House of Arden / Five Children and It

Mary Wollstonecraft-Shelley, Frankenstein)

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