Like many left-brained nerdy types, there’d been a point in my reading life where I stopped with fiction, as I felt it a waste of time when there was so much out there for me to learn. Also, it felt like fiction was dominated by sad modernity novels, a genre I have absolutely no interest in. As I age, I’ve grown to appreciate the reflective qualities of good fiction, and a willingness to engage in genre stories, which don’t tend to have the weary solipsism of so much contemporary writing.
In the order I read them:
The Anomaly, Herve Le Tellier
Published in France in 2020, translated and published in English in 2021, The Anomaly is a mind-bendy and twisty tale of how the world reacts to… an unexpected event.
This is one of those “the less you know before you read it, the better” books. If you dig mysteries, light genre affectations, existential musings, all in a plot-driven page-turner, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something better.
A Prayer For the Crown-Shy, Becky Chambers
I’m a fan of Chambers’ Wayfarer series (in particular the second, A Closed and Common Orbit), and have enjoyed the first two Monk + Robot books, of which A Prayer for the Crown-Shy is the second. These brief books (more novellas than novels) are gentle explorations of the human condition, centered on a tea-serving monk, and the intelligent, self-aware robot who becomes his companion.
It’s nice to read books that aren’t centered on conflict, but instead use wonder, philosophy, and good-heartedness to keep the reader engaged.
Children of Time, Adrian Tchaikovsky
Published in 2015, Children of Time came to my attention this year when I put out a call for “meaty genre stuff” to read (thanks, Mike!).
And boy, does it deliver. Another book (man, I hope I don’t keep saying this) where the less you know going in the better, because I found that my initial surprise that the story went there, and then kept building on that far beyond where I thought it could go, was essential to the joy of reading.
Don’t let the length (600 pages!) deter you. It moves quickly, and once you get going, you won’t want to put it down.
I also read the follow-up, Children of Ruin, which wasn’t as compelling for me. And only recently found out that the third book, Children of Memory, has been published in the UK, and comes to the US in 2023. So, if you’re the type who likes series… there’s a lot to look forward to!
Trust, Hernan Diaz
I think I came across Trust thanks to my connections on Goodreads [A miserably designed service that, sadly, is still the best of its kind. Damn we need a “Letterboxd” for books. Anyway, follow me on Goodreads.], and enjoyed this puzzle-box of a book, telling the same story from a number of different perspectives (a little Rashomon-like). It also hits on the recurring contemporary theme of how the very wealthy aren’t really that much smarter than the rest of us.
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, Gabrielle Zevin
If any novel caught the zeitgeist of my tribe (highly online GenXers and Xennials) it was Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. This is as close to “literary fiction” as I’m sharing in this list. A coming-of-age roman a clef about Sam and Sadie, who meet as children, bond over video games, reconnect in college, and collaborate in producing a video game that is both critically and commercially successful.
While it falls into some increasingly tired contemporary tropes (trauma plot; shooting), the author clearly loves her characters and rewards them with a rich story with thematic depth.
The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Stuart Turton
Perhaps the most aggressively genre book in this list, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle come through my social media feed right when I needed a new book, and, as it’s been out for a few years now, was readily available by ebook from my local library. (All of the books I’ve listed I got through the library. I love the library with every fiber of my being.)
This is a time-bendy murder mystery, though the point isn’t to try to ‘solve’ it, but just to enjoy the twists, reveals, and other surprises along the journey.