It’s tricky when it comes time to making Best of the Year lists. First, there are all the buzzy books to consider and the question of whether you’re going to end up writing the same list as everyone else. Then there’s the issue of variety — should it be five fantasy novels and five science fiction ones to be fair and even? So we ended up cheating.
Silvia: I like mosaic novels so it’s no wonder I thought “Automatic Eve” by Rokuro Inui was cool, but it also had a Phillip K. Dick meets steampunk Japan vibe that is hard to miss. The other science fiction novel I recommend is Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s “We Cast a Shadow,” in which a black lawyer wants his son to undergo an expensive procedure that will render him white. It’s a near-future, socially charged and pretty impressive debut.
Lavie: I’ve mostly been reading short fiction, so I’ll just mention three writers who recently caught my eye. New to me is Botswana writer Tlotlo Tsamaase, who has been quietly publishing some very good genre fiction in a variety of places. I’d love to see if she has a novel in the works. And Nigerian writer Chinelo Onwualu has really stepped up this year: She has a story in Slate, “What The Dead Man Said,” which is quietly devastating SF. I also got a glimpse of an Icelandic fantasy novel by Emil Hjörvar Petersen, “Crimson Hills,” which is billed as Nordic noir meets weird fantasy, and it seems a lot of fun. I’m hoping we get to see a full English translation of it.
But I know we’re supposed to talk about this year’s novels, so I’ll cheat and pick some books I haven’t read but caught my eye. One is “The Hanging Artist” by Jon Steinhagen, in which instead of dying of tuberculosis, Franz Kafka becomes a hardboiled private investigator and teams up with a giant insect to solve a string of murders in Vienna. I mean, who can resist that? I think you’ve read it, though - what did you think?
Silvia: If we’re going to start cheating I’ll veer from novels and mention a short story collection, “Flowers of Mold and Other Stories” by Korean author Ha-Seong Nan. I would recommend it to people who like the work of Shirley Jackson. It has that sense of the mundane becoming macabre or strange.
I thought “The Hanging Artist” was a terrific little mystery book and was sad to realize it didn’t get much attention. What other books intrigue you?
Lavie: I love Shirley Jackson, so I’m going to have to put “Flowers of Mold” on my list! Other books on my to-read list include Karen Lord’s “Unraveling.” It’s another murder mystery, set in a sort of fantasy world with Caribbean mythology and, well, I’m just a sucker for mysteries. And speaking of suckers, “The Outside” is the debut novel by Ada Hoffman and it certainly features some great space tentacles on the cover! It’s proper space opera but with some Lovecraftian vibes, and it looks like a lot of fun. And staying with science fiction, no one does it quite like Rudy Rucker, and his latest, “Million Mile Road Trip,” seems suitably trippy. Expect gonzo adventure and cutting-edge mathematical ideas, plus a literal million-mile road trip.
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I also have “The Haunting of Tram Car 015” P. Djeli Clark on my e-reader right now. It’s a historical fantasy set in Cairo, with magic and technology mixed in, plus a mystery story. Then there’s “Famous Men Who Never Lived” by K Chess, which just feels incredibly intriguing, about refugees from a parallel world trying to adjust to life in modern day New York City. So those are my picks! How about you?
Silvia: “Unraveling” was great fun, I had that on my list of things to mention here but you got to it first. It’s a stand-alone — I love stand-alones. Another book I enjoyed was “The Night Tiger” by Yangsze Choo. I’m a fan of historical novels and when they combine with a fantastical element, I’m doubly-enraptured. In this case, it’s 1930s Malaysia and the author delights in weaving weretigers, a lost finger and dance halls together into a dreamy whole. It’s a lovely balance of the supernatural and the real.
This year seemed to be a big one for time travel - we had “This is How You Lose the Time War,” by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone and “Here Now and Then,” by Mike Chen, among others - so I guess I’ll end by mentioning a (kind of) time-travel book: “The Heavens” by Sandra Newman jumps between Elizabethan England and modern New York. If you liked stuff like “Orlando” and you’re feeling lit (pinkies up, you’re so fancy), you should enjoy this. So that’s it! I think we didn’t stick to five and five, but we’re both natural cheating, lying scoundrels.