Spring might not be the right word, given this post was written in the midst of a snow storm, but the season isn’t important. The books are the important bit. Typically I do a year-end wrap-up of books each December. I’ll still do that, but this year, I figured why wait? I want to babble about the books I love now. Wonder of wonders, several of the books I’ve loved this year are even published in 2015. If I gush about them now, there’s even more time for other people to read them before a new year ticks over and there’s a whole fresh crop of books to fall behind on.
First up, Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear. I’d been looking forward to this novel since I first heard about it, and snapped up a copy as soon as it came out. The action centers around the “soiled doves” of Madame Damnable’s high-class parlor in a steampunk-tinged weird wild west. (If you don’t fall in love with the book based on the name Madame Damnable alone, then there’s just no help for you.) The titular Karen and the other girls of Madame Damnable’s are a family. They’re full of fierce love for each other, and they watch each other’s backs no matter what happens. They even look out for strangers, too. An injured escapee from a less reputable brothel brings the girl who helped her escape to their door, bleeding from a gunshot wound. Madame Damnable’s girls take them in, no questions asked, despite the world of trouble it’ll bring on their heads. What follows is action, adventure, and a good dose of daring. Above and beyond all of that, the beauty of Karen Memory is its focus on female friendships. It also places front and center the voices frequently overlooked by the Western genre. Instead of the typical square-jawed cowboys, we get whores and cooks, politicians and lawmen, and they all come from different backgrounds and have different body types, genders, races, and sexual preferences, showing that history is not a monolithic culture. On top of all that, there are escapes, bravery, horses, love, and gunfights. There’s even a cat. In short, it’s everything you could want from a weird, wild Western.
Next up is Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Signal to Noise, another book I’d been looking forward to since first hearing about it, which I grabbed as soon as it was available. Set in Mexico City in 1988 and 2009, the story follows three teenagers who learn to cast spells using vinyl records. The narrative moves back and forth between the 80s, when the three were best friends, and the present day, when their friendship has long since fallen apart. Meche, the main character, comes back to her home town to attend her father’s funeral. Her return inevitably dredges up old memories, and plunges her back into a life she tried hard to leave behind. Meche is a truly wonderful character. She’s allowed to be prickly and surly angry. She’s allowed to push people away without making concessions to their feelings. She’s allowed to misunderstand and fuck up and get things wrong. In short, she’s allowed to be human – something sadly still lacking in many female characters, even today. Moreno-Garcia maintains a delicate balance. Despite her anger, Meche is never unlikable. You understand where she’s coming from, and why she acts the way she does. She inhabits a world full of other human characters, all flawed and strong in equal measures, all imperfect as humans tend to be. It is precisely because they are imperfect that you care about these characters. They are people you know. They may, at one time or another, have been you. The magic and fantastical elements here are a bonus. The real heart of the novel is the relationships. This is proved out by the last scene of the book, which is breathtakingly perfect, and a magic all of its own.
Last, but not least, Labyrinthian by Sunny Moraine. I was so eager to read this one, I apparently bent the laws of time and space and received my copy before the official release date. Take that, time! You’re not the boss of me! Ahem. Sorry. The novel is set in the same universe as Line and Orbit by Sunny Moraine and Lisa Soem. While it isn’t a sequel, it shares many sensibilities. Taur is a genetically modified human on the run from the people who made him. Theseus is a bounty hunter who accepts the job of tracking him down. As frequently happens in this sort of tale, the people who set the bounty on Taur’s head betray Theseus. Instead of paying him, they try to kill both him and Taur. With nowhere else to turn, the two go on the run. Theseus and Taur discover a budding attraction for each other, while trying to stay alive, save Taur’s siblings, and unravel the mystery behind the creation of these genetically engineered super-beings. Oh, and just in case the stakes weren’t high enough, there’s also a chip embedded in Taur’s skull, ticking down toward killing him. The novel is sexy and fun and proves definitively that romance and space opera do in fact mix. As it turns out, feelings do not ruin a perfectly good story about spaceships, genetic modification, and bounty hunters. They make it better. Also, it’s sexy. Did I mention sexy? Luckily, there are more novels set in this universe on the way.
So there you have it – three excellent books, and the reading year has just begun. There are plenty more delicious books on the way, and I look forward to devouring them. Now it’s your turn. What have you read so far this year that you’d recommend? There’s always room for more on my tottering to read pile.