Hello and happy Friday, centaurs and space cadets! Today we’ve got linky goodness in the form of hard sci-fi round-ups, speculative poetry, black writers to watch for, and more, plus a review of Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite.
This newsletter is sponsored by HMH Teen.
First in a duology, this darkly thrilling page-turner set in the world of the best-selling His Fair Assassin series is perfect for fans of Throne of Glass, Red Queen, and Game of Thrones. Told in alternating perspectives, when Sybella discovers there is another trained assassin from St. Mortain’s convent deep undercover in the French court, she must use every skill in her arsenal to navigate the deadly royal politics and find her sister in arms before her time—and that of the newly crowned queen—runs out.
I’m still working my way through Black Leopard, Red Wolf, and can only currently say WOW THIS BOOK. (I’m enjoying it but also fair warning; I’m 100 pages in and my trigger warning count currently includes domestic violence, harm to children, child abuse, female genital mutilation, homophobia, torture, and a lot of gore.) Until I finish and can review it properly, may I suggest you read this conversation between Marlon James and Victor LaValle?
And speaking of incredible black writers, here’s a round-up of books coming out this spring and summer to get on your radar (including several debuts, exciting!).
I’m officially already behind on February, and the month has barely started, so here’s a round-up of some books from this month that should be on your radar.
Did you know speculative poetry was a thing? Because it totally is! I had no idea there was such a thing as the Science Fiction Poetry Association and am fascinated.
If you need more hard sci-fi in your life, here’s a list focused on sci-fi grouped around themes like tech, aliens, world-building, and more.
Last but not least, if you’ve been looking for a starting point with Harry Potter fanfiction (and who amongst us has not), Namera has you covered.
I complain about being behind on February, and it’s all backlist’s fault.
Ammonite by Nicola Griffith
There have been a crop of SF/F novels lately that take the male/female binary as grounds for a “what if” — what if all the women had electrical superpowers, or could only say so many words per week, or all turned into mushroom-people, etc. (I’m paraphrasing but The Power, Vox, and The Beauty in case you’re wondering.) I’m on record as being disinterested in this, because gender isn’t binary and it feels like in this, The Year of Our Continued Angst 2019, we should be able to come up with some more interesting and intersectional explorations of gender dynamics. With all that as my current mental context, I wasn’t sure what I’d think of Ammonite; it’s more than 20 years old now, and it eschews a binary for a more monochrome version of gender. But in Griffith’s skilled hands, a world of women turns into an exploration of the full range of human emotion and behavior, and I’m so glad to have finally read this book.
Marghe Taishan is an anthropologist from Earth who’s been dreaming of studying a far-off planet colloquially referred to as Jeep, and she’s about to get her wish. As she travels from the nearby space station to the planet’s surface, she’s faced with multiple challenges right from the get-go. To avoid getting the virus that contaminates the entire planet’s human population she must faithfully take an experimental vaccine, and even that will only protect her for six months; she has to act within the self-serving strictures of the controlling Company; and the women meant to be her assistants have either refused to return to the planet or gone missing.
Jeep itself is a mystery: a native virus killed all the original male settlers, with only some of the women surviving. It’s no static utopia, monolithic culture, or aimless hive, but a planet with all the complexities of any other. How the inhabitants procreate, how their societies and languages function, how their customs and methods have evolved since they first left Earth, all of these are open questions that Marghe is meant to answer — but finding out the answers might endanger her life.
The journey Marghe goes on is a Quest in the classic sense, and the mental dangers she faces are just as real as the physical dangers. Alienation, childhood trauma, and resilience; identity, love, sexuality, and community; Griffith explores these things and more through Marghe’s interactions with Jeep’s different clans and cultures. For counterpoint, we also get to follow the commanding officer of the Company outpost as she comes to terms with the realities of the Company’s situation on Jeep, and these intertwining storylines build to a beautiful crescendo.
Griffith notes in an afterword that in writing this book, she set out to combat the simplification and stereotyping of women, and to show that the gender contains all of the many positive and negative attributes of humanity as a whole. Ammonite focuses specifically on womanhood in order to make a necessary point: that any person, of any gender, embodies a complete and complex human experience. Whatever our identity may be, we each contain multitudes. And perhaps we should not have to be told or reminded of this, but here we are. If you want to explore the vagaries of humanity and read an amazing “what if” story in the process, pick up Ammonite immediately.
And that’s a wrap! You can find all of the books recommended in this newsletter on a handy Goodreads shelf. If you’re interested in more science fiction and fantasy talk, you can catch me and my co-host Sharifah on the SFF Yeah! podcast. For many many more book recommendations you can find me on the Get Booked podcast with the inimitable Amanda, or on Twitter as jennIRL.
Your fellow booknerd,