Reading recommendations from 2018

The end of the year is always an opportunity to look back on what I’ve read and see what has really stayed with me. Here are my top twelve picks from the 58 books I read in 2018 – as usual, not everything was published this year. It’s impossible to rank books, so they are listed in order of reading, but I did have two standout reads this year: When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy, and Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver.

Reservoir 13 – Jon McGregor
Fourth Estate, 2017

A teenage girl goes missing whilst on holiday; the shock of her disappearance reverberates with the residents of the village for years to come. The narrative moves seamlessly in and out of the perspectives of a cast of characters, and the land itself, with a voice quite unlike anything else I’ve read; the result is a hauntingly beautiful portrayal of a community in a fast changing world.

Happiness – Aminatta Forna
Bloomsbury, 2018

Two strangers meet on a London night on Waterloo Bridge: Ghanaian psychiatrist Attila, and American biologist Jean, studying urban foxes. A beautifully rendered portrayal of lives colliding, the oft overlooked and hidden side of a frantic metropolis, our relationship with the natural world, and the themes of trauma, loss and survival which are recurrent in Forna’s work.

Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie
Bloomsbury, 2017

Shamsie’s contemporary reimagining of Sophocles’ Antigone won the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 and deservedly so. Like all of Shamsie’s work, this is a brilliant examination of conflicting loyalties and worldviews which continually challenges where the reader’s empathy lies.

Fever – Deon Meyer
Hodder & Stoughton, 2017

“I want to tell you about my father’s murder.

I want to tell you who killed him, and why. This is the story of my life. And the story of your life and your world too, as you will see.”

So begins Fever by Deon Meyer, shortlisted for The Kitschies this year. I hugely enjoyed this coming-of-age novel which is part thriller, part environment breakdown and part survival story, with an absorbing voice and a great twist at the end.

Rosewater – Tade Thompson
Orbit, 2018

Another fantastic read, it’s no surprise this book has made all the best of 2018 science fiction lists. An imaginative exploration of alien contact and telepathy set in Nigeria, 2066, what really made me love this novel is the brilliantly realised character and narrative voice of Kaaro, which moves between present and past. I can’t wait for the next in the series, due 2019.

Gnomon – Nick Harkaway
William Heinemann, 2017

Near future Britain, a nation under surveillance where every word and action is observed and recorded. This is the framing for an incredibly ambitious and complex novel which weaves together stories and characters with trademark panache and brilliantly baroque prose. My favourite novel by Harkaway yet.

Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney
Faber & Faber, 2017

What an absolute joy of a read. Devoured in a single sitting on holiday, Conversations with Friends is an examination of the unfolding relationships and intimacy between four people: insightful, witty, observant and funny. I’ve just got my hands on a copy of Normal People and know I’m going to love it just as much.

When I Hit You – Meena Kandasamy
Atlantic Books, 2017

An impulse pick-up from a table in Waterstones, this leapt straight into my top two of the year. The novel’s subject matter of domestic abuse is explored in a narrative which is immaculately structured (with trigger warning incorporated from the first page), and exquisitely written. A fierce, heartbreaking, utterly brilliant novel.

Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata
Portobello Books Ltd, 2018

Narrator Keiko is 36 years old and has worked in the same supermarket for eighteen years. This is a gloriously oddball satire of the many and hypocritical expectations placed on women in society and one woman’s refusal to conform.

Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories – Vandana Singh
Small Beer Press, 2018

This beautiful collection delivered everything I want from contemporary science fiction – compassionate, considered, gorgeously written contemplations of journeys through space and time and intriguing scientific premises.

 

Flight Behaviour – Barbara Kingsolver
Faber & Faber, 2013

“A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and it is one part rapture.” There are some novels where you read the first line and you know instantly you are in safe hands. Kingsolver’s superb exploration of climate breakdown, and how it impacts on those with the least power to combat it, is achieved through the perspective of Dellarobia, a young woman trapped in poverty who discovers a population of monarch butterflies threatened by changing weather patterns. A masterpiece in storytelling.

Washington Black – Esi Edugyan
Serpent’s Tail, 2018

Eleven-year-old slave Washington Black finds himself selected as a personal assistant to the naturalist and abolitionist Christopher Wilde. They escape the plantation island in a thrilling adventure that moves from Barbados to the Arctic Circle to London. Edugyan’s gorgeously evocative prose describes the limits of an unlikely friendship and the understanding of another’s suffering.

I’ve discovered some fantastic books in 2018; here’s to another year of excellent reading in 2019.

 

“Weather Girl” podcast and Polish translation

I’m delighted that my short fiction “Weather Girl” is now available on audio via the excellent StarShipSofa podcast, narrated by Chloe Yates. You can listen online here.

The story was first published in the Infinity Wars anthology (Solaris), edited by Jonathan Strahan: tales of soldiers, on the ground and fighting, in the near future and in the farthest reaches of space, using the latest technologies and facing the oldest of fears. Through the lens of a separated wife and husband, “Weather Girl” explores how extreme weather events of climate breakdown might be exploited for military gain.

This year the story was also translated into Polish by Kamil Lesiew for the speculative fiction magazine Nowa Fantastyka, and included some lovely header artwork.

Terra Fiction – Coded Matters 2018

In September I was invited to speak as part of Terra Fiction: Coded Matter(s) in Amsterdam, an event curated by FIBER and De Brakke Grond which brought together speakers working in the fields of art, literature, science, design and digital culture to reassess man’s future relationship with the earth and the cosmos.

Terra Fiction was the second installment of FIBER’s ongoing Coded Matter(s): Worldbuilding project. These lecture events question the design of contemporary world visions and technological narratives, which are contributing to greater socio-economic inequality and environmental destruction. Speculative designers, art-scientists and writers share research and evolving ideas to imagine futures that position humans and our technologies inside a more balanced ecology.

My talk discussed the role of speculative fiction in imagining alternative worlds, and how it might offer us a vision for a better future, sharing approaches to world-building in fiction, and considering the challenges for the writer in creating a believable universe. I discussed The Osiris Project trilogy which is set in a world radically altered by climate change, and my current novel in development which explores marine ecosystems and the changing nature of our relationship with the environment.

The event was beautifully staged at the Vlaamse Cultuurhuis de Brakke Grond and it was a privilege to present alongside a hugely inspirational array of speakers: writer Pippa Goldschmidt, who discussed whether we can create new ways of thinking about space exploration that go beyond the exploitative character of capitalist models; Maja Kuzmanovic and Nik Gaffney, co-founders of FoAM, a distributed laboratory for speculative cultures; Jay Springett, a writer, theorist, promoter of DIY culture and editor of Solarpunks; Ivan Henriques, a transdisciplinary artist and researcher; and Miha Turšič, artist, designer and researcher. I left the event buzzing with ideas.

Many thanks to the curators Jarl Schulp and Fabian van Sluijs who put together a fantastic programme and looked after us so wonderfully, and to Michelle Kasprzak who moderated the event with warmth and humour.

Border Sessions 2018

Border Sessions is a yearly tech culture festival on a mission to kick-start and fuel challenging ideas, experiments and endeavours, with a strong focus on multidisciplinary projects. The program is built around five main tracks: Humanity, Society, Cities, Nature and And Beyond. This year I was thrilled to be invited to speak at the conference on 14 June.

The festival is held in The Hague, with the conference staged across the Theater aan het Spui and the adjacent Filmhuis Den Haag.

I was interviewed by the brilliant Arno Wielders, co-founder of the global initiative Mars One. We spoke about The Osiris Project and Paris Adrift as well as discussing speculative fiction and the writing life.

The festival has a wonderfully wide-ranging programme and on the same day I was able to attend a presentation on Ocean Floor Restoration – ideal for current writing research.

A huge thank you to everyone at Border Sessions for inviting me! If you’d like to find out more about the festival, take a look at the website here.

Paris Adrift is out this week!

Paris AdriftIt’s here! Paris Adrift is finally out in the world, available from Solaris in the UK and North America. Here’s the synopsis…

Paris Was Supposed to Save Hallie. Now… Well, Let’s Just Say Paris Has Other Ideas. 

There’s a strange woman called The Chronometrist who will not leave her alone. Garbled warnings from bizarre creatures keep her up at night. And there’s a time portal in the keg room of the bar where she works. 

Soon, Hallie is tumbling through the turbulent past and future Paris, making friends, changing the world — and falling in love. 

But with every trip, Hallie loses a little of herself, and every infinitesimal change she makes ripples through time, until the future she’s trying to save suddenly looks nothing like what she hoped for…

I’m delighted that Paris Adrift has been selected by KirkusAmazon and Barnes & Noble as a best of February SF/fantasy! Here are a few of the early reviews…

an effervescent blend of revisionist history, fantasy and science fiction.’ Washington Post

‘E. J. Swift’s PARIS ADRIFT is her best novel yet: a time-travelling adventure that, despite the cosmic stakes, is bravely and beautifully intimate. Despite the apocalyptic backdrop, PARIS is also wistfully hopeful – a novel of ordinary, extraordinary heroism… PARIS ADRIFT uses science fiction’s largest and most unwieldy mechanic for its smallest and most intimate stakes: this isn’t about the world, it is about Hallie. PARIS is a story about significance at every level, individually and collectively; ultimately, whether that’s in time, life, or simply one’s outlook – this is a poetic demonstration of how little changes make big differences. Despite being a novel that’s – literally! – timeless, you couldn’t find a work more wonderfully fitting for 2018.’ — Pornokitsch

‘A great time travel story, inventive and at times overwhelming. Hallie is a compelling character to read, as she is not all-knowing and manages to keep her sense of disbelief for as long as possible. Hallie through the book comes to find an inner strength that she didn’t know existed as she faces challenges without a lot of resources. I can’t really express how much I enjoyed this story and look forward to reading more from E. J. Swift soon.’ — Fantasy Book Review (9/10)

‘A great protagonist in a fascinating plot, with some refreshingly original takes on the mechanics and mechanisms of time travel, this was a very enjoyable read… This is a great book. Fantastic characters in an interesting story, excellently paced.’ — Strange Currencies

‘Swift (the Osiris Project series) delivers both an unusual take on time travel and solid characters, including a fantastic protagonist… Swift keeps things moving briskly, throwing out innocuous tidbits while scene setting that lead to surprising later payoffs.’ — Publishers Weekly

‘[A] really gripping book that was also really thought provoking and moving… [The novel] deals with many themes which are very relevant right now and Hallie’s time travel to a bleak 2042 felt too plausible… [I] loved reading about Hallie’s expeditions to 1875. Paris really came alive for me and I just loved all the sub stories going on, particularly Millie’s. PARIS ADRIFT also touches on what it’s like to feel adrift and alone in this big world, whether we’re living the best versions of ourselves. This story is about getting lost in order to find yourself. There’s a good message in this book, that doing small deeds to help strangers can have huge effects later on and the future is something we should all be thinking about.’ — British Fantasy Society

Thanks to lots of wonderful bloggers, there has also been a week-long blog tour to celebrate the book’s release.

You can read an extract of the book over on Pornokitsch.com.

If you’d like to get your hands on a copy, you can order online through Amazon.co.ukHive (UK), or Amazon.com. Signed copies are also available in the Forbidden Planet store on Shaftesbury Avenue, London – with thanks to the lovely team for having me in yesterday!

 

Reading recommendations from 2017

Once again December has crept up, and it’s time to look back on the past twelve months’ reading. For 2017 I set myself a goal of 50 books and at the time of writing I’m up to 46. In the meantime, here are a few recommendations of books I’ve loved this year.

The Natural Way of Things –  Charlotte Wood
Allen & Unwin, 2016

Ten young women wake to find they have been drugged and transported to a remote station in the Australian outback. Watched over by guards, they discover that what they have in common – and the apparent reason for their incarceration – is a past involvement in sex scandals with powerful men. A fiercely feminist novel which veers in unexpected directions, with a searing depiction of one woman’s descent into feral life.

The Swan Book –  Alexis Wright
Constable, 2015

An Aboriginal teenage girl, Oblivion Ethylene, is found in the roots of a eucalypt tree by an old woman who is fleeing climate change wars in the northern hemisphere. Alexis Wright’s prose leaps from surreal to luminous to mythical to deeply satirical, in an extraordinary exploration of the legacy of colonialism and impacts of climate change unlike anything else I’ve read. I can’t possibly do this book justice in few lines, so for a detailed review, take a look at the Sydney Review of Books.

Speak Gigantular – Irenosen Okojie
Jacaranda, 2016

Okojie’s debut collection weaves the familiar and the unknown in new and unexpected ways. The writing is bold, surreal, erotic, often disturbing and always original, and I loved seeing London anew through the lens of many of these stories, including an encounter between two Londoners haunting the Underground.

The Queue – Basma Abdel Azim
Melville House, 2016

A clever, subtle, Kafka-esque exploration of authoritarianism set in an unspecified Middle Eastern city in the wake of the Arab Spring. A cast of characters meet, share and conceal their stories while waiting in the eponymous queue for their requests to be granted by a sinister government.

Exit West – Mohsin Hamid
Hamish Hamilton, 2017

A bittersweet love story of two people fleeing war in an unnamed country. Hamid’s latest novel takes a speculative departure, with the guise of mysterious doors which allow people to move instantaneously between countries. Timely depiction of the refugee crisis with wonderful characterisation.

Stories of Your Life and Others – Ted Chiang
Picador, 2015

There’s so much to admire about Ted Chiang’s short fiction, but what has stayed with me about this collection is the way form is so perfectly aligned to subject matter in each of these immaculately constructed, evocative tales.

 

Open City – Teju Cole
Faber & Faber, 2012

An American psychiatrist of Nigerian and German descent is undertaking his training in New York. Rootless, trying to make his way in the city, he walks compulsively. From the first lines you know you’re in for a treat: this is a gorgeous, meditative read which has stayed with me all year.

You Will Know Me – Megan Abbott
Picador, 2016

Superb psychological portrait of teenage gymnast and Olympic hopeful Devon, and the toll her ambitious regime takes on Devon herself and the family pushing her to glory. Told from the perspective of her conflicted mother Katie, this is a cleverly plotted, compulsive read.

Annihilation – Jeff Vandermeer
Fourth Estate, 2015

One of my favourite reads this year, encompassing all the things I love in literature: great characterisation, luminous writing, an unreliable narrator and the mysterious, surreal setting of Area X. I enjoyed the rest of the trilogy very much but this remains the standout.

The Forty Rules of Love – Elif Shafak
Penguin, 2015

Shafak deploys the frame of an American woman trapped in an unhappy marriage, who is reviewing the novel ‘Sweet Blasphemy’ by a mysterious writer about the scholar and poet Rumi and his muse Shams of Tabriz. Their story is told by a large cast of characters including Rumi and Shams themselves, Rumi’s family, and the various people they encounter from fellow travellers to the local drunk. Glorious storytelling and I can’t wait to read more from Shafak’s (happily lengthy) backlist.

The Sixth Extinction – Elizabeth Kolbert
Bloomsbury, 2014

A lot of my reading this year has been research for the next writing project. If you read one non-fiction book this (or rather next) year, make it The Sixth Extinction – Kolbert’s reporting on the mass extinctions already underway is timely, informative, heartbreaking and imperative reading.

Sapiens / Homo Deus – Yuval Noah Harari
Vintage, 2015 and 2017

There’s been plenty of hype around Harari’s bestselling Sapiens and the follow up Homo Deus, and happily they live up to it. Immensely enjoyable, thought-provoking history which interrogates humanity’s place on the planet past, present and future. A new book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, is due next year – I can’t wait. 

Finally, shout-outs to two superb novels, both of which I read in advance copies last year but were published in 2017: Anne Charnock’s multi-stranded Dreams Before the Start of Time and Nina Allan’s haunting The Rift are science fiction at its best.

Here’s to 2018 reading!

Infinity Wars, 2084, and ZUI Found

Two anthologies which I’ve contributed a story to arrived on the shelves in the last week, and here are the lovely print editions looking very smart indeed.

Infinity Wars (Solaris) is the latest in the Infinity science fiction series edited by Jonathan Strahan with a focus on military SF, and includes my story “Weather Girl”.

‘We have always fought. Tales of soldiers and war go back to the very roots of our history, to the beginnings of the places we call home. And science and technology have always been inextricably linked with the deadly art of war, whether through Da Vinci’s infamous machineries of war or the Manhattan Project’s world-ending bombs or distant starships fighting unknowable opponents.

Oppenheimer once wrote that “the atomic bomb made the prospect of future war unendurable. It has led us up those last few steps to the mountain pass; and beyond there is a different country.” But unendurable or not, future always comes. War was integral to science faction at its birth and remains so today, whether on the page or on the screen.

Infinity Wars asks one question: what would Oppenheimer’s different country be like? Who would fight it? Because at the end of it all, it always come down to a soldier alone, risking life and limb to achieve a goal that may never really make sense at all. How would those soldiers feel? What would they experience?’

And here’s the table of contents:

  • Introduction, Jonathan Strahan
  • Evening of the Span of Their Days, Carrie Vaughn
  • The Last Broadcasts, An Owomoyela
  • Faceless Soldiers, Patchwork Ship, Caroline M Yoachim
  • Dear Sarah, Nancy Kress
  • The Moon is Not a Battlefield, Indrapramit Das
  • Perfect Gun, Elizabeth Bear
  • Oracle, Dominica Phettaplace
  • In Everlasting Wisdom, Aliette deBodard
  • Command and Control, David D. Levine
  • Conversations with an Armory, Garth Nix
  • Overburden, Genevieve Valentine
  • Heavies, Rich Larson
  • Weather Girl, E. J. Swift
  • Mines, Eleanor Arnason
  • ZeroS, Peter Watts

2084 is published by Unsung Stories following a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign and includes my story “The Endling Market”.

‘Fifteen predictions, seventy years in the future. By 2084 the world we know is gone. These are stories from our world seven decades later.

In 1948 George Orwell looked at the world around him and his response was 1984, now a classic dystopian novel. Here eleven writers asked themselves the same question as Orwell did – where are we going, and what is our future?

Visit the dark corners of the future metropolis, trek the wastelands of all that remains. See the world through the eyes of drones. Put humanity on trial as the oceans rise. Say goodbye to your body as humanity merges with technology.

Warnings or prophesies? Paradise or destruction? Will we be proud of what we have achieved, in 2084? Our future unfolds before us.’

2084 features original fiction from: 

  • Christopher Priest (author of The Prestige, The Gradual and many more)
  • Courttia Newland (author of The Scholar, The Gospel According to Kane and more)
  • Lavie Tidhar (author of A Man Lies Dreaming, Osama and Central Station)
  • Dave Hutchinson (author of The Fractured Europe Sequence)
  • James Smythe (author of The Australia Trilogy and The Anomaly Quartet)
  • Anne Charnock (author of Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind and A Calculated Life)
  • Jeff Noon (author of Vurt, Automated Alice, Pollen and many more)
  • Aliya Whiteley (author of The Beauty and The Arrival of Missives)
  • E. J. Swift (author of The Osiris Project trilogy)
  • Oliver Langmead (author of Metronome and Dark Star)
  • Irenosen Okojie (author of Speak Gigantular)
  • Malcolm Devlin (author of You Will Grow Into Them)
  • Cassandra Khaw (author of Hammers on Bone)
  • Desirina Boskovich (author of Never Now Always and co-author of The Steampunk User’s Manual)
  • Ian Hocking (author of Deja Vu)

I was also thrilled to receive a copy of Chinese SF magazine ZUI Found, which contains Geng Hui’s translation of my story “Front Row Seat to the End of the World” (first published by NewCon Press in Now We Are Ten). This is the first time I’ve seen my fiction published in another language, and after the first copy went missing in the post, I was hugely grateful to Geng Hui and fellow writer Anne Charnock who orchestrated an exchange of the magazine at this year’s WorldCon in Helsinki.

As to which piece was mine, the evidently untranslatable Instagram and Tinder were the crucial giveaway…