Favourite reads in 2021

Like many others, my reading patterns in 2020 altered considerably, both in terms of the volume (a big drop) and the types of books I found myself drawn to. Whilst I haven’t quite managed to get back to my pre-pandemic reading levels, I discovered some fantastic books in 2021. Here are my favourites:

Perhaps my favourite read this year was The Weekend by Charlotte Wood (2020). Wood’s previous novel, The Natural Way of Things, made one of my earlier ‘best reads in’ lists. The Weekend has a very different feel, but is again centred around women. Three women in their seventies meet following the death of the fourth of their friendship group, Sylvie; over the course of several days clearing out Sylvie’s house, the knots and intricacies of a decades’ long friendship are revealed. Through Wood’s spare and compassionate prose, what remains unspoken is as important as what is said. This short novel captured my heart; months after I finished reading, I found myself thinking about the characters, and what might have happened to them beyond the last page. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, but no doubt through coincidence of publishing schedules, I read two standout novels this year which directly involved mysterious pandemics. In Rumaan Alam’s Leave The World Behind (2020), strangers find themselves thrown together in an isolated holiday home when a mysterious event appears to have brought down power – and connectivity – across the US east coast. I read this early in the year and looking back now, this novel holds a dreamy, surreal quality in my memory; at the time of reading, the astute social observations and the gorgeously witty writing had me spellbound.

I loved fierce, belligerent, don’t-give-a-toss narrator Jean in The Animals In That Country by Laura Jean Mckay (2020). Even more so, I loved Mckay’s depiction of Sue the Dingo. For anyone interested in non-human sentience this is an innovative, fascinating and deeply humane novel, exploring the possibilities of communication between human and non-human animals not only philosophically but linguistically.

Another Australian novel that stood out was The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott (2020). Arnott’s fractured narrative is set against a non-specific backdrop of ecological and societal breakdown, beautifully interlaced with speculative elements (one coastal community depends upon its relationship with a giant squid, whose ink has particularly valuable properties). Arnott is brilliant on ambiguity; in this world there are no true winners or losers, and character assumptions are continually overturned.

Amidst another year of extreme weather and more evidence of the unfolding climate breakdown and biodiversity crises, The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson (2020) was an important book for me. If you’ve ever lain awake at night thinking how the hell do we get out this mess, Robinson’s at times hopeful, at times heartbreaking, and inspirational novel offers one pathway forward. A reminder that humanity does have the knowledge and resource to create a healthy and equitable world, for humans and for non-human animals, if only we can find the political will. See also: wildlife cruises by solar powered airship (sign me up, please).

My non-fiction reading continued along a general vein of nature and wildlife writing; I’ve found the balance between fiction and non-fiction reading has shifted to a more even split over the last two years, no doubt in part influenced by research for various writing projects.

Anita Sethi’s I Belong Here (2021) was written in the aftermath of Sethi experiencing a vicious racist attack, and weaves reflections on place, nature, identity and belonging against the backdrop of her hiking journey across the Pennines. A beautifully written and deeply moving memoir which unpicks our connections with each other, with the natural world and our place within it, and reinforces the importance of nature as a source of solace and strength, if not always healing, when we are most vulnerable.

Kate Bradbury’s The Bumblebee Flies Anyway (2018) is another passionate memoir, chronicling the creation of an urban wildlife garden amidst a sea of cement; a book about loss, recovery, finding chinks of hope in the midst of the biodiversity crisis. This was a source of inspiration which I’ll be taking into my gardening efforts for the next year and beyond.

Finally, I saved myself a fiction treat for the end of year. I have loved Megan Abbott since discovering her 2016 novel You Will Know Me, which explores competitive teenage gymnastics. Her new book The Turnout (2021) takes on the hothouse of the adolescent ballet world and did not disappoint. This meticulously unfolding psychological thriller is a great reminder that character is at the heart of all the best stories.

I’m saying goodbye to 2021 with a stack of new books that I can’t wait to get stuck into. Here’s hoping reading – among other things! – is on the up again next year, and wishing you happy and inspirational reading in 2022.

Reissue of Paris Adrift out now!

A beautiful new reissue of Paris Adrift is now available from Rebellion Publishing!

Undoubtedly one of the highlights of having a novel published is seeing the visual interpretation of your words, and I’ve been hugely fortunate to have not one but two amazing covers for Paris Adrift. The original cover, a beautiful illustration by Joey Hi-Fi, was nominated for a British Science Fiction Award. The reissue cover is a gorgeous design-led piece created by Sam Gretton at Rebellion. Below you can see the full cover jacket – one of my favourite elements is the little bird perched above the ‘S’ and on the spine.

Paris Adrift full cover

 

Here are the two covers side by side:

Paris Adrift front cover

Paris Adrift

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A bit about Paris Adrift:

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…

 

The book itself looks super smart, complete with shiny gold foil:

Paris Adrift author copies

 

Reviews of Paris Adrift:

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

E. J. Swift’s Paris Adrift (2018) is a sumptuous love letter to the city of Paris, its history and its people. It is a time travel novel that serves as a wakeup call, showing the fragility of freedom and democracy, and how they are worth fighting for, and the bitter consequences of failing to do so. But at its heart it is a warm and engaging coming of age tale, an exploration of identity, and the fleetingness of youth. The end result is a story that feels both personal and political, both timely and timeless.’ — Fantasy Faction

‘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] 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

 

Get one!

If you’d like to order a copy of Paris Adrift, follow the links below:

US | UK | EBOOK

Favourite reads of 2019

My favourite reads in – though as ever, not necessarily from – 2019.

Unsheltered – Barbara Kingsolver
Faber & Faber, 2018

Two families across two centuries navigate radically changing times – from the controversial new theories of Darwin to the social change necessary to tackle climate breakdown – and what it really means to be with or without shelter. Another masterpiece in social dynamics from Kingsolver. 

The World Without Us – Mireille Juchau
Bloomsbury, 2016

Amidst a mass dyout of bees, an Australian family face the possible end of their livelihood, while old secrets surface and threaten to break apart the fragile family unit. Juchau’s meditation on a fading world feels ever more poignant in light of the current, catastrophic bushfire crisis in Australia.

Zero Bomb – M. T. Hill
Titan, 2019

This fragmented novel set in a terrifyingly plausible near future explores the impact of new automation technologies which lie just around the corner. Simmering with foreboding, the tension ratchets throughout to a thrilling climax.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World – Elif Shafak
Viking, 2019

In the ten minutes after her death, the woman known to her friends as Tequila Leila recalls her most vivid memories from a troubled and turbulent life. Coalescing around mind, body and soul, Shafak’s latest novel is a beautiful paean to those who are let down by society and the redemptive power of friendship. 

Wilding – Isabella Tree
Picador, 2018

Tree’s account of the hugely successful rewilding project at Knepp in Sussex is a fascinating, inspirational journey – with unexpected outcomes from breeding turtle doves to the return of the nightingale. A blueprint for how new approaches to conservation could restore our brutally depleted countryside. 

Chernobyl Prayer – Svetlana Alexievich
Penguin Modern Classics, first published 1997

This extraordinary, haunting, deeply humane work gives voice to the ordinary people affected by the Chernobyl disaster. The testimonies recounted here were the inspiration behind many of the threads in this year’s superb television dramatisation. 


The Heavens – Sandra Newman

Granta, 2019

Kate falls asleep in twenty-first century New York and wakes in plague-stricken Elizabethan England, but with each return to New York her world changes a little more. This luminous, shifting, skilful novel is a superbly clever take on time travel (is it or isn’t it?) from the ever inventive Newman. 

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? – Temi Oh
Simon & Schuster, 2019

A gorgeously written coming-of-age tale follows a group of young people who have trained since children as they embark on a twenty year journey to lead the first mission to another planet, and gradually come to terms with the reality of their decision.

The Wych Elm – Tana French
Viking, 2019

After a devastating attack leaves him injured and with partial memory loss, Toby returns to his ancestral family home to look after his dying uncle. The idyll is broken when a skull is found in the garden. Gloriously twisty psychological thriller with a deliciously unreliable narrator. 

Bridge 108 – Anne Charnock
47 North, 2020

I was lucky to read an advance copy of the new novel from Arthur C. Clarke winner Anne Charnock. Set in the near-future England of Charnock’s first novel (A Calculated Life), Bridge 108 explores the consequences of an influx of climate breakdown immigrants from southern Europe. A tapestry of voices resonate around trafficked youngster Caleb as he battles to make a new life for himself in this superbly rendered world.

Happy new year all, and here’s to 2020 reading!

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…