At this year’s Milford we talked–a lot. Most of the talk was about writing, but, of course, you can’t really talk about writing without also talking about books. Here’s a random selection of books recommended from one writer to another. I asked writers to briefly say why they’d recommended this particular title. It’s not intended to be a ‘best of’ list. It may give you some ideas for Christmas presents or tempt you to add to your own wish list.
- Admiral, by Sean Danker (Recommended by Jacey Bedford)
Evagardian Series #1
Four cryo-sleepers wake on a strange vessel in space, the first three are rookie Evagardian military personnel and the last is an admiral – or so it says on his sleeper. He’s as surprised about this as the other three are. This is a get-me-out-of-here story paced like a race over hurdles. Problem after problem besets our quartet at breakneck speed. Think: The Martian meets James Bond.
- Ancillary trilogy, by Ann Leckie (Recommended by Sue Thomason)
(ANCILLARY JUSTICE, ANCILLARY MERCY, ANCILLARY SWORD). The protagonist is the only surviving fragment of a multiple-human-body-plus-spaceship-core AI – and an embodiment of virtue. Lots of really interesting stuff about ethics and free will. Some people find it bothersome that the protagonist refers to all sentients as “she” – as an AI, she doesn’t really grok gender, and her mother tongue either doesn’t mark gender or defaults to “she”. I didn’t find it anything like as intrusive as the people of Winter all being referred to as “he” in THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS; possibly because I’m female, so I’m used to female = person and it’s easy to reverse this into person = female. Males, you have been warned.
- Arcadia, by Ian Pears (Recommended by Dave Gullen)
Quite languid but never slow, a really interesting mix of dystopia, fantasy, and time-travel, that is also, like Mythago Wood, very British in sensibility. It’s also quite a writerly book because in parts it’s about writing but is also such a superbly plotted story without a single dangling thread. Read this twice for the Clarke Award, then read it again because I liked it.
- The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (Recommended by Siobhan McVeigh)
Families. People. Again! And short shorts. Acute bleak reading to know you’re not alone. So many gems here, but like Roald Dahl she mocks the pretensions of fine wine very well. Though really this is a bit of a cheat, as it’s over twenty years work, gathered in one volume, but a good one to keep by your side in case of emergency.
- Europe at Midnight, by Dave Hutchinson (Recommended by Dave Gullen)
SF written by Le Carre, a brilliant, original, and timely parallel worlds story whose invention really got under my skin.
- Europe in Autumn, by Dave Hutchinson (Recommended by Jim Anderson)
What’s not to love – well written, suitably weird and compelling but I don’t want to give too much away. So have a read …
- The First Law Trilogy, by Joe Abercrombie (Recommended by Jacey Bedford)
Joe Abercrombie’s first foray into Grimdark is saved by the delicious streak of black humour that runs through it. These three books have to be read as one huge story. It will take a while but it’s worth it (though probably not for the squeamish).
- The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman (Recommended by Jacey Bedford)
It’s well-paced, inventive and a very satisfying read, with engaging and well-drawn protagonists. And of course, anything featuring librarians as heroes is OK by me. A very good debut.
- Just One Damned Thing After Another, by Jodi Taylor (Recommended by Jacey Bedford)
Chronicles of St Marys’ #1
Time-travel fantasy that’s a real page turner. Light, frothy, exciting and hilarious in turn, with some serious, high-stakes problems. It’s also got great ‘voice’. St Mary’s sends historians back in time to verify facts. What could possibly go wrong? The institute is a disaster-magnet, chaotic and dangerous—eccentric hardly begins to cover it—and someone is messing with the timelines. If you like this there’s a whole series. Enjoy.
- The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch et. Seq. (Recommended by Jacey Bedford)
There are three Locke Lamora books out so far and the fourth seems to be stalled in publication, which is a pity because I’m gagging for it! Beautifully written, excellent characters and dramatic tension up the wazoo! If you haven’t read these three books I order you to READ THEM NOW.
- The Lie Tree, by Francis Hardinge (Recommended by Siobhan McVeigh)
Because of the paper theatre, and how Faith looks after her little brother Howard. And Faith’s refusal to accept the conventions of the times, all in a fabulous gothic setting. The restrictions women lived with are shown very clearly. And it’s a real miss-your-stop-on-the-tube page-turner. It reminded me of Little White Horse at the beginning with the coach journey west into lurching darkness. And I do like a good travelogue.
- Magic Lost, Trouble Found, by Lisa Shearin et seq. (Recommended by Jacey Bedford)
A second world fantasy that reads with all the pace, snap and fizz of good urban fantasy. Breathless pacing. You’ll want to read them all. Each new book takes up exactly where the previous one left off. The series is complete.
- The Martian, by Andy Weir (Recommended by Sue Thomason)
No, I haven’t seen the film. Really plausible near-future hard SF, with a genuinely likeable main character.
- Nemesis Games, by James S.A. Corey. (Recommended by Dave Gullen)
Actually book 5 in a series but it works as a standalone, and led me to go out and buy the first, which was equally good, and I’ll be catching up through the series. Just rip-roaring space opera set in a colonised solar system, grubby and gritty, quite political but with explosions too, and what made it special for me were the interesting and complex characters.
- A Night in the Lonesome October, by Roger Zelazny (Recommended by Jacey Bedford)
Reissued in 2016. A day by day trip through the month of October in the company of Jack the Ripper’s dog, Snuff, as various recognisable protagonists (and their familiars) are preparing for ‘the game’. Hugely imaginative and vastly intriguing. Snuff is brilliant.
- The Quarry, by Iain Banks (Recommended by Siobhan McVeigh)
Little, Brown 2013
Peeling back the layers of an old group of friends, looking at death in an open-eyed way, with a strong female hero. And a real understanding of aspergers and OCD. And because people have a choice about how they behave.
- Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo (Recommended by Jacey Bedford)
Fantasy. A fast-paced thrill-ride, supposedly for the YA market, but very adult in the amount of violence perpetrated by the good guys as well as the bad. Very tense and exciting. Kaz Brekker is a young criminal prodigy in the rough part of Ketterdam where anything goes. He’s offered a job, a dangerous heist for more money than he can dream of, but it’s a job for a team and Kaz is not big on trust. Add to this Crooked Kingdom, the sequel, published in October 2016.
- Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman (Recommended by Jim Anderson)
We like to think we have free will, but this book is the summary of Kahneman’s life of work showing just how fragile free will is and how we are programmed to react to the world in ways we don’t understand
- The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, by Sydney Padua (Recommended by Sue Thomason)
Hardback comic; this is the one I am currently thrusting into the hands of various friends while yelling “YOU MUST READ THIS YOU MUST READ THIS!” Warning: contains cats – also the Difference Engine, the Analytical Engine, Queen Victoria, George Eliot, Coleridge, and Lewis Carroll.
- Uprooted, byNaomi Novik (Recommended by David Allan)
A great story of self discovery in a logically constructed fantasy universe which, IMHO, should have won the Hugo