Best Reads of 2019!
Murderbots, Murder Caves, Exotic Worlds: These Are a Few of My Favourite Things...
That's right, I'm calling it. My Best Reads of 2019. Quick note: these are stories that I read and loved during 2019, not specifically things that were published in 2019.
Best Reads of 2019!
Scariest Read: The Reddening, by Adam Nevill
"There have been many times in his life when regret nearly disabled him; when a terrible disbelief in his own impetuous actions cleared his mind of all thoughts save a realisation that there had always been other choices, other ways of doing things. He just rarely chose the more considered alternatives. These days he experienced the epiphany less, because he was getting older and took fewer risks, but he felt it again now and powerfully too: that mixture of defeat, near haplessness and self-loathing, tinged with nausea."
Something hideous is lingering in the cliffs of Brickburgh. Iterated over aeons, drawing the desperate to it, and now shackled to a new and modern depravity.
Piteousness and dread characterize The Reddening, as a variety of characters are torn from their everyday lives to face a new reality of ancient horror. The final reveal, as is characteristic of Nevill, is visceral and skin-peelingly glorious.
Bonus points in that he also has a habit of releasing exquisite limited editions of his novels and short story collections, and the cover artwork for The Reddening (by Samuel Araya) is incredible.
Weepiest Read: The Luminous Dead, by Caitlin Starling
"Then, her heart still racing, she turned off her reconstruction view and switched on her headlamp.
The cave looked remarkably similar. The difference between real sight and reconstruction was minimal, except that she'd lost some of her field of view and subtle pieces of information about her surroundings. The colours she could see - a dirty pale gray for the stone, with various iridescent whorls of inclusions, and the surround, oppressive dark - those were different. But the lines were the same. The features, the same. Nothing had changed.
Except for the body at her feet."
Cavers on this dangerous planet need to be the best of the best. Not a desperate dilettante lying her way into the job. But Gyre Price has her own reasons for descending into the underworld.
This novel was sheer immersive tension all the way through. The world building was enthralling, and the intense relationships that develop in the isolated dark not only between Gyre and her handler, but between Gyre and all the cavers lost before her left me emotionally wrung out.
Most Fun Read: Murderbot Diaries, by Martha Wells
"I yelled, 'No!' which I'm not supposed to do; I'm always supposed to speak respectfully to the clients, even when they're about to accidentally commit suicide. HubSystem could log it and it could trigger punishment through the governor module. If it wasn't hacked.
Fortunately, the rest of the humans yelled 'No!' at the same time, and Pin-Lee added, 'For fuck's sake, Ratthi!'
Ratthi said, 'Oh, no time, of course. I'm sorry!' and hit the quick-close sequence on the hatch.
So we didn't lose our ramp when the hostile came up under it, big mouth full of teeth or cilia or whatever chewing right through the ground. There was a great view of it on the hopper's cameras, which its systems helpfully sent straight to everybody's feed. The humans screamed."
It took me far too long to try this series (I’m ashamed to say I thought the title was kitsch, and now I’ve learned a valuable lesson about not being snobby). I loved Murderbot. Immediately and unashamedly. And I devoured every book.
This series is a masterful imagining of what being an artificial construct would be like living indentured in a human’s universe, and is incredibly funny. I'm not exaggerating when I say I enjoyed this the way I enjoyed the Belgariad the first time I read it, or the Obernewtyn Chronicles, or Tamora Pierce's The Immortals.
Shock and Awe: Starvation Heights, by Gregg Olsen
"Neither sister, of course, knew what had been told to the other. One afternoon, when the house seemed so very quiet, Dora pushed herself onto the fir-planked floor and crawled to her sister's bedside.
'Claire! Can you hear me?'
The skeleton stirred. Dora gasped at the sight. Her sister looked dreadful.
'Dora! You mustn't!'' Claire's eyes were wild, full of disgust and fear. She pushed at her sister's hand. 'You did not have to come. You mustn't come!'
Dora wanted to cry, but she was unable to conjure the strength for such an emotion. She doubted whether she had tears within her eyes.
'I want to be with you, dearie.'
'Go! Please, now!'
Dora complied. Like a yellow potato drawn across a stone, the skin on her knees rubbed off as she crawled back to her bed."
The story of the victims of Linda Hazzard, the Starvation “Doctor”, literally left me buzzing with outrage. This is a fascinating examination of how social pressures exerted over time can be used to utterly control people, and how difficult it can be to stop the evil and greedy who hide under the cloak of “good standing”.
Best Vision of the Future: It's a Tie Between Escapology, by Ren Warom; and Rosewater, by Tade Thompson
"Stuck on a sidewalk swarming with meat suits, Shock stalks the edge for a safe place to cross a freeway locked into insanity mode. He's about ready to commit genocide. Mothball pockets require austerity measures, cheap-ass Slip shops are in Hanju, his home district, a place he expends considerable energy avoiding. To top it all off, he has to run this one unmedicated. Too risky otherwise. Dandy, just freaking dandy."
In the tradition of Neuromancer, only harder, sharper and faster: Shock Pao is the best in the virtual world, and an exploited loser in the unwelcome real. Caught in the coils of a conspiracy, he’s about to discover there’s a lot he doesn’t understand about either mode of existence.
Ren Warom’s playful and skilful use of language was a joy to read. This is a novel where you need to concentrate to keep up, and I loved every minute of it. My full review of Escapology is here if you’d like to know more.
"Suit man looks towards me. His head is abnormally long, and one of his eyeballs is missing, the empty socket gaping like a toothless second mouth. The head is also flattened in a way that accounts for the length, looking like it has been incompletely crushed. The nose is twisted as if the bottom half of his face wants to go one way while the top chooses the other. His left ear hangs by a thin thread of human tissue. Yet with all this there is no bleeding and he is not in obvious pain.
He is three, four feet way, and he charges toward me. When the dome brings a body back to life, sometimes it simply drools. And sometimes, like this guy, it wakes up angry. Scientists haven't worked out what makes them go one way or the other."
The chaotic town of Rosewater grew up around a mysterious alien dome. Most come because they’re desperate for a taste of the dome’s healing powers, or to make money off those who are, but not Kaaro. A government agent, Kaaro is one of the very few who have seen inside the dome … and he’s not keen to do so again.
Rosewater was instantly, compellingly immersive. A complex novel with a detailed cast, solidly grounded in its sense of place and history even as all else changes.
And finally, drumroll please, my Best Read of 2019 was:
Best of 2019: Girl Like a Bomb, by Autumn Christian
"Maybe if having to take care of a newborn and being confined back in my old childhood home hadn't made my brain so mushy, I wouldn't have ignored the blaring warning signs leading up to that point. But I wasn't thinking of how far I was from safety, how coolly he delivered each line as if he'd rehearsed it, how he seemed to insinuate himself into my presence like a too-convenient ghost.
I was, as you might say, only thinking with my clitoris."
In short this novel was a bold, compassionate and refreshing take on social identity and purpose. Full review here.
Young Beverly Sykes discovers, upon losing her virginity, that she can literally change people through sex. What else would a woman do but set out to change the world?
Hope you add as many of these great titles to your to-read list as you can handle, and that they set your brain on fire as intensely as they did mine.
Also wishing you a very happy and safe time over the holiday period, and all the best reads in 2020!