With midsummer lurking just around the corner, it is high time to start talking about summer reading. In fact, I strongly suspect it may be time to start reading those piles and piles of books that keep calling my name, going"hey, Helena, let’s hang out this summer! Pick me, pick me!". Here are my top contenders.
2012 – aka the Summer of Hand
Yes, the rumours are true: the fabulous Elizabeth Hand will be appearing at Uppsala English Bookshop during this year’s Culture Night – and I, ever the humble fan girl, will have the tremendous honour of interviewing her! In preparation of this event, I will be reading lots and lots of Elizabeth Hand this summer, including her newest effort Radiant Days and some of her back catalogue that I have yet to read. Regardless of what other books and authors will make the final cut of my summer reading list, I think it’s safe to say that the summer of 2012 will be all about Elizabeth Hand.
Vampires on steamboats – yes, please!
While the rest of the world is either watching the HBO adaption of George R.R. Martin’s Songs of Fire and Ice saga (beginning with A Game of Thrones), reading the books or both, I remain, at this point in time, a George R.R. Martin virgin. Not for long, though: when I learned that one of Martin’s previous books is a vampire novel set in a steamboat in the 1800s, I immediately picked up a copy of Fevre Dream. (1800s, steamboat, vampires: knee jerk reaction.) I must confess that I am somewhat of a Scully (aka skeptic) when it comes to epic fantasy, but ever since my tender Huckleberry Finn years, I have been a sucker for literary depictions of steamboats. My vampire hang-up has been alive and kicking for almost as long. A must-read, for sure.
Books that go really, really well with beaches, sunny front porches and glasses of chilled rosé
Some chick lit is more or less mandatory on any summer reading list, yes? My picks for this year include Jennifer Weiner, whose smart, funny, sharp, and deeply relatable novels have continued to keep me entertained and gasping for more for more than ten years now. She also, conveniently enough, has a new book out in July called The Next Best Thing. (No relation to the godawful Madonna flick, I hope.) I will also be keeping Sophie Kinsella’s Twenties Girl and Jane Green’s Girl Friday in mind for those long, lazy evening spent on (hopefully) sunny porches, glass of chilled rosé in hand.
I know too little about this book to come up with a witty title (and that’s how I like it until I’ve read it!)
Theodore Roszak’s novel Flicker was initially published in 1991 and has since then received somewhat of a cult following. Now that it is in print again, I can’t wait to read it. I know next to nothing about it other than the fact that it deals with cinema and all things shadowy, weird, and unexpected. Oh, and that it’s supposed to be great. Reliable sources (hi, Jan!) tell me that it’s just the right way to approach Flicker.
Hello, Lisa Unger, my new(ish) friend
I thoroughly enjoyed Fragile, Lisa Unger’s first exploration of The Hollows, a small, seemingly idyllic town in upstate New York where nothing is as it seems. Therefore, I was pleased to learn that the second book in the Hollows series, Darkness, My Old Friend, is out in paperback now. Unger is definitely a thriller writer to look out for, especially if you like suburban thrillers with vividly dysfunctional characters and plenty of unexpected plot developments (and who doesn’t?).
OMG, it’s a new Tana French novel!
Ever since having read Into the Woods, deeming it one of the most well-written, stylish, and gripping thrillers in recent history, and then finding out that the sequels The Likeness and Faithful Places are even better, I have been an avid fan of Irish crime novelist Tana French. I particularly love how her novels, while dealing with the same circle of people in various ways connected with the Dublin Murder Squad, take on new main characters in each book. The characters have always been there in previous books, sometimes in the periphery, sometimes in the very centre of things, but the protagonist and thus the key focus is always a different one. In French’s fourth book about the Dublin Murder Squad, the spotlight is on Scorcher Kennedy. Can’t wait to see what French has come up with this time!
OMG, it’s a new Tess Gerritsen novel!
While "stylish" may not be the first word I’d pick to describe Tess Gerritsen's thrillers, I have a few other, equally alluring, in store. Compulsive. Fast-paced. Gory. Morbid. Increasingly trippy (and I mean this in the best possible way). Yes, I have a massive soft spot for Detective Jane Rizzoli and Dr Maura Isles, and throwing myself at the latest Rizzoli/Isles mystery has become something of a summertime tradition. This year’s Gerritsen fix, which marks the 10th anniversary of the Rizzoli/Isles mysteries, is called The Last to Die and is due out in August.
Is there a tendency among us humans to always think that our own time is the endpoint of history? An assumption that things are basically going to continue the way they are now, only maybe a bit more polished. Science fiction can bring back perspective, and make us see that perhaps our piece of human history is just one small part.
The future as history that has not yet taken place is something Kim Stanley Robinson does very well. After a few books set mostly on Earth it's a joy to follow Kim Stanley Robinson to planets, moons and asteroids. He returns to the Solar system 300 years in the future, in a novel that deserves reading more than once. The year 2312 is pivotal for the future of Earth and of the balkanized diaspora of humanity.
On Mercury, Swan Er Hong is grieving her grandmother Alex when something terrible happens to her home city of Terminator. Alex was involved in some secret plans, and following them will bring Swan to Earth, to Venus, to Mars and to the moons of Saturn.
Swan Er Hong is one of the most interesting protagonists for a long time. She is fascinationg: moody and impulsive, with low self esteem, but paradoxically easy to like. She is very intense, dives into everything with a lot of energy. She also grapples with her shortcomings when it comes to people skills.
Swan embodies many questions about identity and continuity. She seems to be uncomfortable with herself, and has made an unusual amount of modifications to her body and brain. Does that make her posthuman, or just more human?
Of course, in this future almost everyone makes alterations to their bodies. If nothing else, in order to live longer. The longevity theme is continued from the Mars books, and has social consequences. And humanity is differentiating in their different worlds, dividing into various groups. Our old, worn and troubled Earth holds a special place, and is necessary for all of humanity in many ways. At the same time, it's full of seemingly unsolvable social and environmental problems.
2312 is a book that contains so much of everything we have come to expect of this author. There is texture to the environment, a sense of place and of personalities. There are grand stories of a changing humanity, medium scale stories of terrorism and emerging AI, and small stories of love and friendship. And there is the love of reality, the grounding in science. The only thing I find less prominent in 2312 than I have come to expect is the partying: the scenes where people just have fun. They exist, but are perhaps less exuberant.
The descriptions and infodumps are handled in a clever way, mostly by putting them in the form of short "Extracts" and "Lists" between the chapters. Some of these read like poetry. In this way a lot of facts can be included, without bogging down the story and without ever getting close to "as you know, Bob, ..."
Kim Stanley Robinson examines some of the well worn science fiction tropes with a critical eye, and brings them to new life. Not much here feels taken from a standard inventory of science fiction ingredients, even it actually is. At the same time, you can feel the awareness of the science fiction tradition, old and new. There are lots of small nods and references, like calling one of the historical periods between our time and 2312 the Accelerando, or describing space as fugilin black (that has to be a reference to Gene Wolfe, who else ever uses that word?), or mentioning the Dhalgren sun. But of course Stan Robinson is just as aware of the rest of our culture, with references to other kinds of literature, and art, and music.
The soundtrack to this novel is Beethoven, by the way.