Smoke – Dan Vyleta

Sometimes speculative fiction creates entire new fantastical worlds. In other examples, like this book, a paradoxical provocation is introduced to a familiar world, in this case England about a century ago. The novel aspect in this story is that evil in thought or deed is manifested by the emanation of smoke from bodies. This produces a class distinction or separation; the upper class aristocrats and gentry generally do not smoke but the lower working classes are drenched in smoke that becomes a dense soot. So London becomes a particularly dark place. The protagonists are three young people exposed to lies, secrets and increasing violence and treachery. The crucial issues: rich versus poor, political differences, right versus wrong, love versus lust, and lots of guilt. This is very fine writing, reminiscent of some of Stephen King’s best stories.

The Mere Wife – Maria Dahvana Headley

The Mere Wife - Maria Dahvana HeadleyA strange story set in a dystopian future. A feminist story for sure – all the strong characters are women. And thus it is a book about motherhood but in a completely novel and somewhat bizarre fashion: two mothers in an American suburb fight to protect those that they love, so a modern retelling of the literary classic Beowulf with suburban monsters. Sorry to offer such cryptic comments but this is a hard book to categorize and characterize, but excellent speculative fiction.

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic – Emily Crow Barker

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic - Emily Crow BarkerThis is really excellent speculative fiction. Nora, an English graduate student, inadvertently crosses a portal into another remarkably different world, a world that is less technologically advanced but with MAGIC. This is an imaginative story of a truly different world. And we learn the difference between a wizard and a magician and how to distinguish real magic, with Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice having a prominent role in the story. Very entertaining.

The Power – Naomi Alderman

The Power - Naomi AldermanThis is an excellent example of speculative fiction. Imagine if young women acquire/discover a new physical power, an electrical discharge so by touch they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. This is the ultimate manifestation of girl power! Now imagine the impact of this fierce new female power on religion, politics and crime. This book takes us on an imaginative journey into an alternate reality with many elements that resonate in today’s world. Thanks to Chris/Amy for this recommendation.

An Ocean of Minutes – Thea Lim

An Ocean of Minutes - Thea LimThis Giller short-listed first novel is fabulous. The setting is 1980. To obtain medical treatment for her partner who has been stricken with a virulent flu, Polly agrees to time travel 12 years into the future to work for the TimeRaiser Corporation to rebuild America. So this is debt bondage, a form of indentured labour. The issue of time is considered in two ways: more time for her partner and time in the sense of memory. Will Polly be reunited with her partner Frank in 12 years, when he will have aged and she will not? The future is decidedly dystopian and so this book successfully melds several genres: what will you do to survive a pandemic, the dislocating effects of time travel forward and the return to your home, social issues of income inequality, the power of memory and the complexity of enduring love. This is just excellent story-telling.

Tess Of The Road – Rachel Hartman

Tess Of The Road - Rachel HartmanThis is a YA fantasy story set in medieval times with dragons, etc. Tess is a 17 year-old misfit, an obnoxious headstrong anarchist-in-training who invariably chooses to behave in a way that produces trouble and discord. Because of particularly scandalous behaviour, according to the norms of the day when women are supposed to lead constrained and subservient lives, Tess leaves on a journey of discovery, a pilgrimage of sorts. She is accompanied on part of this journey by a quigutl, a flightless sub-species of dragon (readers should consult the Glossary at the end of the book). Surprisingly, the story then becomes quite introspective about the nature of bad behaviour and finding one’s ash in the world, and thus more interesting than the average fantasy story. Overall, a very fun read.