Here's a quick run through of books on my bedside table of late.
Nnedi Okarofor "Who Fears Death"
Okarofor writes in a spare prose style which is effective with her powerful story, setting and characters. "Who Fears Death" is a post-apocalyptic story of an Africa that has rejected most technology, where myth and magic are gaining power but are interwoven beautifully with every day life. There are some very difficult themes in the book (rape, genocide, female circumcision), so be prepared. I found it a tough but rewarding read.
C.J. Cherryh "Downbelow Station"
I've had a run of hard science fiction books this year where I've struggled to immerse myself in the story. Cherryh's "Downbelow Station" is one of them, and I think the infodump at the start and introduction of unsympathetic characters so early on is what tripped me up. I'm not adverse to scoundrel characters, and I love crunchy world building and galaxy stretching politics, but I think I'm a little blown out on these in the last few years (Peter F. Hamilton destroyed me on that side I think). I'll maybe take another look at this book later.
Chris Moriarty "Spin State"
I loved loved LOVED the science in this book - super crunchy hard sci fi. Unfortunately, with some books I feel really dumb, and while I can usually let any science I don't always understand wash over me, the science was integral to the plot and I struggled. Enjoyed a super female protagonist and the action, but I got lost in the politics and plot about halfway in. Another one I'll try to come back to later. But if you're a fan of super hard SF, this is for you.
Joan D. Vinge "The Snow Queen"
I blogged about the cover of this book and I wanted to admit I'm having a patchy relationship with the story. I've picked it up and put it down three times this year. The prose is lovely, and the characters are interesting, but the major flaw in the book is the relationship between Arenrhod and her clone Moon which is supposed to be the main driver of the story. I've read over half of the book now and the two have only interacted once, briefly. I get no animosity towards each other from them, and their motivations seem to be more to do with their relationship with their planet than with each other. A lot of good world and politics building, but too little story. I know it's supposed to be a SF feminist classic, but it hasn't aged well to me. Will plow on through when I have some time.
Jim C. Hines "The Stepsister Scheme"
I sometimes get so wrapped up in reading as research and good brain explosions that I forget to read for fun...and Hines is FUN! I can't wait to share this book (and probably the rest of the series if they're all just as good) with my nieces when they're old enough to read YA fantasy. Hines takes fairytale tropes and turns them on their head in superb feminist style, with female characters of all types with their strengths and flaws. Fairly standard YA stuff, but with a major improvement - it shows women learning and teaching other about team work and valuing that teamwork. Fairly heady stuff in a society that teaches girls to treat other women as the enemy and competition for men. Sleeping Beauty is a desert born assassin, Snow White is a witch who killed her mother, and together they teach Cinderella witchy assassiny arts WHILE RESCUING THE PRINCE. I can't stop giggling while reading this. Totally recommended.
Octavia E. Butler "Lillith's Brood"
Butler is another who is spare in prose, but great with characters and story. Her aliens are especially interesting because they are so very different, in look, social structure and gendering. Here I read the first book "Dawn" and will return to the other two in the trilogy later. While Butler spent a lot of time on the characterization of her aliens, the humans lacked, almost falling into stereotypes. I was also disappointed with her handling of rape scenes (there were no emotional consequences, and Lilith had little sympathy for any other woman it happened to, though she physically defended them within her parameters as group leader), how one track mind macho the men were, and how hetero the pairings of the group were. There would be no room for queer people at the birth of a new human civilization?