#balisebooks – 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novella

After making choices for the Short Story award for the Hugo, I started reading the novellas, and ranking as I went as well. So let’s talk about all the Hugo nominated novellas 🙂 As for the short stories, any one of these is absolutely worth reading; I ended up having preferences… not necessarily where I was expecting (I was honestly thinking my #2 would finish #1, and I was expecting #5 to arrive much higher… and yet.), and all the works are very different, which I enjoyed.

6. The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark

This is a story set in an alternative Cairo at the very beginning of the 20th century. Alternative, because djinns, magic and alchemy have been a thing enough that there exists a Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. We follow Hamed and Onsi, who have been tasked with understanding the why and the how of The Haunting of Tram Car 015 – as the title helpfully hints 😉 The atmosphere (including some great background about women’s voting rights) and world-building were fascinating, and I liked the character dynamic between Hamed, a fairly senior agent, and Onsi, a wonderfully enthusiastic newbie. For me specifically, it lacked something (I don’t know what!) to make it entirely memorable, which I regret.

5. This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

I really, really wanted to love this one. Time travelling Romeo&Juliet? Yes please. Epistolary novel where the protagonists explain in detail their medium of writing, and every single one is more wonderful than the next? YES PLEASE. Absolutely gorgeous writing, to the point of real poetry? Doesn’t hurt, and check. Buuuuuuuuuuut I wasn’t able to connect with that book to the point I feel I should have to enjoy it fully. I think it’s a matter of “it’s not the book, it’s me” – and I think it’ll be high on the list of “things I need to re-read when I think I’ll be able to connect with it more”. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this one gets the Best Novella award, and I’d be happy with it; it was just not my thing this time around (and I’m sad about it.)

4. The Deep, by Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes

The Deep talks about the wajinru, a folk that lives in the depth of the ocean. The wajinru have a historian, who’s chosen in every generation to hold the (traumatic) memory of their people. We follow the story of Yetu, the current historian – who has a very hard time holding that history in herself. The history of the wajinru is haunting, and its description in The Deep is fantastically well-rendered. The story of Yetu is heartbreaking and yet very relatable. And there’s a whole lot of philosophical questions around sacrifice, and around the idea of identity versus history, that I found very interesting too. This was not a fast-paced book, but it was very impactful.

3. Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom, by Ted Chiang

The premise of this is very cool – consider a device, called a prism, that allows SOME communication between two parallel universes that differ from the point of a quantum event shown recorded by the device in question. Now, consider the use that quantum event as a “coin flip” – and boom, you have something that allows you to answer the question of “what if I had made that other choice?”. And since that quantum event has some chaotic consequences, you can find prisms in which things diverge in larger or smaller measures. On top of that setting, add some people who are trying to make profit from these communications with parallel universes, and boom, you get Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom (love that title, by the way). I really liked the exploration of what worked and what didn’t in the setting, and the questions about “what is actually ‘core me'” was fascinating too. All in all, this was a very enthusing read 🙂

2. To Be Taught, If Fortunate, by Becky Chambers

This was the only novella I read before the Hugo nominations were out – because Becky Chambers, if you think I’m going to wait months before reading anything Becky Chambers writes… well. (Yes, I’m fangirling hard. Deal with it.) At the time I read it last year, I was writing: “A chronicle about a long-term space mission – 4 people on a starship, exploring 4 very different planets. It has a solid, competent crew, and science, and feels, and it feels so much longer (in a good way!!) than the small amount of pages, and it’s lovely, and am I fangirling a little bit too hard here? naaaahhh…”. I’ll keep it at that; and since it was the first I read and I loved it so much, that was a very high bar.

1. In an Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire

My vote for Best Novella will go to In an Absent Dream. It’s about the tale of Katherine Lundy, who finds a door to the Goblin Market, where rules are important and fair value is an absolute rule (what “fair value” means is also discussed and a whole part of the book). I loved the main character, I loved the concept of the Goblin Market, and I profoundly enjoyed the fact that the more “epic” parts of the story were actually not shown but barely mentioned as “events that happened” (and that actually had important consequences!). This was a magical read – and definitely not all rainbows and unicorns, it also had a fair amount of sadness and of bittersweetness – and I loved this novella so much. Seanan McGuire (and the series of which In an Absent Dream is a part of) is definitely on the list of people from whom I want to read more stuff (… as soon as I’m done with reading all I can for the Hugo voting, I mean!)

“Hugo Award”, “Worldcon” and The Hugo Award Logo are service marks of the World Science Fiction Society, an unincorporated literary society.

#balisebooks – 2020 Hugo Award for Best Short Story

I subscribed to the “I want to vote for the Hugo awards” tier of CoNZealand/Worldcon a few months ago, and the voter packets have just arrived! I don’t expect to be able to vote for all the awards, because there is A LOT of content, and not that much time until mid-July; but the Short Story one is definitely a “low-hanging fruit” when it comes to making my mind for the one I want to vote for. So I read all of them, and here’s my personal ranking!

The cool thing about short stories is that most of them are publicly available, so you can go and have a look too 🙂 And the cool thing about Hugo-nominated stories is that they are all worth a read – I have my favorites and the ones I like less, but they are all objectively great works.

6. Do Not Look Back, My Lion – Alix E. Harrow

Eefa is a self-described good husband, but she’s fed up with her wife going to war, again, especially since said wife is pregnant, again. As you can probably see from this short description, there’s a fair amount of playing with/subverting traditional gender role clichés in this short story – which I’m all in favor of. But, while it is very well-written, and while I actually like the characters, I get the impression that this is the main point of the story, and that I’d like a bit more plot. To be honest, and that probably says more about me than about the story… I was somewhat bored.

5. A Catalog of Storms – Fran Wilde

In Sila’s world, the way to weather storms is to name them and yell at them; but the weathermen who have this power end up being taken by the storms. This was for sure very poetic and I thought I would love this – but it ended up being somewhat confusing for me, and it didn’t move me much. Loved the lists of winds, though – these are beautiful. Oh, and the cover of the Uncanny in which this has been published is fantastic.

4. And Now His Lordship Is Laughing – Shiv Ramdas

In India during WWII, Apa, a Bengali old woman, makes jute dolls that caught the eye of the local governor – who won’t take no for an answer when he asks for one. This was the first story I read, and while I liked it a lot, I knew it would probably not get my vote. The story and the context are powerful, and the writing is superb and memorable, but this is not the kind of stories that I personally enjoy. The historical context makes it complicated for me – yes, I’m glad I read it because I suck at world history and anything that makes me aware of historical events and makes me look into them is welcome, and there’s no denying that these stories are important to tell and to read, but it doesn’t make the experience… comfortable. Not that reading should be comfortable, but I’ll admit that my own discomfort makes this short story lower in my rating that it probably deserves.

3. Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island – Nibedita Sen

Literally what the title says – a story of “cannibal women of Ratnabar Island” (and one who’s been brought to England), told as excerpts from an annotated bibliography. I found it very interesting how much story can be told and implied in such a short story. I absolutely loved to see the many sides of the story (that felt fun and quite cheeky), and I’d be very curious about a longer form – although a longer form would probably not deliver the same punch. And I was delighted by the form of this work. All in all, loved it.

2. As the Last I May Know – S.L. Huang

A story from the point of view of Nyma, a young girl who carries the codes for “seres missiles” in her chest: if the President wants to use said missiles, he has to kill her first to access them. It’s definitely a story built on a moral dilemma (which feels like some kind of variation of the trolley dilemma) as a major plot device, but there’s enough flesh given to the characters that it’s more than that. It’s a bleak story, but I’d qualify that as “softly bleak” – with more resignation and acceptance than hate and vengeance. And it was honestly a tough choice between this and the next one for the first place.

1. Blood Is Another Word for Hunger – Rivers Solomon

Sully, a teenage slave, mass-murders the family that owns her, and gives birth to Ziza, already a teenager at the time of her birth too. I feel like I should not have liked this story. For one thing, it’s quite graphical with a LOT of blood, and the premise is way more WTF than I usually like. And, as I mentioned in And Now His Lordship Is Laughing, historical context often makes me uncomfortable. And all in all, this is a strange and uncomfortable story – uncanny may be the right word – and yet haunting and beautiful and a real surprise when it comes to “I… I think I liked this a lot, although I can’t explain it”.

There, that’s all for me. As hinted at the beginning, I will actually be happy with any of these short stories winning the award. This is the first time I read the whole selection and get to have Opinions on this specific award, so I wouldn’t dare to bet on the winner 😉 They’re all very solid choices; the general selection seems to be somewhat bleaker than what I usually enjoy in my fiction, but I can only recommend all of you to have a look at these if you’re in the market for some short bites to read.

“Hugo Award”, “Worldcon” and The Hugo Award Logo are service marks of the World Science Fiction Society, an unincorporated literary society.

#balisebooks backlog

I published a few stand-alone reviews recently (Otaku, Could be Something Good, Quiche of Death, The City We Became, Solving Sophronia), but I read much more than that in the past few months, so let’s get rid of the backlog with a couple of notes 😉

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen – I had never read Pride and Prejudice, but it had been on my list for a while – it IS considered a classic, but it’s a classic with a “popular” reputation, as opposed to classics of the kind “I remember reading that during high school, Worst Book Ever” 😉 And I thoroughly enjoyed the story of the Bennet sisters, of their family, friends and acquaintances.

Hold Me and The Year of the Crocodile – Courtney Milan – still in the Cyclone series started with Trade me. I enjoyed both of these thoroughly, they’re cute as hell, funny, and nothing to not love there.

After Atlas – Emma Newman – second book of Planetfall, which happens on Earth with a few plot links to Planetfall itself. This is the story of Carlos, an indentured detective, who investigates a very gory murder. This was vastly different from Planetfall, still good, but far less memorable for me.

Naked in Death – J.D. Robb – first book of a Very Long Series (this thing has roughly 50 book, ongoing) – and J.D. Robb is also better known as Nora Roberts. It’s a pretty formulaic but very decent detective story in a close-ish futuristic/vaguely cyber world, starring Eve dallas as homicide detective, and overall it’s a good start for a “background series” I could see myself read for a long time.

Red, White & Royal Blue – Casey McQuiston – a very cute romance involving the son of the President of the United States and the Prince of Wales. Think West Wing meets super cute and funny gay romcom. Loved it.

Maybe You Should Talk To Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed – Lori Gottlieb – I listened that one as an audiobook while wandering the streets of Zürich, and it seems plausible that audiobooks work quite well for me when it comes to autobiographies/memoirs. Gottlieb, as a therapist, goes through a pretty bad breakup (and finds a therapist to help her go through it), while at the same time works with various patients, more or less sympathetic, more or less broken, more or less tragic. I enjoyed that memoir thoroughly, although it could feel somewhat voyeuristic at times.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body – Roxane Gay – I honestly do not know how to talk about this. It feels weird and somewhat “wrong” to appreciate that much a book that tells about someone’s story and struggles in such a “raw” way. Definitely a powerful telling; a lot of trigger warnings (rape and food disorders, both with a fair amount of details), and a weird mix of heartbreak and power. I don’t see how I could recommend that book to anyone, but I’m very glad I read it.

Almost Everything: Notes on HopeAnne Lamott – a collection of autobiographical essays/short chapters. Listened to that on Audible; definitely a mixed bag: about half of it I found funny or moving, and about half of it made me roll my eyes very loudly.

Valour and Vanity – Mary Robinette Kowal – fourth book of Glamourist histories. I didn’t enjoy that one as much as the previous ones – the heist theme didn’t do it for me.

Grown Ups – Marian Keyes – I will absolutely read everything Marian Keyes writes, and I read that in the weeks following its publication. A deftly woven dysfunctional family story, which I really really liked, but part of the ending was a tad too bittersweet for me (although it made perfect sense).

The Caves of Steel – Isaac Asimov – that one’s a re-read (of multiple re-reads). It’s the first “grown-up” science-fiction books I ever read, and it will always have a special place in my heart. It’s set in a distant future where Earth has the properly unsustainable population of 8 billion (heh 🙂 ), and where a number of colonies have been spawned. The colonies have a kind of “embassy”, called Spacetown, where the access is very restricted – and yet, a murder occured. Earth Detective Elijah Baley gets pulled on the investigation, with the help of Daneel Olivaw – a positronic robot. For a book written in 1954, it obviously didn’t age perfectly, but it aged surprisingly well 🙂 Definitely a classic.

The Naked Sun – Isaac Asimov – I actually re-read Caves of Steel because I wanted to re-read Naked Sun (which is the second book in that series). In Naked Sun, Elijah and Daneel are sent to Solaria, a planet that has births very much under control, and on which only 10000 people live. The interesting thing is that the society evolved in a way that people never see each other physically, only “view” themselves via holographic projections. That kind of thing sounded very on point a few weeks ago (and still does, in some places and in some circumstances) – and I really liked the distinction between “see” and “view” in Solaria’s vocabulary. Also: I really like this book anyway 😀

All Systems Red and Artifical Condition – Martha Wells – I gave a new chance to the Murderbot series. I hadn’t been convinced by my first read of All Systems Red, and as I re-read it, I’m not sure why, because it’s great. We follow a Security Unit who dubs itself Murderbot, but who has essentially one goal in life: be left alone to watch the equivalent of Netflix 🙂 Unfortunately, things don’t always go its way. It’s funny, it’s surprisingly wholesome, and I’ll definitely continue reading the others.

The Collapsing Empire / The Consuming Fire / The Last Emperox – John Scalzi – the third and last book of The Interdependency got published this month, so I re-read the first two to have them fresh in my mind. The Interdependency series sees a collision of two major events: there’s a new emperox, Grayland II, who was not exactly supposed to become emperox in the first place (she only did because her older brother died in a stupid accident); and the Flow, which constitutes the only way of traveling between all the star systems of the Empire, starts collapsing for unclear reasons, and it’s apparently unavoidable. The Interdependency series, with that premise, uses a cast of colorful characters and snarky writing to deliver a very satisfying story, which feels more like a very large book than like three distincts books.

The Flatshare, Beth O’Leary – Leon and Tiffy enter a flatshare/bedshare agreement: Leon works nights as a palliative nurse, Tiffy works days as craft book editor, and they actually never meet… but end up having a full-blown correspondance on post-its. A great romcom, with some more sobering aspects (Tiffy’s ex-boyfriend is a Real Problem), but I enjoyed that book a lot – very cute and very funny, with great characters.

Solving Sophronia – Jennifer Moore

Look at that, it’s time for another NetGalley. I asked for this one solely on the fact that the cover was pretty and the title intriguing, and I’m very happy I did!

Solving Sophronia introduces the Blue Orchid Society – a group of high society ambitious women in end-of-19th-century London, who decide one fateful ball night to take their destinies into their own hands.

Lady Sophronia “Sophie” Bremerton, subject of this first book in the series, is a society columnist, but her ambition is to become an investigative reporter.

And it so happens that she runs into the scene of a crime, and that her deep knowledge of woman fashion leads to some very astute remarks. Jonathan Graham, the detective in charge of the investigation, doesn’t believe that civilians should be involved in police investigations, but he quickly sees the values of Sophie’s insights and connections.

I knew I had made the right call on that book from the dedication line, which was “For Margot, the Crabtree to my Higgins” – as a Murdoch Mysteries fan myself, this was a very good sign indeed. And Solving Sophronia definitely has a Murdoch mood to it – part of it is the era and context, obviously, but it runs deeper – to my delight.

The mystery and its investigation were interesting; the characters were lovable. The rhythm of the ending felt a bit off – and possibly a bit rushed. It didn’t impact much my enjoyment of the book. I particularly liked that Sophie’s strengths handled as “look what I can bring that is different” more than “look how I can do the same things as you”. But most of all, I loved the idea and the introduction of the Blue Orchid Society. I’m looking forward to the adventures of its other members!

The City We Became – N.K. Jemisin

I loved this book enough that it absolutely deserves its own blog post, so there we go.

The City We Became starts with the premises that when a city becomes old enough and large enough and… “enough”, it becomes somehow alive, and embodied by a human avatar.

And right now, it’s New York’s time to shine. But things don’t go exactly as planned. First, something or someone is apparently fighting hard for New York not to be born. Second, New York is not represented by one, but by several avatars.

For the rest, I’ll let you get to know New York’s avatars and their fight to save their city against the what threatens to destroy them all – with the help of a couple of other cities, thankfully.

I’ve been to New York twice, and I wouldn’t say I know the city well. It’s large and loud and great and overwhelming, that’s for sure. But I did enjoy seeing it through Jemisin’s fantastic prose, recognizing a few bits here and there, and it definitely made me want to go back there. Some book settings are described as “the city acts like a character in itself” – Jemisin took that one literally, and her city is plain brilliant (and quite snarky).

Some readers on The Internets criticized the amount of “on the nose wokeness” and/or “SJW agenda”. I say bring it on. Yes, it was a tad on the nose sometimes. And it was SO GOOD. I did, however, have a large issue with this book. My brain couldn’t stop interrupting my reading every 5 to 10 pages fangirling about HOW GREAT IS THIS BOOK AAAAAAAAH I LOVE IT.

And you know the best thing? It’s planned to be a series. And I already look forward to re-reading this one before I read the next one. And if you want a taste of it, the prologue is available on Tor.com’s website under the title The City Born Great. It’s… almost identical to the prologue, that is 😉

Authors, beware: The City We Became is my current yardstick for “best book I read in 2020”. You have been warned 🙂

Quiche of Death – Mary Lee Ashford

Third NetGalley in a row? Third NetGalley in a row. I couldn’t resist the pun of the title, and I did like the cover, so I applied for it… and got it a few days ago.

I had missed that it was the third book of a series, but it wasn’t that problematic: even if events of previous books were referred to, the book itself is fairly self-contained.

Sugar and Dixie have a business of publishing “community” or “vanity” cookbooks; for this one, they are talking to the Arbor Family, who made their fortune with quiche and eventually frozen dishes.

Sugar and Dixie are invited to a family gathering – a good occasion to try and talk to everybody and get content for the cookbook. But before anything starts, really, the girlfriend of one of the family’s sons dies with an arrow stuck in her chest…

I was expecting a cozy mystery type of book – with FOOD – and in that sense, the Quiche of Death delivered. We get to know the Arbor family and the B&B that a part of the family is running, and it definitely hits the boxes of a whodunnit in a small-town setting, and there’s also a number of places where I went “well, I could do with the recipe of THAT”, and the recipe was indeed at the end of the book.

I was, however, a bit more skeptical about the rhythm of the book. The first half just felt… off in a way that I can’t really describe, but I had a hard time getting into the first 40-50% of the book. It went better afterwards, but the ending almost felt rushed. I’m not saying it was bad, but it was not really compatible with me, probably. I also hard a hard time making sense of who was who in the secondary characters (the Arbor family and associates). The characters from the established universe felt more substantial, even though I felt that I missed the previous book (but I can’t blame this one for that, can I).

All in all, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy Quiche of Death – it was a competent, if not great, mystery. It had some endearing points that actually make me consider reading the first two books. In particular, I do find the idea using the associates of a cookbook publishing company as main protagonists of a series interesting and my own kind of quirk 🙂 If you’re looking for a light and cozy mystery, Quiche of Death may just hit the right spot for you.

Could Be Something Good – Fiona West

Look at that, another Netgalley. The cover of Could be Something Good grabbed my attention, and the blurb made me go “why not”, even though I had never heard of the book or of its author 🙂

Protagonist A, Winifred “Winnie” Baker, nurse and midwife freshly arrived in the small town of Timber Falls, Oregon, and daughter of a very intimidating doctor at the local hospital.

Protagonist B, Daniel Durand, resident of said hospital under the direction of Doctor Baker, dealing with a very nice but somewhat intrusive family, and with dyslexia.

Boy meets girl, cute shenanigans ensue. I very much enjoyed my reading of this book: it was fairly low-key conflict-wise, very cute, funny, and the characters were very endearing. I particularly liked Winnie’s relationship with her chosen career path and with her mother. In some ways, the mood of this book made me think of Bluebell, the town from the Hart of Dixie TV series – and kind of made me want to re-watch that 😉

I was a tiny bit disappointed by the ending, which I found somewhat rushed, but this was still very nice, and very much spot on for what I was in the mood to read right now.

Otaku – Chris Kluwe

A few weeks ago, I opened a NetGalley account just to have an idea and a look and maybe possibly get a few books – you never know. I looked for books that I had heard about and was interested in reading, with a “soon-ish” publication date, and I found out that Otaku, by Chris Kluwe, was available, so I signed up for it. I had initially heard about that book via The Big Idea: Chris Kluwe on John Scalzi’s blog; I wouldn’t necessarily have seen or heard of that one otherwise, because the title wouldn’t have necessarily attracted my attention in the first place.

Anyway, I eventually got an e-mail telling me that I could indeed get the book – and it was good timing too, since I had just finished another book the night before. And since it’s feels fair to do a “proper” review in that case, this is what you get (yay, a full blog post!).

In Otaku, we get to meet Ash and her friends and family in a post-climate-change world where everything kind of broke down to several levels. Ash is one of the world’s best player of the Game – think all-you-can-think-of MMORPG with haptic suits as a controller. She deals with more than her share of abuse for it, and essentially tries to scrape by – until she accidentally stumbles on something much larger than her.

I thoroughly enjoyed Otaku. The world-building is great, the action scenes are spectacularly written, and special kudos to the Game action scenes in particular – those felt real, as in “yes, this is something I could definitely imagine gaming going to”. The pacing also really worked for me – rapid, but not hectic, with some breathing time allowed between tougher scenes. It also needs to be said that there’s a fair amount of graphical violence depicted in this book – weirdly enough, it didn’t bother me, but I could see it being a problem for other readers.

As for the things I wasn’t so enthusiastic about… The characters, especially the secondary ones, could have done with a bit more fleshing out – I don’t think it lacked MUCH, but a tiny bit more would have been a good thing. What bothered me most was that the stakes of the late plot felt way too high for the context – I think a smaller scale could have been used for the same dramatic effect while feeling less exaggerated.

Still – this was a very enjoyable read, I had a very hard time putting it down when it was time to sleep. And, as mentioned, I don’t think I would have picked it up if not for the Big Idea post – but I’m very happy I did 🙂

52Frames – 2020-12 – Books

The 52Frames theme this week was Books. I got rid of most of my book collection a few years ago – but I still have a few bookshelves here and there. A large part of what I have left are cookbooks (the whole left bookshelf, andspilling a bit on the second one); and then there’s a number of things that I prefer reading on paper (comics… and yeah, cookbooks), a few “hard-to-find”, and some that I kept for sentimental value. There’s still a few bookshelves around the apartment – tech and math books are not here, RPG books are next to the board games shelf 🙂

The picture itself is quite unremarkable. I wanted to get a reasonably clean, geometric shot – which I tried to get as much as I could in camera, but which got mostly achieved by postprocessing to fix lense deformation and perspective issues. I kept the framing a bit larger than I initially thought I would – the framing felt better with the line of the couch and the line of the ceiling.

Plus, the couch and the shelf of chocolate give a bit of story-telling, which I like 🙂

What I’d read – and avoid – right now

Spending more time at home + avoiding social media because of its incompatibility with my anxiety levels = I’m pretty sure my goal of 70 books for 2020 is going to be done way before December 😛 (That, or I’ll have all classes and all races at max level in World of Warcraft before the end of the summer. Can go both ways).

And since I seem to function better if my reads are aligned with my state of mind, here are a few thoughts on how I intend to achieve that 🙂

General considerations

  • I’ll be avoiding certain themes:
    • epidemics and contagions, because I really don’t need these
    • apocalypse and post-apocalypse: same, I think it’ll tend to fuel things that I don’t need right now
    • anything where people are overly social, because that just feels WEIRD right now, at least in a contemporary setting. In the book I just finished yesterday, there’s a few “restaurants-and-bars” scenes, and it really felt… disconnected and weird and “this would not happen this way right now”.
  • I’m strongly considering re-reads of “feel-good” books, because that’s never a bad move when comfort is needed. Re-reads also have the advantage of knowing where I’m standing with regards of the themes I want to avoid.
  • As far as new books are concerned, my current train of thoughts is along these lines:
    • Escapism is good, give me all the escapism. For me, this probably means a mix of “romance with guaranteed happily ever after” book and non-grimdark science-fiction. Probably avoid settings around war or happening before the discovery of antibiotics.
    • Paradoxically (considering I just talked about escapism 😉 ) I’m feeling drawn to close-quarter stories, assuming said situation is a “plot device” and not the main reason everything goes to shit 😛 Think “cosy mysteries” mood, but probably avoiding “extreme isolation” books.
    • It’s probably easier to find “safe bets” with non-fiction right now – well-chosen biographies, books centered about inner life (creativity, meditation…), technical books.

Some suggestions

Given my own set of constraints, here are a few things, in no particular order, that I’d recommend and deem as “hopefully safe” (my memory being what it is….. mistakes may happen).

  • Almost all of Becky Chambers (I’d avoid To Be Taught, If Fortunate): my own literary hot chocolate, the books I’ve re-read most in these past few years. I don’t think I’m due for a re-read just yet, buuut we’ll see.
  • Gretchen McCulloch’s Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language – this is actually a perfect time to brush on your internet communication 😀
  • Agatha Christie looks like a safe bet – I’d personally avoid And Then There Were None but I think that’s the only one coming to mind in that case.
  • I think most of Isaac Asimov’s Robots would work, with a caveat for The Naked Sun (see “open for consideration” section) – small caveat because there’s a part of the population that’s pretty germaphobe.
  • Tobias Klausmann’s Slingshot series – definitely safe, absolutely good.
  • My existing meditation practice has helped me tremendously – but I think more by the fact that I’m “used” to doing it than I would if I was just starting. Still, if you’re interested in the question, Andy Puddicombe’s The Headspace Guide to Meditation & Mindfulness and Dan Harris’ Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics are IMO good introductions. They’re kind of linked to the corresponding guided meditation apps – which are both very useful in my opinion.
  • Jessie Mihalik’s Polaris Rising/Aurora Blazing – pure scifi romance escapism. I’ll probably give a try to her other series.
  • I enjoyed the few Tessa Dare romances I’ve read so far; I believe them to be safe (within my own constraints) despite the historical setting, and I’ll probably dig more into her books soon, because they’re good and funny and give me the right happy feelz.
  • I’m also probably going to dig more into Courtney Milan’s books – her Cyclone series would definitely be a “recommend” on this list (contemporary setting, but characters are not overly social).

Some books I’d avoid right now

There’s a few things I read more or less recently that I would avoid right now. I’m just going to put a couple of “trigger warnings”, hoping that I’m not spoiling too much there. Some of them are completely obvious, some of them possibly less so. And the things I’m avoiding may actually be the things some other people are craving for! 🙂

  • James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series, especially books 1-4 (later books are probably okay) – TW contagion/epidemic.
  • Becky Chambers’ To Be Taught, If Fortunate – TW cabin fever.
  • Connie Willis’ The Doomsday Book – TW epidemic
  • Cory Doctorow’s Radicalized – especially the Radicalized story (TW bad healthcare) and The Mask of the Red Death story (TW contagion, cabin fever)
  • Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend – TW epidemic, post-apo
  • Stephen King’s The Stand – TW epidemic

Some “open for consideration” books

And then there are a few where I’m on the fence 😉 As in: “I think they would actually work pretty well for me, but I don’t feel comfortable suggesting/recommending them to other people” 🙂

  • John Scalzi’s Lock In and Head on. The premise IS about an epidemic, but the books happen years after said epidemic, in a world that’s recovered and rose to the challenge in a good way. I’d absolutely avoid Unlocked, though (which tells the story of said epidemic).
  • Isaac Asimov’s The Naked Sun – the setting is a world where “social distancing” has been cranked to 11; I’m actually strongly in the mood to re-read this one, but it may feel weird to consider that society right now.
  • Andy Weir’s The Martian – I do believe that it’s funny enough that it works, but I’d be wary about a story of extreme isolation.

Now, my dear readers: do you have suggestions? I’m also interested in your criteria of inclusion/exclusion, if such exist!