The Month of Good Books #1 – When We Wake and Caution: contains small parts

I’m reading books this month, and it shouldn’t feel quite so revolutionary a concept, but there you are. Having spent a year reading classic novels, rereading Doctor Who tie ins and generally slacking off, I now have a very short time to inhale all the books that are CURRENT and RELEVANT and potentially AWARDWORTHY SF and fantasy of 2013, especially those by female authors. In other words, Galactic Suburbia Recommends type books. I feel I’ve let the side down a bit over the last 12 months in that regard.

Luckily, having come to the end of the year, I have a very condensed list of books I’m pretty sure I’m going to love. And this is the month when I end up with heat-exhausted small children collapsed across me, which works out well for reading.

Of the seven books that I am really desperate to have read before nominations for things become urgent (I nominate for Nebulas now! Nebulas are cool!) I have covered 2 in the last week, which is pretty good going for me. I’m sure the list will

Only tiny reviews, to ensure I actually write up the things.

whenwewakeWhen We Wake by Karen Healey is really wonderful. It was pitched as a science fictional Sleeping Beauty tale, but I found elements of Snow White in there too – only fragments, though. Sixteen-year old Tegan is shot and killed by a sniper bullet at an environmental rally ten years in our future, and thanks to signing a ‘donate my body to science’ form, is awoken from cryogenic freezing a century later as part of a program to revive dead soldiers. I appreciated so many things about this story which uses smart extrapolation from current issues (especially politics and the environment) to build a credible near-future Australia. It reads at times like the novel is in direct response to some of the more public failings of the Abbott government, which makes it all the more clever (and depressing) as it was written published when Gillard was still Prime Minister.

But a diverse cast, a nuanced future (in which some social issues have improved, and others have gone quite down hill) this is a book I would love to see taken up by the Australian curriculum as there are so many elements of this futuristic Australia for teens to discuss – immigration, cultural and race issues, anti-military bias, climate change, faith religion drug legality and more. The protagonist is Christian, which is something you don’t see in YA that often, and the characters closest to her include a Muslim and an atheist – and for those seeking positive-but-casual representation of queer or trans characters, the book provides both.

Most importantly, it’s a ripping good read, full of pace. It’s open for at least one sequel (coming May 2014), so not everything is resolved, but the thriller aspects are entertaining and I’m looking forward to seeing where Karen takes it. This is exactly the kind of book I wanted all those times I complained about the lack of YA SF on Galactic Suburbia.

SmallPartsIn other news, Caution: contains small parts by Kirstyn McDermott is also wonderful. I might even venture to say that it’s the best so far of the Twelve Planets boutique collections, and that’s got some pretty stiff competition (not looking at Margo Lanagan’s Cracklescape or Kaaron Warren’s Through Splintered Walls in particular).

The four stories are dark and perfect. “What Amanda Wants” is a chilling weird story about a women’s crisis counsellor in inner city Melbourne who takes far too much interest in one of her clients, a girl with a mystery to her. “Horn” is a sharp and sad story about a bestselling male fantasy author who has lost everything – there’s layers of cynical genre and gender commentary in this one along with the melancholy and the violent unicorns. The collection’s title story, ‘Caution: contains small parts’ is perhaps the slightest piece of the book, and certainly the closest to a conventional horror story with its unlikeable ‘everyman’ male protagonist surrounded by women he has let down, and yet it’s so well crafted and becomes a remarkably kind story rather than following any obvious path. The final piece, “The Home For Broken Dolls,” is the Australian horror/fantasy story that everyone should be talking about, the one that should get Kirstyn noticed by international readers and juries if there is any justice in the world. It’s feminist, clever, dark, grotesque. I’ll be nominating it for all the things.