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As Ursula K. Le Guin said, "Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape? If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!" I want to find the books, fantasy and otherwise, that do this; the ones that help me escape the boxes in my mind, the limitations of previous thought, and the banalities that petrify my imagination. I want to read the books written by people who tell stories usually ignored and find our escape together.
If you haven't read anything by N.K. Jemisin yet you should start! The Fifth Season is the first in her Broken Earth Trilogy as well as being the first in her back-to-back-to back Hugo Award wins (which has never happened before!). As usual, her characters are complex, her world-building is extraordinary, and her critique of power is incisive. In a world racked by unpredictable, civilization-destroying earthquakes and populated by people who can manipulate energy, we follow three interwoven narrations, each story insisting on being told. As with the best of her genre, Jemisin transports us to a wholly magical place but one filled with visions of our own world in every corner.
Danny is a 15 year old trans girl, one who has had to hide her true self until the moment a superhero dies at her feet and grants her his powers, immediately transforming her body to match the one of her dreams. Each of Danny's transformations are incredible blessings but ones that carry great cost; she has to navigate a world filled with abusive adults, sexist friends and super-powered transphobes. April Daniels is incredible in her insight and the way she finesses the complexities of a transgender teen's life all the while interrogating oft-held assumptions of the superhero genre. Parts of this story are very difficult to read but as Charlie Jane Anders says, "I didn't know how much I needed this brave, thrilling book until it rocked my world."
Ann Leckie does some incredible tricks in her Ancillary Trilogy. First, she shows us what the world would sound like if feminine pronouns were the default. This is both disconcerting and wonderful. It poses a challenge to readers to reconsider how and why we gender characters in our minds and what impact that has on our perception of their actions. Her second trick is, at times, even harder to imagine and very difficult to explain. Imagine seeing the world through thousands of pairs of eyes, united by a single consciousness, while also holding a sense of individuality. Leckie takes these seemingly disparate ideas and weaves them into a beautiful tapestry set in a region of space both familiar and alien to those of us on Earth.
The grand dame of science-fiction is perhaps better known for her Parable duology but the three books which make up Lilith’s Brood are just as powerful. Earth has been decimated by human warfare and an alien race has decided to colonize and repopulate. Through a generational lens Butler explores topics of free will, desire, and, most unsettling, consent. This is not an easy book to read, but it does what the best books do well: it challenges us, forces it’s readers to confront difficult topics while offering transformation through the process. If we are not better people having engaged with Butler’s ideas we at least have a new kind of clarity.
Little Fish took me into it's arms and swallowed me whole, until I disappeared completely, only to spit me out again with all my secrets laid bare under the piercing moonlight of Casey Plett's words. No other book has felt so fully like an author dipping their pen into the ink of my soul; no other book has been this overwhelming.
What an incrdible book! Jordy Rosenberg examines queerness, imperialism, sex work and the history of policing with magnificent passioon and imagination. The last two pages are the best I've ever read and had me crying and texting all my friends. Uggghh, I loved it so much.
Charlie Jane Anders is one of my favorite authors and my eyes turn into hearts/exclamation points whenever I find something she's written. This book is incredible and could be taught as a masterclass in genre-bending sci-fi/fantasy. Oh! and the way she approaches time and structures the novel is so unique it had me gasping in gratitude and awe.