Over the last year I’ve plowed through a lot of short fiction and continued to nurture my interest in speculative fiction by women, but here are some of my highlights.
The Seasons of Trouble: Life amid the ruins of Sri Lanka’s civil war (Rohini Mohan, 2014)
The author is a journalist and has created this nonfiction narrative from her interviews. Sri Lanka’s twenty-six-year civil war ended in 2009, but the experiences of these two Tamil families reveal struggles below and beyond chronologies or ‘the news’. Reading fiction is said to foster empathy, and I’m sure I’ve learnt more encountering these suspended lives than I could from any traditional reportage.
Who Fears Death (Nnedi Okorafor, 2010)
Her 2014 novel is the scintillating Lagoon (alien invasion Nigerian style), but it was Who Fears Death that shook me. I can’t remember reading a story of such relentless fury. Sparked by the news of weaponised rape in Sudan, this is part creation myth, part post-apocalypse and part alternate history, all of it uncanny and gut-wrenching.
That Deadman Dance (Kim Scott, 2010)
For me, living cross-culturally, the horizon-stretching experience of reading fiction is both comforting and challenging. That Deadman Dance is a lyrical and immersive portrait of the cross-cultural encounter between Noongar people and European colonists in Western Australia, 1826-1844. As Bobby grows up between two worlds, he sees the promise of new relationships as well as the way things go south.
Feed (M.T. Anderson, 2003)
The current crop of YA dystopias is heavily inspired by the grubby authoritarian world of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, but Feed comes from another stream of dystopian storytelling, the stream of Huxley’s Brave New World, in which the future is shiny-bright and endlessly, lethally entertaining. Written in 2001, Feed prophetically challenges the hyperreal hamster wheel of advertising that is now so familiar to us through social media. Heightened by a striking first-person perspective, this brilliant YA novel is laugh-out-loud funny and achingly tragic.
Sarah Canary (Karen Joy Fowler, 1991)
In 1873, a strange woman appears from nowhere and is dragged (or followed?) around the west coast of America by a quirky cast of characters, each attempting to create her in their own image. The SF Masterworks introduction reckons this is a First Contact story, but I see Sarah Canary as a classic postmodern novel. Entertaining, ambiguous and beguiling, it’s a pastiche that captures the contest for women’s identity and challenges the stories that try to take charge.
On that note, you might also enjoy A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists (2014) by Melbourne writer Jane Rawson. Imagine that Solaris was a screwball comedy. Or that Bernard Black, Fran and Manny were starring in Inception. Something like that.
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.