Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Novels Year In Review 2014

Or a look at the novels I've reviewed in 2014 and my top recommendations

2014 was kind of an odd year for novels on Atoll Comics. I only put up 13 novel review posts this year as opposed to the previous two years on the site where novel reviews were a major component of the site. There are a few reasons for this including the fact I've gotten better at finding comics things to write about, am a lot better at working ahead (novel reviews were often my buffer against vacations or laziness), and that I wanted to focus more on writing critically about comics in 2014. Add to that my new Atoll Comics collaborator Jennifer DePrey, and well, I don't NEED novel posts to hit my updates anymore. But I still read a lot of novels and really like writing about them, so starting in 2015 there will be regular prose novel reviews on the site every Tuesday. And to kick off this new segment, I thought we'd take a look back at the novels of 2014.

Despite the smaller sample size of books this year, I still read some great books that you may want to check out in 2015. Specifically I reviewed:

      Genetopia, by Keith Brooke
      Seed To Harvest Omnibus, by Octavia Butler
      Gentlemen Of The Road, by Michael Chabon 
      Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon 
      The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon
      Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon 
      The Man In The High Castle, by Philip K Dick 
      Judas Unchained, by Peter F Hamilton 
      Pandora's Star, by Peter F Hamilton
      The Dispossessed, by Ursula K Le Guin
      Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathan Lethem 
      Anathem, by Neal Stephenson 
      Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut 
      Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut 
      Slautherhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut 
      The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut 
      Alif The Unseen, by G Willow Wilson      

Also, since it's traditional, I'd like to do an abbreviated version of my annual top picks for certain genres.

If You Like Science Fiction:

I would recommend Anathem by Neal Stephenson. This might be one of my very favourite novels. It tells the story of Fra Erasmus, a young Science-monk in a society where the academic world lives apart from the Secular world in ascetic monasteries. During a particularly momentous time in Erasmus' life, a startling observation throws his world into disarray and sets off a chain of events with worldwide consequences. Anathem is a sprawling novel about coming of age and personal growth filled with adventure and romance and camaraderie and Science Fiction. It is also a novel that works as a thematic analysis of the philosophy of Science and the relationship between the academic and non-academic portions of our society. It is super insightful and one of the most emotionally true portrayals of Science academia and the act of discovery I have ever seen. I love this book.

If You Like Fantasy:

I would recommend Alif The Unseen by G Willow Wilson. Alife The Unseen is a novel that explores what if the more mythical-seeming portions of the Quran were literally true; what if humanity lived along an unseen world of supernatural beings. The novel stars Alif a young hacker living in an Arab Emirate who makes his living by helping dissident voices and staying one step ahead from the ruthless government censors. When Insitar, the wealthy daughter of a powerful man, spurns him, Alif writes a powerful software program that threatens to deliver him into the hands of the state censors. Alif flees, inadvertently dragging along his neighbour Dinah, and finds himself lost in a world of mythical monsters and spirits. Alif The Unseen is a book that mixes an exciting technothriller premise with romance, discovery, and the boundless imagination of a wonderfully realized fantasy world. As a pure work of fiction Alif The Unseen is a great read. This novel is also pretty special in that it portrays young people living in the arabic world and explores the collision of modern and tradition that confronts them. Which is really interesting. Also, Alif The Unseen contains one of the most 'shippable romances ever!

If You Like Superhero Comics:

I would recommend The Amazing Adventure of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. While not directly a superhero novel, Kavalier & Clay is a novel about the cultural primordial soup and people who first invented Superheroes and produced the comics of the Golden Age. The novel features Joe Kavalier, an young jewish artist and refugee, and Sam Clay, a plucky Jewish kid from Brooklyn a they form a partnership and invent The Escapist, a comic book hero who frees people from the shackles of injustice. The novel really illuminates the way social forces, the spectre of Nazi Germany, Vaudeville magicians and strongmen, all fermented in the imaginations of scrappy young people to create the amazing fantasy worlds we all love today. Kavalier and Clay is also constructed out of all the adventure, romance, and bombast of comic books, but applied to the believable lives of its heroes. It's basically a beautifully written novel about comics that tells a great story. Also, serious points for depicting the best first kiss in fiction.

Or If You Just Like Books:

I would recommend The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin. You know when you read books that are clearly Important and Classic and Timeless and yet you never really hear about them? Well The Dispossessed is completely one of these books. The novel is one of the best works of social speculative fiction I have ever read. In the book twin planets, Urras and Anarras, orbit each other in close proximity. Yet, despite this proximity, the inhabitants of these planets could not be more isolated from one another. The Urrasti live on a lush world and live in a capitalistic society of wealth and inequality. The Anarresti however, live on a barren, arid planet and live an ascetic life of anarchic communism to survive. In The Dispossessed, an Anarresti theoretical physicist Shevek travels to Urras to develop and share his theories, breaking the isolation and bringing the two societies into idealogical conflict. The Dispossessed is an absolutely unflinching examination of two societies: western capitalism and an idealized anarchic communism. The novel really shows the strengths and ugliness of both societies and showcases the underlying humanity of people regardless of where they are from. The Dispossessed is a novel that deserves to be held up with the greatest works of social fiction and so I really think you should read it.

Post by Michael Bround

Jennifer DePrey's top pick from 2014:

I would recommend Fangirl by Rainbow RowellFangirl is about Cath, a teenager facing her first year of college. She’s worried about making new friends, leaving home and her father, and finishing her Simon Snow fanfiction before the release of the final book. This coming of age story asks the question of how to begin the process of growing up and still hold onto the interests other people might not understand, but from which we gain strength. Rainbow Rowell’s style is engaging, her dialogue is snappy, and her characters feel like old friends. I was rooting for Cath from page one.

Insert by Jennifer DePrey


Novel Reviews 2013

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