Jeff VanderMeer$35.00 $32.55
Jeff VanderMeer’s City of Saints and Madmen is a prime example of ergodic literature. On the surface level, it’s merely a collection of loosely connected novellas. As the reader digs deeper into the fleshy, mycelic layers of the city of Ambergris, however, they will find a portal fantasy, a maddened author who has written himself into his book, mushrooms that feed on chaos and bloodshed. They will find a library named in homage of Jorge Luis Borges, and a sanctuary from the violence of the Freshwater Squid Festival. It’s strange, bizarre, and asks the reader not merely to come along for the ride… but to actively participate in filling in the gaps and drawing connections to make the story whole.
Ada Palmer$20.99 $19.52
Ada Palmer, author of the Terra Ignota quartet, is masterful in combining older writing styles with more modern techniques, including fourth-wall breaks when she steps aside to allow the narrator to address the reader directly. She is a present day master, whose works will be discussed for decades to come. She calls up philosophers, both of our era and of the future, and expands on how their ideas influenced and related to the world. She explores gender, government, and society in a sometimes uncomfortable but always thought-provoking manner. Her prose contains hints and breadcrumbs, giving the reader just enough to follow along without truly delineating a full-fledged path; in many ways, her writing is shaped by the content of her books rather than vice versa. Her language is archaic in contrast to the far future utopia she depicts within her worlds, creating a slight sense of dysphoria in the reader.
Mariam Petrosyan$15.95 $14.83
I genuinely, unabashedly adored this book. This is absolutely my sort of novel. I loved the characters, I loved the prose, I loved the structure, and I loved the surreal sense of mysticism and deep unease that permeated the whole of the House. I loved the whimsy, I loved the quirkiness, and I loved the constant uncertainty. I loved it so much that my blog title is a reference to this book, even. In terms of genre, this is an excellent example of weird, surreal, slice of life fantasy with a dose of magical realism.
Tyler Hayes$12.99 $12.08
The Imaginary Corpse by Tyler Hayes is hands-down the most imaginative, fresh, and kind book I’ve read this year. It is absolutely unlike anything else I’ve read, combining the innocence and creativity of a middle grade novel with the darkness and trauma of adult fantasy. At a glance, that makes it tempting to label this book as YA or middle grade, but upon reading it, that’s clearly not the case. It deals with loss of innocence, growing up, trauma, PTSD, identity, and abuse in a way that is both genuinely kind and genuinely heartbreaking. Detective Tippy, a stuffed triceratops and owner of the Stuffed Animal Detective Agency, is our main character. He’s the former imaginary friend of a young girl, Sandra, and most of his personality came from her. However, much like all of the other Friends in the Stillreal, Tippy’s person underwent a trauma that forced her to give up Tippy. She did not merely grow up. She did not just stop believing. Instead, she saw her father die in front of her, and Tippy became too painful for her to keep him around any more.
Nicole Kornher-Stace$14.00 $13.02
Archivist Wasp is a strange blend of post-apocalyptic dystopia, ghost hunting, and metaphysical descent into the underworld. My response on completing it can be summarized as “very weird, very good.” Although intriguing, philosophical YA is nothing new, Archivist Wasp takes this to a new level. Nicole Kornher-Stace crafts a world predicated not only on life and death, but also on the interconnectedness of life and our inability to define ourselves without using others as points of reference. None of us live in a vacuum, and the only way to grow and maintain our sense of self is through those we care for. Set long after the apocalypse had rushed through and torn down the world as we know it, Archivist Wasp takes place in a rural town dominated by the local priest. The town is haunted by very real ghosts, who often cause trouble for its inhabitants. The Archivist, who exists under the control of the priest and is chosen by yearly combat trials to the death, handles the ghosts. Wasp, the current Archivist, wants to learn as much as she can from them. She knows very little of the history that led up to her present day, and by studying the ghosts she hopes to gain more insight about how their society formed. Unfortunately, most ghosts are either fully mute or only able to speak a few words on repeat. They are locked in the most intense moments of their lives, unable to escape. They are alone, abandoned, and silenced.
Similar to Vita Nostra, Daughter from the Dark defies simple attempts at explanation. While it is straightforward on the surface, it’s clear to a reader that there are many depths and dangers lying beneath that topmost narrative layer. It’s almost absurdist, in some respects. Humorous at times. It’s a power struggle between two opposite characters – one who is driven and focused in the extreme, and one who is cowardly, fearful, and selfish. Both are dysfunctional in their own unique ways, struggling to navigate a world filled with death, pain, and hunger. They hurt one another, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. Marina and Sergey Dyachenko, joined by translator Julia Hersey, take us on a dark dive into the human psyche once again, forcing the brightness of the unknown to cast stark shadows that define the edges of our own reality.
Marie Brennan$15.95 $14.83
In order to get the most out of Driftwood, a reader must arm themselves ahead of time. Archeologists’ tools – brushes, trowels, and picks – are recommended. This, you see, is not merely a book… but an artefact of another world. Driftwood immerses the reader within its ever-shifting borders. It demands that the reader explore and discover, content in its own ergodicity without crossing the line into onanism. The constant press of the new and novel, the erasure of history and culture, and the preservation of individual identity within that atmosphere is explored with a subtle, deft hand. This is less a novel than it is a glimpse into a distant, alien future that might have been. The world – or rather worlds – of Driftwood are an ever-present reminder that time waits for no one. Driftwood is the shore where worlds wash up to die. At the edges, life can more or less continue on as normal. When worlds have only recently ended, they’re able to maintain much of their history… for a time. As new lands fall and wash up from the Mists and into Driftwood, their weight begins to push others inward. Everything compacts in on itself, slowly and inexorably being pushed into the Crush, where everything ends once and for all.
John Hornor Jacobs$19.99 $18.59
This is not a comfortable book. It is brutal. It is often gory. It is violent, torturous, and painful. It is not palatable. And yet, A Lush and Seething Hell is perhaps one of the most polished and seamless books I have read. As Chuck Wendig put it in the foreword, “his magic tricks remain pure fucking magic. These murder ballads are ones we have not heard before.” I cannot find it in myself to disagree with him. When I review a book, I tend to pick it apart to see what makes it tick. Then, I reduce it down into a format that will give a reader a good idea as to the tone and content of the book while also allowing some of my own biases and voice to come through. I fail to pick this book apart. I fail to see the specific gears that make it tick, though I can certainly see the hands turning and hear the bells chiming. A Lush and Seething Hell is a duology of two novellas, The Sea Dreams it is the Sky and My Heart Struck Sorrow, the latter being closer to a novel in length. However, neither of these two books feel like novellas. It is shocking to think back and realize how short they actually were. It is an illusion, a conceit, but never a façade. They are so well-crafted that they have the feel of length due to their depth. They are two very different stories, yet they complement one another perfectly. The expectations set up in the first novella are subverted and twisted in unexpected ways, almost a sucker punch to the reader.