Welcome to Smugglivus 2014! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2014, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2015, and more.
Who: Mahvesh Murad is a book reviewer and recovering radio show host. She loves dystopic fiction and lives in Karachi, often pretending the two aren’t related. For the last 7 years she produced and hosted the Pakistan’s only book show, 89Chapters, on commercial radio. She writes regularly for local literary magazine Books & Authors, for tor.com and for pornokitsch.com. Her new podcast, Midnight in Karachi, will be on tor.com from December onwards. You can find her on Twitter @mahveshm where she wastes much of the time she doesn’t really have.
Give a warm welcome to Mahvesh, folks!
How excited am I to be a part of Smugglivus this year? So, so so excited! Almost as excited as I was attending my first convention this year – LonCon, which is where I met the fabulous Book Smugglers Ana & Thea (and look at me now! I’m celebrating Smugglivus with them!), along with a host of other fantastic people, some of whom are now friends. I left local radio behind, started writing for pornokitsch.com and tor.com, and am going to have a new podcast starting on tor.com too, called Midnight in Karachi. All this means a whole other world has opened up to me and I can’t wait to explore it more.
2014 has been a good year for books for me – there’s been a clear push towards diversity in fiction, with more and more writers making sure their stories represent the world we all know.
Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon takes the classic alien invasion story and sets it in Lagos, Nigeria. And why not? Why should aliens only ever land in London/NYC/LA/Tokyo/Paris? Let’s give the aliens something to talk about – let’s give them a densely populated, complicated and diverse developing nation where lack of power, clean water and infrastructure doesn’t stop anyone from doing what they need to. What happens then? What happens when a city that sees the very worst of humankind on a daily basis is forced to look inwards by a greater power from the stars? Lagoon is a fun, smart energetic story that never holds back – I love it when a writer doesn’t hold back.
Another writer who didn’t hold back with her story is Monica Byrne, whose debut novel The Girl in the Road seemed to fall under the SF radar at first. It’s an intriguing story set in a future where global economic power has shifted to India and then to Africa, a future where a pontoon bridge built to harvest energy seems to have taken on a sentient life of it’s own. A woman is attempting to cross that bridge in what becomes a strange, fierce and sometimes hallucinatory journey to her future which of course will tell us more about her past. Byrne has some huge ideas and some intricate motifs and manages them all well. Interestingly, the book has been referred to as dystopic though I don’t see why – it’s not set in a society that has collapsed. It is set in a society where there have been a great many technological advances but there still seems to be a lot of violence and terrorism. At least, this doesn’t at all seem collapsed to someone living in Karachi – it feels like home, and I loved it for that.
More writers were also pushing the boundaries of ‘classic’ SFF, straddling genres and merging lines. I like nothing better that books that lie in the grey area between traditional genres, books that redefine what a genre is and books that shrug off moulds forced on them.
Lauren Beukes’ Broken Monsters was one such book. I’ve been a fan of her work for years now and I’ve interviewed her a number of times so it’s great to see her get better with each book. While my favourite may still be The Shining Girls, Broken Monsters remains one of the books I really, really enjoyed this year. The story does what I love – it stands on a threshold between memory and desire, between dreams and reality, between a thriller and an intelligent, very contemporary intelligent urban fantasy.
Sarah Lotz’ The Three also sits firmly in the neither here nor there. It’s a horror novel that plays on where our worst nightmares come from – the unknown, the unexplained and the miraculous. Four airplanes crash at the same time in four different parts of the world and 3 young survivors emerge. How are they still alive? How will they live with the trauma? And perhaps more importantly, how will their loved ones survive living with them? It’s just creep-tastic, and yes, that’s my professional opinion.
My new writer-crush this year has to be Megan Abbott, whose work I discovered via her most recent novel, The Fever. Abbott’s writing is tense, sparse and yet holds so, so much. I’m going to quote from my review of The Fever here: ‘Abbott’s writing feels as if it has sprung from a well fed by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and with perhaps the occasional spike of Stephen King Americana and Flannery O Connor Gothic. It’s a complex, devious mixture – clever and lean and extremely effective one for a writer with the ability to write absolutely ferocious prose the way Abbott can. Her treatment of the relationships between teenage girls is nothing short of riveting, as is her understanding of what it means to be the parent or sibling of one. How much can you or should you protect them from the darkness that will inevitably seep into their lives? Even puberty, Abbott seems to indicate, is a sort of ‘witchcraft’.’ I’m a complete Abbott fan now and really excited for whatever she has plans for next.
Young women and their relationships with each other are at the heart of another of my favourite 2014 books – Genevieve Valentine’s The Girls at the Kingfisher Club. Valentine riffs off the fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses in this charming story of a dozen sisters who live a very isolated, lonely life during the day and a secret, fabulous, social one by night, when they sneak out to speakeasies and all night dance clubs. Set in Prohibition era New York, the story is filled with the constant strain between the girls’ silent days spent waiting for the vivid, wild night. Eldest sister Jo holds it all together for as long as she can, but there’s only so much she can do to save her sisters when their father finally takes an interest and tries to marry them off. This is not a story about magic and yet it is a story about magic – and about friendship and sisterhood and agency.
A number of other books stand out for having pushed boundaries too – Kameron Hurley’s blood magic drenched The Mirror Empire; Rebecca Levene’s fantasy like you didn’t expect it epic Smiler’s Fair; Laline Paul’s lovely little story of an insect who refuses to be a drone and yet isn’t the chosen one in The Bees, Lavie Tidhar’s brutal Holocaust noir story A Man Lies Dreaming and David Mitchell’s latest book about cosmic connections and possibilities The Bone Clocks were all books I really enjoyed.
I have been known to occasionally head into the mainstream literary world too (I know, I’m so fickle, it’s terrible) and so I can’t not mention Pakistani writer Kamila Shamsie’s latest novel A God in Every Stone. It’s a brilliant historical novel about colonialism, about rebellion and empire and the complicated relationships they create and it features some of the more complicated characters I’ve read in a long while. Full disclosure: Kamila is a friend but that’s why you can trust me when I say I’ve known her and her writing for ages and that she’s really upped her game with this book.
It’s been fun to contribute towards the Under the Radar column on Tor.com. Not just do I get to tell people about cool stuff they may have missed, but I get to go back and reread stories I hadn’t read in years, starting with fiction from my own little part of the world, like Hoshruba and Sultana’s Dream. It’s also helped me discover writers I hadn’t read before, like Indian writer Kuzhali Manickavel, whose collection of Things We Found During the Autopsy will stay with me a while, with it’s dark, visceral little shorts about horrible things like growing up, relationships of all sorts and life – the scariest things of all!
I haven’t been able to get a hold of or read Stephen King’s Revival, or William Gibson’s The Peripheral, or Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress at the time of writing this, sadly, but I have a strong feeling I’ll really enjoy those too. For 2015, I’m also really looking forward to Kate Eliot’s new collection, Maria Dahvana Headley’s new YA novel Magonia, Aliette de Bodard’s House of Shattered Wings (what a title!), new books from NK Jemisin, Paolo Bacigalupi, Madeline Ashby and Patrick Ness. In fact, Patrick Ness told me a little about his new book while we were recording for my podcast Midnight in Karachi, and I’m really excited about it – it’s the story of a set of young people who are not the chosen ones in a world where supernatural threats are constant, the kids who have to hang around trying to live regular lives while the chosen ones save the world (a lot). I love stories about peripheral characters, so this premise has me hooked already. In my head, it’s going to be a sort of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and Buffy the Vampire Slayer mashup and it’s going to be great.
You know what else I’m really going to enjoy? Owning a Kindle and being able to buy books the INSTANT they come out! Pakistani bookstores are a whole lot better than they used to be but it’s rare for a book to land in Karachi within a week of its UK or Asia release and I’m always held hostage by the stores – the owners of the two major stores are both very familiar with me and my constant requests and they do their best but hey – nothing like instant gratification, right? So imagine my thrill when I saw that Amazon seems to have opened up Kindle book sales for Pakistan and Pakistani credit cards recently (they didn’t before, I’ve no idea why – so frustrating but hush, no complaints now!) because now I can hook it up to my own credit card and drain my daughter’s college fund to feed my dirty book habit. 2015 is going to be great!
Ps. I was going to talk about the best TV/music/movies of 2014 too, but clearly I got carried away with the books. Let me just mention Nashville though, my absolute favourite TV show. If you knew how much time Kate Elliot and I spend secretly talking about it every Friday, you’d think we were totally entranced by country songs, drama queens, spangly dresses and fabulous hair. We are, of course, mainly interested in the writing, each character’s individual development, how the story arcs tie in to each other, how the female characters are complex, how each actor grows with their character. Oh who am I kidding, we love the dresses too.
Happy Smugglivus to you all and a fantastic new year! May 2015 be filled with joy, wonder, magic, books, biryani and double layered chiffon cakes with coffee icing. X