UPDATED: To add The Martian by Andy Weir to the book, which I read after writing this (but still during 2014)
This post is inspired by a similar one written by Samanta Stein. I received a Tablet for Christmas 2013 on which I have the Kindle App which saw the amount of books I got through in 2014 rocket. There are so many books that I have read as result of this kind gift. Below are some that I enjoyed the most.
1. Kindred Octavia E. Butler
Published in 2004, this book tells the story of Dana, a 20th century African-American woman is mysteriously thrust back and forth in time between her world and the world of her ancestors in the 19th century. She seems to be tied to one ancestor in particular: Rufus, the white son of a slave-owning family. The book follows her struggle dealing with the utterly alien world of Rufus’ slaveowning culture and follows the utterly complex emotions of both the main characters and all of those whom Dana comes into contact with.
I could not put this book down and found myself distracted by it in between reading sessions. Other books by Butler are now on my to-read list.
2. The Martian Andy Weir
Mark Watney is the most famous man on Earth, but the problem is that he isn’t on Earth. A team working on Mars is surprised by a dust storm. One of the team (Mark) is lost with a hole in his suit, the others told to evacuate. Leaving him behind, he wakes up later to discover his situation. His team think him dead, NASA think he’s dead. He’s on his own… until he isn’t and there’s a race against time to get off of the planet before his resources run out.
This book is hilarious and touching and geeky and I read it one go. I went without sleep just so that I could finish it and find out what happens to the genuinely likeable main character. This quote in the book struck me:
‘…they did it because every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. It might not seem that way sometimes, but it’s true. If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do.’
Buy this book because you will not regret it.
3. A Calculated Life Anne Charnock
Jayna is a genetically-engineered simulant designed to have amazing analysis and deduction abilities. Simulants are “grown” rather than raised, they arrive fully-adult, with only rudimentary social skills and experiences. Though highly-valued, they are not self-determining beings: they are owned by The Constructor, who leases their skills out for huge fees but Jayna’s generation has been augmented with more sensory capability than previous generations which seems to be causing glitches in some models with reports starting to circulate of simulants who deviate from accepted norms. The result is being sent back to The Constructor for reprogramming — erasing their previous lives. Death.
This is a really interesting story about the sense of self, free will and the consequences of challenging The System. It’s a slow burner but totally worth sticking with.
4. Under The Skin Michel Faber
I wish I could re-read this as a new book again. I have yet to see the film (which a colleague told me is quite different from the book) but it was the press surrounding the film that led me to the book. Straight away I was thrown into rainy Scotland with its rugged mountains where Isserley scouts the Highlands in her car in search of well-proportioned male hitch-hikers for a fate that slowly unfolds as you read on.
This is a strange, dark and disturbing book and I loved it from start to finish. There is some deep contemplativeness that happens with characters who observe the planet around them and long to belong.
5. Station Eleven Emily St John Madel
A lethal flu pandemic wipes out 99% of the population and survivors create settlements, often in airport buildings or old shops, petrol stations, schools and so on, joining together to try to create a new world. Some things remain, there is still music and literature, and the book follows the Travelling Symphony – a group of artists who travel from settlement to settlement, putting on the plays of and accompanying these with music.
There are other characters too, and we hop back and forth through time to explore their stories both post and pre pandemic. Each story reveals to be a thread that connects into a bigger woven tale. It is an utterly captivating book with a real down-t0-earth feeling throughout where characters are trying to make sense of their place in the world and the meaning of life.
6. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry Rachel Joyce
Surprisingly not a sci-fi or science fiction book (I see an unexpected pattern in the list above, I guess I have a favourite genre.) In February The Bookshop Band – who are incredible, by the way – did a concert where I work and the author, Rachel Joyce appeared with them as they performed songs inspired by her books The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Perfect. Now, Perfect is in my to-read list, but The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry almost moved me to tears on several occasions.
Harold receives a letter from an old colleague informing him that she has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. What starts as a trip to the nearest post-box to send a letter expressing his condolences turns into an epic and difficult journey across the country to visit her before it is too late. This story acted as a reminder that time is too precious to waste on regrets.
By the way, if you’ve not heard of The Bookshop Band before you should check them out. They write original songs inspired by books. Here is a song they wrote that was inspired by The Teleportation Incident. They’ve sold out the Concert Hall I work in twice so far.