Books for a World on Fire: Part 1

The world is still even more of a mess than normal. In the interest of getting through this pandemic with our sanity and spirits in tact, I am taking this opportunity to recommend some light, engaging fiction. Last week, it was podcasts. This week will be the first of two posts focusing on books!

These are are all books that I would describe as fun, and fairly light, the kind where you can relax into the story, trusting that good will triumph and bad will be punished. While I love a good investigation of the gritty realities of the human experience, we have quite enough of that in the real world right now. I’m tired. You’re tired. We need a break.

a pale of books, spine in, with a delicate floral tea cup balanced on top

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

Murderbot has hacked their own governor module, and is using that new found freedom not to wreak havoc, but to download and watch untold hours of shows. And yet, to keep from being found out, it still has to do its job and protect the clients who the company assigned it to protect. Unfortunately, humans are kind of idiots, and keep getting themselves into terrible trouble, from which Murderbot must protect them.

I don’t know anybody who didn’t enjoy this book. In many ways, Murderbot is every introvert who just wants to be left alone. But Murderbot actually cares more than it admits to itself.

The very first paragraph made me laugh out loud. While the humor is generally wry and under-stated, this is a novella that delivers. Best of all, this is the first in a series of four novellas, so you can spend a decent amount of time following Murderbot’s adventures in self-discovery.

Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

I first encountered this book when I was in high school, and it was the first time I’d seen my own sense of humor – dry as the desert, equal parts amused and irritated by humanity – on the page. It was also my first taste of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. All of which is to say that I have loved this funny book about the apocalypse for a long time.

There’s a sprawling cast of characters, but at its heart live an angel and demon who have been on earth since the beginning of things, and quite like it here. It’s also about a twelve year old Antichrist, the professional descendant of the only accurate prophetess in history, and young man with truly dreadful luck around computers.

It’s a story about loving the things that you were not supposed to love, and refusing to give up, and I think it’s even more relevant today than it was when it was published in 1990.

River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey

I already wrote a lengthy review of this novella for Luna Station Quarterly, so here’s the elevator pitch. Once upon a time, in the real world, the United States Congress seriously considered stocking the Mississippi River with hippos, as a meat source. Fortunately, they voted against it.

This novella takes place in an alternate time line in which that measure passed, and the Mississippi delta is full of hippo wranglers and feral hippos. It’s funny as hell, filled with the sorts of people who are usually erased from violent heist stories: a bisexual mastermind, a black non-binary munitions expert, a fat French con-woman, and a pregnant Hispanic assassin. The story is violent, so if that’s going to stress you out, consider looking elsewhere. If you really like it, there is a sequel, but you can stop with River of Teeth and feel satisfied with the story.

Until next time!

I’ll have more books to distract you from the chaos and save you from the isolation next time!

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