So far, my favorite of the books I’ve read this year is “Ancillary Justice.” It’s gotten a lot of hype, and rightly so I think. Ann Leckie’s protagonist, who tells her story in first person, inhabits many bodies at once, and the narrative thread flows effortlessly from one body to the next. A couple of times while figuring this out I had to put the book down and laugh from the sheer delight of it. The other thing this book did was show me how attached I was to knowing someone’s gender up-front. The protagonist’s language doesn’t include gendered pronouns, and Ann Leckie chose to represent all people with the pronoun “she.” So you would get sentences like, “She was male.” It was sobering for me to realize how uncomfortable this made me at first, especially if someone’s gender was never noted. I was just flailing around, trying to get to solid ground and failing. So it was equally heartening when, about two-thirds of the way through the book (I’m slow sometimes) I realized I was used to it. Let me emphasize what a big deal this was for me: for the first time in my life, when the protagonist would meet a new person, I wouldn’t filter my understanding of that person through their gender. It was amazing. I hope this convention catches on among writers – I’m ready to read a whole fleet of books like this.
My second great read this year was something completely different, “The Golem and the Jinni” by Helene Wecker. I love the Arabian Nights, I’m fascinated by religious mysticism (here in the form of Kabbalistic magic), and running around in the Jewish and Syrian neighborhoods of a late 1800’s New York City so real I felt like I was there was definitely my idea of a good time. Wecker weaves the threads of this story so beautifully; it stayed with me long after I was done reading it.
Last but not least, a few days ago I finished “2312” by Kim Stanley Robinson. I haven’t read Robinson in twenty years, since I picked up “Red Mars” in college, didn’t like it, and set it down again. Well, either Robinson or I have changed; I suspect we both have. I thought “2312” was brilliant. From Mercury, Earth, Venus, to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn and dozens of terraformed asteroids flung throughout the solar system – up space elevators, through dozens of cultures and bioregions, and inside the hearts and minds of characters I grew to care about deeply – it was a ride through the future so well-thought-out, so thoughtful, and so loving I suspect I’ll still be pondering it months from now. The best thing – having been inspired while reading “2312” to look up articles on topics from quantum computing to Marina Abramović, I walked away from the book feeling like someone who knew more about my own world than I had when I began.