A thought-provoking selection takes in women under siege and a monster in Baghdad
It should be a truth universally acknowledged that SF and fantasy are able to apprehend reality more expressively than realist fiction ever can. The exaggerations and extrapolations of genre galvanise imaginations left jaded by the wearying pressure of rolling news: certainly the best genre fiction of 2018 has eloquent and thought-provoking things to say about the state of the world, from #MeToo and Brexit to global politics.
It is, I think, one reason why women’s voices have resonated powerfully this year. In Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God (Corsair), evolution slips into reverse and women start giving birth to more primitive forms of humanity, a premise that allows Erdrich to explore the complex pressures society places on women as avatars of fertility. Catriona Ward’s neogothic fantasia Little Eve (W&N) features two sisters raised on a remote Scottish island by a claustrophobic, violent, cult-like “family”. This novel, like Sophie Mackintosh’s eerie dystopia The Water Cure (Hamish Hamilton), is a fable about women under siege from a toxic masculine world. Angela Chadwick’s eloquent XX (Dialogue) balances a moving portrait of a lesbian couple’s pregnancy, enabled by new ovum-to-ovum technology, against a clear-eyed rendering of a nervy, suspicious, fake-news-ridden near-future Britain.
It might sound odd to call Madeline Miller’s gorgeous Homeric reimagining Circe (Bloomsbury) a fantasy novel, but fantasy it surely is, with enough magic, enchantment, voyages and wonders to satisfy the most jaded sword-and-sorcery palate. Miller approaches Odysseus’s story from Circe’s point of view, richly evoking her protagonist’s overlapping identities as goddess, witch, lover and mother.
Tomi Adeyemi’s YA debut, Children of Blood and Bone (Macmillan), is an unashamedly melodramatic adventure set in a version of Nigeria where oncepowerful magicians are persecuted by a ruthless magic-hating king. RF Kuang’s debut The Poppy War (HarperVoyager) begins as a familiar enough comingof-age adventure in a magical China, but builds into a scorching, ultra-violent portrait of war’s horrors. Tasha Suri’s debut Empire of Sand (Orbit) bases its immersive fantasy world on the Mughal empire; and Aliette de Bodard’s In the Vanishers’ Palace (JABberwocky), a queer retelling of Beauty and the Beast with a Vietnamese dragon in the latter role, captures how hard love can be in an unlovely world.
A different sort of fantasy is manifest in Ahmed Saadawi’s superb Frankenstein in Baghdad ,