A thought-pro­vok­ing se­lec­tion takes in women un­der siege and a mon­ster in Bagh­dad

The Guardian - Review - - Books Of The Year F - Adam Roberts

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 ,

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