Saturday 16 April 2016

Brilliant Books You've Never Heard Of

GQ Magazine published an intriguing listicle the other day: 21 Brilliant Books You've Never Heard Of, produced through recommendations by famous authors. This inspired me to produce my own list.

Credit where credit is due: several of the books mentioned below first came to my attention thanks to Jo Walton's column on (and her resulting book of recommendations What Makes This Book So Great)

The Beauty (official web page) starts years after all the women have died. Men and boys have survived, seemingly unaffected by the bizarre fungus plague that wiped out womankind. It's a very short novel. It's postapocalyptic, it's horror, it's science fiction and it's unlike anything I've read: it's full of ideas, atmosphere and the uncanny, and it sticks with you long after you'd finished reading.

Read my full review of The Beauty to find out more.
Sequela (official web page) is the debut novel of a Scottish poet. It tells the story of a scientist whose job is to create sexually transmitted viruses (STVs). In this future, STVs have become fashionable: they indicate whom one has slept with. Each symptom pattern is linked to different powerbrokers, and every 'player' is trying to have the most rarefied rash pattern.

It's high concept, but really, this is a character-based thriller. The tension comes from social interactions, from office politics, from personal relationships and how they develop...  It's a unique and frighteningly convincing novel.

Read my full review of Sequela to find out more.
Deep Water (official web page) is another debut novel, this time for young adults. Our hero, Danni, lives with her mother in England. One day, her mother does not return from work, and Danni slowly begins to suspect something may be wrong. Soon, she finds herself temporarily in the care of her scatterbrained hippie father in Cornwall, where the locals are superstitiously hostile of her.

Deep Water is an atmospheric novel, slowly building up tension and a sense of dread, but also a sense of mystery. It's a mythical thriller for youngsters, in the tradition of Alan Garner (and on a par with his best work).

Read my full review of Deep Water to find out more.
Jasmine Nights is a coming-of-age novel set in 1963 Thailand. It’s the story of Little Frog / Justin, a 12-year-old boy from a very rich family. Justin is a somewhat eccentric, aloof boy. Then, he is gradually nudged out of his shell by his grandmother, and by the kids who live next door...

Jasmine Nights is a story touching on race and prejudice, finding out about sex, Thailand, the periphery of the Vietnam War, different social classes, but above all else, it is the story of a lonely boy becoming slightly less lonely and growing up a little. It is also a very funny novel: it reminded me very strongly of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Read my full review of Jasmine Nights to find out more.

In Great Waters (official web page) is set in an alternative history where merpeople (known as deepsmen) are real. They are not like humans: fiercer, more direct, more single-minded. They can interbreed with humans, which results in physical and mental differences. Thus we meet Henry / Whistle, a crossbreed who is born in the sea but grows into adulthood among humans.

In Great Waters is outstanding because of its immersive, gradual worldbuilding. The deepsmen have more reality than most aliens you might read about in SF. Tension builds up slowly: by the time your fascination is satisfied, the story has sneakily turned into a thriller that can't be put down.

Read my full review of In Great Waters to find out more.
Konstantin (official web page) is a book inspired by a real historical character: Konstantin Tsiolkovski. However, this biographical novel is the tale of a boy, growing up in Russia, and becoming an oddball young man. The narrative ends before his real work starts.

Konstantin is a boy with a huge imagination. After losing most of his hearing, he spends the rest of his life a bit removed from his peers. However, this is not at all a misery book. Konstantin is full of infectious enthusiasm, permanently fascinated, and brave, even foolhardy.

Beautiful prose and the energetic protagonist make this a joyful book. Read my full review of Konstantin to find out more.

As for GQ's list? I've only read one of the books on that list - Random Acts of Senseless Violence. It's a dark masterpiece, and never more relevant than today: written in the early 80s, it accurately and terrifyingly describes the present (except for the internet). 

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