An Overview of International Science Fiction/Fantasy in 2009

Compiled by Jeff VanderMeer at Locus Magazine

Although my year’s best selections included some international fiction, I thought it would be of use to compile a few “core samples” of work mostly in other languages that my contacts found of particular interest in 2009. Except for the books from places like Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines, these titles are not yet available in English. It’s worth noting, too, that the term “International Fiction” or “World SF” requires further specificity of detail, in the sense that some countries have a stronger tradition of supporting non-realistic fiction than others.

Australia, recommended by writer Deborah Biancotti and editor Alisa Krasnostein

Slice of Life, Paul Haines, pub. The Mayne Press: The cover says it all: a man digging into his own side with a knife. If you’ve never read Haines before, then brace yourself. This book features 17 stories “from the decaying mind” (to quote the blurb) of one of the country’s creepiest writers. All proceeds go to Haines’ cancer fund.

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A nod to coming-of-age novels

Kay Austen at Squamish Chief

On the recommendation of one of the library’s front desk staff, I recently read The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, a young Jewish-Australian writer.

This is a brilliant new novel from the young people’s collection in our library. The Y.P. collection, meant for our 14 to 21 year old patrons, is a veritable goldmine of wonderful classics: coming of age stories, science fiction, fantasy, edgy drugs, sex and rock and roll pieces, war stories, romances, adventure, mysteries, and of course, disguised adult advice.

Many of us who have left our adolescence can remember books that affected us in profound ways. They spoke directly to the circumstances we found ourselves in during those rocky times or they spoke with a voice to which we could relate.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Kidnapped threw us into fantastic rollicking adventures. Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series (from which the film The Golden Compass came) and Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series both take the fantasy road – they discuss developing identity, relating to others and becoming a part of a society.

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The 16 Best Dystopian Books Of All Time

by Tom at Pop Crunch

Dystopian novels—stories of the horrific future—are so common as to be almost forgettable. Here is a compilation of what I believe are the 16 greatest of the genre. I could happily list twice as many that are amazing, but these are the best. From the post-apocalyptic wasteland to deadly viruses to social malaise, all possible bad futures end here.

15. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: Despite her protestations of not writing science fiction, [Atwood’s] story of a dystopian future where almost all women are infertile is most assuredly of the genre. Set in a future where disease and radiation have reduced fertility to a minimum, and a fascist military theocracy has taken over America (or at least part of it). Brutal in its critique of evangelist Christianity and their view on women, Handmaid’s Tale is a harrowing read at the best of times. In it, women have essentially been reduced to chattels, and the few fertile ones assigned to high-ranking military men in order to give them children.

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Peter Straub’s A Dark Matter—a literate horror story

Mark Graham at Tor

Since the 1970s Peter Straub has been known as the “literate” horror writer, kind of a modern-day Henry James.  Stephen King, Straub’s sometimes collaborator (The Talisman and Black House), has compared himself to a burger and fries.  Using the same type of allusion, we might refer to Straub as filet mignon and a baked potato with chives.  Maybe the combination of the authors’ styles is what makes their two novels so successful and deliciously frightening. King goes for your jugular; Straub goes for your brain.

Straub’s 16th solo novel reinforces his reputation, but it is also, at times, more visceral in description than most of the author’s recent works.  However, between the few scenes of a college student being torn limb from limb by a disgusting-smelling demon, rather than scream-in-the-night scary, A Dark Matter is pit-of-the-stomach disturbing, a novel that readers will carry with them like a gladstone loaded with bricks.

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Children’s author came to write dark fantasy by ‘crazy career path’

By Jody Seaborn at The Statesman

Carolyn Cohagan didn’t write a children’s book on purpose. Her debut, “The Lost Children,” published last month by Aladdin, came about because of a failed screenplay.

“The Lost Children” is an adventure fantasy about a 12-year-old girl who falls into another world where orphans mysteriously vanish, a couple of bizarre monsters prowl and an evil ruler reigns. Readers will recognize darkly comedic touches straight out of Roald Dahl here and there, and well-crafted surprises heighten the story of loss and reunion.

For decades, writers, parents and librarians have been debating what’s appropriate reading for particular ages — what’s too scary, what reads too old. Though it’s sensitively handled, there are a couple of moments of fleeting violence in “The Lost Children” and an atmosphere of grief and loneliness throughout most of the book. So Cohagan knew that some parents might find her book too dark for its intended audience — ages 8-12.

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I love seeing Sci Fi from other countries; there are different reading trends everywhere, so it’s interesting to see. Although that cover is disturbing. And A Wrinkle in Time was one of my favorite books when I was a teenager (I still think it’s awesome).  It was my first experience with Sci Fi. I’ve mentioned that I love dystopian novels before, and I’ve read (or am reading) over half the books on that list. So I’m glad they’re good choices.

Did (or do) you read sci fi or fantasy as a teenager? What got you interested in the genre?