Here at The Arcanist we’re very excited about the bookstore we just released. In it, you can find original merch to support us, some books from our authors, and some books that our editors are currently reading.
So, if you’re interested in reading a long with us, here is what we’ve been up to (besides reading submissions, of course).
Each of these books has a sci-fi or fantasy element but most of them you would find in the lit fiction section of the store. I’ve been thinking a good bit about SFF and the expectations that are attached to the genre. My list takes those expectations and turns them inside out.
The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
I recently finished this trilogy at breakneck speed. I could not put it down. The plot revolves around a mother and daughter who are powerful “orogenes,” people with the power to control the earth. Jemisin confronts race, gender and sexuality, environmentalism, and motherhood all while upending my expectations of what a “fantasy” book entails. Also, the first book had a twist that blew my mind.
Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett
Blackass is a satirical rewriting of The Metamorphosis in which a black man wakes up one morning to find that he’s been transformed into a white man. Even the title has me snickering. It pokes fun at race, social media, and all of the various ways we present ourselves to the world. It gets bonus points because it takes place in Lagos and I’m always looking for travel goals.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven features a traveling theater troupe in a world where the population has dwindled in the wake of a flu pandemic. This novel is refreshing, masterfully written, and powerful in a way that sticks with you long after you put the book down. There are some passages that are haunting and creepy but the main focus of the novel is on the value of art, beauty, and friendship. Remember — survival is insufficient.
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
Borne takes place in the ruins of a future city. It is about Rachel who finds a creature, names him Borne, and keeps him against her partner’s wishes. Borne grows and with him Rachel finds herself growing more and more attached. Themes include motherhood, science without ethics, addiction, and secrets. Also, it promises to be a delightfully weird read. This is my first Jeff VanderMeer novel so I’m excited to see what the hype is about.
My picks give a pretty good summary of what I’m always reading. From comedic fantasy like Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett to weird and interesting non-fiction like Bonk by Mary Roach. It seems like these titles are always on my list.
Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett
If I could live in some other dimension, I’d hope Discworld would be an option. Not really Ankh-Morpork — thought I’d love to see the university — but the world in general. Pratchett, over course of an immense number of books, has created such a unique, funny, and compelling world that it’s impossible not to have a good time reading about all the characters in it. Currently, I’ve been following the members of the Night Watch and loving every second of it.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
This book was chosen as part of a book club that I belong to, which is nice because I often find myself stuck in the SF/F genre. Ng’s tale explores the idea of motherhood: what does it means to be a mother, is there a right and a wrong way to be one, and how do class, race, and other variables play into that question? As a reader, you are confronted with impossible questions and conflicting ideals that are meant to make you see the grey area between all things.
Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
Eames is like Pratchett if Pratchett played World of Warcraft. In Kings of the Wyld, we join up with the band Saga as they make their way through the world on a rescue mission. During that journey, we meet all sorts of creatures, undergo all sorts of battles, and laugh the entire time (which isn’t to say that book lacks a more emotive side, too). What I love about this book is that it feels like an adventure, like an endless quest. You never know what crazy thing is going to pop up next and every chapter is action-packed. There is nothing boring about this book. I highly recommend it to fantasy fans, specifically ones that like fast-paced novels.
Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach
Though I spend most of my time dreaming of fantasy worlds and reading genre, I do have a passion for non-fiction. Mary Roach, without a doubt, is one of my favorite writers. Unlike many who take a very academic approach, Roach explains that she is on this journey with you. She’s learning and you’re right there learning, too, which makes the read easy to digest and quite fun. Again, as you can probably tell, I like funny things, and Mary Roach is hilarious without doing a disservice to the subject matter she’s reporting on (which is often taboo). I not only suggest this book, but I also suggest Spook and Grunt as well. Both of which I have read recently.
Almost every great writer has said it: writing well begins with reading well. For me, that means taking a chance on the good, the bad, and the boring. But, rest assured, these titles fall into the foremost category.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko
Stunning artwork, complex narratives, remarkable characters, and giant robots. What more could you want? Follow the adventures of the impertinent but gifted Amuro Ray, pilot of the mobile suit designated gundam. He and the inexperienced crew of White Base must battle against the Principality of Zeon while struggling with their own personal demons, as well as the nature of war itself.
I was exposed to the Gundam franchise at an early age, and I’ve stayed down the rabbit hole ever since. Rather than restricting the focus to the giant, colorful robots hacking away at one another with blasters and laser-swords, Gundam introduced me to human, character-driven narratives, and paired them with action sequences on a scale both intimate and mind-blowing.
Current Gundam fans will find all twelve volumes of The Origin have plenty to offer, and latent fans will be immediately enraptured. Suit up.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Murakami’s stark, eerie voice and nuanced, subtle characters have set the standard for literary and genre fiction alike. The story begins when the recently unemployed Toru Okada sets out to find his lost cat. The journey takes him into the depths of his own reality, as well as into his nation’s past. Twinned against an account of Japan’s failed Manchukuo State, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a detective story, wrapped in a folktale, and served with a side of nightmares.
Murakami was introduced to me during my junior year of college, after having already taken a number of workshops and masterclasses that stressed the importance of “literary fiction” and denounced, if mentioned at all, “genre fiction”. Suffice it to say, Murakami was a very welcome presence. Not only did he blur the line between literary and genre fiction, he made it look easy.
Native Son by Richard Wright
An American classic that’s too often brushed aside and kept out of the classroom, Native Son is a compelling view of racism, oppression, self-preservation, and social engineering. Bigger Thomas, a young, black man living in 1920’s Chicago must navigate an entirely hostile world, one that has been seemingly designed against his own individual success.
I was fortunate enough to have a high school English teacher who wasn’t afraid of making his students think, and the administration squirm. This is the novel that helped me fall head-over-heels for longform literature. Each year I reread it, and, especially in today’s climate, I’m taken aback at how clearly it resonates.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson’s strange and horrifying take on the duality of human nature was, and remains, a pioneering pillar of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror, and has served to inspire countless reiterations and retellings.
As a middle school student, this book scared the bejeezus out of me. Every shadow, each creaky floorboard or thunderclap was Edward Hyde, waiting to show me just how dark humanity’s dark side could be. Yet, for as frightened as I was, I couldn’t put it down. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was my introduction into the world of literary horror, and my career is greatly owed to it.