Best of 2020: My Favorite Books of the Year

What a year this has been. At times it felt like we fell into an actual science fiction novel. We lived (and are still living) through a pandemic, the US answered the murder of George Floyd and many others by protesting against police brutality and a broken system, the US also elected a new president, there was a terrorist attack on my city, my partner lost three family members, and we spent most of the year working from home, isolated from friends and family, and trying to keep it together somehow.

But 2020 also had its good sides and I think it’s important that we keep reminding ourselves and each other of that. People came together while staying apart in a multitude of creative ways, they stood together against violence, they used their democratic right to vote, we support and lift each other up, and those of us who are readers found solace in our hobby and the fantastical worlds into which it lets us escape.

I have read so many amazing books this year. Award season will be a horror show because how can anyone pick one favorite among so many brilliant, original, heartbreaking works? As every year, a few books stood out… except this year “a few” is a higher number than usual. This list will be rather long but it’s not my fault authors published such exceptional stories this year.


Favorite Books Published in 2020

Novels

This year has been phenomenal when it comes to SFF novels (even if everything else was pretty terrible). Granted, there are still many 2020 publications I haven’t read yet but out of the ones I have read, there was just a single one that I think of as merely good. All the rest were stellar and make me dread Hugo nomination time. Which ones do I leave off my ballot?

 

The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin is an obvious choice. Jemisin has been producing brilliant work for years and although this is her first foray into Urban Fantasy, I knew I would love it. I just didn’t know how much. When the city of New York comes to life through avatars of its burroughs, they have to come together to fight an ancient evil. That may sound simple, but  Jemisin’s way of painting the city as a living, breathing entity, turns this into a proper adventure with diverse characters, lots of social commentary, and – as always – great writing.

Alix E. Harrow‘s latest novel The Once and Future Witches took me a while to get into. Its three protagonist sisters had too many POV jumps for my taste, but Harrow found her rhythm eventuall and delivered a beautiful, heartwarming tale of sisterhood, the fight for women’s rights, and witchcraft. A love of stories and fairy tales and women working together permeates this whole book. And the way the characters are allowed to grow just made me warm and fuzzy inside. I may have started sceptical but I ended up adoring this book.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is the author’s long-awaited second novel after the mind-blowing Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell although it has nothing to do with that book. Piranesi lives in a labyrinth of halls, lined with statues. This book is best read without knowing anything about it because it is a riddle and a mystery, poetically told, with a twist along the way. This is clearly an accomplished, amazing short novel but the emotional resonance is definitely fading over time.

The First Sister by debut author Linden A. Lewis wasn’t a perfect book. There were some character and plot aspects that could have been done better, but ultimately, I just enjoyed reading this so very much that I mostly ignored the things that didn’t make sense. An interstellar war between Gaeans and Icarii (Earth/Mercury people and Venus/Mars people) is shown through three POVs, who are all intriguing and face very big problems. Points for diversity (including the nonbinary audiobook narrator for the nonbinary POV character) as well as setting up a world I want to return to.

Another debut was The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson. This multiverse story delivers plot twist after plot twist while we follow protagonist Cara as she visits neighbouring universes that are similar to ours but not quite the same. Her lower class status and her unrequited love for her superior doesn’t help but over the course of a very exciting Mad Max-esque plot, it’s wonderful to watch Cara grow and find her place in the world(s).

I’m so glad I loved Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno Garcia. I was in the minority finding her Gods of Jade and Shadow only okay but now I can finally join all the other fans in squeeing about her foray into gothic horror. Set in 1950s Mexico, Noemí visits the isolated house where her cousin lives with her husband. Needless to say, strange things happen there and the family is anything but welcoming. I loved the atmosphere and the setting, Noemí’s character growth and the slow burn romance… Seriously, everything about this book was amazing and I highly recommend it for someone looking for a spooky read that offers more than just scary moments or monsters.

Is anyone surprised that Martha Wells’ Network Effect made this list? No? Didn’t think so. It’s the first full length Murderbot novel and while you get much of the same stuff we’ve come to expect and love from a Murderbot story, this one goes deeper. I particularly enjoyed Murderbot’s voice and its reunion with ART. What really made this into a favorite was the tender moments between Murderbot and its humans or even Murderbot and other AI characters. As much as it’s not human, it is through its humanity that we connect to Murderbot and care for it.


Young Adult/Middle Grade

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko is the kind of YA debut that every YA author should aspire to write. It defies the tropes I find annoying and plays with the ones I like. Young Tarisai has been raised by her mother who is only called the Lady, and she has been raised for one purpose only: To get close to the prince and then kill him. But Tarisai finds the prince totally nice and doesn’t want to kill a kid. The premise makes you assume certain things (romance between her and the prince, magical solution to this “you have to kill him” problem, etc.) but let me tell you that you will not see anything coming. Ifueko plays with the readers’ expectations, throws in a lovely found family, beautiful world building and an ending that promises an even more epic sequel.

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson seems to be a divisive book. I wouldn’t have thought I’d like a witchy story set in a puritanical village at all, but Henderson’s story telling is so engaging and her protagonist so easy to like that I couldn’t put it down. For a debut novel especially, I was impressed with the way relationships between the characters were portrayed. I’m not a big romance reader either, but I adored watching the people in this book come together slowly and bond over important things. There’s none of the cheap YA tropes here. Plus, the witches are properly scary and the curses Immanuelle has to deal with are pretty gruesome. A perfect Halloween read.


Novellas

The standout novella for me this year is P. Djèlí Clark’s Ring Shout, a book that immediately grabbed me, kept me engaged and entertained throughout, and has a powerful story to tell. I was all the more impressed with how fleshed-out the characters were and how much world building was put into such a slim volume. Clark is definitely an author to watch and I hope this novella gets him a Hugo Award.

Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings is Australian Gothic and captured me with its tark fairy tale vibe. Ignore that first over-the-top flowery chapter and just roll with it. You’ll get a tale of interconnected stories that seem very weird at first but all make sense in the end. This was an incredibly atmospheric read that shows how Jennings is not only a great illustrator but also a writer that I’m going to watch.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo doesn’t need any more recommendations. Everyone who’s read it loved it and for good reason. The way Vo chose to tell this story – in sort of flashbacks inspired by objects – is one reason it was so good. But the actual story it tells is also breathtaking. The plot itself isn’t all that epic but it makes you think about how we deal with history, whose stories get told (and whose should get told) and what happens to the people on the sidelines of a war.


Favorite Audiobooks

I swear it is a coincidence that all my favorite audiobooks of the year are written and narrated by Black authors and narrators. I didn’t even realize it until I listed them up here. My challenge to read more Black authors definitely contributed to me picking these books up, but this is where I want to share the amazing work narrators did with these stories.

N. K. Jemisin’s The City We Became was one of my top books of the year but the audiobook turned it into something else. Not only does Robin Miles do a brilliant job when it comes to different voices and conveying emotions, but this audiobook also has a few sound effects and music mixed in. Don’t worry, it only happens occasionally but it did help me get immersed in the story. I would have loved this as a paper book as well but if you’re still unsure which version to go with, definitely pick up the audiobook.

In The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson, we follow three very different female characters living in very different time periods and settings. I never thought I would love this book as much as I did but I should have known better. Hopkinson effortlessly weaves magic and Caribbean myth into her tale, and there’s even a real historical figure in this one. Bahni Turpin switches characters beautifully, which includes accents and timbre, and really helped paint a picture of this story in my mind.

Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts is a challenging book for any narrator to do but Cherise Boothe did a brilliant job. Nnot only does she have to switch between characters of different genders, protagonist Aster is also neurodiverse and thus delivers certain lines in a manner that seems almost cold to other people. Yet Boothe managed to make Aster lovable while maintaining her speech pattern. It’s also just a great story.

Rosewater by Tade Thompson is a difficult book to follow because of its jumping around in time. Not having a paper book to read along makes this even harder, but Bayo Gbadamosi did his very best to help us keep the timelines and characters straight. This very different alien “invasion” story may not have the most likable lead character but I found it enthralling from beginning to end and I can’t wait to find out how the trilogy ends.


Favorite Books Published pre-2020

Without a doubt, the three books that touched me the most in 2020 were Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor and The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. I’m noticing a concerning similarity in my favorite books this year. Almost all of them managed to make me cry…

I read Doomsday Book right whent he first lockdown started in Austria and when it hit home all around the world that this pandemic was, indeed, a global thing that meant nothing would be as it was before. The book is about an incredibly realistic epidemic (I could literally compare the fictional government’s reaction to real world goverments) as well as the plague. Time-travelling historian Kivrin visits the Middle Ages but things don’t go exactly as planned. Connie Willis made me fall in love with her characters only to put them through hell. At the same time, she shows the best of humanity and the reason there is always hope. I cried a lot reading this book.

The Sparrow was something else entirely. A first-contact story that sends Jesuit priests and scientists to an alien planet in order to find the creatures whose singing has been received on Earth. This beautiful tale of a found family sets you up for disaster right from the start. Told in two time lines, you follow the mission itself as well as its aftermath through the eyes of sole survivor Emilio Sandoz. I’ll be honest, I felt like crying throughout the entire book because it’s just got that tone to it. But by the end I thought I had prepared myself for certain things. I was not prepared. This story had me sobbing by the end and left me with a massive book hangover.

Much more hopeful, albeit also dystopian, was An Unkindness of Ghosts. This was one of my five star predictions and I must say, I totally nailed it. Aster lives on a generation ship that is organized vaguely like the Antebellum South. Social injustice, terrible conditions for the people on the lower decks, and Aster’s unusual personality made this an engaging read. Add to that fantastic world building, a mystery to be solved, and Aster’s relationship with her friends and colleague, and you’ve got a book that will stick with you. Rivers Solomon effortlessly adds discussions of gender and sexuality, neurodiversity and class difference into an exciting tale which – thankfully – didn’t leave me crying at the end, but rather with a sense of hope and satisfaction.

Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Fate was long overdue. If you’ve read the Tawny Man trilogy you can guess why I stopped reading after The Golden Fool. I was a little worried that I had forgotten all the important plot points but Robin Hobb is a skilled writer who reminded me of everything important in the first chapter, all without info dumping. It was like I had never left. And so I followed these characters I already loved onto a quest that promised doom for at least one of them. I did cry when certain events came to pass but Hobb managed to deliver an ending that felt both realistic and hopeful – something that’s not exactly the norm for Fitz. No matter how many years pass between books or which series you follow, you just can’t go wrong with Robin Hobb. She is a master of the genre.

Now Kindred by Octavia E. Butler was only my second Butler book but it made me want to go and read everything she’s written. This story of a young Black woman who is randomly transported back in time to a slave plantation does everything you expect plus a little more. Butler doesn’t waste time exploring the time travel mechanisms of her story – they don’t matter – but rather focuses on character and setting. Dana suddenly has to deal with a time when people like her were seen as little more than animals, so this book is exactly as hard to read as you think. It was a powerful story, though, that showed all characters as faceted, believable human beings, as well as highlighting aspects of slavery that especially impact women. This was not a fun read but I can’t recommend it highly enough!

I’ve had some starting problems with Laini Taylor but this year, I gave The Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy another chance and promptly fell into it and read all three books. Daughter of Smoke and Bone still wasn’t a complete hit but worked better for me on the re-read. Days of Blood and Starlight showed that Laini Taylor can expand her fictional world without losing sight of her protagonists, and Dreams of Gods and Monsters brought the tale to its epic, bittersweet conclusion. What I love most about this series is the feeling of myth and lore and history that pervades it all. Even though we learn a lot about Chimaera and Seraphim, it always feels like there’s more hiding just around the corner. The relationships in this story were amazing, both the romantic ones as well as the friendships and found families that are made along the way. Oh, and of course, it’s written in beautiful, lyrical prose.

I also used this year to finish the Strange the Dreamer duology by picking up Muse of Nightmares and, boy, did that book rip my heart out. Again, Laini Taylor expands an already intriguing fantasy world and shows us just how much more there is out there. She also adds some new characters that put me through an emotional roller coaster. What I love most about these two books is probably the villains – or lack thereof. There are antagonists but as we get to see the world through their eyes, it becomes clear they’re not Evil. For the entirety of the book, I was sure things would end in tragedy and there couldn’t possibly be a happy end. And I’m not saying things end all that happily (at least not for everyone) but again, there is a tone of hope as well as the satisfaction of having read a complete story. The prose is otherworldly. Serioulsy, I could put quotes from this duology all over my walls.

Francis Hardinge’s Deeplight swept me off my feet a little unexpectedly. I knew Hardinge was a good writer with very original ideas but then she just goes and delivers a YA novel with truly complicated characters and relationships, set in a world with dead underwater gods, with a deaf character, multiple twists, and an exciting plot? Count me in for more Francis Hardinge because this was a pretty perfect YA novel if you ask me. I’m still thinking about some adventurous moments from this book and then I’m impressed yet again at how well constructed it was.
The Lodestar Award went to Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer which I also adored, so shoutout to that book.

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He was a twisty emotional rollercoaster that definitely stands out from other YA novels in that it doesn’t focus on the romance, puts its protagonist through seriously difficult choices, and delivers great solutions to its core mysteries. If you want a fast-paced book that nonetheless takes time to develop its characters, pick this up. Unfortunately, it ends a bit abruptly and as of today, there’s no sequel in sight. Here’s to hoping we’ll get one eventually.


I don’t know about you, but I’m going to call this a pretty successful reading year. I don’t think I’ve ever had this many favorites, especially among the new publications. Many of these books will end up on my Hugo nomination ballot – I’ll post it when the time comes. And who knows, until then I may have caught up on even more awesome books.

If you’ve posted a best of the year list, let me know in the comments. I love looking through other people’s favorite reads of the year. I’m especially interested in 2020 publications that I might have missed or should prioritize. 🙂

SFF Plagues: Connie Willis – Doomsday Book

Apparently, I’m the kind of person who feels the need to read books about epidemics during an acutal real-world pandemic. I understand that many people are different and want to steer away from post-apocalyptic fiction and zombie novels as long as the world is in lock-down, but I find a strange kind of comfort in reading about situations similar – but thankfully, different enough! – to ours. This book hit me very hard, it put me through all the emotions, and I still have wet eyes as I type this.

DOOMSDAY BOOK
by Connie Willis

Published: Bantam, 1992
Ebook: 593 pages
Series: Oxford Time Travel #1
My rating: 8/10

Opening line: Mr. Dunworthy opened the door to the laboratory and his spectacles promptly steamed up.

For Kivrin, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity’s history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone. For her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be received.
But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in a bygone age as her fellows try desperately to rescue her. In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin–barely of age herself–finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history’s darkest hours.
Connie Willis draws upon her understanding of the universalities of human nature to explore the ageless issues of evil, suffering, and the indomitable will of the human spirit.

It’s the year 2054 and Oxford historians travel back in time to do their research. Among them is young Kivrin who has been dreaming of going to 1320 since she was little. Until recently, the Middle Ages had been rated a 10 on the danger scale, disallowing historians to travel there, but as developments change, Kivrin does get her chance. Her tutor Mr. Dunworthy tries to keep her from going but she will not be deterred. And of course, things go terribly wrong…

This is a book told in two timelines. In one, we follow Kivrin into the Middle Ages, in the other we worry with Mr. Dunworthy in the present (well, his present). And while the jump into the past seems to have gone well, the technician who is supposed to read the necessary data to bring Kivrin back in two weeks, has fallen suddenly ill. A new kind of ill. A virus that quickly spreads thorughout Oxford and has the city under quarantine in no time. Mr. Dunworthy has to turn the college into wards for sick people, his friend Dr. Ahrens basically lives in the hospital, and something didn’t go right with Kivrin’s time travel… except Badri, the technician, is to ill to tell anyone.

There’s a lot going on here! Dealing with an epidemic is one thing, but mostly what the chapters in the present (I’m just going to call it that, even though it is technically our future) deal with is Dunworthy making lots of calls, waiting for people to call him back, getting other technicians into Oxford, making more calls, and dealing with the people around him, who are in various states of panic.
Kivrin, on the other hand, arrives safely in the Middle Ages, although something also doesn’t seem to be right. Not only does she fall ill immediately (but how? She has been inoculated against all the possible diseases she might catch from that time period), but her translator doesn’t appear to work. So she can’t understand what people are saying and she can’t make herself understoo! Her cover story gets thrown out of the window as she simply tries to stay alive, learn the language, and not get herself burned at the stake as a witch.

What really made this book for me was the characters. The protagonists grew dear to me very quickly, as it’s really hard not to love courageous Kivrin and her father figure Dunworthy. But also the side characters – even the ones I didn’t like – were amazing. Dr. Ahrens’ 12-year-old nephew gets sort of dumped on Dunworthy but he turns out to be way more resourceful than first expected. Dunworthy’s assistant (if that’s what he was, I can’t be quite sure) Mr. Finch also outdoes himself taking on most of the organisational duties that Dunworthy can’t take care of himself. Mary Ahrens, who fights for every patient that comes to her hospital and who still has kind words of reassurance for her friends even though she is overworked. The technicians and historians – some of whom are actually just idiots – all felt like real people.
The same goes for the people Kivrin meets in the past. I was probably fondest of the child Agnes and Father Roche, who made the small village where Kivrin spends her time come alive despite the restricted setting. I saw them all vividly in my mind, I thought of them as real people, so I was all the more involved in their fate. Every once in a while I kept reminding myself that – even if Kivrin makes it out of this alive and can return to the present – all of these people will have been dead for 700 years, with or without a deadly plague, and it totally killed me. If you can get me to care that much about your characters, you have done something right!

Connie Willis is doubtlessly a great writer, but one really annoying habit she has in this book is the constant repetition of important facts. Two characters would have a conversation about when the plague came to England (1348, in case you’re wondering, and I’ll probably never forget it) to make sure us readers are up to date on this important bit of information. Then a character would be thinking the exact same information – sometimes even in the exact same words – to himself again. And in the following chapter, there’d be at least two other incidences where someone thinks or mentions when the plague came to England. The same goes for the three types of plague, how a virus spreads, what medieaval doctors tried to cure the plague, etc. etc.
I understand that the author wants her readers to have a good knowledge base for the story to work but just because someone doesn’t know very much about the Middle Ages doesn’t mean we’re all morons who have to be told the same thing 50 times in a row. We’re already involved in these characters’ lives – we care. So vital information is more likely to stick anyway because we’re just as worried about Kivrin as Mr. Dunworthy is. And we’re just as aware of the danger Dr. Ahrens is in because she’s treating hundreds of sick, contagious patients every day.

With that little rant out of the way, let me tell why I still loved this book. It is precisely because I was so besotted with the characters that I didn’t care how the author kind of talked down to me. Yeah, fine, so you think I need to be reminded yet again how each of the three plague types manifests, but if that’s what it takes for me to see what happens to Kivrin, then so be it. Were this not such a great story, I probably would have been much more annoyed with this, but because I adored the ideas and the characters and the plot, it was easier for me to just let it go. And I did learn a great deal about the time period and about diseases in general…

Connie Willis does a fantastic job of slowly building up her world and her characters, of making readers care for them, flawed as they may be, and then cranking things up to eleven on the emotion scale. I cried almost constantly throughout the last quarter of the book for various reasons. Characters dying, characters showing incredible courage, humanity working together in spite of terrible odds… It’s true I may have been a bit more susceptible to scenes like that because we’re dealing with similar situations in our world. Doctors working without sleep for days, nurses trying to make very ill patients as comfortable as possible, regardless of the danger to themselves – it’s all here in this book and it’s happening in our world right now too! And because now I know just how close to home Connie Willis hit with her fictional tale, I was all the more weepy.

If you’re currently reading only books to escape the real world, steer clear away from this one. But once this Corona pandemic is over and we have returned to some kind of normality (however that will look), I urge you to pick this up. It didn’t win a Hugo and a Nebula for nothing. This book makes me understand why Willis has so many die hard fans and why she keeps getting nominated for awards. It will proably be a while until I dare to pick up another book by her because I can only handle so many emotions at a time, but after reading Doomsday Book, I fully plan on reading her entire back catalogue. What a an amazing book!

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

Books in the Queue – The Currently Reading Edition

Hello, fellow lovers of books. This month I believe I have taken on a bit too much. What with various challenges, my ever-changing mood and the poor books that have been queueing for a while, my current Books in the Queue is almost identical to my Currently Reading list.

China Miéville – Un Lun Dun (finished March 9th)

un lun dunChina Miéville is the guy I would like to have discovered when I was a teenager. I’m not sure my 14-year-old self would have made it through Perdido Street Station, but this young adult novel is just so  much fun. I picked it up because I wanted a nice big book that I could nibble at a little each night (and it’s on my TBR-challenge list). A mere couple of days later, I find I’m halfway done with the book. What? How did that happen? So I’m reading what feels like a little every day and just having fun discovering UnLondon. I am especially in love with the sentient empty milk carton, Curdle.

dividerJuliet Marillier – Daughter of the Forest (finished 19th March 2013)

daughter of the forest1I have owned this book for so long, I can’t even remember. A few days ago, I finally picked it up (again, that TBR-challenge got to me) and found myself liking it quite a bit. I notice that I am reading this very slowly. I had a few hours at my disposal on the weekend and read, and read, and read. In the end, I saw that I had gotten about 50 pages into the book. It’s the opposite Miéville effect. That said, I really don’t mind. I like large books that slowly build an entire world and let me get into the characters’ heads. Sorcha, the protagonist, is a likable young girl, whom I enjoy following around. I am looking forward to the part where The Six Swans retelling begins, though. Also, I find myself looking for good music to go along with this book. It feels like it needs a soundtrack… any recommendations?

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Martha Wells – Emilie and the Hollow World (finished 29th March 2013)

emilie and the hollow worldI got an e-ARC of this and have been reading on and off in it for several weeks. For a short book, it’s taking me an enormous amount of time. And it’s not bad at all. Emilie runs away from home to catch a ship to her cousin’s place. She ends up on the wrong ship and has to join an expedition to the inside of the Earth (vie aether current). I enjoy the adventure quite a bit. My only problem was that Emilie, in my mind, is about 12 years old and behaves as such, but in the book, it is said she is 16. I’m just ignoring the author and imagining my 12-year-old anyway. Right now, I’m about halfway through this Jules Verne-esque YA adventure book.

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Here’s the actually queueing books (that I haven’t started)

Caitlín R. Kiernan – The Red Tree

red treeWhy do I want to read this? If you haven’t read my gushing review of The Drowning Girl, you won’t know how much I need to read another one of this author’s books. I have no idea what this one is about (and I don’t need to), except that there is another unreliable narrator. And I do love me some of those. If Caitlín Kiernan’s books are at all alike in style, theme, or darkness level, I believe I have a new favorite author on my hands. An author I would never have picked up because I find the covers unappealing. Thank you, Worlds Without End.

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Dubravka Ugrešić – Baba Yaga Laid an Egg

baba yaga laid an egWhy do I want to read this? It’s all Catherynne M. Valente’s fault, really. She tore my heart out with Deathless and gave me a taste of Russian mythology. Ever since I read Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana,  I wanted to learn more about rusalki. Then Cat Valente comes along and introduces me to Baba Yaga. I now know that I have been missing out on Russian fairy tales for a long time. I will start my journey of discovering Russian mythology with this book here. I heard very mixed things about it and am not sure at all that I will like it – but I’ll give it a shot.

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And the rest…

You may think these aren’t all that many books, right? But of course, I’m still trying to read as many of the Nebula nominees as I can fit into my free time (I do have that annoying time killer called work to think about, after all. Plus another semester at university.) as well as some other books I’ve started and am somewhere in the middle of:

  • Connie Willis – Blackout
  • Tina Connolly – Ironskin
  • John Crowley – Engine Summer (finished April 21st)
  • Meljean Brook – The Iron Duke
  • Stephen King – Wolves of the Calla
  • Leo – Betelgeuse (The Worlds of Aldebaran cycle 2) (finished April 19th)

Other than that, I still have a lot of catching up to do for my older Books in the Queue. Patrick Ness’ Monsters of Men is eagerly awaiting to be read, Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone has been jumping at me for months now, Jean-Cristophe Valtat’s Aurorarama just looks at me with sad puppy eyes from my shelf. And I won’t even mention The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood (edit: Ha! Finished it. It was awesome.). It gives me a serious case of guilty conscience for being in my late twenties and not having read it yet.

Connie Willis – Bellwether

Jeder, der in einem größeren Unternehmen gearbeitet hat, wird seinen Alltag hier wiedererkennen. Das Ausfüllen ellenlanger Formulare für die Bestellung von Büromaterial, peinliche Teammeetings und Mangel an wirklicher Unterstützung hat Connie Willis hier perfekt dargestellt.

Deutscher Titel: nicht auf deutsch erschienen
Erschienen: 1996
Seiten: 256
Erschienen bei: Bantam Books

Meine Bewertung: 7,5/10

Erster Satz: Hula Hoop (March 1958 – June 1959): The prototype for all merchandising fads and one whose phenomenal success has never been repeated. Originally a wooden exercise hoop used in Australian gym classes, the Hula Hoop was redesigned in gaudy plastic by Wham-O and sold for $1.98 to adults and kids alike.

Connie Willis gehört zu den angesehensten Science-Fiction Autorinnen unserer Zeit. Mit Blackout/All Clear hat sie erst kürzlich den Hugo Award gewonnen. Für mich ist Bellwether der erste Willis-Roman und obwohl er mit Science Fiction nur den Science-Teil gemein hat, macht er definitiv Lust auf mehr.

bell·weth·er  (ˈbɛlˌwɛðə)

1. (Life Sciences & Allied Applications / Breeds) a sheep that leads the herd, often bearing a bell
2. a leader, esp one followed blindly

Dr. Sandra Foster studiert Trends, vor allem solche, die nach kürzester Zeit wieder aussterben. In der Firma HiTek geht sie dem Grund der Popularität der Bob-Frisur in den 20er Jahren nach und entdeckt dabei zwar allerlei andere dämliche Trends, aber nicht, was den Wunsch nach einer Kurzhaarfrisur bei Frauen so plötzlich ausgelöst hat.
Als die absolut unübertrefflich inkompetente Assistentin Flip ihr auch noch ein Paket bringt, das in eine andere Abteilung gehört, trifft sie auf Dr. Bennett O’Reilly, der erstaunlich immun gegen jeden erdentlichen Trend zu sein scheint. Und dank Flips Schusseligkeit braucht er Sandras Hilfe.

Dass sich hinter dieser Handlung eine so lustige Geschichte versteckt, hätte ich nicht erwartet. Aber man lässt sich ja gerne positiv überraschen.
Connie Willis beschreibt auf köstliche Art und Weise nicht nur die wildesten Trends – Hula-Hoop und Kreuzworträtsel, spitze Schuhe, Blumenkinder und Stimmungsringe – sondern auch den Wahnsinn, in einer größeren Firma zu arbeiten. Ich musste durchgehend nicken bei den sinnlosen Teammeetings, dem Versuch, das Unternehmen in nichtssagende und lächerliche Akronyme zu verpacken und es so schwierig wie möglich zu gestalten, einfach nur seine Arbeit zu tun.

Das 50-seitige Formular zur Beantragung von Sponsionsgeldern oder das immerhin 20-seitige Formular für die Bestellung von Büromaterial hätten schon gereicht. Mir hat aber vor allem gefallen, dass bestimmte Formulierungen – wie “Unternehmensstruktur stärken” – offenbar universell bei allen Managern gut ankommen. Ähnliches kennen bestimmt viele Menschen aus eigener Erfahrung, egal in welcher Branche sie arbeiten.

Connie Willis erzählt von Sandras Versuch, Sinn in die Welt der Trends zu bringen und die Protagonistin sieht sich dabei nicht nur mit verrückten Traumhochzeits-Barbies und viel zu vielen Kaffeesorten konfrontiert, sondern vor allem mit der chaotischen Assistentin Flip. So nervtötend dieses Mädchen auch ist, ich habe unheimlich gerne von ihr gelesen. Im echten Leben hätte sie mich vermutlich in den Wahnsinn getrieben. Was für ein Gör! Aber genau das ist das Schöne an Literatur. Man kann Welten erkunden, die einem sonst verschlossen bleiben, und sich über die Isolierband tragende (als Modeaccesoire!), blauhaarige Chaotin amüsieren, die diesem Buch einen ganz besonderen Charme verleiht.

PRO: Amüsante, kurze Geschichte über Trends, Chaos und die Arbeit in einer größeren Firma.
CON: Etwas überzeichnete Charaktere, eine sehr versteckte Liebesgeschichte.
FAZIT: Tolles Büchlein für Menschen, die gerne gegen den Strom schwimmen oder auch solche, die jeden Trend mitmachen. Noch besser: Für die Trendsetter, die dem Roman seinen Titel verleihen.

BEWERTUNG: 7,5/10