Oh dear, I didn’t mean to go silent for so long again, there were lots of things I wanted to write about back at the end of last term – the SYP Annual Conference, for one thing, which I will come back to however belatedly – but life gets in the way as always!

So I’ll start the New Year with a resolution to be more regular writing here, and for my first entry of the year, here’s a list of some of the books on my shelf I plan to read this term, with short blurbs included!  Apart from my current book, these are either books I was given for Christmas or that I bought the other day with Christmas book tokens, so they’re all brand spanking new!

Happenstance: The Husband’s Story and The Wife’s Story, Carol Shields:   This is what I’m currently reading.  It’s actually two parallel novellas printed back to back and upside down.  As the subtitles suggests, the two narrative voices are a husband and wife, each of whom tells the story of the same five days of their lives when, unusually for them, they are apart.  The style is therefore very much detailed, blow-by-blow insight into a character’s experiences and mind, much in the manner of Anne Tyler.  I wasn’t sure which to read first, or whether to read both a chapter at a time and alternate, but I went for the Husband first and really enjoyed it – bittersweet, insightful and heartwarming.

Ender in Exile, Orson Scott Card:  Very excited about this one.  Card’s Ender’s Game series and the parallel Ender’s Shadow series are fantastic, though I don’t recommend much of his other work. Best described perhaps as political, social and philosophical sci-fi, they are absolute must-reads.  This new one is a direct chronological sequel to the first book, Ender’s Game, telling what happens in the ‘lost’ years before book 2 in the series, Speaker for the Dead.

Company of Liars, Karen Maitland:  I picked this up mainly because I liked the cover and it was on special offer, only £5 and it’s a pretty big book, but the plot looks good too.  Set in 1348 during the Plague, a group of travellers trying to survive amidst the chaos discover more sinister things are happening than simply the Black Death…

Affinity Bridge, George Mann:  This and the next one are both published by Independent Publishers Snowbooks, whose blog I read and who seem pretty impressive to me!  This seems to be a sort of historical-sci-fi-fantasy, set in a Victorian London with not only airships and robots but also ghosts and living cadavers.  Throw in some murders and mystery and you’ve got a very interesting looking plot that will probably please Dr Who fans!

The Needle in the Blood, Sarah Bower: Historical fiction based around the creation of the Bayeux Tapestry.  Bishop Odo of Bayeux falls in love with one of the embroideress’s of the tapestry he has commissioned, though she is a Saxon and served his enemies before the Conquest, turning both their worlds upside down.

The End of Mr. Y, Scarlett Thomas: This is on loan from a friend, and is another one with a funky cover – and black-edged pages!  The main character, Ariel, finds a rare book, The End of Mr. Y, rumoured to be cursed, in a second-hand bookshop and, intruiged rather than scared, picks it up.  I’ve been told not to read it alone late at night…!

An Angel at My Table, Janet Frame:  This was a christmas gift from my grandmother.  It is an autobiography of one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed writers, so hopefully I will be inspired to try some of her fiction.  Misdiagnosed with Schizophrenia when young, Janet Frame narrowly escaped undergoing a lobotomy when the doctors discovered she had won a national literary prize.  It sounds intruiging and very moving.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Fiction are, I think, often seen as a rather geeky and esoteric book genres read only by Star Trek fans who frequent nerdy conventions and rarely go out. But I am not ashamed to admit that a lot of my favourite books would probably fall into these categories, and I can’t quite see what the fuss is about. After all, many of the most successful children’s authors (and certainly my favourites – Diana Wynne Jones, Susan Cooper, Tamora Pierce, Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, as well as J. K. Rowling) are essentially fantasy authors, so it seems a logical progression to me to progress onto ‘grown up’ science fiction and fantasy.  All these ‘childrens’ authors are also still eminently readable age 20, and I plan to still be rereading them in 50 years time!

I’ve been thinking about this this week because I just re-read Nimisha’s Ship by Anne McCaffrey, a very popular and influential but easily accessibly science fiction author, then today at work I was reading a children’s manuscript which was, in essence, science fiction: set in a future world similar to but eerily different from our own, where wierd and wonderful things can happen. This is the best thing about science and fantasy fiction, in my opinion: you can create completely new worlds and societies by creating parallel worlds or by setting your action on a far away planet in the distant future. This gives you completely free rein to let your imagination run wild – you don’t have to be constrained by historical or contemporary fact, but you can take an element of a modern or historical social trend or technological development and ask ‘what if’ to infinity. Some of the best science fiction, such as the Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow series by Orson Scott Card (although I wouldn’t recommend his other works as his religious views colour them far too much) are fantastic precisely because the future they imagine is so deeply rooted in our present, and the philosophical and moral dilemmas they explore are often very recognisable in ourselves. Not all science and fantasy fiction is moral, of course, which is often what makes it such an enjoyable, fast-paced and imagination-boosting experience, but even Dr Who has qualms about committing genocide against the Daleks!

I could rave and rave about any and all of the authors I’ve named above, and more besides, but I’ll spare you for the moment – do get in touch, though, if you’d like to dicuss them or want some recommendations for a bit of sci fi or fantasy!