Hurrah, it’s Tuesday again. This week I’ve got some great SFF that’s alternative world without being based on the usual pseudo-medieval template that so many stories seem to rely on. Take a look, and let me know what non-medieval fantasy you enjoy!
- The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin
The same could be said of The Fifth Season, the first in the Broken Earth series, as well, however The Obelisk Gate is where the world building really picks up, for me. This series is a breath of fresh air, when it comes to imagining civilizations, using a form of proto-communism in which, when Season law is declared, every citizen of a community has a specific role, determined by their particular physical and intellectual traits, that is meant to help the community survive the deadly season caused by earthquakes and other tectonic miseries, which are so common on this unsteady continent called the Stillness. Also the writing is, as always, amazing, and everyone needs to read this series.
2. The Bone Universe (series), by Fran Wilde
Imagine a city in the sky, consisting of bone towers rising ever above the clouds, and people who move between the towers on wings made of silk. Then imagine an ancient lore, passed down for generations in song, because the weight of books is dangerous and ephemeral. Again, this is a story in which community is incredibly important, and is so interesting because of the conflicts that arise when tradition and change collide.
3. The Black Tides of Heaven (novella), by J.Y. Yang
Part of a duology, this novella imagines a world that, first of all, is reminiscent more of ancient Chinese or Southeast Asian civilizations and, second of all, is full of a magic called the Slack, which is used to perform many of the technological feats we take for granted today, but differently. Also, it’s a world in which gender is both fluid and self-determined; people in the Tensorate choose their gender, when they want to, and then have it confirmed by society, rather than the other way around. The characters and their motivations are compelling, a familiar story of children rebelling against a tyrant parent, but explored in new ways.
4. Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor
Though not explicitly stated, Binti comes from a tribal, semi-desert civilization which is reminiscent of some western African settings. Of course, this is a future earth, and so it’s just as easy to imagine a post singularity future in which people of African descent are the dominant civilizations as it is people of North American or European descent. That said, Binti comes from a world of space-farers, people who regularly travel across the galaxy and further for trade, education, and leisure. Binti is leaving her homeland to go to Oomza University, an entire planet set up for education. She deals with tribal beliefs that have to do with belonging and leaving, as well as the prejudices of outsiders, and then the added conflict of an alien species attempting to hijack her space ship. It’s a great beginning to a novella trilogy and entirely refreshing in its world building and point of view.
5. Eternal Sky (trilogy), by Elizabeth Bear
I talk about Elizabeth Bear a fair amount; she’s one of my favorite writers. This trilogy is both well-written and encompasses a world that, while having many of the same features as more familiar pseudo-medieval settings, is instead based on a Eurasian steppe/Middle East empire civilization. It holds a particularly close place in my reading heart because it reminds me so much of the year I lived in Astana, Kazakhstan, surrounded by artwork that could practically have sprung from imagery in these novels. It’s about a young man whose uncle attempts to wrest his birthright from him, and a princess-turned-wizard, who come together in unlikely circumstances to save the world. Also there are horse, and a species of Cheetah people, and giant eagles. Every novel needs giant eagles.
Maybe I’ll do a Tuesday List of giant eagle books next.