Wanna know what sucks about publishing? I’ll tell you. Good novels die. They die all the time, often for no very good reason. They didn’t satisfy Amazon’s algorithms or their publishers weren’t sure how to market them or they just plain weren’t what people wanted.
I think that’s crazy unfair. It means that we miss so much good stuff, simply because it never comes into our field of view. Here, for example, are three books that you probably haven’t read yet, but which you really should. To be fair, they haven’t fallen off the radar yet — The Golem and the Djinni has gotten some good press. But if we’re not careful, books like this will sink deep into the Ocean of Old Books. You think the Mariana Trench is deep? It’s got nothing on this particular abyss.
The Golem and the Djinni — Helene Wecker
With a story that stretches thousands of years, and a massive cast of characters, Wecker’s story is a little bit intimidating. Fortunately, there are only two characters you really need to worry about: Chava, a clay golem from Europe, and Ahmad, a djinni from Syria. Through circumstance, they land up far from home, in New York at the turn of the twentieth century.
Wecker’s world is brilliant. It’s a self-contained, clockwork-perfect creation. I got completely lost in it; as with all good books, I started rationing the damn thing as I got towards the chaotic, insane end, where Chava and Ahmad finally confront the person responsible for the pickle they’ve ended up in. Read it. It’s fucking awesome.
(EDIT: I misspelled her name as Wicker. Fixed now.)
The Detainee — Peter Liney
I’m the first to admit that his book has a terrible title. It sounds like the headline on a very long New York Times piece on prison conditions in Oklahoma. But behind the title is a very well-written, very scary book indeed.
In Liney’s world, the aged and the poverty-stricken are shipped off to live on a massive garbage-dump island. Their lives are constantly threatened by bands of feral children, and if they try to escape, a satellite security system will take them down.
Liney’s hero is fantastic; you know mob bosses? You know they always have the big, dumb lunk of a bodyguard they use to break kneecaps of people who displease them? That’s your hero: his name is Clancy, and he’s a washed up old mob enforcer who knows he could have done better with his life.
Outside of the “punishment satellites”, it’s all too easy to imagine Liney’s world existing. The circumstances are all there in 2014: a growing population of the elderly, advanced poverty, garbage islands, a massive financial crisis. When Liney has Clancy muse about how school first became viewed as a privilege, then something entirely optional, you believe him. Like every great sci-fi book ever written, you can see elements of your own world nested in the story.
Nod — Adrian Barnes
Such a simple idea. Everyone in the world, save for a tiny few, loses the ability to fall asleep.
And if you can’t fall asleep, you go insane, and then you die. Society goes entirely pear-shaped in about, oh, two days. Nod is set in Vancouver, and although Barnes sometimes lets his prose wander off in more contemplative directions than one might wish to deal with, it’s a gripping, haunting piece of work.
It’s Barnes’ only book so far, and it was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Just buy the damn thing. You’ll thank me later. If you can still sleep yourself.