December 27, 2023

Books for Hope

         At this time of year it’s common to look forward to the next year, and these days most of us feel a certain amount of trepidation about the future.  Speculative fiction to the rescue!  Spec fic can remind us that no future is inevitable, that marvelous things are possible, and that it’s worth envisioning the world we want to see.  Today I’m sharing three (and a half) books to give you hope.
        A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers - This novella is gentle and contemplative.  The characters are few, the plot is sedate, and the most harrowing danger is self-doubt - yet in its own way, this little book packs a powerful punch… of hope.  Hopeful point 1: generations ago the world of Panga was very much like ours, careening toward self-destruction with fossil fuels, environmental degradation, and the threshold of AI sentience.  But before apocalypse, the people pulled themselves together and changed everything, giving rise to a new version of inhabiting their world which, while not perfect, is pretty darn utopian.  A big part of the allure of this book is simply the opportunity to be a tourist in this world and see what solutions they’ve come up with.  Hopeful point 2: there are no villains.  People are pretty much doing the best they can and trying to treat each other decently.  Another part of the allure is spending time with Sibling Dex and (eventually) Mosscap, two characters who are not only likable but lovable.  Hopeful point 3: The charming and beautiful writing is balm, giving an opportunity to draw breath and detox from too much hate-mongering news coverage.  (There is also a sequel, A  Prayer for the Crown-Shy, and I hope more to come.)  I enjoyed these so much that my kids gave them to me for Christmas, and I quickly whipped through my re-read of book 1.
        Binti by Nnedi Okorafor - Technically a trilogy of novellas, just think of it as one normal-sized book.  This one is not gentle and there are definitely villains and harrowing experiences, but it is nevertheless full of hopeful moments.  It’s beautifully written and offers a radical reimagining of how it is possible for enemies to come together.  Hopeful point 1: The protagonist Binti experiences the transformative power of reaching out to enemies — literally, physically transformative, so that she becomes connected body and soul with those who are the other.  Hopeful point 2: In a world that tends to hail as heroes only conquerors or “defenders” who defeat with violence, the story of Binti shows that the role of harmonizer takes even more courage, strength, and heroism.  Binti is in the genre of Afrofuturism, and blends harder sci fi with exploration of how African-inspired cultures might develop and influence a future space-traveling world.  In expanding those imaginary worlds, it has the power to expand ours.  This is not necessarily an easy read, but it is inspiring.
        Once More Upon a Time by Roshani Chokshi - Going to the opposite side of spec fic, this novella is a light and comic reimagining of classic fairy tale tropes, playing with what happens after the traditional fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses.  This is another fun and quick read, but it’s not just amusement value that gets it onto my list today.  Hopeful point 1: happily ever after isn’t static.  That means it may not always be happy - but it also means there’s always hope for more developments.  Hopeful point 2: It’s possible to find your way around and through and past all sorts of past baggage: dysfunctional families, slumping relationships, misunderstandings, and even curses.  It’s not too late.  This one is a small domestic romance rather than a galaxy-spanning political epic, but we all need hopes both personal and political.
        These books share a vision of hope, in a variety of ways, they share a faith in second chances (and more, if need be), and they share wonderful writing, which is balm to the soul in its own right.  Pick the one in your flavor of choice, or read them all; I recommend any 
and all of them.
        And for one more book of hope, here’s another foreshadowing plug for my own upcoming book, Bittersweetness & Light.  This will be a collection of my short stories, poems, and art, all of which are various genres and subgenres of speculative fiction, and all of which share the theme of finding joy and offering hope.  The Kickstarter campaign to publish the book will go live in just a couple of weeks, but you can visit the preview page NOW!
        As we start a new year, let’s make this the year we turn ourselves around, harmonize with our enemies, seize our second chances, find the good that’s still all around, and give ourselves real and meaningful reasons to hope.

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