This edition of All Booked was originally emailed to subscribers on February 8, 2022. To receive Emily Cosentino Lee and Caitlin Fitch’s literary newsletter in your inbox every other Tuesday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.
When my friend matches with a guy on a dating app, one of the questions she asks is, “Are you reading any good books right now?” Recently, though, the answer has become so unanimous it’s boring: “Dune,” they all say.
Over glasses of wine and a game of cards, she and I lament the fact that men on dating apps are mostly boring and that yes, Dune by Frank Herbert is an epic story, and yes, Timothée Chalamet plays a perfect Paul Atreides in the most recent, and highly impressive, rendition. But Herbert’s writing of Lady Jessica is disappointing, and the Fremen of Arrakis are portrayed terribly, and in the 1980s movie version, almost everyone is noticeably, and weirdly, white. And to top it all off, I’m pretty sure Herbert turned out to be a super-conservative, no-good scoundrel. I assume you know all of that by now and going over it in detail would be tangential to the point of this newsletter. Sigh.
The point I’m trying to make is that sci-fi is so much more and so much better than Dune. There are better epic sci-fi/fantasy stories out there. They are diverse, well-written, thought-provoking, and a form of escapism, while still making important commentary on the world we live in. And, of course, if someone could come up with a more interesting answer to the original question, they might even get to go on a date with my amazing friend. (Actually, don’t get your hopes up, you probably won’t.)
So without further ado, here are some of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy recommendations.
First and foremost, I suggest anything written by Octavia E. Butler. If you’re looking for something a bit more tame on the sci-fi front, I suggest beginning with Kindred. If you’re looking for something a bit more intense, go with the Patternmaster series; your socks will be knocked off. And, of course, I can’t recommend anything without screaming from the rooftops that you should read The Parable of the Sower. I’m currently on my third reading of it, and I gain new insight each time.
My next offering is the Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty. It begins in 18th-century Cairo with our girl Nahri, who’s making her way in the world as a con artist. One day a con goes wrong (or is it right?) and she accidentally summons a djinn warrior named Dara. Her life is forever changed. Chakraborty has created an absorbing magical universe steeped in Middle Eastern mythology and history. It is a refreshing alternative to the typical Western/European-centric fantasy worlds. If you can’t get enough djinn magic, follow it up with A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark, which is about a lady who wears dapper suits and solves crimes involving magical entities in steampunk 1900s Cairo.
Perhaps you’re in the mood for something set in space that is quick-hitting and funny. If that’s your jam, I suggest The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. This is a series of novellas set in an intergalactic universe where corporate entities control everything. Our main character is a sentient A.I. who calls itself Murderbot and just wants to be left alone to watch sitcoms.
If you mix together N.K. Jemisin’s impressive world building (see the Broken Earth trilogy!) with some urban fantasy and a dash of sci-fi, you’ll get The City We Became. New York City is quite literally coming alive in this book, and it’s being embodied in a human avatar like many cities before it. Actually, it’s being embodied by five people, one from each borough, and they must come together to save New York. The audiobook is a total ride and is voiced by the incomparable Robin Miles.
If you’re in the mood for something slow and quiet then the Sevenwaters series by Juliet Marillier might be your cup of tea. This is a fantasy series set in medieval Ireland at a time when the Catholic Church is beginning to blot out the Pagan belief systems of the Celtic people. Each book follows a different generation of the family and draws from Celtic tradition and fairytale. (Trigger warning: The first book deals with sexual assault.)
If you’re looking for a series for your kiddo (or yourself!) that isn’t Harry Potter, then check out His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman or The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin. Both are classics.
If you’re interested in some satire, then check out An Orc on the Wild Side by Tom Holt (think Brexit meets Middle Earth).
If you don’t want to invest in an entire series but still want to be swept into a new world, then try The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez or All The Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. I think both of these would make great book club selections.
I also have to give a shout out to our very own Chaucer’s Books, which has a great Sci-fi/Fantasy section. Just wander around there and you’ll probably find the scratch for your itch. It’s an endlessly engaging genre and I’ve only just scratched the surface here, so if you have recommendations send them my way.
LOCAL BOOK SPOTLIGHT
We at the Independent get many books sent to us by local authors, sometimes too many! It’s practically impossible for us to read and review them all, but just because we are busy bees does not mean that they aren’t worth the attention. In an attempt to not completely drop the ball, we have compiled a list of books here that have a local spin. They are all either written by a local author, feature someone in our community, or have another tie to Santa Barbara. I urge you to look through this list. Perhaps you will find your new favorite read!
If you are a local author and would like us to feature your book in this section, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
INDY BOOK CLUB
Indy Book Club is a monthly community book club hosted by the Santa Barbara Independent and the Santa Barbara Public Library, where we read and discuss books on a wide range of themes and genres. Join in on the literary fun!
February’s Indy Book Club Selection:
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
Publisher’s Synopsis: In her phenomenally popular essays and long-running Tumblr blog, Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and body, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she explores her past — including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life — and brings readers along on her journey to understand and ultimately save herself.
Read SBPL Librarian Molly Wetta’s review
February Book Discussion: Wednesday, February 23, 6 p.m. Location: on Zoom: Register Here.
We would love for you to come and chat about the book with us! It is very informal, and we usually spend about 30 minutes chatting about the book and then the last 30 minutes giving recommendations and chatting about other books we’ve read.
Roxane with One N: Roxane Gay comes to UCSB Arts & Lectures – Friday, February 25 @ 7:30 p.m. | The Granada Theatre | Get Your Tickets