I might try to keep my blog positive outside of reviews, but the truth will always be that I’ve been introduced to booktube, and then to the rest of the book community, by the unpopular opinion book tag. So I couldn’t ignore this, could I?
↠ I want adult sci-fi to be challenging; if it isn’t, I get bored
I feel like my adult sci-fi recommendations should come with a disclaimer, something like “Acqua liked it, which means that the worldbuiliding is either dense, very bizarre, or on the verge on nonsensical (but she thought it was fun)”
I’ve tried reading adult sci-fi that was more low on the worldbuilding, but… I either didn’t care about it or actively hated it. Because what I like about adult sci-fi, the reason I sometimes say that it’s my favorite genre, is that it’s the only genre that is allowed to be completely out there with the worldbuilding. Trying to figure out the world is part of the fun, and the weirder it is, the better, so throw the overcomplicated weird worldbuilding/technology at me, please.
↠ A few polarizing and/or underrated books I love:
- Temper by Nicky Drayden: this one got so little visibility, but it’s one of the most original and funny things I’ve ever read. It’s a bizarre fantasy novel set in an alternate South Africa, and I can’t even tell you what it was about, there was so much going on. It was an experience and I really recommend it if you, like me, are always there for weird stories
- Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee: for a NYT Bestseller, I’ve heard surprisingly little about it, and not all I’ve heard has been good, when… this is probably the only middle grade novel that has managed to keep my attention in years, and it’s such a fun read involving a gumiho in space in a casually queer world. It made me so happy.
- A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo: the other day, I saw Tillie Walden describe why she loved this book so much, and… same. Contemporary lesbians in a story that isn’t about romance, in a story in which they get to be morally gray, in which they get to be messy and even horny without being flattened to a stereotype. However, many reviews on goodreads see this as bad lesbian rep, and do I disagree
↠ Some authors I can’t get into:
- Sarah Gailey: I’m seeing more people talk about them lately, as their debut novel came out recently, but: I’ve tried their stories multiple times – both novellas in the River of Teeth series, some shorter fiction, and even some poetry – and I haven’t liked one of them. I almost never one-star short fiction, but the Hugo-nominated story STET even managed to make me angry, so I don’t think I’ll ever try anything by them again.
- E.K. Johnston: after reading two of her books, I just think she’s incapable of putting together a worldbuilding that doesn’t fall apart because of inconsistencies if you look at it twice. Which makes me sad, because the premises of her (very queer) books always look perfect.
- Jay Kristoff: I thought the writing in Illuminae read a lot like “edgy preteen”, so I tried something that he wrote by himself and that was adult, Nevernight, which ended up feeling like “edgy preteen with a thesaurus”, and that wasn’t even the worst part – that would be the cringe-y fake Italian-inspired setting. [Gladiatii? Are we serious? But to be honest I quit when a character said “mi Dona” for something that was meant to be the equivalent of “my lady”, probably inspired by the words “mia” (my, singular female form) and “donna” (woman), but “mi dona” means “it suits me” and it’s used for dresses. I… can’t take any of this seriously, I’m sorry]
↠ My problem with many fae books is that in them the fae think almost like a human would, so I don’t get the “blue and orange morality” content
In many popular fae books, the fae are either basically elves with less of an obsession for nature and more superpowers (…A Court of Thorns and Roses), or something that feels like a sad caricature of a high school bully (The Cruel Prince). In both cases, they feel a lot like humans, but I prefer faeries who don’t.
Some examples of portrayals I like:
- Under the Pendulum Sun is my all-time favorite portrayal of the fae. All of it is a very sick mind game, and the fae in this book can’t be understood by humans, which I really appreciated. Then the book added its own… twist to it. Not going to say more because spoilers, but if you’re into disturbing novels, try this.
- An Enchantment of Ravens is the demonstration that you can write a fae romance in a world in which the fae are monsters: Rook is more the exception than the rule, and the rest of the fair folk… well, they’re not people anyone would like to spend that much time with.
- The fae in Never-Contented Things are kind of incidental, as it’s mostly a story about getting out of an abusive relationship, but I loved how cruel for the sake of it they were. They’re monstrous and cold and yet so fascinating (Unselle!) and this is what I want from this kind of stories.
↠ I am instantly wary of any book described as “hopepunk”
If you’ve been there before, you might know that I’m not the biggest fan of grimdark, or of grim stories in general. Hopelessness isn’t something I want from what I read for entertainment. However.
I don’t see the point of hopepunk at all. I mean, the word was created to mean something that, to me, feels like it could be applied to every single book that isn’t grimdark, which makes it functionally useless (it might be that I read a lot of YA, but “as much as we have that core of malice and evil, we also have a huge capacity to do good and to take care of each other and to make the world a better place” could describe 90% of what I read). Which means that almost no one uses this word for books that are dark but human and recognize that things can get better, or even for the average funny YA in which some bad things happen but there’s a happily ever after because the characters learn to stand up for what they believe in (or something like that).
It means that the books that actually get described with it are things that fully intend to beat you over the head with how everything will be fine 🙂 and we’re going to make the world better if we’re kind to each other 🙂 and remember to breathe 🙂 – which to me is just as irritating as the novels that want to convince me that the world is inherently horrible no matter what people do.
I love hopeful stories, but the parts in which they make me feel the hope are the ones that matter, not the ones in which they constantly tell me about it.
↠ Short fiction doesn’t get half the appreciation it deserves
There are very few novels that I think “changed my life”. I can count… maybe three at most? And I’ve read 400+ novels since 2016. I haven’t read nearly as much short stories, but I know of a short story that really changed my life, and the idea that short fiction is somehow lesser or even less impactful than novels is a lie.
↠ I’m tired of certain premises that seem to be everywhere in YA fantasy lately
I’ve heard a lot of people complain about dystopian worlds or retellings of the same five fairytales, but there are three YA trends that, in the last four years, seem to be everywhere:
- the main character goes on a quest to rescue a sibling we know nothing about
- the princess who needs to take back the throne or the magician who needs to take back the banned magic (or the magical princess who needs to take back both the throne and the banned magic!)
- the main character who needs to infiltrate a place where there happens to be a person of their age who works for the opposite side and they’re meant to kill each other but they fall in love instead (sounds very specific? YA is convinced this is the only way to have the enemies-to-lovers trope, so there are a lot of them.)
Sometimes, all three happen at once – looking at you, Ruined by Amy Tintera – and there’s nothing wrong with them, I’d just like YA to understand that if it takes a risk for once, its readers won’t hate it for that. We don’t need to pick three plotlines, do almost nothing but that for 4 years, and then declare them dead for the following decade (see paranormal romances).
Since I don’t believe in complaining without recommendations, a few underrated books that don’t follow any of these storylines:
- Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton: a dark fantasy story set in an isolated town with a terrible secret, involving polyamory and a terrifying wood.
- The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad: slow-paced, character-driven silk road fantasy involving intrigue, so many food descriptions, and surprisingly few clichés.
- The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke: how often do you see stories about women going on a quest because they want to? I certainly never had before.
↠ Adult SFF isn’t all white men, you’re just not looking
If you believe this, I’m going to ask you to look at my post about the Hugo Award Finalists (all adult SFF in various formats) of this year, count the white men, and come back here. And it’s not like it’s a new development of 2019 – the all-agender sci-fi Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie won basically all the awards it could have won in 2013. You probably also know of award-winning N.K. Jemisin and Nnedi Okorafor, and there are so many others. Could it be better? Definitely, but so could YA.
There are few things that annoy me as much as YA readers who supposedly avoid adult fiction because according to them it’s “all white men”, while in reality they’re reading popular adult fantasy by women and mislabeling it as YA, and avoiding all diverse sci-fi because it’s too complicated or something (just because I like the complicated ones it doesn’t mean they’re all like that! Just… that’s what I’m going to recommend, because I have no intention to lie about what I like?)
To me, these complaints feel as absurd as would one about YA being all white men because John Green is popular.
↠ Part of the reason I tend to avoid some adult fantasy books is that I’m tired of gatekeeping nonsense
[or: I just complained about the YA readership, now let’s complain about the adult one]
Some people will tell you that you don’t have the right to call yourself a fantasy fan unless you’ve read certain authors. If you’ve in some way interacted with adult SFF circles, you probably already have a list in your head – and that’s the fastest way to make me not want to read a book.
Also, I have tried some of them, and… they weren’t even good. Some of my most memorable reactions have been “I’ve never read a book that was so obsessed with boobs and yet at the same time so dedicated to make me understand that it doesn’t know how boobs work” and “please get someone with a sense of humor to proofread your next one”.
↠ Inconsistent and lacking worldbuilding is one of the worst things that can happen to a sci-fi or fantasy book.
I don’t really understand the idea of “the worldbuilding was bad but the characters were so interesting that I didn’t care”.
Characters should feel shaped by their world, and how can that happen if the world doesn’t feel real? I’ve seen what happens in American SFF novels in which the worldbuilding felt like an afterthought: the characters feel, act and talk like modern white Americans.
And yes, I will have a problem if in your fake renaissance Italy novel the characters’ ideas of family and concepts of ethics are those of a modern anglo protestant.
at least base their hangups on catholicism. Bad worldbuilding often reminds me that there is a significant portion of Americans who still think of themselves as the default humans.
I’m not going to pretend this made sense in any way, coherence is overrated, but I’d love to know what you think of these things!