As a reader and a writer, I’m always curious about how other writers conjure new or expanded worlds from the mundane, often terrible details of our current realities. I initially wanted to assemble a list of speculative fiction—and yes, most of these titles could be categorized that way, but I’m also aware that some Indigenous writers, like Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, don’t view their work in those terms. In her book As We Have Always Done, Simpson writes: “I like writing multidimensionality into my work not because I’m trying to write speculative fiction but because that’s how Indigenous worlds work.” Instead, this is a list of work I love that expands readers’ understandings of the world, or worlds we live in, beyond what is usually accepted and perceived as reality. Many of these books interrupt and disturb colonial structures and ideas about how this world is to be understood. Whether they were written this year, or decades ago, they all speak, in their own ways, to the urgency, uncertainty, distortions, and possibilities of the current moment.
Boundless, by Jillian Tamaki
Jillian Tamaki, well-known for the long-form graphic novels Skim and This One Summer, created in collaboration with Mariko Tamaki, is also a powerhouse on her own. Boundless is a collection of frequently uncanny short stories in comic form, whose subjects range from an eerie MLM-style skincare product line, to a viral mp3 file that has mysterious effects on its listeners, to a Facebook glitch that creates mirror doubles for every user. Tamaki’s drawings are rife with movement, whether it’s the dipping and circling of a neurotic housefly, or the mise en abyme of endless browser windows retreating into infinity.
Brown Girl in the Ring, by Nalo Hopkinson
Ti-Jeanne survives in a Toronto that has been emptied of the wealthy (who have fled the city and barricaded it), where she has learned how to harvest, barter, forage, and administer plant medicine from elders in her Caribbean community. But now, the rich seek new organs and prey on Ti-Jeanne’s people in order to “harvest” them. Hopkinson has stated that sci-fi and fantasy are the only genres that realistically depict the lives of outsiders. Here, she interweaves Caribbean lore and knowledge, with the stark realities of a post-apocalyptic urban wasteland, yielding a classic of the speculative genre, still relevant decades after its first publication.
Familiar Face, by Michael Deforge
A city is taken over by system updates, which transform bodies and urban geography in increasingly bewildering ways, according to the state’s inscrutable regulations. Our shapeshifting protagonist loses her lover, possibly to a secret guerrilla cartographer cell, possibly just to the endlessly unrecognizable world. Did they ever really know each other? Her search leads her to a growing protest movement (occupation?) led by fed-up gig economy roommates-for-hire. Deforge’s style works seamlessly here, at once simple and disorienting in its framing and its details. It’s a chaotically melancholic nighmare, and I mean this in the best way.
Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit & Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction, edited by Joshua Whitehead
Joshua Whitehead (Jonny Appleseed, Full Metal Indigiqueer) is the editor of this essential anthology, which collects stories by nine Two-Spirit and queer Indigenous writers, including Kai Minosh Pyle, jaye simpson, Nazbah Tom, and others. In his introduction, White writes: “Who names an event apocalyptic and whom must an apocalypse affect in order for it to be thought of as “canon”? How do we pluralize apocalypse?” These stories, collected in this volume during the COVID-19 pandemic, strain multiply towards utopia, towards ways of being beyond immediate survival, beyond the ongoing dystopian present. Future worlds, virtual worlds, and other planets beckon.
Moon of the Crusted Snow, by Waubgeshig Rice
A compelling novel set in a northern Anishnaabe community, whose survival is threatened when an unnamed climate-related disaster occurs further south. Rice describes the daily work and interpersonal relationships of the community in lovely detail, which makes it all the more jarring when the community’s ability to sustain itself is jeopardized by white settlers seeking refuge from the southern catastrophe, plus a harsh winter and a dwindling stockpile of food as supply routes go dead. The members of Gaawaandagkoong First Nation realize they must turn to their elders for teachings, in order to relearn the Anishinaabeg ways that will keep them alive. A refreshing, urgent book that asks whether “the apocalypse” for settlers could mean something entirely different and more hopeful for Indigenous communities.
Noopiming, by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg artist and scholar Leanne Betasamosake Simpson gives us a multiphonic, decolonizing response to Susanna Moodie’s 1852 settler memoir Roughing It in the Bush. The voices come through as fragments—human voices and also Ninaatig, the maple tree, Adik, the caribou, Sabe, the giant. They exist uncomfortably in the realm of the urban-settler world, but the natural world has also been contaminated by capitalism, extraction, colonial ownership. It is a narrative of fragmentation, but also of collective, multi-faceted healing, mythmaking, and resistance.
The Tiger Flu, by Larissa Lai
Larissa Lai’s The Tiger Flu is a kaleidoscopic, shapeshifting tale of feral girl gangs, mutant women who can regrow their own organs to further the survival of their exiled community, elevators that can transform the shape of matter, hallucinogenic fog, and of course, a deadly epidemic. Glittering and disorienting, you may not grasp its every twist, but you’ll want to stick around anyway.
Zolitude, by Paige Cooper
Paige Cooper’s debut story collection reveals the depth and breadth of her talent. Impossible to classify, her stories experiment with elements of myth, occult horror, space exploration, time travel, and spy thriller, while ultimately revealing bleak and often ugly truths about their characters. Cooper’s language is refractive—crystalline images hang like drops on a taut web, appearing and disappearing, always leading us somewhere strange and new.
A young gymnast crushes on an older, more talented teammate while contending with her overworked mother. A newly queer twenty-something juggles two intimate relationships--with a slippery anarchist lover and an idiosyncratic meals-on-wheels recipient. A queer metal band's summer tour unravels amid the sticky heat of the Northeastern US. A codependent listicle writer becomes obsessed with a Japanese ASMR channel.
The stories in Personal Attention Roleplay are propelled by queer loneliness, mixed-race confusion, late capitalist despondency, and the pitfalls of intimacy. Taking place in Montreal, Toronto, and elsewhere, they feature young Asian misfits struggling with the desire to see themselves reflected--in their surroundings, in others, online. Chau Bradley's precise language and investigation of our more troubling motivations stand out in this wryly funny debut, through stories that hint at the uncanny while remaining grounded in the everyday.
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