Duke Wheel Orkney
Harry Josephine Giles (Picador)
2022 Arthur C. Clarke Award Winner, it’s a stunning feat of language and imagination: a verse novel written in Orcadian Scots, with a lively, fresh southern English translation at the bottom of the page. If this sounds taboo or cheesy, it shouldn’t be: Deep Wheel Orcadia is a great read. Two characters arrive at a deep space station: Astrid, returning to her childhood home from Mars; and Darling on the run. They team up with “the thraan mixter-maxter o fock” or “an awkward mix of people” who work at the station and extract a strange substance called Light from a nearby gas giant. The small-wheeled world meets the Giles’ native Orkney connection to the mainland, and the book details their hard work and hard-play: drinking and dancing, love and attachment. There’s a catchy phrase on every page, and if the writing is a little off-putting, the whole thing is memorably engaging and alienating.
RF Kuang (HarperVoyager)
Kuang’s bestselling story is a complicated love letter to Oxford, inescapable by its beauty and the terrifying onslaught of imperialism. In the 1828 version of the novel, Britain operates on magical “money” and has used its power to conquer much of the world. Robin Swift, a Cantonese orphan brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell, is a language-obsessed student who aspires to attend Babel, Oxford’s translation institute. The novel is a free-flowing piece of narrative and scholarly writing (with footnotes) on linguistics and ethnography. At its core, it is a fascinating study of how translation bridges the inevitable “buying” of another language and culture. A rich, compelling tale with teeth.
Sea of peace
Emily St. John Mandel (Picador)
author of Eleventh station The ingenious time-travel narrative is woven from four main parts. Young Edwin St. Andrew crosses the Atlantic by steamship in 1912, leaving genteel society for the beauty of the Canadian wilderness; In the 23rd century, Olive Llewellyn travels from her home on the moon and embarks on a book tour on Earth to promote her latest novel about a global plague; In the year 2020, a teenage girl named Vincent is walking into the woods of Vancouver with a video camera. And in another century, detective Gasperi-Jacques Roberts, hired to investigate a mystery in the North American wilderness, begins to uncover how these timelines connect. The novel begins slowly, but the various elements of life and anti-life, reality and illusion, love and memory intertwine to create an irresistible and irresistible momentum. A stand-out, brilliant piece from one of the genre’s leading singers.
Beyond the burn line
Paul McAuley (Dutch)
An Unidentified UFO Novel. In McAuley’s far-off future, lights in the sky and alien craft are observed not by human beings, but by advanced animal life forms that have replaced us after our extinction. McAuley’s evolved raccoons are beautifully written, and their sane and balanced society is a lens through which to refract humanity’s flaws. A slow-burning, gripping story that confuses and twists the reader, avoids scenes until they reveal the plot to maximum effect. McAuley is, for my money, the best SF writer in Britain today, and here he is at the top of his game.
Tochi Onyebuchi (Tor)
A big, bold future story with expertly crafted detail and scale, dealing with the fate of refugees and those left behind from a devastated world. It’s the 2050s, and wealthy people are leaving Earth to live in a high-tech space colony. The rich struggle to buy souvenirs of their old lives and ship them brick by brick to the rest of the world, and the poor struggle against a crumbling infrastructure. It’s a structurally ambitious novel charged with righteous energy: Onyebuchi handles her kaleidoscopic narrative and multitude of characters with gusto. Essentially a satire about an aristocracy decorating the outer space The Final Frontier as a new suburb, Goliath is a huge success.