Top Ten Tuesday: backlist beauties

Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by ThatArtsyReaderGirl.com)

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. It’s all about books, lists and sharing the love we have of both with our bookish friends. This week we’re celebrating books we love that are over 10 years old.

One of the things about being a book blogger is that it’s easy to fall into the trap of only reading – and consequently talking about – recent releases. I like to think I do fairly well at featuring older titles at There’s Always Room For One More – especially for Top Ten Tuesday – (partly because I’m middle-aged so many my favourites are a bit shelfworn), but looking back at my reviews only two in the past year have been more than a couple of years old. So hooray for today’s topic, which is a chance to talk about books that may have slipped off other readers’ radars into the midlist and backlist – so I will focus on backlist books that are under-rated on Goodreads (let’s face it, books that predate Goodreads struggle to get as much attention as new releases unless they’re staggeringly famous already).

Fantasy

My fantasy picks have strong followings amongst those who have found them, but have until recently also been quite hard to get your hands on as they languished in midlist doldrums.

Ellen Kushner’s 1987 debut Swordspoint – highly recommended to anyone who loved Dangerous Liaisons and thinks it could only be improved by gay duellists – helped define the subgenre of fantasy of manners and has happily earned a recent paperback rerelease in addition to excellent digital and audio editions.

The Steerswoman (Rosemary Kirstein, 1989) is the start of a genre-blurring series of sorcery and science. The eponymous Rowan is a travelling scholar dedicated to learning more about the world and obliged to share what she knows when asked; which sounds great, until you factor in the things she might learn that others would rather keep hidden. The rights appear to have returned to the author, who has happily released digital and paperback editions for those only just coming to her work.

Lifelode (2009) is the youngest of the three and one of the least-known of Jo Walton’s works as it was only released in extremely limited hardback by a niche publisher. This domestic fantasy is set in a world whose nature changes based on your distance from its magical vs rational poles; a polyamorous farming family living in a region where they can work small, inconsequential magics must deal with the drama of a difficult relative bringing her troubles home with her.

SF

For SF, I’m choosing three books that made a huge impression on me at various points in my reading journey; and which I don’t see mentioned as often as I would expect.

Jeff Noon’s debut Vurt (1993) was huge: a Clarke-winning, hallucinogenic vision of a near-future Manchester where a young man wishes to rescue his beloved sister from the weird shared dreams of the Vurt. The sheer scale of imagination on display here unapologetically weird; this owes as much to Lewis Carroll as to cyberpunk. It’s non-linear storytelling, poetic wordplay and world-building may not be for everyone, but for me it’s the definitive British speculative novel of the 90s.

I don’t always enjoyed literary SF, but Marcel Theroux’s post-apocalyptic Far North (2009) is a bleakly compelling tale of lonely sheriff Makepeace patrolling a crumbling Canadian city, broadly reconciled to living alone until the end of the world. When a pregnant stranger arrives, Makepeace is inspired to venture beyond the city limits – the results are as cold as the landscape, but I preferred this to most of the dystopian apocalyptic novels I’ve read.

A Matter of Oaths (1988) is the only novel written to date by Helen S Wright, which is a huge shame. Space opera meets cyberpunk in a universe of rival immortal emperors where the peace is kept largely through the influence of the powerful – and neutral – interstellar navigation guild. For all its stew of politics and conspiracy, the joy for me here is the grumpy older captain and the m/m romance; the result is a tasty page-turner that waves its hands at technology and gets right on with treachery and feelings.

Non-genre

Most of my favourite non-genre novels are over 10 years old. I fell in love with Sarah Moss on the back of her debut Night Waking, in which an academic wrestles with the demands of motherhood, returning to work and living on a remote Scottish island which may or may not be haunted. Fieldwork is a tale of murder and American missionaries in rural Thailand. This is not a true story – in spite of its protagonist bearing the author’s name – but the deliberate blurring of fact and fiction is a central theme in this fascinating tale of ex-pat life, obsession and cultural conflict.

This Thing Of Darkness is a tour de force of historical fiction exploring the fascinating life of Robert FitzRoy, captain of the Beagle, friend to Darwin, Governor of New Zealand and the much-resented driving force behind the creation of the shipping forecast. This heartbreaking chronicle is perhaps a slightly kinder portrayal than the man merited, but it was a fascinating glimpse of a man trying to do the right thing (even if – being Victorian – his ideas about right and wrong could be frustrating at times).

From my TBR

My backlist has a lot of midlist and (female-authored) classic SFF on it, but I’ll close out with just two more titles. I’m still not sure how I’ve gone this long without reading one of my favourite author’s debut trilogy; Aliette de Bodard’s Servant of the Underworld (2010) is a murder mystery set in the Aztec Empire, which definitely rings my bells. Similarly The Roads Of Heaven (1985-1987) is Melissa Scott doing polyamorous space opera in a magical universe with a protagonist who finds ways to exceed the limits society imposes on single women… if I had any bells left unrung, this takes care of them.

If you’re excited to go seeking fresh gold in the midlist, check out my thoughts on backlist SF I really want to read and additional under-rated reads (and even more under-rated reads) – there’s a little overlap with today’s Top Ten, but only a book here and there as these lists weren’t specifically targeting books over 10 years old.

Got any favourite reads published over 10 years ago that you think more people should read? Tell me about them!