Thursday, January 5, 2023

Best Reads of 2022

The following are Speculiction's best books read in 2022, regardless of year published. (For the list of books published exclusively in 2022, see here.) Without further ado, here are the eleven books:

Stamping Butterflies by Jon Courtenay GrimwoodInception-esque, Stamping Butterflies wraps a story of far-future Chinese rule in the story of a would-be terrorist assassin circa 2000 in the story of a Marrrakeshi street urchin in the 70s. One feeding the other feeding the other, Grimwood provides the reader a visual feast in the future, a puzzle in the present (at least the book's 2000 present), and a human story in the past that comments on the West's involvement in the Middle East of the 70s. I'm not sure which of the author's novels is his masterpiece, but there is an argument for this one.

The Stuff Our Dreams Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World by Thomas Disch – The only piece of non-fiction on this list, Disch makes a strong impression on the origins and evolution of science fiction through strong prose and strong opinion. Challenging a fair number of dominant meta-narrative regarding science fiction, the book comes highly recommended to readers familiar and interested in the science fiction at the social and cultural level. While published in 1998, and thus lacking a couple decades of the genre since, it remains prescient regarding the cultuure wars and identity politics that threaten to take over today.

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon – Despite the decades that have passed, The Crying of Lot 49 retains its relevance to this day, particularly with Qanon and the other wacky conspiracy theories we see in the news, and will undoubtedly maintain its relevancy into the future—as long as there is no virus which eliminates humanity's penchant for wanting to believe the wacky. Through the most delicious of prose and delicate of humor, Pynchon follows the life of one rich Californian woman as she chases down the elusive Thurn & Taxis horn. The ending is as human as human can be, including Qanon, unfortunately.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillipThe Forgotten Beasts of Eld is one of those high fantasy novels whose tone and substance are timeless. Readers have no idea which year it was published, nor do they care. This story of a woman who becomes the foster mother of a young boy in a land of warring kings is simple in outlay yet bursting with potential in its vast interstices. While most legends recount heroic deeds, this is of a more personal variety, but remains one woman's legend through and through.

Kowloon Tong by Paul Theroux – Paul Theroux has a knack in his fiction for capturing the detailed psychology of his characters by showing not telling. In Kowloon Tong he creates the quietly tragic figure of Neville Mullard, a man who bears full responsibility for the situations he finds himself in and yet is passive to the point of being unable to see himself as an agent in those situations. Set in Hong Kong in 1999 as it moved back into Chinese hands, Theroux uses the backdrop to challenge Mullard's relationship with his mother and potential love interests. For people who enjoy character studies, this is a good one.

The This by Adam Roberts - The ever-unpredictable Adam Roberts provided readers the mini tongue twister The This, a novel addressing social trends in a social media world. While readers are eventually treated to a wacky alien war among other things Rich Rigby's life begins relatively normal, that is, until he chooses to install the technology in his body which shifts the manual input of social media to a mental function. Roberts channeling his inner Sheckley, he produces a deceptively intelligent novel worth a read for readers looking for something beyond the mainstream.

On the Beach by Nevil Shute – Post-apocalyptic fiction before it was a thing, Shute's 1957 novel presents a subtle, human perspective to nuclear war. A handful of characters front and center, Shute perceptively teases their inner selves out into the open as nuclear fallout approaches the Australian continent. The delicacy of this realism is what allows the novel to stand the test of time.

Glitterati by Oliver Langmead – There are likely no 2-3 words which could nutshell Glitterati. Fashion-punk, certainly not. Decadent dystopia, maybe. Bizarro world where fashionistas rule and the unfashionable languish in unbespoke hell, closer. It seems more than 2-3 words are needed... Glitterati tells the delightful story of one such fashionista, Simon, who gets himself stuck in a rivalry that goes far beyond the bounds of what is trendy—in his world. A lot of novels get the tag “unique”, but Glitterati has forever stolen that tag for me—exceptional considering how saturated and derivative the market is these days. Langmead's flow of story is janky at times, but you will love and loathe Simon, and be utterly fascinated by his existence.

The Sorcerer of Pyongyang by Marcel Theroux – As his father has many times before (including on the list above), Theroux, the son, produces a powerful character portrait in The Sorcerer of Pyong-yang. The life story of Cho Jun-su, it tells of his youth in a seaside village in North Korea, the accidental finding of a Dungeons & Dragons manual, and the subsequent effect it has on various facets of his life as he grows older. Theroux's prose is precise, perfect, and is used to keep the narrative flowing effortlessly through the tragi-comedic events of Jun-su's life in an authoritarian regime.

On Wings of Song by Thomas Disch – Disch's magnum opus cum semi-autobiographical masterpiece about an America not so dissimilar than our own (despite the 1979 publishing date). It tells of young Daniel Weinbreb trying to find his dreams in life, from Iowa to New York and beyond. Effortlessly told and effortlessly read, Disch relates bits of his own life through a young man who wants to be a singer but who lacks the innate talent to be one. Knowing the conclusion to Disch's real world existence gives the novel a bittersweet aura.

Talking Man by Terry Bisson - "A rural American Mad Max dream of Jung" - those are the words I used to describe this book, and I'm not sure this fevre dream of a novel can be squeezed into any tighter box.  Bisson is a born storyteller in this high-speed rollercoaster that twists and turns the idea of fantasy onto its head then back again.  More akin to Gene Wolfe, Anna Kavan, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez than Tolkien, Lewis, Beagle, or any other classic fantasist.  Just read it.  This is a gem. 

Drowning Practice by Mike Meginnis – A dark, troubling novel, Drowning Practice may not be for every reader. But the manner in which the characters and their stories parallel the growing awkwardness of Western society in 2022 is what separates literature from Literature. The psychologies of three people are front and center: a wannabe CIA agent with a thing for spy cameras in his family's home, a supplicant mother with talent that doesn't match her ambitions, and their daughter, a girl with an overblown sense of self. The trick is that Meginnis never dissects these people. Actions speaking louder than words, their plight in a modern world coming to doomsday end has so many disturbing echoes of our own.


  1. Always looking forward to reading your yearly best of lists. Have you ever considered making a list of the best of the best?

    1. Speculiction secret: for several years I have kept a draft Top 100 speculative fiction novels of all time. I'm not ready to post it yet, however. There are still a number of books I would like to read first before being egotistical and declaring "the best ever". Someday. :)