Books in 2011: Zombies, dystopias, young adults

2011 was a tough year. I spent far too much time at work, and not enough time on myself. I went on two overseas trips – one was late in the year, for work (Kuala Lumpur), and the other was back in May when I presented a paper at a conference in Warsaw, Poland. Yet around all of this, I somehow managed to find the time to read. And as it turns out, I read quite a lot.

There were some distinct reading trends I went through in terms of subject matter/genre: amongst my usual fare of science fiction and speculative fiction, I developed a thing for zombie novels, for what I will loosely refer to as dystopian fiction, and for literature classified as Young Adult.

My zombie phase started back in 2010 when I read Mira Grant’s Feed. What it is about zombies, I don’t know … it’s not like the vampire phase I went through in the early 90s, when I wished desperately for my life to turn into an Anne Rice novel (I thought I’d make a good Queen of the Damned). Zombies certainly hold no romantic appeal (but Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies made me review the possibilities), but they have been creatively politicised, medicalised, and even imbued and enlivened with philosophical insight, in recent novels:

  • Mira Grant, Deadline (Newsflesh, book 2)
  • Max Brooks, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
  • Bob Fingerman, Pariah
  • Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies

And then there were the novels that dabbled in vampires and werewolves, and the occasional zombie:

  • Gail Carriger, Blameless (The Parasol Protectorate, book 3) – vampires, werewolves, and a protagonist without a soul
  • Charlie Huston, Already Dead -‘ Vampyres’ and ‘shamblers’
  • Guillermo del Toro, The Strain – vampires

There was a lot of cross-over between YA and dystopian fiction, so forgive me for lumping them indiscriminately together here:

  • Anna North, America Pacifica
  • Chris Beckett, The Holy Machine
  • Ismail Kadare, The Palace of Dreams
  • Jack Womack, Random Acts of Senseless Violence
  • Paolo Bacigalupi, Ship Breaker
  • Jean Hegland, Into the Forest
  • Nina Bawden, Off The Road
  • Rachel Anderson, The Scavenger’s Tale

I was pleased to find some Australian dystopian fiction:

  • Kim Westwood, The Courier’s New Bicycle
  • Meg Mundell, Black Glass

I am indebted to the web-based controversy around Bitch Magazine’s list of 100 YA Novels for the Feminist Reader for leading me to one of the most powerful novels I have read in a long time:

  • Margo Lanagan, Tender Morsels.

I don’t want to re-hash the whole issue here (you can read it for yourself at http://bitchmagazine.org/post/from-the-library-100-young-adult-books-for-the-feminist-reader), but basically, Tender Morsels was originally included on the list and then removed after a complaint. So of course, it’s the one I go out of my way to track down.

These series (or books that form part of a series) left me awestruck:

  • Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, book 1)
  • Patrick Ness, The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking, book 2)
  • Patrick Ness, Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking, book 3)
  • Philip Reeve, Predator’s Gold (Mortal Engines Quartet, book 2)

and, though I cannot exactly pinpoint why they were so readable (because if you consider the premise at all, it makes no sense), I must note the following series:

  • Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, book 1)
  • Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, book 2)
  • Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, book 3)

These are novels I finally got through, after struggling to read them in the past. Turns out while they were both okay, they were not great (so I understand why my past-self was disinclined to finish reading them). However, I did gain a satisfying sense of accomplishment for having persevered with them:

  • Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
  • Marisha Pessl, Special Topics In Calamity Physics

These are novels I started reading, and could not finish – whether the fault is the author’s or mine, I dare not say:

  • China Miéville, Un Lun Dun
  • M. T. Anderson, Feed
  • Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl
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2 thoughts on “Books in 2011: Zombies, dystopias, young adults

  1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the Philip Reeve – the whole series is brilliant. Can I recommend (If you haven’t read them already) the Windsinger series by William Nicholson? Another example of YA fiction surpassing that written for us oldies. Also Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses series.
    I didn’t manage my goal of 25 books this year – how sad is that? I am determined to forge ahead this year and get through 35 – it’s a big ask but I’m sure I can do it!
    Take care hun and happy new year
    Polly x

  2. Recommendations? Certainly! I have not heard of either the Windsinger or the Noughts and Crosses series’ – will put them on my list, and track them down. Merry 2012! May the be filled with much reading and creativity xx

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