I didn't read as much fiction as I'd like in the past 12 months, however I thought I'd write up some flash reviews for three books that stood out for me. They're ordered roughly by how I'd rank them.
⇒ The Machine: James Smythe (Amazon)
So I only just finished The Machine today, hence placing it right at the top of my list is likely not without bias. However I'd confidently rank it as the best thing I've read all year.
The story focusses strongly on a single character, Beth, a lonely woman who attempts to rebuild her husband from a vegetative state following advanced PTSD therapy gone wrong. I'll say no more in fear of spoilers, as the way that Smythe slowly unwinds and reveals the story is one of my favourite aspects of the read.
The atmosphere is perfect. Creepy, claustrophobic and often hopeless, set in near-future dystopian Britain. Complemented by strong character development which never reveals too much, always making you feel like you're missing something important about the protagonist. Truly uncomfortable reading.
From the start until the incredibly satisfying ending a few hundred pages later, Smythe kept me hooked with perfect pacing. As someone who usually has trouble getting engrossed in a story whilst reading, I finished this in less than three days.
For fans of dystopian, light science-fiction. Unsettling and atmospheric. A must read.
⇒ The Bees: Laline Paull (Amazon)
The Bees is a bit odd. That doesn't mean it's bad, but it's unlike anything else I've read in recent memory.
The entire story is set from the viewpoint of a bee in a large beehive. Flora, the bee in question, works her way up through the ranks of beehive power, and whilst doing so encounters the many weird situations one would associate with being a bee in such a situation.
The level of detail is very high, maybe edging on too graphic at some points. However you do get to a point where you really feel like you can imagine what it would like to be a bee in that beehive, doing all those bee jobs. I genuinely started having dreams set in the beehive whilst reading this, and honestly that wasn't particularly fun.
I think of The Bees as an achievement of descriptive prowess and story setting, rather than skilful story telling. The plot itself is pretty thin, at times dull. Flora's life is, I would accept, quite interesting for a bee. But that doesn't mean it's actually interesting. There's only so many times I can read about how exciting it is to leave the hive and go for a forage, or to feed a larvae with some royal jelly. The middle half dragged, and after about 60% of the book I was ready for it to finish, but I kept it up simply because the setting intrigued me so much. The ending however was satisfactory, and worth persevering for.
Don't read this for the plot. But do give it a go just because it's so wacky, and you'll want to tell everyone about it.
⇒ The Circle: Dave Eggers (Amazon)
I actually forgot about The Circle when thinking about this list. I didn't think it was that forgettable when I read it about 6 months ago however.
The focus of the book is topical, exploring the idea of life-sharing on social media, along with the sort of problems that extreme widespread sharing could bring. The fictitious company at the heart of it all—also, The Circle—is a sort of mashup of the tech giants of today, with a very believable setting that you wouldn't be surprised to see in 2016 Silicon Valley.
Aside from the intentions of The Circle slowly being revealed, there wasn't anything particularly clever about the story. However the ideas it explored were interesting, and the plot was rounded off with a nicely thought provoking ending. Worth a read.
It also seems like they're making it into a film; the trailer seems reasonably promising. We'll see!