Comfort Reading in Crazy Times

I was trying to read the otherwise excellent Ministry of the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson, and then stopped because it was too stressful in an otherwise stressful day. I tried the brilliant Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer and it was still too much for me. I gave up and doom scrolled for a little while, and then played Stardew Valley and wondered how much longer the crisis will last.

It’s not really time for the books that are emotionally and intellectually too much, too intense, too real, too of this moment. It’s time for a little placebo for the mind, a light and lovely and entertaining thing that stumbles over the dark holes in the road like they aren’t even really there, and finds order and comfort in the chaos of language.

Here are some suggestions from management about books that can help in this moment.

Eric Bosarge suggests:

Prey by Michael Crichton

My wife gave me this book for Christmas, otherwise there’s no way it would make the list. She was disappointed that I had already read it, but I wasn’t at all. I distinctly remember buying it on a whim at a gas station (remember when everyone read books?) Far ahead of its time, this book is about nanotechnology escaping its handlers in the form of a swarm. Full of legit science, this book falls into the sort of adventure terror territory that Jurassic Park like the rest of Crichton’s books. It’s comforting because I’m not afraid of the people in it. Just technology.

The Talisman Stephen king and Peter Straub

It’s really funny how you asked for comfort books, and both of my first two books are horror. This one, however, reminds me very much of great adventure books like Huck Finn where a child must overcome impossible odds while traveling across America. In this case, there’s a sort of shadow world that helps trim the time and distance, because a mile in that world is worth many in the real world, but it’s also far more dangerous. What’s comforting about this book is, it’s more adventure than horror, and the world was sort of revisited (taken over?) by King’s son Joe Hill later in NOS4A2.

Sandman Slim Series by Richard Kadrey.

It doesn’t really matter what book in this series you read. I might be on the sixth or seventh. They are all really well plotted and Sandman Slim is the ultimate noir hero. He clawed his way back from hell, smokes maledictions, and drinks Aqua Regia, both of which are imported from hell. Half man, half angel, he’s been Lucifer and fought with God, killed vampires, ghosts, and Angels, and his girlfriend is a Jade. What’s not to like?

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

This one is easy to read. Pick it up, pick a story, and just relax for a minute. Each myth is so well written that you can just dip your toes in the power of the gods, or reread them all in order to take a full-on swim, and see the characters develop through each legend. Also, it goes without saying that this is far better than Marvel’s Avengers or Thor.

Uncommon Miracles by Julie C. Day

Julie C. Day’s collection is a masterpiece. Each story is like, entering a new room in a temple of short fiction. There’s a texture to her worlds indistinguishable from the characters, so multidimensional I find myself forgetting not only that I’m reading, but that anything else even exists. Hypnotic. Inventive. She’s the kind of writer that makes me wish I was better.

Joe M. McDermott says:

These are great choices! I agree with the Peter Straub and Stephen King collaboration. Stephen King does a lot of work dispelling the toxic vision of American masculinity that is, in no small part, connected to the current situation in our country. He provides a framework for comprehending the horror of it, and entertainingly shows how courage and hope can prevail against the darkest places in the culture’s heart.

Okay, I was thinking of books, too, and I had some different suggestions, entirely!

When I think of light, entertaining, fast, fun stories that can help distract from the terrible news cycle, one of the first books I think of is Jim C. Hines’ light and humorous book series about Jig the Goblin, beginning with Goblin Quest, is the story of a schlumpy, little goblin being visited by an exiled god and becoming a hero in his own right despite the natural wickedness of goblin society on the whole, slaying the dragon and saving the world, or something like that.

It’s a humorous adventure fantasy series that still manages to encourage readers to think about what makes a monster monstrous, a hero heroic.

Martha Wells won a Hugo for an excellent series of books that are undoubtedly about as much fun as it’s possible to have in space, with some of the coolest first person narration around. Murderbot is not supposed to be sentient. Also, he’d much rather be binge-watching his favorite television program. Instead, he is busy saving the lives of his team of scientists and unraveling an intergalactic plot to murder and steal. He is one of the most popular characters in SF right now for a reason, and it’s addictive to enter into his hilarious, indifferent narration as he engages in profoundly entertaining adventures with humans and other AIs. This is one of those books that’s very likely already been read in your life, but I assure you it is even more fun the second time because it helps focus in on the mindset of Murderbot in his deadpan, indifferent voice.

Way of the Laser: Future Crime Stories was our first anthology, and we are tremendously proud of it. I think it’s an excellent text for this moment because it explores all the things that can go wrong in our society if we allow this moment to stand. Some of the stories are extremely intense, but they end fairly quickly, and there is great comfort and entertainment to be had in Mur Lafferty’s cozy British murdered clone mystery set at Christmas in a British estate, not to mention an asteroid heist story, and a cyberpunk story about a girl who managed to steal an electric bird. Try it and you’ll see that it’s the perfect book to read right now.

Wuthering Heights is always a comfort to me. I return to these windswept moors with some regularity, and the monstrous Heathcliff dominating unto death his adopted community is certainly a masterful story of the ages, a metaphoric look both at what horrors occur over generations and what healing occurs. It’s such a hopeful book. The ghosts of the past fade away as a new generation rises to reclaim and renew the best things of the past. It’s such a beautiful book. It’s perfect to huddle down in winter with a giant cup of herbal tea under a blanket and return to Thrushcross Grange.

Old Man’s War is probably my favorite book by John Scalzi. And, as Scalzi has found himself for years on the frontlines of an assault by rightwing forces in the digital media of SF/F, it’s probably a good time to be reminded why that is so. His books are very popular, wildly entertaining, and interesting to old school fans of SF/F for its ideas. That the author has taken so much flack from rightwing nutjobs is indicative of his power to reveal that military science fiction doesn’t have to be the milieu of rightwing nutjobs. Gun fetishists will find little to love in these books, while philosophy and reason are often power players. He’s certainly not the only author thrust onto the line for no other reason than success and a web presence against these nutters, but he’s also writing books that are much lighter than Nora

Bonus: Galactic Hellcats by Marie Vibbert

This book is so fun it should be criminal. Well, the characters are sort of criminals, so that checks out. A mad dash around the galaxy on the run from two galactic superpowers with fun, exciting characters you wish existed in this world, Vibbert’s solo fliers are the best thing to happen to outer space since Star Wars. Okay, it isn’t out yet, but reviewers and independent booksellers of all stripes can definitely reach out, and we’ll happily help you help this book along.

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