Pandemics…in Space!

Let us assume that you don’t want to read nonfiction right now. Not only that, you don’t want to read anything that bears too close a resemblance to our current (worst) timeline, or to reality in general. And finally, let us assume that any book— no, any words, written by a cis man are right off the table.

Welcome to your feminist, Jewish, science-fiction/fantasy summer reading list.

1. You love the genre but desperately want something new: Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb trilogy). Lesbian necromancers horny on main in a haunted, gothic castle. Wild, weird fun, but beware of unexpected heartbreak after the tone lures you into thinking we’re safe from Red Wedding-style twists. The sequel was postponed due to Covid-19, but is available now,.

2. You loved Dune but thought it was a little dick-heavy:  A Memory Called Empire (The Teixcalaan Series). Diplomatic thriller with a side of colonialism and empire, written by a queer woman city planner with a Ph.D. in Byzantine history. Gorgeous, meticulous worldbuilding is as intricate and solid as could be hoped for in this subgenre. Sequel out in 2020.

3. You love high fantasy but yell at parties about how deeply Christian it all is: Spinning Silver. I have read Spinning Silver five times. I plan to re-read it when it gets hot this summer. Jewish moneylender’s daughter in the Pale as the hero of an epic fantasy, with superb writing, characterization, and an all-female cast of main characters.

4. You desperately wanted to be an astronaut at age nine, but, again, found The Martian a tad sausage-heavy: The Calculating Stars (The Lady Astronaut series). A winning combination of light, snappy prose with a gripping plot and a Jewish heroine—you can swallow this book over a long Shabbat, or read it in five-minute breaks from CNN or homeschooling. The book gets bonus points for dealing intelligently and compassionately with mental health in a time when many of us are struggling with our own. Two sequels are available with more on the way. There’s even Jewish, feminist, Hugo-nominated art of the series available.

5. You find J.K. Rowling problematic but love Magic School as a theme: Akata Witch (The Akata Books trilogy). Another I’m planning on re-reading, Akata Witch is just what’s needed for the pandemic summer. It’s a smart, rollicking take on the magic-school trope and Okorafor writes the hell out of it. A third book is on the horizon, but for now it’s only the first two.

6. You’re new to the genre but love doorstops that hold their literary weight: The Broken Earth trilogy. If you have not read these, they are among the best that modern science-fiction and fantasy has to offer. However. If you struggle at all with child death scenes or scenes depicting cruelty to children, put them on a shelf until after Covid-19. These are the only books on the list I wouldn’t call escapist—if you want a different world that lets you see our own brokenness through new eyes, The Broken Earth has your number.

T.S. Mendola (@tsmendola) is a writer and editor living in Philadelphia.