During the five or so years I worked as a bookseller my favourite part of the job (other than the employee discount, of course) was recommending books to customers. It was especially rewarding to help someone find a book that they ended up loving but might not have picked up if I hadn’t suggested it.

I’m a big believer in personal book recommendations. Some of my favourite reads have been books that I may not have immediately considered if someone else hadn’t suggested them. It’s always easy to read within your comfort zone and online store algorithms are pretty good at suggesting ‘more of the same’ to readers. But I think occasionally stepping outside that comfort zone can be very rewarding. For readers and, perhaps even more so, for writers.

So I’ve decided that I’m going to try to recommend at least book a month for anyone who might be interested.

I’m going to try to recommend books that are a little left of centre, rather than the ones getting all the buzz. They might frequently be books that might not be that well known within the speculative fiction community, or necessarily be categorised as speculative fiction, but which I think will appeal to speculative fiction readers. I’ll also be looking to recommend books that provide food for thought and are good for discussion. They might be new, or they might have been published years ago.

Hopefully I can help someone find a new favourite book!

For this first month I am recommending two books! I’ve recommended these same two books for The Writer and the Critic’s patron’s choice episode. (The Writer and the Critic is one of my favourite podcasts for book discussion and recommendations – check it out!). But regardless of whether either is chosen for the podcast, I strongly recommend people read them both.

These two also happen to be books that I read because someone recommended them to me (the same person, in fact). So so technically these are re-recommendations! (Question of the day: How many levels of re-recommendation before it’s just general ‘word of mouth’?).

Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven

The first book I’d like to recommend this month is Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven. This excellent short story collection includes the novella Water, which uses speculative elements to critique the treatment of Indigenous Australians and is just generally a great read. All the stories in this collection are well worth reading and I’m excited to see what she writes next.

Features great writing, plant people, same-sex relationships, family tension and Jessica Mauboy’s ‘Gotcha’ as the Australian national anthem.

More about the book can be found on the publisher’s site.

About the author:

Ellen van Neerven is an award-winning Indigenous Australian writer. Her first book, Heat and Light (UQP, 2014), was the recipient of the David Unaipon Award and the Dobbie Literary Award. Heat and Light was also shortlisted for The Stella Prize, the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, the Queensland Literary Awards, and the Readings Prize. Ellen’s highly-anticipated second book, a collection of poetry, Comfort Food (UQP, 2016), comes out in June. Ellen’s writing has appeared in publications such as McSweeney’s, Overland, Frankie Magazine, The Griffith Review, The Lifted Brow, Meanjin, and Review of Australian Fiction.

Arms Race by Nic Low

Nic Low is another author who is probably better known in literary rather than speculative circles but who uses speculative elements to great effect. The stories in Arms Race range from amusing and playful, to rather brutal satire that pulls no punches. All of them are thought-provoking and fun to read, in my opinion (even when uncomfortable).

Among other things, this book includes a giant octopus, drone warfare, climate change, opium, people contracting syphilis to be better artists, internet memes gone wild and more.

More about the book can be found on the publisher’s site.

About the author:

Nic Low is an author and artist of Ngai Tahu and European descent. Born in Christchurch, he now divides his time between Melbourne and a bush retreat near Castlemaine. Nic’s fiction, essays and criticism have appeared in the Big Issue, Monthly, Griffith REVIEW, Lifted Brow, Art Monthly and Australian Book Review, and until recently he ran Asialink’s international writing program. His second book, a literary exploration of New Zealand’s Southern Alps, will be published by Text in 2016.


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