Spring approacheth, so it’s time to summarize my best winter reading. It was such a long, hard winter. Covid hit so hard, we did very little for the holidays. But my granddaughter did visit for Christmas! We went to the outdoor light show at the zoo! It snowed! And none of us got sick! 

Now we see everyone taking off their masks, which I think is a great mistake. We may be done with covid, but it is nowhere near done with us. And world war threatens. And spring and summer are likely to show us, once again, that the IPCC warnings are no joke. So, I’ve been struggling against letting these things depress me, as I am sure many are. 

Looking for an alternate way to deal with all of the troubles in this world, I’ve found myself reading some excellent alternate world stories with some intriguing alternate world views… Just what I needed to get through the second winter of the pandemic.

Iron Widow by Xiran JayZhao — An alternate China has transforming robot warriors battling aliens by the Great Wall and an Emperor who must be rescued. Zetian is a concubine-pilot who wants to avenge her sister, and in the process finds herself fighting a sexist society for her own survival and ultimately the survival of her world. 

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark — In an alternate, magical Egypt, Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, but she is not inexperienced. Sent to inspect the murders of all the members of a brotherhood, Fatma is a little overwhelmed when the murderer claims to be al-Jahiz, a magic folk hero, which leaves Cairo in an uproar. 

Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko — In an alternate Russia — which we might all wish for right now — Sasha Samokhina is invited to attend a school far more dangerous than Hogwarts. Students discover that once accepted to the Institute of Special Technologies, there is no going back. 

I also read a few science fiction novels that were not alternate world stories. This one seems all-too-possible…

Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace — In a future US where two corporations rule all, Mallory streams Stellaxis’s wargame SecOps, gaining tips from her fans. If she’s lucky, she earns enough in tips, walking dogs, and doing other odd delivery jobs to afford enough water to live. But there is more to the game than Mallory knows, and when you are dependent on the Company store, it’s dangerous to start playing against the Company. 

Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes — When her sister is kidnapped, Captain Eva Innocente doesn’t want to involve her crew on La Sirena Negra. They normally deliver small cargo for little profit. But there is a lot more going on than the Captain realizes, and her crew is more trustworthy than her family. 

The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky — A Dr.Who-ish story of cracks between parallel worlds and strange creatures leaking through, with an assortment of humans and aliens trying to save the universes. Good times. 

I also reread The Winds of War, and The Raven Boys, because when you are fighting depression, the comfort of old friends can help. Pug Henry and Blue Sargent are two of my favorite fictional people. Both are sensible, principled, straight-talkers who don’t let difficult times or dangerous people stop them from doing what they believe to be right. 

I recommend all of these books, and I recommend Bookshop.org, and I recommend that you keep wearing a mask through spring, at least.