Novels Generously Seasoned with Hope
March 8, 2016 6:53 AM   Subscribe

Last year I read and loved Station Eleven, looking for something to scratch the same itch. Some (hopefully) light snowflakes ahead.

I recently asked a bunch of friends for novel recommendations. In fielding answers, I realized what I have—and haven’t—been looking for in my next read. Basically, I want something like Station Eleven: removed from the here and now (ideally a subtle science fiction or fantasy vibe), prose that’s lovely without being too dense, dimensional characters, and a strong current of hope throughout* (despite the hardships). Please, nothing with romance, as I currently have no appetite for it.

So uplifting without being fluffy pablum, strange without being obscure, and if it clocks in under 400 pages, so much the better, since my workload is really heavy right now and my reading time is scarce. Suggestions, MeFites? (I've seen many of the previous threads suggesting uplifting books.)

Thanks in advance!

* So as great as, say, The Road is, it's too bleak overall compared with what I'm after.
posted by xenization to Media & Arts (31 answers total) 81 users marked this as a favorite
Connie Willis' Blackout/All Clear scratches that itch for me. It's longer, though. All Seated On The Ground, same author, is quite a bit shorter and very uplifting.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 6:59 AM on March 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

I know I keep recommending them but Terry Pratchett's 'Tiffany Aching' books are really quite superb. Start with 'The Wee Free Men' for sure. Tiffany is young and I guess it's been marketed as a juvenile book but it's really quite lovely and suitable for all ages IMO.
posted by h00py at 7:10 AM on March 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

The Martian definitely fits your specs, for sci/hope. Prose is nothing home to write home about, but it's a great and easy read.
posted by Karaage at 7:13 AM on March 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

About the picks below: while they're all wonderful books, none of them ticks all the boxes you've identified. Still, I humbly present them for your consideration, with apologies for anywhere they fall short; feel free to disregard.
  • A Visit From the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan! Pro: compelling characters with interwoven storylines; while there's certainly sadness, the arc of this book's universe definitely bends toward hope. Con: Not really scifi/fantasy, although one or two of the story threads are set in our near-future.
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell! Pro: gorgeous prose, great story. Con: "Uplifting" might be a stretch, though I would say the book left me more hopeful than dismayed!
  • On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee! Pro: beautifully written, fascinating characters, fascinating world. Not quite scifi, but certainly speculative and set in the future, so certainly removed from the now, if not the here. Con: "Uplifting" is definitely a stretch.
  • My Real Children by Jo Walton! Pro: This one comes the closest to meeting all of your criteria (uplifting, even through hardship; beautifully written; a very quick read; fully realized characters; "light" scifi/fantasy) with Con: one major exception, unfortunately: romance is definitely a strong theme.

posted by duffell at 7:13 AM on March 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ack. *A Visit from the Goon Squad, not Good Squad.
posted by duffell at 7:19 AM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Was going to recommend Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, but I bang that drum so often around here I was embarrassed to mention it yet again. Glad to see someone beat me to it!
posted by jbenben at 7:53 AM on March 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I read and enjoyed Station Eleven.

For a contrasting perspective I could not finish The Martian because Dude Could Not Catch a Break. I felt very frustrated for him, but yeah ok, he kept hope.

To balance out my poo-pooing I will throw in The Girl With All The Gifts, although I acknowledge it's not exactly sci-fi (more dystopia).
posted by like_neon at 8:02 AM on March 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller is the closest cousin to Station Eleven I've read. Beautifully written. Post-apocalyptic, but hopeful.
posted by lakemarie at 8:04 AM on March 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

I liked both Seveneves and Aurora a lot last year. I can't stop telling people to read Cixin Liu's books (The Three-Body Problem and The Dark Forest).

If you liked Station Eleven, you might like The Last Policeman trilogy, though the uplift is a bit more subtle (though still real!)...
posted by gerryblog at 8:13 AM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

All the Light We Cannot See was the second best book I read last year to Station Eleven. It has what I think is the worst short book description. It is not primarily a romance and is entirely enjoyable even if you are so sick of World War II fiction. There is an enticing wisp of fantasy if you want to see it.
posted by RoadScholar at 8:16 AM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seconding The Dog Stars and The Martian! Both excellent.
posted by phatkitten at 8:23 AM on March 8, 2016

Molly Gloss's Wild Life. There is some relationship-stuff but it's far from the main focus. It's about a woman living on the Pacific Northwest frontier and writing dime novels who gets lost in the woods and found by a family of Sasquatch.

Jo Walton's Among Others has less romance than My Real Children but is arguably less optimistic, depending on your point of view.
posted by pie ninja at 8:28 AM on March 8, 2016

I found Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man strangely hopeful - not sure if that's just me.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 8:31 AM on March 8, 2016

An obscure one, but The_Awakening_Water is another one with a strangely hopeful vibe imho!
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 8:33 AM on March 8, 2016

I really liked The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, which is explicitly SF, very hopeful, and all but clear of romance. Anything by Ursula Vernon/T Kingfisher will be hopeful, fairy-tale tinged (so about romance inasmuch as the base fairy tale).
posted by jeather at 8:39 AM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

All of Molly Gloss' work should fit your requirements. She is strongly humanist and her characters are fallible and sympathetic. The JumpOff Creek is about a single female homesteader in rural Oregon in the late 1800s. The Dazzle of Day is about Quakers on a generation ship. The Hearts of Horses is about a female horse trainer in eastern Oregon around WWI.

I also strongly recommend The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, which is warm and reassuring and now occupies the comfort-read shelf of my bookshelf. It's about a young man who is abused and neglected, who suddenly becomes emperor, and has to learn to trust people and navigate complicated politics. It's super enjoyable.
posted by suelac at 8:50 AM on March 8, 2016 [7 favorites]

Maybe Kate Atkinson's Life After Life? There are some harrowing passages, but the central conceit of the novel (which will become apparent early, I think) means that you understand the universe is working towards a happy ending.
posted by praemunire at 9:06 AM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

So I'm gonna go way off-book here and suggest The Last Policeman -- first of a trilogy that picks up soon after scientists confirm that a meteor is going to smash into Earth within six months. Most of civilization has given up, but the titular cop is still working, because hope is all there is.
posted by Etrigan at 9:16 AM on March 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

The High Mountains of Portugal can be tough in places but there is certainly hope throughout; it's a bit removed from reality; and it will strike you directly in the feels.
posted by ftm at 9:56 AM on March 8, 2016

I'm here to third the Last Policeman trilogy. It's really terrific and I feel like it's just what you want, although it is quite different from Station Eleven.
posted by janey47 at 10:45 AM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm going to respectfully disagree with all the Cloud Atlas reccs up here as you are specifically looking for uplifting books, and I found that one a real downer.

However, I will suggest The Humans: A Novel by Matt Haig as being a lovely read, light sci-fi, and without too much gushy romance (although the main plot line is an alien falling for a human woman.)
posted by eglenner at 11:06 AM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower is worth looking into, as is a lot of Orson Scott Card's non-Ender fiction.
posted by metasarah at 12:11 PM on March 8, 2016

Terrene, the Hidden Valley by Eric Liu
posted by serenity_now at 12:17 PM on March 8, 2016

Mitchell's earlier book The Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet is gratifying in the same way that Cloud Atlas is - characters face lots of hard times but ultimately are rewarded in some way. Also, here's a vote for Tessa Hadley's recent novel The Past really reminded me that things can work out - she sets up multiple scenarios for disaster, but guess what?
posted by mmiddle at 12:53 PM on March 8, 2016

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower is worth looking into

I mean, her entire corpus is definitely worth looking into, but I don't believe I've read a bleaker book in my life. It's compelling and wonderful and dire and terrifying and all too real.
posted by duffell at 1:08 PM on March 8, 2016

Seconding the Kate Atkinson suggestion--she's one of my favorite writers and Station Eleven resonated with me in a way similar to her books.

I've also just gotten into Catherynne Valente. Her Deathless wrecked me in the most beautiful way. It's a fairy-tale retelling, but in the vein of Anne Sexton rather than, like, Wicked.
posted by MsMacbeth at 2:12 PM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'll second the Catherine Valente. You might even enjoy her Fairyland series. It's hopeful and we'll written. Not so subtle on the fantasy side, but so much fun. So inventive and endlessly creative.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:37 PM on March 8, 2016

Any Kurt Vonnegut, especially his science fiction, which meets your criteria. (Sirens of Titan, Cat's Cradle, Galapagos, Timequake, etc.)

Everything he wrote* had a strong undercurrent of decency and humanism that often translates as hope, even if there are some Big Serious Topics and Hellerian obstacles to overcome along the way.

* Wow, it was surprisingly hard for me to use the past tense here, even today.
posted by rokusan at 5:05 PM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Michael Moorcock's Mother London meets all your criteria. Life-affirming, and one of the few books I was genuinely sad to finish.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:43 PM on March 8, 2016

David Mitchell is one of my all-time favorite writers, but I'm not convinced that any of his books meet your requirements. Cloud Atlas has some fairly downbeat elements. Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet also has some fairly downbeat elements, plus some romance. I get why people are recommending those books. I think Mitchell is maybe cautiously optimistic about humanity, and I can see why people would think of the optimism when recommending him to you-- but I'm not 100% sure you'll be left with the feeling you're hoping for.

If you're willing to consider a book that is aimed at young people (but that I enjoyed as an adult) I would recommend The Invention Of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. It's set in 1930s Paris. Because mechanical automata are an important element of the plot, it has a very faint steampunk vibe, although technically it probably counts as historical fiction instead. It's a very thick book, but a lot of that is illustrations, and I think you'll be able to fit it into your schedule.
posted by yankeefog at 3:17 AM on March 9, 2016

I recommend these all the time here, but I really enjoyed The Passage and The Twelve by Justin Cronin. They are the first two books in a trilogy (the final one comes out this spring) about the onset of an apocalypse and then the U.S. 100 years after almost everyone has died. Emily St. John Mandel was clearly influenced by these books, and one of her characters even references a plot point in Station Eleven (I won't tell you which as it's a slight spoiler). Anyway, Cronin is a beautiful writer and the books are full of amazing, very real characters. A lot of the plot of both books are about people coming together to build community or just survive and that makes them very hopeful for me.
posted by lunasol at 6:26 PM on March 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

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