Sci-Fi & Fantasy Indie Bookseller Picks: American Book Center in Amsterdam

People may think of many things when they think about the city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, but an English language bookshop with a very large science-fiction and fantasy section is probably not one of them. And yet for almost 50 years now the American Book Center has been a refuge and haven for English sci-fi & fantasy readers in the Netherlands and surrounding countries.

Started by a group of American hippies in the 70s, the American Book Center was originally a shop that sold remainder books and magazines from the US for discount prices. Over the years it has evolved into a proper bookshop when customers started to ask for specific books and genres. Genres like sci-fi and fantasy, because most Dutch bookshops will hardly have any sci-fi or fantasy, let alone in English. We have patrons who have been visiting our shops for over 40 years, because this was one of the few places where they were able to buy genre books.

The ABC in Amsterdam is set up in a way that you have to walk around a curved row of bookcases before landing upon the sci-fi & fantasy section. It is always very amusing to watch people suddenly stand still and then see the delight on their faces appear when they realize they can browse through a huge selection of genre books.

For the last 10 years I have worked as a bookseller at ABC and for six of them as the buyer for the sci-fi & fantasy section. Curating the selection is a lot of fun: displaying the classics by authors such as Octavia Butler, Ursula Le Guin, and Frank Herbert, but also the books of today’s stars like N.K. Jemisin, Becky Chambers, and Adrian Tchaikovsky.

The best thing, however, is connecting and nerding out with fellow fans. I might be slightly biased but usually the people who read sci-fi & fantasy are among the most passionate readers. It has happened so often that a simple conversation with a patron turned into full-blown discussion about all the stories and authors we love. Often said discussions result in recommending a few books and authors the other person had never heard of before.

That is the great thing about working in a bookshop: it gives you the chance to bring people into contact with new stories and authors that they would otherwise never have known existed. The opportunity for people to find the books they didn’t know they were looking for. With that said, here are a few of my current recommendations.

 

The Dragon Republic by R. F. Kuang

With The Poppy War, a novel that mixed elements of Chinese history and mythological tales with an ending that subverted the classic hero’s journey story in a rather grim and explosive way, R.F. Kuang debuted last year as a rising star in the fantasy genre.

I was a bit worried whether the sequel The Dragon Republic would be able to live up to the high expectations that The Poppy War had set, but it meets and easily surpasses those. Our ‘heroine’ Rin finds herself having to live and deal with the choices she made at the end of book one and the resulting consequences. Just as with any good sequel the stakes are higher, the world is expanded and the action features even more explosions and gut wrenching scenes. What I especially like about Kuang’s work is that she doesn’t pull her punches. This is dark stuff, the kind of story that after finishing it makes you want to drink hot cocoa and wrap yourself in a blanket. And yet, despite all the horrible things that happen, there still remains a lot of humor and, dare I say it, hope in this story.

 

Gamechanger by L.X. Beckett

To be honest, at the moment of writing this recommendation I’m about halfway in, but this will be the book I put in the hands of anyone looking for a smartly written cyberpunk novel. Gamechanger reads as if Malka Older and Kim Stanley Robinson joined forces to do a collaborative near-future worldbuilding exercise and said world has been heavily imbued with the zany pace of a Neal Stephenson novel like Snow Crash or Diamond Age.

Set about 100 years in the future, humanity is slowly starting to rejuvenate the world after a century of ecological collapse. It is the story of a seemingly simple legal case regarding anti-social behavior that spirals out into a conspiracy involving sapient AI’s, ancient oligarchs and the future of humanity. Like all good sci-fi, Gamechanger is not a prediction of what our future is going to look like—although I wouldn’t mind having my own artificial sidekick—but a reflection on our own society and current social and technological trends; one that is told in an entertaining and intelligent way.

 

The Rosewater Redemption by Tade Thompson

The much anticipated finale of the Rosewater trilogy is the kind of sci-fi for readers who like things slightly out of the ordinary. Imagine a splash of weirdness like VanderMeer’s Annihilation, combined with a dash of Ballardian nihilism, all set in a futuristic Nigeria in a world that resembles our own and yet feels incredibly alien at the same time.

In the first two novels Thompson weaved a thrilling mystery about the alien phenomenon Wormwood and its surrounding city of Rosewater. The first part introduces the world and its characters, the second one escalated the story and now I’m really looking forward to reading how Thompson will conclude the story in The Rosewater Redemption.

 

If you ever happen to be in Amsterdam, don’t hesitate to come by for a chat and perhaps a recommendation or two.

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