Four magical Londons or four women who meet during a violent rebellion? Sleeping giants or gigantic alien animals? Dark, weird, hard-boiled, and humorous, the year’s best sci-fi and fantasy novels (so far) cover plenty of territory, including themes and (political) subjects never before encountered in fiction of the genre persuasion. Here’s to hoping the rest of the year keeps up.
A Gathering of Shadows, V.E. Schwab (February 23, Tor Books)
Schwab’s tale of four Londons — Red (pro-magic), White (internecine magic), Grey (no magic), and Black (magic gone wrong) — returns with this character-driven study, one that will help distinguish her books from the middling faux-cinematic work that too often represents the genre.
The Winged Histories, Sofia Samatar (March 1, Small Beer Press)
Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria won her a World Fantasy Award, and this is a companion work of sorts. It tells of a soldier, a poet, a socialite, and a scholar — four women — who find themselves dealing with a bloody insurrection.
Borderline, Mishell Baker, (March 1, Saga Press)
The “borderline” of the title refers to the boundary between the mundane and the magical, yes, but it also signals the protagonist’s personality disorder. That protagonist, it’s worth mentioning, is also a double amputee. Borderline, in its unsparing, even hard-boiled depiction of the disabled and mentally ill, offers something you don’t see in literary fiction. And it’s the strongest of urban fantasy’s recent attempts to use Hollywood as a scene.
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, Ken Liu (March 8, Saga Press)
Among the four or five best SF/F writers alive, Liu returns with a collection of short fiction, stories in either mode that consider the place of its characters in a web of social relations. Yes, there is more silkpunk here, too.
Sleeping Giants, Sylvain Neuvel (April 26, Del Rey)
One of the year’s more admired debuts, Neuvel’s novel begins with a child who falls through the earth and lands on a giant metal hand. If you’re able to play that scene in your mental cinema, you have something in common with Sony Pictures. The film version is being produced now.
Too Like the Lightning, Ada Palmer (May 10, Tor Books)
Taking Enlightenment-core to its logical endpoint, Palmer’s book imagines an earth in 2424 managed through the philosophy of Diderot and Voltaire, which amounts to a quasi-Platonic arrangement of worker hives (hence the praise of Jo Walton). It’s the only book so far this year, with the exception of Older’s Infomocracy (of which more shortly), that lives up to the intellectual aspirations of last year’s Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson.
Central Station, Lavie Tidhar (May 10, Tachyon Publications)
Tidhar, another World Fantasy Award winner, sets this novel-of-stories in the wake of a diaspora that brings thousands of immigrants to a spaceport. Robotniks, virtual reality, cheap data. It’s by some measure the most interesting world presented in SF/F this year.
Infomocracy, Malka Older (June 7, Tor)
The most original work of science fiction this year is also the best debut. Older’s election novel imagines a future under the aegis of a search engine monopoly, one that oversees a transition into “micro-democracy.” It’s fair to say we’ll see more novels that deal with the political implications of big data. This is likely where it begins.
Super Extra Grande, YOSS (June 7, Restless Books)
You know YOSS, the metalhead biologist who is also Cuba’s greatest writer of science fiction. He’s back with this hilarious novel about a future when when Latin Americans figure out how to travel at light-speed. It centers on a veterinarian who treats alien species.
Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee (June 14, Solaris)
Yoon Ha Lee’s first novel (he’s a revered short story writer) is a dense military space opera that holds not a single hand. It’s kind of like Starship Troopers but darker and weirder.