The end of one year and the beginning of the next always has me working to read books that I missed or which I’ve been really wanting to read for a while. Accordingly, I’ve packed along three books while I’ve been traveling to see family over the holidays, using the opportunity to catch up.
The first is William Gibson’s 2014 science fiction novel The Peripheral, spurred on by news that Amazon is adapting the novel for an original streaming series, and the upcoming sequel called Agency (see more on that below). The novel is set between two time periods, the near future and slightly more distant future, with an interesting take on time travel. The second is Leigh Bardugo’s debut adult novel, Ninth House, about Yale’s mysterious, magical houses, and the efforts of a mysterious “ninth house” that keep them all in check. It’s fantastically detailed, and Bardugo has the perfect blend of characters and setting to keep me going. Finally, I’ve been listening to Daniel Suarez’s Delta-V, a techno thriller that takes place in the 2030s as the private space race kicks off, following cave diver James Tighe as he goes through an intense training regime as he prepares to become one of humanity’s first asteroid miners.
2020 brings a whole lot of new science fiction and fantasy novels to delve into. Here are 15 coming out in January to check out.
Resurgence is the 20th installment in Cherryh’s popular, long-running Foreigner space-opera series, and the second in a trilogy of books that started with 2018’s Emergence. That book followed a human diplomat named Bren Cameron, who was working to try and build a peace between the refugees of Alpha Station and the atevi, the natives of the world that the humans are orbiting. Bren has a new problem on his hands when Ilisidi, the widow of the atevi ruler, works to solve simmering tensions between the north and south atevi factions on her own, commandeering a train and is passengers to do so.
In the latest installment of her Invisible Library series, Genevieve Cogman follows librarian-spy Irene and dragon prince Kai as they jump through time and dimensions. Irene is summoned to the Library, where she’s tasked with finding a book that will help save her world, which is currently on the verge of collapse. She’s forced to track down a Fae trader named Mr. Nemo, and before he hands over the needed book, she and her companions have to steal a painting from another world. Publishers Weekly says that “Cogman charts the heist with the fluid mix of humor and adventure series readers will expect, while adding new dimensions to fan favorite characters and introducing dangerous enemies.”
Tessa Gratton’s latest is set in the same world as her last novel, The Queens of Innis Lear. The Lady Knights have a motto: Strike fast, love hard, live forever. They’ve sworn to protect their kingdom and its heir apparent, Banna Mora. But when a revolution topples the throne, Mora faces a choice: throw away her duty to her nation, or retake the throne against her best friend, Hal Bolingbrooke, the head of the Lady Knights. Hal herself isn’t comfortable with her position on the throne, and faces her own challenges, living up to the expectations that her fellow citizens have for her. Both seek the support of Lady Hotspur Persy, whose support could swing the tide of war in either direction.
Kirkus Reviews gave the book a starred review, and characterizes the book as a retelling of William Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I, saying that Gratton “writes in conversation with the bard instead of just copying him, using the play as a starting point for a tale about love, family, and creating space for your own story.”
Read an excerpt.
Qualityland by Marc-Uwe Kling (translated by Jamie Searle Romanelli)
In the nation of QualityLand, citizens are ranked by an automated system that gives them social and employment opportunities, matches them up with the best partners, and connects them with the products that they need the most before they know they need them. Peter Jobless is a scrapper who can’t bear to destroy imperfect machines, and accidentally becomes the leader of a band of robotic refugees and misfits. When he gets a product delivered to his workshop from TheShop, he knows its wrong, but returning it would mean that QualityLand’s perfect algorithm is wrong, potentially shaking the nation to its foundations.
Publishers Weekly says that Kling’s book is “Sharp and biting, the most implausible aspect of Kling’s novel is the relative note of optimism that ends it. This is spot-on satire.”
Listen to an excerpt here.
Now in its fifth installment, Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series has explored a number of fantasy tropes as her characters go through trans-dimensional doorways to find fantastical new worlds. Come Tumbling Down picks up some of the story from two prior installments, Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones. In those installments, Jack Wolcott left Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children with her recently-murdered sister Jill in tow, but when she is brought back to the school, she realizes that a terrible mad scientist has switched their bodies.
Kirkus Reviews gave the book a starred review and says that McGuire “examines the thin line separating heroes from monsters — and then blurs that line completely. As in the other series installments, she also argues that one’s real or perceived flaws can prove to be a source of strength despite, or even because of, the pain they cause to oneself and others.”
Read an excerpt.
In the near future, Charlie and his friends are invited to a new video game, run by an artificial intelligence that believes that it’s God. At first, it seems cool: they complete missions using their phones and AR glasses, earning expensive tech and money for rewards. But the missions become crueler, with deadly consequences as the AI demands that they worship and obey it. Publishers Weekly says that “the heartlessness on display may put off some readers, but fans of AI run amok should relish this one.”
Read an excerpt.
In the aftermath of a global pandemic, the survivors of A Beginning at the End are in the midst of reconstruction. Mike Chen follows a series of characters working to rebuild their lives: former musician Moria, who is trying to restart her life, only to have those plans thwarted when her domineering father goes through great lengths to track her down. Krista runs errands for people too traumatized to go outside, while Rob faces problems when the government tries to separate him from his daughter. As a new outbreak looms, the new friends are forced to face their greatest fears.
Publishers Weekly says that “by foregrounding family, Chen manages to imbue his apocalypse with heart, hope, and humanity. Sci-fi fans will delight in this lovingly rendered tale.”
Read an excerpt.
Charlaine Harris, best known for her Sookie Sackhouse and Midnight Texas novels, continues her latest series, about gunslinger Lizbeth Rose. Set in an alternate, broken United States, Rose faces off against Russian wizards and outlaws, and in the new book, she joins a new crew with a simple job: transport a crate into Dixie (the former American South). Elements from three territories want to get their hands on the cargo, and when it’s stolen, Lizbeth has to go undercover to try and retrieve it. Kirkus Reviews says that “the indomitable, quick-on-the-draw Lizbeth remains an irresistible heroine, and Harris proves she still has the magic touch.”
Read an excerpt.
Robin Martine has gained an incredible following on YouTube for her channel, Malus Domestica, an incredibly realistic video series in which she hunts witches. Little do her followers know that the fights are actually real, and that she’s on a mission to avenge the death of her mother. When she returns home to Blackfield, Georgia, she’s haunted by a spectre called the Red Lord, which could derail her plans. Publishers Weekly says that “with a detailed setting and an ear for dialogue, Hunt captures a distinct feeling of Southern Americana.”
Kameron Hurley’s conclusion to her Worldbreaker Saga has finally arrived, bringing to a close a fantasy epic that began with The Mirror Empire. The reappearance of the star Oma has brought the promise of destruction to the Dhai nation, which has broken apart under an onslaught from Tai Kao invaders from another world. As Oma begins to wane, only one world will survive, and as the Tai Kao work to establish a permanent presence, the surviving Dhai are forced to figure out how to move forward and build a new future for themselves.
A hundred years from now, a starship engineer named Fumiko works to design starships that will help lift humanity away from a climate change-ravaged Earth, something he comes to regret as he leaves everyone behind. When a mute boy crash lands on a distant planet, starship captain Nia Imani agrees to take him to Pelican Station, forming an unusual bond with him as she carries him across space. Traveling via Pocket Space means that decades pass in just months, and when powerful individuals and corporations begin to realize the potential that the boy holds, they’ll stop at nothing to get their hands on him. Kirkus Reviews gave the book a starred review, saying that it’s “the best of what science fiction can be: a thought-provoking, heart-rending story about the choices that define our lives.”
Read an excerpt.
Agency by William Gibson
As mentioned, William Gibson’s 2014 novel The Peripheral is getting a sequel this month: Agency. In it, he returns to the same world and time periods, following Verity Jane, an app tester who is tasked with beta testing a new set of smart glasses, equipped with an artificial intelligence called Eunice. She realizes that Eunice is far more powerful than her employers realize, and sets out to prevent them from learning the truth. Meanwhile, a century ahead in a slightly different future, a woman named Ainsley Lowbeer works to nudge those alternate pasts in certain directions.
Publishers Weekly says that the book will have“Cyberpunk fans looking to dive into the ‘what-if’s’ of an alternate timeline will be as enraptured as ever by Gibson’s imagination.”
Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi
Ella has a bunch of special talents: the ability to see the fates and futures of the people around her, travel from place to place, move undetected, and destroy things with a thought. Her brother, Kev, wants to protect her, but when he’s jailed, she works to keep him sane by showing him the future and the state of the world outside of his cell walls. Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that “Onyebuchi’s unexpectedly hopeful ending is just as powerful as his unflinching, heartbreaking depictions of racism and cruelty. This staggering story is political speculative fiction at its finest.”
In his latest novella, K.J. Parker takes readers to a world inspired by Renaissance Europe, following a narrator who can communicate with demons. He’s been tasked with the Church to perform exorcisms. He doesn’t particularly care what happens to the host, just so long as the demon’s out. When a demon he knows is attracted to a princess’s unborn child, he ventures to a palace, only to discover that one of the world’s most brilliant individuals, Prosper of Schanz, is himself infected — and that the demon is probably responsible for his scientific and artistic genius, putting everyone into a serious moral quandary. Publishers Weekly says that “the engrossing narrative voice and assured worldbuilding compensate for a slight plot and rushed conclusion.”
Charles Yu has been one of my favorite novelists ever since I picked up his debut book How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe a decade ago. His next, Interior Chinatown, looks to be just as wonderfully meta and strange as that first one. It follows as young actor named Willis Wu who aspires to play more than just token Asian roles in the backgrounds of films and TV productions. Kirkus Reviews gave the book a starred review, saying that it’s “an acid indictment of Asian stereotypes and a parable for outcasts feeling invisible in this fast-moving world.”