The science fiction and fantasy recommendations are back from hiatus, bursting through your internet walls like the Kool-Aid Man! (But rest assured, in this scenario Kool-Aid Man is wearing a mask [maybe bright blue, to accent the bright red liquid/soul that sloshes within his jug? Possibly there are fun little jugs of Sharkleberry Fin printed on the mask?] and observing proper social distancing protocols! Kool-Aid Man doesn’t want to add to the stress of the situation we’re all in.)
Below is a list of ten books, all published in the first half of the coming year, that I am particularly excited about. Some of the titles have been pushed back because of disruptions in production, some are on their original tracks, but all are great! We have a thriller from the author of The Martian, a magical take on one of the Great American Novels, a superhero/villain team-up, an epic fantasy that draws on the history of West Africa, and even a literary horror! As tough as things are, at least 2021 is giving us plenty of incredible art to get us through.
Reconstruction by Alaya Dawn Johnson
(Small Beer Press, January 5)
Reconstruction collects ten stories from writer, musician, and scholar Alaya Dawn Johnson—two for the first time! Like much of Johnson’s work, these stories focus on oppressed people finding (often supernatural) ways to survive in systems that want to crush them.
The collection roves all over the map, both in geography in genre—the title story, for instance, tells the story of a formerly enslaved woman using protective magic for a Black regiment of the Union Army, while “The Mirages” chronicles a postapocalyptic Mexico City. Johnson’s range can be seen in her two very different takes on vampires: “Their Changing Bodies” is a breezy story about summer camp, while the Nebula award-winning opening story, “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i,” (you can read it here!) drops us in an alternate take on our own world, but one in which vampires have conquered the Earth and imprison humans as food sources.
We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen
(Mira, January 26)
Mike Chen, the author of Here and Now and Then, tells a behind-the-scenes superhero story in his new novel. A supervillain named Mind Robber keeps running into a costumed vigilante who goes by Throwing Star. The two fight, obviously, but things get more complicated when they bump into each other at the San Delgado Memory Loss & Dementia Support Group. Why and how did both of them suffer terrible memory loss two years ago? Why do both of them seem to have a connection to something called “2D Industries”? Can a hero and a villain team up to investigate their own pasts and learn who they are beneath their masks?
You can read an excerpt of the book here!
Kindred, Fledgling, Collected Stories by Octavia E. Butler
(Library of America, January 19)
Octavia E. Butler finally hit the New York Times Bestseller list in September of last year, when Parable of the Sower proved a perfect pandemic/climate collapse/gestures at everything read. Now one of the great icons of science fiction and fantasy is getting a Library of America volume! The book was edited by Gerry Canavan, who also wrote a chronology of Butler’s life, and opens with an introduction by author and scholar Nisi Shawl.
Included in the volume are Butler’s classic Kindred, about a young Black woman who is continually ripped from her home in 1970s San Francisco, to find herself trapped as an enslaved worker on a plantation; Fledgling, a haunting vampire tale; eight short stories; and five essays—two of which were previously uncollected.
The Memory Theater by Karin Tidbeck
(Pantheon, February 16)
Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath was a short story collection that ranged from timeless voids to Hell Itself. Now, in The Memory Theater, Tidbeck takes us to The Gardens, a land of feasts and revelry, where a small group of elite Masters celebrate themselves in a timeless realm. But for the children who serve them, the normal process of aging means that a Master might snuff your life entirely.
Dora and Thistle know they only have a brief window before their time will be up. Resolving to escape, they embark on a terrifying journey, between The Gardens and ou own world, searching for a fabled person who can set them free. Will they find the one they seek before it’s too late?
Fugitive Telemetry [The Murderbot Diaries #6] by Martha Wells
(Tordotcom Publishing, April 27)
Martha Wells’ Murderbot series has been one of the most consistently delightful series I have ever read. These days, as I cope with quarantine, hide behind a mask, and dig ever deeper in my Netflix watch list, Murderbot’s desire to keep its helmet opaque while it sits in a room and marathons soap operas feels like a warm hug. Or it would, if Murderbot was the type to hug. Which to be clear it is NOT.
For those new to the series: Murderbot is a Security Unit who successfully hacked its command protocol and went rogue. Except, it really only went rogue because it was tired of watching humans make dumb mistakes all the time, and it wanted to be left alone to watch its favorite shows. But inevitably, every time it hits play on the latest episode of “Worldhoppers,” there’s another crisis it has to solve. In Martha Wells’ latest entry, Fugitive Telemetry, MB has to assist in a murder investigation and do the unthinkable: voluntarily speak with humans.
Spirits Abroad and Other Stories by Zen Cho
(Small Beer Press, April 13)
Sorcerer to the Crown author Zen Cho writes stories that slide easily between genres, and characters who hop nimbly between our world of banal bustle and a supernatural world that often seems just as annoying. This collection of ten stories, originally published in 2014 by Buku Fixi and the joint winner of 2015’s IAFA William L. Crawford Fantasy Award, is now being re-issued by Small Beer Press, and gives us new takes on ancient lore—especially the tales of Malaysia.
A vampiric teen pontianak finds it hard to keep up with her schoolwork and her constant need to feed upon people. The moon goddess Chang E heads further into outer space—but is it in a spirit of adventure or to get away from Earth? An elderly Datin looks back at her failed love affair with an orang bunian, a type of spirit who would normally favor a deep forest or mountain home to avoid humans. Cho’s stories look at the intersection of those mundane and uncanny worlds—and the ways life among the humans can drive the spirit to distraction.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
(Ballantine Books, May 4)
The author of The Martian and Artemis is back with another interstellar thriller! When Ryland Grace wakes up in a small makeshift spacecraft, he can’t remember his own name—but that’s not even his biggest problem. Why is he on this ship? And should he know the two corpses who are on the ship with him?
As his memories return, he realizes that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. His ship was thrown together by dozens of different governments. And, unfortunately, his mission is to stop a terrifying threat which, if it reaches Earth, will mean the destruction of the human race. If only he had any idea how to do that.
Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
(Orbit, May 11)
Suyi Davies Okungbowa draws on pre-colonial West Africa in the opening of the Nameless Republic Trilogy.
On the surface, Danso has everything: intelligence, a political future, the elite status of a scholar from a prominent family. But privilege can become a cage when a person dreams of a life outside of their family’s expectation’s, and society’s rules. Danso’s life is shaken from its perfect veneer when he finds Lilong in his barn. She’s a warrior of the Nameless Islands, and a magician as well. There’s only one problem…the land she hails from doesn’t exist? And neither should her magic? Danso will have to choose between his proper life, and a dangerous journey to learn Lilong’s history—a history of a subjugated culture and forbidden magic.
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
(Tordotcom Publishing, June 1)
If I were to walk up to you and say, “The Great Gatsby, but magical and queer!” how would you respond? So far everyone has said “I need this book now” which was my own response when I first heard about it.
In Nghi Vo’s reimagining of Fitzgerald’s classic tale, Jordan Baker is a queer, elite-level golfer in a world that doesn’t like professional women. She’s also an adopted Vietnamese-American, trying to make her way in a white high society that sees her as an “exotic” pet. No matter how intelligent she is, nor how elegant, there are rooms where she will never be welcome. But Jordan has a weapon none of them know—a form of paper magic that can enchant, or, if Jordan chooses, destroy.
The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig
(Del Rey, July 20)
Nate and Maddie Graves both grew up in rural Pennsylvania. When they married, Nate decided not to tell Maddie about just how bad things were with his abusive father. Maddie chose not to mention that the sculptures she makes are her way of coping with something dark and…wrong…that she saw as a child. Now the two have moved back to their old hometown to make a new life with their son Oliver. And Oliver, not knowing the truth of his family’s past, doesn’t know that there is something roving the mountain of his new town. He doesn’t know not to trust the odd, secretive boy who soon becomes his best friend.
Chuck Wendig, best known for his work in the Star Wars universe and 2019’s epic apocalyptic fantasy The Wanderers, turns to literary horror to give us a dark take on a family saga.