I have something of a love-hate relationship with reading currently. It used to be that my reading was completely unmoored from the current state of the publishing industry. I read books—even new ones by authors I liked—years after their publication. This was especially true when I had less disposable income, and before e-books made it a lot easier for someone living in a non-anglophone country to get hold of English-language books. Little by little, though, my reading has gotten more up to date, and in the just concluded-year, nearly half of the books I read were published in 2018, and another third in 2017.
That shift has coincided with the growing entertainment-news-ification of book industry reporting, as exemplified by the fact that alongside the lists of films and TV series to anticipate in 2019, there are now dozens of most–anticipated books lists. I enjoy reading them, of course, not least for how they put books I might otherwise not have known about on my radar. But I’m also cognizant of the fact that even in my current state of super-up-to-date reading, a lot of the best books I read last year were ones that I had been completely unaware of at the beginning of the year.
Nevertheless, I’ve put together this list, mainly because it’s a lot of fun to do, but also because I hope it’ll introduce some new authors to at least some of you. But I also hope to spend 2019 reading a little less currently (and for those of you looking for help in that, James Davis Nicoll has an excellent resource over at Tor.com, a list of semi-forgotten and under-appreciated SFF books ripe for rediscovery).
This list is almost exclusively fiction, because that’s what I tend to read, and heavy on SFF writing, because there are more resources to draw from in that field. But feel free to add your suggestions in any genre and field.
- Outside the Gates by Molly Gloss – One of the group of mid-century female science fiction authors from the Pacific Northwest that also included Ursula K. Le Guin and Karen Joy Fowler, Gloss has been a too-well-kept secret, perhaps because of how widely her fiction has ranged between genres, and always with her own unique slant, from a Quakers-in-space generation ship story (The Dazzle of the Day, 1998) to weird fiction about sasquatches and female naturalists (Wild Life, 2000) to horse-training historical fiction (The Hearts of Horses, 2007). This reissue of her long out of print first novel, a post-apocalyptic fantasy published in 1986, is a chance for new readers to discover her.
- The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders – Anders has been publishing utterly unique stories for years, and though I wasn’t entirely in love with her debut novel, All the Birds in the Sky, it was sufficiently unlike anything else in the field that I’m interested in anything else she produces. Her second novel seems to continue her fascination with broken worlds and the people who try to fix them.
- Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James – James, a Booker-winning literary fiction author, has decided to try his hand at epic fantasy. Usually that’s a recipe for disaster, but James has a history of telling stories from perspectives that don’t usually get a chance at the spotlight—most notably in his harrowing novel of late-era Jamaican plantation slavery, The Book of Night Women (2009). I’m hoping he does the same in genre writing.
- The True Queen by Zen Cho – Cho’s 2015 Victorian fantasy Sorcerer to the Crown, to which this is a sequel, blended Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell-esque arch comedy with an awareness of the role that colonialism, slavery, and the people whom they affected had in creating and shaping the British Empire. I expect nothing less from The True Queen. I like Cho better in the short form—her 2014 collection, Spirits Abroad, is simply essential—but her novels are also delightful.
- The Silk Road by Kathryn Davis – Davis is one of those authors whose books I track down obsessively. She never writes the same type of book twice, and her novels are always suffused with weirdness and a sense that the world is unstable and easy to get lost in. I’m not entirely sure what The Silk Road is about—the plot description talks about a group of people recounting the events that led them to fetch up in the far north—but I already know I’m going to read it.
- Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt – The Blazing World (2014), Hustvedt’s previous novel, was a thrilling portrait of a difficult, brilliant female artist trying to cement her legacy in a scene that wouldn’t recognize her talent. Her upcoming book is a semi-autobiographical novel about a young woman’s first year in New York, and I expect it to be just as funny, insightful, and infuriating.
- What Not by Rose Macaulay – I’m not as crazy as some over Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond (1956), but there aren’t so many early 20th century writers of humorous travel writing that you can just throw one out if their writing doesn’t entirely work for you. Handheld Press—fresh off their triumphant reissue of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Kingdoms of Elfin (seriously, go buy it now)—are reprinting this lesser-known dystopian novel, published in 1918, which sounds a little more like my cup of tea.
- The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson – If you haven’t read Thompson’s Rosewater (2016), go out right now and read it. Unless, that is, you don’t think you’d like a Roadside Picnic-esque tale of a future Nigeria irretrievably altered by an alien invasion, in which case what is wrong with you. The Rosewater Insurrection is Thompson’s follow-up, and I can’t wait to see what he does with the previous novel’s setting and characters.
- Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi – 2018 was the year I finally finished my journey through Oyeyemi’s back-catalog (standouts are Mr. Fox, 2011; White is for Witching, 2009; and the short story collection What is Not Yours is Not Yours, 2016), so it’s really considerate of her to almost immediately come out with a new book and spare me the withdrawal symptoms. Based on its title, Gingerbread will be another one of Oyeyemi’s fairy tale riffs, but I expect her usual focus on twisted families, the immigrant experience, and ghost stories.
- The Dollmaker by Nina Allan – It’s been great watching Allan’s career blossom over the last few years—her 2017 novel The Rift was justly heralded, and her upcoming book is being met with appropriate fanfare. The plot description—a dollmaker studies the life of a fairy-tale writer—makes the novel sound as if it leans more in the horror direction than Allan’s previous books (which isn’t surprising if you read her blog and know of her fondness for the genre), but I expect it to feature her typical combination of weirdness and ordinariness.
- Waste Tide by Chen Quifan, translated by Ken Liu – I’ve been waiting a while for this translation, of an award-winning Chinese environmental SF novel. China is one of the biggest markets in the world for science fiction right now, and anglophone readers get only a tiny glimpse of it, so this is another chance to become acquainted.
- Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan – I know Maughan mainly as a short story writer, but the premise of this novel, which discusses our fractured media landscape and imagines the collapse of the internet, is so obviously of the moment that I can’t wait to see what he does with it.
- Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang – Chiang’s first short story collection, Stories of Your Life and Others (2002), should be on any list of essential 21st century science fiction (for those who don’t know, it contains the story that Arrival was based on). It’s taken him seventeen years to publish a second collection, and though I’ve read a lot of the stories in it, I’m excited to finally have them in a single volume—and even more excited by the promise of new fiction.
- Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo – Evaristo was a bit ahead of her time as an author writing about slavery and racism. Her 2008 comic novel Blonde Roots, a race-swapped depiction of slavery, would have been an instant conversation piece in 2018. So I’m glad to see that the current flowering of black authors writing about these issues hasn’t left her behind. I would have liked a new novel, but a short story collection will do for now.
- Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi – Kintu, Makumbi’s sprawling, slipstreamy saga of modern Uganda, was one of my top reads in 2018. She’s now following it up with a short story collection, which might prove less daunting an introduction to new readers (though go read the novel too).
- The Heavens by Sandra Newman – Newman’s previous novel, The Country of Ice Cream Star (2014), got some attention for being a YA dystopia longlisted for the Women’s Prize. I never got around to reading it, but now she has another book out, which feels like a good opportunity to get acquainted. This book is a historical novel with time travel and a love story.
- Unraveling by Karen Lord – Another too-well-kept secret, Lord has never gotten as much attention as she deserves, possibly because her novels are so hard to pin down—The Best of All Possible Worlds (2013), for example, was a screwball romance that was also, blatantly though not admittedly, a work of Star Trek fanfic. Her new novel is a supernatural mystery steeped in Caribbean folklore.
- The Deep by Rivers Solomon – I was blown away by Solomon’s debut, An Unkindness of Ghosts (2017), a generation ship novel about a racially segregated future. Their new book is a collaboration with Clipping, Daveed Diggs’s rap group, and is based on one of their songs.
- This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone – El-Mohtar has been writing fantastic short stories for years, and Gladstone has received great praise for his Craft Sequence books, of which there are six at this point, so it’s a bit late for me to jump on. This novel, about a pair of warring time agents who fall in love, feels like a great opportunity for me to get to know Gladstone, and for El-Mohtar to break into longer fiction.
- The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead – I still have a lot of Whitehead’s back-catalog to get to, so it’s a bit silly to get excited over a new book by him. But I just have to find out how you follow up a book that not only became one of the biggest literary sensations of the decade, but gave the publishing industry a great big kick in the ass about finding and promoting black authors. The subject matter, a Jim Crow-era reform school for black boys, sounds no less harrowing than The Underground Railroad.
- Polite Society by Mahesh Rao – I get most of my tips about literature from India from Aishwarya Subramanian. When she said “modern-day retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma set in Delhi”, I said “sold!”
- My Favorite Thing is Monsters, Volume 2 by Emil Ferris – This is a bit of wishful thinking, seeing as the second volume of Ferris’s magnificent graphic opus has been scheduled for publication since late 2017. Still, however long it takes her to solve the mystery of Anka Silverberg’s murder and give us more time with Karen, the adorable, monster-obsessed queer heroine of the first volume, I’ll be there when it’s finally published. (In the meantime, read the first volume if you haven’t; it’s well-worth your time even as the first half of the story.)
- Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand – Hand’s career has been spent writing weird fiction about the art world and the counter-culture. Her 2015 novella, Wylding Hall, is one of the best ghost stories of the decade, and also a brilliant mimicry of the musical documentary. Her new novel involves runaways, serial killers, and “outsider artist” Henry Darger.