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The Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2021

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When I sat down to write this list, the third that I’ve written for this blog, my initial reaction was that this seemed to be the wrong year for me, new books-wise. Some of the biggest releases of 2021 are by authors I’ve heard good things about but haven’t gotten around to reading yet (My Year Abroad by Chang-Rae Lee), authors whose bibliography I am woefully behind on (Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer), or authors I’ve never gotten along with even though everyone else seems to love them (Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro). And yet now that I come to put the final touches on the list of books I’m looking forward to in 2021—having combed through so many different anticipated books lists over the last few weeks—I discover that it might be the longest one I’ve written for LGM. Which just goes to show that you can’t keep a good book-hoarder bibliophile down. I hope you find something to entertain you on this list.

Before we start, here are some books published late in 2020 which weren’t on my list last year, but which I’d be remiss not to mention:

  • The Blade Between by Sam J. Miller – Miller, a prolific author in both the long and short form, moves easily between science fiction, YA fiction, and horror. His latest is a ghost story in which gentrification unleashes unholy monsters on the world.
  • The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson – A new Kim Stanley Robinson novel—and one whose focus is climate change and political policy, no less—needs no sales pitch on this blog, I’m sure. So I’ll just use this space to complain about the fact that I haven’t been able to get hold of a copy of this book yet, because stocks have run low ever since Obama named it as one of his favorite books of 2020.
  • The Fourth Island by Sarah Tolmie – It’s hard to pin down an author like Tolmie, who writes deceptively gentle, expertly crafted fantasy (The Stone Boatmen), science fiction (NoFood), and historical fiction (The Little Animals) that never fails to pack a punch. Her latest novella, about a secretive community hidden on an island that can only be found by those who are in despair, is a great place from which to become acquainted with her.

Also, in last year’s list I mentioned Elizabeth Knox’s The Absolute Book. Knox, a writer from New Zealand with more than a dozen books under her belt in a variety of genres, published her latest novel, a doorstopper fantasy with hints of American Gods and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, with a small press in her native country. I was able to purchase an ebook copy, but the physical book was unavailable outside of New Zealand. Then Dan Kois wrote an effusive review in Slate calling Knox and The Absolute Book unheralded treasures, and the upshot has been that the book is receiving a high profile US and UK release this year. I’ve already read and reviewed it, and while my praise for it isn’t unqualified, it’s certainly a book you should pick up if you’re interested in big, bold fantasy.

And now, without any further ado, my most anticipated books of 2021.

January

  • Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters – The only thing I know about this novel is the plot description—a love triangle is formed when one half of a lesbian couple decides to detransition and then gets his boss pregnant—but nearly every trans person I follow on twitter has been effervescent with praise for it, so I’m going to trust their judgment.

February

  • Midnight Doorways: Fables From Pakistan by Usman T. Malik – I didn’t need the blurbs from writers like Kelly Link, Karen Joy Fowler, and Ellen Datlow to get excited for this debut collection. Malik—a physician who splits his time between Pakistan and Florida—has been producing top-notch short fiction for years. This is my most anticipated short story collection of the year.
  • Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford – The author of Red Plenty and Golden Hill returns with a novel that has garnered rapturous praise from all the lucky people I know who have already read it (not that I’m jealous or anything). Light Perpetual sounds like a smaller scale story than Spufford’s previous novels, following several characters across the twentieth century, but I’m sure that appearances are deceiving.
  • The Memory Theater by Karin Tidbeck – This is the second novel by Swedish author Tidbeck to be translated into English. I adored the previous one, Amatka, a rich dystopia about a world in which the very meaning of words has to be enforced by government decree. Her new novel, about two children trying to escape a world where growing up is forbidden, sounds just as weird and enticing.
  • The Swimmers by Marian Womack – Womack debuted last year with The Golden Key, a creepy historical fantasy about lost children, abandoned houses, and 19th century spiritualism. She’s quickly followed it up with what looks like a complete departure, a climate change novel that is also, according to its description, an SFnal reimagining of Wide Sargasso Sea.
  • On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu – Yu won the Astounding award (then known as the Campbell) in 2012 on the strength of a single short story, and has been on my list for authors to watch out for ever since. Her debut novel is a fantasy about a family of refugees who find solace in imaginary worlds.

March

  • The Twilight Zone by Nona Fernández – Nina Allan—whose blog you should be reading if you want excellent recommendations for crime fiction or weird fiction—had effusive praise for Space Invaders, the last of Argentinian author Fernández’s novels to be translated into English. I haven’t read it yet, but The Twilight Zone sounds similarly intriguing, an examination of the horrors of the Pinochet regime whose grip on reality is deliberately slippery.
  • Alias Space and Other Stories by Kelly Robson – Robson has been all over SFF awards shortlists in recent years, with stories like “A Study in Oils”, in which a political refugee from the moon awaits a decision about his asylum request at an artists retreat, and “What Gentle Women Dare”, about an 18th century prostitute who struggles to explain the world to a visiting alien. Both stories and several others are included in this first collection of her work.
  • Burning Girls and Other Stories by Veronica Schanoes – The title story in this collection is a haunting piece that combines witchcraft and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. I haven’t read anything else by Schanoes since, but that story left an impression, and from the book’s description, other pieces in it continue its combination of fantasy elements and labor issues.
  • Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley – Whiteley has made a career out of writing strange, hard-to-categorize novellas (see my review of her most recent book, Greensmith, a rollicking adventure that is also a sharp satire of Doctor Who). Her new novel is described as a science fiction twist on Jamaica Inn, in which innkeepers on a formerly disputed space station find themselves in the middle of a geopolitical mess.

April

  • Subdivision by J. Robert Lennon – Lennon’s writing has always straddled realism and the uncanny. His most recent novel, Broken River, was a crime thriller narrated by the spirit of the house where the murder took place, and his novel before that, Familiar, was about a woman whose life is suddenly replaced by another, similar but not identical one. His new novel sounds like it delves more deeply into the weird, following a nameless narrator as she interviews the residents of a district know as The Subdivision.
  • Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi – Following fast on the heels of her previous novel, Gingerbread, Oyeyemi returns with another slipstreamy tale in which the real world and the fantastical one are hard to distinguish. Here, a young couple take a honeymoon trip on a train whose history and other passengers seems strangely connected to their own lives.

May

  • The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel – The author of Fun Home and Dykes to Watch Out For returns with another graphic memoir, this one on the subject of fitness crazes. Not exactly my favorite topic, I have to say, but if Bechdel found it interesting, she’ll no doubt be able to convey that fascination to her readers.
  • The Trojan Women: A Comic by Rosanna Bruno and Anne Carson – Feminist retellings of the Classics have been a thriving field for more than a decade, but this might be the first time they’ve branched out into graphic novel form. Bruno provides the art to accompany poet Carson’s adaptation of Euripides’s play, about the fate of the women of Troy after the sack of the city.
  • The Rock Eaters by Brenda Peynado – Another debut collection that I’m interested in on the strength of a single story, this time “The Kite Maker”, in which humans and aliens have to live together after a pogrom. The collection’s blurb draws comparisons to Carmen Maria Machado and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, and even if that’s a little overblown, it’s promising company.
  • Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon – After An Unkindness of Ghosts, a generation ship story like no other, and The Deep, a riff on mermaid stories that will make you see the entire trope with new eyes, Solomon returns with this new novel, described as a Gothic fairy tale.

June

  • The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison – It’s been seven years since Addison published The Goblin Emperor, an engrossing fantasy of manners and court intrigue. One might have expected her to churn out the sequels, but instead she’s returned with a standalone work set in the same world, in which an investigator from the imperial court goes into genteel exile, but finds himself drawn back to his old work.
  • Black Water Sister by Zen Cho – Most of Cho’s work in recent years has been historical fiction, usually with an arch genre slant, as in the Regency-romances-with-a-twist Sorcerer to the Crown and The True Queen. Her new novel is set in present-day Malaysia and follows an American-born young woman returning to her family’s village and running afoul of her grandmother’s vengeful ghost. It sounds similar to my favorite Cho story, “The House of Aunts”, so I can’t wait.

July

  • The Turnout by Megan Abbott – My twitter feed is in love with Abbott’s thrillers, which often revolve around the overheated, insular environment the develops around competitive, female-dominated athletics—gymnastics in You Will Know Me, cheerleading in Dare Me, and now, in her latest novel, ballet. This novel is about a family-owned ballet studio with a mysterious past, whose equilibrium is shattered by a suspicious accident.

August

  • Still Mad: American Women Writers and the Feminist Imagination by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar – I haven’t included nonfiction in this list, because I don’t tend to read a lot of it. But a follow-up to The Madwoman in the Attic that looks at mid-20th century, second wave feminist writers is exactly the sort of book for which I’ll make an exception.

September

  • The Art of Space Travel and Other Stories by Nina Allan – As well as being an excellent blogger and reviewer, Allan is a fantastic writer in her own right. Her recent novels, The Rift and The Dollmaker, have both sat at the intersection of genre and mainstream writing, and garnered raves from critics in both types of venues. A collection of her short stories is cause for celebration, as I’m sure you’ll agree once you read the title piece.
  • The Horizon by Gautam Bhatia – In last year’s list I mentioned my anticipation of Bhatia’s debut novel The Wall, which was more than validated when I read the book, a striking work of social SF that reminded me of Le Guin and Miéville, and ended up as one of my favorite books of the year. The Horizon is the sequel to that novel, where we will hopefully venture outside the walled city of Sumer and find out why its inhabitants have been imprisoned for generations.
  • The Actual Star by Monica Byrne – I still haven’t read Byrne’s first novel, The Girl in the Road, but it has been a favorite of several people whose opinion I trust. Her new novel is described as a multigenerational saga that follows its characters from the collapse of the Mayan civilization and into the far-, post-climate change future.
  • Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo – I know Lee primarily as the former editor-in-chief of Strange Horizons, but that magazine’s editorial staff tends to produce good novelists (see Gautam Bhatia above) so I’m definitely interested in their debut novel, described as a “queer Southern Gothic” about a young man investigating his best friend’s death.
  • Bewilderment by Richard Powers – Powers’s follow-up to the magnificent The Overstory is the tale of a widowed astrobiologist trying to find a way to care for his neuroatypical son. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it even though there don’t seem to be any trees in it.
  • Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead – After the heartbreaking one-two punch of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, Whitehead seems to be turning to more lighthearted material with this story of a businessman in 1960s Harlem whose respectable store is a front for fencing stolen goods, and who becomes embroiled in a heist that threatens to overturn his carefully constructed life.

October

  • Destroyer of Light by Jennifer Marie Brissett – Brissett’s first novel since her strange 2014 debut Elysium is once again a tale of alien invasion. This time, humans are refugees following the Earth’s destruction, and the novel takes place on an alien planet where humans live as an underclass among aliens who claim to want peaceful coexistence.
  • The Thing That Changes Everything by Jennifer Egan – I was a little underwhelmed by Egan’s previous novel, Manhattan Beach. It felt very little like her magnificent, wrenching 2011 novel A Visit From the Goon Squad. Still, that novel was good enough (it was one of the easiest calls when I wrote my best books of the decade list last year) that any new Egan novel is automatically something to anticipate.
  • Untitled Space Opera by Tade Thompson – Note: this is not the actual title, though I think it would be a cool choice. Thompson, having recently concluded the stunning neo-cyberpunk Wormwood trilogy (see my review of the final volume, The Rosewater Redemption, in the Guardian), returns with a novel about a colony ship whose crew is in hibernation. When some of the passengers mysteriously die, the skeleton crew has to investigate the deaths and make decisions that will affect their colony’s survival.

Rumored

  • The Donor by Isaac Fellman – I’ve only seen an announcement that this book has been sold, so it may not be a 2021 publication. But Fellman’s first novel, The Breath of the Sun, was one of my favorite books of 2018, a strange novel about religion and mountain climbing that pushes the boundary of what the fantasy genre is. So I’m eagerly anticipating his next book whenever it comes. (Note: my review of The Breath of the Sun refers to Fellman by his former name and pronoun.)
  • My Favorite Thing is Monsters, Volume 2 by Emil Ferris – This is now the third time that I’ve listed this book, the sequel to one of the most magnificent and moving graphic novels of the last few years, in my most anticipated books list. I won’t be shocked if I end up listing it again in 2022. But for now, I live in hope, that we will finally learn the truth about the life and death of Anka Silverberg, and discover the fate of preteen detective Karen Reyes.
  • Tess of the Sea by Rachel Hartman – Hartman’s Tess of the Road (2018) was a lovely tale of a young woman coming to terms with a difficult past by stepping outside her front door and going where the road takes her, set in an imaginative and vivid fantasy world. Though the book left plenty of avenues for further story, it didn’t really need a sequel. Nevertheless, I was overjoyed to hear that one was coming, and I’m hopeful that we’ll see it in 2021.
  • The White Mosque by Sofia Samatar – The author of two of the most important works of modern fantasy, A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories, Samatar seems to be taking a break from fiction. The White Mosque is described as “a hybrid text”, part memoir of Samatar’s mixed Mennonite-Somali heritage, and part a history of a 19th century Mennonite project to found a village in Uzbekistan.
  • In the Heart of Hidden Things by Kit Whitfield – In Great Waters, Whitfield’s previous novel, was a weird and moving alternate history in which mermaids ascended the thrones of Europe. She hasn’t published anything since 2009, however, and though I have no information about this new book, I’m eager to see what weird new premise she comes up with.
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