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The Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2023

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I feel a bit silly writing this post this year. A few weeks ago I sat down and made a list of the 2022 books (and a few from late 2021) that I wanted to get to before the new year properly got going. A bit of deck-clearing before turning my attention to a new slate of reading possibilities. Some Hugo-eligible work before the nominations open. At least some of the selections for the upcoming Tournament of Books. Some NetGalley ARCs that I should really get to before they’re available in stores. Some books that I’ve had on my kindle, intending to make them my next read, for going on (more than?) a year. By the time I was done it was clear that I had set myself a reading list for at least the first half of the year, and that’s assuming that nothing new cuts in line—a sudden ebook sale, a review that makes something I wasn’t even aware of sound irresistible. I’m not one of those people who promise not to buy any new books before I’ve finished the ones I already have (hahahahahaha), but I’m not sure there’s ever been a time when making a list of the year’s upcoming books has felt more beside the point.

Still, listmaking is fun, and I’m really not sure that my determination to stick to my 2022 reading project will last much longer, so here’s a bunch of 2023 books I’m interested in, whenever I actually get around to reading them.

Before we begin, a few books from the end of last year that weren’t on my radar when I made last year’s list:

  • Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes by Rob Wilkins – During his lifetime, Pratchett always seemed a bit like an edifice. I heard so little about his personal life or history that it was easy to fall into the belief that they were as unremarkable as his imagination was prolific. This biography, written by his longtime assistant Wilkins, will either confirm that impression or, more likely, reveal new aspects to the man I had never been aware of.
  • Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson – Did anyone guess, when Atkinson made a sharp left turn into historical fiction with the strange, impossible to pin down Life After Life, that she would settle in that genre and make it her own? Her latest takes readers to Jazz Age London, where an imperious matriarch micromanages the lives of her six children.
  • The Two Doctors Górski by Isaac Fellman – The inimitable Fellman had a great 2022, publishing a novel, Dead Collections, at its beginning, and this novella near its end. Where Dead Collections took place in our world, Two Doctors is a dark academia story about a grad student in magic who meets her match in a mysterious professor.
  • Liberation Day by George Saunders – Look, it’s a new short story collection by George Saunders, what more do you need me to say? Lincoln in the Bardo was so great that I think we might have forgotten that he’s one of the finest practitioners of the short form currently working, but luckily he was just waiting to remind us.

Also, 2023 will feature several collections of SFF criticism by friends of mine, who are also tremendous critics. If either of these things sound interesting to you, check out one or both:

  • A Traveller in Time: The Critical Practice of Maureen Kincaid Speller, edited by Nina Allan – Maureen, a longtime member of the British SFF community and, most recently, editor of the Strange Horizons reviews department, passed away in the fall after an illness. In her memory, her husband Paul (also a critic—we discussed his biography of Iain M. Banks a few years ago) and SF writer extraordinaire Nina Allan have collaborated on this selection of her work, and reflection on her life.
  • All These Worlds: Reviews & Essays by Niall Harrison – Niall is one of the people who first pulled me into the world of online SFF criticism, and particularly the extended Strange Horizons family. He’s also a gifted critic in his own right, and after a period of quiet in recent years I’ve been thrilled to see him not only returning to regular reviewing, but, in typical Niall fashion, immediately setting himself the project of collecting his work in a book. All These Worlds selects from Niall’s reviews from the first decade in the 21st century, for a panoramic view of the state of the genre during that decade.

Finally, there are two more things I want to mention before we get to the list itself. First, in 1997, Geoff Ryman (whose name will recur further down the post) published one of the first instances I’m aware of the hypertext novel. 253, “a novel in seven cars and a crash”, devotes a page to each passenger on a single London tube train, with unexpected connections. Though the “print remix” has been available since 1998, the true form of the novel was always meant to be online, but the website—as is often the fate of such things—has been defunct for years. Earlier this year, Ryman revived it, and I highly encourage you to experience this remarkable and unique story in the way it was originally envisioned.

Second, this coming October the Library of America will publish its first volume dedicated to the mid-century author and critic Joanna Russ. Most of you will probably know Russ’s name as the author of the feminist tract How to Suppress Women’s Writing, which received a new edition several years ago and whose concise explication of the process by which women (and not just women’s) contributions to culture are minimized and disappeared is one of those magic eye moments that makes you see something you can never unsee. This volume collects some of Russ’s best novels and stories, and is a good one-stop shop if you haven’t yet been introduced to that aspect of her writing.

And now, without any further ado, the books I’m looking forward to in 2023 (and might get around to reading some time in 2024).

January:

  • Roald Dahl: Teller of the Unexpected by Matthew Dennison – In stark contrast to Terry Pratchett, Roald Dahl is a writer whose personal life increasingly eclipses the feats of imagination with which he colonized most of our childhoods. I’m very curious to know whether a biography will allow me to settle my increasingly conflicted feelings about him.
  • Please Report Your Bug Here by Josh Riedel – The tech novel has become a growing subgenre in recent years, with novels discussing everything from work culture to the toll exacted on content moderators. In Riedel’s debut, a low-level employee at a dating app discovers a bug that sucks people into the computer world, unraveling a Silicon Valley conspiracy.
  • Black Empire by George S. Schuyler – There are several publishers currently bringing forgotten early science fiction back to the public eye (see, for example, MIT Press’s Radium Age series), but the one I’m most intrigued by is this mid-30s novel by Schuyler, in which a black scientist concocts a plan to rid Africa of colonizers and take over the world.

February:

  • Our Share of Night by Mariana Enríquez – I don’t actually know much about this novel or Enríquez, but my friend Nic Clarke, who had access to the UK edition last year, raved about it, and the description—a father and son discover that their deceased wife and mother’s family are vampires—sounds enticing.
  • Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes – In the growing subgenre of Greek myth retellings, Haynes’s A Thousand Ships, a female-focused version of the Trojan War and its aftermath, quickly established itself as a major work. Her follow-up veers more towards the fantastical with an imagination of the life of Medusa.
  • Empty Theater by Jac Jemc – I know Jemc as the author of The Grip of It, a lean, modern-day haunted house novel. Her follow-up seems to be something entirely different, a satirical reimagining of the lives of two royal cousins, Ludwig II of Bavaria and Empress Elizabeth of Austria.
  • Jewel Box by E. Lily Yu – I wrote about Yu’s debut novel, On Fragile Waves, in one of my previous anticipated books posts, and when I finally got around to reading it last year, it was more than worthy of the inclusion, a wrenching and lyrical examination of refugeeism. Jewel Box is a collection of her short fiction, which is what first brought her to my attention, and I’m sure it will be no less rewarding.

March:

  • Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton – A decade ago, Catton published the gargantuan, Booker-winning, astrologically-structured novel of the New Zealand frontier, The Luminaries. Her focus in the intervening years seems to have been on screenwriting, but she has now returned to the novel form with a Shakespeare-inflected story about a guerilla gardening group and a billionaire’s end of the world bunker.
  • Lone Women by Victor LaValle – It’s been six years since LaValle’s last novel, the haunting, dark fairy tale of New York The Changeling. In the interim he’s worked on the TV adaptation of that book and written some comics, but Lone Women, a story of horror on the frontier, is his first return to the novel form, which I am very much looking forward to.
  • White Cat, Black Dog by Kelly Link – Speaking of long absences, we haven’t had a new Kelly Link short story collection since Get in Trouble in 2016. I know that she’s been working on a novel, but it’s great to see that there’s also new short fiction from his utterly unique writer.
  • The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Older – The author of The Centennal Cycle returns with a novella that blends science fiction with Sherlock Holmes, in which a detective on a planet colonized by humans investigates a disappearance. I’ve read an advanced copy of this, and as much a I enjoyed the mystery, the setting of the story, and the social pressures caused by its connection to Earth, were even more fascinating to me.

April:

  • Greek Lessons by Han Kang – Things have been a bit quiet on the Han Kang front since she wowed the anglophone world with translations of The Vegetarian and Human Acts a few years ago. Greek Lessons, like the first of those novels, sounds like it flirts with magical realism, focusing on a woman who loses the ability to speak.

May:

  • Chain Gang All Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah – Not to play favorites, but this is by far the 2023 publication I’m most anxious to read. Adjei-Brenyah’s debut collection, Friday Black, was an instant classic, and the news that he was working on a novel thrilled me. The description—Hunger Games in a private prison—is the sort of thing that would pique my interest from almost anyone, but from this author it’s sure to be fantastic.
  • Conquest by Nina Allan – Longtime readers of these lists know that a new Nina Allan is always an instant buy for me, and that policy has rarely steered me wrong—Allan’s writing is weird, slipstreamy, and always going new places. In Conquest, she follows a woman whose boyfriend appears to have fallen down on an online conspiracy rabbit hole, but knowing Allan there will much more to the story, and much stranger.
  • The Late Americans by Brandon Taylor – Taylor’s debut, Real Life, was one of the most astonishing, heart-wrenching novels I read in the last few years, so a follow-up novel (he also published a short story collection, Filthy Animals, in the interim) is an instant buy for me. Not much details about the plot except that it involves a group of friends, but I’m sure it will be stunning.
  • On the Nature of Magic by Marian Womack – A follow-up to Womack’s 2020 novel The Golden Key, this is, like that novel, an occult mystery set at the turn of the 20th century. This time around, supernatural detective Helena Walton-Cisneros travels to Paris for an investigation that puts her in the path of Georges Méliès—to my knowledge, the first time that a fantasy author has incorporated that groundbreaking filmmaker into their work.

June:

  • Nineteen Claws and a Black Bird by Agustina Bazterrica – Every now and then, it seems, the world needs a sensational cannibalism novel, and Bazterrica’s Tender is the Flesh did the job admirably in 2021, effortlessly capturing the process of unpersoning that people would rather engage in than give up some of their pleasures. She’s following up that success with a short story collection, which I’m sure will be no less sharp and shocking.
  • Translation State by Ann Leckie – Returning to science fiction after a sojourn in fantasy with the weird but delightful The Raven Tower, Leckie’s new novel is, once again, set in a new corner of the science fictional universe she first introduced in Ancillary Justice. The plot involves an alien translator bred to their role who rebels and sets off across the galaxy.

July:

  • The Saint of Bright Doors by Vajra Chandrasekera – I’ve been a fan of Vajra’s short fiction and criticism for years, and advance praise for this debut novel has been ecstatic. The plot involves a former child assassin bouncing between revolutionaries and cults, which seems to draw more than a little on the history of Vajra’s home of Sri Lanka.
  • The Birth Lottery and Other Surprises by Shehan Karunatilaka – This short story collection by last year’s Booker winner (for The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida) is getting a US/UK publication in the spring, but I was able to snag a copy during a work trip to India early in the year. So I can already tell you that it (and Seven Moons) are excellent, the work of an author with a tremendous control of voice, a wide range of stylistic flourishes, and some genuinely fascinating material to draw on.
  • Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle – After years as the internet’s beloved purveyor of politically-aware erotica, Chuck Tingle is branching out into mainstream fiction with this story about, what else, an evil gay conversion camp. It remains to be seen whether anyone will be pounded in the butt.
  • Crook Manifesto by Colson Whitehead – I never expected Whitehead to write a sequel, but if any of his books deserve it, it’s the funny, sharp, pulse-pounding Harlem Shuffle. Crook Manifesto rejoins that novel’s hero, the mostly-honest but sometimes just a bit crooked Harlem businessman Ray Carney during the 1970s, for another exploration of what it takes for African Americans to achieve and hold onto prosperity.

August:

  • Gunflower by Laura Jean McKay – If you haven’t yet read Australian author McKay’s Clarke-winning novel The Animals in That Country, run out and do so. Then perhaps you’ll share in my excitement at the news of a short story collection from her (though I would also like a new novel).
  • He Who Drowned the World by Shelley Parker-Chan – I adored Parker-Chan’s Hugo-nominated debut She Who Became the Sun, a fantasized retelling of the rise to power of empress Zhu Yuanzhang. But I was also a bit miffed that some of the novel’s fascinating—and wonderfully screwed up—supporting characters didn’t get a worthy conclusion to their stories. Luckily, a sequel was in the works, which will hopefully resolve this whole supernatural soap opera in the most dramatic way possible.

September:

  • Land of Milk and Honey by C Pam Zhang – I wasn’t the only front-pager on this blog blown away by Zhang’s debut, How Much of These Hills Is Gold, a fascinating and constantly surprising tale of Chinese immigrants during the gold rush. This new novel is about a chef in the future who takes a job at a colony of the super-rich. So, you know, a whole bunch of things that are entirely my jam.

October:

  • Cahokia Jazz by Francis Spufford – Spufford has had a prolific few years writing fairly-naturalistic historical fiction, but it sounds as if he’s cutting loose again with this novel, which, according to the information I’ve been able to find, is a 1920s mystery in an alternate America where Native Americans are still a major political force, with their own, integrated cities.

December:

  • HIM by Geoff Ryman – It’s been more than a decade since we got a new novel from Ryman, and I had sort of assumed that we never would again. Fittingly for an author who has never shied away from outrageous or overtly queer material, he’s returning with a bang, with a historical fantasy about the life of Jesus as a trans man.

Late 2023:

  • The Future by Naomi Alderman – I can’t find much information yet about this follow-up to The Power, but it seems to involve a Silicon Valley revolt, in which tech billionaires are deposed and their companies taken over.
  • Alecto the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir – Apparently it’s still a little unclear whether Muir will meet her deadline to publish this final volume in the Locked Tomb series (and anyway I still haven’t read Nona the Ninth). Whenever it comes, though, it’s sure to be a major event in genre circles.
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