Imagined Multiverses | Genre Spotlight: SF/Fantasy

Rather than base their work on the world as it is, speculative fiction authors are free to imagine any sort of society in our future.

ljx160801webSFopenerSpeculative fiction is specially suited to address humanity’s rich diversity, with its various genres unconstrained by the expectation that they reflect a single view of the world. Rather than base their work on the world as it is, authors are free to imagine any sort of society in our future, in magical domains that never were, in a present just the other side of the looking glass, or in other realms entirely. The type of protagonists that these writers create are similarly unbounded, and the forthcoming fall/winter publishing season will see a number of releases that don’t rely on the stalwart white male to save the day—not that these aren’t still in good supply.

A multiplicity of characters

Executive editor Anne Sowards and senior editor Jessica Wade of Berkley’s Ace/Roc imprints “are actively looking for diverse stories and voices to add to [their] list.” In January, Roc will be publishing Daniel José Older’s Battle Hill Bolero, the third volume in his “Bone Street Rumba” urban fantasy series. “It takes place in Brooklyn with a cast as varied as the inhabitants of New York City,” says Sowards, who identifies Older as a leading figure in the sf/fantasy diversity movement.

Harper Voyager executive editor David Pomerico echoes Sowards’s and Wade’s sentiments. “Like most editors, I work with agents to let them know what I’m looking for, and this has resulted in some great new Voyager authors: Nicky Drayden, Rebecca Kuang, and Maggie Shen King. Further, I look for opportunities to reach out to authors who can possibly add new voices to both the list and the genre. Whether it’s at a conference or [via] email, we’re always looking to keep expanding sf/fantasy.”

In Chris Roberson’s Firewalk (Night Shade, Oct.; see starred review, p. 70), a supernatural thriller by the cocreater of the comic iZombie, FBI investigator Izzie Lefevre, a descendant of voodoo priestesses, and Patrick Tevake, a police detective of Polynesian extraction, draw on their ethnic heritage to trace the occult roots of a crime. September marks the publication of James Tiptree Jr. Literary Award–winning short story writer Nisi Shawl’s highly anticipated first novel, Everfair (Tor), a steampunk alternate history set in the Belgian Congo (see review, p. 70).

“It’s as diverse in about as many ways as you can count. The author is a queer black woman, and several of [her] characters are queer (and often women and/or nonwhite as well),” explains Tor Books editor Liz Gorinsky. “The [other] characters represent a multiplicity of voices that have been historically silenced—Africans, East Asians, and African Americans—as well as a few Europeans, in complex relationships with one another.”

Increasingly, mainstream publishers are releasing speculative fiction that features casts who are diverse not only in terms of race and ethnicity but who also represent a range of sexual orientations and gender identities. Coming in November from Roc is Emma Newman’s After Atlas, which further explores the theme of mental illness introduced in the acclaimed Planetfall and features bisexual and genderqueer characters.

New perspectives, new presses

Especially noteworthy in recent years is the rise of presses specializing in LGBTQ genre fiction, including Lethe, Interlude, DSP Publications, and Riptide. “We launched the DSP imprint about two years ago directly in response to requests for more genre fiction featuring LGBTQ+ characters and themes outside the romance market,” explains editor in chief Lynn West, who also notes that this is a direct reflection of the demand for increased diversity in mainstream media as a whole.

Urban fantasies dominate DSP’s fall list, headed by Rhys Ford’s Mad Lizard Mambo (Sept.), the sequel to the well-­reviewed Black Dog Blues, and C.M. Torrens’s The Alpha’s Weave (Oct.), the first volume in a new shape-shifting series. But given the submissions West has received over the past six months, DSP’s spring 2017 list will be heavy with sf, especially space operas as opposed to Earth-based stories.

Inkshares’ crowdsourced model of publishing (readers determine what is released through preorder campaigns) has made the publisher more open to fresh, unconventional voices. “Because of our democratic publishing model, readers, not editors or agents, decide what we publish,” says marketing manager Avalon Radys. In August, the company is releasing Zac Linville’s Welcome to Deadland, a debut that combines coming of age, coming out, and, of course, zombies in a deserted Florida theme park.

For Interlude, diversity has been a priority since it published its first title in 2014. Publisher Candysse Miller remarks that her authors “are now approaching representation as a matter of the complex intersectionality of race, ethnicity, and gender and sexual identity.” These themes are found in Interlude’s three fall sf/fantasy titles, two of which represent its Duet Books young adult imprint—C.B. Lee’s Not Your Sidekick (Duet, Sept.), Rachel Davidson Leigh’s Hold (Duet, Oct.), and Charlotte Ashe’s The King and the Criminal (Dec.), the second novel in her critically acclaimed “The Heart of All Worlds” series.

“In Ashe’s fantasy realm, a full spectrum of sexual identity is a canonically accepted norm,” says Miller, who notes that the first book in this series, The Sidhe, has been a best seller for the press since its 2015 release.


Shifting strategies

For some editors, the biggest trend is not so much in terms of genre but in how they acquire and market titles. Harper Voyager’s Pomerico is seeing a shift back to big “make” books—novels that publishers believe are going to cross over genres and demographics and be breakout successes that transcend audiences.

“[With] the way publishers are approaching sf/fantasy (especially imprints that aren’t ‘traditional’ genre imprints), you’re seeing the genre emerge more into the mainstream,” says Pomerico. He cites Voyager’s own Spotlight program that identifies projects and authors “we think can be gateways into the genre.” Among the fall titles getting the Spotlight treatment are Sarah Beth Durst’s The Queen of Blood (Sept.), a new fantasy series that Pomerico compares to Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, and Amy S. Foster’s The Rift Uprising (Oct.), which blurs “the lines between YA and adult in a really fun way.”

Major houses are also releasing series titles in a more rapid sequence to attract and grow readership. Following the June publication of Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library, Roc is putting out the second volume in her “Invisible Library” trilogy, The Masked City, in September, and the third, The Burning Page, in December. According to editors Sowards and Wade, readers are responding well to intriguing high-concept ideas, and what could be a more fabulous hook than Cogman’s time-traveling librarian spies?

Works in translation

Increasingly, publishers’ fall lists are featuring speculative fiction in translation, and awards committees have taken note. In 2015, Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem became the first translated sf novel to win a Hugo Award and wound up on the reading lists of President Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg. Arriving in September from Tor is Death’s End, the highly anticipated conclusion to Lui’s “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” trilogy.

“I have somehow fallen into the Chinese [sf] publishing business, and I couldn’t be happier,” exclaims Tor’s Gorinsky. “This fall we actually have two books translated by Ken Liu (who’s an amazing author in his own right—the only one to ever win Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards for the same story).” [See Ken Liu’s profile in the “Diverse Voices” sidebar below.—Ed.] The second title is Invisible Planets, an anthology of Chinese short stories; it includes two tales by Liu Cixin and the rest by rising talents, including the Hugo- and Sturgeon Award–nominated “Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang. Coming in October is Mariko Koike’s The Graveyard Apartment (Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s); known for her hybrid works that mix detective fiction with horror, the author is one of Japan’s most popular writers. Originally published in 1986, this novel follows a young family as they move into what they believe is the perfect home—despite the cemetery next door.

In terms of European sf and fantasy, associate editor Lindsey Hall of Hachette’s Orbit imprint is excited by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s “The Witcher” series (The Tower of Swallows, Orbit, May). “His world is rich and lush, with great characters and constant action. The books and the video games they inspired have been growing exponentially in popularity in recent years.”

Fantasy’s continuing allure

Last year’s sf collections survey (“Numbers Tell the Story: Sf in Libraries,” LJ 8/15) found that fantasy, in particular epic fantasy, was the most popular speculative genre in terms of circulation, and its popularity with readers has not waned. “[C]lassic epic fantasy is as ageless as [J.R.R. Tolkien’s character] Elrond,” says Del Rey editorial director Tricia Narwani, and the subgenre continues to grow, as Titan senior editor Miranda Jewess notes, “with every season of Game of Thrones.”

This January, epic fantasy master Tad Williams returns to the world of Osten Ard with The Heart of What Was Lost (DAW), the first in a new cycle of novels. For readers new to the series, this title introduces the story of how King Simon and Queen Miriamele force the Norns from the lands of humans. Fantasy fans who prefer their epics on the darker side, with dark deities to match, will find plenty to read this fall. Pyr editorial director Rene Sears is enthusiastic about the third volume in K.V. Johansen’s “Marakand” series. “Gods of Nabban (Sept.) returns to the world of Blackdog to continue exploring the nature of divinity, both in the gods and the humans they interact with, in evocative, lyrical prose.”

In Gabriel Squailia’s Viscera (Talos, Oct.), magical power in the city of Eth derives from the petrified viscera of perished deities. Skyhorse senior editor Cory Allyn, who oversees the Night Shade and Talos sf/fantasy/horror imprints, notes that Squailia “plays with issues of gender at the same time” as he breaks “apart the tropes of both sword-and-sorcery and grimdark fantasy.” Also twisting grimdark tropes is Will Panzo’s November debut, The Burning Isle (Ace), which Ace/Roc editors Sowards and Wade describe as a gritty epic revenge story, a magical version of The Count of Monte Cristo that draws upon diverse influences, from ancient Rome to modern-day video games.

Drawn from other lands

Although the traditions of medieval Europe have long been the inspiration for epic fantasies, a new generation of writers are looking to other cultures for their imagined worlds. Blogging on his website, author Ken Liu explains how his “Dandelion Dynasty” series drew on historical legends relating to the founding of the Han dynasty. But, more important, he wanted to “reimagine the stories in a new setting, with new cultures, new peoples, new technologies, and magic that are not tied to their Chinese roots directly.” His sequel to the Locus Award–winning The Grace of Kings, The Wall of Storms (Saga: S. & S., Oct.) finds Emperor Kuni Garu facing an invasion by the Lyucu Empire from the distant west.

Pseudonymous author Lian Hearn, who has lived in Japan and is a student of the Japanese language, explores that country’s medieval history and mythology in her four-volume “Tale of Shikanoko” series. In the third outing, Lord of the Darkwood (Farrar, Aug.), the warrior Shikanoko must confront the Spider Tribe that he had some part in creating. This September, Bradley P. Beaulieu returns to the Arabian Nights–­influenced world of his “Song of the Shattered Sands” series with Of Sand and Malice Made (DAW), in which his young pit fighter heroine Çeda must overcome an ehrekh, a creature of the desert created by the god of chaos.

Authors are also incorporating some unusual urban settings in the natural world for their epics. Australian Thoraiya Dyer’s series opener, Crossroads of Canopy, due from Tor in January, introduces a city set in the canopy of a rainforest ruled by gods. Unar, the young servant of the goddess Audblayin, must descend to the deprived realms of Understorey and Floor to seek her destiny. Fran Wilde introduced readers to her towering city of living bone and its flying inhabitants in her award-winning debut Updraft, but more trouble brews for residents in Cloudbound (Tor, Sept.; see review, p. 70).


Another look at faerie tales

Crediting the success of ABC’s Once upon a Time and Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, Sowards and Wade of Ace/Roc have their eyes on new takes on old fairy tales. Juliet Marillier’s Den of Wolves (Nov.), the third entry in her “Blackthorn & Grim” series, is “a nuanced take on the trope of the changeling as found in many mythic tales.” Russian folktales are the source for Katherine Arden’s fantasy debut, The Bear and the Nightingale (Del Rey: Ballantine, Jan. 2017), about a young girl and her family living on the edge of the Russian wilderness. And some of sf/fantasy’s best writers reimagine classic and traditional fairy tales in new and startling ways in The Starlit Wood (Saga: S. & S., Oct.; see review, p. 72), edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe.

Something old, something new

Moving from one of the oldest types of speculative fiction to one of the newest, we turn to steampunk, that odd stepchild of the speculative fiction family. While Titan’s Jewess believes the subgenre has slipped out of the mainstream, it is still chugging along. In Susan Laine’s Skyships over Innsmouth (DSP, Aug.), Captain Dev of the scout airship Smoke Sparrow and his crew are sent to investigate Innsmouth, MA, a town that is mentioned in old tomes but that appears on no maps. And other writers are incorporating steampunk elements into their work. Barbara Barnett’s The Apothecary’s Curse (Pyr, Oct.) balances two story lines: Victorian London physician Simon Bell and apothecary Gaelan Erceldoune’s discovery of an elixir of immortality and the modern-day quest of pharmaceutical company Genomics to find a cure for death. “It’s a bit of a mashup,” explains Pyr’s Sears, “combining alchemy and genetics in a story line that spans from Victorian London to contemporary Chicago.”

On the historical fantasy front, which shares some commonalities with both steampunk and more classic fantasy, authors are expanding the range of time periods they want to explore. In Stephanie Burgis’s Congress of Secrets (Pyr, Nov.), set at the Congress of Vienna after Napoleon’s defeat, alchemist Caroline Wyndham conceals her true identity as she seeks to rescue her father from the secret police while her father’s old apprentice works his latest con game. This month, Mary Robinette Kowal, the author of the popular “Glamourist History” paranormal series, moves from Regency England to the trenches of World War I with her first stand-alone fantasy, Ghost Talkers (Tor). Tor’s Gorinsky raves, “It’s a wonderful and tragic story about the Spirit Corps, a group of mediums who contribute to World War I intelligence by taking combat reports from soldiers after they die.” And the Wild West is the setting for Lila Bowen’s Conspiracy of Ravens (Orbit, Oct.). Nettie Lonesome wears a badge and two wings, but it might not be enough to defeat the murderous alchemist roaming the plains.

The maturing of urban fantasy

For the editors at Ace/Roc, the market for urban fantasy has matured, but certain authors continue to do very well. This month, Faith Hunter spins off a new series from her popular “Jane Yellowrock” stories with Blood of the Earth (see review, p. 68.). It features Nell Ingram, a character who will be familiar to fans of Hunter’s New York Times best-selling series. But Skyhorse’s Allyn disagrees with their assessment.

“We’ve heard rumblings that urban fantasy is on the decline,” says Allyn, “but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still interesting and worthwhile ground to cover.” He cites Roberson’s Firewalk, which swings urban fantasy toward the police procedural. It’s this genre crossover appeal that keeps publishers selling these kinds of fantasies. This October, City Owl is releasing Danielle DeVor’s Sorrow’s Edge, which introduces a defrocked priest–turned–exorcist trying to solve the mystery of why his long-dead mentor recommended a client to him. Originally released as an online serial, Max Gladstone’s Bookburners (Saga: S. & S., Jan. 2017), coauthored with three other writers, is an urban fantasy about a secret Vatican-backed team that stops deadly magic within dangerous books.

Other urban fantasies don’t hew as closely to the procedural format but still maintain a gritty, noir feel, such as E.J. Russell’s Wolf’s Clothing (Riptide, Oct.), in which werewolf Christophe Clavret tries to resist the growing attraction he feels for Trent Pielmeyer, a man who hates all things supernatural, as dark forces threaten them both. A new Jim Butcher story about Harry Dresden’s apprentice Molly Hunter headlines Shadowed Souls (Roc, Nov.), a collection of dark stories by Seanan McGuire, Tanya Huff, and other urban fantasy stars, edited by Butcher and Kerrie L. Hughes.

Investigating the near future

Sf often challenges the status quo, according to Skyhorse editor Allyn, and the best speculative fiction can be highly political and controversial. High on the Talos fall list is Exploded View (Oct.), a near-future sf thriller from Sam McPheeters. “It is both a simmering noir filled with impressive technology (the title refers to virtual reality (VR) eyewear—what Google Glass might turn into 50 years from now), and a deft commentary on many important topics being debated in the news today: government surveillance, social media, and the refugee crisis,” says Allyn. In 2050, LAPD detective Terri Pastuzka must investigate the murder of one of the city’s immigrants, using all of the VR tech at her disposal.

Another unusual sf thriller landing on bookshelves this October is Hugo Award winner Will McIntosh’s stand-alone, Faller (Tor), in which the title character exists, like everyone else, with no memories of his past on an Earth transformed into islands floating in an endless sky. Other titles explore cutting-edge technology’s unintended consequences. In Chuck Wendig’s Invasive (Harper Voyager, Aug.), Hannah Stander, an FBI futurist consultant, confronts the weaponization of nature itself. “I’m really digging the ants from Wendig’s Invasive,” says Voyager’s Pomerico, who is also intrigued by the premise of Connie Willis’s new novel, Crosstalk (Del Rey: Ballantine, Oct. ). In the near future, a simple operation increases empathy between lovers, but when Briddey Flannigan’s procedure goes awry, she becomes connected to someone else entirely.

Space operas forever

While space operas may not dominate the field as they once did, they are still holding their own. Indie publisher Inkshares partners with pop culture website Nerdist to sponsor several contests to find new sf/fantasy titles. “Based on the themes Nerdist has chosen for its contest, we’re seeing a large rise in space opera, hard science, and video game–themed submissions,” explains marketing manager Radys. Nerdist editor in chief Rachel Heine adds that “[s]pace operas have been a staple in genre storytelling for nearly a century absolutely no signs of slowing down.”

Orbit senior editor Will Hinton describes the worlds of today’s space operas as “places we’ve dreamed about but [that] feel real enough that they are easy to live in.” One of his favorite books for the fall is Forsaken Skies by D. Nolan Clark. This series launch about first contact with an alien race “has all the adventure and comforts of classic space opera but tells a story that’s both epic and intimate in a way that felt fresh to me. It all begins with a silent, massive armada that emerges from deep space and for unknown reasons sets its sights on an isolated colony planet. I don’t want to give anything away, but this is an alien encounter full of surprises.”

Fans of Star Wars–style adventures are bound to relish K.B. Wagers’s “Indranan War” series, which launches this August with Behind the Throne (Orbit, see starred review, p. 67) and continues in December with After the Crown. Hail Bristol has gone from living as a gunrunner to becoming Empress but when she is betrayed during peace talks, she must return to her gunrunning skills to set things right. In Kameron Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion (Saga: S. & S., Jan. 2017), Zan must rescue her sister Jayd from an arranged marriage to their family’s worst foe so that the twins may lead their fleet of world-ships through space.

S.K. Dunstall’s third “Linesman” novel, Confluence (Ace, Nov.), has linesman Ean Lambert, his friend and bodyguard Radko, and the Crown Princess of Lancia working together to prevent the destruction of the New Alliance. The publisher has been pleased so far with the response to this series about intelligent alien spaceships that features plenty of adventure and a strong emphasis on character.


Military sf/fantasy marches on

While armed conflict is a part of the space opera, military sf concentrates on warfare, whether in its far-reaching aspects or small unit tactics. The fall publishing season sees a new work by a veteran as well as fresh recruits taking up the standard. David Weber’s 19th Honor Harrington book, Shadow of Victory (Baen, Nov.), has his protagonist facing her biggest challenge yet because the Mesan Alignment is trying to engineer a war between her Star Empire of Manticore and the Solarian League, the most powerful star nation in the galaxy. Instead of a dishonorable discharge, court-martialed Commander Elena Shaw and Capt. Greg Foster are tasked with patrolling the Third Sector, but they uncover a plot to foment war that leads back to their own Central Gov in Elizabeth Bonesteel’s new “Central Corps” novel, Remnants of Trust (Harper Voyager, Nov.).

Arriving in September from Ace is J. Patrick Black’s Ninth City Burning (see review, p. 67), which pits aliens and their thelemity weapon against the few humans on Earth who can also wield this power. Crown executive editor Julian Pavia calls it “a big ambitious debut.” Ace/Roc editors Sowards and Wade praise the book for its cast of engaging narrators, complex worldbuilding, and page-turning adventure. “This novel has echoes of [Orson Scott Card’s] Ender’s Game and [Pierce Brown’s] Red Rising—and has crossover appeal to both adult and YA readers.” Ace launches another new military series in October with William C. Dietz’s Into the Guns, in which corporations attempt to seize power after a massive meteor strike and its aftermath devastate Earth.

On the epic fantasy front, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Guns of the Dawn, coming from Pan Macmillan in November, pits war machines against warlocks. Medallion’s September release of Andrew Post’s Rusted Heroes has the fairly straightforward and delightful premise of a tank squad, accompanied by a bard, against orcs and a necromancer.

The horror, the horror

Tor publicity director Patty Garcia is seeing lots of ghosts this season. In Cherie Priest’s haunted-house tale, The Family Plot (Sept.), Chuck Dutton sends his daughter Augusta to oversee the salvaging of the Withrow estate, little suspecting that the Halloween prank graveyard on the premises is all too real.

And the insatiable hunger for zombie fiction remains undead. Out this month from Simon & Schuster’s Gallery imprint is Max Brallier’s choose-your-own-horror-adventure title, Highway to Hell: Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? This October, Orbit releases Mira Grant’s new stand-alone “Newsflesh” novel, Feedback, which goes back to the events of her breakout novel, Feed. Both books center on a presidential election in an America overcome by fear, paranoia, and less-than-virtuous politicians and bureaucrats. Sound familiar? “We don’t have hordes of the flesh-eating infected yet, but there is plenty of time until November 8,” jokes Orbit’s ­Hinton.

In October, Inkshares will publish acclaimed Hollywood screenwriter, producer, and director Patrick Sheane Duncan’s (Courage Under Fire; Mr. Holland’s Opus) historical fantasy horror Dracula vs. Hitler. This homage to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, written in an epistolary format, answers the burning question, What if Dracula were brought back to life to fight the Nazis? Also arriving just in time for Halloween is the catchily titled What the #@&% Is That? The Saga Anthology of the Monstrous and the Macabre (Saga: S. & S., Nov.), edited by John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen.

Regardless of what kind of book readers want, where they want it to take place, or who they want to write it or star in it, they have a wide range of choices this fall and winter, and that’s as it should be. Nerdist editor in chief Heine notes that “there is always room to play with tropes, themes, and characters in sci-fi and fantasy…that’s what makes it so much fun.” And Harper Voyager’s Pomerico reminds us that, all other issues aside, “ultimately...what we’re looking for [are] good books.”

Eric Norton is Head of Customer Services at McMillan Memorial Library, Wisconsin Rapids. He is a lifelong fan of speculative fiction

Diverse Voices: Top Ten SF Writers

By ALA RUSA-CODES Reading List Council Members

Science fiction may be the literature of change, but anyone looking at its history will see a reflection of the status quo. Women writers, authors of color, and LGBTQ wordsmiths have encountered reflexive prejudice. Despite this, the contributions of marginalized authors have shaped the genre; many consider feminist writer Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein the first sf novel, after all. From classic authors of the New Wave to rising stars, listed below are writers whose work changed and is changing the genre as only including all voices can.

To find more promising scribes, awards celebrating diversity are good places to start. The Carl Brandon Society’s Parallax Award and Kindred Award (given to a work of speculative fiction by a person of color and dealing with issues of race and ethnicity, respectively), the James Tiptree Jr. Award (for exploration and expansion of gender in sf), and the Kitschies (for UK-published “progressive, intelligent, and entertaining” speculative fiction by authors of any nationality) are annual prizes.


ljx160801webSFauth1Steven Barnes

One of the earliest sf authors to feature African American protagonists, Barnes made his fiction debut with 1979’s The Locusts, a novelette coauthored with Larry Niven and nominated for a 1980 Hugo Award. Since then he has published a number of series as well as eight stand-alone novels.

His well-reviewed “Insh’Allah” books are set in an alternative American South, colonized by African Muslims who in turn have enslaved white Europeans. The series launch, Lion’s Blood, was nominated for a 2003 John W. Campbell Memorial Award and won the Endeavor Award.

While Barnes often includes sf elements in his work, he is not afraid to branch out into other genres. He writes about zombies in his “Devil’s Wake” series, while his “Aubrey Knight” titles feature a martial arts expert who serves as an enforcer for a criminal enterprise in a dystopian America. Barnes is married to another leading African American author of speculative fiction, Tananarive Due.

ljx160801webSFauth2Octavia Butler 1947–2006

Butler was the first African American woman to achieve popular acclaim and critical praise as a major sf author. In 1995, she became the first speculative fiction writer to win a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” grant. Other honors include the 2000 PEN American Center lifetime achievement award in writing and induction into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2010.

Butler’s work is imbued with a concern for social issues, passionate interest in the human condition, and strong character development. Her essential backlist includes Kindred (1979), a cornerstone of the Afrofuturism movement and a classic feminist time travel novel about the impact of slavery. (In January 2017, Abrams ComicArts is scheduled to publish a graphic novel version, illustrated by Damian Duffy and adapted by John Jennings.) Other notable novels are Wild Seed (1980), a James Tiptree Jr. Award winner; Parable of the Sower (1993), a finalist for the Nebula Award and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; and the Nebula Award–winning Parable of the Talents (1998). In her final novel, Fledgling (2005), Butler used the vampire trope to explore the concepts of family and otherness.

ljx160801webSFauth3Samuel R. Delaney

Delaney (“Chip to his friends”) has pushed the envelope in sf since 1962, when at the age of 20 he released The Jewels of Aptor, a mythic, postapocalyptic science fantasy. His early talent developed swiftly into game-changing works that established him as one of thefirst black speculative fiction authors (along with Octavia Butler, as he wryly observes in his 1998 essay “Racism and Science Fiction”) to win wide acceptance and acclaim.

Delaney was also, of course, one of the first openly gay authors to be feted, and intersectional identities play a major part in his fiction. His seventh novel, Babel-17, a meditation on the shaping of self through speech, shared the 1967 Nebula Award with Daniel Keyes’s now classic Flowers for Algernon; from then on his daring representations of race and sexuality attracted awards attention nearly as often as he published. Dhalgren (1975) is a complex, ambitious overlaying of surrealism and unreliable narration—the author’s most popular and polarizing work. Still writing into the 21st century, Delaney earned a Stonewall Book Award with his 2007 novel Dark Reflections. It’s no surprise that in 2013 the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) named him their 30th Science Fiction Grand Master.

ljx160801webSFauth4Nalo Hopkinson

Jamaican-born sf/fantasy author Hopkinson burst onto the scene in 1998 with the publication of Brown Girl in the Ring, which went on to win the Locus Award for Best First Novel and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. This dystopian novel with hints of magic would set the stage for later titles in which she would explore deep social issues: poverty, folklore, race, and feminism, all filtered through Afro-Caribbean culture and language that leaps off the page with life and zest.

Hopkinson specializes in vibrant worldbuilding and sparkling storytelling that mixes sf, urban fantasy, and magic realism. Novels such as Sister Mine, the tale of a demigod born without magic, and Midnight Robber, a Tiptree-inspired story about a Caribbean-colonized planet, straddle the line between rich textural detail and moving personal drama.

ljx160801webSFauth5Andre Norton 1912–2005

Former librarian Norton’s early work focused on space operas; her fiction was marked by intricately layered environments, clear plot construction, a firm grasp of narrative control, and appealing protagonists (usually young people undergoing a rite of passage). Technology functions as a corollary, and a strong rapport (often psi based) between people and animals is a frequent motif. Her best-known sf series include “Central Control,” “Astra,” “Solar Queen,” “Time Traders,” “Beastmaster,” and “Dipple.”

Designated a grande dame of sf/fantasy, the prolific Norton was honored with the SFWA Grand Master Award in 1984 and the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement in 1998 and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 1997.


ljx160801webSFauth6Wesley Chu

Taiwanese American Chu turned from a life of “playing the token Asian male in commercials” to delight other audiences with his witty 2013 debut, The Lives of Tao, which netted a 2014 Alex Award (for adult fiction appealing to young adults). Blending sf with spy fiction, this trilogy (The Deaths of Tao; The Rebirths of Tao), along with new series starter The Days of Tao, has kept the pace brisk and tone light.

After winning a John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2015, Chu has gone on to apply his interest in history to an action-packed time traveling adventure series that launched in April with Time Salvager, quickly followed by July’s Time Siege.

ljx160801webSFauth7N.K. Jemisin

The Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Jemisin blends elements of sf and fantasy, mainly in non-European settings. Her stories are populated with relatable, multicultural characters caught in extraordinary situations and often include subtle religious themes. While Jemisin is skilled at worldbuilding, her strength lies in creating complex and compelling protagonists who often act with great courage to challenge the status quo and those in power.

Jemisin has written three series—”Dreamblood,” “Inheritance,” and “Broken Earth”—as well as numerous short stories and essays. In 2011, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the launch of the “Inheritance” trilogy, won the Locus Award for Best First Novel. Short-listed for the American Library Association’s (ALA) 2016 Reading List in the fantasy genre, The Fifth Season (the first volume in the “Broken Earth” series) incorporates strong sf elements with its depiction of the science of geophysics. Its sequel, The Obelisk Gate, was released this month.

ljx160801webSFauth8Yoon Han Lee

Lee has been publishing reflective, coolly voiced stories of combat ethics in space since 1999’s “The Hundredth Question,” and his writing still aims to “assassinate” readers (his word), using spare, well-honed prose. Lee’s first full-length novel, Ninefox Gambit (2016), reflects his extraordinary world- and character-building talents and draws from the author’s experience as a trans man to depict gender roles and boundaries. Lee’s stories also show the influence of his educational background (mathematics) and cultural heritage (Korean American)—he freely combines numerical precision with archetypes of Korean folklore and lyricism, creating fiction that possesses deep cultural feeling and clean, equation-like readability.

ljx160801webSFauth9Ken Liu

Having secured a reputation as one of speculative fiction’s most preeminent modern short story writers, Liu has also won an impressive number of high-profile awards in his relatively short career, including Nebula, Hugo, Locus, and World Fantasy honors. Some of the best of his short fiction is collected in 2016’s The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. His ambitious 2015 debut novel, The Grace of Kings, the first in his “Dandelion Dynasty” series, draws on Chinese history for a fresh spin on the political intrigue and epic-scaled fantasy so irresistible to fans of George R.R. Martin and Guy Gavriel Kay. Coming in October, The Wall of Storms continues the initial book’s moral complexities, challenging characters, and sprawling story lines.

Liu is also an elegant translator of Chinese speculative fiction, having brought to America Liu Cixin’s Hugo Award–winning The Three-Body Problem, an sf tale about the Chinese Revolution, virtual reality, and first contact with aliens and the first installment in the author’s “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” trilogy. Liu also translated Death’s End, the series conclusion, coming in September.

ljx160801webSFauth10Ndedi Okorafor

Born in the United States to Nigerian immigrant parents, Okorafor is known for novels, as described by the New York Times, “that combine politically complex science fiction and lyrical fantasy.” Her work crosses genres and imaginatively weaves African cultural elements into evocative settings populated with unforgettable characters.

Winner of the Red Tentacle Award for Best Novel, and a James Tiptree Jr. Award honor book, Lagoon (2015), an action-packed and thought-provoking first contact novel, is a hybrid mashup blending magical realism, social issues, and powerful storytelling. Okorafor’s coming-of-age/space opera novella, Binti, took the 2016 Nebula Award for Best Novella. The Book of Phoenix (2015) is the prequel to the World Fantasy Award–winning postapocalyptic Who Fears Death (2010).

Reading List Council members who contributed to this article are Jared Mills, Tammy Ryan, and Ann Chambers Theis

Galaxy Quests

Below are the forthcoming titles mentioned in this article.
Adams, John Joseph & Douglas Cohen, eds What the #@&% Is That? Saga: S. & S Nov.
Arden, Katherine The Bear and the Nightingale Del Rey: Ballantine Jan. 2017
Ashe, Charlotte The King and the Criminal Interlude Dec.
Barnett, Barbara The Apothecary’s Curse Pyr: Prometheus Oct.
Beaulieu, Bradley P. Of Sand and Malice Made DAW Sept.
Black, J. Patrick Ninth City Burning Ace Sept.
Bonesteel, Elizabeth Remnants of Trust Harper Voyager Nov.
Bowen, Lila Conspiracy of Ravens Orbit: Hachette Oct.
Brallier, Max Highway to Hell Gallery Aug.
Burgis, Stephanie Congress of Secrets Pyr: Prometheus Nov.
Butcher, Jim & Kerrie L. Hughes Shadowed Souls Roc Nov.
Clark, D. Nolan Forsaken Skies Orbit: Hachette Sept.
Cogman, Genevieve The Masked City Roc Sept.
Cogman, Genevieve The Burning Page Roc Dec.
DeVor, Danielle Sorrow’s Edge City Owl Oct.
Dietz, William C. Into the Guns Ace Oct.
Duncan, Patrick Sheane Dracula vs. Hitler Inkshares Oct.
Dunstall, S.K. Confluence Ace Nov.
Durst, Sarah Beth The Queen of Blood Harper Voyager Sept.
Dyer, Thoraiya Crossroads of Canopy Tor Jan. 2017
Ford, Rhys Mad Lizard Mambo DSP Sept.
Foster, Amy S. The Rift Uprising Harper Voyager Oct.
Gladstone, Max Bookburners Saga: S. & S. Jan. 2017
Grant, Mira Feedback Orbit: Hachette Oct.
Hearn, Lian Lord of the Darkwood Farrar Aug.
Hunter, Faith Blood of the Earth Roc Aug.
Hurley, Kameron The Stars Are Legion Saga: S. & S. Jan. 2017
Johansen, K.V. Gods of Nabban Pyr: Prometheus Sept.
Koike, Mariko The Graveyard Apartment Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s Oct.
Kowall, Mary Robinette Ghost Talkers Tor Aug.
Laine, Susan Skyships over Innsmouth DSP Aug.
Lee, C.B. Not Your Sidekick Duet: Interlude Sept.
Leigh, Rachel Davidson Hold Duet: Interlude Oct.
Linville, Zac Welcome to Deadland Inkshares Aug.
Liu Cixin Death’s End Tor Sept.
Liu, Ken, ed. & tr. Invisible Planets Tor Nov.
Liu, Ken The Wall of Storms Saga: S. & S. Oct.
McIntosh, Will Faller Tor Oct.
McPheeters, Sam Exploded View Talos Oct.
Marillier, Juliet Den of Wolves Roc Nov.
Newman, Emma After Atlas Roc Nov.
Older, Daniel José Battle Hill Bolero Roc Jan. 2017
Panzo, Will The Burning Isle Ace Nov.
Parisien, Dominik & Navah Wolfe, eds. The Starlit Wood Saga: S. & S. Oct.
Post, Andrew Rusted Heroes Medallion Sept.
Priest, Cherie The Family Plot Tor Nov.
Roberson, Chris Firewalk Night Shade Oct.
Russell, E.J. Wolf’s Clothing Riptide Oct.
Shawl, Nisi Everfair Tor Sept.
Squailia, Gabriel Viscera Talos Oct.
Tchaikovsky, Adrian Guns of the Dawn Pan Macmillan Nov.
Torrens, C.M. The Alpha’s Weave DSP Oct.
Wagers, K.B. Behind the Throne Orbit: Hachette Aug.
Wagers, K.B. After the Crown Orbit: Hachette Dec.
Weber, David Shadow of Victory Baen Nov.
Wendig, Chuck Invasive Harper Voyager Aug.
Wilde, Fran Cloudbound Tor Sept.
Williams, Tad The Heart of What Was Lost DAW Jan.
Willis, Connie Crosstalk Del Rey: Ballantine Oct.

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