2011 offers a bumper crop of fantasy and science fiction—even Stephen King is in on the action with a recently announced time-travel epic about a teacher’s attempt to stop the JFK assassination that’s scheduled for this fall from Scribner.
Additionally, the year also promises the usual healthy dose of witches, vampires, werewolves, zombies and steampunk. For those looking for a change from the usual fare, here are some titles to keep in mind.
Read reviews of some of the other best sci-fi books that have emerged so far in 2011.
Among Others by Jo Walton
Jo Walton’s Among Others plays it both ways—it’s a fantasy about the redemptive powers of science fiction. Set in 1979-80, the novel is, says Walton, a “mythologisation of part of…[her] life.” A magical battle with her mother, an insane witch, damaged 15-year-old Morwenna’s leg and killed her twin sister Morganna. Placed in her estranged father’s care, Morwenna is forced to leave Wales and enter an English boarding school. Confused by the social rituals and afraid of facing her mother again, she finds comfort, strength and even friendship through the sf paperbacks she loves. All sf fans will instantly get what Morwenna is about, particularly the joy she experiences discovering new books and other people to talk to about them. (Tor, January)
The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Patrick Rothfuss burst upon the fantasy scene in 2007 with the international bestseller The Name of the Wind. The Wise Man’s Fear furthers the training, rivalries and romances of Kvothe, actor, musician, arcanist (magician) and assassin. “The Name of the Wind was the story of a young boy, but The Wise Man’s Fear is the story of a young man,” says Rothfuss. “There’s a big difference there.” Buying the book also supports a good cause—Rothfuss wants to use some of the proceeds to help actor Nathan Fillion buy the rights of the canceled sf TV series Firefly. (DAW, March)
Other Kingdoms by Richard Matheson
Even if you don’t know his name, you’ve likely seen the movie version of one of Richard Matheson’s iconic novels (The Incredible Shrinking Man, Somewhere in Time, I am Legend, etc.) or one of his classic Twilight Zone episodes. As his editor, Greg Cox, says, “Richard… [is] the most famous author in America who…[isn’t] a household name.” Like Somewhere in Time, Other Kingdoms is a star-crossed romance between two lovers from different worlds. In 1918, wounded American Army veteran Alex White takes up the curious legacy left him by a dying comrade, and finds himself in a charming English village whose woods are inhabited by a lovely but dangerous witch and the denizens of the Middle Kingdom, also known as faeries. It’s as accomplished and tragic as anything Matheson has ever written, and he’s not done yet. The author recently turned 85, and says Cox, has almost completed his next novel. (Tor, March)
The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
We’ve already given The Quantum Thief a starred review, calling it “wholly spellbinding: one of the most impressive debuts in years.” Thief Jean le Flambeur faces an eternity of virtual torture in Dilemma Prison unless he accepts a job from the enigmatic Mieli, who brings him to the mobile city of Oubliette on Mars, where, as it happens, le Flambeur has stashed some of his memories. As le Flambeur seeks his freedom and the return of his true self, a clever detective is seeking le Flambeur. Hannu Rajaniemi, a Finn living in Scotland, is clearly one of those disgustingly brilliant people whom you could hate if you didn’t admire him so much—at the age of 30, he has a doctorate in string theory, runs a think tank in Edinburgh that specializes in A.I., and has written a critically acclaimed novel in a language other than his native one. Definitely someone to watch. (Tor, May)
Embassytown by China Miéville
Those who favor the more literary end of the science-fiction spectrum always sit up and take notice when China Miéville publishes a book, which, thankfully for his fans, appears to occur yearly. Embassytown takes place in another of the author’s richly detailed locations—this time, it’s a far-future city on the planet of Arieka, shared uneasily by humans and its native species, the alien Hosts. The arrival of a new group of humans exposes just how, well, alien, the Hosts’ methods of thinking and communicating are; that profound difference leads to a peculiar sort of addiction, and ultimately, to civil breakdown within both species. (Del Rey, May)
Dancing With Bears by Michael Swanwick
Michael Swanwick joins Miéville at the literary end of speculative fiction (actually, he was there first). As such, Swanwick ruefully admits, “there’s been a perception that my books are good for you, like broccoli or calculus.” Therefore, his publisher would like to stress that Dancing With Bears is a fun read, a “swashbuckling adventure” set in a “Postutopian future,” where machines are myth but biological sciences have advanced beyond our wildest imaginings. In previous short story appearances, the con artists Darger and Surplus (a genetically modified dog) planned to target the Duke of Muscovy (Moscow), but somehow, they never quite managed to get to Russia. Their first novel begins with their arrival in Muscovy in the retinue of the Caliph of Baghdad’s ambassador. Unfortunately, their schemes are complicated by an incipient revolution as well as the perilous gift borne by the ambassador, the Pearls of Byzantium. (Night Shade, May)
A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin
George R.R. Martin recently announced that finally, he’s nearly done writing the oft-postponed A Dance With Dragons, book five in A Song of Ice and Fire, a massive, multi-stranded and marvelously cynical epic chronicling the battle for the Iron Throne of Westeros. Given that the book incorporates story threads cut from the previous volume when it grew too huge, readers will be especially happy to hear from characters that they haven’t heard from since book three, particularly Tyrion, the much-maligned dwarf falsely accused of murdering his royal nephew and who actually did kill his monstrous father during his escape from the dungeon, and Daenerys, a pretender to the throne of Westeros who’s set up shop on a distant island, where her dragons and former slave subjects are becoming dangerously restive. As the months tick down to July (with the assistance of a countdown clock on the author’s site), anticipation will only increase, particularly after HBO’s adaptation of book one, A Game of Thrones, debuts in April. (Bantam, July)
The Last Four Things by Paul Hoffman
English writer Paul Hoffman attracted notice from both sides of the pond with the first volume of his bleak alternate-history fantasy trilogy. The Left Hand of God followed the adventures of 15-year-old Thomas Cale, a supernaturally gifted tactician trained in all the arts of war by the Redeemers, priests bound on conquest. At the end of the book, we learned that the Redeemers don’t simply want to rule: they want to bring on the Apocalypse, and Cale is apparently destined to get things rolling. In volume two, The Last Four Things, the Redeemers’ plans continue, and the young man must decide if he will act in accordance with them. Cale is a strange mix of bruised innocence and pragmatic brutality; recently spurned by his noble lover, his opinion of humanity is probably not too high right now. He’s just so odd and so conflicted, and the story is written in such stark terms, it’s tough to know whether he’ll choose doom or salvation. (Dutton, August)
Reamde by Neal Stephenson
In the now-classic Snow Crash, Stephenson was one of the first people to explore social interactions in the virtual world. His latest, Reamde, evaluates the economic implications of virtual life; in particular, the practice of “gold farming,” whereby Chinese sweatshop employees play multiplayer online adventure games such as World of Warcraft with the purpose of collecting virtual gold and sundry other valuable objects, which are then sold for real money to wealthy Americans and Europeans anxious to advance in the game without doing all the grunt work. If that seems too fantastic to be real, consider that the New York Times Magazine covered this very topic in 2007. (HarperCollins, September)
The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin
N.K. Jemison recently picked up a Nebula nomination for her debut novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the first in a trilogy concerning a world—actually, a universe—pulled off-balance by the tempestuous loves and hates of a trio of gods, their divine and semi-divine children, and the humans whom they’ve anointed to rule. Book three in the series, The Kingdom of Gods, focuses on Sieh, the ancient trickster god-ling who has always found his power in manifesting as a child. Now, for some reason, he’s maturing, causing him to lose his powers and forcing him to face the problems of an adult, which, Jemisin says, include “love and betrayal, fractious parents, getting a job.” These new responsibilities fall on Sieh just as the entire social order of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms seems poised to collapse. Obviously, complications (and, no doubt, an incredibly gripping story) ensue. (Orbit, October)