Well, it's that time of year again when we slow down a bit and enjoy the annual rituals of family gatherings, joyful celebration and feasts, and (hopefully) sneaking in some extra reading time. It's also a time of potential stress as the appreciation that motivates the gift-giving tradition slowly gives way to the panic over figuring out what to get family and friends. There's no need to worry if the special people in your life are fans of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Here's a roundup of really cool books you can add to your holiday shopping list. Follow this handy guide and you'll make this a holiday season to remember.
FOR THE BOOK SNOB
A Book Snob is someone who is very particular about the books they like to read and own. They treat books with a higher level of respect than their crazy uncle. I don't mean that as an insult. (Well, except maybe to crazy uncles.) A Book Snob is just someone who feels they have a refined taste and that a book is more than just a story; it's a cherished object. If you want to impress a Book Snob, you'll want to know about a book publisher who is equally particular about the books they publish. The Folio Society is that publisher. For more than seven decades they've been publishing definitive editions of literary classics. Their impressive selection of science fiction books is part of that effort. A brand-new Christmas Collection includes a couple of beauties that continue the tradition of creating high-quality editions of stories people love.
First is a collector's edition of Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. It's about two boy geniuses named Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay. In 1939 young Joe moves out of the shadow cast by Adolf Hitler in Europe to live with his comics-loving cousin Sammy in the U.S. Together, the two hopeful youngsters create a comic book hero called the Escapist who embodies the ideals of freedom and peace that seems to be waning in a war-torn world. This compelling novel is the both the story of their lives in the comics industry and of America itself. Folio's handsome volume features perfectly fitting illustrations by comics artist Chris Samnee and includes an introduction by author Michael Moorcock. Chabon's masterpiece is likened to the Great American Novel and this brand-new edition, sporting a die-cut slipcase, gives it the treatment it deserves.
Also available is Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein's military science fiction classic. As mankind is embroiled in a life-and-death struggle with insect-like aliens called the Arachnids (or, colloquially, Bugs), a young hero named Johnnie Rico steps up to fight for the cause and lands in the Mobile Infantry, right at the front line. He's also fighting for the right to vote because in this future, the ability to vote is earned the hard way. Starship Troopers was fairly controversial for the time it was first published (1959) and it remains so today. This upscale edition of Heinlein's enduring classic, wonderfully illustrated for the first time by Stephen Hickman and sporting gold foil page edges, comes with a fascinating introduction by Joe Haldeman (war veteran and author of another military sf classic The Forever War) who shares his own experience with war. This gorgeous slip-cased edition is sure to satisfy any book snob.
FOR THE COMPLETIST
I'm sure you know someone as meticulous as I am; someone who absolutely must have the complete run of some book series that they love. If you have someone like that on your gift list, this will help: Check out The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition by Ursula K. Le Guin and illustrated by Charles Vess. Every bit of Le Guin's cherished fantasy series, Earthsea, is collected here to commemorate 50 years since it was first published. Within its one thousand pages are all five Earthsea novels, the collection of stories Tales from Earthsea, as well as other Earthsea stories never before collected together—including a never-before-printed new Earthsea short story. But wait, there's more! It also includes non-fictional material about the series. Icing on this already-tasty cake: fifty fabulous illustrations by award-winning artists Charles Vess, whose imagery adds to the richness of Le Guin's magical tales.
FOR THE ART LOVER
Do you know how really good book cover art stokes your interest in reading? Well, imagine that excitement for every single one of the 300 pages of Spectrum 25: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art. Spectrum is an annual art book series dedicated to showcasing fantastic-themed art—that's art featuring elements of science fiction, fantasy, horror and anything else not so easily categorized—from contemporary artists. This year, Spectrum celebrates 25 years of outstanding works of art with Spectrum 25 edited by John Fleskes. The consistently jaw-dropping artwork is presented in sections such as advertising, books, comics, concept art, and three-dimensional works. Each of these pieces was hand-picked as the best by a panel of expert judges. As readers turn each page, they are whisked away to new lands of adventure and imagination. The sheer breadth of the artwork—in terms of content, style and tone—is simply amazing. Most of the pieces tell a story and offer layers of elements that reward repeated, lingering viewings. If you know someone who is visually-oriented, you cannot go wrong with this beautiful book.
FOR THE ROLE-PLAYING GAMER
For the RPG lover on your wish list, don't bother rolling the 10-sided dice to decide what to get. There's really only one choice here. The granddaddy of all role-playing games, Dungeons and Dragons, gets some long-overdue attention in the copiously illustrated book Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson and Sam Witwer. This lavish and comprehensive walk through the history of the RPG king weighs a hefty five pounds and is chock full of D&D-related art—a whopping 700 pieces, much of it rare. Oh, and if you can make it past the attractive eye candy, it's also the story of the evolution of Dungeons and Dragons and its influence in pop culture. If this book screams the name of someone on your gift list, know there's also a "Special Edition, Boxed Book & Ephemera Set" which includes a handy book box that holds the book, ten posters of classic D&D art, and other ephemera like a pamphlet-sized, unpublished original version of an infamous adventure module called "Tomb of Horrors" written by D&D co-creator Gary Gygax. TLDR: This book is a treasure.
FOR THE ACADEMIC WHO KNOWS THE LITERARY IMPORTANCE OF FRANKENSTEIN
Two hundred years ago, Mary Shelley published a novel that lays claim to being a prototype of both science fiction and horror. On this anniversary of the seminal novel Frankenstein, two books are available that will quench the thirst of genre academics and fans.
The first is It's Alive! A Visual History of Frankenstein by Elizabeth Campbell Denlinger, who by day is curator of the exhibition on Frankenstein with the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City. Think of this book as a portable version of that exhibition. It covers Mary Shelley's life, the culture that made it possible for her to write Frankenstein, and how the story has persevered throughout time and hundreds of adaptations, retellings and parodies since its first appearance in 1818. It also discusses the numerous themes presented in the story that make it so everlasting: good vs. evil, man vs. nature, blind ambition, the value we place on beauty, etc. Accompanied by numerous illustrations and photographs, It's Alive is the next best thing to being at the exhibit.
Also available is Frankenstein and Its Classics: The Modern Prometheus from Antiquity to Science Fiction edited by Jesse Weiner, Benjamin Eldon Stevens and Brett M. Rogers, a collection of a dozen essays which aim to show how Shelley's lasting novel draws from ancient Greek and Roman literature, history, philosophy, and myth. These interesting essays discuss not just the classic novel, but also some its many offspring adaptations. It uses them as a springboard into relevant modern issues like bioengineering and artificial intelligence. This is the sustenance of the reader who likes to deep-dive into literature.
FOR THE POP CULTURE FAN
It's hard to pigeonhole fantasy artist William Stout because he's worked across so many industries producing a diverse body of work. The new retrospective coffee table book, Fantastic Worlds: The Art of William Stout by Ed Leimbacher, avoids even trying. And why should it, when Stout has been such a recognizable and influential artist in comic books, posters, films, music and other pop culture media? This massive book boasts having more than 500 illustrations, some of which are featured on fold-out pages. Some of the content here is mainstream artwork, but the majority of could easily be described as fantastical and weird. Stout's specialty—paleontological art—is sufficiently represented; you'll find lots of illustrations of dinosaurs and other creatures that somehow manage to stay unique. The entire variety of pieces range from serious to whimsical. (His 2005 illustration of King Kong, one of several, is particularly smile-inducing and reminds me of watching the monster films of my youth.) There more than art here to please the pop culture fan. Throughout the book is the interesting story of Stout's life and career, with lots of fascinating facts that give individual pieces a backstory of their own.
FOR THE FAN OF FANTASY AND HORROR
Last year's gift guide included the fabulous visual reference guide The Astounding Illustrated History of Science Fiction. This year, there's a sister volume called The Astounding Illustrated History of Fantasy & Horror edited by Roger Luckhurst, Mike Ashely, Michael Kerrigan, Matt Cardin, Dave Golder, Russ Thorne and Rosie Fletcher. Just as the title promises, this is an illustration-heavy guide to all things fantasy and horror related. By tracing the genres from their roots in Gothic literature, the book serves as a timeline of its evolution. (Indeed, the book even includes summarized timelines of significant events from 1595 through 2020.) with its copious amounts of examples, readers are sure to enjoy the nostalgia of the previously-consumed and the excitement of finding new recommendations. "Fantasy and horror invite us to explore the furthest reaches of the imagination" claims the book flap. So does this handsome volume, which successfully serves up a recipe for something that's compelling, interesting, educational and fun.
FOR THE FLEDGLING SCIENCE FICTION FAN
If you're a geek and a parent (like me), chances are you would like your younger ones to grow up just as geeky. A great way to start them down that road is with Beyond the Sixth Extinction: A Post-Apocalyptic Pop-Up by paper engineer Shawn Sheehy and illustrator Jordi Solano. It's designed as a field guide for a biologist in the year 4847. By then, mankind has caused a sixth wave of extinction that has nearly wiped itself out and new species of creatures emerge from the wreckage in and around the city once known as Chicago. The book includes lots of "Wow!" factor via a series of elaborate pop-ups showcasing each new species in this strange new world, each of which is followed by more details about how it survives in the ruins of mankind. The book is aimed at stoking scientific curiosity and does a great job doing just that. You can see some of these interesting designs on display in this virtual book video.
FOR THE ALTERNATE HISTORY BUFF
Howling at the Moon, by accomplished digital artist Jakub Rozalski, is more of an experience than an art book as readers will be instantly transported to the imaginary alternate history landscapes conceived by the artist. Rozalski combines serene, pastoral rural landscapes with creatures of fantasy or, more often, with (usually huge) high-tech elements like mecha, robots and ships. The combination of history and folklore mixed with more modern technology clashes in the best way possible…resulting in scenes that are at once strange, frightening and entirely believable. The book is divided into sections, each one depicting another alternate world or set of illustrations with a similar theme. For example, there's a group of images based on an alternate 1920 called 1920+ and a selection of images built around an alternate World War II. Augmented with text in which readers can learn some background information on the concepts behind the images, Howling at the Moon is a book you'll want to keep within easy reach.
THE PERFECT STOCKING STUFFER
What kind of book makes good stocking stuffer? A small one. What kind of book makes a memorable gift? A fun one! That's why How to Slay the Buffy Way: Badass Buffy Attitude and Killer Advice is a great stocking stuffer. This cute book collects a bunch of sage wisdom and advice heard on the popular television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These words of empowerment go a long way, especially when applied to homework, mean girls, young love, and death. Included are the best lines and iconic scenes from the cult television hit which are just as true today as when they were first uttered twenty years ago.
Hopefully you found something for the people on your gift list. (And if you found something for yourself, go ahead and indulge. I won't tell.) But if you still haven't found that perfect gift, tune in next week for Part 2!