This is the second of our posts about the books that would make great gifts for the holiday season. And, as before, we’re picking up on what others have said about them.
Raven Stratagem – Yoon Ha Lee
I adored Yoon Ha Lee’s debut novel Ninefox Gambit (2016), and it garnered a well-deserved Hugo Award nomination this year, so clearly other people adored it too. There’s always the question with sequels of whether they will live up to the first book in the trilogy. Happily, Raven Stratagem delivers more of Lee’s signature mixture of military matters and mathematics in spades. – Strange Horizons
The Hainish Novels and Stories – Ursula K. Le Guin
A year after their release of Ursula K. Le Guin’s complete Orsinia works, the Library of America has released a stunning two-volume set collecting the author’s most famous sci-fi works. The Hainish novels and stories do not unravel like a traditional series—the author even chafes at their common designation as a “cycle”—but they are, at least, connected by a shared universe, pieces and fragments of a shared history, and an ethos of exploration and compassion that is arguably the touchstone of Le Guin’s entire oeuvre. The Hainish worlds (including our own Earth, or Terra) were propagated millennia ago by the people of the planet Hain, and are now gradually reuniting under the interplanetary alliance of the Ekumen. From anarchist revolution to myth-inspired hero tales, the stories of the Hainish planets are as wide and variable as their inhabitants. And yet it was only a matter of time that they be collected in one place. – Tor.com
Austral – Paul McAuley
For me, the main effect of reading Austral is the creation of a feeling of melancholy, a sense of passing, of change – and not always for the good. It is engrossing and yet a little depressing, the old ideas of a bright future seemingly long gone. Gone are our shiny spaceships, instead we welcome JG Ballard’s world of physical and human decay. For a story that seems small in scale and nature, its cumulative effect is large. Austral is a surprisingly affecting story of our possible future. – SFF World
Luna: Wolf Moon – Ian McDonald
If New Moon stirred the lunar hornet’s nest, Wolf Moon is the fury of the unleashed insects. Life on the moon turned upside down by means not made directly apparent in New Moon, Wolf Moon kicks what was a fast pace into race mode. The volume of characters and settings at times almost overwhelming, McDonald pushes the limits of what the narrative this size can do in terms of plot capacity … Where many trilogy bridge novels do not make themselves fully necessary to the complete story arc, it’s impossible to say the same of Wolf Moon. – Speculiction
A Man of Shadows – Jeff Noon
Jeff Noon’s new novel, A Man of Shadows, takes place in a city split in half and divided into permanent day and permanent night. It’s a conceit straightforward enough to be gripping, but bizarre enough to tantalize — a resistance to circadian rhythm etched directly onto urban space. The chiaroscuro effects of the city’s lightscape are significant elements of the narrative, but the novel is also about time, and at its core is a familiar story about a gumshoe, a teenage runaway, and a serial killer. – Chicago Review of Books
New York 2140 – Kim Stanley Robinson
Amitav Ghosh recently asked: “Where is all the fiction about climate change?” New York 2140 makes you want to grab him by his lapels and tell him: “Here! here!” To be fair, his lament was that “serious” fiction is failing in its duty when it comes to addressing climate change. He exempts science fiction from his rebuke, but insists that the literary establishment disregards the genre. I’m not sure that’s true any more; SF is threaded everywhere through culture nowadays, and it would take an act of critical myopia to miss the fact that Robinson is one of the world’s finest working novelists, in any genre. And that’s the bottom line. New York 2140 is a towering novel about a genuinely grave threat to civilisation. – The Guardian
The Collapsing Empire – John Scalzi
John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire — whose title alone seems like an appallingly on-the-nose allegory for the state of the United States at this moment — is one of the most important revisionist hyperspace narratives to come along in some time. Scalzi, a master of science fictional parody and pastiche, has played with this problem before, unsettling the easy assumptions about hyperspace that characterized Golden Age science fiction. – LA Review of Books
Amatka – Karin Tidbeck
In a radical charge, Amatka speculates on two distinct ways that language might construct the world: as an ossified and necessarily limited bureaucratic operation of textual power or, more speculatively, as a fluid and perhaps even disturbing interchange of desire and material. The more that the fundamental relationship between language and materiality becomes a pronounced element of Amatka’s world, the more strange and self-possessed that world becomes, both narratively and in terms of its own fulfillment. Much of the story’s intensity is generated by the affective relationship that this material possesses and from the sparks that fly from characters’ changing understandings sludge. Everything seems to be made from this abject ooze. The full extent of this “everything” develop a line of speculative horror as its characters dance with understanding, sanity, and social acceptance. The commune’s political organization is not only material but epistemological as well. – Weird Fiction Review
Borne – Jeff VanderMeer
Compared with the Southern Reach Trilogy, which brings its readers, like its characters, to the threshold of the incomprehensible, “Borne” has a more conventional adventure plot. An epic confrontation will be forced, a quest undertaken, and secrets from the past unveiled, along with Borne’s true nature. The novel’s scope is of human dimensions, despite its nonhuman title character. But VanderMeer’s take on the postapocalyptic fantasy is not without subversive ambition. At its most regressive, the genre believes that we can truly become ourselves only when we are released from the constraints of a complex, denaturing society, when we’re allowed to live as we imagine our ancestors once did, and when we’re free to be who we really are underneath our overcivilized veneer. But in “Borne” the lawlessness of the city doesn’t provide survivors with a stage that has been cleared for heroic exploits. It’s merely Hobbesian: exhausting and degrading. The novel insists that to live in an age of gods and sorcerers is to know that you, a mere person, might be crushed by indifferent forces at a moment’s notice, then quickly forgotten. And that the best thing about human nature might just be its unwillingness to surrender to the worst side of itself. – New Yorker
The Book of Joan – Lidia Yuknavitch
Post-apocalyptic fiction too often pays lip service to serious problems like climate change while allowing the reader to walk away unscathed, cocooned in an ironic escapism and convinced that the impending disaster is remote. Not so with Lidia Yuknavitch’s brilliant and incendiary new novel, which speaks to the reader in raw, boldly honest terms. The Book of Joan has the same unflinching quality as earlier works by Josephine Saxton, Doris Lessing, Frank Herbert, Ursula K. Le Guin and J. G. Ballard. Yet it’s also radically new, full of maniacal invention and page-turning momentum. – New York Times
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.