Nomads, Dave Hutchinson (NewCon Press 978-1-912950-00-3, £15.99, 84pp, hc) February 2019. Cover by Peter Holinghurst. Morpho, Philip Palmer (NewCon Press 978-1-912950-01-0, £15.99, 117pp, hc) February 2019. Cover by Peter Holinghurst. The Man Who Would Be Kling, Adam Roberts (NewCon Press 978-1-912950-04-1, £15.99, 57pp, hc) March 2019. Cover by Peter Holinghurst. Macsen Against the Jugger, Simon Morden (NewCon Press 978-1-912950-07-2, £15.99, 63pp, hc) March 2019. Cover by ...Read MoreRead more
Dark Constellations, Pola Oloixarac (Soho Press 978-1-61695-923-4, $26.00, 216pp, hc) April 2019.
Pola Oloixarac’s second novel, Dark Constellation, translated by Roy Kesey, spans a one-hundred-forty-year period, beginning in 1882. Plant biologist Niklas Bruun is the youngest member of an expedition charting the archipelago of Juba and specifically the volcanic crater of Famara. There he discovers a plant, Crissia pallida, whose properties will, enigmatically, “remain all but unknown until ...Read MoreRead more
The Book of Flora, Meg Elison (47North 978-1-54204-209-3, $14.95, 322pp, tp) April 2019.
Meg Elison’s The Book of Flora is the final novel of a trilogy that began with The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, one of my favourite novels of 2014 and a deserved winner of the Philip K. Dick Award. A plague of post-apocalyptic proportions has wiped out most of humanity, but particularly mothers and newborns. ...Read MoreRead more
The Lesson, Cadwell Turnbull (Blackstone Publishing 978-1538584644, $26.99, 290pp, hc) June 2019.
Cadwell Turnbull’s debut, The Lesson, has been billed as one of the first science fiction novels set in the Virgin Islands. While this is something to cheer about, what’s more important, especially in the context of the #ownvoices movement, is that Turnbull was raised in the Caribbean in a family that lived there for generations. This ...Read MoreRead more
Golden State, Ben H. Winters (Mulholland Books 978-0-31650-541-3, $28.00, 336pp, hc) January 2019.
Ben H. Winters’s new novel the Golden State begins with a lovely bit of cognitive dissonance:
This is a novel. All the words of it are true.
Not only does this pronouncement wrong-foot the reader, echoing Orwell’s clocks striking 13 on a cold April day, but it also establishes a tension between fact and fiction that ...Read MoreRead more
We Cast a Shadow, Maurice Carlos Ruffin (One World 978-0-52550-906-6, $27.00, 336pp, hc) January 2019.
The opening chapter of Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s debut novel, We Cast a Shadow, left me gobsmacked. Our narrator – he tells us his name doesn’t matter – is an associate at a high-priced law firm. At the annual party, he dresses as a Zulu Chief and dances for the managing shareholders, “flapping his ...Read MoreRead more
Famous Men Who Never Lived, K Chess (Tin House Books 978-1947793248, $24.95, 324pp, hc) March 2019.
Over the last couple of years, there’s been a wave of debut authors from outside the field putting a fresh twist on genre staples. In An Unkindness of Ghosts, Rivers Solomon explored slavery, race, and gender on a generation starship; Ling Ma’s Severance employed an apocalyptic killer-flu to critique and satirise late-stage ...Read MoreRead more
The Rosewater Insurrection, Tade Thompson (Orbit 978-0-316-44908-3, $15.99, 378pp, tp) March 2019.
Tade Thompson’s wildly original first novel Rosewater, with its political savvy, its problematic main character, its inventive notion of alien contact, and its colorful setting of the improvised city of Rosewater – which grew up around an alien dome near Lagos, Nigeria – also seemed to challenge some readers with its shifting timelines and questions of ...Read MoreRead more
Luna: Moon Rising, Ian McDonald (Tor 978-0765391476, $29.99, 368pp, hc) March 2019.
I’ve long advocated to anyone who’ll listen (generally myself in the shower) that books in a trilogy or multi-volume series need to begin with a recap of the previous novel. The expectation that I’ll either remember the many plot threads and character arcs or reread the previous instalments is wishful thinking given my sketchy middle-aged memory and ...Read MoreRead more
Mouthful of Birds, Samanta Schweblin (Riverhead 978-0399184628, $26.00, 240pp, hc) January 2019.
I distinctly remember reading Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream during my kid’s swimming lessons at the local public pool. I know, I know; I should have been applauding their achievements, but from the opening page, there’s an intensity to the prose that makes it impossible to look away. A woman lies dying in a hospital bed, a small ...Read MoreRead more
King of Joy, Richard Chiem (Soft Skull 978-1593763091, $15.95, 208pp, tp) March 2019.
I’m always on the lookout for authors who play on the fringes of the genre. When I saw the cover of Richard Chiem’s debut novel, King of Joy – the pixelated face of a woman, her face frozen in a dull sort of ecstasy – I thought I was onto something. The back cover copy excited ...Read MoreRead more
Mars, Asja Bakic (The Feminist Press 978-1-936-93248-1, $16.95, 167pp, tp) March 2019.
I generally don’t draw up New Year’s resolutions (I know how lazy I am), but in 2019 I’m making a concerted effort to read and review more speculative fiction in translation. The first cab off the rank is Mars, a collection of stories by the Bosnian writer, poet, and translator Asja Bakic. Originally released by the ...Read MoreRead more
The Migration, Helen Marshall (Random House Canada 978-0-735-27262-0, C$24.99, 304pp, tp) March 2019. (Titan 978-1789091342, £8.99, 288pp, tp) March 2019.
I became aware of Helen Marshall through her short fiction, particularly her stunning debut collection Hair Side, Flesh Side. The stories, laid out like the body of an angel (thanks to Kirstyn McDermott for pointing that out to me), pull off the difficult feat of combining the emotionally ...Read MoreRead more
Infinite Detail, Tim Maughan (MCD x FSG Originals 978-0-374-17541-2, $16.00, 384pp, tp) March 2019.
Tim Maughan first came to my attention with his 2011 collection Paintwork. The slim book featured three stories involving bleeding-edge technologies like augmented reality told from an outsider’s perspective: a street artist in Bristol, gamers in Cuba, an out-of-work documentary film-maker. In 2016 Maughan wrote the short-film In the Robot Skies (directed by Liam ...Read MoreRead more
The Psychology of Time Travel, Kate Mascarenhas (Head of Zeus 978-1788540100, £14.99, 368pp, hc) August 2018. (Crooked Lane Books 978-1683319443, $26.99, 336pp, hc) February 2019.
I knew I was going to love Kate Mascarenhas’ debut novel, The Psychology of Time Travel, when, in the opening pages, a soon to be time-travelling bunny is given the name Patrick Troughton. The year is 1967 and four scientists, Barbara, Margaret, Grace, ...Read MoreRead more
Friday Black, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Mariner Books 978-1328911247, $14.99, 208pp, tp) October 2018.
In Lit Hub’s Ultimate Fall Books Preview, which aggregates recommendations made by “various online publications,” Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s debut collection, Friday Black, was listed alongside such heavyweights as Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered, Kate Atkinson’s Transcription, and Michelle Obama’s Becoming as one of the season’s most anticipated books. The hype reminded me of another debut ...Read MoreRead more
Unholy Land, Lavie Tidhar (Tachyon Publications 978-1616963040, $15.95, 288pp, tp) October 2018.
In 1938 (or possibly 1939) there was a plan to settle European Jews facing rising anti-semitism in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. It never eventuated. More than a century prior, and a good 80 years before the establishment of modern-day Zionism, Mordechai Manuel Noah attempted to establish a Jewish State, called Ararat, in Grand Island NY. ...Read MoreRead more
I Am the River, T.E. Grau (Lethe Press 978-1590214459, $15.00, 220pp, tp) October 2018.
The decision of the Man Booker judges to award Anna Burns’s stream of consciousness novel Milkman with the top prize for 2018 triggered a fresh bout of navel-gazing amongst reviewers and critics about the accessibility of literary fiction. In a fantastic, erudite article for The Guardian (“Pretentious, impenetrable, hard work… better? Why we need difficult ...Read MoreRead more
Nothing in 2018 can possibly compare to the breadth of imagination, range of tone, and unconventional spelling present in Donald Trump’s tweets. His early morning tantrums proved to be the most riveting, most extraordinary, most majestic fiction I read this year. It says something about authors around the world that when faced with Trump’s prodigious talent they never dropped their heads; they continued to write and publish the most astonishing ...Read MoreRead more
The Best of the Best Horror of the Year: 10 Years of Essential Short Horror Fiction, Ellen Datlow, ed. (Night Shade Books 978-1597809832, $17.99, 432pp, tp) October 2018.
When arguably the finest editor of horror fiction decides to do a ten-year retrospective of the genre you feel obligated as a critic to make pronouncements about the health of the field and how it’s changed (for the better or worse) ...Read MoreRead more
Occupy Me, Tricia Sullivan (Gollancz 978-1473212978, £8.99, 288pp, tp) November 2016. (Titan 978-1473212978, $13.99) September 2018.
I had planned to pick up Tricia Sullivan’s Occupy Me two years back when it was first published in the UK. I never got around to it. When the novel was shortlisted for the 2017 Arthur C. Clarke award, I made serious plans to read it with the rest of the nominees. I ...Read MoreRead more
The Third Hotel, Laura van den Berg (Farrar, Straus, Giroux 978-0374168353, $26.00, 212pp, hc) August 2018.
Laura van den Berg’s second novel, The Third Hotel, takes place in Havana, Cuba where Clare is attending the annual Festival of New Latin American Cinema. She’s there on behalf of her husband, Richard, who intended to be at the festival until he was unexpectedly killed in a hit and run incident. ...Read MoreRead more
Severance, Ling Ma (Farrar, Straus, Giroux 978-0374261597, $26.00, 304pp, hc) August 2018.
I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve read that involve the flu wiping out most of humanity. The granddaddy of these is undoubtedly Stephen King’s The Stand, but recently we’ve had novels from Emily Mandel (Station Eleven), Meg Elison (The Book of the Unnamed Midwife and its sequels), and Margaret Atwood (The ...Read MoreRead more
By the Pricking of Her Thumb, Adam Roberts (Gollancz 978-1473221499, £16.99, 400pp, hc) August 2018.
Like last year’s The Real-Town Murders, the sequel to Adam Robert’s near-future crime series, By the Pricking of Her Thumb, begins with an impossible murder. Where the previous novel featured a devilish and high-tech spin on the locked room mystery, this time the bewildering homicide involves a dead woman with a needle ...Read MoreRead more
We Sold Our Souls, Grady Hendrix (Quirk Books 978-1683690122, $24.99, 336pp, hc) September 2018.
I first fell in love with Grady Hendrix’s critical work with his laugh-till-you-cry-recaps of each godawful episode of Under the Dome for Tor.com. Those summaries were the only reason I persevered with the show (and I still couldn’t make it to the bitter end). I was on-board for his ambitious Stephen King reread (also for ...Read MoreRead more
My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh (Penguin Press 978-0525522119, $26.00, 304pp, hc) July 2018.
I’m sure if it was feasible a number of us would jump at the idea of hibernating for an entire year. Anything to avoid the ongoing horror show currently masquerading as politics. It’s certainly the plan of the unnamed protagonist in Ottessa Moshfegh’s new novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Except ...Read MoreRead more
Suspended in Dusk II, Simon Dewar, ed. (Grey Matter Press 978-1940658971, $13.95, 257pp, tp) July 2018.
It’s shocking that I can’t remember the last time I read a horror anthology. Back in the day – in my late teens and early twenties – horror anthologies were my bread and butter. Whether it was Dark Forces, Prime Evil, Splatterpunks: Extreme Horror (volume 1 and 2), Midnight Graffiti, ...Read MoreRead more
Chercher La Femme, L. Timmel Duchamp (Aqueduct Press 978-1619761476, $19.00, 320pp, tp) August 2018.
L. Timmel Duchamp’s eighth novel, Chercher La Femme, might have been more than 20 years in the making, involving numerous re-writes and multiple critiques, but I can report that the final product justifies the effort.
The book’s premise is simple enough. A rescue mission is sent from Earth to the far-off world of La ...Read MoreRead more
The Emissary, Yoko Tawada (New Directions 978-0811227629, $14.95, 138pp, tp) April 2018. As The Last Children of Tokyo, Yoko Tawada (Portobello Books 978-1846276705, £9.99 144pp, tp) June 2018.
The unsettling premise of Yoko Tawada’s short novel The Last Children of Tokyo (published as The Emissary in the US), translated by Margaret Mitsutani, is that the adults of Japan are living longer while the children are dying before they ...Read MoreRead more
Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi (Grove Press 978-0802127358, $24.00, 229pp, hc) February 2018.
Akwaeke Emezi’s debut novel Freshwater is a book that refuses to be pigeon-holed into a literary or genre category. The back-cover copy, with its talk of alternate selves and splintered personalities, suggests the story of a young woman struggling with a dissociative identity disorder. However, the opening chapter’s account of spirits possessing the body of an infant bears ...Read MoreRead more
Condomnauts, Yoss; translated by David Frye (Restless Books 978-1632061867, $16.99, 208pp, tp) July 2018.
The instant I saw the cover of Yoss’s Condomnauts on Twitter I knew I was going to read it. Cherry red lips caught in a moment of ecstasy; the teeth and tongue replaced by a starfield. It’s a cover, matched with a lurid title, that promises alien sex, not a subgenre I generally gravitate toward ...Read MoreRead more
The Dragon’s Child, Janeen Webb (PS Publishing 978-1-786363-19-0, £15.00, 208pp, hc) May 2018.
Janeen Webb’s novella The Dragon’s Child opens with Lady Feng, a wealthy Hong Kong businesswoman, deciding to “stretch her claws” on the first day of Chinese New Year (The Year of the Dragon). Assuming her true dragon form, Lady Feng circles a remote village where she spies a tasty morsel of meat. It’s only after she ...Read MoreRead more