It’s that time of year again—time for a million “most anticipated books of the next year” lists to proliferate through the internet. I had a lot of fun writing one of my own for you guys last year—and I even managed to read and/or purchase at least half of the books on it! Before we get started with this year’s list, however, I want to highlight a few books published in the second half of 2019 that I wasn’t even aware were coming when I wrote last year’s most anticipated list. I haven’t read any of them yet (though I have copies of a couple) but they’re all very exciting.
- And Go Like This by John Crowley – A collection of short stories from the incomparable Crowley, whose 1981 novel Little, Big is an essential work of modern fantasy that far too few people have read.
- Deeplight by Frances Hardinge – Easily the best YA fantasy writer working today, Hardinge has set most of her recent novels in fantasized historical periods, from the inter-war period to the English Civil War. Her latest, however, is a return to the fantastic worldbuilding she’s so excellent at. I have a copy and I can’t wait to read it.
- The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox – Kiwi author Knox tends to range across genres. She’s written YA, romantic fantasy, vampire novels, and Stephen King-esque horror. Her latest is described as “an epic fantasy, intimate in tone”, about an archivist whose troubled past comes back to haunt her.
- …and Other Disasters by Malka Older – A first short story collection from the author of the Centennal Cycle. I’ve recommended one of the Older’s short stories, “Tear Tracks”, in a previous post, and I can’t wait to see what else she has in store in this format.
- Mary Toft; Or, The Rabbit Queen by Dexter Palmer – Palmer’s last novel, Version Control, was a twisty, endlessly surprising work of near-future SF. He’s followed it up with a historical novel about an 18th century woman who gave birth to seventeen rabbits. Sounds weird, but I’m in.
- Body Tourists by Jane Rogers – Rogers’s The Testament of Jessie Lamb, which won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2012, was a disturbing tale about a young woman growing up in a world where pregnancy has become fatal. Her latest sounds similarly SFnal and creepy, about a technology that allows the rich and old to inhabit the bodies of the poor and young.
- Oligarchy by Scarlett Thomas – It’s a bit surprising that a new book by Thomas—whose 2006 novel The End of Mr. Y was a cerebral crossover hit—has been greeted with so little fanfare. Her new novel is about secrets and murder at a posh girls’ private school, which sounds like entirely my thing.
Also, before we get into the list proper, a couple of things that don’t quite fit into it, but which I’m nevertheless really looking forward to. First, the fifth and concluding chapter of the weird, atmospheric game Kentucky Route Zero is finally coming at the end of this month. Combining meditations on the failing fortunes of the Rust Belt with otherworldly surrealism, Kentucky Route Zero was an early and excellent entry in the genre of arty walking simulators, and I’m thrilled that its story will finally come to an end.
Second, next month Tor will launch its Tor Essentials line, a series of reprints of relatively recent novels that have fallen by the wayside and are in need of renewed attention. You may have read this article about John M. Ford, a quintessential writer’s writer within the American SF community whose early death left his literary estate in limbo—and almost entirely out of print—for more than a decade. Tor Essentials will republish Ford’s fantasy masterpiece The Dragon Waiting in September, with an introduction by Scott Lynch. And next month they’ll be coming out with an omnibus edition of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Three Californias trilogy, with an introduction by Francis Spufford.
And now, the books I’m most looking forward to reading in 2020 (or whenever I get around to it):
- Agency by William Gibson – The scuttlebutt about this novel is that Gibson has been stymied in its writing because reality—and particularly a certain orange, rapist president—had gotten in the way of its plot. I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty intriguing logline to me, and I’m curious to see how he’s untangled that knot.
- Made in Saturn by Rita Indiana – Dominican writer Indiana’s novella Tentacle was a Caribbean-set climate apocalypse with hints of Heinlein’s “All You Zombies”. Her latest to be translated into English sounds less SFnal but no less weird—it’s a reflection on Latin America’s many revolutions and their aftermath, as filtered through the myth of the titan Saturn.
- Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu – The author of cerebral science fiction like the time travel novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Yu’s latest novel draws more on his experiences in Hollywood (he is a writer on Westworld), in a surreal take on the fortunes of Asian actors.
- Machines in the Head: Selected Stories by Anna Kavan – Kavan, an experimental mid-20th century British writer, dabbled in surrealism and cross-genre work. One of the first reviews I ever wrote was of reprint editions of two of her novels. Now NYRB Classics is reprinting some of her short fiction, which is a great opportunity to get further acquainted.
- The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin – Expanding her short story, “The City Born Great”, Jemisin makes her first novel-length foray into urban fantasy. The follow-up to her three Hugo wins for the Broken Earth trilogy is a story about individuals who are the living embodiment of cities, and must band together to fight off gentrification and the hollowing-out of urban spaces.
- The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel – Probably the most anticipated book of the year, and by some margin. Mantel finally delivers the conclusion to her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, with a novel that will cover Cromwell’s fall from grace in the court of Henry VIII.
- Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin – I wasn’t quite as blown away by Schweblin’s novella Fever Dream as a lot of people were, but even I couldn’t deny that she has a way with words and with weird, tense situations. I’m hoping that this latest novel will click with me the way that her previous work has with so many others.
- The Wall by Gautam Bhatia – I know Gautam as a deeply insightful critic, as well as the articles editor at Strange Horizons. He’s also a constitutional lawyer, and now an SF author. The Wall sounds like a compelling planetary romance, about a city bounded by a millennia-old wall and the people trying to figure out where it came from and what it’s for.
- A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet – I’ve been a fan of Millet since reading her atomic bomb novel Oh Pure and Radiant Heart more than a decade ago. A Children’s Bible sounds like a cross between post-apocalypse and a coming of age novel about bored, overprivileged and undersupervised children.
- Death in Her Hands by Otessa Moshfegh – Moshfegh is a writer that I keep coming back to obsessively even though her books often leave me feeling infuriated. Her latest, about a woman who discovers a confession to a murder and pursues it, without knowing if someone has even been killed, sounds just as irresistible as her previous novels, and will no doubt be just as weird.
- The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho – Besides writing one of my favorite short story collections of the last decade, Cho has been having a blast writing fantasized Regency romances (most recently The True Queen). Now she’s got a novella described as a “found family wuxia fantasy”.
- Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee – After the conclusion of his Hexarchate trilogy, Lee switches over to fantasy with this new novel. But to be honest, the preoccupations of this new story sound pretty familiar. Once again, there’s an all-powerful, ever-expanding empire whose power is rooted in arcane abilities, and a single individual whose loyalties are tested. That was a winning formula before, so I’m already intrigued.
- Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell – Truth be told, I still haven’t read Mitchell’s two previous novels, The Bone Clocks and Slade House. But Cloud Atlas was one of the novels that opened my eyes to the possibilities of literary fiction, so I’ve always had a soft spot him. A new novel—which is apparently a biopic of a fictional punk rock band—is thus a cause for celebration, whenever I get around to it.
- Afterland by Lauren Beukes – South African writer Beukes returns with another novel that straddles the divide between science fiction and thriller. Flipping the more common approach of gendercide stories, Afterland imagines a future in which most men have died in a plague, forcing the heroine to protect her young son.
- The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M. John Harrison – Harrison’s first novel since the conclusion of the Kefahuchi Tract trilogy in 2012 (he published a short story collection in 2017). From the description, this sounds like yet another combination of truly out-there SF and middle class ennui.
- Sisters by Daisy Johnson – After a huge splash with the Booker-nominated (and delightful) Everything Under, Johnson is back with another novel about, well, sisters who move to a creepy old house and find their bond threatened.
- Piranesi by Susannah Clarke – I think most people had, like myself, assumed that this book would never exist, and that Clarke, the author of the uncategorizable Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, had only one novel in her. I don’t even know that much about this new book, but I know I’m there.
- D by Michel Faber – The author of The Crimson Petal and the White and Under the Skin returns with a novel described as “a celebration of the 150th anniversary of Charles Dickens’s birth”, but which is also about a world in which the letter D disappears, and the protagonist must travel to an alternate world to retrieve it.
- My Favorite Thing is Monsters, Vol. 2 by Emil Ferris – Look, eventually this will happen. The concluding volume of Ferris’s magnificent graphic opus has had its publication date pushed back for three years running, but I hold out hope that maybe this year will be the one we actually get it. Whenever it arrives, it’ll be worth the wait.
- Red Pill by Hari Kunzru – Following up the creepy and strongly political ghost story White Tears with another wonderfully-titled novel, whose protagonist begins to suspect that the creator of a COPS–like show is brainwashing his viewers into far-right views.
- Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi – Homegoing, Gyasi’s debut novel, was a brilliant multigenerational examination of the effects of the slave trade on both the people stolen away by it, and the ones left behind in Africa. This new novel is about Ghanian immigrants in the US.
- The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi – Emezi’s first novel, Freshwater, drew on Nigerian myths and religion to give new context to its heroine’s personal journey of growth and self-knowledge. Their new novel sounds like it takes a similar approach to the story of the life and death of its title character.