Selected SF/F Previews for 12/2013

As part of an ongoing exercise, I’ve read the available Amazon previews of new SF/F linked in SFSignal’s December round-up, and I’ve chosen a few to highlight.

  • Isabel Greenberg, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth. Thoroughly charming fantasy Earth folklore in graphic novel form. I’ve already picked up a copy, because it’s that neat.
  • Ian Tregillis, Something More Than Night. In the future (at a point after weather satellites are no longer operational), an angel with an apparent fondness for noir fiction enigmatically narrates what he’s doing to handle the death of the archangel Gabriel. It’s a premise that wouldn’t normally appeal to me, but the writing in the preview is pretty solid.
  • George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois, Dangerous Women. The preview features stories by Joe Abercrombie and Megan Abbott, both of whom I like, so this has my attention even if anthology previews are a little tricky to judge.
  • Joseph Wallace, Invasive Species. Zoological thriller. The preview reminds me of a Michael Crichton novel and/or 1970s zoological horror flicks, which aren’t my favorite things, but it’s better written than most things out this month.
  • David Garnett, Lady into Fox. Originally published in 1922, this is a short novel I had never heard of about a man living with his wife after she has literally turned into a fox. The situation is apparently dealt with in a straightforwardly accepting way, sort of like Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (published in 1915) with less existential angst. Reviews suggest the gender dynamics and ultimate resolution of the story may be problematic, but the preview is both intriguing and well-written.

Notable SF/F of 2013

In 2012 and 2013, I tracked all the SF/F releases mentioned on SFSignal’s monthly round-ups of new books, and I gathered Goodreads scores for all of them and re-ranked them by the square of the score (expressed as a percentage) times the log of the number of people submitting ratings.

Defining SF/F for this purpose involved tons of purely subjective and terribly biased judgments, but the data suggested that either young adult and urban fantasy fiction are objectively better than SF/F that doesn’t qualify for those labels or else (far more likely) some selection bias or differences in their audiences’ judgment criteria cause the genres to be rated on different scales. So I tried to remove UF/YA, at least for this project. I removed sequels for the same reason. I also removed horror, new age, and mainstream allegorical fiction. And of course I removed reprints (though not translations or novels published earlier in the UK).

If the list of things I removed isn’t enough to make this project dubious, I should add that I’ve read half the books that popped up as notable for 2012, and I wouldn’t say this effort helped me in finding the ones I liked most–I’d have found them by other means anyway. I’ve also read about a third of the books on the 2013 list, and I could have done without many of them too. That’s sort of the backstory to why I’ve begun a different experiment, reading so many sample chapters for new books instead of going by Goodreads scores. Goodreads scores have given me interesting results under other circumstances, but I’ll probably discontinue this particular way of using them.

Anyway, with those caveats in mind, the top 25 results for 2013 are below, and from what I know, these books all merit general notice, even if I’m not the ideal reader for all of them.

Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Jinni
Kate Atkinson, Life After Life
Brian McClellan, Promise of Blood
Miles Cameron, The Red Knight
Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Guy Gavriel Kay, River of Stars
Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice
Django Wexler, The Thousand Names
Yangsze Choo, The Ghost Bride
Marcus Sakey, Brilliance
Lauren Beukes, The Shining Girls
Wesley Chu, The Lives of Tao
Marie Brennan, A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent
Rachel Bach, Fortune's Pawn
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fall of Arthur
Mira Grant, Parasite
Donato Carrisi, The Lost Girls of Rome
Jason M. Hough, The Darwin Elevator
Nathan Ballingrud, North American Lake Monsters: Stories
Catherynne M. Valente, Six-Gun Snow White
Nicola Griffith, Hild
Karen Lord, The Best of All Possible Worlds
Robert Jackson Bennett, American Elsewhere
Will McIntosh, Love Minus Eighty

Selected SF/F Previews for 11/2013

Continuing a little project from September and October, I’ve read all the available Amazon previews of new SF/F linked in SFSignal’s November round-up, and I’ve chosen a few titles to highlight, below.

Previously, I’ve sort of skirted the issue of what counts as new, because SFSignal seems not to care. I think I’ll go with “either truly recent or at least offering something new to me,” because that gets to the heart of why I’m bothering. I’m delighted that The Invisible Man, Riddley Walker, The Princess Bride, and other classics have new editions, but what I’m doing is casting a wide net to discover new-ish things, not celebrate old stuff.

  • Miyuki Miyabe, Apparitions: Ghosts of Old Edo. Miyabe writing ghost stories full of historical details about Japan? Unquestionably the book on this list that I’m most interested in reading.
  • Peter Watts, Beyond the Rift. I was surprised Watts’s short stories hadn’t already been collected somewhere. I’ve read “The Things” and “The Island” before, and I’d be glad to read more by him.
  • Gail Carriger, Curtsies & Conspiracies. I’ve heard this YA series is decent. The style seems affected, but it sort of suits the genre, and I liked the strange test the main character took in the preview.
  • Rachel Bach, Fortune’s Pawn. This is another one I’d heard positive things about, and the preview was basically fun. It appears to be a space opera written in a breezy contemporary first-person style I associate with urban fantasy.
  • Terry Pratchett, Raising Steam. I’ve always been sort of lukewarm about the “Industrial Revolution” Discworld novels (Moving Pictures, Going Postal, etc.). I like them, but not as much as the other sub-series. I’m sure I’ll read this though.
  • Daniel Abraham, Balfour and Meriwether in The Incident of the Harrowmoor Dogs. Another affectatious Victorian fantasy, but it seems above average and conjures up its world pretty effectively in the preview.
  • J. Kathleen Cheney, The Golden City. An urban fantasy featuring selkies and sirens … in Portugal in 1902. The choice of setting alone makes this one stand out. The story appears to have a straightforward crime/mystery plot, but the prose seems OK.
  • Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Trade Secret. The preview isn’t really convincing, but I’ll probably read this eventually based on the strength of the Clan Korval sub-series in the same setting, though I’m well aware not all Liaden Universe books are equally good.
  • Alex Bledsoe, Swords Are My Business. Kindle omnibus edition of a fantasy noir series I had somehow never encountered, although it seems to be reasonably popular. The preview shows it to be ordinary pulp crime fiction, just with swords, but it seems at least as good as Glen Cook’s Garrett P.I.