It is the dreaded season of airport delays, family “fun,” and long weekends spent in delightful locations with no cellular reception. That means it’s book reading time! Whether you want to fire up your brain or just need to escape, we’ve got a handful of new releases from 2017 in science fiction and fantasy that should keep you distracted for as long as you need.
Sourdough, by Robin Sloan
If you’ve ever worked insane hours at a tech job, not knowing whether anything you do will make a difference, this novel is for you. Sloan is the author of the bestseller Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and his second novel Sourdough is just as delightful and weird. Lois spends all day writing software for robotic arms at a startup, where she’s beginning to feel numbed out and depressed. All her colleagues are obsessed with drinking Slurry, a Soylent-like food substitute, but her only joy in life is ordering the “double spicy” soup and sandwich from a local popup in her neighborhood. Eventually the guys who run the popup skip town but leave Lois with their special, secret (and possibly sentient) sourdough starter. Lois becomes fascinated with making her own bread, eventually joining a strange community of scientist chefs who ask her to make bread with robot arms. Things get even more bizarro from there, taking us deep into the world of yeast biohackers. Throughout it all we’re buoyed by Sloane’s funny-but-sometimes-dark observations about the San Francisco tech scene.
Null States, by Malka Older
We loved Infomocracy, the first novel in Older’s Centenal series about a newly born global democracy on the brink of destruction. Null States, the sequel, just came out. After a nationalist party almost wrecks the election, using a combination of fake news propaganda and targeted violence, peace has been (kind of) restored. But now the newly elected Supermajority must convince the world of its legitimacy. Plus the Google-like information company that manages the elections must recover from internal corruption.
An Excess Male, by Maggie Shen King
This masterful, disturbing novel is set in near-future Shanghai, where the Chinese government is trying to deal with the skewed gender ratio created by their one-child policy. With men far outnumbering women, the government permits women to marry and have children with up to three men. We follow the lives of one such expanded family, where two husbands and a wife seek another husband to complete their household. The worldbuilding in this novel is brilliant. King imagines a near-future China where unmarried “excess” men are forced to join gaming squads to replace the bonds of family, while men on the autism spectrum are barred from marriage forever. Meanwhile, the state puts families under surveillance to make sure each man gets his chance to impregnate the shared wife. Our protagonist May-ling, her two husbands, and their new fiancé have many secrets to hide and must resort to desperate measures just to experience a few moments of domestic bliss. King, who grew up in Taiwan and the US, offers a plausible look at a world where political manipulation reaches into our most intimate lives.
New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Robinson, beloved author of the Mars trilogy, is back with another novel that’s set vaguely in the timeline of his recent novel 2312 and the Mars trilogy. In other words, it doesn’t perfectly link up with those novels, but it’s about the same general issues of how humans on Earth will eventually transition into a multi-planetary species. First, we must learn to shepherd our own planet through climate change. Robinson is at his best when exploring both the science and poetry of geo-engineering, and that’s exactly what he’s doing in New York 2140. The drowning city is nevertheless still vibrant with life, as humanity balances on a tipping point between disaster and recovery.
The Red Threads of Fortune and The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang
If you love fantasy martial arts movies where people jump-fly across the rooftops, these linked novellas will knock your booties off. JY Yang has written two swashbuckling tales about twins on another world fighting an anti-tech government regime… and giant nagas from the desert. Red Threads follows the troubled prophet and naga slayer Mokoya as she uncovers a conspiracy of sorcerers called Tensors—and becomes dangerously attracted to a person from the weightless southern realms, who knows a dangerous and forgotten form of magic. Black Tides follows Mokoya’s twin sibling Akeha, a leader of the rebel Machinists. They’ve become enemies of the state by challenging the Protectorate’s magical Tensor elites with mechanical devices that could save the world. Yang conjures up a world of magic and machines, wild monsters and sophisticated civilizations, that you’ll want to return to again and again. Luckily, Yang has other stories planned for this universe!
The City of Brass, by S.A. Chakraborty
A fantasy epic set in 18th century Cairo, City of Brass follows the crazy adventures of the notorious con artist Nahri. She’s making a good living on the street, tricking rich Ottomans out of their cash, until she accidentally summons a real djinn. The mystical creature lures her into the legendary city of brass, populated entirely by djinn with their own elaborate social system and (un)natural dangers. There she must dodge court politics, magical tyranny, and monsters, while pulling off a dangerous caper. Sumptuously imagined and full of clever schemes, this novel will keep you up late into the night, turning pages feverishly to find out what happens next. It’s the first in a trilogy, so if the end leaves you wanting more, you won’t be disappointed.
Spoonbenders, by Daryl Gregory
Daryl Gregory has written a gorgeous, funny, and melancholy novel about families—very, very unusual families—that will stick with you long after you’ve put it down. Spoonbenders begins with ESP experiments in the 1960s, which bring Teddy and Maureen together. The two are a perfectly mismatched pair: Teddy is a card shark, and Maureen is an actual psychic. With their three ESP-enabled children, Teddy and Maureen become reality TV stars… until the kids grow up and realize that psychic powers don’t really help them cope with everyday life. Though this is a story about otherworldly gifts, its power comes from Gregory’s ability to make us believe in these characters as a realistically damaged but still loving family.
Artemis, by Andy Weir (coming soon!)
All I need to say about this novel is that it’s by the goofball genius who wrote The Martian, and it’s about a heist on the Moon. You know you want to read it. Artemis comes out November 14, just in time for you to snatch it up for those Thanksgiving flights.
Persepolis Rising, by James S.A. Corey (coming soon!)
Yep, it’s the latest novel in the Expanse series, coming December 5. We are shameless Expanse fans here at Ars, so we’re pretty damn excited.
What, you need more? See our reviews of a few other great novels that came out this year:
The Changeling, by Victor LaValle
The Broken Earth Trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin
Borne, by Jeff VanderMeer
The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi
The Stars are Legion, by Kameron Hurley