2019 SF Novels - A Little Random Sample

DeltaV

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First, I would like to thank Ashley R for pointing me to worldswithoutend.com. I was curious about the state of the SF novel market, and this website lists the SF books published per year (331 in 2019, as of today). This site provides a small synopsis for each book, a brief bio of the author, and a list of their other books in the database. I found it quite useful.

I decided to look over the first page of books listed for 2019 over a few lunch breaks, and jot down some notes. How in tune am I with the SF market today? As it turns out, not much.... But then I do consider myself a casual SF reader, so that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

I thought I would try and spot some of the authors that I recognize, maybe vaguely, then pick one book at random from each row and read the synopsis, and see what other books the author has written.

Heh heh, so here we go.

First Row. Hmmm. Eric Flint and his alternate histories. His 163x series is up to 26 books? Aside from him, I don't recognize any other author on this row. Well, let's pick Alien: Echo by Mira Grant. Looks like the author's first novel. Ah, I get the title. Alien book. Those Aliens. I don't mind a good bug hunt, but the characters have to make reasonable decisions. No going down dark corridors to check out a suspicious noise while leaving your blaster in the locker.

Second Row. Alliance Rising by C.J. Cherryh and Jane S. Fancher. Book 1. Looks like the start of a series. And Harry Turtledove is here with Alpha and Omega. He is one prolific writer, yet I don't think I've read a single book of his. And scanning the titles, I'm not sure that I will. I'm not into alternate histories, yet Turtledove and Flint seem to have done very well writing them. And our first Star Wars novel appears. I'm going to look up Alita Battle Angel - Dr. Ido's Journal. Cyborgs in a dystopian future. Nick Aires. This is the only book listed in this database although his bio shows him as writing in numerous genres.

Third Row. First Star Trek novel. A couple of anthologies. Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear. Another very popular author and yet, as I gaze upon all of the book covers and titles, nothing really jumps out at me. I have the impression that her SF is what I would call "Literary SF" (Oh oh. Is that provocative?) As a row selection, I picked The Horus Heresy Primarchs by Ian St. Martin. Must be a tie in to a gaming franchise as I'm not familiar with the terms used in the synopsis. Maybe WarHammer 40 000? This is his only book listed.

Fourth Row. First row where I don't recognize a single author. So I'll pick Arkad's World by James L Cambias. Looks like his third novel. Seeking a treasure, the protagonists go on a journey across a planet.

Fifth Row. James Corey is here with Auberon, a novella in his Expanse series. And his Expanse novels are up to 8 with Tiamat's Wrath (also 2019 but listed elsewhere). I read the first two novels, both on long-distance flights, but haven't picked up any more. Then there is another Star Trek. But, man, I don't know any of these other authors. Let's look at Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff ("James Corey" is a shared pen name too. So how do two people write a book anyway? How does that work? ). Ok, another book One in a series, this time about a team of misfits as cadets, and a mission. Both authors have multiple novels to their credit.

Sixth Row. Five anthologies on this row, including ones on Greg Egan and R.A. Lafferty. I'll have a quick peek at Beneath the World, a Sea by Chris Beckett. A mystery about aliens in the 1990's Amazon jungle, and their effect on the human subconscious. Not quite my cup of tea.

Seventh Row. Second Star Wars novel. And again another row of unknown (to me) authors. Let's try Bright Morning Star by Simon Morden. This looks a little different. An alien probe lands in a warzone and collects info about humans. It probably doesn't jot down "Mostly Harmless" in its notebook.

Eighth Row. The third Star Trek novel. For a row selection, let's go with Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Hmmm. Lost planet with something sinister hidden away. Probably a mixture of SF/Horror? It is a sequel to Children of Time. Not that I know that novel either. Looking at the author's books (and there are a few), fantasy seems to dominate.

Ninth Row. I picked Cold Storage by David Koepp. A biochemical organism is on the loose. Now, after reading the synopsis, I have a bit of difficulty categorizing this as SF and not as horror. Oh, and the third Star Wars novel is on this row. And the fourth Star Trek.

Tenth Row. Another Star Trek novel. Let's have a look at The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham. A space opera on a galactic scale with five leading heroes. This novel looks like a slight change of genre for this author; his previous three books dealt with alternate variations of WW2.

Eleventh Row. Elizabeth Bear pops up again with Deriving Life. Synopsis is very brief "Love has no time limits, but life does." And this row has the first Doctor Who book, written by Tom Baker. I always liked him as Doctor Who back in the seventies. I chose Defy Me by Tahereh Mafi to check. Ah. Part of a New York Times bestseller series called Shatter Me. And Defy Me is the fifth book. I'm really in the boondocks; I've never heard of this.

Twelve Row. One anthology and the fourth Star Wars novel. That makes five Star Treks and four Star Wars books in the first ninety-six. And there is a title here that catches my attention: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee. Wow, this is interesting. He writes a lot of short stories. His Hexarchate stories look intriguing. And he's a New York Times bestselling author too. I'm not in the boondocks, I'm out in the muskeg. I've never heard of him. Anyway, back to the book. A space opera with a protagonist that can use fox-magic. Different.


That was an interesting little exercise. I learned that I don't know much about the modern SF market nor the more recent writers. Maybe I'll have to do something about that. And I didn't see any SF that hit the sweet spot for me: space opera with good characters (regular Janes and Joes) along with an interesting plot. But boy, with over 1300 SF novels written in the last 3 years, that is a lot to go through. That's why I like getting recommendations here at SFF Chronicles!
 

J-Sun

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I also thank Ashley R - I've been looking over that a lot since that post.

(The one thing I don't like about it, though, is that nearly half the items are either actual short fiction or things (like novellas published as books) that ought to be short fiction and, while you can filter based on category, you can't just say "show me books and not non-books" - you can only either see everything or pick one of novels/collections/anthologies/non-fiction/etc.)

From the first page, I recognize most of the names but I've only recall reading Di Filippo, Cadigan, Palwick, Cherryh, Turtledove, Bear, McCarthy, Chiang, Yoachim, Cambias, Kowal, Corey, Greenblatt, Beckett, Egan, Lafferty, Chu, Jones, Liu, Hvide, Kritzer, Skillingstead, Anders, Larson, and Lee but I've only read stories by most of those. The ones I've read earlier books by are Cadigan, Cherryh, Cambias, and Egan. The only 2019 book I've read so far is the Cambias (review here). Cadigan wrote some of the best stories of the 80s and wrote several good cyberpunk novels; Cherryh is a great writer of gritty space stories as well as odd aliens and the odder humans among them; Cambias writes a different novel every time. His first is like Clement and his third is like Vance. And Egan is one of the best hard SF authors around. Of the others, Bear has written some good stuff which ranges from a Bolo-like AI tank story to a Lovecraftian space opera horror sequence - I usually use "literary SF" as an insult and wouldn't apply that to her, though she's certainly literate. Chiang is one of the best story writers going and had one of them turned into the relatively recent movie, Arrival. Kritzer has written a good story about AI and another about ghosts. Larson has written several usually facile and often derivative but almost always skillful and effective stories. I think less of the rest though Lafferty is a famed oddball.

(Then there are the editors and their anthologies, of course, but that's a different deal.)

As far as space operas with good characters, as I said, I haven't read these titles but, based on past experience and looking over all the 2019 items listed, I'd figure the Hamilton and Asher were likely in that ballpark (and possibly the Baxter and others) while the Bova, Cherryh, and McDevitt probably have a lot of space and the Cambias and Nagata have (or probably have) planetary romance aspects.

(Kind of funny that you post this as it's almost like a thread I was going to start involving Locus and their forthcoming books list, which I'll go ahead and start soon.)
 

Jo Zebedee

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I’ve read Children of Time and Children of Ruin and they are brilliant. Some of the best sf this decade.
Beneath A World, A Sea didn’t do it for me. Sad since I loved Dark Eden so much but no other of Beckett’s books have quite done it for me
 

williamjm

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Well, let's pick Alien: Echo by Mira Grant. Looks like the author's first novel. Ah, I get the title. Alien book. Those Aliens. I don't mind a good bug hunt, but the characters have to make reasonable decisions. No going down dark corridors to check out a suspicious noise while leaving your blaster in the locker.
It's not her debut, she's written dozens of stories before, admittedly many of them are as Seanan McGuire but she has written several using the Mira Grant pseudonym before.

That was an interesting little exercise. I learned that I don't know much about the modern SF market nor the more recent writers. Maybe I'll have to do something about that. And I didn't see any SF that hit the sweet spot for me: space opera with good characters (regular Janes and Joes) along with an interesting plot. But boy, with over 1300 SF novels written in the last 3 years, that is a lot to go through. That's why I like getting recommendations here at SFF Chronicles!
Out of the books you highlighted I would recommend the Tchaikovsky books, I think they're among the best space opera written in recent years.
 

DeltaV

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J-Sun: I tip my hat to you! I think that I recognized only about seven or eight of the authors (on the first page anyway; I haven't looked at the others yet). And I've only read stuff from maybe three or four. I have read quite a few of Cherryh's novels and enjoyed them. But I see from the list of novels here that there are also a lot that I've never seen.


It's not her debut, she's written dozens of stories before, admittedly many of them are as Seanan McGuire but she has written several using the Mira Grant pseudonym before.

williamjm, you are correct. Must have somehow jotted the wrong info down. And I recognize the cover of her novel Parasite. She seems to be more of a horror writer than of SF ... although I see she has also written a Star Wars novel.

I’ve read Children of Time and Children of Ruin and they are brilliant.

I would recommend the Tchaikovsky books, I think they're among the best space opera written in recent years.


Oh, a double recommendation. Thank you both. One side effect of all of the coronavirus closures is more time to read ....
 

DeltaV

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I've just finished Science A History by John Gribbin.

There is a quote in the book that made me think of the SF market today, at least my perception of it:

"It is certainly impossible for any person who wishes to devote a portion of his time to chemical experiment, to read all the books and papers that are published in connection with his pursuit; their number is immense, and the labour of winnowing out the few experimental and theoretical truths which in many of them are embarrassed by a very large proportion of uninteresting matter, of imagination, and of error, is such, that most persons who try the experiment are quickly induced to make a selection in their reading, and thus inadvertently, at times, pass by what is really good."

Michael Faraday 1826
 
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