The best science fiction, fantasy of the year so far

Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Lavie Tidhar

THE WASHINGTON POST  – As we stumble our way into the middle of the year, publishing is in flux, with numerous books postponed and publication dates moving unpredictably. But what books do we look forward to? What books have we enjoyed so far?

Silvia: The big releases of the first half of 2020 included The City We Became, by NK Jemisin, and The Last Emperox, by John Scalzi. But it’s easy to miss so much stuff.

One under-the-radar title is Beneath the Rising, by Premee Mohamed. Two 20-something best friends battle Lovecraftian horrors in this debut novel. Think Indiana Jones with cosmic horror.

For fans of Asian period dramas I recommend The Empress of Salt and Fortune, by Nghi Vo, a subtle, fable-like narrative set against a lush background of courtly intrigue.

One excellent historical fantasy is Conjure Women, by Afia Atakora, a multi-generational family saga about black women who have healing powers and their struggles and triumphs during the Civil War. Anything new in science fiction, Lavie?

Lavie: Hao Jingfang’s Vagabonds, translated from Chinese by Ken Liu, is the first novel in English from the first Chinese woman to win the Hugo Award.

It’s the ambitious tale of a group of young people caught between Earth and Mars and the two worlds’ wildly differing ideologies.

British author Paul McCauley explores a vast artificial world in the far-future setting of War of the Maps where a man must hunt an escaped criminal as a strange virus mutates the world around him. And Zen Cho’s latest fantasy offering is the delightful The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, about a nun joining a group of bandits on the run.

In somewhat the same vein, Stark Holborn (the pen name of a writer better known for historical and romance novels) recently released Triggernometry, a Weird West story about a group of renegade mathematicians on a heist, in a world where math is a crime.

And Botswanan author Tlotlo Tsamaase made her debut with the enchanting The Silence of the Wilting Skin, an ambitious, surrealist work that deserves notice.

One book I’ve been hugely excited about is Tim Powers’s latest, Forced Perspectives.

It is set in the magical underbelly of modern-day Los Angeles. Powers may be the master of the secret history novel (and one of the originators of steampunk), but his recent work has really explored the history and magic of Tinseltown in a way no one else can.

As you can see, I’ve been steering clear of any post-apocalyptic dystopias for some reason – I can’t imagine why!

Silvia: Looking at horror, The Unsuitable by Molly Pohlig blends body horror with Gothic fiction; and Kathe Koja, author of grungy, Weird fiction classic The Cipher, has released a second short story collection, Velocities.

The Only Good Indians, by Stephen Graham Jones, was originally scheduled for May but was bumped to July. It’s a great novel for fans of Peter Straub’s Ghost Story or Stephen King’s work. It has the feel of classic horror but brings a fresh twist. Another interesting title out this month is The Year of the Witching, by Alexis Henderson.

This also has a classic set-up but updates the olde puritanical tale to deal with issue of racism.

And then, if dates don’t change again (this keeps happening!), Ring Shout by P Djèlí Clark should be out in the autumn. This novella has DW Griffith, director of the ultra-racist silent flick The Birth of a Nation, as a sorcerer who plans to unleash hell on Earth. That will also be release time for Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun, a new fantasy series inspired by pre-Columbian cultures. Anything else that people should be penciling down?

Lavie: The Best of Jeffrey Ford came out recently, the definitive collection by this modern master of the fantastical short story.

It’s worth it for Daltharee alone, a story I adore, about a strange city in a bottle.

Looking ahead, one title that should have people excited is Susanna Clarke’s first new novel in a decade, Piranesi. Rather than a follow-up to her marvelous Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. It is a new fantasy world set in a strange infinite house.

One book I love dearly is James Stoddard’s The High House, which has the same premise, so readers who have to wait for the new Clarke will do well to check it out in the meantime.

Coming later in the year, too, is the debut fantasy by Icelandic author Alexander Dan Vilhjálmsson, Shadows of the Short Days.

It is set in a magical Reykjavik, with echoes of China Miéville and the New Weird.

I believe it’s the first Icelandic fantasy novel to come out in English, and was translated from Icelandic by the author.