As the world gets worse, the speculative fiction gets ever better (and maybe that’s just because we’ve finally acknowledged that we’re already living in a dystopia). The novels in this list lean heavily towards the speculative future but there’s plenty of high-concept fantasy, stellar scifi, and alternative histories as well. As an aside, there’s also lots of love! Which is nice, because I’m not a big fan of romance as the center of the story, but I do love a subplot where attraction does not necessarily equal distraction. Keep an eye out for more spinoff previews, as we highlight YA, horror, and historical novels, curated as always to please any crime fiction fan.
Tlotlo Tsamaase, Womb City
(Erewhon Books, January 23)
Tlotlo Tsamaase’s extraordinary new speculative novel is set in a future world where people can body-hop to extend their lifetimes and women are monitored closely so as to control their reproductive labor. Womb City’s narrator is chafing at the many restrictions placed on her by her resentful husband and begins a torrid affair with the scion of a powerful family while her daughter’s fetus grows in an artificial womb. In Tsamaase’s dystopia, intersectional oppressions are exacerbated by technology designed to allow the highest bidders to live uninterruptedly for centuries, while the less fortunate can lose their bodies to the wealthy or spend eons waiting for a new body to become available. This book raises uncomfortable, but essential, questions about the nature of selfhood and reproduction.
Zachary C. Solomon, A Brutal Design
(Lanternfish, January 30)
As the proud child of academics, I’m a big fan of brutalist design, popularized in the US during the college boom of the 60s but prominent in Europe immediately after the end of WWII for its ability to fulfill construction needs quickly and with enormous proportions. Zachary C. Solomon’s speculative architecture thriller is both an ode to these forms and a fascinating warning of the pitfalls of utopianism. If you like this book, you might enjoy researching some of the stranger Soviet modernist takes on architecture in the 1920s, like constructivism and suprematism. And you’ll also understand why I desperately need a tattoo of Tatlin’s Tower…
Robert Jackson Bennett, The Tainted Cup
(Del Rey, February 6)
Holmes and Watson get a new twist in this fantastical noir set in a mysterious empire in which nothing is as it seems. The high, thick sea walls of the outer rings of the empire were built to withstand the colossal titans that swim in from the ocean depths to exact a ruinous chaos, and now, the walls have been breached. It’s up to a misanthropic genius and her new sword-wielding assistant to find the culprits who wish to destroy the empire, and in so doing, stop the empire’s own steady decline. Perfect for those who loved China Mieville’s Perdito Street Station and Kraken, but wished there was more camaraderie and crime-solving.
Francis Spufford, Cahokia Jazz
(Scribner, February 6)
The set-up for this one is an alternative history in which indigenous people were never decimated and the Mississippi city of Cahokia developed as a badass place for smoky jazz in the 1920s. As the detective protagonist goes high and low looking for a culprit in a recent murder, he also illuminates the scope of world-building Francis Spufford has achieved. Sure to be one of the most distinctly imagined texts of the year, in any genre.
Jason Pinter, Past Crimes
(Severn House, February 6)
In Pinter’s new thriller, set in the year 2037, true crime has gone into the virtual world with a morbid twist: fans pay to enter simulations and try to solve crimes as they unfold. The novel’s protagonist is a pregnant woman who licenses survivors’ stories for the experience, until she finds herself a target and has to go on the run. –Dwyer Murphy, CrimeReads editor-in-chief
Katherine Arden, The Warm Hands of Ghosts
(Del Rey, February 13)
Two soldiers are lost in no man’s land when they find a mysterious home full of revelers waiting to take them in, but not quite ready to let them leave. Meanwhile, the sister of one, a combat nurse, returns from Canada to seek her brother in the mud and muck of the front lines. Katherine Arden’s haunting gothic delves deeply into the emotional and physical landscape of WWI for an enthralling and heartbreaking read.
S.E. Porter, Projections
(Tor, February 13)
What a compelling and creative story. In Projections, a boy kills a girl in the mid-19th century in upstate New York. The girl becomes a ghost, the boy becomes a magician, and he takes her along with him to a magical city in which she screams, forever, tethered to his soul and stripped of her energies to fund his despicable enterprises. The magician continues to kill, over and over, telling himself he seeks a perfect love; the ghost, meanwhile, slowly begins to discover her own powers, and may just be able to finally stop him. Emotionally evocative and visually stunning, Projections is the kind of novel that makes you long for a high-budget adaptation.
Micaiah Johnson, Those Beyond the Wall
(Del Rey, March 12)
In Micaiah Johnson’s magisterial epic, two cities in a dystopian future are poised for conflict across the barren desert between them. The people of Ashtown are grimy, gritty, and have hard-won respect through violence; the people of Wiley City are pale, rich, soft, and have built their riches through exploitation of the Ashtowners and the denizens of the desert. When bodies start piling up in Ashtown, Johnson’s narrator is tasked with discovering what unearthly forces could cause such extreme injury, and come to terms with her own difficult past. This one reads like Mad Max: Fury Road was written by Phillip K. Dick and N.K. Jemison.
Charlie Huston, Catchpenny
(Vintage, April 9)
Charlie Huston is back! He first came to my attention for his tongue-in-cheek (or perhaps tooth-in-neck) take on vampires living in NYC, and of course I then had to read through his first series featuring a thief fallen on hard times. His new novel looks to be a perfect continuation of his oeuvre, featuring a hero who travels through mirrors to perform elaborate heists and his quest to put together a sprawling mystery surrounding a missing teenage girl. Also, Stephen King said “If Elmore Leonard had ever written a fantasy novel, this would be it.” And you can’t get much higher praise than that.
S.A. Barnes, Ghost Station
(Tor Nightfire, April 9)
S.A. Barnes is quickly gaining a reputation for her claustrophobic and oh-so-creepy space horror. I first came to her work through last year’s Dead Silence, which took a salvage crew to the haunted remains of a Titanic-inspired luxury space cruiser. Her new novel, Ghost Station, features a psychologist in a lonely outpost desperate to prevent an outbreak of a murderous and mysterious condition among the secretive crew. I’m waiting to read this one until the next time I’m on a plane—the recycled air and potential for terrifying disaster really adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the experience…
Stuart Turton, The Last Murder at the End of the World
(Sourcebooks, May 21)
A killing fog has enveloped most of the world, but a small fishing village run by a group of researchers has remained safe thanks to their ability to keep out the mist. When one of the scientists is murdered, the fog has a new chance to slip through weakened protections, unless the murder can be solved before the systems fail. Turton is a master of speculative fiction, and his latest continues to cement that reputation.
Leslie Stephens, You’re Safe Here
(Gallery/Scout Press, June 25)
In this futuristic wellness thriller, a secretive Silicon Valley company has just launched the first wave of wellness “pods”—self-sustaining bubbles in which the wealthy and privileged can find inner peace while drifting along an ocean belt known for its stable weather and lack of storms. The pods are rumored to have major design flaws, and the two powerful figures at the center of the company are in a contest of will to determine who bears the blame for any disasters. One of the company’s best workers is drawn into the intrigue brewing between founders as she desperately races to save her fiancee, encased in one of the pods, from a looming storm threatening the pod’s integrity. Chockfull of warnings about tech gone awry (and also lots of tech that I would frankly love to have in my life).
Jenna Satterthwaite, Made For You
(Mira, July 2)
Jenna Satterthwaite’s novel is a cutting and creative take on reality television and artificial personhood. Her heroine is the first “synth” to compete on a reality dating show, and only the third to exist publicly in the world. Her romance is fairy-tale perfection, but her marriage is decidedly less so, and when the husband she worked so hard to win goes missing, suspicion falls immediately on his robotic partner. Will she be able to prove her own innocence, and will the world finally accept her autonomy and sense of self?
Sarah Brooks, The Cautious Traveller’s Guide to the Wastelands
(Flatiron, July 9)
This book is steampunk perfection! The Cautious Traveller’s Guide to the Wastelands takes place on an enormous train barreling through a landscape known as the “Wastelands” on its way from Beijing to Moscow at the turn of the 20th century. Outside the train, strange creatures with knowing eyes and too many mouths regard the iron beast and its fearful passengers. Inside the train, a powerful company tries to preserve order and cover up past mistakes as various travelers try to discover the truth behind what happened on the disastrous previous journey. Brooks brings a Mieville-esque mentality to her novel, with some terrifying creepy-crawlies and an even more terrifying capitalist conglomerate.
Mateo Askaripour, This Great Hemisphere
(Dutton, July 9)
In a world divided between the visible dominant population and the invisibles who serve them, a young invisible woman is shocked to discover her brother is not only alive, but now accused of murder. She has the skills to save him and the impulse to track down the real killer, but will the world around her listen to the truth or subvert reality to their own hierarchically based needs? I cannot wait to dive into this one and emerge blinking, hours later, questioning the notion of existence itself…