The Best Speculative Fiction of 2009

Each of these books does something completely different from its peers on the list, and does it superbly, thereby illustrating the vast range of themes, styles and topics at the command of speculative fiction.



Rudy Rucker


Although Rucker’s book takes place only during the day after tomorrow, the whole landscape of Earth and humanity’s role thereon has been radically transmogrified by the seachange of an entire new paradigm of physics. With godlike powers come cosmic-level threats, yet human foibles and virtues naggingly persist. The effect is like an issue of the Fantastic Four written by Freeman Dyson.





The City & the City

China Miéville


Adopting an echt-Mittel-Europa tone, British writer Miéville crafts a noir police procedural that also functions as a kind of Stanislaw Lem-style thought experiment on the nature of perception, prejudice, and cognitive dissonance. Eschewing standard villains, the book documents the painful yet necessary accomodations its characters -- and by extension, its readers -- must make with a reality that would, in its naked form, prove overwhelming.




There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby : Scary Fairy Tales

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya


These Kafkaesque, Singeresque fables from a Russian writer previously denied the high profile she deserves, both in her native land and abroad, amount to a revelation from another world. Full of rich quotidian details, they also mercilessly engineer melancholy, absurdist lifetraps for richly rendered characters who respond with a stolid madness that is the essential postmodern coping tactic.





Cory Doctorow


Another near-future forecast, Makers hews closer to probable extrapolative paths than the Rucker outing, and yet still manages to parade an outre future before our wide-eyed and startled gaze. Doctorow’s forte lies in building novel social systems from the debris of shattered ones, and his optimism about humanity’s ability to think and experiment its way out of disaster scenarios is refreshing, and reminscent of the sometimes seemingly abandoned core values of SF.



Steal Across the Sky

Nancy Kress


Taking the almost-expired trope of First Contact and making it fresh again, Kress layers in themes of religion and evolution in a manner that recalls work by two Jameses -- Tiptree and Blish -- and that of Ursula K. Le Guin as well. Upending mankind’s self-conception and our notion of the species’s place in the universe, this novel delivers a sharp and salutary kick to complacency.


by lvondrasek on ‎12-14-2009 11:51 AM

Thank you for these recommendations. It looks like my holiday reading schedule is set. I can't wait to crack open the Nancy Kress.

April 24: "[The HST] lifted a curtain from our view of the universe, changing it so profoundly that no human can look at the stars in the same way..."

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.