There’s always been a bit of a crossover in audiences between gamers and science fiction fans. Journalists have spilled a lot of ink over the years writing about the rise in popularity of games like Settlers of Catan, Terraforming Mars, and Pandemic. I recently picked up It’s All a Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan by Tristan Donovan. It’s an interesting read that explores the origins of everything from chess and backgammon to modern favorites like Monopoly and Mousetrap.
What struck me while reading it is how the origins of so many games stem from someone being bored (as in the case of Clue) or being laid off from work (Scrabble), so they set about tinkering and end up with a game that later explodes in popularity. Most of the games that Donovan profiles follow a fairly similar trajectory: individual boosters work to convince their friends and neighbors, and once they reach a tipping point, the game takes off like wildfire when the larger public discovers it.
November’s list includes 11 books that caught our eye.
The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
Seth Dickinson published his acclaimed debut novel Traitor Baru Cormorant in 2015. The island nation of Taranoke is conquered by the Empire of Masks, and its traditions and cultures are suppressed. One woman, Baru Cormorant, vows to rise through the ranks of the imperial system to overthrow the empire from within. In Dickinson’s long-awaited sequel, Baru is now one of the empire’s cryptarch Agonists — a secretive lord that holds an incredible amount of power. She’s reached this point through betrayals and executions. And amid the terrible things she must do, she risks losing sight of her original goal: to free her people. Publishers Weekly describes Baru and the novel as a “fascinating, morally grey protagonist in a complex world where conflicts take place on the high seas, in the ballroom, and in the marketplace.”
Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink
We recommended Alice Isn’t Dead in yesterday’s scary podcasts list, but if podcasts aren’t your thing, you can check out the story as a novel. The series and novel follow Keisha Taylor, whose wife, Alice, vanishes. Keisha searches in vain but eventually holds a funeral for Alice. Then, she starts seeing Alice everywhere in the background of news at tragedies around the country. Keisha joins a trucking company and begins her search again and discovers that she’s stumbled onto a strange conspiracy that exists on the highways of the United States. Kirkus Reviews gave the book a starred review, saying that it’s “a terrifying new storytelling experience that affirms, even in our darkest moments, that love conquers all.”
The Book of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Over the course of her career, Ursula K. Le Guin wrote five Earthsea novels in all, along with a smattering of short stories. This classic of fantasy literature is finally being brought together into a single omnibus, and it’s accompanied by dozens of original illustrations by noted fantasy artist Charles Vess. This book also includes several essays and a never-before-printed Earthsea short story.
Borderless by Eliot Peper
Earlier this year, Eliot Peper released Bandwidth, the first in his Analog trilogy. It’s a near-future thriller that follows a partner at a lobbying firm called the Apex Group who is recruited into a shadowy group called The Island that regularly hacks into people’s AR devices. Peper’s next, Borderless, follows a new character, Diana, who is rebuilding her career as a freelance spy after being kicked out of the government after a failed mission. She accepts a job to spy on Commonwealth, the corporate owners of the global information Feed, only to discover that she’s being used in a plot to nationalize the system. Publishers Weekly says that “readers will find that this novel’s near-future scenario resonates resoundingly with present-day headlines.”
Women of the Galaxy by Amy Ratcliffe
Star Wars has never been just a boys’ thing. A new art book shines a light on the franchise’s female characters, along with a ton of original illustrations. Written by Amy Radcliffe and accompanied by a foreword from Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, the book covers everyone from the best-known heroes, such as Leia, Padmé, Rey, and Jyn Erso, to others that haven’t gotten as much screen time, like Asajj Ventress, Sabine Wren, and Vi Moradi.
Finding Baba Yaga by Jane Yolen
Science fiction grandmaster Jane Yolen’s next book is a narrative, illustrated poem that reimagines the Russian fairy tale of Baba Yaga that blends the fantastic with realism, following a young woman named Natasha who escapes from her abusive family in America. She flees from her home and encounters Baba Yaga, where she discovers that words have power. Kirkus Reviews says that the book is “sharp, engaging, and evocative; even folklore-illiterate readers will be enchanted by this slim volume.”
The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin
A writer named MG Martin is living her dream job: she gets to write for the comics of her childhood idols. But a slew of crime scenes begin to turn up around LA designed to look like the crime scenes in her books. The LAPD consults with her to solve the crimes, and it looks like someone is masquerading as her character, the Hooded Falcon, and her part in the investigation leads her straight into trouble. Publishers Weekly says that “Molin’s clever humor enhances the inventive plot.”
Breach by W.L. Goodwater
In an alternate world, magicians wage war against one another during the Cold War. For a decade, the Soviet Union has set up a magical wall to blockade Berlin, creating an uneasy peace between the East and West. Now, the CIA has discovered that the wall is beginning to fail and dispatches Karen O’Neil, a magician with the American Office of Magical Research and Deployment, to try and figure out what is causing the breach and if it can be repaired, only to discover that there’s more to the story than anyone knew. Publishers Weekly calls out some underdeveloped characters, but says that the “well-constructed world and thrilling vibe more than make up for it.”
Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield
In 1788, a woman named Alice Payne helps pay off her father’s debts by becoming a highway robber known as the Holy Ghost, aided by her lover, Jane, and an automaton named Laverna. When a time portal opens and sucks away one of their problems, they’re presented with an even bigger problem: a soldier from 2145, Major Prudence Zuniga, who is fighting on one side of a massive time war. Prudence went rogue after a botched mission in 1889, and she teams up with Alice to try and put things right. The Mad Scientist Journal calls the book a “quick read with fantastic characters that is sure to leave you wanting more.” A sequel, Alice Payne Rides, hits stores next year.
Static Ruin by Corey J. White
The third and final installment in Corey J. White’s Voidwitch Saga follows Mas Xi, a psychic super soldier on the run along with her cat and a fellow psychic named Pale. She’s escaped bounty hunters and killed everyone who’s come after her. With Pale in dire need of treatment, she’s forced to seek out her father, Marius Teo, at the edge of the galaxy.
Not One of Us: Stories of Aliens on Earth edited by Neil Clarke
I’ve long been a fan of Clarkesworld Magazine. Its editor, Neil Clarke, has a great taste in selecting short science fiction stories, and that taste extends to the anthologies that he’s edited over the years. His new one takes on the “Aliens among us” trope. This book contains a ton of familiar names, from Cixin Liu, Ian McDonald, Ken Liu, Ted Chiang, and more. Publishers Weekly gives the collection a starred review, saying that it’s a “fine, thoughtful book.”