Saturday, January 26, 2019

Looking forward to in 2019....

I suppose it’s possible to apply the term hey-day, though I would waffle on whether such a relatively positive word can be attached to the glut of books and stories discharging itself from the guts of humanity these days. Indeed, explosion seems a more fitting term describing the unprecedented quantity of fiction available as 2018 turns into 2019. Humanity has never before experienced such a deluge, which means there are going to be too many titles desirable to read yet not enough time. Nevertheless, I will attempt to outline the books I know are coming in 2019 which strike interest of some sort, starting with the many risky books planned.

I believe Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale has entered society’s mindset of being among the tip-top dystopias ever published. Alongside Nineteen Eighty-four, We, and Brave New World, it has become one of the defining bleak thought experiments of the 20th century. With 2019’s The Testament, Atwood will attempt to continue Offred’s tale after the events of A Handmaid’s Tale. Will it be as good, or at least be complementary in quality fashion, one can only hope Atwood thought to publish a sequel after having a knock out idea. Michael Swanwick’s The Iron Dragon’s Daughter and The Dragons of Babel form a wonderful, complementary pair. The former the story of young woman trying to find herself in an existence twisted by Swanwick’s quasi-fantasy, quasi-magic-realist pen, and the second the tale of a young man undergoing his own journey of self-discovery through an equally dynamic and colorful setting, it remains to be seen what the upcoming The Iron Dragon’s Mother can add to the pair, or at least the former. Threatening to split up the highly complementary nature of the pair (no husband likes to have an interfering mother-in-law, natch), one can at least hope Swanwick brings to the game an equally prodigious bit of imagination. The third risky book on my list is Tim Powers’ More Walls Broken. Powers seeming to have lost the mojo for the unique ideas he had at the beginning of this career and fallen back on allowing quality prose to propel relatively conventional stories, More Walls Broken doesn’t seem to want to break the trend. About a group of scientists who enter a graveyard to raise the dead, stereotype flags are waving high, and only reading the story will tell whether they are worth heeding.

Another risky book on my list is William Gibson’s Agency. Like Powers, Gibson’s latest novel The Peripheral seemed to indicate the author lost his ability come up with a unique premise. No pattern formed yet, 2019’s Agency will be a real test whether he can find his magic again and be what he has proven himself able to be—singular, suave, and eminently readable—in the first nine novels of his oeuvre. Joining this growing list of writers who may have lost form is Guy Gavriel Kay. His previous novel Children of Sun and Stars felt like Kay on auto-pilot, it stank of way too much cheese and lacked the soul of some of his previous works. 2019’s A Brightness Long Ago, given the blurb of dukes, assassins, etc. and themes of fateful decisions, fortune, etc. worryingly doesn’t look to redeem him. A Song for Arbonne was pseudo-bodice ripper, so here’s hoping the new novel reverts back to what his Chinese duology or The Lions of Al-Rassan brought to the table.

Adam Roberts on a clear commercial slide, pumping out unpolished, derivative material at a fast rate, I have little hope for 2019’s The Man Who Would Be Kling. I completely skipped 2018’s By the Pricking of Her Thumb knowing it was a sequel to 2017’s saggy-baggy The Real-Town Murders. Roberts being Roberts and having the persistent ability to surprise, however, I will at least take a look at the blurb when it comes out. Neal Stephenson is yet another writer whose recent form has caused questions—at least me. He is to be fully respected for trying new things, it’s only that the novelty haven’t fallen into my personal wheelhouse. Reamde was overlong, overwrought, and overdone, and Seveneves, as nicely as the palindrome fit the story structure, still felt like oh-so ordinary sf—like most any other mainstream author could have written it—something that cannot be said of Cryptonomicon or Anathema. Thus, here’s hoping Fall, or Dodge in Hell recaptures some of that originality.

Switching gears, there are many not-so-risky books being published in 2019. George R.R. Martin’s The Winds of Winter, now eight years in the making, will succeed commercially based on sheer momentum regardless of actual quality. That being said, given Martin needs to start tying up loose ends to actually be able to conclude matters in the seventh volume means the book should contain a share of the drama and entertainment the previous two volumes lacked, and what made the first three volumes so readable. Ed McDonald, particularly the conclusion to his Raven’s Mark trilogy Crowfall, would really need to drop the ball in order to fail. McDonald came out of the gates charging, and it doesn’t appear he will lose momentum heading into the home stand. Despite only being Josiah Bancroft’s third novel, The Hod King likewise seems a safe bet. Bancroft stating that he prefers to take his time pulling together as good a novel as possible rather than rushing material out the door unpolished, the time between novels bodes well for Thomas Senlin’s continued adventures in Bancroft’s steampunked Tower of Babel. Rather than an, Oh, where do I go from here after the unexpected success of my debut novel?, Bancroft seems to have had an overarching idea all along, which, again, bodes well. Another near certainty seems Ian McDonald’s Luna: Moon Rising. McDonald a true veteran who can write anything, I can’t help but feel he would actively need to sabotage the novel in order for the conclusion to his Game of Domes trilogy to falter. McDonald been around for decades and written in early every style possible, his lunar drama seems like children’s toys in some ways.

Additional books to feel relatively confident about include Simon Ings’ The Smoke. Ings has a very solid track record of writing mature, intelligent science fiction, something which The Smoke will likely uphold. Another is Elizabeth Hand’s Curious Toys. I can honestly say Hand has never let me down. She is one of few writers whose work I pick up sight unseen, and I fully expect Curious Toys to continue her quiet but impressive run of high quality fiction. Paul Kearney’s The Windscale Incident is another on the radar as likely to be good. Writing the novel seeming to have interrupted work on the planned sequel to The Wolf in the Attic, it’s generally a good sign when an author is so taken by an idea they put everything aside and rip it out in a short time. Hopefully The Windscale Incident will support the idea. Rudy Rucker is always one for highly atypical, engaging sf, so here’s hoping Million Mile Road Trip fits the bill. No idea what it’s about, but it’s Rucker and sure to be off the wall.

Lewis Shiner is often worthwhile, meaning there is a chance Outside the Gates of Eden could be, as well. If anything, Shiner knows he’s writing for a non-mainstream market, which gives him some freedom to try things writers looking for commercial success cannot. Other books that look intriguing include Rachel Swirsky’s The Woman at the Tower Window. In what I believe will be Swirsky’s debut novel, it’s been a long time coming. After years and years of high quality short fiction, hopefully her foray into longer fiction goes smoothly. Nina Allan, like her partner Christopher Priest, has always been one for precision and nuance in her writing, thus The Silver Wind stands a very strong chance of continuing the tradition in intelligent, enjoyable fashion.

Undoubtedly a myriad of other unannounced books will appear throughout 2019 that intrigue and interest, not the least of which includes up and coming writers part of the media explosion currently underway.

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