MIND MELD: Up And Coming Authors of The Last 5 Years
[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
This week’s question was inspired by the upcoming anthology Twenty-First Century Science Fiction, which features stories from “up and coming” authors beginning in the year 2000. We modified the question slightly and asked our panelists this question:
Here’s what they said…
I love new writers. I’ve always enjoyed being on the trolley before other folks have even noticed it’s arrived. I would say that the writer that is an up-and-coming force is Erin Morganstern, whose novel The Night Circus is the first novel I’ve read since Perdido Street Station that actually made me put it down so I could digest it fully. I would say Morganstern, but I doubt there’s anyone who’s not aware of her exceptional novel and of the fact that she’ll be changing the face of fiction for years to come.
And while there are many authors who have first seen publication in the last five years (Saladin Ahmed! Gail Carriger! Stina Leicht! Paolo Bacigalupi!), there are two names, both writing YA at the moment, who are certainly worth seeking out.
The first is EC Meyers, the author of Fair Coin and Quantum Coin. Fair Coin was an absolute blast, a wonderful piece of fiction and a perfect choice for the Andre Norton Award this year. I don’t go in for series often, but Fair Coin left em with a desire for more more more, which is the sign of a great writer writing a great story. Quantum Coin delivered just as well.
The other name is G. Willow Wilson. While she’s done graphic novels over the years (and if you haven’t read Cairo or Air from Vertigo, go do that now!) and her first novel, Alif The Unseen, is a spectacular piece of fiction and one that usually would have escaped my view, but ended up recommended to me by a friend at a film festival who has often said she “doesn’t like that fantasy stuff.” Well, this is wonderful fantasy, and it’s the kind of writing that you wanna just keep reading and reading. I can’t wait to read more!
We’re in a glorious place, as a genre, with new voices emerging on all sides and taking the world by storm. It can be difficult sometimes to know who’s new and who’s not, and to keep track of who is where in their career. (To give an example, by the standards of this Meld, I’m a “new voice” — my first professional publications appeared in 2009, putting me well within the five-year window.) Some people burst out of nowhere like they’ve always been there, while others creep up on you, gradually filling in the available space, becoming part of the landscape.
I want to focus a little on some of the amazing YA authors who are making waves in our genre, because the YA readers of today are the dedicated science fiction and fantasy readers of tomorrow (believe me, thanks to Diane Duane and Diana Wynne Jones and others, I was one of them). Sarah Rees Brennan writes about demons and vampires and telepathy and the glory of the Gothic heroine. She’s smart and funny and brilliant and so much fun that she’s probably illegal in some states. If you want your heart ripped out and stomped into a million pieces, pick up her first Gothic fantasy with snark and telepathy and girl detectives, Unspoken.
Megan Crewe is proof that the pandemic novel is alive and well and still wiping out the world. Her Fallen World trilogy is a gorgeous demonstration of how to do “terrible disease kills everyone, how do we cope” right, hitting all the established tropes while still making them feel fresh and knew. The Way We Fall is in the tradition of Emergence and The Girl Who Owned A City. It’s amazing, enthralling, and absolutely worth the read.
Dan Wells was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2011. There’s a reason for that. His John Wayne Cleaver trilogy, beginning with I Am Not A Serial Killer, is basically Dexter for the high school set — and for those of us who have graduated high school but retain our keen appreciation of a well-chosen turn of phrase and a clever way of looking at the world. His current series, which began with Partials, is a dystopia of the highest order.
There are so many amazing authors breaking into the scene on all levels, from middle grade to adult science fiction and fantasy. I hope some of these will tickle somebody’s fancy, because seriously, I love their work. I want to keep them making more.
Wow, this one’s hard. Not because there aren’t any, but because I could fill ten pages with names. We’re in one of those wonderful eras of awesome new talent hitting the pages, and just what’s on the award ballots is more than enough to keep me busy for a while.
The new shining stars are also showing a wonderful diversity of culture, gender, orientation and voice. I couldn’t be more excited about the future of speculative fiction, looking at these authors.
E. Lily Yu — Won the Campbell Award, and was nominated for Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards, among others.
Ken Liu — I don’t know if Ken even counts as ‘up and coming’ anymore, given the number of award nominations and wins he gets every year! I had the fortune to nab a short story from Ken and Shelly Li, back when I was editing Crossed Genres, and he’s only gotten better. Science fiction and fantasy with heart, cultural relevance, and beautiful prose? Sign me up! Ken also does a great deal of translation, bringing Chinese SF to the American market.
Rachel Swirsky — Rachel is fairly well known to readers of short SF and fantasy, having garnered many award nominations and a Nebula. Her prose is beautiful and haunting, and her stories pull no punches. I’ve heard teasers of novel projects, and can’t WAIT to see what she’ll do there.
Christie Yant — Christie is the Associate Editor at Lightspeed Magazine, and a strong short fiction writer. Her military science fiction story, “Transfer of Ownership”, was reprinted at Wired.com. Wonderful emotional resonance in her work, along with excellent action scenes.
Saladin Ahmed — Saladin’s Throne of the Crescent Moon has been all over award ballots this year. Set in a Middle Eastern-inspired fantasy world, it’s a breath of fresh air in the often-European epic fantasy offerings.
N.K. Jemison — I thoroughly enjoyed Jemison’s Inheritance trilogy, but with the Dreamblood duology, she’s moved from an author I liked, to one I can’t wait to get the next thing from. Dreamblood, set in an Egyptian inspired world, is what I’ve always wanted from epic fantasy: rich, bloody, huge, and fast-paced.
Robert Jackson Bennett — Robert absolutely stormed onto the scene in 2010, with the publication of the Shirley Jackson Best Novel Award winner, Mr. Shivers. He hasn’t slowed down since, and now has 4 books out. Robert’s work is best described as a deeply-American mythology, complete with grease and blood under its fingernails, set in Depressions and nuclear testing sites, bleak and gorgeous and sometimes too believable.
J.M. McDermott — McDermott’s Dogsland trilogy was a victim of the Night Shade Books collapse, but garnered critical acclaim. “Never Knew Another” is a weird but perfectly formed koan of identity, memory, loss and loneliness. Dark, moving, and unique.” – Felix Gilman McDermott also has an excellent collection of feminist tales titled Women and Monsters, and has a new novel in the works with Apex.
First off, I’ll stretch ‘first published in the past 5 years’ to ‘first published in the past 8 years’. Reason: 8 years ago was when I started reading email submissions for Interzone, so had my first glimpse at unpublished, upcoming talents.
Quickly — I beg time constraints — from the top of my head, in no particular order:
Alaya Dawn Johnson (*);
Aliette de Bodard;
Hannu Rajaniemi (*);
Madeline Ashby (*);
(*) = yes, those authors are also the Hartwell/Nielsen Hayden anthology. Actually, I was so lucky to lift both “Third Day Lights” and “His Master’s Voice” from the Interzone slushpile. so I’m quite chuffed that they’re included.
I’m overlooking a lot of others, but I’ll trust my fellow panelists will mention them.
Alaya Dawn Johnson had something of a dream start in 2005 (ignoring, for the sake of rhetoric, that she had published one poem and one short story in 2004) when both of the stories she published that year made it into that year’s best SF and and best fantasy of Hartwell/Kramer. Both “Shard of Glass” (Strange Horizons) and “Third Day Lights” are highly recommended. Then she published Racing The Dark — a fantasy novel and first part of The Spirit Binders trilogy — which I liked very much. Unfortunately, after Agate Publishing put out the sequel The Burning City, the third and final volume seems to be on ice. However, this hasn’t stop Alaya: she’s published a number of short stories since, but also started a series of vampire urban fantasy novels set in 1920s Chicago starting with Moonshine and Wicked City, two graphic novels (The Goblin King and Detective Frankenstein), and, this year, a return to science fiction with The Summer Prince. I just started The Summer Prince and so far it’s great. As might be clear, Alaya’s writing is very versatile, but I love it most when she turns her very considerable talents to SF. Let’s hope she keeps her next YA novel firmly in science fiction territory.
Aliette de Bodard is as versatile in her writing as Alaya, but her focus is different. She already had a lot of short stories published in a very wide range of venues before she sold her Obsidian & Blood trilogy (Servant Of The Underworld, Harbinger Of The Storm, Master Of The House Darts) to Angry Robot. While her short fiction had a wide range of both settings and themes, the Aztec Noir trilogy focussed on Aztec life before Columbus sailed to the Americas. She has a series of stories set in her Xuja universe, an alternate history where China, rather than Europe, sailed to the Americas first, where North America hangs in a precarious power balance between the Chinese on the West Coast (Xuja), the Native Americans in the South (Greater Mexica) and the US — a much smaller US — in the East. I am quite fond of her Xuja stories (see at the bottom). However, it seems that Aliette is really finding her stride of late, when she started introducing her Vietnamese heritage into her fiction (her debut story for Interzone — “Deer Flight”, was about her French heritage), and focused more on the far eastern cultures in her Xuja universe. For example in “The Waiting Stars” (from The Other Half of the Sky) and both “Immersion” and “Scattered Along the River of Heaven” (Clarkesworld Magazine). I’m eagerly awaiting the first Xuja novel…
Hannu Rajaniemi is a force that simmers under SF’s surface, occasionally bursting through the surface tension with a few shorts (“Shibuya no Love” — Futurismic, “Deus Ex Homine” — Nova Scotia, “His Master’s Voice — Interzone) until he burst onto the scene like a volcano (excuse the mixed metaphors) with The Quantum Thief. Charlie Stross attended me to him at an EasterCon years ago, saying “He is better than me, much better.” The Quantum Thief is awesome: it takes no prisoners (even though the novel itself partly is about prisoners trying to escape in ways both real and metaphoric), goes full throttle from beginning to end and completely omits infodumps (as does its sequel, The Fractal Prince). That the latter is seen as a a huge problem by the two SF Signal reviewers is, IMHO, their loss, as both The Quantum Thief and The Fractal Prince deliver huge payoffs if the reader is willing to invest time and considerable contemplation into trying to follow and understand it. Make no mistake: The Quantum Thief is the enormous kick-in-the-butt that current hard SF needs: intricate concepts interwoven with exhilarating prose, complex characters living in a future where all the paradigms have shifted into high gear, Machiavellian backgrounds interspersed with intense action scenes. The Fractal Prince is just as good, and I can’t wait until The Causal Angel is released.
Madeline Ashby recently had herself pulled off the Campbell ballot because she had previous professional sales (to Nature, Tesseracts Eleven and my own Shine anthology). That these short stories (“In Which Joe and Laurie Save Rock’n'Roll”, “The Chair” and “Ishin” ), together with “Boyfriend” (WorldChanging Canada, Escape Pod), Off-Track Betting”, “Fitting a New Suit” and “Zombies, Condoms and Shenzhen: the Surprising Link between the Undead and the Unborn” (all FLURB) sailed under almost everybody’s radar is a great shame. Lately, though, through her Angry Robot novels vN and iD (and the short story “The Education of Junior Number 12″, set in the same world), she is finally getting the attention and acclaim she deserves. She is extremely well versed in the here-and-now and the near future. And when she complains to WorldCon about how it is so out of touch with the current generation, then — if I was part of WorldCon — I would pay very sharp attention.
It is thanks to the good people of Haikasoru that I was able to read the English translation of Toh Enjoe’s Self-Reference Engine, which I consider the best SF novel of this year. If his Wikipedia entry is correct, it was also his Japanese SF debut. I still have to get around to his story “Endoastronomy” from “The Future Is Japanese”, and sincerely hope more of his work will be translated. Nevertheless: I urge everybody to check out Self-Reference Engine. On the one hand experimental (is it a novel, a fix-up of short stories, or something else? Probably all of the above) and very hard SF, on the other hand suffused with a humour so bone dry Monthy Python would turn green from jealousy. The 22 separate parts seem, at first, rather unconnected but to the sharp reader slowly pieces will begin to fall in place (for example, if in one chapter — Tome — a theorist is introduced who tries to develop a self-eradicating automaton, then it should not come as a surprise when the giant corpora of knowledge at some point mysteriously disappear). Highly challenging, very experimental, diamond hard SF that comes with my highest recommendation.
Aimee Bender writes, “I want to be violated by insight.” I’m a short-story guy, and that quote describes exactly how I want to feel by the time I finish reading one. And that’s pretty much how I felt after reading these two debut collections…
Nathan Ballingrud gets mentioned here (a) on a technicality since his North American Lake Monsters came out last summer, though the some of the stories in it are older than five years and (b) because since I finished reading it last month, I can’t stop talking about it. I swear, if this doesn’t win The World Fantasy or Shirley Jackson Award for 2013, there really is no justice in the world. I was mesmerized by every story, something I haven’t felt since M. Rickert’s Map of Dreams. I love the “K-Mart magical realism” of Ballingrud’s pieces, and the way he takes standard horror tropes and gives you a whole slew of new reasons to fear them. And what’s even better (or worse, depending on your point of view) is how his characters are often required to make a choice between a bad situation and a situation filled with preternatural horror, and how sometimes the latter is more appealing.
Full disclosure: I’ve known Mercedes M. Yardley for a bit. But even at this early point, the fact that I don’t see her name being mentioned in sci-fi/fantasy circles as widely as it’s (rightfully) starting to be in horror circles has me baffled. And I say that knowing I don’t read across genres the way I should, either. But when I read her debut collection Beautiful Sorrows, I definitely see shades of Charles Beaumont and Joan Aiken, mixed with Fredric Brown. And if they have one foot on both patches, so to speak, then so does Mercedes! She may describe her work as “whimsical horror,” but don’t be fooled into thinking that means cutesy dread-filled stories with polka dots and moonbeams. In fact, if you do come across a Yardley story with polka dots and moonbeams, you’d do well to brace yourself for a figurative — and likely literal — knife through the heart.
Kaaron Warren has had an exceptionally great year and seems to be everywhere at the moment. Not first published in the last 5 years but really starting to get international notice. Her recent collection Through Splintered Walls has struck a chord, especially the novella “Sky” which just won a Shirley Jackson Award and is nominated for a World Fantasy Award. Kaaron writes the subtle, creepy, everyday horror. The kind that could sneak up on you from round the corner as you wander down your ordinary quiet suburban street. She loves to get inside the heads of the disturbed, unhinged and downright evil and she drags you along for the ride. Other recommended reads include her 2009 novel Slights and “Dead Sea Fruit” which was recently reprinted in a new short story collection called The Gate Theory by new press Cohesion Press.
Thoraiya Dyer also seems to be very much an up and comer having won the Best New Talent Ditmar in 2011 as well as the Ditmar for best novella/novelette for The Company Articles of Edward Teach which managed to be both a pirate story and a coming of age story brilliantly capturing the trials of being young and from religious cultural backgrounds and wanting to fit in to the Sydney ‘burbs. Thoraiya has also snagged herself an Aurealis Award in a short story category for the last three years running, most recently for her YA story “The Wisdom of the Ants”, published in Clarkesworld, December 2012. Twelfth Planet Press recently published her short story collection Asymmetry as part of the Twelve Planets series and my favourite stories are the werewolf/vet “After Hours” and “Seven Days in Paris” about a clone with only seven days to live and uncover the truth about a terrorist plot.
I’m looking forward to two new projects from Ben Peek. The first is his collection Dead Americans coming out from Chizine Publications, which will collect his Red Sun stories and his Dead (iconic) American stories. The other Peek project to look out for is his fantasy trilogy “Children” coming out from Tor UK — Immolation and its two sequels.
And finally, I’m especially excited about the forthcoming post apocalyptic literary biopunk novel Trucksong by Andrew Macrae. Andrew has been a much loved short story writer in the Australian scene for quite some time, writing shorts within this world of free-wheeling cyborgs and rogue, decked out AI trucks. Next month will see his debut novel published along with an accompanying soundtrack from his band Television Sky. Andrew brings the groovy, creative and bleak in equal parts and will leave the image of the ritual of brumby trucks mating scarred into the back of your brain for some time.
One of the advantages of being both an editor and doing SFFWRTCHT is that I get sent tons of material from writers of all levels. There are so many worthy of note whose work has come across my desk the past few years, but I’ll pick six-three novelists and three short story writers-whom I think deserve mention and likely are still relatively unknown to many SF Signal readers. They shouldn’t be for long…
For novelists, John A. Pitts’ Sarah Beauhall series from TOR, starting with Black Blade Blues and continuing with Honey Words and Forged in Fire is one of the best undiscovered urban fantasy series out there. His charming, dynamic lead, who happens to be both a blacksmith and lesbian, is intriguing and inspiring. And he makes no political issue of her sexuality or anything else. Instead, he tells a charming adventure fantasy about dragons invading Wall Street and the Pacific Northwest and Sarah and her SCA-like buddies who find themselves suddenly faced with fighting real dragons instead of pretend. The fight scenes are really spectacular and the books are just great reads, so much so that they deserve a much bigger audience.
Leah Petersen’s Physics of Falling series captures the feel of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game so much that Petersen, after hearing so many comparisons, finally read that classic. The difference is her story is more about coming of age and finding love than military science fiction and her lead character is bisexual. BUT her writing is superb and compelling, her worldbuilding fascinating. Fighting Gravity was her stellar debut, and the sequel Cascade Effect came out last year, and I can’t wait to read it.
Third, and also from TOR, Deborah Coates’ startlingly original contemporary rural fantasy series about Gulf War vet Hallie Michaels investigating her sister’s murder in rural Iowa is fantastic. Wide Open blew me away. I had no idea what to expect but amazing stuff. And Deep Down is out now as well. Wide Open landed her on some awards long lists and got her notice last year, this series deserves to find a lot more readers. Amazing stuff.
For short stories, Jamie Todd Rubin has been Analog Mafia for a while but is still relatively unknown and maybe longer than five years, but he cheats when he answers these Mind Melds so I’ll cheat, too. He just finished his first novel, and he wrote an amazingly ambitious and well told story for me for Beyond The Sun. He’s insightful, thoughtful and gutsy and comes up with impossible ideas he somehow manages to execute and execute well. I think he’s just getting started and we’re bound to see a lot more of him in the future. He’s certainly welcome in my projects any time. Stories to look for: “If By Reason of Strength,” “In the Cloud” both available as ebooks separately, and “Flipping the Switch” in Beyond The Sun out now from Fairwood.
Jay Werkheiser is a lesser known new Analog Mafia member but his stories have stuck with me. He had “Conscientious Objectors” in Analog’s October 2013 issue but I first discovered his work through a story called “Contamination” in November 2012 Analog and another “Ambidextrose” last year, with a few in between as well. He’s a high school chemistry teacher, so he’s doing science in the trenches and well worth seeking out.
I also really enjoy Beth Davis Cato, who had a story in my only issue of Blue Shift magazine and has just sold a steampunk trilogy to Harper Voyager. She has stories at Stupefying Stories, Daily Science Fiction, Every Day Fiction and other venues regularly. “Cartographer’s Ink” is particularly memorable from DSF, I obviously enjoyed “A Lonesome Speck of Home” which I bought for Blue Shift but her bibliography page at www.bethcato.com has tons of links to online stories worth checking out.
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