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MIND MELD: Who Are Tomorrow’s Big Genre Stars? (+ The Top 18 Genre Authors To Keep an Eye On)

As a science fiction fan, I’ve often wondered about the fans of yesteryear who read the early works of legendary authors like Silverberg, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, etc., back when they were first published. Did they know that these writers were destined for greatness? Could they have predicted their successful careers? All of which makes me wonder if we can predict the genre stars of tomorrow. In this week’s Mind Meld, we turned to folks who deal with lots of writers on a daily basis, and we asked them:

Q: Which new or little-known genre writers will be tomorrow’s big stars? Why?

Read on to see if their answers match yours….

[MIND MELD EXTRA! After these enlightening responses, I’ve collected the names that received multiple mentions and compiled the un-scientific list of “The Top 18 Genre Authors To Keep an Eye On”…]

Matthew Cheney
Matthew Cheney has published fiction and nonfiction with a wide variety of venues, including Strange Horizons, One Story,, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Abyss & Apex, and the anthologies Interfictions and Logorrhea. He is the series editor of Best American Fantasy from Prime Books.

Being a science fiction reader, I am, of course, excellent at predicting things. As I sit here in my ornithopter, debating whether to visit the excellent library of microfiche on Mars or to bathe in the pools of Venus, a few names come to mind…Ahadi Benson…Chasina Doyle…Eric Fujishima…

Oh, wait, you want the names of people actually writing now, people whose work we might be able to read and collect before it starts selling for multiple digits on eBay! Well, let’s see. Alan DeNiro immediately comes to mind, not just because his first collection was published by the awesome Small Beer Press, or because he just sold a novel to Juliet Ulman at Bantam, but because he’s one of the best writers in the U.S. today, and one of these days the masses are just going to have to agree with me about that. (Or else they’ll die in the revolution. But you don’t know about the revolution yet…)

I’m betting Meghan McCarron will, in five to ten years, be talked about as a contender for a MacArthur Genius Grant. (She’s a friend of mine, but I think she’s talented enough to overcome this impediment.) I also expect Tempest Bradford will become known not just for her fiction and nonfiction, but for her excellent work as a crusading president of SFWA, bringing the organization to its largest enrollment in history.

Nick Mamatas will probably be frustrated that he’s less known for his marvelous novels and stories than for his week as an American Idol judge, but that’s a kind of fame, so it counts.

More? Let’s see…David Schwartz‘s first novel, Superpowers, is going to bring him a deservedly large audience, but I think he’s the sort of writer who will follow it up with a string of equally strong books and maintain that audience quite well. Holly Phillips gained some good notice for her first few books, but I think when her novel The Engine’s Child is published by Del Rey this fall, she’s likely to be noticed by a deservedly large audience. Paul Jessup is definitely a writer to watch, and I’d bet something valuable (if I had something valuable) that he’ll publish a book in the next five years, and that book will attract real attention. Ursula Pflug has been publishing for a while now, and hasn’t gotten nearly the notice she deserves, but she’s the sort of writer who could suddenly have a breakout hit and cause everyone to label her an overnight success. Neil Williamson is one of those writers whose name always attracts me if it is present in a magazine or anthology, and I’m curious to see what he produces in the next decade — he could, I think, have either a smash hit or develop a cult following. Vandana Singh is a writer whose short fiction I adore. She gained some notice for her recent novella Of Love and Other Monsters, but, honestly, it felt more like an outline than a full piece of fiction to me, so I can’t wait to see her publish a novel as robust as her short stories, because she’s got more talent and vision than just about anybody else out there.

Niall Harrison
Niall Harrison is editor of Vector, and Senior Reviews Editor for Strange Horizons. He blogs at Torque Control.

The difficulty in answering this question, of course, is that first you have to define what “new” or “little-known” means, which is to say: to whom? To the literary world at large, just about any genre writer I could mention would probably qualify. On the other hand, Margo Lanagan only got widespread in-genre notice a few years ago, but has been publishing books since the early ’90s. Chris Roberson, described by Jonathan Strahan as an “exciting new writer” in The Year’s Best SF and Fantasy of the Year, volume two, has published six novels in this decade alone. M. Rickert has published only one collection — but it won a World Fantasy Award. Daryl Gregory‘s first novel isn’t out yet, and it’s only in the past couple of years that I’ve noticed a buzz about his fiction, yet his first publication, like Lanagan’s, dates back to the early nineties.

So I’m going to limit myself to writers whose first work has appeared since 2002; this excludes Paolo Bacigalupi, who I suspect is going to publish an extraordinary novel in the next few years, but so it goes. The next part of the question to tackle is “big stars”, and here, to avoid depressing myself, I’m going to assume the metric takes account of critical acclaim, as well as just sales. So I’m limiting myself, largely, to writers who haven’t already achieved both, which is to say both new and little-known — because otherwise, according to rule one, I would have to include Richard Morgan, on the grounds that Black Man (2007) and The Steel Remains (2008) between them showcase a new depth and maturity in his writing. But Morgan’s already won awards, and sold plenty of books.

All of which leaves me with five names, which in alphabetical order are:

Will Ashon. First novel Clear Water (2005) is Ballardian satire with meatier bass notes; not everything in it works, but the bits that do are forceful and tough and original. Second novel The Heritage (2008) looks to cover similar, if perhaps even grimier, ground.

Ted Kosmatka. He earns his place on the strength of “The Prophet of Flores” (2007), a fantastical alternate history that manages to navigate the conflict between science and faith in a universe where the battle lines are radically different than they are here, and find an ending that minimizes neither. More stories like this, please.

David Moles. One of two reasons I had to pick 2002, rather than a more obvious five-year cutoff, since his first publication snuck out at the end of that year. His stories — from “Five Irrational Histories” to “Planet of the Amazon Women” and “Finisterra” — tend to be both bold and intense. And, not incidentally, they show that you can challenge sf’s assumptions without giving up sf’s heritage: mundanes take note.

Vandana Singh. The other reason for the 2002 cutoff; Singh’s collection The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories should appear later this summer, and should be one of the best collections of the year. Like Moles, she has the ability to make existing sf tropes new; the best of her stories are also elegant, affecting, and perfectly controlled.

Rachel Swirsky. Of the five writers I’ve picked, Swirsky is probably the one whose voice is least fully formed — but her fiction is no less exciting for that. To date, the best of her stories is last year’s “Dispersed by the Sun, Melting in the Wind”, a vivid and passionate end-of-the-world (or at least end-of-humanity) story whose underlying steel bodes well.

Paula Guran
Paula Guran is the editor of Juno Books, a line of mass market fantasy. She doesn’t have time for much else now, but she was once notorious for a bunch of other stuff including reviewing genre fiction.

“The next big thing” — or author — is seldom predictable in any genre. And, after all, doesn’t it take gravitational instability to make a star? Right now, in science fiction, very few *new* novelists are even being published and the “big thing” seems to be an updated old thing: space opera.

Then there’s the question of who, exactly, is an SF star? At the moment the biggest selling science fiction novel is The Host by Stephanie Meyer — she’s sold about 250,000 hardcover copies in a month. The biggest sellers in SF overall are people like Eric Nyland, Karen Traviss, and Troy Denning who write tie-ins to games and movies. Are they recognized as “stars” in the science fiction world? I’d think Cory Doctorow is considered a star and he’s sold more books than, well, than Meyer did last week…ahem.

Okay. I’ll stop tap dancing.

One person who might be stellar is Scott Westerfeld. He’s not exactly new and already a bestseller in YA, but Tor is re-releasing his Succession novels, The Risen Empire and The Killing Worlds, in trade paperback. There you have an excellent author who sells a lot of YA books (like Stephanie Meyer) and it’s space opera. David Louis Edelman is someone I’d like to see become a star. I loved his debut, Infoquake (Pyr). Barnes & Noble Explorations called it “the love child of Donald Trump and Vernor Vinge” and that’s probably as apt a short description as any. Its sequel, Multireal, is out in July. I understand Infoquake will be going into mass market paperback, so maybe he will gain a larger following. Jay Lake–again not exactly a new name, but new to trade with Mainspring and now Escapement (Tor)–is another author who deserves stardom.

Otherwise, there are a bunch of women doing SF who ought to sparkle in the SF firmament. Maybe SF is finally ready for more female stars? I’m sure I’m forgetting people, but…Justina Robson is better known in the UK than here, but seems to finally be gaining some ground in the US, thanks primarily to Pyr. Another Pyr author, Kay Kenyon, has been around awhile, but is getting well-deserved notice with Bright of the Sky and now A World Too Near. Sandra McDonald‘s first (The Outback Stars) and second (The Stars Down Under) novels have been published by Tor and are delightful. M.M. Buckner garnered critical note with a trio of novels from Ace, but the last was published in 2005. She has talent. Elizabeth Bear is able to write anything well. Fantasy seems to have enticed her away from SF lately, but she might yet twinkle there.

Fantasy, of course, is a different matter. Much hotter (and thus cooler) genre these days. New authors and new stars are more frequent. But, gosh, let’s just stick with one genre at a time.

Diana Gill
Executive Editor Diana Gill runs Eos, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. She is the editor of New York Times bestselling authors Kim Harrison and Vicki Pettersson. Other authors with whom she has worked include Mario Acevedo, Jonathan Barnes, Trudi Canavan, Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Mary Stewart, Karen Traviss, and Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.

First off, the obligatory warning–asking an editor to pick unsung favorites can be more than you wanted to know, but I’ve tried to be good and limit myself to just a few recommendations (though, of course, I have plenty more if desired!)

Morrow published Jonathan Barnes‘s first book, The Somnambulist, in February 2008, and it’s an absolute winner. A tour-de-force mixture of Victorian penny-dreadful, historical mystery, and surrealist fantasy, it’s gotten incredible quotes and reviews, and instantly hooks readers. Plus it has one of the best opening lines I’ve ever read. His next book, The Domino Men, will be out in March 2008. Tag line: The Office meets James Bond. Who’s fighting aliens.

On a completely different tack, Mario Acevedo writes high literature (tongue-firmly-in-cheek here) about Latino vampire detective Felix Gomez, whose adventures have titles like The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, X-Rated Bloodsuckers, and The Undead Kama Sutra. Part noir, part wacky satire, and part soft-core cheesy fun, his work reminds me a bit of Chris Moore or Carl Hiaasen (and Undead Kama got a great quote from Tim Dorsey)–I think he’s got the same potential for cult readers. And he’s got a trailer with vampire Legos! )

Karen Traviss is a New York Times bestseller for her Star Wars novels and has received great quotes from authors, booksellers and readers alike for her Wess’har series (Judge was published in April). She’s got a fabulous background and writes both amazingly real, convincing aliens, soldiers, and characters, with great sf plots/stories. Plus the Wess’har books focus on extremely pertinent speculations about the environment, from gene backs, crop patenting, animal rights, etc., without being didactic or preachy.

Also sf, we’ve just published Adam-Troy Castro‘s first novel, Emissaries from the Dead, and I think the combination of sf world-building, intriguing (and totally-dysfunctional-but-still-engaging) characters and mystery is a great new twist on both sf and mystery. I’m hoping that will find a following as well.

Vicki Pettersson‘s third book, The Touch of Twilight, is on the NYT extended list this week, so her take on modern superheroes behind the scenes in Vegas isn’t completely unknown, but I think she’s just going to grow and grow, given how popular superheroes, urban fantasy, and graphic novels are becoming. Kickass heroines aren’t losing popularity, and the scenes in the comic-book shop are fabulous (or maybe that’s just because I spent too much time reading comics when younger…).

In terms of non-Eos/Morrow authors, John Scalzi, Naomi Novik, Cory Doctorow and Patrick Rothfuss are all writing wonderful stories, (I particularly loved Little Brother) but they’re hardly unknown. But in terms of much-less well-known authors, I just read Benjamin Rosenbaum‘s short story collection, The Ant Kind and Other Stories, which Small Beer will publish in August, and was blown away. It reminded me of when I first read Kelly Link or Ted Chiang or Eileen Gunn, or, actually, first picking up John Collier’s amazing Fancies and Goodnights many years ago. I totally recommend it.

Ellen Datlow
Ellen Datlow was editor of SCI FICTION, the multi award- winning fiction area of SCIFI.COM for six years, editor of Event Horizon: Science Fiction, and Fantasy for one and a half years, and fiction editor of OMNI and OMNI online for over seventeen years. During her career she has worked with an array of writers including Susanna Clarke, Neil Gaiman, Bruce Sterling, Peter Straub, Jonathan Carroll, George R. R. Martin, William Gibson, Jeffrey Ford, Kelly Link, Joyce Carol Oates, and Cory Doctorow. Her most recent anthologies are The Dark, The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales (with Terri Windling), and the horror anthology Inferno. She’s been co-editing The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror for over twenty years. Datlow has won multiple World Fantasy Awards, Bram Stoker Awards, Hugo Awards, Locus Awards, and the International Horror Guild Award, for her editing. She was recently the recipient of the Karl Edward Wagner Award, given by the British Fantasy Society for outstanding contribution to the genre. For more information and lots of photos see

Nathan Ballingrud is the first writer who comes to mind. He is already known to a few aficionados of powerful, literate horror but if he continues to write the way he’s been doing, he’s going to be famous inside and outside genre fiction within a few years. Although his first two stories were published in The Silver Web and F&SF in the mid-nineties, the first story I remember reading by him (published in 2003 by SCIFICTION) was “You Go where it Takes You” about a woman on run who makes an unsettling discovery and comes to a shocking decision by the end of the story. I chose it for Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror the year it came out.

He wrote another brilliant, terrifying story, “The Monsters of Heaven” (published in Inferno) about a couple who deal very badly with the loss of their child and strange angels who begin to appear around the world. Another one I chose for YBFH. He’s also got a dark story with the ambiguous title of “North American Lake Monster” (you’ll see why it’s ambiguous when you read it) in my Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy. With a few more stories under his belt and a collection, I suspect he’s going to attract a huge amount of readers.

Barbara Roden is best known as co-publisher of Ash-Tree Press (with her husband, Christopher) and as editor of the Ghost Story Society’s journal, All Hallows. But she already has enough stories published for Prime to be collecting them for publication in 2009. I’m most familiar with her brilliantly creepy and subtle, award-winning ghost story “Northwest Passage” and “The Brink of Eternity,” a story I recently bought for my forth coming Poe anthology. It combines fact and fiction and is about a man obsessed with the “hollow earth” theory. I very much look forward to her collection.

Jack O’Connell has published five brilliant, fresh, and twisted novels about the imaginary town of Quinsigamond, all with fantastic and/or horrific elements. From Box Nine (1992) to Word Made Flesh (1999) his work has gotten darker and darker and I’ve been pushing him on readers. He’s also published a very good, dark story in F&SF several years ago. I’ve been awaiting his new novel The Resurrectionist which is on my “to be read next” pile. He’s just waiting for his “breakout” — one big movie from a book may be all he needs. In the meantime I’ll keep pushing his novels. Read him!

Gardner Dozois
Gardner Dozois was the editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine for twenty years, and is still the editor of the annual The Year’s Best Science Fiction anthology series. He’s the author or editor of over a hundred books, has won fifteen Hugo Awards for his editing, and two Nebula Awards and a Sidewise Award for his own writing.

The starting problem with answering a question about new writers is that the definition of who is and who isn’t a “new writer” shifts from person to person, depending on how much they’ve read and how recently they’ve read it. Some people probably think Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow and Ken MacLeod are new writers; others may think somebody who only started publishing a year or two ago is not really “new” anymore.. So you may or may not consider some of these writers to be “new,” depending on whether you’ve run across them or not.

At any rate, new or newISH writers to keep an eye on would include: Ted Kosmatka, Vandana Singh, Justin Stanchfield, Jason Stoddard, Lavie Tidhar, Carrie Vaughn, Andrea Kail, Daniel Abraham, Ysabeau S. Wilce, Jamie Barras, Una McCormack, Aliette de Boddard, Beth Bernobich, Jeste de Vries, James L. Cambias, Laird Barron, Sarah K. Castle, C.W. Johnson, Daryl Gregory, Peter Friend, Theodora Goss, Sarah Monette, Mary Robinette Kowal, Cat Sparks, Brendon DuBois, and a LITTLE further down the road, David Moles, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Elizabeth Bear, David D. Levine, Alex Irvine, Greg Van Eekhout, Ruth Nestvold, Jay Lake, Charles Coleman Finlay, Paolo Bacigalupi, Chris Roberson, Paul Melko, and Tim Pratt.

Jonathan Strahan
Jonathan Strahan co-founded Eidolon: The Journal of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy and worked as its co-editor and co-publisher from 1990 to 1999. He works for Locus magazine as Reviews Editor. As a freelance editor, Jonathan has edited or co-edited The Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy (Volumes 1 and 2), Science Fiction: Best of 2003, The Locus Awards: Thirty Years of the Best in Science Fiction and Fantasy, and the Best Short Novels series for the Science Fiction Book Club, among many others. His latest anthologies are The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 1 and Eclipse One (both from Night Shade Books), and The New Space Opera (from HarperCollins and co-edited with Gardner Dozois). His latest anthology is The Starry Rift, a collection of young adult stories by the field’s top writers.

I was reading editor Scott Edelman’s journal a week or so ago, and he ran a copy of a list put together by Algis Budrys titled “The 10 Most Promising Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers“. It was published in 1982, and the list was:

  • Paul Preuss
  • Parke Godwin
  • Arsen Darnay
  • Michael Swanwick
  • Somtow Sucharitkul
  • Victor Besaw
  • Lucius Shepard
  • Madeline Robins
  • Robert L. Forward
  • Robert Frazier

It seems to me that we’re engaged in something similar with this particular ‘Mind Meld’. Not very long ago an update of a list like that would have included names like Cory Doctorow, Charlie Stross, and John Scalzi, but it seems to me that now they are neither little-known nor especially new. After all, surely having had multiple award nominations and multiple books published removes you from consideration.

So, if I were going to put together a list like that today, it might look something like this:

  • Daniel Abraham
  • Paolo Bacigalupi
  • Laird Barron
  • Daryl Gregory
  • Ted Kosmatka
  • Jay Lake
  • David Moles
  • M. Rickert
  • Benjamin Rosenbaum
  • Ken Scholes

The list is in alphabetical order, and ignores several writers who just crossed my mind, but it suffices. Now, who of those will be tomorrow’s big stars? I’ll pick a few. Obviously, Jay Lake and Paolo Bacigalupi will come as no surprise to anyone. Lake has been fabulously prolific over the past five years or so, but has really found his feet with his Mainspring universe novels. If they find an audience, he’s going to be with us for a long, long time. Bacigalupi is just the best serious SF writer we’ve seen in a while. I think he will only go from strength to strength, but whether he’ll be a big star depends on a novel. I’ve heard one’s in the works, and it could really push him to a whole new audience.

My big pick, though, for future star is Ken Scholes. He has everything it takes to be huge in four or five years. He’s published a handful of excellent short stories over the last couple years, and his first novel, Lamentation, is due from Tor in January 2009. It’s a beautifully written opener to what looks to be a terrific epic fantasy series. The first book is tightly written with well-drawn characters. I loved it, and can see if finding a huge audience.

David Moles, who is probably best known for co-editing the anthologies All-Star Zeppelin Stories and Twenty Epics, has a story on this year’s Hugo Ballot, which would seem to remove him from the little-known category, and yet he is little known. He’s published less than a dozen short stories, but they’re all intelligently written, provocative and entrancing pieces. If he can produce a novel that matches stories like “Finisterra” and “The Third Party”, he’s going to be huge. Either way, readers of the Mind Meld should be seeking his work out (and someone should collect his small body of fiction now!).

Benjamin Rosenbaum, whose first story collection is due out any day now from Small Beer, falls into the same category as a David Moles. A fabulously talented short story writer who’s only now just coming to a wider audience, I believe he too has a novel due. Actually, writing this, I’m reminded of when Terry Carr did the first line of New Ace Specials with Stan Robinson, Lucius Shepard, William Gibson and so on. Rosenbaum, Moles and a couple of others are the kind of writers who could well produce work to match that group.

Daryl Gregory is also someone who could be a big start in a handful of years. His short fiction is smart, literate and immediately engaging, while he has a first novel due later this year, Pandemonium, which is very good indeed. A literary fantasy, it’s approachable, engaging and well worth it.

So, that’s a sampling. I should probably have added Christopher Rowe (who has a handful of astounding short tales to his name), Jason Stoddard, and … well, you get the idea. There are a lot of writers doing amazing work right now.

Colleen Lindsay
For five years, Colleen Lindsay (link here: ) served as the Director of Publicity for Del Rey Books, a division of the Random House Publishing Group, where she specialized in the creative publicity and marketing of science fiction, fantasy, graphic novels and third-party licensed media. Additionally, she has more than twenty years experience in publishing and bookselling. Currently Colleen is a literary agent with FinePrint Literary Management.

Wow! There are so many ways to answer this question. I mean, are you talking about those writers with the staying power of a Philip K. Dick or a Robert Heinlein? Writers whose works will still be read and appreciated fifty years from now? Are you talking about those writers who are brand-new to the scene, those who will be making a splash either critically or commercially in the next twenty-four months? This latter question, I think, is the one I’m best equipped to answer.

Working in marketing and publicity, and now in my role as an agent, I’m always on the lookout for new authors with several facets: writing that is a truly a fresh voice in the genre, stylistically superior and well-crafted, but hopefully a writer who will become commercially successful as well. (Bear in mind that a commercially successful writer is not always heralded by an appearance on the New York Times bestseller list. Sure, that’s a nice bit of icing on the cake, but really? Publishers are just damned happy when an author’s book earns out its advance and goes on to back-list well year after year.) My estimation of a writer also goes up considerably if I know that he or she is a strong self-promoter. In these days of tight marketing and publicity budgets – particularly for non-mainstream titles – an author really can’t expect his or her publisher to do all – or even any! – of the promotional work.

So, bearing that in mind, I’ll first make a couple of educated guesses about writers whose books haven’t even been published yet.

The first name I’m going to throw out there is new YA fantasy author Sarah Rees Brennan, whose urban fantasy trilogy The Demon’s Lexicon is due out sometime next year. Sarah cut her teeth as a writer on Harry Potter fanfic; indeed, her online fanfic community developed a readership in the tens of thousands. In other words, she already has a built-in fanbase. When news of the sale of her trilogy first broke (the trilogy went for somewhere in the range of half a million dollars, by the way), thousands of comments were left on her personal Livejournal. And you’d better believe that these folks will be the first in line to buy a copy of The Demon’s Lexicon. Now, a lot of writers out there may scoff at fanfic but some of today’s best-selling and most entertaining writers out there got their start in fanfic, among them Naomi Novik and Rachel Caine.

Another writer whose work I think will make an impression on readers is Kameron Hurley, whose gritty fantasy trilogy God’s War is due out from Bantam next year. Kameron is an amazing writer; I read her first manuscript last year and it just blew me away. It’s tight, muscular writing that still manages to portray vibrant portraits of deeply flawed characters in a landscape that’s frighteningly real. The great thing about Kameron is that not only is she a marvelous storyteller, but she’s also a ballsy self-promoter, and maintains a healthy online presence. Look for her – she’s going to go places.

I recently sold a first novel by Alan DeNiro, who is best known for his critically acclaimed collection of short stories, Skinny Dipping in the Lake of The Dead, published in 2006 by Small Beer Press. When Alan approached me about representing him for his first novel, I was hooked. I just remembered how much I loved the short stories and, truth be told, I believe that Kelly Link and Gavin Grant have exquisite taste in writers so I tend to pay a lot of attention to which writers they’re publishing. His first novel, Total Oblivion, More Or Less, completely lives up to the promise of the short stories. Truthfully, I see Alan as a potential crossover success, much like Jonathan Lethem. (Just don’t forget your genre roots, Alan!) Alan also maintains a strong online presence, so he understands the value of self-promotion.

Coincidentally, Juliet Ulman at Bantam is the editor of both the Hurley and the DeNiro.

In the realm of writers whose books have already been published…

Last year I read and loved a book by a new writer named Sean “S.M.” Peters, called Whitechapel Gods, a short but powerful steampunk story set in an alternate version of Victorian London. Peters was discovered by Liz Scheier (who was then at Roc) at a writers conference. This is another book that I read in several drafts, from the very first rough draft that Sean sent Liz to the more streamlined version that was eventually published, marveling each time at how much better each subsequent version got. For a first novel, it’s really remarkable. If Roc is careful, and really shepherds him, Sean Peters has real breakout potential. He lacks a little in the self-promotion, area, however. (Sean, get yourself a blog!)

Another outstanding writer that I expect to see making his mark in the world of genre fiction is Brian Slattery. His debut novel, Spaceman Blues, A Love Song, was hands-down the most creative piece of genre writing to be published all year, and Tor editor Liz Gorinsky should be applauded for giving such a weird and wonderful book a chance. His next book, Liberation is one I’m very much looking forward to reading.

Really, I could go on and on and on about this but I think I’ve picked some exceptional writers for readers to explore. Thanks for letting me participate!

Andrew Wheeler
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years. He spent sixteen years as an editor for various bookclubs (most notably, working for the Science Fiction Book Club the entire time), ending as a Senior Editor. He is currently a Marketing Manager for John Wiley & Sons.

I’m taking “tomorrow’s big stars” to mean “will eventually sell lots and lots of books” and not “will be beloved by the few and covered in awards.” The two are sometimes identical, but that’s less and less likely these days. So keep that in mind — not just for my choices, but for everyone’s, since we’re probably talking about somewhat different things. (I’ll probably also slip to the other side along the way, too.)

I hope Jonathan Stroud keeps writing at the level of the Bartimaeus Trilogy, but that’s not precisely the same “genre,” since he’s been published as Young Adult. Since adult fantasy readers mostly haven’t discovered him yet, I suppose he counts.

As others have already pointed out here and elsewhere, Scott Westerfeld is probably the current top-selling SF writer in the world and is little-known to adult genre readers, despite starting out here. He’s already a genre star, and will be huge in adult SF in ten years (when his current audience ages up) even if nothing else changes.

Paolo Bacigalupi is a fine writer who hasn’t yet put out a novel, and has a talent for hitting the zeitgeist. He could be very big if he can restrain his “you fools! you destroyed it all!” tendencies, which would not go over as well at novel length. (And they’re beginning to wear thin at short length, too — I hope he can write stories without that one message in them, for his sake.)

I can’t count Kage Baker, can I? Probably not. But she deserves mentioning: a splendid writer of great adventure stories that could easily catch fire with a huge audience.

Naomi Novik is already halfway to being the next Anne McCaffrey, so it’s kind of a cheat to mention her. Pretend I didn’t.

Darryl Gregory, if he can write a novel as good as “Second Person, Present Tense,” will be huge. I have hopes that he will.

I have to mention Alaya Dawn Johnson, since she’s a wonderful person and a former colleague as well as a fine writer.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see some really major novels from Hannu Rajaniemi (the next SF-writer name we’ll all need to learn to spell, now that we’ve finally mastered “Bacigalupi”) — he’s already out-Strossing Charlie Stross in some of his short fiction.

I keep thinking Michael Flynn will someday write at least one book that will be massively popular — he’s an excellent writer, and has a great classic-SF spirit to him that a lot of readers look for. He hasn’t clicked yet, but it could still happen.

If Joe Hill continues as he began (with Heart-Shaped Box), I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him have a career reminiscent of his old man’s.

Chris Roberson writes adventure-y SF with a heart, and I expect he will have a big hit book sooner or later — he’s just that kind of writer.

I also expect Alex Irvine will someday break through — he has all the grit and scope of a Tim Powers but a viewpoint and style all his own.

And that’s plenty enough, I think — though there are probably a dozen other writers (like Paul Melko or Tim Pratt) who are likely to be really major in the next decade.

Mind Meld Extra!

In compiling this Mind Meld, I noticed several names kept appearing, so I thought it might be fun if I collected the names that received more than a single mention (which, I might add, in no way invalidates the presence of others on the list). This is completely unscientific, of course, especially considering our panel was working from a different set of definitions and perspectives. But even so, perhaps the names that floated to the top are indeed…

The Top 18 Genre Authors To Keep an Eye On

  • Paolo Bacigalupi (4 mentions)
  • Darryl Gregory (4)
  • Benjamin Rosenbaum (3 mentions)
  • Cory Doctorow (3)
  • Jay Lake (3)
  • David Moles (3)
  • Chris Roberson (3)
  • Vandana Singh (3)
  • Elizabeth Bear (2 mentions)
  • Alan DeNiro (2)
  • Alex Irvine (2)
  • Ted Kosmatka (2)
  • Paul Melko (2)
  • Naomi Novik (2)
  • Tim Pratt (2)
  • Jason Stoddard (2)
  • Karen Traviss (2)
  • Scott Westerfeld (2)

[Note: Listed by number of mentions, then alphabetically by last name.]

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

30 Comments on MIND MELD: Who Are Tomorrow’s Big Genre Stars? (+ The Top 18 Genre Authors To Keep an Eye On)

  1. A very humbling answer to your question is included in the long interview you (or someone else here) linked of Harlan Ellison a couple of days back.

  2. It looks to me like Laird Barron also got two (much deserved) mentions, but Gardner misspelled his name. Unless someone can actually find a “Laird Barton” out there with published short stories…

  3. Thanks, Mike. Typo fixed.

    As far a Jonathan Strahan’s second list, I ignored the (non-bolded) names in the list (including the Laird Barron mention) because he goes on to say “Now, who of those will be tomorrow’s big stars?” — implying that he’s first rounding up suspects to answer the question.

    However, in the interest of fairness, here’s the alternate list if we include those listed there:

    The Top 21 Genre Authors To Keep an Eye On

    • Paolo Bacigalupi (5 mentions)
    • Darryl Gregory (5)
    • Jay Lake (4 mentions)
    • David Moles (4)
    • Benjamin Rosenbaum (4)
    • Cory Doctorow (3 mentions)
    • Ted Kosmatka (3)
    • Chris Roberson (3)
    • Vandana Singh (3)
    • Daniel Abraham (2 mentions)
    • Laird Barron (2)
    • Elizabeth Bear (2)
    • Alan DeNiro (2)
    • Alex Irvine (2)
    • Paul Melko (2)
    • Naomi Novik (2)
    • Tim Pratt (2)
    • M. Rickert (2)
    • Jason Stoddard (2)
    • Karen Traviss (2)
    • Scott Westerfeld (2)

    [Note: Listed by number of mentions, then alphabetically by last name.]

  4. Not one online indie writer amongst them. For shame … you’re all supposed to be looking at the future!

  5. I almost did not comment. But then I realized that hardly anyone mentioned Sarah Monette. Monette is one of those authors whose short fiction and novels are simply dazzling.

  6. I’m just a reader chiming in here, but I second the votes for S.M. Peters, Sandra McDonald, and Naomi Novik.

    I’m especially enamored of the fact that these particular authors found fresh ways (at least for me) to fit a romance into the stories no matter how brief or subtle or unusual.

    Great post–I now have a lot more names to add to my TBR pile.

  7. I’m a big fan of Bear, so I’m happy to see her mentioned, but then she won the Campbell a few years back and has maintained a ridiculous publishing schedule since the Jenny Casey books.

    She’s new-ish, depending on how far back we can go and say new. Do we grant in the last 5 years, 2, or number of novels published?

    For me, the name to watch is Rachel Swirsky. She’s had both online and print sales for short fiction and is damn good. I’d love to see what she does with a novel.

    My other vote would be for Mary Robinette Kowal. I love her short fiction and I know she has an agent shopping her “Jane Austen with Magic” novel right now. Kowal is currently nominated for the Campbell, one of a very few who have been nominated without having sold (or published) a novel.

    I’m thinking Big Genre stars in terms of a combination of in-genre popularity with quality. The biggest sales and crossover appeal will likely come from somebody else we haven’t heard of yet.

  8. It’s interesting to note that these names–Cory Doctorow, Naomi Novik, and Scott Westerfeld–all of them are enjoying rather enormous success OUTSIDE of genre. And frankly, are making the sort of money that any genre writer would love to break out and make. So, to call them ‘little known’ within genre is, I think, to miss a larger point.

    At the very least, they shouldn’t be counted in the final wrap-up tally, which is getting play out in the blogosphere as a summation. If you read the actual entries, you’ll notice that most of your respondents qualify their mention of these three as not really meeting the criteria of the question.

  9. I’m disappointed to see writers like Doctorow, Novik, and Westerfeld on your wrap-up list of “The Top 21 Genre Authors To Keep an Eye On” since many of the writers, when they mention these names, make mention that these people are already making it, or are well known.

    These are people who you can’t help but keep an eye on. This list should be of people under the radar. People that you need someone to point out to you since you’ve likely missed them.

    Not authors who: have a huge online presence plus five + books published, or had their series optioned by Peter Jackson, or have hit the tops of the NYT bestseller list with their young adult books.

    If I was making a list of authors to watch*, it would be:

    Hal Duncan (and he may fail my own argument)

    Ben Rosenbaum

    Mary Robinette Kowal

    Chris Roberson

    Rachel Swirsky

    Alan DeNiro

    Erin Hoffman

    William Shunn

    Mark Teppo

    *since I should put my money where my mouth is

  10. I type faster than John, and he’s more inclined to actually articulate his answers with details. Which is why you should pay attention to him, and I’ll go stand over here next to the punch bowl.

  11. @Mark: Thanks for the comments! Please feel free to remove from the list those names that do not meet your criteria of “new” and “stars”. And to be honest…on a re-read of the Doctorow mentions in today’s semi-awake state, he probably shouldn’t have been included. Now stop drinking all the punch! 😉

    I’ve checked out some of the mentions of this lists on other sites, and to those discussions – which are completely justified, lively and totally worthwhile – I would add:

    1. Don’t be offended at those included or not included on the list. It’s just an aggregate of the responses we received; it is not a be-all, end-all definitive list.

    2. As stated twice before — this list is NOT scientific or statistically representative in any way. Each respondent was free to choose their own criteria and definitions.

    3. Not only are those with only a single mention worthy of checking out, there are countless others that were not even mentioned at all. To that end: Speak up! Let us know in the comments.

  12. @Lee: “Not one online indie writer amongst them. For shame … you’re all supposed to be looking at the future!” A number of those writers, myself included, have firm roots in online/indie publishing. Becoming published by the trade press is a mark of success, not failure.

    @Joe Sherry: “Kowal is currently nominated for the Campbell, one of a very few who have been nominated without having sold (or published) a novel.” Good point, though “very few” might be stretching it a little. The only Campbell winners I’m aware of in recent history without novel track record are me, Michael Burstein and Laura Resnick. But my year (2004) 3 out of 5 nominees were short story writers.

  13. Addendum to Jay:

    When Cory Doctorow won the Campbell in 2000, he had also written only short stories to that point. Elizabeth Bear, who won the award in 2005, had her novel published that year as well, so one could reasonably argue that her Campbell win was based on the strength of her short work.

    Which is to say short work is still a significant factor as far as the Campbell is concerned.

  14. There are a few others I would have included on my list that were mentioned above, but I didn’t think that anyone with multiple award nominations/wins and lauded collections and several novels(such as M. Rickert and Laird Barron and Elizabeth Bear) would be considered “un-or little known in the field”.

  15. I’ll echo Ellen Datlow’s recommendation for Jack O’Connell. His Word Made Flesh is still one of favorite books in the last ten years, and the release of The Resurrectionist has been cause for much leaping with joy around my house.

    New short fiction from Rachel Swirsky and Ben Rosenbaum make me clear my calendar for enough time to read them. I’d be thrilled if they decided to hunker down and do novels. Kameron Hurley’s one step ahead of them with God’s War already on the docket for release next year, which is a grand thing.

    I think Barth Anderson is going to take off. His Patron Saint of Plagues is the sort of synergy that makes Hollywood giddy. Viral pandemics, Virgin Mary revivals, cybernetic group think, and a decidedly dystopian view of urban planning: its the sort of future that is five minutes away, and it pushes all the right buttons. His second book, The Magician and the Fool has a slippery subtly that rewards repeat visits, and his historical theory about the origin of the tarot is going to keep the New Agers buzzing for some time.

    When Darin Bradley’s Amaranth comes out late next year or so, I think the re-occurring refrain is going to be: “Where’d he come from?” Amaranth is a genre-friendly response to McCarthy’s The Road, though with better punctuation. More Deconstructionist of an Apocalypse than Allegorical.

    There’s a number of others in the above lists that I don’t know well enough to comment on. I’ve got some homework to do, so thanks for the recommendations.

  16. [I posted this on Scalzi’s blog, and I think it bears repeating here]

    I think it’s well to point out that the people recruited for this Mind Meld are pretty much all editors in the publishing industry, on the inside looking out, and going to have different values of “well-known” and “new” than will the average reader, such as myself. Just sayin’.

    My real complaint with this Mind Meld is that nobody mentioned Tobias Buckell.

  17. Best Mind Meld evah!

    And Tobias Buckell isn’t a new author to me :).

  18. Jay Lake / John Scalzi: Thank you for pointing that out. I wasn’t aware that more nominees had come from the short fiction side. Last year, of course, had Lawrence Schoen. That there should have reminded me that the nomination isn’t necessarily unusual for short fiction writers even if the majority of winners have novels under their belts.

    I had previously thought Elizabeth Bear won -after- the Jenny Casey novels, but I wasn’t actively following the genre online either.

    My mistake. 🙂

    And then, of course, there is some hack named Chiang. 😉

  19. Nick Mamatas // June 11, 2008 at 10:57 pm //

    E.E. “Doc” Smith.

    We’ll be hearing a lot from that fellow!

  20. Kim Jollow Zimring

    Ian Tregillis

  21. There are a couple of things that are worth keeping in mind when looking at the responses to this Mind Meld question.

    First, there is a degree of ambiguity in the question. This isn’t a criticism really, but it does mean that I don’t think all of are answering exactly the same question.

    Second, rather than providing some single scene-defining overview, each respondent has given an answer from their own perspective. In my case, for example, I’ve been working on more SF projects of late, so the writers who’ve made an impression on me have been SF writers.

    Third, most of us are, as has been pointed out, editors working behind the scenes. That means our perspective is somewhat different than a readers’ might be. I know that when I think of Cory Doctorow I don’t think of him as one of tomorrow’s big genre stars – I think of him as one of today’s. You could argue that he’s progressed to being a big star very recently, but still I tend to think of him as having ‘made it’. The same for John Scalzi, who has only recently becoming a big name, but seems to be one from where I’m sitting.

    And finally, no list is definitive. I can think of writers I’ve overlooked. I can think of writers I’d add now. And, there are writers who impress ME more than they have impressed others.

    All in all, a very interesting Mind Meld.

    — Jonathan

  22. @Jay:

    ‘A number of those writers, myself included, have firm roots in online/indie publishing. Becoming published by the trade press is a mark of success, not failure.’

    Not necessarily, Jay. It depends on how you judge success. There are indie writers like myself who have no interest at all in conventional publication – and who don’t seek it. Some are obliged to play the game in order to make a living. Others choose not to play this game, and are consequently punished for it. There is a lot of unstated resentment of such a writer’s independence, which manisfests itself in assumptions about seriousness and quality.

    I repudiate this division of labour. Amateur can be as good as professional; sometimes better.

  23. I’m hesitant about this sort of discussion, because I don’t read enough current/new SF, especially in the short form — which is where you first catch wind of new writers.

    However, I’m going to second that nomination for Hannu Rajaniemi because I know him and I’ve workshopped with him and he’s got something remarkable.

    (One caveat: it may be a few years before you start seeing his name pop up regularly. That’s because after he finished his PhD in string theory he co-founded a start-up company doing mathematics consultancy, and right now he’s living an SF lifestyle; this doesn’t leave him much time for writing right now, although several of us are regularly nagging him to finish the novel already.)

  24. I’m disappointed with the lack of Tobias Buckell. Also, no J.M. McDermott? Last Dragon was a helluva first novel – I’m evangelizing him where ever I can.

  25. Jay: Becoming published by the trade press is a mark of success, not failure.

    Lee: It depends on how you judge success.

    @Lee: Apparently it also depends on how you judge failure.

    I’d be interested to hear by what mechanism these indie writers of which you speak are supposed to become tomorrow’s “stars”, but I’m not sure how much value there’d be in extrapolation by someone who apparently either is unaware of all the work Jay, Nick, Alan, and others mentioned above have done with and for independent publishing, or defines any writing that actually gets read by any of the people in this discussion, regardless of its publication history, as “not indie”.

  26. @ David: Being read would be one criterion, but there are others. I personally am interested in measures of quality – without trying to define it here in a comment section!

    I’m not certain there is such a thing as failure in artistic endeavour.

    Naturally, you are welcome to discount my views. Isn’t that part of my point?

  27. @Lee: I think Jay was under the impression that failure was what you thought trade publishing was a mark of. Certainly you seem (“for shame!”) to consider the respondents’ interest in trade publishing a mark of failure in criticism.

    As for quality, no one asked about it — though a fair number of those responding addressed it anyway.

  28. This is a great list, thanks. Too bad we can’t invest in a futures market for science fiction writers. Hey, that’s not a bad idea for a story.

  29. > Eric Nyland


    Err… Eric Nylund?


    Jerry H.


  30. You guys should do more articles like this more often 🙂

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