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MIND MELD: SF/F/H Books on The Top of Our To-Be-Read Piles

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Oftentimes, readers obtain books faster than they can read them; there are always books waiting in the wings, each one vying for the coveted “read me next!” top spot. We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: What sf/f/h books are on the top of your to-be-read pile?

Here’s what they said…

Judith Tarr
Judith Tarr is the author of numerous novels, mostly with a historical bent–whether straight historical or historical fantasy. Her latest book, House of the Star, a magical horse novel by her alter ego, Caitlin Brennan, was published by Tor Starscape in November. She lives near Tucson, Arizona, where she raises and trains Lipizzan horses.

I have the classic Ten-Foot-High TBR Pile, and am currently bushwhacking through both the new Mark Twain autobiography and the historical fantasy writer’s gold mine, The Secret History Of The Mongol Queens (which is downright fantastical as well as fantastic), but the top of my sf&f pile is graced by Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, Janni Lee Simner’s Thief Eyes, and an advance copy of the new e-edition of Deborah J. Ross’s Northlight, which is coming out from Book View Cafe in February. I’m also looking forward to rereading another Book View Cafe title, Vonda N. McIntyre’s Starfarers.

I’m one of the legions of people who got an e-reader for Christmas (I got the NookColor, and am very happy with it), so now my TBR pile is measured in megabytes as well as feet. That’s going to make life–and reading–even more interesting.

Ellen Datlow
Ellen Datlow has been an editor of short science fiction, fantasy, and horror for almost thirty years. She was co-editor of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror for 21 years and currently edits The Best Horror of the Year. Her most recent anthologies include Lovecraft Unbound, The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales and Troll’s Eye View (both with Terri Windling), Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror, Tails of Wonder and Imagination, Digital Domains, Best Horror of the Year, volume 2, Naked City: New Tales of Urban Fantasy, The Beastly Bride and Other Tales of the Animal People (with Terri Windling), and Haunted Legends (with Nick Mamatas). Upcoming 2011 anthologies include Teeth: Vampire Tales with Terri Windling (Harper-YA), Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy (St Martin’s Press), Supernatural Noir (Dark Horse), and Blood and Other Cravings (Tor). Datlow is the winner of multiple awards for editing including the World Fantasy Award, Locus Award, Hugo Award, International Horror Guild Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the Bram Stoker Award. She was named recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award, given at the British Fantasy Convention for “outstanding contribution to the genre.” She co-hosts the popular Fantastic Fiction at KGB Bar series of readings in New York City where she lives in close proximity to too many books and some very frightening (although not to her) doll heads.

Here are some of the reading I’m looking forward to in 2011:

  • Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them by Mary Cappello New Press (I’ve seen the storage chest in the Mutter Museum of Philadelphia that houses many many of the things humans have swallowed so this new book sounds fascinating to me).
  • Engines of Desire by Livia Llewellyn (Lethe) — I’ve been impressed by Llewellyn’s horror so am eager to read her first collection
  • New collections by Peter Bell, Steve Duffy, and William Meikle should be interesting.
  • Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2 edited by William K. Schafer -I enjoyed the first volume. This one consists of novelettes by Joe Hill, Caitlín R. Kiernan, and Norman Partridge, among other of my favorite horror writers.
Gary Gibson
Gary Gibson is a sf author based in Glasgow, Scotland. His fifth and most recent book is Empire of Light, the concluding novel of the Shoal Sequence that began with Stealing Light. His next novel, due out from Tor in April 2011, is called Final Days. He has a website at

This one’s easy. If there’s two books I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, it’s The Confusion and The System of the World, the follow-ups to Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver. I bought Quicksilver in hardback when it came out, but it was such a gargantuan book to absorb I didn’t think at the time I had the mental strength or willpower to read the other two. Or, indeed, the physical strength. Then I got an ebook reader and finally purchased them. That was a year and a half ago, and I’m still trying to find the time and energy needed to set aside to read them. I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact Stephenson’s next book will almost certainly be published before I manage to read those two books (which will of course necessitate rereading Quicksilver first).

Before I changed to reading ebooks more or less exclusively, I rarely if ever bought a book until I’d just about finished the one I was reading. I rarely had a pile of waiting books. If I needed to fill up the time between books, I’d reread something from my shelves. That’s all changed now; I have an entirely – for me – unprecedented thirty books still unread on my Kindle. There’s always some coupon-driven sale at some ebook site that spurs me to pick up that one volume I’d been sort of thinking about.

There are a couple of other books out there I’ve been meaning to get my hands on but haven’t yet, particularly Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief. I know Hannu in passing, from encounters at conventions and at spoken word events in Edinburgh. I’ve highly rated Chris Beckett’s book The Holy Machine in the past. I’d love to get hold of his more recent novel Marcher, but I’m hanging back in the hope it will eventually be published as an ebook (I’ve already got hold of the ebook of his short story collection The Turing Press, which won non-genre awards here in the UK). I like some horror, particularly of a Lovecraftian bent, and I’ve been hearing great things about Laird Barron. For that reason I’ve been thinking of picking up one of his collections of stories available through

Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Silvia Moreno-Garcia‘s speculative fiction has appeared in Fantasy Magazine, Futurismic and Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic Science Fiction. Together with Paula R. Stiles and a band of eldritch writers, she publishes the zine Innsmouth Free Press.

I’m a bit behind on my reading.

As far as fantasy books are concerned, I bought King Maker: The Knights of Breton Court Book One by Maurice Broaddus based on the cover alone, but haven’t had a chance to read it. I read a lot more short fiction than novels, so that’s my excuse.

Skipping to horror, I’m not a zombie fan, but weirdly enough there are two zombie books I’m looking forward to cracking open: Feed (Newsflesh, Book 1) and John Joseph Adams’s anthology The Living Dead 2. Now, I must confess I did read two stories of the anthology (well, I actually re-read Paula R. Stiles’s story) while I was wandering around the bookstore, but left it at that and haven’t touched it again.

For books that are coming out in 2011, I would very much like to get my hands on Aliette de Bodard’s second Mexica novel (I am a purist. Don’t you call it Aztec!). I also want to read Jesse Bullington’s Enterprise of Death because it’s another historical fantasy. Yay!

Gord Sellar
While he has been living and working in South Korea, Gord Sellar‘s short fiction has appeared in Shine, Subterranean, Clarkesworld, and Asimov’s. He was a finalist in 2009 for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and went to Clarion West in 2006. He blogs about homebrewing, work, life in Korea, and SF at

There’s this mailing list I used to hang out on that had a funny word for “to read” piles: they called them Lalpiles, because one list member, this guy named Lalith, had the biggest to-read piles of anyone, stacks of books as deep as some people are tall… and I chose that phrase “some people” not thinking of pygmies, but rather of enormous Viking warriors.

I remember some people joking around that “Gordpile” would be an appropriate term as well, when they heard about how many books were on my to-read stack, though. It’s not just that I’m a slow reader; it’s also partly the influence of Korea. When I first got here, I had a pile of English-language books and I was in a town where the one local bookstore had very little I could, or would, read… not even decent Korean language textbooks. So I began hoarding books. Which is ironic, since I remember arguing with a friend in 1998 that as soon as we could switch to eBooks, it would be such a relief and a wonder. Well, it will be… once we work through all our Lalpiles, that is. For the moment, since I don’t know when or where I’ll be moving next, I’m sadly not buying eBooks, and not reading the ones I have, even though I have one or two devices I could comfortably read them on.

This is complicated by the fact that I came to SF late, and have a lot of “catching up” to do. Yeah, I have all kinds of old SF novels I plan on tearing through when I have a few months off… which I’m about to have starting any time now. Now, my Lalpile is immense and huge, but there is a subset of books that I am most eager to dive into, and I noticed, as I considered the most urgent to-read clump of the Lalpile, that they have a few things in common.

Take, for example, Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl and Bruce Sterling’s The Caryatids, which stand beside one another on the ASAP shelf. Both are books about life during or after a collapse, which makes me wonder whether the zeitgeist I see as now centered on Jared Diamond and his book Collapse has exerted (or perhaps will continue to exert) a kind of quiet influence on SF similar to the one Alvin Toffler did a generation (or so) ago. Collapse used to be so clear and straightforward; a bit like my office on campus in that they were comfortable messes in which to luxuriate, at least for the audience. But I’m seeing more collapses that are sprawling, are linked to our own conflicted, messy present quite unmistakably, which makes them somewhat scarier.

Not far from those books, I see Greg Egan’s Zendegi, and then, side-by side, Ian McDonald’s Brasyl (I did say I am behind), as well as Cradle of Splendor, a novel by Patricia Anthony (a brilliant, if now widely-forgotten, 90s SF marvel) — the McDonald and the Anthony presenting two SFnal visions of Brazil — and then, right on the shelf below, a bunch of older collections of SF in translation from other languages: regional Indian languages, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, European languages. That’s another commonality with the books I’m most eager to read, including the Sterling and the Bacigalupi: they’re SF novels set in someplace other than the familiar. These books have unusual settings in far-flung (for American readers) locales where we don’t often see SF set: places like South and Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East. Places we still call “the developing world” even as things have gotten way more complex than that. Sure, people like Maureen McHugh and George Alec Effinger set credible novels in SFnal reimaginings of those kinds of settings before, and Sterling has been writing stuff set in such places for ages; meanwhile, there have been compellingly scary visions of generalized ecological, social, political, and even cultural collapse in SF for a long time.

But I’m thinking somehow maybe there’s a kind of trend here in the specific dovetailing of the two: SF that is ecological and catastrophic in a more developed sense (that is, in a sense that takes reasonable account of the world we’re living in, and how little we’re doing to handle all the creeping calamities that surround us) and simultaneously is more self-consciously global in scope and setting, as a kind of counterpoint to the neoliberal-economics form of globalization that seems to have gripped the planet entire. It seems hardly surprising to me that the two tendencies would be intertwined. I’m not saying this is the only kind of SF I’m eager to get into, of course: I’m halfway through Stross’ The Atrocity Archives, which I’m sure it could be argued faithfully reflects our world in a very different way. (The horror of bureaucracy is, after all, perhaps not the deepest we experience, but it is the most unremitting.) But I am excited about what may be a (somewhat) new, and important, pattern in SF today.

Then again, maybe it’s not new. We Westerners have long been fond of telling stories of faraway, exotic places where impossible things happen, and a number of scholars labeled as orientalists surely believed themselves possessed of the best of intentions and of deep respect for the cultures they studied and wrote about. It’s not like we weren’t regaled with images of (especially Northeast) Asia in cyberpunk generally. But to me, there does seem to be something new in the way global concerns, images of collapse (and our survival of it), and an intricate effort to set stories in non-traditional, often non-Western, and not necessarily hyper-exoticized locales, seems to connect up; something a little more rich, a little more intelligent, and, I find, a little more salutary. It’s exciting!

Kristine Smith
Kristine Smith is the author of the Jani Kilian SF series, along with the odd short story. Her website is
  • Boneshaker by Cherie Priest – a tsunami of good buzz about this book.
  • Haunted Legends edited by Ellen Datlow & Nick Mamatas – I love horror collections, whether by a single writer or several. That these stories are based on actual legends makes it that much more interesting to me.
  • The Breach by Patrick Lee – as with Boneshaker, I heard so much buzz about this book that I had to check it out.
  • Fever Dream – the latest Preston-Child thriller featuring Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast. Technically, this book may not count as SF, but there is often some aspect or subplot with sfnal or horror overtones, so I think it qualifies.
  • The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson – this will actually be a reread. It’s been years since I read it, and I still remember the bizarre creepiness of the setting. Couple it with Terry Pratchett’s companion essay in 100 Best Horror Books (ed. Jones & Newman, 1998), and you have a very nice, very creepy horror two-fer.
Brenda Cooper
Brenda Cooper is a technology professional, a science fiction and fantasy writer, and a futurist. Her recent books include the Endeavor award winning Silver Ship and The Sea and a sequel, Reading the Wind. See for more info, and for periodic reading recommendations.

My to-read pile looks like last year – it’s stacked sideways and falling down. I haven’t even been buying everything I want to read since the stack is so high. Not that I haven’t been reading. I have. A Iot. But don’t think I’ve even gotten to some of the books that I mentioned last year. So I’ll pick five that are physically ON my pile.

  • The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang – I want to read this before award nominations close since I won’t be surprised if I want to include it. But my personal rule means I DO have to read it first.
  • Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi – same logic. I best get cracking! I’ve heard nothing but good.
  • Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan – I was on a podcast with him and hadn’t read any of his work. Since I’ve heard great things about Altered Carbon, but it still sits there waiting for me.
  • Mozart’s Blood by Louise Marley – She’s a friend and I heard some of it in manuscript. Now I want to know how the story comes out. Louise is a wonderful world-builder and I always learn a lot about music when I read her, which I like.
  • The Native Star by M.K. Hobson – I’ve heard her read a few chapters and they were quite good, so now I hope to find time to read the whole book.
Claude Lalumière
Claude Lalumière is the author of two books from ChiZine Publications: Objects of Worship (2009) and The Door to Lost Pages (which will be released in April 2011). He has edited eight anthologies, including the Aurora Award finalist Tesseracts Twelve: New Novellas of Canadian Fantastic Fiction, and is the Fantastic Fiction columnist for The Montreal Gazette. With Rupert Bottenberg, he’s the co-creator of Lost Myths, which is both an online archive updated every Thursday and a live multimedia show.

My to-read pile is somewhat monstrous. Here’s what remained on top after a bit of sifting:

  • Filaria by Brent Hayward
  • Orgasmachine by Ian Watson
  • In the Mean Time by Paul Tremblay
  • Cities of Night by Philip Nutman
  • The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe
  • Pavane by Keith Roberts
  • The Beast with Nine Billion Feet by Anil Menon
  • Bright SegmentVolume VIII: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon
  • Visions by Richard A. Lupoff
  • Terrors by Richard A. Lupoff
  • The Mammoth Book of Alternate Historiesedited by Ian Watson & Ian Whates
  • Riverworld by Philip José Farmer
  • Carlucci by Richard Paul Russo
  • Clockwork Phoenix: Tales of Beauty and Strangenessedited by Mike Allen
  • The Disappearance by Philip Wylie
  • Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

And to top it off … I used to always read any anthology I was in immediately, eager to discover what my peers were doing, but I’ve now fallen a bit behind; in the SF/F/H genres, I still have to get to these four, which I’m dying to read:

  • Tesseracts 14: Strange Canadian Storiesedited by John Robert Colombo & Brett Alexander Savory
  • Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undeadedited by Nancy Kilpatrick
  • The Seventh Black Book of Horroredited by Charles Black
  • The Best of All Flesh: Zombie Anthologyedited by James Lowder
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Kristine Kathryn Rusch has sold her entire backlist to WMG Publishing. In the first half of the year will see reissues of her Retrieval Artist series as well as the first 3 books of The Fey. It will take another year to get the rest of the Fey and the Black Throne series into print. WMG is also putting her entire short fiction backlist into electronic editions. Pyr will publish City of Ruins, the next Diving into the Wreck book, and has just purchased Boneyards, the third in that series. Sourcebook is reissuing two of her Kristine Grayson paranormal romancetitles, and publishing two new titles. The first, Wickedly Charming, will appear in May (as will City of Ruins). She has also developed a new pen name, which she’s not sure if she’ll make public, and she has committed nonfiction, with The Freelancer’s Survival Guide, a handbook for all freelancers and the self-employed.

The books I’m most looking forward to change from day to day, hour to hour. However, these are the sf/f/h books at the top of my TBR pile at the moment:

  • Adrian Phoenix, Black Dust Mambo
  • Devon Monk, A Cup of Normal
  • William Gibson, Zero History
  • Jack McDevitt, The Devil’s Eye
  • Jack McDEvitt, Echo
  • Joe Hill, Heart-Shaped Box
  • M.K. Hobson, The Native Star
  • 2011 issues of Asimov’s
  • 2011 issues of Lightspeed

…and I hope to get to the other digests/fiction mags in field as well, but those will be my top priority.

Mario Acevedo
Mario Acevedo writes the Felix Gomez detective-vampire series for Eos HarperCollins. Mario’s debut novel, The Nymphos Of Rocky Flats, was a national bestseller and was chosen by Barnes & Noble as one of the best Paranormal Fantasy Novels of the Decade. His vampire character is featured in the graphic novel Killing The Cobra from IDW Publishing. His short fiction includes a contribution to the anthology, Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery, from Arte Publico Press. Mario lives and writes in Denver, Colorado.
  • The Ones That Got Away, an anthology of horror by Stephen Graham Jones
  • Tracking the Tempest, urban fantasy by Nicole Peeler
  • Chosen, book 6 in the bounty-hunter vampire series by Jeanne Stein
James Patrick Kelly
James Patrick Kelly is the author of a slew of novels and short stories including Burn, Look Into the Sun, Strange But Not A Stranger, Think Like A Dinosaur And Other Stories, and The Wreck of the Godspeed. His numerous short works include the Hugo Award-winning “Think Like A Dinosaur” and “Ten to the Sixteenth to One”. He is also co-editor with John Kessel of three anthologies: Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, and The Secret History of Science Fiction. He also writes a column for Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.

One of the privileges (and duties) of a writer who has enjoyed a long career is blurbing worthy forthcoming books. So, two that are at the very top of my reading list are a first novel called Soft Apocalypse, by Will McIntosh (right, the guy who won a Hugo on his very first try) from Night Shade Books and Lisa Goldstein’s The Uncertain Places, due in June from Tachyon Publications. Lisa is, of course, one of our very best writers and why she needs a blurb from the likes of me is a puzzlement. But I need to get these done soon, because the deadline looms.

I don’t really read books for pleasure as much as I used to – no time. But I have been a stone fan since the very beginning, and am on the two-audiobooks-a-month plan. Here are some genre-ific titles sitting in my audio library: A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, Blackout and All Clear by the irreplaceable Connie Willis, who told me I should read (listen) to them as if they were one book, which they are, The Trial by some Czech guy named Kafka and Paolo Bacigalupi’s YA National Book Award finalist Ship Breaker.

But yes, there is a pile of actual books published in dead tree format that I intend to get to. The top two at the moment are The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms from Orbit by N. K Jemisin and The Beast With Nine Billion Feet by Anil Menon, from the Indian publishing house Young Zubaan. Nora Jemisin is a writer to watch and this book, first in a trilogy has gotten great reviews. Although he lives in Virginia, Anil may not be as well known in this country as he is in India, but I have been a fan of his short fiction for some time and am eager to read him at length.

Vandana Singh
Vandana Singh writes science fiction and fantasy and teaches college physics. Her Ph.D. is in particle physics, but she has yet to write a story about quarks. Apart from the aforementioned story collection, she has several short stories in various anthologies and magazines, and two standalone novellas from Aqueduct Press (Distances and Of Love and Other Monsters) as well as an ALA notable children’s book, Younguncle Comes to Town. She lives near Boston.

I have about seventeen piles of books to read which keep getting lost among piles of books to donate and piles of books that are, like Mount Everest, simply there. So instead of sorting through these miniature towers of Pisa or Babel or whatever, I will select titles from my unreliable memory and limit them to fiction. In no particular order they are:

  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell — Many people have recommended this book to me, as has my friend Kurt who attended and enjoyed a reading by the author and kindly mailed me the book.
  • A book or more by Ian Macdonald. I think I’ll start with Dervish House and work my way backwards to River of Gods.
  • At least three books in Hindi including a collection of stories by Yashpal and something, anything, by Alka Saraogi.
  • The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson. This is not in any of my book piles yet but I intend to remedy that, as I would read anything by Robinson.
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.

6 Comments on MIND MELD: SF/F/H Books on The Top of Our To-Be-Read Piles

  1. For me the next sf/f book I have are

    The Passage by Justin Cronin based on a recommendation from my brother.

    The Man of Bronze and The Land of Terror the first two Doc Savage books in one volume by Kenneth Robeson.

    The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder which interests me because I recently was reading other books on the real Spring Heeled Jack legend.

  2. Amazing, out of all the books mentioned only two interest me in the slightest. Is it possible that SF has moved beyond the simple tastes of a 65 year-old lifetime fan? Top of my stack is the Kim Stanley Robinson collection listed by Vandana. I’m also eager to read the first collection of Edmund Hamilton’s works, published by Haffner Press.

  3. Richard: Don’t be afraid to try new things. 😉

    On top of my TBR pile is the new anthology collection edited by Jonathan Strahan, Engineering Infinity, Paul McAuley’s latest release, Cowboy Angels (if my local BN will ever get a copy in), and after reading about it for a couple of days now, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi.

    But first I’m going to finish Jeff Vandermeer’s short story collection, The Third Bear.  It should be on everyone’s list!

  4. As far as science fiction goes, I’ve got the latest books from favorite authors: Greg Bear, Robert J Sawyer, Jack McDevitt, Patrick Lee, Alistair Reynolds, Mike Resnick and Robert Charles Wilson. So I couldn’t be better set for a good year of sci-fi reading.

    Fantasy-wise, I’m pretty much waiting for Patrick Rothfuss new novel, and Chris Evans’ third Iron Elves novel.

  5. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

    The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Neal Stephenson

    The Grimm Fairy Tales graphic novels

    Fables 14: Witches by Bill Willingham

    How to Live Safely in a Science Fiction Universe by Charles Yu

    Let Me In by John Lindqvist

  6. At the top of my stacks (I have four: current, reread/older works, short fiction, non-fiction):

    New fiction:

    The Wolf Age – James Enge; Chronic City – Jonathan Lethem; Habitation of the Blessed – Catherynne Valente


    Dogland – Will Shetterley; Faust – Michael Swanwick; Half A Crown – Jo Walton; Mortal Love – Liz Hand


    Brave New Worlds – Adams; Dark Futures – Sizemore; Driftglass – Delany; Saffron & Brimstone: Strange Stories – Hand


    Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction – Reider; The Infernal Machine – Carr; Dark Horizons: Science Fiction and the Dystopian Imagination – Baccolini & Moylan

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