Discover more from Transfer Orbit
My most anticipated SF/F reads for 2021
The year ahead in new worlds and adventures
A new year brings a whole slate of new books to covet.
For a couple of months now, I’ve started getting new books in the mail: it’s always exciting to see what’s coming up, and it’s gotten me thinking about what new adventures we’ll be able to embark on in the coming year. There are endless possibilities, and as I’ve started planning for 2021, I’ve come up with a list of the titles I’m most excited for.
If you’re a newcomer to this newsletter, welcome! Please consider signing up as a subscriber — I’ll be talking about many of these books (as well as a monthly book list) in the coming weeks and months, and I hope that you’ll join us.
(Disclaimer: keep in mind that some of these release dates could slip, and purchases through this post might lead to a small commission.)
Persephone Station by Stina Leicht, January 5th
Set on Persephone Station, a planet out on the edges of space, this debut novel follows Rosie, a bartender/crime boss who is content to serve the outposts’s denizens at Monk’s Bar. They hire Angel de la Reza, former marine to help protect the planet when a Serrao-Orlov Corporation exec tries to take over the planet for her own purposes. Along with a team of mercenaries, they discover that there’s a deeper secret in the planet, which throws a wrinkle in their plans.
Star Wars: Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule, January 5th
Originally scheduled for last year, Charles Soule’s first Star Wars novel kicks off a major event for the franchise: The High Republic, a multimedia set centuries before the events of the main franchise that we know and love. It’ll include comics, MG and YA novels, and it follows a group of Jedi as they work to push against a new enemy that threatens the galaxy after a disastrous accident.
Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor, January 19th
I’ve been a huge fan of Nnedi Okorafor’s recent work, and her next novella looks like it’ll be really exciting: a young girl comes across an alien artifact, which gives her the ability to kill with a touch. Tragedy ensues, and she goes off on a quest to try and figure out the source of her strange power through a near-future Ghana.
Midnight Doorways: Fables from Pakistan by Usman T. Malik, February
I met and befriended Usman Malik at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts years ago, and I’ve really enjoyed his horror fiction since then. He’s bringing his stories together into a new collection, and it’ll be a must-get for horror fans.
On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu, February 2nd
Two Afghan refugees, Firuzeh and Nour flee the country with their parents because of the conflict, bound for Australia. To cope with the journey across the world through detention camps and refuges, Firuzeh and her brother create their own fantastical stories that help them survive in their new surroundings.
Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age by Annalee Newitz, February 2nd
Annalee Newitz has not only written some fantastic science fiction and fantasy, they’re an accomplished science writer as well. Their next first nonfiction book was the fantastic Scatter, Adapt, And Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, and their next is an in-depth look at four cities: atalh y k in Central Turkey, Pompeii in Italy, Angkor in Cambodia and Cahokia in North America. They look at the environment and politics that caused each city to vanish — what what parallels might exist for the present day.
The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox, February 9th
I’ve been wanting to read this for a while now, ever since Dan Kois wrote about it for Slate a year ago. Then, it was published by an obscure academic press in New Zealand, and now, it’s getting a wider release.
Taryn Cornick is trying to get past her sister’s murder years ago, and was a suspect in the death of the murderer. But she’s started to move on, writing a book about libraries, which attracts attention from another world. Along with a police officer who still suspects that she committed some past crime, and a stranger from another world, they’re brought together in a strange adventure.
The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers, February 16th
A new Becky Chambers novel is always something to celebrate. Her novels The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, A Closed and Common Orbit, and Record of a Spaceborn Few are some of my favorite novels released in recent years, and this looks to be the final installment of her Wayfarers series.
It follows the goings-on at a galactic truck stop on a planet called Gora called the Five-Hop One-Stop, and when an accident stops traffic in and out of the system, three strangers find themselves stuck with one another — and are forced to confront their past and where it might take them.
Star Wars: Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed, March 2nd
I’m a bit behind on this series (still need to read book 2, Shadow Fall), but a Star Wars X-Wing novel is always a welcome thing. I really enjoyed Alphabet Squadron, and I’m eager to see how Alexander Freed brings everything to a close.
A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine, March 2nd
Arkady Martine’s debut novel, A Memory Called Empire blew me away when I read it last year: an excellent story about colonization, galactic space empires, and how a civilization’s memory informs events. Martine’s followup is A Desolation Called Peace, and deals with the implications of a massive alien fleet that’s at the edges of Teixcalaanli space. The emperor dispatches Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass, who have to try and establish contact, something that could change the Teixcalaanli Empire forever.
Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer, April 6th
I’ve long admired Jeff VanderMeer’s books, like his Area X trilogy and novel Borne. Most of all, however, I’ve admired his sense of nature and the need for conservation and the urgency of environmentalism, which bleeds into his books.
His next novel, Hummingbird Salamander, has been in the works for a while now — I interviewed him about it in 2017 — and plays with some of those themes. It follows a security consultant who discovers a storage unit left behind by an ecoterrorist with a taxidermied hummingbird and clues towards a taxidermied salamander. The discovery sets a plot into motion that’ll soon escalate, one that could threaten the world.
Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders, April 13th
A bit of a disclaimer is required for this one: I read an early draft and provided some minute suggestions for Charlie Jane. It’s her first YA novel, one about an ordinary young girl who’s swept up in an interstellar war.
Only, it turns out that she isn’t ordinary: she’s a clone of a famous war hero, Captain Thaoh Argentian, and she might be the only person who can help defeat a horrifying evil, if she can save herself first.
The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes, April 20th
I’m always on the lookout for new military science fiction, and J.S. Dewes’ debut looks like it’ll hit the spot. The universe is collapsing, and only a band of soldiers manning a defensive line at the edge of the universe are in place to stop the destruction. The Sentinels, under the command of Adequin Rake, are a motley group, and it’ll take all of their skills to stop the end.
Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells, April 27th
The sixth installment of Martha Wells’ Murderbot series is a new novella — Fugitive Telemetry. New adventures of Murderbot are always welcome, and in this story, the titular android comes across a dead body on Preservation Station. Along with station security, it works to figure out who the body belonged, how it was killed, and why.
Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon, May 4th
A woman named Vern flees from the religious cult that she grew up in, hoping to raise her two unborn children away in the wilderness, away from the modern world. But her former neighbors are after her, and backed into a corner, she lashes out, and finds that it’s prompted strange transformation, one that she’ll have to look deep into her past to understand.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir, May 4th
Andy Weir’s next novel looks very much like the one that made his career, The Martian. An astronaut, Ryland Grace, wakes up in space and can’t remember anything about the desperate mission that he’s been sent out on. His crewmates are dead and he’s millions of miles away from home.
A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark, May 11th
I greatly enjoyed P. Djèlí Clark’s Ring Shout, and this year brings his debut novel, A Master of Djinn. Set in Cairo in 1912, Agent Fatma el-Sha'arawi is the youngest member of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities (which we first met in The Haunting of Tram Car 015). A murder brings her to an unusual case: a brotherhood dedicated to al-Jahiz, who transformed the world by discovering magic, made all the more complicated by the al-Jahiz’s admission that he’s the murderer, trying to bring the world back to some sort of order.
Roger Zelazny by F. Brett Cox, May 11th
For a number of years, The University of Illinois Press has been running its Modern Masters of Science Fiction series, a sequence of nonfiction books that each examine a notable science fiction author. The next is about Roger Zelazny, and it’s been written by a mentor of mine, F. Brett Cox. He taught me in college and we’ve remained close since, and over the last couple of years, I’ve heard updates and needled him about deadlines. The book is finally coming out, and I’m really excited to read it.
The High Republic: The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott, July 6th
The next installment of the High Republic series, coming just a couple of months after Charles Soule’s novel that kicks off the series. There isn’t much about it, other than that the enemy Nihil are wrecking havoc around the galaxy, and that it includes a Force-sensitive monster hunter, which just sounds cool.
The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley, July 6th
I’m predisposed to liking Brian Staveley’s books, for the simple reason that he’s a fellow Vermonter. I really enjoyed his epic Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy and its companion, Skullsworn, and I’ve been excited to see what he comes up with next.
That next book is The Empire’s Ruin, the first of a new trilogy set in the same world. After the events of that prior trilogy, the Annurian Empire is in rough shape. Its special forces, the Kettral, have been decimated, and people can no longer use the kenta gates, which allowed The Emperor to travel across his realm. One lone Ketteral soldier must go to the edge of the world to track down the nesting places of the massive hawks they ride on, while a former Monk might have figured out the secret behind the gates. Their time is running short, as new threats are beginning to creep in around the margins.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers, July 13th
We’re not just getting one book by Becky Chambers in 2021, but two! A Psalm for the Wild-Built is a new novella that’s set to come out in July, and it’s the first of a new series from Tordotcom.
In the distant future, robots have long since gained self-awareness and wandered into the wilderness, centuries ago, where they haven’t been seen since. Everything changes when a robot returns to visit an old monk, and can’t return until it has a question answered: “What do people need?”
Fall and Beyond
No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull, September 7th, 2021
I first came across Cadwell Turnbull’s short fiction, and brought him in on The Verge’s Better Worlds project back in 2019, ahead of his debut novel, The Lesson. I really loved that book: a fantastic story about colonization and first contact in the Caribbean, and I’ve been looking forward to his next one, No Gods, No Monsters.
Turnbull’s told me early on that the story is about myths and legends from his childhood, and it follows a woman named Laina who learns that her brother was shot and killed by police officers in Boston. There’s more to the story than that: various monsters are coming out of the shadows, upending the global order, and it’s up to her to figure out why they’re starting to come out. Like The Lesson, it looks like it’ll be a chillingly relevant book.
(Also, stay tuned for some further stuff about this book — we’re planning on having a chat soonish.)
Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo, September 28th, 2021
I’m a big fan of Lee Mandelo’s work — I had them stop by this newsletter a couple of times for their insights last year — and I’m really excited about their debut novel, Summer Sons. It follows two friends, Andrew and Eddie, who deal with an abrupt separation as Eddie goes off to college. Days before Andrew is set to join him, Eddie dies in an apparent suicide, and he has to delve into the life of his friend to find out what led him to his end.
The Mandalorian by Adam Christopher, November 2nd
This book was supposed to hit stores last year, but was bumped a full year. After this last season, I’m not entirely sure what we’ll see happen in this book, but it’ll be a nice thing to read, given that we’re expecting a bit of a wait before Season 3 hits Disney+.
The Veiled Throne by Ken Liu, November 2nd, 2021
Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings and its sequel The Wall of Storms came out in 2015 and 2016 respectively, and we’ve been waiting ever since for the conclusion to the trilogy. As it turns out, the reason we’ve been waiting is that it’s a big fucking book — so much so that he’s splitting it into two parts. The first, The Veiled Throne, is coming out in November.
It’ll follow Princess Th ra, left the throne to her younger brother to travel across the Wall of Storms with a massive fleet. Back at home, power struggles threaten to throw the Dandelion Court into disarray. The series has been big and ambitious thus far, and I can’t wait to see how it ends.
Leviathan Falls by James S.A. Corey, Unknown
I’ve been a huge fan of James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series since before it was published — I read an ARC way back, attracted by the cover art. Now, the series is coming to an end with Leviathan Falls, and hopefully, it’ll be a good, definitive end to a fantastic series.
That’s the list as it stands now. I’m excited to read these as they come up, and I’m sure that I’ll be talking more about them over the course of the years. I’m also excited for the books that aren’t necessarily on here, which pop up through some random review or recommendation. Hopefully, we’ll see plenty of those as well.
I’d love to hear what you’re most excited for in 2021 — let me know in the comments.