Your “to read” pile is about to get much more massive. This fall’s science fiction and fantasy books include new titles by legends like Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Stephen King, Jim Butcher and Tanya Huff. You’re not ready for this! Which is why we’re getting you ready, with our guide to fall books.
Note: I wanted to keep this around 35-40 books, which means only about eight to 10 books per month. Stay tuned for our monthly “Bookshelf Injection” posts, which contain more recommended books for each particular month. For September, we had a list of around 30 books to whittle down.
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho (Ace/Roc)
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This is the debut novel that everybody we know has been freaking out about. In an alternate Enlightenment, a freed slave becomes the Sorcerer Royal of the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers. But this Sorcerer Royal, Zacharias Wythe, may be everyone’s only hope when supplies of magic run low and he’s forced to travel to Fairyland to find out what’s up.
The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
Yup, the long-awaited first book in Butcher’s new Horatio Hornblower-inspired adventure series. We brought you the first glimpse of this title back in March (just sayin’), and I’m just going to quote what we wrote back then: “It’s jam-packed with airships, crazy sorcerers, privateers, warrior monks, and intelligent cats. An ancient evil has rewoken, and the entire world is plunged into a sinister mist, filled with terrible creatures.”
Xeelee: Endurance by Stephen Baxter
It’s been years since Baxter gave us a new novel in his Xeelee sequence, about humanity’s encounter with an unknowable alien race. And now at last, here’s a collection of previously uncollected stories and novellas, which range from the earliest days of human space exploration to four billion years in the future.
Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie (Random House)
Rushdie has ventured into magical realism in the past, but this time the acclaimed author of The Satanic Verses is going straight into fantasy territory. It’s the near future, and the human race has fallen into an “age of unreason.” But then a mysterious storm strikes, and certain people in New York suddenly have strange powers—and it’s because they’re descended from ancient creatures known as the Jinn.
If Then by Matthew de Abaitua (Angry Robot)
We loved de Abaitua’s novel Red Men, about cyber-assholes who personify your id in the worst way. Seriously, Red Men is our everything. And now at last, de Abaitua is back with a new novel, in which it’s either 1915 in the thick of World War I, or it’s the near future and everyone has brain implants in the back of their heads that keep them inside a fantasy world. Or maybe both.
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett (Doubleday)
It totally sucks that this book is the last Discworld novel ever. But we should appreciate just how lucky we are to get one last book about Tiffany Aching, Pratchett’s brilliant witch character whose journey has been so incredibly charted in a few previous novels, starting with The Wee Free Men. From the book blurb: “This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and new, a blurring of edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad.”
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)
Tor.com is launching a whole new series of e-book novellas, and this one is especially notable because it brings the author of Who Fears Death into space opera. Binti is the first of the Hinta people to be offered a place at Oozma University, “the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy.”
Higgins is a physicist, and her debut is apparently full of awesome physics stuff—it’s set on an experimental spaceship that’s attacked by terrorists in deep space. And that’s just the beginning of the Ananke’s troubles, as everything goes pear-shaped. Kirkus gave it a starred review.
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood (Nan A. Talese)
Another dystopian future from the author of The Handmaid’s Tale and the Oryx and Crake books. Everything has fallen apart, and a married couple is forced to live in their car—until they get a great offer. They can spend every other month living in a nice cottage, with decent jobs, as long as they spend the off months in a hellish prison. What is the secret of the Positron Project?
Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (HarperCollins)
Yep, the incredibly popular podcast becomes a novel! Pawn-shop owner Jackie Fierro gets given a mysterious piece of paper... which she can’t remove from her hand afterwards. And nobody can remember anything about the man who gave it to her. Meanwhile, Diane is searching for her son, a shape-shifter.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (Harper Teen)
Remember that episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “The Zeppo”? This is basically a book-length version of that, from the guy who wrote The Knife of Never Letting Go. In a high school where some of the kids turn out to be the Chosen One, who lead the battle when the vampires or aliens attack, there’s one guy who’s just an ordinary regular guy, who maybe wants to graduate high school and maybe get to go out with the girl he has a crush on. This is a book about that guy.
Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley (Angry Robot)
Here’s the long-awaited sequel to The Mirror Empire, a book which sort of slipped through the cracks because it was delayed and then released without much fanfare. (But which has gotten tons of praise since it’s been out.) In this sequel, the dark star Oma is in the sky, and the kingdom of Dhai is under siege from the invaders from another world who already decimated the kingdom of Saiduan.
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
Here’s the third book in the Imperial Radch trilogy. Breq, the soldier who used to be a warship, finds someone who shouldn’t exist and faces a head-on challenge from her arch-enemy Anaander Mianaai, who destroyed the ship Justice of Toren. Her back is against the wall, and the odds are against her. Kirkus says this is a worthy conclusion to the saga.
Slade House by David Mitchell (Random House)
Nobody expected another book from Mitchell, so soon after the stunning The Bone Clocks. But this short novel in five parts just sort of happened—it spans from 1979 to the near future, and includes a crossover with The Bone Clocks. What really goes on inside the mysterious Slade House, which only appears every nine years?
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Knopf)
It’s the year 2575, and Kady’s planet has just been attacked by two rival megacorps, in this new young-adult novel that’s already making waves. Not only that, but a plague is ravaging across the planet. And the planet’s fleet’s AI may have been turned against its people. It’s up to Kady and some other hackers to uncover the truth of what’s going on.
A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe (Tor)
One of our greatest living writers, Wolfe is branching out yet again—combining science fiction and detective fiction. A hundred years in the future, you might not be able to take a particular rare book out of the library, but what if you could take out the author instead? The personality and memories of one particular mystery author have been downloaded into a clone’s body, and now a woman needs to “borrow” him to find out the secrets that were in a book her father had when he was murdered.
Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson (Tor)
Sanderson’s first Mistborn novel since 2011’s Alloy of Law, this book takes place years later, when lawmen are chasing a serial killer who moves too fast to see. They’d better move fast, because the whole city (which is rapidly industrializing while also keeping magic) is falling apart around them.
An Ancient Peace by Tanya Huff (Daw)
The first book in a new military science fiction series, spun off from Huff’s Confederation series. Someone is searching for the lost weapons of the H’san, which are powerful enough to destroy whole planets, and Torin Kerr and her crew have to stop this madness before war breaks out.
Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente (Tor)
Valente’s first science fiction novel! It’s an alternate 1986, and talking movies are still rare because the Edison family is hoarding the patent. So Severin Unck decides to rebel against her show-biz family and make documentaries about visiting all the planets of the solar system—via fabulous, movie-style rockets that actually work in this world. It sounds like a strange, metafictional exploration of cosmic themes.
Weighing Shadows by Lisa Goldstein (Nightshade)
Computer geek Ann Decker gets recruited to join a mysterious new program that’s fixing the world’s problems... through time travel. Going back into history and making tiny tweaks turns out to have huge impacts on the early 21st century—but is Ann working for the good guys, or the bad guys? We’ve already read this book, and it’s a fascinating new spin on time-travel ideas.
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu (Saga)
Liu’s short fiction has swept all of the major awards—read the title story on io9 here. And now at last, you can read all the great stories from the author of The Grace of Kings in one place.
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King (Simon & Schuster)
And speaking of short fiction collections—here’s a whole bunch of recent creeptastic stories from the master of dark horror. Including a tale about a guy who can kill you by writing your obituary, and a young couple who think that they’ve outwitted the Devil. These things never turn out well, but it’s always fascinating to see how they go south.
Planetfall by Emma Newman (Penguin)
The most essential person on a new planetary colony is the 3D printer engineer, who makes all the stuff the colony needs to survive—but Ren, the engineer, is keeping a secret about the reason why humans traveled to this alien planet in the first place. And it turns out the colony’s leader, who lives alone inside a mysterious alien structure, is hiding a huge secret.
King Anjihosh built a great kingdom with his bare hands, defeating nearly unkillable demons and driving them away. But years later, his trusted soldier Kellas is pulled out of retirement to help his successor hold onto the throne in the face of a brand new threat.
Air and Darkness by David Drake (Tor)
The final book in Drake’s series about an alternate Rome is also a standalone novel. The forces of magic and the supernatural are battling against the forces of reason and logic, and the supernatural is winning. It’s up to the soldier Corylus to try and turn the tide for reason, before civilization falls.
The Night Clock by Paul Meloy (Solaris)
A debut novel from the author of some terrific short stories. A psychiatric nurse finds that all his patients are dying and this is the prelude to the end of reality itself—unless he can team up with a mysterious time traveler named Daniel to rebuild the clock that keeps the universe going. They enter the flux above our reality, the Dark Time, where the Firmament Surgeons control everything.
Ringworld: The Graphic Novel Part 2 by Larry Niven and Sean Lam (Tor)
Ringworld is one of the greatest works of science fiction ever published, but you know what would make it better? If it was a gorgeous manga. Join Louis Grindley Wu and his friends as they explore a megastructure in space.
A Daughter of No Nation by A.M. Dellamonica (Tor)
Sophie is excited to visit the land of Stormwrack, where her father is an important Duelist-Adjudicator. Until she begins to suspect her dad is a psychopath. Soon, she’s on her own in a strange world—so she decides to set up a forensic institute and investigate cold cases in Stormwrack, that have gone unsettled for years.
Thunderbird by Jack McDevitt (Ace)
McDevitt returns to the world of Ancient Shores, in this new novel where people race to explore an ancient stargate that’s been discovered in North Dakota—it leads to three different worlds, each of them with its own strange mysteries.
The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
Roberts tackles the Fermi Paradox in this spin on the classic monster movie The Thing. Two men are stuck at an Antarctic research station, and one of them is obsessed with reading and debating the work of Immanuel Kant (hence “the Thing in Itself.”) Soon they discover they may not be alone there, and it may be a Categorical Imperative to keep their wits about them. (Or someone may hit with them with a Critique of Pure Reason, that they may not survive.)
The Curse of Jacob Tracy by Holly Messinger (St. Martin’s Press)
A Civil War veteran can see ghosts, which isn’t as much fun as you’d hope. And now it’s 1880 and he’s living in St. Louis, where a rich lady named Sabine Fairweather wants to send him on a dangerous errand— in which ghosts may be the least of his worries.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster (Random House)
What’s this? Oh, just the novelization of a brand new Star Wars movie, written by the author of the fantastic Pip and Flinx books (who also novelized the original Star Wars and wrote the first tie-in book, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.) If anybody can add a lot to your appreciation of this new film, it’s going to be Foster—who is an occasional io9 commenter.
Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen (Tor)
It’s the distant future, and the human race is gone—but our descendants live on in the shape of uplifted animals. Including supersmart elephants who are really, really good at inventing new drugs, including one that lets you talk to the recently dead. I’ve been a fan of Schoen’s short fiction since the days of Speculon, so an actual novel is a bonanza.
Sources: Kirkus, BarnesandNoble, Amazon, Goodreads, Locus, BarnesandNoble again, and Publisher catalogs. Top image: Ringworld: The Graphic Novel Vol. 2
Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All The Birds in the Sky, coming in January from Tor Books. Follow her on Twitter, and email her.