Mon
Apr 25 2011 10:06am

Fiction Affliction: Diagnosing May Releases in Science Fiction

New science fiction releases in May 2011

Fiction Affliction is a monthly column written by Royal Street author Suzanne Johnson that examines upcoming releases by genre or sub-genre. Check back every day this week for coverage of May releases in fantasy, young adult paranormal, urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Today’s column examines SCIENCE FICTION.

The Symptoms: Life on Earth has been shot to hell and back, but scratching out an existence on another planet doesn’t seem to offer greater odds of survival.

The Diagnosis: Sixteen new science fiction books hit the shelves in May, including dystopias, both earthly and alien, and more steampunk—plus a steampunk encyclopedia, in case you need to better define your steampunk. Whether or not it is actually science fiction? Well, that’s for someone else to decide.

The Cure: All is hopeless. Space is corrupt with the same ridiculous politics and business shenanigans as we used to have on Earth, before the virus/aliens/runaway technology turned it into hellish chaos.

Phoenix Rising, by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris (May 1, Eos)

These are dark days in Victoria’s England. Londoners are vanishing, then washing up as corpses on the banks of the Thames, drained of blood and bone. Yet the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences—the Crown’s clandestine organization whose bailiwick is the strange and unsettling—will not allow its agents to investigate. Eliza D. Braun, however, with her bulletproof corset and a fondness for dynamite, refuses to let the matter rest, and she’s prepared to drag her timorous new partner, librarian Wellington Books, along with her. A malevolent brotherhood is operating in the deepening London shadows, intent upon the enslavement of all Britons. First in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series.

Burn Down the Sky, by James Jaros (May 1, Harper Voyager)

After the Wicca virus drove billions to madness and suicide, one commodity is far more valuable than all others combined: female children. When well-armed marauders roll in at dusk to brutally attack a fiercely defended compound of survivors, Jessie is unable to halt the slaughter—and she can do nothing to prevent the abduction of innocents, including her youngest child. Now, along with her outraged teenage daughter, Bliss, Jessie must set out on a journey across a blasted landscape—joining up with the desperate, the broken, and the half-mad on an impossible mission: to storm the fortress of a dark and twisted religion and bring the children home.

The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature, by Jeff VanderMeer (May 1, Abrams)

The Steampunk Bible is the first compendium about the popular sub-genre of science fiction, tracing its roots to Jules Verne and H. G. Wells through its most recent expression in movies such as Sherlock Holmes. Its adherents celebrate the inventor as an artist and hero, re-envisioning and crafting retro technologies including antiquated airships and robots. Steampunk evokes a sense of adventure and discovery, and embraces extinct technologies as a way of talking about the future. Jeff VanderMeer takes the reader on a wild ride through the clockwork corridors of Steampunk history.

The Hot Gate, by John Ringo (May 3, Baen)

The fight to free the Earth from alien domination began in Live Free or Die (2010), and continued in Citadel (January 2011). Now, Tyler Vernon and his troops aboard the gigantic battle station Troy face a desperate battle with the forces of galactic tyranny. And the very survival of the Earth and its people is not all that is at stake. The galaxy itself must choose to live free or die—and if the tyrants win this battle, darkness will fall across the galaxy for millennia. Third in the Troy Rising series.

Extremis, by Steve White and Charles E. Gannon (May 3, Baen)

Once before, the sentient races in the known part of the galaxy—humans, Orions, Ophiuchi and Gorm—had united to defeat alien invaders. Decades later, the member planets of the alliance had grown complacent, until a huge fleet of ships arrived, fleeing the loss of their home planet when their star went nova. They have traveled for centuries, slower than light, and now have arrived at the world they intend to make their new home—unless the old alliance of humans and other beings can stop them. Sixth in the Starfire series.

2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America, by Albert Brooks (May 10, St. Martin’s Press)

Yes, that Albert Brooks. The filmmaker, actor and comedian takes to the page in his first novel with what he describes as a plausible futuristic story. June 12, 2030, started out like any other day in memory. Since cancer had been cured, America’s aging population was sucking up benefits and resources while young people simmered with resentment. But on June 12, everything changed: a massive earthquake devastated Los Angeles and the government, always teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, was unable to respond. The fallout from the earthquake sets in motion a sweeping novel of ideas that pits national hope for the future against assurances from the past. 

The Quantum Thief, by Hannu Rajaniemi (May 10, Tor)

Jean le Flambeur is a post-human criminal, mind burglar, confidence artist and trickster. His origins are shrouded in mystery, but his exploits are known throughout the Heterarchy—from breaking into the vast Zeusbrains of the Inner System to stealing rare Earth antiques from the aristocrats of Mars. Now he’s confined inside the Dilemma Prison, where every day he has to get up and kill himself before his other self can kill him. Rescued by the mysterious Mieli, who offers him the chance to win back his freedom and the powers of his old self—in exchange for finishing the one heist he never quite managed. U.S. Release.

Mind Storm, by K.M. Ruiz (May 10, Thomas Dunne)

Two centuries after the world was nearly wiped out by nuclear war, the rich and powerful plan to ascend in secret to another planet. But the deadly new breed the rulers have enslaved to protect their interests is about to change everything. Threnody Corwin is a “psion,” with the ability to channel electricity like lightning through anything she touches. Threnody, a soldier-slave, is recruited by the scion of Earth’s most powerful (and supposedly human) family, the Serca Syndicate. But Lucas Serca is far from human and he intends to make Threnody and her fellow psions meet their destiny, no matter what. First in the Strykers Syndicate series.

Fuzzy Nation, by John Scalzi (May 10, Tor)

Jack Holloway works alone, for reasons he doesn’t care to talk about. Hundreds of miles from ZaraCorp’s headquarters on Zarathustra, 178 light-years from the corporation’s headquarters on Earth, Jack is content as an independent contractor. But there’s a wrinkle to ZaraCorp’s relationship with the planet Zarathustra. Their legal right to exploit it is based on the claim that it has no sentient species. Then a small furry biped shows up at Jack’s outback home, followed by its family. As it dawns on Jack that these are people, he begins to suspect that ZaraCorp may stop at nothing to eliminate the “fuzzys” before their existence becomes more widely known.

Queen of Kings, by Maria Dahvana Headley (May 12, Dutton)

The year is 30 B.C. Octavian Caesar and his massed legions are poised to enter Alexandria when a messenger informs Egypt’s queen, Cleopatra, that her beloved Mark Antony has died by his own hand. Desperate to save her kingdom, resurrect her husband and protect all she holds dear, Cleopatra turns to the gods for help. Ignoring the warnings of those around her, she summons Sekhmet, goddess of death and destruction, and strikes a mortal bargain. And not even the wisest of Egypt’s scholars could have predicted what would follow. For, in return for Antony’s soul, Sekhmet demands something in return: Cleopatra herself.

Embassytown, by China Mieville (May 17, Del Rey)

Embassytown is a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe. Avice is an immerser, a traveler on the immer, the sea of space and time below the everyday, now returned to her birth planet. Here on Arieka, humans are not the only intelligent life, and Avice has a rare bond with the natives, the enigmatic Hosts, with whom on a tiny cadre of ambassadors can speak. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this ambassador speaks, everything changes. Catastrophe looms. Avice knows the only hope is for her to speak directly to the alien Hosts. And that is impossible.

Nebula Awards Showcase 2011, edited by Kevin J. Anderson (May 24, Tor)

With this inaugural volume from Tor, the annual Nebula Award collection is reborn as a fiction-only anthology. This collection features 2009’s most celebrated stories, including offerings from such authors as Kij Johnson, Eugie Foster, Kage Baker, James Patrick Kelly, Michael Bishop, and Paolo Bacigalupi.

Frankenstein: The Dead Town, by Dean Koontz (May 24, Random House)

Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein series has redefined the classic legend of infernal ambition and harrowing retribution for a new century and a new age. Now the master of suspense delivers the conclusion to his saga of the modern monsters among us. The war against humanity is raging. As the small town of Rainbow Falls, Montana, comes under siege, scattered survivors come together to weather the onslaught of the creatures set loose upon the world. As they ready for battle against overwhelming odds, they will learn the full scope of Victor Frankenstein’s nihilistic plan to remake the future—and the terrifying reach of his shadowy, powerful supporters. Now the good will make their last, best stand.

The Falling Machine, by Andrew Mayer (May 24, Pyr)

In 1880 women aren’t allowed to vote, much less dress up in a costume and fight crime. But 20-year-old socialite Sarah Stanton still dreams of becoming a hero. Her opportunity arrives in tragedy when the leader of the Society of Paragons, New York’s greatest team of gentlemen adventurers, is murdered before her eyes. To uncover the truth behind the assassination, Sarah joins forces with the mechanical man known as The Automaton. Together, they unmask a conspiracy at the heart of the Paragons that reveals the world of heroes and high-society is built on a crumbling foundation of greed and lies. First in the Society of Steam series.

City of Ruins, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (May 24, Pyr)

Boss, a loner, loved to dive into derelict spacecraft adrift in the blackness of space. But one day, she found a ship that would change everything—an ancient Dignity Vessel—and aboard the ship, the mysterious and dangerous Stealth Tech. Now, , Boss and her team investigate Vaycehn, where fourteen archeologists have died exploring the endless caves below the city. Mysterious “death holes” explode into the city itself for no apparent reason, and Boss believes Stealth Tech is involved.

Timecaster, by Joe Kimball (May 31, Ace)

Chicago, 2064: Talon Avalon is a timecaster, one of a few peace officers who can operate a TEV, the Tachyon Emission Visualizer, which records crimes that have already happened. With crime at an all-time low, Talon has little to do except give lectures to school kids and obsess on his wife’s profession as a licensed sex partner—until one of her clients asks Talon to investigate a murder. When Talon uses the TEV to view the crime, the identity of the killer is unmistakable—it’s him, Talon Avalon. Joe Kimball is a pen name of author J.A. Konrath.


Author Suzanne Johnson is a bonafide book geek. Her new urban fantasy series, scheduled to begin with the release of Royal Street in April 2012 by Tor Books, is set in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina. Find Suzanne on Twitter.

10 comments
Eric James Stone
1. EricJamesStone
I think the description of the Nebula Awards Showcase 2011 has incorrect information. It's confusing, but from what I can tell by looking at the cover, the book contains stories that were published in 2009 and nominated in 2010. The "2011" in the title merely indicates that's when the book is coming out. So I do not have a story in this book and neither do most of the others you've listed, because we were nominated this year for stories published last year. Presumably, our stories will appear next year in Nebula Awards Showcase 2012.
Suzanne Johnson
2. Susannah Sandlin
Absolutely right, Eric--thanks for pointing it out! We're in the process of switching out the description. Next year :-)
Evan Langlinais
3. Skwid
*blink*

How did Queen of Kings wind up in the Science Fiction list? It seems an odd fit...
Suzanne Johnson
4. Susannah Sandlin
Alt history is usually considered sci fi, so although this did feel more like an urban fantasy, or a historical UF. There are so many sub-genres now the labels are almost meaningless. Hard-core, "real" sci-fi, it is not.
Qwill
5. Qwill
Phoenix Rising and Burn Down the Sky have April 26th on sale dates according to the publisher. Is there a difference between an "on sale" date and a "publication" date? Thank you for a nice list.
Suzanne Johnson
6. Susannah Sandlin
On-sale dates shift like the sands of time! Also, for some reason I haven't fathomed, publishers often list books that are launching late in the month as being releases for the following month (such as considering an April 26 release as a May book). You know--just in case things weren't murky enough :-) These dates are always a snapshot of what the publishers have at the times the columns are put together. What you find on a site like Goodreads or Amazon at any given time is probably most up-to-date.
Qwill
7. RalphEwig
Nice roundup, thanks! Scifi has grown so much as a genre and this lineup certainly reflects that; it can offer both stinging criticism of today's problems, or extraordinary visions of better worlds. The kind I enjoy the most though, is when the story includes the reader in the journey of getting from "here" to "there".
Evan Langlinais
8. Skwid
It just seems if you're going to be dividing these lists by sub-genre, there ought to be some order there, and I don't know how a book that (from the blurb) is centered on divine intervention and mystical (as opposed to biological) vampires in a far-past setting makes this list. I don't know enough about it to say if it should be urban fantasy or "dark fantasy" or whatever brand of fantasy, but it's clearly not alternate history of the sort that would usually be classified as (the sub-genre) Science Fiction.
Qwill
9. SuzanneJohnson
I'm not sure it's practical to subdivide further:

Science Fiction--Space
Science Fiction-Steampunk
Science Fiction-Technopunk
Science Fiction-Dystopia by environmental disaster
Science Fiction-Dystopia by technological screwup
Science Fiction-Alt History w/o paranormal elements
Science Fiction-Alt History with paranormal elements

Where do you stop? Admittedly, the complaints usually crop up in this category, so perhaps anything not space- or techno-related should be moved to other categories. Suggestions?
Evan Langlinais
10. Skwid
Personally, it's the introduction of divine/magical elements that breaks the category for me. I don't think The God Engines would fit in this category, despite being set entirely in a space-travelling culture. Interestingly, I don't think most people would put Temeraire in this category, despite being (in theory) a non-magical alt-history.

There is no question that it is a subjective decision, and it is unlikely you'll be able to ever divide things in such a way as to satisfy all your readers. This just happened to be the one that twigged me.

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