Jan 11 2012 2:00pm

Genre in the Mainstream: 5 Literary/SF “Crossover” Books to Watch For in 2012

(Video: Book trailer for The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus)

Literary offerings that dabble in the fantastic will continue into 2012 and beyond, with this January seeing the release of two such books, with more confirmed for later in the year. As part of the ongoing conversation on genre crossover, here’s a very brief look ahead into what’s coming in 2012. Genre in the Mainstream will likely be covering all of these books, but I’d like you, the readers, to have some titles in the backs of your minds as you try to fulfill that all-important New Year’s resolution: “I need to read some new books...”


The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus (Random House)

Ben Marcus is no stranger to experimental fiction. A previous book, Notable American Women,  incorporates meta-fiction as well as a kind of alternate history framework. Now, his impending release The Flame Alphabet seems to evoke shades of Jose Saramago’s Blindness in presenting an unlikely, but terrifying epidemic. In this near-future, adults become afflicted with a bizarre illness caused by the sounds made by children’s voices. Words are the weapons here. I have a feeling this will be one of those books everyone will be talking about this year, so get ready to read it soon. The  Flame Alphabet releases on January 17th. Also, if you missed it in our Morning Roundups, watch the awesome book trailer at the top of the post.


Blueprints of the Afterlife by Ryan Boudinot (Grove Press/Black Cat)

Set in a post-apocalyptic future, this novel focuses on “the age of fucked-up shit.” Early buzz is comparing author Ryan Boudinot as a cross between Vonnegut and Palahniuk. There may also be some Charlie Kauffman leanings in this one, as a full-scale replica of Manhattan (reminiscent of Synecdoche, NY) plays a role. This book was originally slated for release in late December 2011, but it looks like it just came out in early January. Because it’s an independent publisher, this one might be trickier to find, but it sounds like it’s worth it. Look for Genre in the Mainstream to cover it early next month.


Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel (Random House YA)

Indicative of what everyone already knows: that YA is more friendly to genre than any other literary designation, this first book in a trilogy is set to explore a magically infused version of The Dust Bowl. Landing in the midst of the Depression, with Prohibition raging and entire storms of dust wiping out crops in one swoop, this time in American history feels like a post-apocalyptic event for those who experienced it. Which makes it a ripe setting for a story with magical realism or out-and-out magic. Though it’s YA, and may contain some predictable structuring to accommodate a trilogy, the choice of historical venue seems strong and literary. Dust Girl releases on June 26 of this year.


The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker  (Random House)

This is the debut novel to watch this year. In a near future, the entire rotation of the Earth slows down. Told from the perspective of one family, specifically, a young girl; this book sounds a little too good to be true. I’ve seen early chapters of this one and I have to say, both the prose and the concept are totally gripping. From what I can tell, Karen Thompson Walker might end of being a mash-up of Karen Russell and Margaret Atwood. This one should definitely not be missed, and Genre in the Mainstream will be talking about it when it comes out on the 26th of June!


Suddenly, a Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret (FSG)

I’ve discussed Keret’s previous work in this column before, and I interviewed him for Clarkesworld a few years ago. In terms of weird, snappy short fiction, Keret may be one of the best living writers. Previous collections have featured talking fish, super-powers, and entire lives lived well after death. True, those folks over in Israel have had this one for a couple years, and the English translation is just now coming out,  but Keret works so closely with his translators, and it’s often shocking the stuff isn’t originally written in English. This is the kind of author who will be all over NPR, and when you notice that, remind yourself this: he loves science fiction and science fiction fans should love him. This short story collection comes out March 27th. 

And now dear readers, I ask you to scoop me! Do you know of any literary novels or short story collections coming out this year that might have SF leanings? Comment below! 

Ryan Britt is the staff writer for 

This article is part of Genre in the Mainstream: ‹ previous | index | next ›
Irene Gallo
1. Irene
Very jealous of that Blueprints cover.
Samuel Montgomery-Blinn
2. montsamu
A few more for this series, from my 2012 list:

The Rook: A Novel by Daniel O’Malley (Little, Brown and Company, Jan 11, 2012)

Mr g: A Novel About the Creation by Alan Lightman (Pantheon, Jan 24, 2012)

The Mirage: A Novel by Matt Ruff (Harper, Feb 7, 2012) -- "11/9/2001: Christian fundamentalists hijack four jetliners. They fly two into the Tigris & Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad, and a third into the Arab Defense Ministry in Riyadh. The fourth plane, believed to be bound for Mecca, is brought down by its passengers. The United Arab States declares a War on Terror."

Satantango by László Krasznahorkai and translated by George Szirtes (Feb 21, 2012)

The Vanishers: A Novel by Heidi Julavits (Doubleday in print, Dreamscape Media in audio, Mar 13, 2012)

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway (Knopf, Mar 20, 2012) -- though maybe this one's "too genre" for mainstream?

Utopia by Ahmed Khaled Towfik (May 8, 2012)

The Reckoning by Alma Katsu (Jun 19, 2012) -- sequel to The Taker

Talulla Rising by Glen Duncan (Jun 26, 2012) -- sequel to The Last Werewolf

The Twelve: A Novel by Justin Cronin (Random House/Ballantine, Aug 28, 2012) -- sequel to 2010's The Passage

Maybe the last few don't qualify, either, being "too genre" for mainstream?
The Mad Hatter
3. The Mad Hatter
Good picks. The Age of Miracles and Blueprints of the Afterlife are on my list as well.

A few more in this area I'm looking at:
Sorry Please Thank You: Stories by Charles Yu (July)
Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce (July)
Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A.S. Byatt (Feb)
Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (May)
The Mad Hatter
4. The Mad Hatter
I can't believe I forgot to mention Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Prisoner of Heaven, the third in his world that started with The Shadow of the Wind. It is already out in Spanish and has been annouced for June in the UK so hopefully the US will get it around then as well.
Ryan Britt
5. ryancbritt
@Mad Hatter
Hell yes. All great choices.

So many great books on here. I'm particular interested in the Heidi Julavits.

Also- it's sometimes hard for me to define the type of book we're talking about here. I think if it's in the conversation, it's in the conversation. Right? I think Cronin counts as being a fairly mainstream-marketed book with genre leanings. It might be more deliberate than something like Keret, but it's certainly not straight fantasy or sf. In any case, thanks for adding to the list!
N. Swain
6. Jabberwocky
I have really been wanting to read The Flame Alphabet since I saw its trailer a week or so back. Looks interesting.
The Mad Hatter
7. Prosperity
Totally going to be reading Blueprints of the Afterlife!
Samuel Montgomery-Blinn
8. montsamu
I'm glad to see Roadside Picnic coming back into print, but it was out (in English, in the US) decades ago.

Another book I've had on pre-order since last October (its first planned release date...) is Samuel Delany's Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, coming (crossing fingers) from Magnus Press in February. It's "kind of" sf, as it projects forward several decades starting with a contemporary world. But it's primarily literary fiction.
Cathy Mullican
9. nolly
Zettel is an established genre author; I'm curious why you list this as mainstream.

@montsamu: Oooh! A new Matt Ruff! Yay!
The Mad Hatter
10. dmg
The Flame Alphabet has been on my list for a few months; perhaps since a stray comment in Vanity Fair or, more likely, a review in Publisher's Weekly. So I waited.

And now that its laydown date has come and gone, I read this review, and lose all interest. Talk about damning with faint praise. (Perhaps that should be feint praise.)

Funny how that works.

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