This month we’re diving into five backlist titles set in the future. We have books that are a shade dystopian, a shade utopian, and just plain futuristic. We go to space and stay on earth, explore vast metropolises and play with mechanical dragons.
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Arthur A. Levine, 2013)
This novel was all over the awards circuit when it came out, but ten years might as well be a century when it comes to young adult fiction. In a future Brazil teeming with technological advances lives seventeen-year-old June. The outside world has been devastated by climate change and pandemics. In the city of Palmares Três, things are kept stable through the control of the Aunties and a Queen chosen by the Summer King, a boy sacrificed every year to ensure the city thrives. June and her bestie Gil both fall for Enki, the new Summer King, and are desperate to save his life and their city’s future.
The Star Host by F. T. Lukens (Duet, 2016)
I think most readers know F. T. Lukens through their queer fantasy romances—which are delightful, by the way—but their authorial debut was with this YA science fiction fantasy genre-bender, the first in the Broken Moon trilogy. Ren lives a quiet life as a Star Host, a person able to harness the power of stars. A greedy warlord invades Ren’s homeland and press gangs him and other teenagers into his army. There he meets Asher, Drifter captive. Unable to use his abilities, Ren and Ash form an alliance, which soon blooms into a romance. If you, like me, are constantly frustrated by the dearth of science fiction being published in YA today, at least you have this great series to go back to.
Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction by Joshua Whitehead (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2020)
I’m a big fan of Indigenous Futurism and queer stuff, so this short story collection is perfect for me. Stories set in the future often have a dystopian bend to them, but the stories here are post-decolonization. This anthology depicts a world where Indigiqueer stories intersect with technology, but there’s a hope to each story. A sense of reclamation and revolution runs through each story. 2020 was a hard year to publish (I know this first hand *sobs*…), so it’s understandable if this slipped off your radar, but I’m begging you to pick it up.
Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris, 2020)
Years ago, the Razan Empire invaded Hwaguk, and in the war to colonize the land, Gyen Jebi’s family suffered devastating losses. Now, Jebi longs to be an artist, but the Razanei have other plans for them. Conscripted to work in the Ministry of Armor, their new job involves a dysfunctional mechanical dragon and a depressing use of their artistic talents. With its layered plot and intriguing blend of fantasy and science fiction, this novel deserves your attention.
The Impossible Resurrection of Grief by Octavia Cade (Stelliform Press, 2021)
With the amount of fanfare this novella got when it was published, I was genuinely surprised to realize it had only won one award: the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Novella/Novelette. Set in a near future where the climate crisis is collapsing human and animal populations alike. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Great Barrier Reef is devoid of life, save a handful of jellyfish species being studied by Ruby, a marine biologist. Her friend takes the name Sea Witch and succumbs to the affliction known as Grief. What unfolds is a contemplative story about mourning and activism, about solutions that make things worse and problems that may not be able to be solved, about choices and consequences.
Alex Brown is a Hugo-nominated and Ignyte award-winning critic who writes about speculative fiction, librarianship, and Black history. Find them on twitter (@QueenOfRats), bluesky (@bookjockeyalex), instagram (@bookjockeyalex), and their blog (bookjockeyalex.com).