Leopards, Messiahs, and AI Storytellers: December’s Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books

Literature

Igbo goddesses! Trans Jesus! Queer political marriages! December doesn’t always have a wealth of SFF offerings, but the books being released before the end of 2023 seem to have the perfect hooks to make them irresistible additions to your TBR and/or gifting piles. This month’s list ranges from Chịkọdịlị Emelụmadụ’s debut to Geoff Ryman’s latest, to inventive fantasy sequels from Foz Meadows, Justin Lee Anderson, and K.J. Parker, to near-future visions of humanity’s self-extinction (via Debbie Urbanski) and researchers gone wild on distant planets (as depicted by Honey Watson). What a way to end the year.

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Chịkọdịlị Emelụmadụ, Dazzling

Chịkọdịlị Emelụmadụ, Dazzling
(The Overlook Press, December 5)

This British-Nigerian debut follows two girls’ coming-of-age at a Nigerian boarding school in the 1990s. Treasure, whose family was forced into poverty following her father’s death, has only gotten into this school because of the bargain she made with a spirit; in exchange for finding it “wives,” it brings her father back. Ozoemena is also struggling with a loss—her uncle, who passed on the magical gift of joining the Leopard Society, an Igbo sect dedicated to the goddess Idemili. Both friends must keep up their respective agreements with spirits, or else risk losing their social standing or (in Ozoemena’s case) succumbing to the fury of the Leopard.

him

Geoff Ryman, HIM
(Angry Robot Books, December 5)

Geoff Ryman’s award-winning (we’re talking Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, World Fantasy, and more) and genre-spanning books have put speculative spins on everything from the AIDS epidemic to the political history of Cambodia. His latest ambitious work goes back to an even earlier story: that of Jesus Christ, but if He were born a girl. In this retelling (is it sci-fi? is it alt-history?), virgin Maryam gives birth to Avigayil, who she raises with husband Yosef barLevi. But as Avigayil grows up, she envisions a different future for herself—as Yeshu, a man, who can see the future and work miracles on his growing followers. I love a thoughtful Biblical retelling (shout-out to the fiction podcast Almelem), and one with trans Jesus sounds like a must-read.

all the hidden paths

Foz Meadows, All the Hidden Paths
(Tor Books, December 5)

Last year’s queer fantasy romance A Strange and Stubborn Endurance saw Ralian aristocrat Velasain vin Aaro betrothed first to a princess from neighboring Tithena—then, when he was forcibly outed in his homophobic country, the Tithenai simply offered him a new betrothal, to the princess’ brother Caethari Aeduria. As Vel and Cae navigated a political union despite being strangers, they also had to contend with saboteurs who would see them never make it to the altar.

In the sequel, they are newly married and just beginning to figure out both their feelings (emotional and physical) for one another… only to get summoned to Qi-Xihan, the capital city of Tithena, to present themselves. Foz Meadows looks to be amping up the political intrigue in the sequel, with more courtiers and enemies for the lovers to contend with.

Saevus Corax Gets Away with Murder

K.J. Parker, Saevus Corax Gets Away with Murder
(Orbit Books, December 5)

This fall, Orbit has published three slim volumes from comic novelist Tom Holt (writing here as K.J. Parker) back-to-back-to-back, with the conclusion being released just in time for you to catch up on all three over your holiday. A pseudonymous battlefield salvager, Saevus Corax starts by stripping bodies of useful trinkets; he’s on his way to retirement, but of course the poor chap gets dragged back in for one last score. That means stopping all-out war between rival powers, but also getting away with murder—after all, what’s one more body on the political battlefield?

Debbie Urbanski, After World

Debbie Urbanski, After World
(Simon & Schuster, December 5)

Sen Anon is the last human on Earth; the rest of humanity has uploaded itself to a virtual network known as Maia in what is being called the Great Transition. Sen will stay behind long enough to observe the world rewind itself back to wilderness before she can join them. Except—when After World begins, Sen is a rotting corpse in her upstate New York cabin, discovered by an artificial intelligence. [storyworker] ad39-393a-7fbc is charged with its own task, then: to go back through all of the footage of Sen’s final months and compile a novel about her, drawing from 21st-century books. But along the way, [storyworker] ad39-393a-7fbc finds itself transgressing against its programming by falling in love with its subject.

bitter crown

Justin Lee Anderson, The Bitter Crown
(Orbit Books, December 5)

Justin Lee Anderson has said that while The Lost War, the first book in his four-part Eidyn Saga, is primarily an epic fantasy, it also contains elements of mystery and a conspiracy thriller. That bears out with the twist at the end of the first book: Laird Aranok has discovered that his best friend King Janaeus is actually the series villain, having erased the memories of everyone in the kingdom as to his dastardly deeds. Now that Laird knows the truth, he’ll team up with Mynyngogg, his supposed enemy from the first book, to try and convince everyone that their beloved monarch has violated their very minds.

lessons in birdwatching

Honey Watson, Lessons in Birdwatching
(Angry Robot Books, December 8)

I love SFF that focuses on people who may be extremely intelligent but also sound like hot messes, which is exactly how I would describe the cadre of researchers temporarily stationed on the planet Apech. Due to this far-off world’s time-distorting illness, Wilhelmina Ming and her four elite peers indulge in psychedelics and orgies to cope. But when they awaken to discover an impaled corpse as some sort of twisted warning, they realize that the diplomatic stakes are far more delicate outside of their insular sphere of sex, drugs, and research.



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