Please recommend some recent social critique/science fantasy books
July 14, 2021 1:47 PM   Subscribe

Do you have any suggestions of novels from the last 2-3 years that are not from famous authors somewhere in the range of social critique and modern science fantasy? (More details inside.)

In working on a query letter for a novel, my co-author and I are hoping for help with identifying books that we can look at that might be considered comparables. We're well-read, but due to things like graduate school, haven't been reading fiction as widely in the recent few years. We'll read any books we would list, but we're just hoping for help in where to start with a reading list. Below are some general descriptors of our book, with a comparable book hopefully having similarities to a couple of the bullets, but likely not all of them.

Our book is:
- Adult genre fiction (modern fantasy / the fantasy equivalent of cyberpunk / science fantasy / or, as we joke, "fax machine fantasy")
- Modern/slightly futuristic (late stage capitalism edging into early dystopia)
- Magic (well-known and well-marketed to the public)
- Set in Japan, the US, and South Korea
- Multiple POVs with woven storylines
- Low narrative distance (i.e. first person, present tense)
- Intersections between business, media, political, and criminal spheres with conflicting interests
- Also: Found family. Many female characters of different backgrounds. LGBTQ-inclusive. Characters with senses of humor (but overall story is not a comedy).

But not:
- Paranormal romance (no supernatural creatures of any kind)
- Secret separate magical societies
- YA (all main characters are adults)

Rated M for:
- Realistic depictions of visa regulations, commodification of labor, and the slow burn exhaustion of modern adult life
- Swearing
- Non-explicit sexy times
- Physical violence (some)
- Structural violence (lots)

But not:
- Sexual violence
- Homophobia

Close maybe but too famous: Margaret Atwood, Neal Stephenson/Cyberpunk (in terms of social critique, perhaps closer to a Snow Crash than Cryptonomicon), The Expanse (in terms of the interactions between factions and individual action), Stormlight Archive (structurally, not setting)

Not really: Murakami, Harry Potter/A Deadly Education, Dresden Files, Shadowrun

It sounds like ideally comparable books should not be the most famous NYT Bestselling novels. What books do you recommend we explore?
posted by past unusual to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Best answer: You could check out K Chess's Famous Men who Never Lived. It's about people from an alternate Earth who flee to ours in advance of an onrushing man-made apocalypse, and focuses on the ways they're treated well, and poorly, and in complicated ways, by our world. Frequently, the factors that drive people to become refugees more or less eradicate the places they left, and the book uses the alternate-world trope to make "you can't go home again" very literal.

It also has some other qualities in common with your book: Multiple POVs and interwoven storylines; a modern-ish setting; various kinds of violence.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:20 PM on July 14, 2021


Best answer: NK Jemisin's The City We Became

Is basically all of this:

- Adult genre fiction (modern fantasy / the fantasy equivalent of cyberpunk / science fantasy / or, as we joke, "fax machine fantasy")
- Modern/slightly futuristic (late stage capitalism edging into early dystopia)
- Magic (well-known and well-marketed to the public)
- Set in Japan, the US, and South Korea
- Multiple POVs with woven storylines
- Low narrative distance (i.e. first person, present tense)
- Intersections between business, media, political, and criminal spheres with conflicting interests
- Also: Found family. Many female characters of different backgrounds. LGBTQ-inclusive. Characters with senses of humor (but overall story is not a comedy).


It also has some visa/immigration content and either all or nearly all the characters are adults.

Jemisin may be a bit too famous, but your description sounded so similar I have to mention it.
posted by knapah at 2:20 PM on July 14, 2021 [5 favorites]


Best answer: I was going to say N.K. Jemisin but probably too famous? (on preview, a bit late)

Perhaps Nnedi Okorafor's Remote Control for the magic/found family/violence?

Charlie Jane Anders' All the Birds in the Sky for fantasy vs sci-fi/social commentary/multiple POVs (although does have separate societies to some extent)?
posted by Paper rabies at 2:24 PM on July 14, 2021 [2 favorites]


Best answer: Try Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota series. May be too scifi/futuristic.
posted by slide at 3:04 PM on July 14, 2021


Best answer: Came here to say either NK Jemisin's The City We Became or Nnedi Okorafor's Remote Control. So plus one on both of those.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:07 PM on July 14, 2021


Best answer: Cadwell Turnbull, The Lesson. Set in the near future Caribbean after aliens land and set up an embassy there; it's most obviously grappling with colonialism but there are a range of other themes as well.
posted by mark k at 3:12 PM on July 14, 2021


Best answer: There's no magic, and generally far fewer women and people of color than I might like, but Kim Stanley Robinson leans very heavily into social commentary in his novels. There's quite a lot set in the not-too-distant future, and they definitely deal with a world edging (or leaping) into dystopia. One of the recent-ish ones, Red Moon, is set in 2048 and takes place mostly in China and on the moon. I don't know enough to judge his depiction of Chinese cultural trends, but it feels like it might have enough overlap to be relevant to what you're looking for.
posted by duien at 4:22 PM on July 14, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Look at Fonda Lee's Jade books (starting with Jade City), Robert Jackson Bennett's Divine Cities trilogy (starting with City of Stairs) and Max Gladstone's Craft sequence. These are all secondary-world fantasy (so there's no Japan, China, or Korea per se), but all of these societies take a technological approach to magic. They have railroads, air travel, and in some cases spaceships; the characters grapple with the legacy of colonialism and the advance of corporate power. All of these books are queer in some way. They will be better matches if your approach to magic is scientific.

If you're leaning more in a huge emotions and dramatic effects direction (or even toward the dream logic of magical realism), perhaps consider Zen Cho's Black Water Sister or Yoon Ha Lee's Phoenix Extravagant?
posted by yarntheory at 5:00 PM on July 14, 2021


Best answer: Perhaps some of the stories from Ted Chiang’s Exhalation. Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom, from that collection, checks almost all of the boxes except magic.
posted by chrisulonic at 5:17 PM on July 14, 2021


Best answer: Worth considering is Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl. I didn't like it much but it meets several of your needs.

I haven't read Jin Yong but The Red Thread of Fortune may be up your alley? I may be off here.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 5:54 PM on July 14, 2021


Best answer: Some aspects of your description evoke Malka Older's Infomocracy trilogy for me, although that's more near-future sociopolitical SF rather than fantasy (no magic).
posted by karayel at 6:50 PM on July 14, 2021


Best answer: Sexual violence warning for The Windup Girl.
posted by Paper rabies at 10:04 PM on July 14, 2021


Best answer: I just read The Absolute Book by New Zealand author Elizabeth Knox, it kinda fits a lot of your criteria. Unusual mashup of real world crime/mystery/conspiracy theories with diversions into an alternate world and Purgatory to hunt down a lost soul. Modern themes of capitalism, environmentalism, gender roles, etc. TBH I found the whole thing a bit of a mess, but it was one of those glorious messes where you can't help but admire the ambition of it all. There were a couple of mini-stories embedded within that I enjoyed enough to make the entire 600+ pages worthwile.
posted by mannequito at 10:26 PM on July 14, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez.

It's SF about what happens in a future where we've mastered FTL travel--and it also criss-crosses back to a very clearly dying Earth and the realization for many that they will be left behind if they aren't powerful--and it is also a love story in many ways (familial love, romantic love). It stayed with me a very long time after I finished it.
posted by Kitteh at 8:23 AM on July 15, 2021


Best answer: I just found a very good review of the book that does it more justice than I could (beware: some spoilery stuff towards the end): The Vanished Birds review.
posted by Kitteh at 8:31 AM on July 15, 2021


Response by poster: Thank you all for the fantastic suggestions. It occurred to me that this also essentially a list of books that I am likely to love since it is content that I find interesting and fun. I'm very excited to dig in!

If anyone else has any other suggestions, please feel free to add too!
posted by past unusual at 10:43 AM on July 15, 2021


Best answer: If you have a perfect example of the type of book you're looking for, LibraryThing.net can be helpful to find similar books: Jemisin related titles here.
posted by dotparker at 12:02 PM on July 15, 2021


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