Every year at around this time, people start thinking about the best of the year, both for gifts and (within our field) for award-nomination reasons; and every year, most of the focus goes to fiction. To redress the balance slightly, then, here are some non-fiction titles that have caught my eye over the last eleven-and-a-bit months. By no means have I read all of them in totality! But I have dipped into many of them, and have reason to believe the rest are worth looking at (by you lot reading this, even though many of these are academic books and the majority of you are probably not academics). And this is, of course, merely to scratch the surface of what's out there; feel free to remind me of what I've missed. The list is arranged alphabetically by author or editor surname.
Imagining Urban Futures: Cities in Science Fiction and What We Might Learn from Them by Carl Abbott (Wesleyan University Press)
Wesleyan are one of the mainstays of the SF nonfiction world, and this book looks typically interesting: a professor of urban spaces and planning looks at cities in works from throughout SF's history.
Art and War by Shimon Adaf and Lavie Tidhar (Repeater Books)
This slim book grew out of a long conversation between Adaf and Tidhar that we published a couple of years ago, as "The Convergence Between Poetry and the Fantastic". I've been dipping into this expanded version -- which also includes a short story from each writer -- and it's thoughtful, challenging stuff.
Science Fiction Rebels: the Story of the Science-Fiction Magazines from 1981 to 1990 by Mike Ashley (Liverpool University Press)
Liverpool is to UK SF nonfiction what Wesleyan is in the US; this latest volume continues Mike Ashley's extraordinary history of SF through its magazines. I haven't read this yet; the previous volumes have had a tendency to have slightly more bibliography and slightly less narrative than I would prefer, but they are nevertheless an astonishing resource.
Adam Roberts: Critical Essays ed. Christos Callow Jr and Anna McFarlane (Gylphi)
Small UK academic publisher Gylphi has been running their Contemporary Writers series for a few years now, and they're a valuable project directing critical attention to currently working writers. This volume focuses on the fiction of a writer who may be most familiar to you in these pages as a reviewer, and it also includes an essay by me, but don't let that put you off; Paul Raven's essay alone is worth the price of entry.
The Merril Theory of Lit'ry Criticism edited by Ritch Calvin (Aqueduct)
Aqueduct have developed a habit of putting out solid non-fiction alongside their fiction; this book is one that I've been dipping into for a few months, and the only frustration with it is that the ebook is the complete version, but the print edition (for reasons of cost, I assume) is more selective. In either version, though, it's wonderful to have Judith Merrill's critical writing available.
Octavia E. Butler by Gerry Canavan (Illinois University Press)
The Modern Masters of SF series has, for my money, been a bit variable, but I admire Canavan's other critical writing, and Butler is a writer whose work I want to explore in greater depth, so this one is on my Christmas wish-list.
Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction by Andre M. Carrington (University of Minnesota Press)
I confess, this one is on here for the topic: I'm not familiar with Carrington, but this caught my eye earlier this year and I'm curious.
The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics by Louis Chude-Sokei (Wesleyan University Press)
Wesleyan again, and this one is not for the faint of heart: theoretically dense and conceptually wide-ranging, I've only made it into the foothills. But the topic is fascinating.
Tom McCarthy: Critical Essays ed. Dennis Duncan (Gylphi)
Another from the Gylphi series, and perhaps the most tangential on this list, given that nothing McCarthy has written is strictly science fiction. But if you like, say, Gibson's recent work, I suspect this will appeal as well.
The End of Science Fiction? by Nader Elhefnawy
Sometime SH reviewer Elhefnawy has self-published this collection of essays, taking off from a 2008 piece of the same name and considering some of the issues it raised in more depth. I have it, but have not started it.
The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics by Ramzi Fawaz (NYU Press)
This is another one where I know nothing about the author, but the topic (and the cover, in this case) caught my eye; an examination of the intersections of superheroes, queer politics, and civil rights movements.
Four Futures: Life After Capitalism by Peter Frase (Verso)
I spotted this one on the Verso website quite a while back, and then it was delayed, and delayed again; finally released in November, it's a short study of the possible intersections of climate change / automation and the sorts of worlds that could result. I'm about half-way through, and while I'm not sure Frase has mentioned a single woman so far, his sketches of the four futures are intriguing.
The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable by Amitav Ghosh (University of Chicago Press)
On the other hand, this is one that's probably going onto my Hugo ballot. I'm fascinated by the anthropocene in literature, and this is a grappling with the topic that has thrown up all sorts of new angles and questions for me. I should note that, while it engages with SF's role in the depiction of climate events, it is primarily concerned with depiction of climate as new reality; but it's impossible to deny its relevance to speculative writing.
THEN: Science Fiction Fandom in the UK, 1930-1980 by Rob Hansen (Ansible Editions)
The major fan-history project of the year: a hugely expanded edition of Rob Hansen's history of UK fandom, published by David Langford's Ansible Editions house. I have it, I'm daunted by it.
Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Cthulucene by Donna J. Haraway (Duke University Press)
I have an embarrassing feeling that Haraway's Pilgrim Award acceptance speech is the only thing I've read by her. Is this the right place to investigate further? I do raise my eyebrow a little at the "Cthulucene" coinage, but I am curious.
Science Fiction, Fantasy and Politics: Transmedia World-Building Beyond Capitalism by Dan Hassler-Forest (Rowman & Littlefield)
I've seen Hassler-Forest give a couple of papers, and he seems an engaged and engaging critic; this would be the first thing by him that I manage to actually read, but it certainly has an appealingly broad frame of reference.
Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species by Ursula Heise (University of Chicago Press)
Heise's Sense of Place, Sense of Planet is probably the book that has most shaped my thinking about SF, risk, and climate narratives. Quite by change I discovered last month that she has a new book out, which I'm very much looking forward to investigating over the holiday break.
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley (Tor Books)
The collection that includes her Hugo-winning essay "We Have Always Fought", and it may well be a shoo-in for a Hugo nomination itself; though I have to say I think the earlier nomination should probably be allowed to stand for the whole in this case. As this list (hopefully) shows, as good as Hurley is, there are a lot of other critics and commentators to look at, as well.
African Futures ed. Achille Mbembe (Kerber Verlag)
I spotted this in the Tate Modern bookshop a little while ago, but haven't had a chance to investigate it in detail yet. It's mix of prose and artwork, collecting pieces from the African Futures Festival held in Berlin earlier this year.
Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Popular Fantasy: Beyond Boy Wizards and Kick-Ass Chicks ed. Esther MacCallum-Stewart and Jude Roberts (Routledge)
We've actually reviewed this one, so I'll let Nick Hubble explain why it's worth your time.
The Wiscon Chronicles 10: Socila Justice (Redux) ed. Margaret McBride
The latest volume in Aqeduct's annual series collection discussions spinning off from the previous year's Wiscon. I haven't read this one; I have read several of the previous ones, and they've all had interesting things in them.
Children's Fantasy Literature: An Introduction by Michael Levy and Farah Mendlesohn (Cambridge)
Levy and Mendlesohn are probably the two people I'd want to write this book. They've written it. Now I just have to get around to reading it.
Terraforming: Ecopolitical Transformations and Environmentalism in Science Fiction by Chris Pak (Liverpool University Press)
Rupert Thomson: Critical Essays ed. Rebecca Pohl and Christopher Vardy (Gylphi)
The third and last of the Gylphi contemporary writers volumes this year, and the one about a writer I have never read; but I know people who rate Thomson, and (much of) his work is clearly speculative, so onto the list it goes.
The History of Science Fiction by Adam Roberts (Palgrave)
This is a substantially revised and expanded edition of Roberts' 2006 history, with increased coverage throughout and a whole new chapter on 21st-century SF. As Dan Hartland noted in his (mixed, I should say) review of the first edition, this is a history that appears idiosyncratic in parts, but is well worth pondering.
Science Fiction Adapted to Film by Nicholas Ruddick (Gylphi)
So new that I can't find a book page for it! I picked this up at the launch of the Gylphi contemporary writers volumes mentioned above, earlier this week, on the grounds that Ruddick's Fire in the Stone was an excellent book; and it looks like a good follow-up, with an overview of characteristics of SF adaptations in general, as well as specific case considerations.
Discognition by Steven Shaviro (Repeater Books)
Alfred Bester by Jad Smith (Illinois University Press)
The second (on this list) or first (chronologically) of this year's Modern Masters series; I'd be interested to read it simply to take my knowledge beyond those two novels and that one story that everyone knows.
Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro (Fairwood Press)
And we end the list with another book by a contributor to this magazine; Zinos-Amaro has transcribed a series of interviews with Silverberg discussing his life and career. The sort of project that I would like to see undertaken for any number of writers in the field.