It’s a busy time for SF/F fans. Between the tsunami of superhero movies and TV shows, the revival of old-school classics like Twin Peaks and The X-Files, and the infinite supply of fantastic books hitting the shelves (physical and digital) every week, we’re living through a Golden Age of speculative fiction. But there’s an unfortunate side affect of this glut of exciting material that no one likes to talk about: Choice Paralysis. But some books have such concise, killer setups—the famed “elevator pitch”—that choice is no longer an issue. They demand to be read. The great thing about a book with an awesome elevator pitch is you can decide within seconds whether a book is your jam. Here are ten recent and upcoming SF/F novels with incredible elevator pitches.
A Criminal Magic, by Lee Kelly
Imagine the 18th amendment didn’t prohibit alcohol but rather magic. Imagine Boardwalk Empire, except instead of running booze through the country’s ports, it’s centered on a magical elixir called Shine. Mix in period1920s culture, slang, and fashion. In other words, take one of the most interesting periods of American history, liberally mix it with crime fiction, add a snifter of sorcery, and you’ve got one of the most intriguing concepts for a fantasy novel coming out this year.
Runtime, by S.B. Divya
Cyborgs. Need we say more? Okay: cyborgs competing against each other in the Minerva Sierra Challenge, a.k.a. “the cyborg’s Tour de France,” with corporate sponsors like NASCAR racers and every advantage their expensive implants and exoskeletons can give them. Except Marmeg Guinto, competing with home-brewed technology in a desperate bid to improve her dismal life, doesn’t have any sponsors or any money, so her odds are long to say the least. Who wouldn’t want to cobble together their own combat exoskeleton and compete against others in a brutal competition to prove their mettle (not to mention their metal)?
Infomocracy, by Malka Ann Older
Set in a future world where there are many governments, and the world’s population is divided into “Centenals” of 100,000 people each that vote on which government to belong to (with some run by corporations and others committed to more traditional mechanisms), Infomocracy establishes sweet democratic chaos, only to expose its sinister applications. When a government employee discovers what might be global-scale election fraud manipulating humanity, he teams up with an agent of the organization that runs the elections and is launched on a pulse-pounding adventure.
The Impostor Queen, by Sarah Fine
The hook here is so simple, so elegant, it’s impossible not to want to read it immediately: we’re all familiar with the tried-and-true trope of “The Chosen One.” So what happens when a young girl, marked and trained to inherit her mother’s magic and crown, simply does not display the magical abilities she’s supposed to? Exploring the fate of a failed Chosen One, this surprisingly brutal story follows Elli as she is violently diverted from the path of power she’s been following her whole life.
The Raft, by Fred Strydom
With one of the sharpest premises in 2016, The Raft is a must-read: on Day Zero, everyone on Earth loses their memory. Chaos and the collapse of civilization ensue, and the world is reorganized into a brutal system of “communes.” A man wakes up on a beach with only the slimmest vision of his son left—and as he escapes into the wider world, he begins to slowly cobble together what happened, and why. Who could resist?
The Forbidden Wish, by Jessica Khoury
It’s funny when someone finally notices something obvious—like the fact that, though we’re all familiar with the story of Aladdin and the jinni who grants him wishes, we rarely wonder how the jinni felt about the situation? Zahra has been imprisoned in her lamp and bound to grant wishes to humans for thousands of years, but all she wants is freedom, and when she forges a bond with her newest possessor—yup, Aladdin himself—she sees an opportunity. Shelve this one next to Jonathan Stroud’s beloved Bartimaeus series.
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Age of Myth, by Michael J. Sullivan
Living gods are nothing new in fantasy circles; legends of dead ones are also fairly common. What Sullivan proposes is kind of breathtaking: a world where gods are worshiped as invincible, immortal magic-users—until one of them is killed by a human. Suddenly realizing their “gods” are mortal after all, an epic war begins, and the Age of Myth crumbles to an end. When one of the characters is on the path to becoming a God Killer, you know it’s a book you want to read, especially if you enjoyed Robert J. Bennett’s City of Stairs, which considers the aftermath of just such a scenario.
United States of Japan, by Peter Tieryas
Alternate history. Japan victorious in World War II. And now patrolling the conquered United States of Japan with giant mechas—yes, giant mechas. Described as a “spiritual successor” to Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, Tieryas’ new novel explores a world where a revolutionary group known as the George Washingtons distribute an illegal video game as a call to arms—a game that is slowly revealed to be much more than it seems. With a premise like that—did we mention the mechas?—we’re counting the days until we can read it.
Worlds of Ink and Shadow, by Lena Coakley
The Brontë sisters—Charlotte, Emily, and Anne—and their brother Branwell represented a serious excess of creative talent for one family. What if that creative power was more literal than ever imagined? Using the real-life juvenelia of the Brontës, Coakley imagines the sisters creating a tangible imaginary world. As they grow up, the sisters abandon it, but their world doesn’t take kindly to being forgotten. The hidden back story of the doomed Brontë family? Count us in.
We Are the Ants, by Shaun David Hutchinson
What if the fate of the entire world was in the hands of a lonely, bullied teenager? Henry Denton is miserable: his father left him, his boyfriend committed suicide, he is abducted by aliens on the regular, and his school life isn’t so great either. So when the aliens inform him that they plan to destroy the world unless he chooses to save it—literally by pressing a big, red, candy-like button—Henry’s hesitation is perfectly understandable. Does he even want to save the world? An exploration of serious subjects through an absurd premise, this is one to watch.
These ten books offer the sort of brief back cover copy that yanks you right in. Time is money, after all—money you could be spending on more books.
Which book sounds irresistible to you?