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12 Small-Press Fantasy, SciFi, and Speculative Books You May Have Missed

Indie presses are the best. Here are 12 reasons why.

We love genre fiction here at the Chicago Review of Books. We also love independent presses. So, by combining the two, we’re basically creating our favorite kind of list. What follows are some of our favorite fantasy, sci-fi, and speculative fiction books released on independent presses this year (with the understanding that genre is a spectrum). We hope you enjoy them, too!

The Bird King
By G. Willow Wilson
Grove Press

“A fantastical journey set at the height of the Spanish Inquisition from the award-winning author of Alif the Unseen and writer of the Ms. Marvel series, G. Willow Wilson’s The Bird King is a jubilant story of love versus power, religion versus faith, and freedom versus safety.”

Famous Men Who Never Lived
By K. Chess
Tin House Books

“Wherever Hel looks, New York City is both reassuringly familiar and terribly wrong. As one of the thousands who fled the outbreak of nuclear war in an alternate United States—an alternate timeline—she finds herself living as a refugee in our own not-so-parallel New York. The slang and technology are foreign to her, the politics and art unrecognizable. While others, like her partner Vikram, attempt to assimilate, Hel refuses to reclaim her former career or create a new life.”

The Lesson
By Cadwell Turnbull
Blackstone

“A year after the death of a young boy at the hands of an Ynaa, three families find themselves at the center of the inevitable conflict, witness and victim to events that will touch everyone and teach a terrible lesson.”

Plum Rains
By Andromeda Romano-Lax
Soho Press

“In a tour-de-force tapestry of science fiction and historical fiction, Andromeda Romano-Lax presents a story set in Japan and Taiwan that spans a century of empire, conquest, progress, and destruction.”

Homesick
By Nino Cipri
Dzanc Books

“Dark, irreverent, and truly innovative, the speculative stories in Homesick meditate on the theme of home and our estrangement from it, and what happens when the familiar suddenly shifts into the uncanny.” 

The Book of X
By Sarah Rose Etter
Two Dollar Radio

“A surreal exploration of one woman’s life and death against a landscape of meat, office desks, and bad men.”

Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories
By Kelly Barnhill
Algonquin

“With bold, reality-bending invention underscored by richly illuminated universal themes of love, death, jealousy, and hope, the stories in Dreadful Young Ladies show why its author has been hailed as ‘a fantasist on the order of Neil Gaiman’ (Minneapolis Star Tribune). This collection cements Barnhill’s place as one of the wittiest, most vital and compelling voices in contemporary literature.”

Thirty-Seven
By Peter Stenson
Dzanc Books

“The Survivors, their members known only by the order in which they joined, live alone in a rural Colorado mansion. They believe that sickness bears honesty, and that honesty bears change. Fueled by the ritualized Cytoxan treatments that leave them on the verge of death, they instigate the Day of Gifts, a day that spells shocking violence and the group’s demise.”

The Lightest Object in the Universe
By Kimi Eisele
Algonquin

“What if the end times allowed people to see and build the world anew? This is the landscape that Kimi Eisele creates in her surprising and original debut novel. Evoking the spirit of such monumental love stories as Cold Mountain and the creative vision of novels like Station ElevenThe Lightest Object in the Universe imagines what happens after the global economy collapses and the electrical grid goes down.”

Fractured
By Tamar Ossowski
Skyhorse

“Sam Baird is lost. Is she experiencing a bout of amnesia or worse, slipping into the depths of madness? Her memories have been erased and everything she thought she knew is gone. She cannot even be certain of her name. She looks at the man standing beside her at the lake’s edge, but he is focused on something poking out from the water. She hears a whisper. Has he said something to her? Or is it just her intuition, warning her?”

Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea
By Sarah Pinsker
Small Beer Press

Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea is one of the most anticipated sf&f collections of recent years. Pinsker has shot like a star across the firmament with stories multiply nominated for awards as well as Sturgeon and Nebula award wins.”

Song for the Unraveling of the World
By Brian Evenson
Coffee House Press

“In these stories of doubt, delusion, and paranoia, no belief, no claim to objectivity, is immune to the distortions of human perception. Here, self-deception is a means of justifying our most inhuman impulses―whether we know it or not.”

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