Two of the Triangle’s science-fiction masters delivered at the top of their game this year. Pittsboro’s David Drake stepped outside of his millions-selling bailiwick of military sci-fi with The Spark, a far-future retelling of Arthurian legend. And Raleigh’s John Kessel expanded his Nebula Award–winning novelette Pride and Prometheus into a full-length novel, alternating between the points of view of Victor Frankenstein, his Creature, and Mary Bennet, recognizably lifted from the pages of Jane Austen.
Three debut novels from authors in different stages of their careers provided fresh, intriguing voices. Recent N.C. State MFA graduate Christopher Ruocchio wowed us with his science fantasy, Empire of Silence, beginning his “Sun Eater Trilogy” with disgraced hero Hadrian Marlowe recounting his life as the scion of a Roman-influenced, star-spanning family. Duke professor and human-rights advocate Robin Kirk, already the author of three nonfiction books, released her first novel, The Bond, a dystopian warning of the slippery slope to genocide set in a future Earth where women have killed nearly all men.
And Durham physicist J.D. Cortese’s debut, The Sound of a Broken Chain, is a sui generis novel of time travel and political unrest. Set largely in Cortese’s native Argentina, the book finds two idealistic high school students receiving a warning through time against a backdrop of politically motivated torture and Argentina’s 1978 World Cup victory.
Two of the area’s most well-known authors made genre splashes again. A year after her Philip K. Dick Award–nominated Six Wakes gained significant critical purchase, Durham author Mur Lafferty was tapped to novelize the film Solo: A Star Wars Story. Far from a paint-by-numbers media tie-in, Lafferty delightfully expands on the film, providing much more from the point of view of L3-37, the scene-stealing “droid rights” droid. A full year removed from his stint as Piedmont Laureate, Hillsborough author James Maxey delivered three books in Lawless, a gonzo series of novels that tell the story of B-list superheroes who can’t catch a break.
In the world of children’s books, a pair of writer-illustrator talents continued their series with aplomb. Raleigh’s S.E.M. Ishida published a follow-up to Nick Newton Is Not a Genius. The lightly (and delightfully) illustrated Nick Newton: The Highest Bidder finds the titular character encountering an auction-house mystery bidder and helping his friend rebuild an android. Pittsboro author Ursula Vernon continued her “Hamster Princess” series with Whiskerella (a rodent-themed Cinderella) and Little Red Rodent Hood.
Finally, three fantastic non-fantastic books convinced me to turn the pages even if there were no rockets or dragons: Natania Barron’s Rock Revival, in which Kate Styx’s successful band has started to crumble around her and the tabloids are circling; Therese Anne Fowler’s A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts, which brings Alma Smith Vanderbilt to well-drawn, gilded-age life; and Eryk Pruitt’s What We Reckon, the best of his Southern-fried noir books to date.
Correction: This post originally misidentified Mary Bennet as Elizabeth Bennet. It also misstated the title of Nick Newton Is Not a Genius.