The current issue of the Christian Century features a list of some of the year's best SF novels, reviewed by myself and the inimitable James McGrath. Our reviews of Doctor Who: Shada by Gareth Roberts, Existence by David Brin, Redshirts by John Scalzi, the Library of America's 2-volume anthology of 1950s American Science Fiction, At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson, and Triggers by Robert J. Sawyer are on the Christian Century's website, and appear in print in the December 12th, 2012 issue.
Alas, there was not room for every book worth mentioning in the list. Below are three reviews that didn't make the final cut for the final piece, but would definitely still make great gifts:
Tor Books, 288 pp., $24.99 hardcover, $7.99 Kindle edition
Presented in the style of an “Ace Double”—a format from the 1950s in which two short novels were bound back-to-back, each with a separate cover—these two novellas use SF tropes to explore the nature and ethics of power. In Merge, a man becomes enmeshed in a struggle for the future of the planet when he shows compassion to a strange and possibly dangerous alien being; in Disciple an unambitious office drone begins receiving mysterious messages from an otherworldly power that seems able to grant his every wish.
Boneyards by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Pyr/Prometheus, 301 pp., $16 trade paperback, $8.69 Kindle edition
The third book in Rusch’s “Diving Into the Wreck” series chronicles the further adventures of Boss, an enterprising far-future archeologist. Boss specializes in leading tourist excursions to the hulking wrecks of ancient spaceships, particularly ships known as “Dignity Vessels” that operate using the mysterious, otherworldly technology of the anacapa drive. This volume expands the backstory of Rosealma (nicknamed “Squishy”), a character tortured by her role in anacapa research that led to the death or disappearance of hundreds of researchers. It’s a fine entry in this series of moody, atmospheric space opera.
Tor Books, 352 pp., $24.99 hardcover, $11.99 Kindle edition
Bennett’s richly-imagined novel is a hard-science fiction superhero story. Set in a future where the solar system is populated by genetically-modified “Troubleshooters,” the story follows Emerald Blair, a young criminal-turned-hero who travels the asteroid belt righting wrongs and battling gene-modified maniacs. Blair’s story is interesting, but the texture and detail of the universe she inhabits that stands out is the novel’s most notable feature.