It was a strange year for science fiction. While so many major releases underwhelmed me – The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, Bowl of Heaven by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven, Sorry Please Thank You: Stories by Charles Yu, etc. – I was pleasantly surprised by many of the self-published and small press science fiction releases that I read in 2012.
Of Machine, I wrote: “Science fiction, at its very best, challenges readers and compels them to look at the world around them in a different light – and that is exactly what Jennifer Pelland’s brilliant debut novel Machine does in grand style. While the subject matter – mind uploading, android consciousness, and the ultimate question “what makes an entity human?” – certainly has been explored before in novels like PKD’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Rudy Rucker’s Software, Robert J. Sawyer’s Mindscan, Christopher Rowley’s Netherworld trilogy (Pleasure Model, The Bloodstained Man, and Money Shot), etc., Pelland examines the topic with an intimacy and honesty that makes Machine an utterly powerful read.”
And Wildcatter: “Reading Dave Duncan’s latest – a little science fiction gem entitled Wildcatter that was just released from Calgary-based EDGE Publishing – brought me back to the days of my youth growing up in the ‘70s, when reading newly released (and now classic) SF adventures like Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama, John Varley’s Titan, and Frederik Pohl’s Gateway blew my mind with visionary storylines, jaw-dropping speculation, and an undeniable sense of wonder."
If you just read one science fiction novel released in 2012, make it The Night Sessions. This novel will change everyone who reads it.
In conclusion, there is something to be learned from the amount of self-published (print and ebook) and small press titles on this list. Back a few decades ago, when a book was self-published, it was more often than not self-published for a reason – that is, it simply wasn't good enough to be published "professionally." But now, the publishing landscape is radically different. I'm seeing authors self-publishing because it gives them more creative freedom and offers up more financial advantages. And I've always loved small presses because they seem more open to taking chances, publishing stuff that is a little more edgy, more risky.
A word of advice for readers out there – make it a point to regularly seek out and read small press and self-published work. You'll be surprised what you find...
6. Fate of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can follow him on Twitter at @paulgoatallen and get all the latest Barnes & Noble book news from @BNBuzz.