BY NICO VREELAND

[This feature is a brief monthly summary of interesting books coming out this month.Click the pictures or the title links to find these books at Goodreads.]

A brand-new year kicks off with a metric ton of notable books. Here we go:


Agent 6, by Tom Rob Smith (out 1/5)

Tom Rob Smith’s first book, Child 44, is one of my favorite thrillers ever, and his second book, which I’m reading now, is damn good, too. Agent 6 completes the trilogy, about Leo Demidov, an ex-State Security agent in Stalinist Russia, whose conscience strains against the needs of survival in a fascist regime. If you haven’t read the first two, start there (here’s my review of Child 44)—I won’t say more so as not to give anything away. If you’ve already read the first two, you won’t need my convincing to pick this one up.


The Operators, by Michael Hastings (out 1/5)

Michael Hastings instantly became one of the most famous journalists in the country when his profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, got McChrystal fired. (Hastings also turned in a couple of posts for this very website, just before he took off, which obviously didn’t hurt.) The Operators is his book-length investigation of the war in Afghanistan. Weirdly, it was canceled by his first publisher, Little, Brown, before being snapped up by a Penguin imprint. I haven’t seen any reviews yet, but since the Rolling Stone piece was such a hit, The Operators is a pretty safe bet.


Distrust That Particular Flavor, by William Gibson (1/3)

The father of cyberpunk is back with a collection of journalism and essays culled from a thirty-year career. As his last novel showed, Gibson remains a foremost talent when it comes to cultural analysis, so an entire book full of that kind of thing should be awesome.


Blueprints of the Afterlife, by Ryan Boudinot (out 1/3)

This is one of those books whose official flap copy is a checklist of the weird ideas it features. It’s the post-apocalyptic future, called the “Afterlife.” The human nervous system, thanks to computerized health care, can be hacked. North America has been ravaged by a sentient glacier named Malaspina. An Olympic medal-winning dishwasher (as in, he’s the best dishwasher in the world) gets a note from his future brain. So on and so forth. It’s one of those conceits that could be wildly successful or entirely unbearable. I’ve just started it, but so far it’s been wildly successful. Look for my full review next week.


Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler (out now)

Handler’s new book is an illustrated YA novel about a high school breakup. It doesn’t have the most original concept, but Handler’s talent comes from his wit and his details.


The Flame Alphabet, by Ben Marcus (out 1/17)

In one of those sci-fi/allegorical premises that are so in vogue these days, The Flame Alphabet hinges on a weird conceit: the sound of children’s voices has become toxic. Marcus focuses on a couple who struggle to abandon their daughter, even though staying near her is literally killing them. Marcus is a very talented writer, but it would be easy to turn this concept into a preachy piece of treacle.


The Demi-Monde: Winter, by Rod Rees (out now)

The first in a proposed quartet of steampunky sci-fi novels, The Demi-Monde: Winter introduces us to the Demi-Monde, a Matrix-like computer simulation built for the purposes of training soldiers how to fight in dense urban warfare. If you die in the Demi-Monde, you die in real life—which begs the question: what’s the point of a training simulation that can kill you? The answer seems to be that you can include famous Nazis and other psychopaths in the simulation. Don’t expect a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel here, but a raucous, gory sci-fi action story might be in the cards.


Glaciers, by Alexis M. Smith (out 1/17)

A short novella about a day in the life of a contemplative young woman named Isabel, who repairs damaged books at the library, has an unrequited crush on the ex-soldier who fixes her computer and is “a collector of remnants.” Supposedly it’s quite beautifully written. File this one next to We the Animals.


Mr. g, by Alan Lightman (out 1/24)

Alan Lightman’s new novel is about the creation of the universe, by a mysterious man called Mr. g, who makes some mistakes (like accidentally inviting an evil presence, “Belhor,” into his creation). This kind of retelling of the creation of the universe has been done before, obviously, for thousands of years. I’m guessing this will not be another Cosmicomics, but I could be wrong.


Vulture Peak, by John Burdett (out 1/10)

John Burdett’s last Sonchai Jitpleecheep novel let me down [link], but this series is better than about 90% of detective fiction out there. This one follows Sonchai as he organizes an elaborate sting on a human organ trafficking network.


The Map and the Territory, by Michel Houllebecq (out 1/3)

Personally, I like Michel Houllebecq’s real-life craziness more than his sometimes inscrutable novels. But here’s his latest.


Lunatics, by Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel (out 1/10)

If your dad needs a book, this’ll do. Let’s hope these two didn’t write the painfully unfunny flap copy.


Night of the Republic, by Alan Shapiro (out 1/17)

I can’t remember exactly how this book came to my attention, but poetry rarely makes it to my attention, so… it must’ve been good.


The World We Found, by Thrity Umrigar (out 1/3)

Umrigar’s latest novel is about four Indian women, college friends, who reunite when one of them falls deathly ill.

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