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Every Tor Essential in 2020

We at Tor Books believe the true ‘golden age’ of science fiction and fantasy is now, but we have a lot of love for the SFF published in the past few decades. And thus, our Tor Essentials line was born, reintroducing readers to some of our favorite classics. Need to catch up? Check out this list below for a roundup of every Tor Essentials book that came out in 2020!


Poster Placeholder of - 41China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh, introduction by Jo Walton

After the Second Great Depression and the American Liberation War, the US has been left as a satellite state of China. In this somewhat but not entirely regimented world, young New York construction engineer Zhang Zhongshan must find his way in a society that disapproves both of his cultural heritage and his sexual identity. Because not everyone can change the world—sometimes, the ultimate challenge is to find a way to live in it. China Mountain Zhang presents a macroscopic world of microscopic intensity, one of the most brilliant visions in modern science fiction.

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Placeholder of  -1Three Californias by Kim Stanley Robinson

Before Kim Stanley Robinson terraformed Mars, he wrote three science fiction novels set in Orange County, California, where he grew up. These alternate futures—one a post-apocalypse, one an if-this-goes-on future reminiscent of Philip K. Dick, and one an ecological utopia—form a whole that illuminates, enchants, and inspires–collected here as Three Californias.

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Place holder  of - 90Among Others by Jo Walton

Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins, but her mind found freedom in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. When her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled—and her twin sister dead.

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Image Place holder  of - 1Blindsight by Peter Watts

Two months since the stars fell. Two months of silence, while a world held its breath. Now some half-derelict space probe, sparking fitfully past Neptune’s orbit, hears a whisper from the edge of the solar system: a faint signal sweeping the cosmos like a lighthouse beam. Whatever’s out there isn’t talking to us. It’s talking to some distant star, perhaps. Or perhaps to something closer, something en route.

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Image Placeholder of - 72A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

Thousands of years in the future, humanity is no longer alone in a universe where a mind’s potential is determined by its location in space, from superintelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures, and technology, can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these “regions of thought,” but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence.

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The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe

A young man in his teens is transported from our world to a magical realm consisting of seven levels of reality. Transformed by magic into a grown man of heroic proportions, he takes the name Sir Able of the High Heart and sets out on a quest to find the sword that has been promised to him, the blade that will help him fulfill his ambition to become a true hero—a true knight.

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The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford

In a snowbound inn high in the Alps, four people meet who will alter fate. A noble Byzantine mercenary, a female Florentine physician, an ageless Welsh wizard and Sforza, the uncanny duke. Together they will wage an intrigue-filled campaign against the might of Byzantium to secure the English throne for Richard, Duke of Gloucester—and make him Richard III.

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The Necessary Beggar by Susan Palwick

Lemabantunk, the Glorious City, is a place of peace and plenty, bejeweled streets and glittering waterfalls. It is also a place of severe justice. Darroti, a young merchant, has been accused of the brutal murder of a highborn woman. Now, in keeping with his world’s customs, his entire family must share in his punishment: exile to the unknown world that lies beyond a mysterious gate.

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Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

One night in October when he was ten years old, Tyler Dupree stood in his backyard and watched the stars go out. They all flared into brilliance at once, then disappeared, replaced by a flat, empty black barrier. He and his best friends, Jason and Diane Lawton, had seen what became known as the Big Blackout. It would shape their lives.

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Changing the World

Changing the World

Mending the Moon by Susan Palwick

Written by Susan Palwick

I tell this story a lot; if you know me, you’ve probably heard it. But a lot of you don’t know me, and even if you do, the tale bears repeating.

In 1973 I was twelve, a gangly kid who got beaten up in school every day and loved Star Trek. My best friend, only slightly less of an outcast than I was, loved Star Trek too. We saw an ad for a Star Trek convention, and decided to go.

If you’ve seen GalaxyQuest, you know what that convention looked like.

One of the speakers was Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura. This lovely woman looked out at an audience of several hundred nerdgeekfen, and smiled, and said, “People make fun of you because you love Star Trek. They think Star Trek is only about bad acting and cheesy special effects. But you’re the people who know that Star Trek is about more than bad acting and cheesy special effects. You’re the people who know that Star Trek is about love and truth and peace and justice. And that’s why it’s your job to change the world.”

I cried. My best friend cried. I’m pretty sure most of my fellow nerdgeekfen cried. That speech made me want to be a writer; it made my friend want to be a scientist.

Did we change the world? If we did, would we know? I have no idea. I don’t feel like I’ve changed the world, but I do know that the stories I’ve loved in my life—Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings and The Last Unicorn and The Last Coin—have helped me get through very hard times: not just being beaten up by bullies in junior high, but illness and bereavement and despair. They’ve done this not by helping me escape the real world, but by reminding me that it’s beautiful, worth fixing even or especially when it’s broken. They remind me that abstract nouns like love and truth and peace and justice can, with work, become real and tangible, and that people who know this have a responsibility to do something about it.

This is a point that critics who dismiss science fiction and fantasy have a hard time understanding. How can science fiction and fantasy speak to the real world when they aren’t real themselves?

Four years ago, Tor asked me to write a mainstream novel. I wrote Mending the Moon, about a group of people trying to understand the world after a senseless murder. Several of the characters follow a fictional comic book called Comrade Cosmos. Cosmos, a more-or-less ordinary guy, helps communities rebuild after their worlds have been ripped apart. His nemesis, the Emperor of Entropy, counsels fatalism. Nothing you can do, buddy. Everybody’s going to die. Everything’s going to decay. Stop fighting it. Relax and have a donut.

Comrade Cosmos, on the other hand, advocates action. For this instant, right now, you can make things better. You can restore order. You can change the world, even if you can’t fix everything in it that’s broken, even if what you fix won’t last forever. Here’s a hammer; here’s a can of paint.

Kirkus Reviews liked the realistic sections of the novel, but was completely bewildered by Comrade Cosmos. Their verdict was that the book will only appeal to people who go to Comic-Con.

Oh, Kirkus. You say that like it’s a bad thing.

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