Brazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming (Northwestern, $17). The lesser-known brother of the novelist who created James Bond, Peter Fleming could write about almost any topic and make it brilliant. He was one of the finest prose stylists of the past 100 years, and his gifts are on particularly fine display in this autobiographical account of a madcap venture into the Amazon rain forest.
Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors by Brian A. Catlos (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28). Most reasonably well informed people already know that Spain under the Moors was a vibrant cultural melting pot. This book digs deeper, describing the place in fascinating detail and then moving on to Sicily, Alexandria, and Palestine during the centuries that culminated in the Crusades.
Suffrajitsu by Tony Wolf (Jet City, $8). This graphic novel, illustrated by Jaoa Vieira and available only as an e-book, was inspired by historical events. In Suffrajitsu, Edwardian feminists learn jujitsu to protect themselves from cops and are then called upon to wield their skills in defense of the homeland. Great fun from Tony Wolf, a martial artist who has been studying the period for years.
The City & the City by China Miéville (Del Rey, $16). A profoundly strange novel from one of the best — equally compelling to readers of speculative and mainstream fiction. This one still resonates with me, years after I read it.
Hild by Nicola Griffith (Picador, $18). A rich, beautiful novel about a seer in the court of an early English king. You keep waiting for something supernatural to happen, but that's not what Nicola Griffith is playing with here; the title character is a seer in the literal sense, meaning someone who is just better at noticing things than anyone else.
Robert Oppenheimer by Ray Monk (Anchor, $20). This is one of the few science biographies that compete with Andrew Hodges' book about Alan Turing. Monk, like Hodges, has the intellectual scope to explain the science with precision and clarity while also telling a highly readable story about an interesting man.
—Neal Stephenson, the author of Snow Crash and the Baroque Cycle series, is one of the most acclaimed science fiction writers of his generation. Seveneves, his new novel, conjures an explosion that renders the planet uninhabitable for 5,000 years.