Transfer Orbit's 2023 holiday gift guide

A whole bunch of gift ideas for the reader in your life

Transfer Orbit's 2023 holiday gift guide
Image: Andrew Liptak

It's become something of a tradition with this newsletter: every fall, I've put together a gift guide for readers. I recommend a lot of books on this newsletter via the monthly book list, so this list features fewer regular trade books and is heavier on the books that are a little more special: art books, fancy editions, and other generally items that I've generally found appealing or useful over the course of 2023.

Here are the other Gift Guides from prior years: 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022.

As per usual, any purchases made through Bookshop might result in a commission to Transfer Orbit.

Here's what I'd recommend this year:

Image: Andrew Liptak

Hawker Hurricane Clowes Automatic watch from AVI-8, $365

I fell into something of a watch-collecting phase over the last couple of years (thanks, Marko.) For years, I wore a trusty Timex watch, but as I began spending more time on Instagram over the pandemic and while writing the book, I somehow trained its algorithms to start serving me watch ads – usually the sorts of military-inspired field watches. They're something that I've come to enjoy wearing, and featured Szanto's Heritage Aviator Watch on this list last year.

The one that I've enjoyed wearing the most this year has been one from AVI-8, the Hawker Hurricane Clowes Automatic. I love the look and feel of this one: the navy blue/orange/silver really look great, and the patterning on the face is just gorgeous. It's a little on the pricy side, but the company does have a Black Friday deal going on that should knock a decent chunk of the price off.

Image: Andrew Liptak

Things Could Be Worse mug by Calamity Ware, $21

I've actually had this mug for a couple of years, and I love it. For a number of years Calamity Ware has been releasing all sorts of neat home-ware products with outstanding images of monsters and creatures. I particularly like their take on the classic Blue Willow porcelain patterns. Rather than idyllic countryside scenes, they've put in monsters and robots into the design.

Image: Andrew Liptak

Cuneiform Mug from Cognitive Surplus, $20

Cognitive Surplus is another one of those neat online storefronts that is perfect for the nerd-inclined person in your life. I’ve picked up a couple of their products over the years, and the one that caught my eye this year is a mug featuring Cuneiforms from ancient Mesopotamia. I love how this looks: the white lettering against the black background really pops out, and it’s a nice size for tea or coffee in the morning. The site says that the text is “comes from the Hymn to Dungi, which sings the praises of a wise and just leader.”

Caliban's War and Abaddon's Gate special editions by James S.A. Corey, $40

2021 marked the 10th anniversary of the publication of Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey, and to mark the occasion, Orbit published a special edition of the novel, with a new cover, new endpapers and an introduction. This year, they’re releasing two special editions: one for Caliban’s War and Abaddon’s Gate, the second and third books in the series, respectively.

Like the first book, they feature special new covers, endpapers, and a preface for each book by the authors. These should be some excellent additions to the shelf, and they round out the first “trilogy” of books in the series — they’ll be great for fans of the series, or a good introduction to folks picking them up for the first time.

Waking the Leviathan
The story of how James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse went from game concept to book series to blockbuster TV show
Image: Andrew Liptak

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks, $125

One of my favorite space opera novels of all time is Iain M. Banks’ Consider Phlebas, the first novel he published in his long-running, cerebral Culture series. The book is about a mercenary named Horza who’s swept up into a mission to recover a missing “mind” — an artificial intelligence from the Culture that fled after an attack.

It’s a gripping read, and I was excited to see that The Folio Society picked it up as one of their new books this year. Like just about all of their other books, it’s a handsome edition: a nice blue with art by Dániel Taylor. I really enjoyed reading this earlier in the year. Hopefully, the other novels in the series will follow.

If you’re looking for something a little more budget-friendly, Orbit UK is re-releasing Banks’ entire back catalog with new minimalist covers this November, with US editions following sometime next year.

Image: Andrew Liptak

Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke, $80

One of the books that struck me the most when I first read it years ago was Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. It was something different for me at the time: a novel about a strange future for humanity after first contact, where humanity is guided towards a vast, galactic diaspora and collective mind.

It was also one of The Folio Society’s new editions this year, following their beautiful editions of Rendezvous with Rama and 2001: A Space Odyssey. This volume features illustrations by Grace Aldrich and a 1989 foreword from Arthur C. Clarke which outlines how he came to write the book.

Matt Griffin on illustrating The Folio Society’s Rendezvous With Rama
In recent years, The Folio Society has made some impressive forays into the world of science fiction, putting out a wonderful edition of Frank Herbert’s Dune back in 2015, and has added new, high-end volumes from authors such as Isaac Asimov (I, Robot), Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale)
Image: Andrew Liptak

Ceramic dishware from Eric Heerspink, variable prices

Last year, I included a recommendation for a couple of products from Eric Heerspink, a potter who's known for his Star Wars-inspired wares. Earlier this year, he released a set of Rogue One-inspired bowls and mugs, including this fantastic Shoretrooper-styled one. I absolutely love it, but then again, I love all things Shoretroopers, and didn't hesitate to snag this one.

His products are usually on a limited-run basis, and his store is currently out of stock, but his website notes that he'll be restocking at the end of the month (with a Return of the Jedi theme), and I'll be really eager to see what he'll be stocking in this next round. They should be well worth it.

Image: Andrew Liptak

Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert, $110

Way back in 2015, The Folio Society began publishing science fiction novels in earnest with the release of its edition of Frank Herbert’s Dune. It’s a gorgeous edition, and ever since, they’ve been steadily publishing lots of other genre classics.

However, we hadn’t seen it follow up with the other books in Herbert’s series — until this fall with the release of Dune: Messiah, the second book in the series. This book fits nicely alongside that first volume: it keeps the same grey cover, sand-patterned slipcase and stylings, and features illustrations by Hilary Clarcq. It looks just as great as its predecessor: a beautiful edition that I'm looking forward to digging into.

Image: Andrew Liptak

Dune Saga Hardcover Boxed Set: Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune by Frank Herbert, $140

If you’re looking for some other editions of Frank Herbert’s Dune novels that are a bit of a step up over the regular trade editions, Ace has followed up its Deluxe edition of Dune from 2019 with deluxe editions of its sequels, Dune: Messiah and Children of Dune, and released the trio in a nice boxed set. These three editions all feature new covers from Matt Griffith, as well as introductions by Herbert’s son, Brian. It’s a nice package for Dune fans or for newcomers to the series.

The Expanse: The Complete Series Blu-Ray, $80

One of my favorite shows of all time is The Expanse, the SYFY / Prime Video adaptation of James S.A. Corey’s books. The show is an excellent adaptation of the books, but it’s also something that stands nicely on its own.

After the SYFY channel stopped running the series at the end of Season 3, Amazon’s streaming service Prime Video picked it up and carried it for another three seasons. Now, the entire show is available in physical media on Blu-Ray and DVD.

I’ve been waiting for this: I own the physical copies of the first three seasons, but it’ll be nice to have them together in one package, especially given that streaming services have developed a tendency to pull shows off the air abruptly. Time for a marathon.

Image: Andrew Liptak

Ancillary Justice 10th Anniversary Edition by Ann Leckie, $40

One of the most important novels to hit the genre in the last decade has been Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, the first of her Imperial Radch trilogy, which introduces us to Breq, a former starship artificial intelligence that was forced to flee in the body of one of her ancillary soldiers, and who then sets out on a quest for revenge against the empire and its leader.

Earlier this year, Orbit re-released Leckie’s books with new, minimalist covers in advance of her latest novel, Translation State. I wasn’t a huge fan of those covers, because I loved John Harris’s artwork so much, but I was pleased to see that Orbit was bringing out a special edition of the novel to commemorate its tenth birthday. This is a wonderful volume, featuring a new cover from John Harris, in addition to some special endpapers and a new preface from Leckie that looks back on the past decade.

Orbit is releasing slick new editions of Ancillary Justice and The Expanse
Orbit is releasing new, special editions of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and James S.A. Corey’s Caliban’s War and Abbadon’s Gate
Image: Andrew Liptak

Tales from Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

One of my favorite volumes from The Folio Society was of Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic fantasy novel A Wizard of Earthsea. Over the years, the publisher has steadily delivered plenty of other books from Le Guin like The Dispossessed, The Left Hand of Darkness, and the other volumes from her Earthsea cycle.

This year brings out the penultimate volume of that series: Tales from Earthsea, once again featuring David Lupton’s beautiful artwork. This isn't a novel but a collection of Le Guin's short stories and essays about the world that she originally published back in 2001.

Image: Andrew Liptak

Cosplay: A History by Andrew Liptak, $25

I'd be remiss if I didn't toss my own book onto the pile to invite you to check out. This was a massive project for me, and it's my attempt to pull together a comprehensive-ish, holistic overview of where the modern state of the cosplay scene came from, how it's evolved over the decades, and what it says about our relationship to the stories we love.

I'm a little biased, but I think it'll make a good gift – not just for a cosplayer you might know, but for anyone who's generally interested in science fiction or fantasy. It's available through all major retailers. I also have a box of copies: if you'd like something personalized, contact me! I'm happy to sell copies directly. (I'm going to limit this to US shipping only: I don't have the bandwidth to process international orders at this time.)

War Stories: New Military Science Fiction edited by Andrew Liptak and Jaym Gates, $19

Cosplay: A History wasn't my first book. That honor goes to a project that Jaym Gates and I cooked up a decade ago, War Stories: New Military Science Fiction, which was our attempt to tell stories about the humanity behind warfare. It includes stories by authors like Ken Liu, Karin Lowachee, Linda Nagata, Maruice Broaddus, Joe Haldeman and more. I'm very proud of this little book: there are some incredible stories in here, and I think they hold up nicely, even as the battle lines around the world have changed since it first came out.

Our publisher Apex Books is also including the book in a bundle deal: for $30, you can get it along with Dark Faith edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon and For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher by Jason Sizemore.

Image: Andrew Liptak

A Handheld History by Lost in Cult, $40

One of my earliest nerd influences was getting a Nintendo Game Boy when I was a child. I really loved that device (and I still have it – it mostly works), because it introduced me to games like Tetris, Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening and a host of others over the years. The Game Boy wasn't the only hand-held device I remember playing with: I can't imagine how many hours I spent on the old Tiger Electronics X-Men game when I had one years ago.

A Handheld History is a book that looks at that place that those types of systems occupied for consumers. There's lots of great photography and additional context throughout this volume, and it'll be a must-buy for a gamer in your life.

Image: Andrew Liptak

Gandalf and Balrog Brickheadz Lego kit, $20

Lord of the Rings is one of those stories that I've loved since I first picked them up years ago, helped along by Peter Jackson's films, multiple revisits and the new Amazon series. There's been plenty of merchandising along the way, but nothing has really ever grabbed me (although I have always coveted a set of the Argonath bookends that came with one of the DVD sets... someday) until I laid eyes on Lego's Brickheadz set that paired up Gandalf and the Balrog.

Look how cute they are! They're amazing little figures and they're the perfect decoration for a desk or bookshelf – where I've had mine for the past year.

Image: Andrew Liptak

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy, $70

If you’re looking for some non-genre fare this holiday season, one book that caught my eye from The Folio Society was Cormac McCarthy’s classic novel No Country for Old Men, his western about a

This edition features stark illustrations by Gérard Dubois that really give the book a unique feel. It's not the usual science fiction/fantasy, but it's a phenomenal read, and well worth picking up.

Monteverde Ritma Fountain Pen, $50

During last year's Christmas festivities, my uncle (also a big SF/F nerd and writer) and I were talking about writing instruments and notebooks, and he happened to show me the pen that he had been using: a Monteverde Ritma fountain pen. He ended up giving it to me, for which I've been immensely grateful, because it's a really great writing device.

I've never really used fountain pens all that much: I picked up a slim Parker pen a number of years ago, but only sporadically used it. This one, however, is something that I've used constantly. It's a thick-bodied pen that's easy to hold, it writes very legibly, and best of all, it has this magnetic top that has an extremely satisfying *click!* when it snaps on. If anything, it's definitely spoiled me me for regular, ball-point pens and I'll be on the market for some new ones in the coming year, I think.

Image: Andrew Liptak

Penguin Classics Marvel Collection: The Avengers, Fantastic Four, and X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby et al., $28

For decades, literary-minded folks have relegated comics to the edges of acceptable reading material: they were disposable, low-brow culture and not worth paying attention to. There’s been a change in attitudes in recent years, however, as authors and artists push back against those attitudes: they’re influential cultural touch-points. That was driven home last year when Penguin Classics broke into the comics world with a new series of collections of classic Marvel stories: Amazing Spider-man / Black Panther / Captain America.

This year brings another lineup of comics to the iconic series: collections of the most important stories from The Avengers, Fantastic Four, and X-Men comics. Each edition comes in a special hardcover and softcover editions (I prefer the classic look of the paperbacks, personally), and alongside the comics, with introductions by series editor Ben Saunders, as well as forewords Leigh Bardugo, Jerry Craft, and Rainbow Rowell, respectively. (The Avengers also has an introduction by José Alaniz.) These are great introductions to some of the best-known comics out there.

Image: Andrew Liptak

Worlds Beyond Time: Sci-Fi Art of the 1970s by Adam Rowe, $40

Cover art is something that I feel passionate about, and one of the best social media feeds out there is Adam Rowes' 70s Scifi Art project, where he's curated art from throughout some of the most vivid decades of science fiction. He's collected it into this book, Worlds Beyond Time, which puts everything together into one astounding volume. It not only showcases the fantastic artwork from that era, but he provides a ton of context and information about the artists and more.

Image: Andrew Liptak

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, $70

One of my favorite science fiction novels of all time is Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's Roadside Picnic, a phenomenal novel about humanity's first contact and the utter weirdness and unknowable nature of extraterrestrial life. The Folio Society put together a gorgeous new edition of the book with art from Dave McKean (as well as an introduction from him), along with a foreword by Ursula K. Le Guin. I think it's one of their better-looking editions.

An otherworldly invasion
The Folio Society has released a beautiful new edition of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s classic novel Roadside Picnic
Image: Andrew Liptak

The Hobbit special illustrated edition by J.R.R. Tolkien, $75

Over the last couple of years, Harper Collins has published some special editions of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, each featuring illustrations and maps by J.R.R. Tolkien himself. Now, it's time for The Hobbit to get the same treatment.

This edition follows the others: it’s wrapped in a beautiful cover, comes with a pair of removable maps, a foreword from Christopher Tolkien (from 1987), a new note about the illustrations from Wayne G. Gammons and Christine Scull from this year, and most importantly, Tolkien’s own illustrations depicting scenes from the story, ranging from sketches, illustrations, and paintings. It’s handsome edition.

In addition to this edition of The Hobbit, we’ve also got another illustrated book of Tolkien’s: Letters from Father Christmas ($28), a collection of the letters that he wrote to his children starting in the 1920s. The book features scans of those letters, alongside the text. It’s a whimsical and beautiful book that’ll be perfect for the coming holiday.

Transfer Orbit subscription ($25/year / $5/week)

And finally, a bit of a self-plug: if you've enjoyed reading Transfer Orbit, sign up for a membership, or gift one to someone you think would enjoy it. Members get access to a Slack channel, a short updates about what's going on in the SF/F / entertainment world, and a bit more. Supporters help keep the newsletter going in many ways, and form a great, supportive community around it: we'd love for you to join us! I've had the price slashed for a couple of months: December 1st, it'll go back up to the usual rate of $40/year.

A couple of other gift guides from some Transfer Orbit-adjacent newsletters to consider: