Good new writers should get as much word-of-mouth as possible; Karen Traviss deserves a bit of buzz. She’s been compared (favourably) to Arnason, Cherryh and Le Guin; comparisons aside, if you like complex alien societies and tough moral questions in your SF, grab her stuff immediately — you’ll love it.
Her first two novels, City of Pearl and Crossing the Line, are the first two-thirds of a trilogy that’s ostensibly about first contact (with four separate, and fully fleshed out, alien cultures), but has a lot to say about ethics, conflict, and alterity. (Follow the links for a plot summary; this isn’t a book report.) Everyone, alien and human alike, has their own motivations, worldviews and ethical systems; the interplay between these cultures makes the plot wonderfully complicated and the books awfully fascinating — full of interesting, believeable characters.
The second book does end on a cliff-hanger, but Traviss manages to bring it off, with the result that instead of tossing the book across the room, I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel, The World Before, due out late this year.