B&N Bookseller’s Picks: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of October 2016

brentweeksFor nearly two decades, Jim Killen has served as the science fiction and fantasy book buyer for Barnes & Noble. Every month on Tor.com and the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Jim shares his curated list of the month’s can’t-miss new SFF releases.

The Blood Mirror, by Brent Weeks (October 25, Orbit—Hardcover)
The fourth book in Week’s epically popular Lightbringer series finds former emperor Gavin Guile trapped in a prison of his own design, built to hold even those skilled in magic. But Guile has no magic, and no power, and can only watch, helpless, as the White King drives his horde relentlessly onward. The Seven Satrapies have collapsed into four—and the displaced emperor may be the only one capable of stopping the inevitable. Each entry in the series has raised the stakes and climbed higher on the bestseller lists as more and more readers discover Weeks’ genius, and he more than deliver the goods this time out: unpredictable plot twists, fascinating characters, and a fantasy universe as deep and detailed as any.

Conspiracy of Ravens, by Lila Bowen (October 11, Orbit—Hardcover)
The sequel to barrier-breaking weird western Wake of Vultures returns us to the dusty, wild world of Nettie Lonesome—one of the most complex characters to come along in SFF in a long time. Biracial, gender fluid, and the product of a hard life, Nettie’s voice is profane, rough, beautiful—and mesmerizing. Having discovered the barren world she inhabits is filled with more monsters than John Wayne movies have been led to believe, Nettie faces an even greater challenge as an Alchemist leaves a trail of dead bodies in her neck of the woods, requiring her to weigh the modicum of comfort and solace she’s scratched out for herself against fighting for what is right in a world with no right answers. You’ll love Nettie, sharp edges and all, and relish the time spent in her lonesome, savage west.

Lost Gods, by Brom (October 25, Harper Voyager—Hardcover)
Writer/artist Brom trains his considerable creativity and hyper-visual imagination to answering the riddle of the afterlife in this story of bumbling but good-hearted petty criminal Chet, who elopes with his pregnant girlfriend Trish to his family’s small South Carolina island. His grandmother welcomes them in, but things turn dark in a hurry when Chet is murdered and wakes up in Purgatory. He knows that Trish and the baby are in danger, and sets out to save them from the wrong side of the grave. Brom takes the reader on an amazing journey through his version of the Great Beyond, as Chet slowly evolves into the hero of his own story—but it’s the visuals that truly set the book apart, from the dozens of Brom’s black-and-white sketches scattered throughout, to the yet-more-vivid ones he paints in prose.

Crosstalk, by Connie Willis (October 4, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Connie Willis’s first book in six years is a delightful return to the farcical antics and screwball romance of Remake and Bellwether—and like those books, beneath a fluffy exterior of quipping characters and madcap action, it engages with serious SFnal ideas. This time around, she’s considering the ways the ubiquitous, instant communication afforded to us by cell phones and the internet is changing society, filtered through the lens of a signature Connie Willis protagonist: Briddey Flannigan, employee of a struggling tech company looking for the next communications breakthrough that will allow it to compete with Apple, who gets more than she bargained for when she agrees to undergo a poorly understood medical procedure intended to give her an empathetic connection with her boyfriend Trent, one of her company’s top executives. Instead of feeling what Trent feels, she wakes up hearing the every thought of C.B., the antisocial engineer who works in the basement and is less than surprised to hear voices in his head—and her accidental abilities may have terrifying implications for the world at large. Surrounding this bickering oil-and-water pair are a host of lovable oddballs, from Briddey’s feisty niece Maeve to her interfering Aunt Oona, who just wants to see her marry a foine Irish lad. You’ll happily devour all 498 pages, and hope the next one doesn’t take another six years.

The Rise of Io, by Wesley Chu (October 4, Angry Robot—Paperback)
Chu returns to the universe of the Tao with a decidedly fresh take on the aliens-in-human-hosts action. Set largely in an Indian city on the edges of a demilitarized zone administered by body-swapping aliens, the story takes place in a world broken by the recent revelation that two alien races had been living with humanity, undetected, for centuries—a fact that only came to light when the conflict broke out into planet-shattering warfare. Ella, a bold thief and smuggler, encounters a woman being attacked and killed—and unwittingly inherits Io, the alien presence that had been occupying her body. Io’s very old, and has been involved in many of the the most horrific chapters in Earth’s part. Now, it’s Ella who must come to terms with hearing Io’s voice in her head as she helps the ancient symbiont investigate a series of murders that are threatening the fragile peace this new world order has established—a mission compromised by Io’s own inferiority complex and survival instinct.

Into the Guns, by William C. Dietz (October 4, Ace—Hardcover)
The first book in Dietz’s America Rising series pulls no punches from its apocalyptic opening, when more than 60 meteors invade earth’s airspace, causing greater devastation than a nuclear war—and prompting China, misinterpreting the event as an attack, to launch a war against the West. With the government decimated by dual disasters, the American military steps into the power vacuum to restore order, but its not the only faction fighting to redefine America in the aftermath of monumental upheaval. Corporate interests are attempting to seize free market destiny, even as common citizens band together to vie for resources. Dietz brings a sense of realism and danger to a scarily plausible story that asks what you might do if you found yourself in a world transformed overnight into something unrecognizable.

Altered Starscape, by Ian Douglas (October 25, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
The first book of the Andromedan Dark follows the crew and passengers of the Tellus Ad Astra, being led by Lord Commander Grayson St. Clair on a mission to the center of the galaxy. They never make it; sucked into a black hole en route, the ship emerges four billion years later. The Earth is undoubtedly a memory, and the Andromeda Galaxy is drifting into the Milky Way. The last people in the universe set about surviving, and discover that while their species is gone, they are most decidedly not alone—and their new adversaries have a control over fundamental forces that makes them nearly invincible, and they don’t take kindly to strangers.

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016, edited by Karen Joy Fowler (October 4, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt—Paperback)
The initial SFF entry in the Best American series was a huge success, and 2016 editor Karen Joy Fowler (author of the SFnal novels Sarah Canary and Nebula nominee We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves) brings a unique, refreshing perspective to this curated collection of the year’s best sci-fi and fantasy short stories. Salman Rushdie, Charlie Jane Anders, Kelly Link, and Dexter Palmer lead a strong field of contributors who offer up some of modern genre’s best writing and most intriguing ideas.

Feedback, by Mira Grant (October 4, Orbit—Hardcover)
It’s rare for a novel set thirty years in the future to feel as relevant to today as the fourth entry in Grant’s Newsflesh series. Set during a presidential election with eerie parallels to the one we’re watching unfold around us, Feedback centers on a group of bloggers seeking to raise their profiles by managing the Republican candidate’s campaign in a post-zombie uprising America, though their mixed genders, sexual orientations, and racial backgrounds make them an incongruous fit with a isolationist political agenda. As someone begins planting zombies in public places where they can disrupt and attack—in an obvious bid to affect the election—the oddly familiar Democratic candidate reaches out to the journalists. With a story drenched in paranoia, smart commentary on present-day culture and politics, and, well, blood and guts, Grant again proves that when it comes to zombie outbreaks, she’s the best writer we’ve got.

Crimson Death, by Laurell K. Hamilton (October 11, Berkley—Hardcover)
Twenty-five books in, Hamilton can still find the beating heart at the center of her urban fantasy universe and enthrall fans new and old. Anita’s vampire servant is suffering as the fiend who created him—and set him on a path of torture that stretched across centuries—seems to be losing control, as hordes of vampires begin acting out and breaking ancient taboos. In order to help Damian, Anita and Edward travel to the place where his nightmares began—a place that’s not terribly friendly to a vampires, necromancers, or assassins. But that’s good news for reader, as Hamilton spins a yarn as thrilling as any in the series, reminding us why she’s credited as the woman who coined a genre.

Star Wars Propaganda: A History of Persuasive Art in the Galaxy, by Pablo Hidalgo (October 25, Harper Design—Hardcover)
One of the great joys of SFF is its immersive qualities—the way it invites you to sink into the deep waters of a fictional universe shared with thousands or even millions of others. Visual aids and props are an effective way to flesh out a world, and as such, this collection of 50 high-quality posters illustrating a propaganda war between the Empire, the Rebellion, and the First Order doubles as both a history lesson in Star Wars lore and an irresistible slice of pop art world-building.

Closer to the Chest, by Mercedes Lackey (October 4, DAW—Hardcover)
Lackey returns to her Herald Spy series, a part of the larger Valdemar universe, for another thrilling fantasy spiced with romance. Mags, the former child slave with the unusually strong ability to Mindhear and Mindspeak anyone—not just those who share the gift—continues his work as a Herald, building a network of child informants throughout the city to provide intelligence on all walks of life—and hopefully root out any plots that might endanger the populace. Meanwhile, his wife Amily sits at the righthand of the king, where she chances to uncover evidence of a plot to terrorize and blackmail the women of the Court. Together, Mags and Amily must root out the hidden abuser before the harassment turns to murder.

The Found and the Lost & The Unreal and the Real, by Ursula K. Le Guin (October 18, Saga Press—Hardcover)
Saga Press launches a celebration of one of the greatest modern writers in any genre with two hefty collections of the short fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin. The Found and the Lost collects, for the first time, all of Le Guin’s novellas, totaling more than 800 pages containing some of Le Guin’s best writing—stories that might be difficult to read otherwise, due to the challenges inherent in publishing and promoting novella-length fiction. The Unreal and the Real collects in one volume the best of Le Guin’s short stories, offering a breathtaking assortment of styles and ideas and demonstrating, in no uncertain terms, her genius at writing across preconceived notions of genre. These books are mandatory reading for anyone who calls themselves a SFF fan—or a fan of good writing.

The Rift: Uprising, by Amy S. Foster (October 4, Harper Voyager—Hardcover)
Amy S. Foster launches a dystopian SF trilogy with major Katniss Everdeen appeal and huge YA/adult crossover potential. Teenage Ryn is a Citadel, one of the chosen few enhanced with cybernetic implants and trained to defend a Rift, one of more than a dozen gaps in the fabric of reality that provide passage to wildly divergent alternate Earths. Ryn thinks she’s ready to face whatever might wander through the dimensional doorway—until the day that something is Ezra, a scared, confused young man who hardly seems to be the kind of threat Ryn was trained to safeguard against. Drawn to him, Ryn is unsettled when Ezra begins questioning the logic of the Citadel’s edicts, sending them both on a hunt for answers that could disrupt the balance of power in more than one reality.

The Wall of Storms, by Ken Liu (October 4, Saga Press—Hardcover)
The hotly-anticipated second book in the Dandelion Dynasty returns us to the story of Kuni Garu, now Emperor Ragin of Dara, a man struggling to hold his recently-healed kingdom together. Chaos descends again when an invading army from the Lyucu Empire arrives, forcing Ragin to hard decisions as he struggles to save the kingdom he only recently gained. The hardest of these is the one that isn’t really a choice at all: he must send his own grown children west to confront the invaders. Liu’s compelling storytelling, influenced by the narrative traditions of Chinese myth, and flowing prose ,make these thousand-page tomes go down as easily as his celebrated short fiction. This sequel will only leave readers clamoring for the third and final installment.

A Game of Thrones: The Illustrated Edition, by George R.R. Martin (October 18, Del Rey—Hardcover)
It’s been two decades since book one of A Song of Ice and Fire was published, and this handsomely-illustrated edition of Martin’s new classic epic fantasy is a great reminder of how incredible a book it is. With more than 70 illustrations scattered throughout, it brings memorable scenes and characters to life in a whole new way. This is an edition even long-time fans will want to add to their bookshelves—it will rekindle the excitement and joy of reading the novel again for the first time.

Cloak of War, by Rhonda Mason (October 27, Titan—Paperback)
Mason, who blasted her way onto the space opera scene with The Empress Game, returns to a complex and dangerous SF universe and compelling hero Kayla Reinumon, princess turned hunted tournament fighter, who survived the Empress Game and claimed her freedom. Now, she turn her attentions to securing the independence of her entire planet. To do so, she’ll have worm her way into the empire’s most powerful circles—a mission that is complicated when a deadly nanovirus threatens not only millions of lives, but Kayla’s hopes and dreams for her home planet as well. This one is tense, twisty, and written with the kinetic energy modern space opera demands.

Faller, by Will McIntosh (October 25, Tor—Hardcover)
McIntosh doesn’t hold back in this apocalyptic SF thriller, in which the Earth breaks into massive chunks in an event that simultaneously destroys the memories of every person on the planet and their ability to understand writing. The narrator has only the items in his pockets to guide him as he struggles to understand what’s happened on what everyone calls Day One: with no context, the objects—a toy soldier, a photo of him with a woman he doesn’t remember—exist in a vacuum, and his efforts to divine their secrets make for an amazing journey in one of the year’s most inventive sci-fi stories.

The Star Trek Encyclopedia, by Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda (October 18, Harper Design—Hardcover)
Fifty years after the debut of the Original Series—and 25 years after its own print debut—the ultimate Star Trek reference guide is back in this beautiful, comprehensively updated edition. With new entries, new illustrations, and new design, it’s a must-buy for all Trekkies, even if they own the original. The added goodies include detailed examinations of characters, ships, history, and ephemera, updated to cover not just the television series and the original cast films, but also the J.J. Abrams-verse timeline.

The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, edited by Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien (October 18, Saga Press—Hardcover)
Fairy tales are, in many ways, the lingua franca that every culture shares—and as such, they serve as fundamental building blocks for all the stories that stories that follow them. In this remarkable collection, writers from around the world use classic fairy tales—drawn from a wide swath of cultural traditions—and retell them with their own personal flair. The result is an incredible array of stories that transform these fundamental tales into modern powerhouses of surprise, excitement, and social commentary. The table of contents, featuring names like Genevieve Valentine, Sofia Samatar, Catherynne Valente, Amal El-Mohtar, and Naomi Nivik, is reason enough to add it to your list.

A City Dreaming, by Daniel Polansky (October 4, Regan Arts—Hardcover)
Polansky astounds with an incredibly imaginative take on big city magic, told from the point of view of M, a man who can adjust reality any time he wishes. After erasing a killer from existence, he returns to his home in Brooklyn—but as in any urban fantasy worth its salt, it’s part of a New York that has a familiar surface and surprising hidden depths. When M becomes embroiled in a war between the White Queen of Manhattan and the Red Queen of Brooklyn, the entire island might end up at the bottom of the ocean—unless he can successfully navigate a world of unseen magic, monsters, and subways that go directly to hell, no transfers.

Kris Longknife: Bold, by Mike Shepherd (October 25, Ace—Paperback)
Book 14 of Shepherd’s bestselling series finds Fleet Admiral Kris Longknife ordered by her father to mediate a dispute between rival factions of the splintering Peterwald Empire—a mission Kris is reluctant to take on, as it will put her in the same room with her rival, the Grand Duchess Vicky Peterwald. When Kris survives several assassination attempts obviously intended to stop her from doing her duty, she suspects the Grand Duchess, or even the Empress herself—but the truth, as usual, is more complicated than that, and more dangerous. Shepherd specializes in compelling stories that move at at breathless pace without sacrificing detail or character, and the Kris Longknife series never fails to entertain.

A Taste of Honey, by Kai Ashante Wilson (October 25, Tor—Paperback)
A short novel set in the universe of Wilson’s award-winning The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, A Taste of Honey tells the tale of Aqib bgm Sadiqi, fourth-cousin to the royal family and son of the Master of Beasts. Falling in love for the first time, Sadiqi’s life is complicated by who he falls for: Lucrio, a Daluçan soldier. Wilson deftly explores the seismic impact this romance has on Sadiqi’s life while expanding and exploring his anachronistic fantasy universe in fine detail. It’s a standalone story that will appeal to die-hard fans and new readers alike.

Certain Dark Things, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (October 25, St. Martin’s Press—Hardcover)
This is a vampire story unlike any you’ve ever read, beginning with its setting: modern-day Mexico City, where a scrappy kid named Domingo spends his days searching through the city’s trash. One day, he meets the vampire Atl, who requires young blood in order to survive. She also needs to get to South America, and fast—there’s a gang of narco-vampires hot on her trail. Domingo, smitten, helps her to escape, and as they travel, something unexpected: Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood-drinkers, finds herself falling for the charming, optimistic Domingo. Which complicates matters when a Ana, a Mexican cop, begins investigating the trail of bodies left in their wake. Vampire gangsters, a messy romance, and distinctive Mexican flavor, in the skilled hands of the author of Signal to Noise, one of our favorite books of 2015? You simply cannot go wrong.

This list was published simultaneously on Tor.com.

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