For 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.
Thrawn, by Timothy Zahn (April 11, Lucasbooks—Hardcover)
The Star Wars continues its reorganization of the Extended Universe with the surprise reintroduction of a fan favorite: Grand Admiral Thrawn, who Zahn created in 1991’s Heir to the Empire, the book that revived the brand nearly a decade prior to the prequels—and spawned the dozens of novels that followed—before being unceremoniously de-canonized when Disney bought Lucasfilm. Well, Thrawn is back—and the man who created him and made him into a fan favorite, Timothy Zahn, is behind it all, which makes this one a must-read for pretty much every Star Wars fan. Zahn has promised to show how Thrawn became both a tactical genius and such a force within the Empire in a story set between seasons two and three of the Star Wars: Rebels TV show.
Avengers of the Moon, by Allen Steele (April 11, Tor Books—Hardcover)
Steele delivers a sci-fi story that’s equal parts love letter to the genre’s past (resurrecting a pulp hero from the 1940s) and entertaining to modern sensibilities. Curt Newton’s parents, brilliant scientists, are murdered, and Curt is raised in a secret moon base. His guardians are robotic and cyborg in nature; when Curt is informed how his parents died, he sets off for revenge and is caught up in an assassination plot led by the Martians against the president of the Solar Coalition. Curt accepts a commission as Captain Future and gets to work—along with the beautiful Joan Randall of the Interplanetary Police—to unmask the conspirators, leading to plenty of adventure dripping with old-school cool, starting with that stunning cover.
Borne, by Jeff VanderMeer (April 25, FSG—Hardcover)
Nebula Award-winner Jeff VanderMeer returns with his first new novel since he released all three books of the Southern Reach trilogy throughout 2014, and it’s another heady dose of unsettling weirdness: Rachel, a refugee from a drowned island, lives off of the bones of a ruined city of the future. On one of her scavenging trips, she encounters a giant, genetically engineered bear, a remnant of cruel experimentation by the corrupt Company—and nestled in its fur, a small, strange living lump she takes home and names “Borne.” He is a creature who will change her entire world. The author’s imagination is as wild as ever—Rachel is involved with a drug dealer named Wick, who processes creatures like Borne into living drugs users can put into their bodies to recall others’ lost memories of a pre-collapse world—and the slow-burning plot is propelled along by uneasy mysteries (what is Wick’s history with the company, and what secrets is he hiding from Rachel?). It’s another triumph from one of the weirdest authors in the genre, operating at the height of his powers.
The Ship, by Antonia Honeywell (April 25, Orbit Books—Hardcover)
Sixteen-year-old Lalla was born “at the end of the world.” The environment around her is dying—nothing grows, the seas are barren, and London is a dystopian police state. Lalla is sheltered in a high-security apartment with plenty of tinned food to eat and pure water to drink—and her father has an escape plan. He’s built a ship large enough for 500 hand-picked people, and stocked it with supplies to last them two years. Their escape isn’t easy, but once on the ocean, Lalla becomes troubled. The passengers begin to close themselves off, destroying any way to receive information, damning memory, and insisting on living in the present as if the world isn’t burning around them. As her father becomes a messianic figure, Lalla comes to believe the ship may not be escaping the apocalypse—but in some way causing it. Honeywell’s assured debut is an exercise in noose-tightening tension and lyrical prose.
Waking Gods, by Sylvain Neuvel (April 4, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Sleeping Giants was a revelation: a brainy sci-fi story accessible to genre fans and newcomers alike. A young girl discovers the buried hand of a gigantic robot of alien design, and grows up to be one of the scientists studying the huge robot as more pieces are discovered and assembled; the tension ramps up when the robot’s existence is revealed to the world and international politics step in (rarely a good thing). The sequel promises to pay off on the rule that if you introduce a giant robot in book one, you have to have giant robot fights in book two (it’s a rule we may have just made up, but who would argue with it?). The race to unlock the technological secrets of the robot becomes crucial when larger, more powerful mechanical terrors appear and threaten humanity. Aside from the robot fisticuffs, this is also a book about the whys: why was the robot buried? Why is the Earth under attack? Why haven’t you read this yet?
Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow (April 25, Tor Books—Hardcover)
Doctorow returns with a near-future story that takes a moment to ponder where our current world might be headed, as seen through the eyes of the improbably named Hubert, Etc. (so-called because his given name is 22 nouns long). In 2071 in a post-scarcity world with plenty of food, life-sustaining technology, and no reason to work. The rich have become richer, but many people around the world have chosen to become Walkaways, rejecting the comforts of society to live in the wild or in ruined cities. When technology is developed that allows for the uploading of consciousness, the question of immortality for a select few turns on the potential harm the undying might cause. With worldbuilding that borders on the eerily prescient, Doctorow weaves together thrilling story involving the kidnapped daughter of the richest of the rich that’s as much about telling our futures as telling a crackling story.
The Moon and the Other, by John Kessel (April 4, Saga—Hardcover)
John Kessel, a writer with an impressive raft of genre awards to his name, returns with his first novel in two decades, imagining a future in which underground city-states are scattered across the moon, each operating by various and very specific political models. The Society of Cousins is a pure matriarchy where men are free to pursue their careers but have no political voice—but it is one of many. Kessel sketches out a complicated matrix of relationships between people from several colonies, including revolutionaries seeking change and an “uplifted” canine reporter named Sirius. When the Organization of Lunar States investigates allegations of male mistreatment in the Society of Cousins, these relationships set off a chain reaction that threatens to completely destabilize Moon society. This is a meaty work of literary science fiction that will engage readers of Ursula K. LeGuin.
Brimstone, by Cherie Priest (April 4, Ace Books—Paperback)
Hugo nominee Cherie Priest (Maplecroft, The Clockwork Century series) returns with a darkly imaginative standalone historical fantasy novel that explores real issues of racism and persecution through a speculative lens. It’s 1920, and the country is still reeling from the aftermath of the Great War. Alice Dartle is a clairvoyant descended from a long line of witches, and she needs help understanding her powers. She hopes to find it at the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp of Central Florida (which really existed). Alice been dreaming about a man haunted by visions of fire and war, and she knows that if she can find him, she can help him. That man is Tomás, a Cuban immigrant who fought for the U.S. in the Great War and is having trouble returning to his former life—particularly once strange fires with no obvious causes begin to occur around him, fires he thinks may be messages from his dead wife. When their paths cross at Cassadaga, Alice becomes convinced she is the only one who can help Tomás, who fears he will be blamed for the fires and arrested. A sense of historical verisimilitude only enhances this powerful story about overcoming loss.
Blade Bound, by Chloe Neill (April 25, Berkley Books—Paperback)
The 13th and final book in Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires series finds unwilling vampire Merit attacked by a bloodsucker apparently under the control of dark magic. Cadogan House has been infiltrated, and by the time Merit and Ethan, her lover and liege, realize how much danger they’re in, it may be too late. The whole city is under magical siege, and Merit finds herself battling forces almost too powerful to comprehend, much less fight against. But fight they’ll have to if they’re going to save the city they’ve defended for so long, their house—and everything they hold dear. It’s an action-packed sendoff to one of the most popular, longest-running urban fantasy series running.
Cold Welcome, by Elizabeth Moon (April 11, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Kylara Vatta is back after nearly a decade in the first installment of the Vatta’s Peace series. Rocketing off to her home planet of Slotter Key, which she fled in disgrace years earlier. Now a young and celebrated Grand Admiral, she expects to be greeted with cheers, but when she crashes on the planet’s most desolate, frozen continent, her victory lap turns into a struggle for survival. The crash kicks a complex machine of politics, guns, and family into motion, as Ky must assert authority over the soldiers marooned with her when a lackluster search-and-rescue mission fails to save them. Everyone on Slotter Key believes she’s dead—except her lover Rafe Dunbarger, who has secret technology at his fingertips that assures him she’s alive. Ky’s struggle to survive leads her into intriguing mysteries, even as the machinations of others spin out to determine her fate.
Paperback $15.29 | $16.99
Cosmic Powers, edited by John Joseph Adams (April 18, Saga Press—Paperback)
An anthology of unapologetically splashy sci-fi stories by a host of heavy hitting authors, with stories cranked to the max to emphasize the action and thrill of adventures in space. With a lineup featuring Jack Campbell, Seanan McGuire, Tobias S. Buckell, Kameron Hurley, Yoon Ha Lee, Alliette de Bodard, Charlie Jane Anders, and many more, these stories are very nearly guaranteed to be memorable, as each puts their own spin on a theme whose spirit is torn straight out of comics and Star Wars. Think fast-paced action, unlikely heroes, and, of course, space: those elements that all combine into what we used to call a “senseawunda.” Veteran anthologist John Joseph Adams, winner of two Hugo Awards, has assembled a range of stories that celebrate the different styles, tones, and approaches of their creators; the result is sure to be one of the year’s most flat-out fun reads.
Dark Mind, by Ian Douglas (April 25, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
The seventh book in Douglas’ Star Carrier finds the civil war between the United States of North America and the Pan-European Confederation finally ended. Before peace can be enjoyed, however, an alien force suddenly destroys a research ship, killing 12,000 humans onboard—and the military forces of Earth must combine into one in order to meet a new threat. On the USNA Star Carrier America, Admiral Trevor “Sandy” Gray has been contacted by the artificial intelligence Konstantin, which claims technology found in a distant system is humanity’s only hope against the alien foe. Convinced, Admiral Gray goes rogue, seeking a weapon powerful enough to destroy an invading force far beyond humanity’s ability to comprehend, or hope to defeat.
Fiendish Schemes, by K.W. Jeter (April 4, Angry Robot—Paperback)
The sequel to Jeter’s steampunk classic Infernal Devices gets a new cover for its 30th anniversary, and just in time for the publication of the long-awaited third novel in the trilogy, Grim Expectations. It’s as good a reminder as any that the adventures of George Dower are as fun to read as they are significant to genre history. Hiding out in a rural village to escape a world transformed by his father’s brilliant inventions, George is found by the Church, which tasks him with tracking down the Vox Universalis, a translating machine a senior official wishes to use to convert whales to Christianity. And that’s probably the least surprising, most grounded part of a story that quickly spirals to involve a prime minister who is literally an iron lady, meatpunks, and valve girls—much to George’s wonder and dismay.
Red Sister, by Mark Lawrence (April 4, Ace Books—Hardcover)
The first novel in Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor trilogy builds a complex universe of politics, violence, and religion on a scale sure to please any fantasy fan, right from a wowzer of an opening line: “It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size.” Nine-year old Nona Grey is about to be executed for murder when she’s purchased by the abbess of Sweet Mercy. At the convent, Nona will be trained in the art of assassination, a regimen that often awakes the slumbering blood of the ancestors, resulting in the emergence of magical skills that enhance the young postulants’ fighting abilities. Long before her decade of training is over, however, Nona’s past, rival factions within the church, and the emperor himself will influence her fate, putting pressure on the falsely accused young girl with unpredictable results. As the power structures of the empire fray in a world slowly dying, Nona finds a darkness within herself that makes her truly dangerous. Mark Lawrence is a master of no-holds-barred fantasy, and he just may have outdone himself with this one.
Snared, by Jennifer Estep (April 25, Pocket Books—Paperback)
Number 16 in Estep’s Elemental Assassin series finds Gin “The Spider” Blanco chasing the clues about the mysterious group that runs the underworld she calls home. Hard leads on The Circle are few and far between, and Gin soon finds herself drawn into another mystery altogether—the case of a missing girl that takes her into the darkest corners of the city. By the time she figures out that there’s more at stake than just a missing girl, she’s caught the attention of a terrifying new enemy, the likes of which she’s ever seen before. And if you know anything about Gin Blanco, you know that’s saying something.
The Dragon’s Legacy, by Deborah A. Wolf (April 18, Titan Books—Hardcover)
A dreamshifter, Hafsa, who can kill people in their sleep protects her young daughter, Sulema, from assassins sent by her father, the Dragon King, the only man capable of keeping dormant the dragon slumbering within the world. If the dragon awakes, the world cracks open like an egg. Sulema, nearing adulthood and on the verge of becoming a fearsome warrior, and Hafsa find themselves the focus of conspiracies, betrayals, and magical threats as the world literally begins to break apart around them. The dragon is stirring, and what that means for the future of this complex world of interwoven tribes and nations is impossible to foresee. Wolf’s debut fantasy is remarkably assured and deeply detailed, offering a unique universe and a trope-twisting narrative that plays out in unexpected ways.
The House of Binding Thorns, by Aliette de Bodard (April 4, Ace Books—Hardcover)
De Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings is a perfect concept welded to perfect worldbuilding: in a Paris devastated by a war between fallen angels in 1914, the political struggles underlying the fragile peace between the various Houses is complicated by the frailties and desires of mortals, including addict Madeleine and former immortal-turned-hunted criminal Philippe, caught red-handed brutalizing a newly fallen angel for its magic-infused bones and blood. The first book works well as a standalone spy fantasy hybrid, but as with any great universe, there are many more things we want to know, and the sequel gives us the answers we crave. De Bodard has built a world that feels real, and filled it with wonder and mystery. Can Lucifer’s own House, Silverspires, survive? Will Paris undergo a second convulsion of angelic war? There’s so much left to discover.
Off Rock, by Kieran Shea (April 18, Titan Books—Paperback)
Shea offers up a humdinger of a heist story set in the year 2778, when down-on-his luck interstellar miner Jimmy Vik sense a downsizing in the vacuum of space, threatening to leave him bitter and bereft after decades spent working hard for little reward. When he discovers a secret gold deposit on Kardashev 7-A, he does what anyone who feels cheated by an indifferent system might: he begins planning an epic heist to get the loot “off rock.” The plan brings Jimmy into contact with a rogue’s gallery of allies and enemies, including his ex-girlfriend and current supervisor, a beautiful assassin, and a rival mining company. The heist grows more complicated with every page as Jimmy has to deal with the unexpected on the fly and without a tether. We all know what they say about the best laid plans.
Hardcover $25.19 | $27.99
Within the Sanctuary of Wings: A Memoir by Lady Trent, by Marie Brennan (April 25, Tor Books—Hardcover)
Over the course of Brennan’s terrific series, Lady Isabella Trent has grown into one of the most interesting and enjoyable characters in modern fantasy. Over 50 years of narrative time, we’ve seen her embark on adventures, capturing hearts and minds while simultaneously enriching the field of dragon science with her discoveries. In fact, it’s been so much fun reading about Lady Trent, it’s heartbreaking to think that Within the Sanctuary of Wings will be the final entry of her Memoirs—but we can be comforted by the fact that some of the most enduring mysteries of her story, including what she discovered in the titular Sanctuary of Wings, will finally be revealed. It’s one last voyage, for old times’ sake. Shall we?
Hardcover $23.39 | $25.99
Skullsworn, by Brian Staveley (April 25, Tor Books—Hardcover)
A standalone set in the same universe as Staveley’s exceedingly rewarding Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, this is the remarkable story of a woman named Pyrre, an acolyte of Ananshael, the goddess of death. In order to rise to the rank of priestess, Pyrre must kill seven people in two weeks—including someone she loves, who loves her back. Pyrre has never experienced love in her life, and so returns home to locate an old companion in the hopes that she can find love—and complete her mission. From that irresistible setup, Staveley explores what it means to love, both in service to something greater than yourself and for its own messy possibilities, while taking us on a detailed tour through unexplored corners of his universe.
The Strange: Myth of the Maker, by Bruce R. Cordell (April 4, Angry Robot—Paperback)
Cordell, creator of the popular role-playing game The Strange, has crafted a novel that doesn’t feel at all like a tie-in—but does present the limitless possibilities of the RPG, ostensibly set in the modern world but allowing players to explore infinite “recursions,” or alternate universes. In Myth of the Maker, computer programmer Carter Morrison sacrifices himself and his friends, killing them and locking them in a virtual world—all to save the rest of the planet from certain destruction. Morrison’s friends have no idea what he’s done—but as the “planetvores” approach, they must come to terms with the fictional worlds they now inhabit, which serve to insulate the real world from the horrors without. Not all of them are satisfied with their forced martyrdom, either, and a man named Jason Cole—known as The Betrayer—seeks a way out of the fiction and back to reality, no matter the cost.
Winter Tide, by Ruthanna Emrys (April 4, Tor.com Publishing—Hardcover)
The simple brilliance of mixing the Cthulu Mythos with Cold War paranoia and the shameful legacy of internment instantly makes Emrys’ debut (spun out of a celebrated short story) crackle with unpredictable energy. Aphra and Caleb Marsh are descendants of the clan showcased H.P. Lovecraft’s classic The Shadow Over Innsmouth; they’ve have been living in a prison-like compound ever since the government rounded them up in the wake of those unexplained occurrences. The pair is approached by the FBI to assist with examining some of the artifacts from the past; the Feds fear the Russians may have discovered the secret of magically pushing their minds into the bodies of American politicians and scientists (no comment). The surprising depths the novel mines from the premise catapult it onto the list of the year’s must-read books.
Buffalo Soldier, by Maurice Broaddus (April 25, Tor.com Publishing —eBook)
Broaddus crafts a modern-day steampunk world with a redrawn map and massive shifts in technology, culture, and everything else (though in a few surprising cases, not not much has changed at all). Desmond Coke is a servant to a rich family in Jamaica who comes to care for their son, Lij. In a desperate moment, he chooses to kidnap the boy, removing from a bad situation and fleeing to America (an Albion colony), then to Tejas, and finally to the lands of the Five Civilized Tribes. The Pinkertons pursue, in the form of agent Cayt Siringo—but they want Lij for their own purposes. Exploring this richly reimagined world is half the fun, giving rise to hope that this novella is the just the beginning of a new series.