For nearly two decades, Jim Killen has served as the science fiction and fantasy book buyer for Barnes & Noble. Every month on the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog and Tor.com, Jim shares his curated list of the month’s can’t-miss new SF/F releases.
Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain Neuvel (April 26, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Sylvain Neuvel’s debut novel is told almost entirely in transcripts of interviews, slowly assembling the story of what happens when the U.S. government discovers pieces of an ancient and fiendishly technologically advanced robot buried deep underground, and, naturally, decides to jam them all together, turn it on, and see what happens. Spoiler: it isn’t good. But the book is, blending together your favorite bits of Contact, The Iron Giant, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and even a dash of Pacific Rim. It’s also our pick for the year’s breakout blockbuster à la The Martian.
Paperback $12.60 | $14.00
The Emperor of the Eight Islands, by Lian Hearn (April 26, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux—Paperback)
Hearn constructs a sprawling, Asian-themed fantasy world wrapped in a dense web of politics, culture, and personal relationships in this story of a dying emperor and the looming conflict between his sons, each of whom hopes to take his place on the throne. The first of a four-book series scheduled for release throughout 2016, it envelops you on page one and continues to deepen at a breakneck pace, building a compelling plot out of lush, lived history. The title character’s journey from dispossessed nobleman cheated of his inheritance, to sorcerer’s apprentice, to leader of a group of mountain bandits forms the foundation for a truly epic tale, one that delivers compelling action, fascinating detail, and an affecting love story to boot. With characters that feel like real people, struggling to choose the right path in a morally ambiguous world, this is the sort of fantasy that will inspire dedicated fandom.
The Everything Box, by Richard Kadrey (April 19, HarperCollins—Hardcover)
What do you do if you’re immune to the effects of magic in a world where magic actually exists? Naturally, you become a thief, specializing in stealing objects protected by enchantments. Released from his latest stretch in prison, Coop is recruited to steal a mysterious magical box—a box sought by a number of dangerous characters, from the angel who lost it in the first place, to the mad members of a doomsday cult. In Kadrey’s capable hands, the story quickly ramps up to epic proportions, cleverly melding old-school heist tropes (think a magical Ocean’s 11) with the author’s signature urban fantasy plot-spinning, buoyed by a a potent dollop of humor and driven along by the downright apocalyptic stakes—it turns out the titular box is linked to nothing less than a war between heaven and earth. Fans of the Sandman Slim novels as well as newcomers wo the author will be thrilled by this fast-paced, smart-mouthed adventure.
Fellside, by M.R. Carey (April 5, Orbit—Hardcover)
The author of the word-of-mouth sensation The Girl with All the Gifts returns with a non-traditional ghost story that combines a gritty sense of realism with a heady dose of supernatural possibility. Heroin-addled Alex wakes up in prison with no memory of the terrible crime that landed her there: setting her apartment on fire, leaving herself and her boyfriend injured and partially disfigured, and a young boy living upstairs dead. She’s quickly tried and sentenced to a stay in Fellside, a privately-run prison on the Yorkshire moors. There, she’s visited by the ghost of the dead boy, who informs her that she’s innocent of his murder, information that does her little good as she discovers that Fellside is dangerously corrupt, a place where inmates either go along to get along—or wind up dead. A twisty crime thriller as well as an exotic ghost story, Carey’s second novel is as hard to categorize as it is to put down.
Shadow Rites, by Faith Hunter (April 5, Penguin—Paperback)
The tenth Jane Yellowrock book doesn’t slow things down for newcomers to the series, offering up a host of familiar faces and callbacks to earlier storylines. In New Orleans, a conclave has been called in an attempt to improve strained relations between witches and vampires, and Jane has been tapped to handle security. Everything goes to hell when a missing vampire Blood Master is discovered chained in a pit, starved and insane. With magical saboteurs seeking to derail peace talks, Jane must navigate a web of deceit and complex, conflicting loyalties—as well as her own relationship with her Beast personality—in order to prevent a supernatural war.
Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire (April 5, Tor.com Publishing—Hardcover)
In McGuire’s bewitching new novella, all of the fantasy worlds you’ve ever dreamed of are real, and children really have traveled to them through hidden doorways, magical paintings, enchanted wardrobes, and the dew on spiders’ webs. But what happens to those children once they slip back into our world? If you’ve faced incredible dangers on a quest of legend, pledged your service to the Lord of Darkness, or sat upon an enchanted throne, ninth grade algebra isn’t likely to cut it. You’ll never truly stop looking for the way back—no matter how hard the mundane world tries to convince you that what you experienced was not magic, but madness. That’s where Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children comes in. It takes in these broken wanderers, gives them a home, and, perhaps, hope. There’s no guarantee that they’ll ever find those hidden doorways, but at least they’ll have a place to call home. It’s a touching story of loss and belonging.
Maestro, by R.A. Salvatore (April 5, Wizards of the Coast—Hardcover)
The sequel to last year’s Archmage, the second book in Salvatore’s Homecoming series ups the ante as an ancient, immense evil begins to stir, destroying everything it encounters and sending fan favorites Cattie-brie and Gromph to Luskan in a desperate search for help in their efforts to salvage what they can of the war-ravaged north. Meanwhile, Drizzt heads for Menzoberranzan as Bruenor assembles a dwarf army—but it might already be too late. Salvatore combines classic epic fantasy with vibrant, readable prose, crafting yet another pulse-pounding adventure that won’t leave fans disappointed.
Arena, by Holly Jennings (April 5, Penguin—Hardcover)
In a future where virtual reality and video games have become the most popular national past-time, competitors “fight” in brutal, no-holds-barred games that result in virtual “deaths,” allowing screaming fans to enjoy the goriest bloodsports without moral or societal consequence. Kalil Ling is one of the best players out there, but there’s an emotional and psychic cost to competition, which she deals with through drugs and a party lifestyle that robs her of her edge and leaves her teammates angry. Jennings builds a unique future world, but it is her choice to focus on the price Kali pays for living in it that provide the real payoff. The result is a complex and emotionally compelling narrative, and one of the most unique science fiction novels of the year.
Paperback $17.96 | $19.95
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016 Edition, by Rich Horton (May 10, Prime Books—Paperback)
These days, there are simply too many great writers and too many amazing stories to keep up with, making an anthology like this one is more important than ever. Culling stories from the best magazines and websites in the business, this massive volume offers up more than 30 of the year’s best short stories from masters of the craft, including John Barnes, Elizabeth Bear, C.C. Finlay, Yoon Ha Lee, Kelly Link, Ian McDonald, Seanan McGuire, Vonda N. McIntyre, Geoff Ryman, Catherynne M. Valente, Genevieve Valentine, and more.
House of Daniel, by Harry Turtledove (April 19, Tom Doherty Associates—Hardcover)
The master of alternate history throws a curveball with a refreshing new take on the genre, imagining a version of the United States in 1934 awash in magic. Eschewing alien invasions in favor of clever inversions of science fiction tropes (instead of devouring the populace, hordes of zombies are put to work performing unpaid labor for a cash-strapped post-Depression society), Turtledove centers his story on the game of baseball and the story of Jack Spivey, who flees a bit of hometown trouble and falls in with the House of Daniel, a professional baseball team that has no home field and spends all its time on the road (based, in grand Turtledove fashion, on a real-life team that did just that). The fantastical elements are the spice, but the real story is grounded in a human-scale story of personal growth and wonderfully observed details. For fans of alternate history, fantasy, and baseball—there’s something here for everyone.
Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson (April 26, Orbit—Paperback)
One of 2015’s best novels is now available in paperback. After a detour into prehistory with Shaman, Kim Stanley Robinson returned to widescreen space exploration with a full-throated, believably science-y novel that turns one of sci-fi oldest tropes—the generation ship—on its ear. As a deteriorating vessel nears its destination after a centuries-long journey, we follow a cast of compelling, flawed characters trying to stave off a death of a thousand loose screws, as witnessed via one of the most unique narrators we’ve ever encountered: the ship itself, an artificial intelligence still struggling to understand humans even after hundreds of years spent ferrying them across the stars.
The Drafter, by Kim Harrison (April 19, Pocket Books—Paperback)
With a brilliant, punchy premise and plenty of action,The Drafter, now out in paperback, is a thriller with a sci-fi edge that will push buttons for both newcomers and fans of Harrison’s Rachel Morgan urban fantasy series. Peri is a Drafter, someone with the ability to rewind time 30 seconds and change the past. But every time she Drafts, her own memories are muddled—a confusion Jack, her lover and partner at Opti, the secret government agency they are both a part of, helps her muddle through. When Peri discovers her own name on a list of corrupt Opti employees, she suddenly has reason to doubt Jack—and herself, as she realizes her entire existence has been manipulated.
The Story of Kullervo, by J.R.R. Tolkien (April 5, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt—Hardcover)
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth remains one of the most deeply envisioned fictional universes ever created, and this polished version of a very early story written by its creator sometime between 1912 and 1916, is a must-read for anyone charting the growth of that magical land. Based on an ancient Finnish legend, The Story of Kullervo was completed from Tolkien’s own notes, and has many direct connections to The Silmarillion, the progenitor of The Lord of the Rings. What elevates this book beyond a curiosity are Tolkien’s personal notes, included here, which offer a fascinating glimpse into the creative process that eventually produced the definitive epic fantasy of a generation. A must-read for any Tolkien fan or anyone looking for insight into how one of the most fully-realized worlds in fantasy was conceived and built.