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.
Last Year, by Robert Charles Wilson (December 6, Tor Books—Hardcover)
Hugo winner Robert Charles Wilson offers up an intriguing twist on time travel, one in which alternate-universe “pasts” can be accessed—but only once. The moment a “passageway” to the past is opened, that alternate universe begins changing in unpredictable ways, and once closed, the passageway cannot be reopened. One such passageway has been opened to 19th century Ohio—but rather than remain a secret, it’s turned into an attraction. People travel back to see the quaint old ways, and natives pay to see a vague glimpse of their future. As the natives grow more sophisticated, though, the tourism dries up, and Jesse Cullum, who found work as a security guard in the city of the future and fell in love with a woman who hasn’t been born yet, is determined to follow her back to the future before the passageway is closed for good—even if it means exposing a lot of secrets the folks in charge don’t want to be revealed.
After the Crown, by K.B. Wagers (December 13, Orbit—Paperback)
Hail Bristol, a former gunrunner and criminal revealed to be the heir to the throne of the tumultuous Indran Empire in the wake of the assassination of her mother and sisters, learns that heavy lies the head that wears the crown in this sequel to July’s Behind the Throne. Only in power a short time, her efforts to hold peace talks to stabilize the empire are violently disrupted, thrusting Bristol and her trusted bodyguards into a desperate gambit to save her life—and her empire. To succeed, Bristol must turn to the few allies she has at court, as well as old friends—and enemies—in the gunrunning world she left behind. Twists and turns are weighted against the fate of a vast empire as the empress deals with betrayal, a price on her head, and a universe intent on tearing itself apart. Two books in, this series has exemplified political plotting as compelling as the badass heroine at its center.
Alien Nation, by Gini Koch (December 6, DAW—Paperback)
Koch returns to the ongoing saga of Katherine “Kitty” Katt-Martini with her 14th adventure, and it’s packed full of the fast-paced chaos her fans thrive on. Before we’re even a few chapters in, president and first lady Jeff and Kitty Katt-Martini are informed of a group of alien spacecraft making their way to Earth, Katt is lured into an explosive situation (literally), and the Mastermind is revealed to be back in business. With a mysterious new backer and some problematic cloning capabilities, the villain begins to sow serious chaos, even as Katt is informed the aliens are seeking asylum on Earth—because they’re fleeing something so terrifying, other terrifying things are running the other way. In short, it’s a typical day in Katt’s life—and another fun, fantastic story from Gini Koch.
Babylon’s Ashes, by James S.A. Corey (December 6, Orbit—Hardcover)
The sixth Expanse book deepens the crisis facing humanity as it describes a civilization in free-fall. With the Belters’ Free Navy the only effective force in space, chaos reigns as the rebels’ black market military ships leave violence and destruction in their wake. The colony ships headed for the alien ring gates and the strange space beyond are completely unprotected; neither Earth nor Mars has the strength to mobilize a navy to defend them. In response to the escalating emergency, an uneasy alliance between Earth and Mars is formed, and James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are tasked with high-burning it to Medina Station at the center of the gate network. But even as this shaky alliance is revealed to be just another struggle for power, the alien presence on the other side of the gates comes into focus—and the Free Navy may be the least of humanity’s problems. This is a high-octane continuation of a series that has quickly become the biggest thing in science fiction.
Jerusalem Fire, by R.M. Meluch (December 6, DAW—Paperback)
Originally published in 1985, DAW is republishing Meluch’s remarkable military SF novel, and it’s not hard to see why—it’s as exciting and relevant today as it was 30 years ago. In a galaxy dominated by the totalitarian and oppressive Na’id Empire, a man called Alihahd—which means “he left” in the Na’id language—defies the empire and ferries rebel refugees to safety. An inveterate drunk, Alihahd is a man running from his own past and trying to atone. When his ship is attacked, he ensures the safety of his passengers and is rescued himself by a damaged pirate ship, which soon crashes on the legendary planet of Iry. As he seeks a way off planet, Alihahd’s backstory is slowly teased out, as is his connection to the ancient Earth city of Jerusalem, emblematic of the entirety of human civilization; it was the center of a desperate battle against the Na’id’s attempts to unify human civilization. Drawing comparisons to Frank Herbert’s Dune in its philosophical scope, Jerusalem Fire is the unexpected sci-fi masterpiece you’ve never read.
Monster Hunter Memoirs: Sinners, by Larry Correia and John Ringo (December 6, Baen Books—Hardcover)
After the success of their first collaboration, Ringo and Correia once again merge their streams to expand Correia’s splashy Monster Hunter universe. After answering a post-death call from God himself to join MHI, Chad Oliver Gardenier has become one of the premier monster hunters on the planet. So it’s no surprise that he’s dispatched to New Orleans to help out MHI’s Hoodoo Squad—New Orleans in the 1980s is jam-packed with shadow demons, necromancers, and vampires, and the Hoodoo Squad is exhausted. Ringo and Correia work seamlessly together to deepen the Monster Hunter mythology while simultaneously offering up plenty of action, smart dialog, and, of course, big-ass monsters.
Hardcover $26.09 | $28.99
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, by Alexander Freed (December 20, Lucas Books—Hardcover)
We can’t say much about this one because, like most things Star Wars these days, it is shrouded in secrecy until the release of the film on December 16. What we do know is that A) it was written by Alexander Freed, the author behind the thrilling Star Wars video game-turned-novel adaptation Battlefront: Twilight Company, which, like Rogue One, followed a bunch of below-the-line grunts on a mission behind enemy lines, and B) it’s sure to provide us with additional background and plot details that won’t make it into the film. Oh, and C) it’s available in an exclusive edition, available only at Barnes & Noble, featuring an eight-page photo insert featuring images from the movie.
Star Wars: Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide, by Pablo Hidalgo (December 16, DK—Hardcover)
If you’re eagerly anticipating the release of Rogue One, then you’re also the perfect audience for this fantastic reference guide. Pairing visuals and stills taken directly from the film with a comprehensive collection of character profiles, vehicle cross-sections, and location layouts, Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide will deepen your enjoyment of what will likely be the must-see movie of the holiday season. The ability to be the smartest fan in the theater should be irresistible to any true Star Wars fanatic, but the book comes with the added bonus of being irresistible nerd coffee-table decor, sure to inspire excited discussions of the film and the incredible art collected inside.
The Liberation, by Ian Tregillis (December 6, Orbit—Paperback)
Tregillis winds down his trilogy about a revolution by the clockwork automata that serve humanity in a deeply imagined alternate history setting in which the Dutch are the world’s greatest superpower and mankind has enslaved a race of artificial beings created in his own image. Daniel (neé Jax) is one of these golems, known as Clakkers; he’s managed to escape the control of the powerful spells that hold his people in check, and has spent the last two books coming to terms with his newfound self-determination and sparking a rebellion among others of his kind—even if it means taking control of them himself. This is a satisfyingly morally ambiguous conclusion to a challenging trilogy, in which there are no easy answers and no happy endings for anyone.
Nine of Stars, by Laura Bickle (December 27, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
Acclaimed author Laura Bickle returns to the weird western setting of her Wildlands series for a standalone novel featuring Petra Dee, alchemist and recent arrival in the remote town of Temperance, Wyoming, who believes she is an old hand at dealing with supernatural threats—until she runs up against a new one even she can’t explain. Someone or something is killing wolves out in the snowy forest and leaving their skins behind. Clues point the the reemergence of a creature from ancient legend, but Petra’s investigations are hampered by local lawman Owen Rutherford, who believes Petra’s partner Gabriel might be the culprit in an unsolved murder. The Wildlands novels have earned acclaim for their propulsive plotting, compelling characters, and compassionate handling of Native American traditions and lore, and this one—the first to debut in print after several ebook volumes—may be the best yet.
Take Back the Sky, by Greg Bear (December 20, Orbit—Hardcover)
Bear concludes his brainy military SF series War Dogs with an adventure that opens with Skyrine Michael Venn and his fellow soldiers marooned beneath the crust of Titan. After humanity was drafted into a war against the Antagonists by the Gurus, bribed by the advanced technology they offered, Venn has been on a journey to discover the Gurus’ true intentions. Haunted by the voices of the dead, Venn and his comrades find themselves attacked on all sides—and forced into an alliance with the Antags themselves—as they try to discover the truth. Across three books, Bear has crafted Venn into a nuanced character without ever sacrificing his soldier’s nature. The onslaught of revelations in this gripping final entry offer a resoundingly satisfying conclusion, paying off all the bets Bear made in the earlier books, and then some.
The One Hundred Nights of Hero, by Isabel Greenberg (December 6, Little, Brown and Company—Hardcover)
Greenberg returns to the genre-breaking setting of her first graphic novel, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, with a mesmerizing work with a fiery feminist heart. Set in the kingdom of Migdal Bavel on Early Earth (with its three moons and myths come to life), the story is anchored by Cherry, married to the wicked Jerome but in love with her maid, Hero. Jerome makes a bet with his friend Manfred: if Manfred can seduce Cherry in 100 days, he gets Jerome’s castle—and Cherry. Set against this loathsome misogyny is not just Cherry herself, but Hero, a member of the League of Secret Story Tellers. They conspire to distract Manfred with stories each night, holding him off with wit and imagination—and incredibly absorbing tales. The Arabian Nights structure provides surprises on every page, while the theme of women dodging violence and oppression with nothing but their wits grounds the work in powerful truth.
This post was published simultaneously on Tor.com.