New Book Roundup: Hollywood Magic, Motorcycle Mayhem, and the Knights of the Highway

seerThe first week in March offers up more new SF/F that any one reader can hope to handle. Comes in like a lion, indeed. Here’s what’s new.

Arkwright, by Allen Steele
Steele has a well-deserved reputation for combining the feasible with the awesome, and Arkwright delivers on both counts. Nathan Arkwright is a successful science fiction writer, an icon of the Golden Age with the massive global sales to prove it—but his true dream is to ensure the survival of the human race via interstellar colonization. Seeing government programs as inherently flawed due to funding squabbles and a lack of scientific understanding, he uses his fortune to launch the Arkwright Foundation, a private effort to reach the stars. What follows is as much the story of an epic family as it is a realistic imagining of how humanity might someday look up from the surface upon different stars, and is poised to be counted among the most enjoyable SF/F novels of the year.

Borderline, by Mishell Baker
Urban fantasy series often live or die on the strength of their protagonists, and by that measure, Mishell Baker has written one of the greats. Borderline introduces Millicent Roper, a cynical, at times unlikable, yet downright captivating new voice, a once-promising filmmaker, a suicide survivor and double-amputee struggling to reenter the world and keep her mental illness—borderline personality disorder—under control. Perhaps you don’t think she sounds like the best candidate to serve as the go-between between the dangerous Fey realm and the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, but then, you have yet to encounter the Arcadia Project, the shoestring organization tasked with keeping our world safe from magical destruction, staffed with society’s cast-offs. Baker spins a fast-moving fantasy yarn while crafting fully formed characters, showing great compassion in her depiction of mental illness and alienation.

Quantum Night, by Robert J. Sawyer
Multiple Hugo-winner Robert J. Sawyer returns with a contemporary SF thriller about a man who develops a foolproof technique to uncover potential psycopaths lurking in our midst before they commit terrible deeds. But when Jim Marchuck is being questioned about his methods during a court case, he is shocked to learn that there are six months of missing time in his memory, and he may have perpetrated horrible crimes of his own that he cannot recall. He pairs up with an old love interest—now a quantum physicist—and the two set out to determine if they can steer humanity away from a proclivity to violence before it is too late for us all.

Chaos Choreography, by Seanan McGuire
McGuire once again somehow blends ballroom dancing and cryptozoology into a fun, fresh urban fantasy adventure starring Verity Price, who can’t resist one last stab at winning reality TV show Dance or Die. Once there, however, the bodies start dropping and the blood starts flowing, and Verity finds that she’s dancing for a lot more than a trophy. McGuire has created a rich, tongue-in-cheek, and wholly unique urban fantasy world, and this fifth entry in the InCryptid Series returns some familiar elements while introducing a new member of the Price family to supply additional humor and plot disruption. Backed up by her now-husband Dominic, Verity navigates her usual work saving the cryptids from monster-hunters while learning a few new steps in order to not just win the dance competition—but survive it.

Midnight Marked, by Chloe Neill
A welcome return to a Chicagoland populated by vampires, shifters, humans, and other supernatural beings begins with a seemingly innocuous trip to Wrigley Field for a night game, where Merit and Ethan, from the Vampire House Cadogan, hope to claim the free flashlights being given away. When Merit senses magic being used in the city, the story kicks into high gear, leading them to discover the body of a murdered shifter. Things quickly get sticky, as relations between Vampires and shifters sour, threatening the delicate balance of power. Ethan and Merit must match wits with a powerful enemy that wants to see House Cadogan burn just as much as he wants to own the Windy City. Twelve books in, Neill is still hitting them out of the park; this is a paranormal romance as exciting as any thriller.

The Courier, by Gerald Brandt
Brandt’s fuel-injected debut is set in San Angeles, a futuristic megacity encompassing everything from San Francisco to San Diego and built up to seven levels—with the lower levels plagued by poverty and crime, and the upper reaches (and little things like sunlight) reserved for the 1 percent. In this world dominated by corporations that maintain their own militaries, Kris is a teenage courier moving data too sensitive for the easily-hacked internet between corporate offices—until she is given package so sensitive, people are willing to kill for it, plunging her into a fast-paced race for survival. Brandt has created a fully-fleshed universe, filled with high tension, memorable villains, and plot twists by the dozen.

The Seer, by Sonja Lyris
Baen Books launches a new series from a debut author, a delightful sword-and-sorcery throwback about Amarta, a poor young woman who happens to have one of her world’s rarest gifts: she is a true Seer, able to peer into the future with incredible accuracy. Sometimes the future is hard to hear, however, and one of Armata’s prophecies embroils her in political intrigue that reaches to the highest levels of the Empire of Arunkel—requiring her to develop a deeper understanding of her powers if she hopes to save her family and stop a war.

United States of Japan, by Peter Tieryas
Tieryas’ third novel is poised to be a breakout success. A spiritual sequel to Philip K. Dick’s masterpiece The Man in the High Castle, it takes us to a richly-imagined alternate 1980s America, greatly changed from what we know by four decades of rule by the Japanese, victors of the second World War. Inspired by Tieryas experiences touring former Japanese internment camps and incorporating plenty of fun what-if details (giant mechs!), it’s both a thoughtful examination of humanity’s darker nature and a slam-bang sci-fi adventure.

The Rogue Retrieval, by Dan Koboldt
We’re willing marks for blogger Dan Koboldt’s light-hearted debut: we love portal fantasy—those books in which a hapless mortal is pulled from our world into a fantastical land. And who better to make the trip than a stage magician? Quinn Bradley has made a living on sleight of hand, but when he can’t refuse an offer of travel to a place where magic is no trick, he finds himself in the land of Alissia, in search of a rogue employee of the powerful corporation that maintains the doorway between realms. In a world where pretending to be a magician is a crime punishable by death, Quinn will have to employ all of his wits and charm if he wants to make bank—and make it home alive.

Wizard of the Grove, by Tanya Huff
Go back to the very beginning with an omnibus of Huff’s fantastically funny, fast-moving debut duology, including Child of the Grove and The Last Wizard. A young woman, Crystal, is the last natural-wizard of Ardhan, and its only hope in stopping the rise of a master of evil bent on conquering it all. It’s got what you want in a classic fantasy—mythical creatures, magical mayhem, kings, queens, and faeries—with unexpected twists (like a love affair with Lord Death). Great fun.

The Brotherhood of the Wheel, by R.S. Belcher
Belcher (The Six-Gun Tarot) begins a gritty new contemporary fantasy series hitched to a delightfully oddball premise: for nearly 1,000 years, a group of crusaders have sworn to protect pilgrims and travelers. In ancient times, that meant safeguarding the roads to Jerusalem. Today, it means defending the highways and byways of America from evil—in big rig trucks, on motorcycles, by bus, or in RVs. Jimmie Aussapile is one of these knights of the road, and he’s on a road trip to uncover the reason children are disappearing across the country. Is that a killer setup, or what? Ten-four, good buddy.

The Devil You Know, by K.J. Parker
Parker’s newest novella is also his second release under the Tor.com Publishing imprint, following last year’s tricksy The Last Witness. This one is every bit as twisty and satisfying, which is pretty much what you’d expect from one of the masters of the form, especially when the setup involves a dual narrative split between a brilliant conman and the devil himself.

The Destructives, by Matthew de Abaitua
A companion novel to the brilliant The Red Men and If Then, The Destructives continues de Abaitua’s deeply strange ruminations on artificial intelligence. Twenty years after the ascendance of the first AIs, humanity is still stuck on Earth while our creations inhabit an enclosed sphere in the orbit of Mercury, save one—Dr. Easy has devoted its vast computational powers to analyzing the life of a single human individual: Theodore, a sad sack recovering addict living on the moon. His life will turn out to be of great import, though, when an investigative reporter approaches him with information about the birth of artificial intelligence that will set him off on a mission that could end in the re-ascendance of humanity, or its ultimate obsolescence.

What are you reading this week?

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