If you’re anything like us summer means going on vacation (with a book!); hanging out at the beach (with a book!); slacking off at work (with a book!); taking a swim (careful with that book!). And most every week of the summer season has at least one big sci-fi release well worth your time. Some of these authors will be familiar to you; others may be new. Either way, there’s plenty here to keep you reading until well after the leaves start to fall.
The Dispatcher , by John Scalzi
By way of easing into summer (and, OK, it’s still spring), start with this shorter work by one of the sci-fi field’s most popular and prolific modern voices. In the near-future world he presents here, death has lost its permanence. Sort of. People who die by natural causes stay dead, but the murdered come back to life, good as new. Dispatchers are government employees who go around killing people who are about to die, leading to some interesting moral quandaries in a time when cold-blooded murder can be the ultimate kindness, but in which there are people who are anxious to take advantage of the new rules.
Grim Expectations, by K.W. Jeter
Returning after decades to complete the trilogy that defined steampunk, K.W. Jeter explores the darkest corners of a universe he first showed us in 1987’s Infernal Devices, one both very different and yet familiar to the denizens of our continuity—until all the weirdness comes to the fore. Set some undefined length of time after the last book, Fiendish Schemes, Grim Expectations finds George Dower at Miss McThane’s deathbed. Before she passes, she gives him a strange, ticking box. After she dies, the box stops ticking, and opens to reveal letters, written in handwriting he doesn’t recognize, and addressed to a mysterious “S.” The letters tell the tale of the search for a mysterious person—and the last one says, simply, “Found him.” What follows is both a fantastic steampunk tale and a savage satire, a tale of machine cults and horrifying manipulations of the dead that manages to find horror and uneasy humor in the trappings of the genre itself.
Raven Stratagem (Machineries of Empire #2), by Yoon Ha Lee
Lee’s debut novel, Ninefox Gambit, was a brilliantly off-beat, intricate space opera assembled with care by a master worldbuilder. It’s set in a proudly alien realm in which the laws of physics give way to manipulations of a calendar. In Lee’s conception, the laws of reality are only as static as our agreed belief in them, and it can all break down when we move away from consensus. In the first book, a general allowed herself to be possessed by the mind and memories of a ruthless, sociopathic tactician as a desperate means of putting down a catastrophic rebellion. In the sequel, that relationship is altered when Jedao, the tactician, takes total control in order to defend against an invasion.
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter , by Theodora Goss
This dark genre mash-up might be the perfect antidote to all that summer sunshine. Mary Jekyll, the daughter of the famous doctor, comes across references to Edward Hyde in exploring the secrets of her father’s past. Before long, she joins forces with the horribly mistreated progeny of some of literature’s most ghoulish scientists (as well as Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson) in order to reclaim their lives from their monstrous creators. Lest you worry things will get too grim, those accursed offspring—Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein—have their own opinions to share, and aren’t shy about butting into the narrative to do it.
Spoonbenders , by Daryl Gregory
Gregory’s latest sounds at first like a superhero story: con man Teddy Telemachus cheats his way into a CIA research program where he meets and falls in love Maureen McKinnon, a genuine psychic with incredible powers. They start a family, ultimately having three children each with powers of their own, and become a traveling telekinetic family sideshow. But then, tragedy strikes the Amazing Telemachus Family, and the surviving members are left shattered, Decades later, their lives are in ruins when the CIA comes knocking, eager to learn if the family still has any powers left to exploit. It doesn’t sound very summery, but Gregory can always be relied on to blend plenty of comedy in with the heavy stuff.
An Oath of Dogs, by Wendy Wagner
It’s Independence Day, and if you have dogs, then dogs are especially on your mind: the fun you’ll have romping on the long weekend, and/or what you’ll hide them under when the fireworks start. This one places weirdly smart doggies into what’s been described as a sci-fi Twin Peaks setting. Kate Standish just arrived on Huginn, and it’s not long before she concludes that the company she works for killed her boss. As the weird outer-space mill town faces ecological disaster and the ramifications of a darker secret history tied into the fate of the planet’s sentient dog creatures, Kate struggles to solve the mystery and (hopefully) survive.
The Rift, by Nina Allan
Allan’s last book, The Race, made out best of 2016 list, and we can’t wait to see how she tops its trippy mix of nested metafictional narratives. In The Rift, sisters Selena and Julie grow up the best of friends, but begin to drift apart as teenagers—and then Julie disappears at the age of 17, and doesn’t come back for two decades. When she reappears, she tells Selena she’s returned with a message from another planet, one that needs her help to free itself from a memory-stealing alien parasite. Whether Selena believes her or not takes the book into questions perhaps more metaphysical than traditionally science fictional, harkening back to the weirder SF of the ’60s and ’70s, when authors like Zelazny, Silverberg, and Delany explored the uncharted worlds of the human consciousness.
Arabella and the Battle of Venus, by David D. Levine
David D. Levine introduced the wonderfully swashbuckling Arabella Ashby in last year’s Arabella of Mars, winner of the 2016 Andre Norton Award. The alternate history found the British Empire striking out into the solar system under King William III, circa 1600. Arabella is a young English lady who grew up on a plantation on the red planet, but her adventurous spirit were deemed ill-suited to someone of her station. Bristling at the restrictions, and taking heed of a threat to her home, she dresses up as a boy and joins up with the crew of a ship that eventually finds itself embroiled in a war between England and France. The sequel finds her on the way to forbidding Venus to rescue her fiancé, Captain Singh, from a French prisoner-of-war camp.
Star Wars: Battlefront II: Inferno Squad, by Christie Golden
Battlefront: Twilight Company was the last canon Star Wars novel to tie in to a video game, and it was, we’re happy to say, really good. Alexander Freed’s book told the story of a handful of front-line soldiers for the Republic, eschewing legendary heroes and mystical powers in favor of the describing the gritty, dangerous lives of the women and men truly feeling the heat in the fight to restore the Republic—Rogue One before there was a Rogue One. Christie Golden’s followup shifts focus to the Empire and, specifically, Inferno Squad: elite soldiers and spies tasked with bringing down the Partisans, the rebel faction lead by Saw Gerrera before his death. It sounds perfect for fans who like their Star Wars with more of the “wars” bit, or for military sci-fi buffs in general.
A Man of Shadows, by Jeff Noon
Veteran writer Noon’s latest high-concept sci-fi mystery takes place in a divided city: part is Dayzone, where it’s never night, while the other part is called Nocturna, where the darkness is permanent. Private eye John Nyquist is tasked with hunting down a particularly nasty, and seemingly invisible, serial killer known as Quicksilver in a hunt that takes him through the various parts of the fractured city—including to the shadowy land of Dusk.
Noumenon , by Marina J. Lostetter
Though actually hitting shelves on August 1, Marina Lostetter’s debut novel slots in nicely during this bare week in the release calendar. It’s sci-fi with the generational scope of Arthur C. Clarke and Kim Stanley Robinson, tracking humanity’s long voyage to a distant, possibly technologically created star. With the trip likely to take many centuries, the crews of the nine ships of the convoy are made up entirely of clones, who will maintain the vessels as as long as they can, then create copies of themselves to carry on the mission. But copying a copy results in something being lost, and as the clones become more imperfect, their shipboard society changes around them. In a series of time-hopping vignettes, Lostetter gives us glimpses of this immense human undertaking—but by the time they reach their destination, the clones may no longer be human at all.
The Stone Sky , by N.K. Jemisin
Yes, we know: this trilogy-ender was also featured on our list of fantasy books of summer 2017. But if you’ve been following along (and why haven’t you? The Fifth Season richly deserved that 2015 Hugo Award), you’ll understand us when we say that the series displays all the traits of fantasy, but that its DNA is truly the stuff of science fiction (the geology-based “magic” has a genetic component, and what purer science is there than geology, anyway?). Regardless, in this final volume, a mother and daughter struggle to determine the fate of the Orogenes as Essun intends to use the power that she’s inherited to bend the world into a shape where the people are free, while her daughter believes the power’s corrupted source means that it can never be put to good purpose, no matter the intention. The entire trilogy has been about the end of the world, pointedly questioning whether the end of all things is necessarily a bad thing when the world is a corrupted place.
Starfire: A Red Peace , by Spencer Ellsworth
Sometimes you want to read a space opera that makes no apologies about the “opera” part, and this is it: Spencer Ellsworth’s debut novella goes big and refuses to go home as it tells the story of a galactic civil war fought between an all-powerful empire and a Resistance force seeking a long-lost artifact that will help it shift the balance of power in the universe. Did we mention that there are giant space bugs, sun-sized spiders, and entire planets populated by cyborgs?
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The Massacre of Mankind, by Stephen Baxter
Believe it or not, there’s no major sci-fi book coming out on August 29, so we’ll highlight another can’t-miss title that publishes a week earlier. A bit over a decade ago, Stephen Baxter wowed fans of hard sci-fi with The Time Ships, a large-scale sequel to H.G. Wells classic The Time Machine that followed the time traveler all the way to the end of eternity. Now, Baxter has done it again: in The Massacre of Mankind, the aliens from Wells’ The War of the Worlds return to England 14 years later. The technology left behind during their first doomed invasion has helped the human race advance by leaps and bounds, but neither have the Martians spent the years idly. Walter Jenkins, who narrated Wells book, is the only one who fears the aliens have found a way to combat their vulnerability to Earth’s germs, and it is through his eyes that we witness the second War of the Worlds.
The Uploaded, by Ferrett Steinmetz
In Flex, Ferrett Steinmetz upended the conventions of urban fantasy to give us something weird, wonderful, and pop culture conversant in the best way (what magic system better suits the age of Reddit than one fueled by a “‘mancer’s” obsessive interest in something mundane—from paperwork to video games—actually boring holes into the fabric of reality and releasing the dark inter-dimensional energy within?). His next book promises to do the same for cyberpunk tropes as it explores a future world in which digital immortality is a reality, and the elder generation that exists solely within a cyberspace Heaven proves less than willing to relinquish control over the living world.
Taste of Marrow, by Sarah Gailey
If we slot alt-history under sci-fi, we come to the sequel to River of Teeth, an alt-history of an 1890s America in which a plan to import hippopotami into the Louisiana bayou as an alternate meat source was more successful than it was in our own reality. Or less successful, considering they then went on a rampage, requiring a diverse band of hippo wranglers to bring them to heel. The sequel sees the crew assembled by Winslow Houndstooth going their separate ways following the caper of a lifetime. What do a bunch of outlaws and bandits do once they’ve been named bonafide heroes?
Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz
Do we have to say goodbye to summer? If we must, there are worse ways to close out the season than with the debut novel from io9 founder and nonfiction author Newitz. This one’s timely: Jack is a prescription-drug Robin Hood in the year 2144, fabricating medicine for the poor. Her latest hack, though, has devastating consequences, leaving a trail of overdoses in its wake. Newitz has plenty to say about AI and the future of biotech, as well as about the ways in which our society will function in the wake of advancing science and stagnant ideas about personal freedom.
What sci-fi books are on your preorder list?