The Science Fiction and Fantasy Books We Loved in October

sffoctWelcome to our monthly roundup chronicling the books the B&N SFF stable of bloggers loved in the previous month. Old or new, it doesn’t matter—these are the best sci-fi & fantasy books we’ve read in the past 30 days.

Paul: In A Little Knowledge, fourth in the Split world series of urban fantasy novels, Emma Newman lets her characters explore their new responsibilities, new power and new authority. While Cathy struggles to be the new Duchess of Londinium, Sam learns that becoming Lord Iron is harder than he imagined, and Max’s role as the only Arbiter in Bath and its environs is a struggle in holding onto responsibility. Excellent expansion of her world-building, and deep exploration of her characters, as well as strongly exploring the abiding themes of her series

Rich: What’s a guy to do after escaping Hell? In the case of Kadrey’s Jimmy Stark—the wiseass anti-hero of Sandman Slim—it is to become a vengeance-driven killing machine against those who sent you “downtown” eleven years earlier. As the manically paced first book in what is a pretty hefty series (book NINE drops next year) this one does everything right, piling on magic, creatures, angels, and demons – all festooned with Kadrey’s constant pitch black humor. Fun stuff!

Ceridwen: I adored Cogman’s debut novel, The Invisible Library. Set in a magical library that opens out into myriad alternate universes, the series follows junior librarian, Irene, and her apprentice, Kai. Sequel The Masked City opens with Kai kidnapped, and because of his powerful family, this could have ugly consequences. Irene scrambles through otherworlds and fairy courts, consorts with dragons, dons disguises, and performs all manner of derring-do to get Kai back. I wish that Kai and Irene had more screen time together, because those two knock sparks off each other, but Cogman makes it up to the reader with some splendid set pieces and a number of fascinating and scary new characters. I’m just hooked on this series.

Sam Reader: Best described as “an unholy three-way collision between The Warriors, The Wicker Man, and Pumpkinhead,” Norman Partridge’s Dark Harvest brings its readers to a small Midwestern town, where once a year teenagers starved and hopped up on sugar are unleashed into the streets with weapons to kill a monstrous sapient scarecrow known as the October Boy before he reaches the church at the other end of town. It’s practically the best B-movie never filmed, with a constant beat of brutal action, twisted villains both human and otherwise, and a plot with loads of interesting surprises. By this time it might be a little out of season, but it’s still an amazing read.

Meghan: A dark, brutal, beautifully written noir novella steeped in Lovecraftian venom, Cassandra Khaw’s Hammers on Bone follows John Persons, a private eye hired by a young boy to kill his stepfather. The boy claims his stepfather is a monster. Luckily, John Persons is too. What unravels is a suckerpunch with tentacles. Khaw mixes noir tropes straight out of a Dashiell Hammett novel with lush, atmospheric horror making for a vibrant, viscreal read. This book left me breathless.

Joel: The Stars Are Legion is poised to be Kameron Hurley’s mainstream breakthrough, but apparently no one told her. It is unlike any space opera you’ve ever read—its story of two warring families seeking to control a galaxy patrolled by grotesque organic worldships is a bizarro blend of New Weird adventure, political thriller, and body horror; and an intimate examination of two deeply damaged women. It’s as visceral and violently angry as anything she’s ever written, a ragged scream from the heart of a broken world—but one not past mending, if there are people brave enough to build a better one. This book isn’t out until February; best start preparing yourself for it now.

John: An epic storm has stranded a ship and her crew in the middle of the arctic in Bracken MacLeod’s Stranded. It’s cold, it’s desolate, and everyone’s falling victim to a mysterious illness. Stranded reads like an episode of the Twilight Zone, carefully easing you into things before unraveling it all in a twisted fury.

Martin: In Daniel Polansky’s A City DreamingM is a magician, though that’s not the term he prefers; he;s rather say he’s in good with the Management. Ask him which establishment, and he’d raise an eyebrow, say “Reality,” and go back to his double IPA. A loner with a few interesting definitions of friends, M has returned to NYC after a few years spent wandering the world, and with his return come his old friends, older enemies, borough queens, magical feuds, godlike drugs, horrors in brownstones, and journeys from one end of Brooklyn to the other that may take anywhere from a day to a year. Polansky’s love for New York, for the magic it is capable of all on its own, for the connections its denizens establish there in the shadow of the steel and glass giants, is evident on every page. While reading it, I discovered just how much I too love the place where M lives; it helped me see the magic in the everyday in this wonder of a city.

Corrina: The Secret Loves of Geek Girls is not fiction but rather an examination of the way SFF stories have influenced these female creators, getting them through everything from growing up to break-ups to explorations about who they really are, and how they used the stories they love to create the people they wanted to be. The stories are hilarious, moving, sad and, in some cases, beautiful.

The Humans

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T.W. O’Brien: Some purists might not consider The Humans by Matt Haig “real” science fiction. But a story about an alien trying to keep humanity from destroying the universe by solving the Rieman Hypothesis is close enough for me, especially when the novel is this good. It is a recurring theme of SF—that only an alien can truly understand what it means to be human—and this book has a lot to say about the human condition. Plus, who doesn’t love a story about prime numbers?

What’s the best book you read this month?

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