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.
Hyperion, by Dan Simmons (August 15, Del Rey—Paperback)
Structured similarly to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Simmons’ award-winning sci-fi classic is a singular creation in a singular universe, starting slowly and building into one of the most fully-realized space operas ever created. Filled with fascinating, flawed characters, it tells the tale of a humanity that has formed an arrogant, galaxy-spanning Hegemony after ruining planet Earth. Into this sprawling comes the Shrike, one of the most memorable creations inmodern SF—a creature assembled from razor blades, half-organic, half-mechanical, able to control the flow of time, a deity worshiped by several cults. Across four books, The Hyperion Cantos chews up and spits out every grand genre idea in the playbook (interdimensional travel, revolt by artificial intelligences, time travel), and invents a few new ones in the bargain. It’s essential reading, and it starts here.
Reincarnation Blues, by Michael Poore (August 22, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Poore tells the story of Milo, a soul who has been reincarnated 9,995 times so far, into various epochs and realities, in various bodies, with varying levels of success. There’s a hard limit of 10,000 reincarnations in the pursuit of perfection, however, and that means Milo—easily the oldest soul on Earth—is quickly approaching the end of the line. In-between reincarnations, Milo finds himself in a netherworld where his lodgings reflect the quality of the life he’s just led, and two spirits in the form of nagging old ladies critique his failures. Complicating things is Milo’s enduring love for Death herself, who he calls Suzie. Milo’s thousands of lives are sketched out with efficiency and economy, offering the wonderful sense that Poore’s universe is limitless, and the adventures, endless.
Ride the Storm, by Karen Chance (August 1, Berkley—Paperback)
The eighth Cassie Palmer novel finds the Seer of Pythia trying to locate demon-spawn John Pritkin so she can save him—but as usual, a riotous, uncooperative universe keeps throwing obstacles in her way. These range from reporters demanding she speak on the record, to origami animals rampaging around the casino she calls home, to battling armies from the past, to a war mage who has kidnapped her acolyte Rhea. It’s one surprise after another, and with the ideas coming this fast and furious, it’s certain to delight fans old and new.
The Clockwork Dynasty, by Daniel H. Wilson (August 1, Doubleday—Hardcover)
“There are strange things in the world, June. Things older than we know,” June Stefanov’s grandfather tells her, describing a strange mechanical soldier he encountered at Stalingrad as a young man. June quickly discovers this to be true, as her work seeking out ancient machines for a mysterious employer leads her to discover the avtomats—near-immortal clockwork beings. Peter Alexeyvich and Elena Petrova are avtomats revived in early 18th century Moscow by the Czar’s mechanician. After the fall of Imperial Russia, Peter (who looks like a young man) and Elena (who appears to be a young girl) flee Russia, eventually colliding with June. All three become ensnared in a war between mechanical beings who predate much of human history. The scale is epic, the action is fast-paced, and the ideas are crazy good—abut what you’d expect from the author who gave us Roboocalypse.
The Dinosaur Princess, by Victor Milán (August 15, Tor Books—Hardcover)
The third volume in Milán’s story of Paradise, the humans abducted into it who now lead armies on the backs of T-Rexes and Triceratops, and the gods who have unleashed their greatest weapon—the Grey Angels—in an attempt to rid Paradise of sin. This volume is as twisty and dense as the first two. The Grey Angels were defeated in battle but are not gone—they remain a mortal threat, and the powers that be among the humans continue to scheme and plot. Montse, youngest daughter of Emperor Felipe, is kidnapped by agents of Trebizon, and the Grey Angels work behind the scenes to foment chaos. The scale is huge, while the shift away from pitched battles and toward political gambits is no less exciting.
The Massacre of Mankind, by Stephen Baxter (August 22, Crown—Hardcover)
Baxter takes a second stab at writing an authorized sequel to a classic by H.G. Wells (after The Time Ships)—this time extending the story of The War of the Worlds. In 1920, the Martians launch a second attack on an Earth understandably different from the one we know from history. The invaders are determined to avoid the mistakes that saw their first invasion end in ruin, but humanity is equally determined to use every dirty trick in the book to defeat them (including making use of some of the technology the aliens left littering our world the first time). Although the scope is global, much of the story is narrated by Julie Elphinstone, sister-in-law to the unnamed narrator of Wells’ original novel (here given the name Walter Jenkins). She is the clear-eyed center to this pulse-pounding steampunk story, authorized by the Wells estate.
Starfire: A Red Peace, by Spencer Ellsworth (August 22, Tor.com Publishing—Paperback)
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? Well then.
Paperback $14.99 | $16.99
The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin (August 15, Orbit—Paperback)
The first book in Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, Hugo-winner The Fifth Season, is an explosion of ideas, twisting plot points, and clever point-of-view puzzles. The second, The Obelisk Gate, is a masterwork of world-building, developing the history and culture of the Stillness while setting up the clash between mother and daughter that will define a new age. Neither one disappointed in the least, and the final book, The Stone Sky, is certain to be one of the most satisfying concluding novels of the year. Essun has inherited Alabaster’s power to bend the world to her will, and intends to create a place where Orogenes are safe and free. Her daughter Nassun, however, sees what her mother cannot: the power she wields cannot be pure and free from corruption, no matter the intent behind it.
Urban Enemies, edited by Joseph Nassise (August 1, Gallery Books—Paperback)
A complement to last year’s Urban Allies, this volume assembles some of the most popular writers of urban fantasy to tell stories focused not on the heroes of their universes, but the villains. Since everybody knows the bad guys are always more interesting, this means there’s plenty of great stories to dig into. Featuring works by Jim Butcher, Seanan McGuire, Jonathan Mayberry, Kevin Hearne, and many others, exploring the darkest aspects of their respective fictional worlds. The result is a treat for their fans, and an opportunity to taste-test an urban fantasy author you’ve never read before.
A Man of Shadows, by Jeff Noon (August 1, Angry Robot—Paperback)
Combining the grit and wit of a noir detective novel with the outlandish imagination that has given us bizarre classics like Vurt, Noon tells the story of world divided by the monster-infested Dusklands, located between the always-daylit Dayzone and the dark, dangerous Nocturna. A private investigator named Nyquist is hired to find a missing teen girl named Eleanor Bale. His investigation takes him to Nocturna, and into a web of deceit and betrayal that has something to do with a serial killer named Quicksilver—and, ultimately, the fate of the entire world.
Binary System, by Eric Brown (August 8, Solaris—Paperback)
Crashlanding on the icy planet Valinda—gripped in a long winter that will soon give way to a deadly summer—Delia Kempf finds herself pursued by the violent, terrifying Skelt. The Skelt want the scientific knowledge Kempf possesses, and Delia is forced to make unlikely allies with friendly aliens to flee south, and make the dangerous crossing over the equator as the temperatures rise. There, they find other survivors of the starship crash, and make a final play for rescue in the valley of Mahkanda, a desperate dash across an unforgiving and unfamiliar landscape. Originally published as two novellas, this bind-up offers the complete story.
Age of Assassins, by R.J. Barker (August 1, Orbit—Paperback)
In Barker’s fantasy debut, Girton the Club-Foot is born disabled, and enslaved as a child. Rescued from servitude, he becomes an apprentice assassin, training to bring justice throughout the realm. When a plot to kill the heir to the throne comes to light, Girton is ordered to pretend to be a high-born son training as a squire in order infiltrate court and unmask the schemers. Guided by his master, Merela Karn, Girton has to navigate typical teenage concerns while enduring a gauntlet of dangerous adult problems and keep up the illusion of nobility. As the tension rises, Girton’s intelligence and bravery are tested as he seeks to complete his first task as an instrument of justice in a court where nothing is as it seems.
The God Peak, by Patrick Hemstreet (August 22, Harper Voyager—Hardcover)
Hemstreet expands on the ideas originated in his Crichton-esque debut The God Wave, asking a simple question: if you unlocked you innate superpowers, how would you use them? In this sequel, the team that did just that remains at odds, plotting against each other and the world at large—but also using their newfound abilities to blackmail society to change, or else. Nothing less than world peace and universal healthcare is on the agenda. The remnant of the team led by Chuck Brenton has allied themselves with the mysterious Benefactors, who have their own remarkable abilities—and their own agenda.
Swarm and Steel, by Michael R. Fletcher (August 22, Talos Press—Paperback)
Fletcher returns to the incredible universe of his Manifest Delusions books—following the masterful Beyond Redemption and the self-published sequel The Mirror’s Truth—and a world where anything you truly believe becomes reality. In such a world as this, what happens if your faith begins to fail? As children, sisters Zerfall and Hölle shared a vision from god telling them to create the Swarm, a hell where souls are trapped forever, and to create a religion to funnel unsuspecting spirits into it. But Zerfall is beginning to doubt whether the vision was divine in the first place, and even that Hölle is actually her sister. Waking up after attempting to murder Hölle, Zerfall searches for the truth as she suffers from partial amnesia, made no less confusing by the shifting realities around her.
Hex-Rated, by Jason Ridler (August 1, Night Shade Books—Paperback)
Los Angeles, 1970—James Brimstone was once a child magician, but now steps into the shoes of his recently deceased mentor and becomes a private investigator. His first case comes from an adult film actress, who reports that an older performer attacked her via snake emerging from her mouth. Brimstone smells magic, and proceeds to take the reader on a journey through a pulp-inspired L.A., where magic and the occult are woven into the fabric of reality. Bedding his client’s friends, throwing punches, and dealing with everything from demons to disturbing Japanese pornography, Brimstone travels ever-deeper into the city’s underbelly in pursuit of the truth.
After On, by Rob Reid (August 1, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Reid’s latest blends a Silicon Valley startup satire with a chilling sci-fi thriller. A social networking tool named Phluttr becomes a wildly-popular behemoth due to its advanced technology, but when the company that owns Phluttr purchases a startup run by three friends, Kuba, Ellie, and Mitchell, the new code turns out to be the missing piece that causes Phluttr to attain self-awareness. Trying to guide, educate, and prevent Phluttr from destroying humanity proves to be the greatest challenge these young geniuses have ever tackled—and things only get more dangerous when Phluttr notices their efforts, and takes action.
Halls of Law, by V.M. Escalada (August 1, DAW—Hardcover)
The Faraman Polity rules an empire through the twin strengths of its military and the psychic powers of the Talents in the Halls of Law; no one can lie to a Talent, and they can also glean truth from inanimate objects. Ruled almost exclusively by women, these two pillars of the Polity’s power exist in an uneasy alliance—until an invasion by the misogynistic Halians decimates the Hall and most of the military leaders. Kerida Nast is a soldier hiding her psychic abilities, and after the disaster, she finds herself joining a group of secretive magicians known as Feelers who are following an ancient prophecy to completion. In the midst of chaos, Kerida knows they must locate an heir to the throne of the Polity—and they must do so before the Halians do.
A Song for Quiet, by Cassandra Khaw (August 29, Tor.com Publishing—Paperback)
Khaw is having a standout year. Her full-length debut, Food of the Gods, provided a gruesome and riotous spring, and A Song for Quiet builds on the wonderfully weird world she revealed in last year’s novella Hammers on Bone. John Persons, private investigator of all things unseemly, takes a backseat in this romp through the universe. Instead, we accompany Deacon James, traveling bluesman and monster incubator, as he confronts the madness within and around him, the latter horrors unleashed by Deacon’s saxophone. No one is dancing the line between madcap and macabre these days quite like Cassandra Khaw.
Noumenon, by Marina J. Lostetter (August 1, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
In the near future, a brilliant astrophysicist named Reginald Straifer discovers a distant star that behaves unusually. Suspecting it is either a key discovery in our understanding of the universe or an artificial, alien creation, he convinces Planet United Missions to send one of 12 light-speed convoys to investigate. Even at the speed of light, it will take hundreds of years to arrive, so the convoys are crewed by clones of Straifer, engineer Akane Nakamura, and artificial intelligence programmer Jamal Kaeden. A young and old version of each clone exists simultaneously in order to pass down experience and knowledge, but each generation of clones is also different from the previous—and overseen by the persistent AI of Convoy Seven. Soaked in the spirit of classic SF sensawunda, this ambitious debut explores the complexities of such an immense voyage, which pile up in surprising ways as the clones get further from the familiar.
The Death and Life of Schneider Wrack, by Nate Crowley (August 8, Abaddon—Paperback)
Crowley explores the possibilities of reanimation as punishment in a world where convicted criminals are harvested post-execution, reanimated into thoughtless zombies, and put to work. When Schneider Wrack is convicted of a crime he’s pretty sure he didn’t commit, he’s sentenced to zombification. Reanimated after his execution, Wrack’s zombie body is transported to the hellish world of Ocean, where he is pressed into endless labor on a huge ship, working until his undead body simply falls apart. But then Wrack wakes up again, finding himself trapped in his rotting body—and contemplating an uprising of the undead.
Blackthorne, by Stina Leicht (August 8, Saga Press—Paperback)
The second installment of the Malorum Gates series returns to the remnants of the magical, non-human Eledoreans a few years after their slaughter at the hands of the non-magical human Acrasians. Young Suvi is now Queen, and her twin brother Nels heads out against all advice to find a way to defeat their enemies. The unhappy, secretive Blackthorne brings a master weaponsmith to Suvi, a being who can produce the guns that might change the course of both the war and the parallel battle against the Malorum, dangerous creatures that roam New Eledore. Briskly paced and character-focused, this flintlock fantasy series eschews conventions.
The Court of Broken Knives, by Anna Smith Spark (August 15, Orbit—Paperback)
This grimdark debut is set in the crumbling Sekemleth Empire, once powerful, now ruled by a feckless usurper and a weak aristocracy. Lord Orhan Emmereth knows the only way to save the empire is to find new management, so he hires a company of mercenaries to infiltrate the city of Sorlost and murder the emperor and his court. Among the mercenaries is a young, over-educated drug addict named Marith—a boy who manages to kill a dragon as the company travels to Sorlost, and who is much, much more than he seems.
Call of Fire, by Beth Cato (August 15, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
The sequel to Breath of Earth opens in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake that devastated San Francisco—an earthquake that, in this version of history, hit because the city’s geomancers were betrayed and killed—all save Ingrid Carmichael, who barely survived. She flees north to escape Ambassador Blum and the Unified Pacific, who want to use her mysterious powers to assert their dominance over the world. After her allies Lee and Fenris are kidnapped, she seeks the assistance of none other than Theodore Roosevelt, another Unified Pacific Ambassador, but even his influence proves futile when they reach Seattle, and Ingrid begins to realize her powers may be precisely what starts the war that will tear the world apart.
An Echo of Things to Come, by James Islington (August 22, Orbit—Paperback)
In the second book of Islington’s Licanius trilogy, magic is no longer forbidden thanks to the attack from beyond the wall protecting Andarra, and an edict by newly-installed Northwarden Wirr—but no one in the north truly trust the beings who wield it, including the last Augur, Davian, and the Shadow Asha. Davian struggles to master his powers and repair the wall that protects them all, while Wirr attempts to rally the divided people of the land to defend themselves against the true threat—the darkness beyond the wall. Meanwhile, the amnesiac Caeden slowly regains his memories—and each piece of himself that returns brings with it a new certainty that this ancient war is much more twisted than anyone realizes. Slowly, politics fall to the wayside as the danger grows irrefutable, as everyone begins to prepare for the day the wall fails—if it hasn’t already. This series is pure, old school sprawling epic fantasy—if you’ve been looking for the next Wheel of Time, it may be just the treasure you seek.
The New Voices of Fantasy, edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman (August 22, Tachyon Publications—Paperback)
Celebrating the new voices in fantasy that will define the future of the genre, Beagle assembles an impressive roster of 19 authors who will introduce the unaware to the Next Big Things. The list of authors includes many you’ll recognize from awards ballots over the past few years: Max Gladstone, Alyssa Wong, Usman T. Malik, Ursula Vernon, and many others. The tone, subject matter, and precise sub-genres change from story to story, and the end result is a varied and entertaining anthology with something for every reader—and one that will likely introduce every reader to at least one great new voice.
What new books are you looking forward to in August?