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.
Dark Sky, by Mike Brooks (July 4, Saga Press—Paperback)
The sequel to Dark Run finds former pirate Ichabod Drift and crew deep into unexpectedly dangerous territory. When the crew of the Keiko visit a pleasure planet to spend their ill-gotten gains, they are hired by a powerful crime boss to retrieve a message from mining colony Uragan before a huge storm cuts the planet off from all communication. Drift and company assume easy money. What they find instead is a politically volatile situation that erupts into violent revolution. The crew is stranded, forcing them to pick sides, form alliances, and think fast as the action revs up to a breakneck pace.
Battlefront II: Inferno Squad, by Christie Golden (July 25, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Set directly after the events of the film Rogue One, Golden’s latest Star Wars adventure finds the Empire in unfamiliar territory: on the defensive. Seeking to reestablish its primacy in the galaxy, it turns to the Inferno Squad, its most elite Imperial Soldiers. Dispatched to deal with the extremist rebels known as the Partisans via infiltration and destruction from within, the Inferno Squad knows that failure is not an option. A tense game ensues as the soldiers of Inferno Squad are tested to their limits—and beyond—by a group of rebels as ruthless and committed as the Empire they resist. If you’ve ever wondered how the Empire kept its iron grip on the galaxy, Inferno Squad is part of the answer.
Besieged, by Kevin Hearne (July 11, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Hearne collects short stories features the adventures of the Iron Druid, 2,000-year old Atticus O’Sullivan, spanning many different time periods and locations, from ancient Egypt, to modern-day Kansas, to the California Gold Rush, to Shakespearean England. O’Sullivan is pitted against old gods, flesh-eating ghouls, literal witches, and sentient elemental forces seeking to bleed the world dry. Vampires, wraiths, and other assorted bogeymen (and bogeywomen) round out the rogue’s gallery Atticus must face, making each story hilarious and exciting—and the perfect book for fans of The Iron Druid Chronicles as they wait for the last book in the series.
Lost Boy, by Christina Henry (July 4, Berkley—Paperback)
Any thoughtful reading of Peter Pan reveals Peter as a rather dark and cruel character beneath the flying, shadow-fleeing free spirit on the surface. Henry makes this subtext text in a retelling in which Peter Pan kidnaps children and forces them to play violent games—as so Captain Hook tells it. Revealed to be one of the first and once the favorite of the Lost Boys, the one-handed pirate explains how he became Peter’s bitter enemy. It’s a mature take on a childhood favorite that adds a whole new dimension to Neverland and the mythology of the boys who didn’t want to grow up.
Sand, by Hugh Howey (July 11, John Joseph Adams Books—Paperback)
In a desolate post-apocalyptic future, people struggle to make a life on the shifting, swirling sand that buried the old civilization. Palmer is a sand diver, skilled in going below the shifting desert to the city beneath to retrieve valuable objects to sell, and keep his family alive. But when Palmer is betrayed and lost below, his family must face the possibility that the toehold on survival they’ve maintained may be slipping away completely. They may soon fall victim to the brigands who threaten their hardscrabble shanty town—or much worse. It’s another brilliant vision of the post-apocalypse from the creator of Wool.
Heroine Worship, by Sara Kuhn (July 4, DAW—Paperback)
The second in Kuhn’s enormously fun superhero urban fantasy series sees Aveda Jupiter (aka Annie Chang) struggling to deal with the ascension of her assistant, Evie Tanaka, into full-blown superheroine status. As Evie’s popularity among the demon-fearing populace of San Francisco threatens to eclipse her own, Aveda must deal with more than jealousy—in the aftermath of their epic battle against the force of the Otherworld, there hasn’t been a demon sighting in months, leaving Aveda bored and rudderless. So when Evie gets engaged, Aveda is more than happy to throw herself into being the Maid of Honor and planning the greatest wedding ever for her best friend. Which means when a supernatural force begins attacking brides, Aveda has to rise to the occasion to be the greatest hero—and bestest friend—she can possibly be.
The Five Daughters of the Moon, by Leena Likitalo (July 25, Tor.com Publishing—Paperback)
This debut novel offers a speculative take on the Russian revolution, rife with dark magic and arcane technology. As a revolution threatens the Crescent Empire, the Five Daughters of the Moon—the children of royalty—hold the keys to its fate. The destinies of these girls—from six-year-old Alina to Celestia, 22 and the next empress—are intertwined with the machinations of Prataslav, the ambitious advisor to the court, and his terrible invention: a “Great Thinking Machine” that can predict the future. The truth of what gives such a machine its power may bring about the end of an empire. With lush prose and a immersive sense of place, this brief, evocative work—the first half of a duology that continues with The Sisters of the Crescent Empress in November—will bring an icy chill to the summer months.
Star Wars Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to a Galaxy Far, Far Away, by Tim Leong (July 25, Penguin—Chronicle Books)
You might think you know all there is to know about the Star Wars universe, but even if you routinely dominate your local pub’s sci-fi-themed trivia night, Leong’s brilliant collection of Venn diagrams, pie charts, and other visually inventive infographics will surprise you with their unique presentation and depth of information. Whether it’s a diagram of Yoda’s personality tics, an Org Chart of the Imperial Government, or other similarly business-inspired graphical representations of Imperial and Rebel info, this is truly the book for the Star Wars geeks who prefer visual learning.
The Fifth Ward: First Watch, by Dale Lucas (July 11, Orbit—Paperback)
Brilliantly blending epic fantasy tropes and stock characters with police procedurals, Lucas launches a new series set in the cramped, riotous city of Yenara, where shifty humans, wily mages, mind-controlling elves, drug-slinging orcs, and every other kind of creature lives and fights. Keeping order in this messy place is the City Guard, known as Watch Wardens. City newcomer Rem wakes up hungover and penniless in jail, and eagerly joins the Watch when he can’t pay his fines any other way. Partnered with a mace-wielding dwarf named Torval who is deeply unimpressed with his new human partner, Rem must investigate a murder with personal connections for Torval while dealing with the chaos and danger that is Yenara.
Scourge, by Gail Z. Martin (July 11, Solaris—Paperback)
In the wealthy city-state of Ravenwood, Corran, Rigan, and Kell Valmonde are Guild Undertakers, using family magic to ensure the dead make their journey to the afterlife unmolested. Corran in particular is very skilled, and often hears the secrets of the dead as they pass through his family’s care. Ravenwood is a city of corruption, deception, and magic, ruled by a Lord Mayor who uses murder and magic in equal measure to maintain power. But the city is under siege by summoned monsters, and when Corran hears explosive secrets that hint at a dark conspiracy, the family is pinned between powerful forces—and fighting back could cost them everything.
Sungrazer, by Jay Posey (July 4, Penguin—Angry Robot)
The sequel to Outriders sees an elite team of near-immortal super soldiers tasked with the impossible. As tensions between Earth and the Martian colonies reach Cold War levels, an autonomous spaceship with devastating “orbital strike” capabilities goes missing in the vicinity of the red planet. If it falls into the wrong hands, it could upset the delicate balance between the two sides. The Outriders are the best of the best, but even they will need every shred of guts, brains, and brawn when their investigation leads directly to the powerful Martian People’s Collective Republic, where they’ll have to navigate the deadly maze of secrets, alliances, and plots to prevent the situation from blowing up into a devastating Hot War.
Grave Ransom, by Kalayna Price (July 4, Ace—Paperback)
The fifth Alex Craft book finds the Grave Witch in Nekros City facing the one thing she never expected: the walking dead. Craft has raised specters and shades, conversed with the dead, and is even romantically involved with Death himself. But she always believed dead bodies are dead bodies; they don’t get up and cause mischief. When a rash of crimes is attributed to reanimated corpses, Craft finds herself reluctantly partnered with Briar Darque of the Magical Crimes Investigation Bureau. But even with that support, it’ll take everything Craft has to get to the bottom of the mystery before things go from bad to really, really bad.
Talon of God, by Wesley Snipes and Ray Norman (July 25, Harper Voyager—Hardcover)
Dr. Lauryn Jefferson is the daughter of a Baptist preacher who chose science and medicine over God while working in an ER in Chicago. When a cartel begins dealing a new drug that turns users into demons, she’s rescued not by the scalpel but by Talon Hunter, a sword-wielding, motorcycle-riding soldier of God. Powerful forces are using the drug to establish a literal Hell on Earth, and Lauryn must find her lost faith—and fast—if they’re going to prevent it. As the conspiracy to let demons infest the weak and tortured of the city is revealed, its roots are shown to go back centuries, to a group known as the Soldiers of El Elyon—men literally chosen to do God’s will on Earth. Defeating the threat will require both faith and science in equal measure.
Bannerless, by Carrie Vaughn (July 11, John Joseph Adams Books—Paperback)
Vaughn delivers a tightly-plotted sci-fi mystery set in a future after The Fall, a series of devastating plagues and ecological disasters that left civilization broken and most culture and technology lost. In California, people live in a loose confederation of towns where families produce only what they need, and where procreation must be approved by the local Town Council—symbolized by the awarding of a banner to the house. Investigator Enid travels to the town of Pasadan to look into the death of an unpopular handyman named Sero. She encounters such aggressive disinterest in Sero’s killer, she’s driven to dig deeper, even as memories from her own past bubble to the surface. What she and her partner discover in Pasadan might have the power to shake the foundations of this fragile world.
The Delirium Brief, by Charles Stross (July 11, Tor.com—Hardcover)
Stross’s eighth Laundry Files book finds both put-upon hero Bob Howard and The Laundry he’s served so tirelessly thrust into the public eye after an invasion by the Host of Air and Darkness. Howard must deal with television cameras following his every move as he’s tasked with being the public face of the newly-exposed secret unit. But that’s the least of his problems—like every other government-funded agency in the modern day, there’s a push to privatize The Laundry itself, a possibility that makes the paperwork-soaked frustrations of Bob’s past brushes with occult horrors pale in comparison.
An Oath of Dogs, by Wendy Wagner (July 4, Angry Robot—Paperback)
Kate Standish is sent to the forest planet of Huginn by her employer, the enormous corporation Songheuser, which she suspects had her boss killed prior to her assignment. On Huginn she finds very few of the farmers and mill workers are interested in a death officially ruled an accident—they have their own problems dealing with a rash of eco-terrorism and the ravages of the strange, sentient dogs native to the planet. Anxiety-sufferer Kate has her own therapy dog that helps her keep her head as she investigates an ancient diary dating back to the founding of the colony, a book found in the house her dead boss once occupied. It’s a murder mystery set in a fascinating sci-fi universe that slowly unfolds the history of Huginn in perfectly-paced episodes that lead to a satisfying conclusion.
Harbors of the Sun, by Martha Wells (July 4, Night Shade Books—Paperback)
The fifth and final book in Wells’ Raksura series is a direct sequel to The Edge of Worlds, and picks up the action immediately after that book’s cliffhanger. Betrayed by a former ally, the Raksura and their Groundling friends are thrust into a race to save their kidnapped kin while the Fell and the Empire of Kish plot attacks that might destroy everything in their path. The kidnapped Raksura discover their captors have a deeper plan involving a magical artifact that could unlock more danger and destruction than even the Fell can muster. It becomes a race against time as the Raksura must risk everything they have and everything they are to stop what very well might be the end of the world.
The Cityborn, by Edward Willett (July 4, DAW—Hardcover)
The City is a towering edifice of corroding metal, twelve tiers ruled by the Officers in the name of the semi-mythical Captain. The higher tiers are for the rich and the powerful, the lower tiers for the poor and oppressed, and the Middens—the enormous trash heap in the canyon below the City—is for the outcasts. Danyl was kidnapped from a nursery in the highest levels of the city 20 years ago, and now eeks out a life in the Middens, desperate to enter even the city’s lowest levels. Alania was also in that nursery—but was raised as the ward of a powerful officer. When Alania escapes an ambush and crashes into the Middens, the two meet and find themselves pursued by Officers. To survive, they must discover the mystery of their connection—a mystery that might reshape not just their own existence, but the fate of the rotting City itself.
The Reluctant Queen, by Sarah Beth Durst (July 4, Harper Voyager—Hardcover)
The second in Durst’s Queens of Renthia series finds Queen Daleina of Aratay still suffering—from both the psychological effects of the coronation day massacre that secured her crown, and the physical effects of a fatal illness sapping her ability to control the bloodthirsty spirits that inhabit the woods. A suitable heir must be found, but the massacre killed most of them, and the women being trained to control the spirits keep dying in the attempt. A powerful candidate is finally identified, but the woodswoman Naelin would rather protect her family than rule a kingdom. Political scheming, spirit slaughters, and betrayals from within the palace all contribute to rising tension as the situation worsens—and the spirits wait impatiently for the Queen to weaken enough for them to surge forward and kill everyone.
A Fading Sun, by Stephen Leigh (July 4, DAW—Paperback)
Voada Paorach has inherited her family’s ability to see the dead—most of whom don’t realize they are dead. She helps as she can to guide the ghosts to the land beyond, but she keeps her abilities secret—as her family has ever since the Mundoan Empire conquered the land. But then she encounters a ghost different from the others she’s known—a ghost that seems very aware of its status and implores her to walk a new and more dangerous path, one that will show her exactly how powerful her people are, and how dangerous the future will be.
Tropic of Kansas, by Christopher Brown (July 11, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
Brown extrapolates an alternate America from a single changed event: Ronald Regan does not survive the 1981 attempt on his life. From there, a horrifying new reality emerges: an America with walls on both borders, whose heartland—a vaguely-defined zone called the Tropic of Kansas—is in full-throated revolt. Technology is a mix of the analog and the drone, and the unsettled land roils with revolution, militias, and political skulduggery. Foster siblings Sig and Tanaia are at the center of it all: Sig as a dissident making his way through the Tropic towards the revolutionary seat of New Orleans, and his sister Tania as a disgraced government agent ordered to infiltrate the militias of the Tropic to track him down. It’s all horrifyingly familiar, and as Tania’s immersion in the underground slowly transforms her into a player in the revolution, the complex strands of history start to twist in yet more surprising ways.
Dichronauts, by Greg Egan (July 11, Night Shade Books—Hardcover)
On a strange planet that exists in only two dimensions of space—but also two of time—the sun has a bizarre, wobbling orbit that creates a constantly shifting habitable zone. That means the city of Baharabad must be constantly dismantled on one end and rebuilt on the other. Seth and Theo are symbiant lifeforms (Seth is a Walker who can only orient himself and move along the East-West axis; Theo is a Sider who can use infrasound waves projected North-South to gather information) who work as surveyors for the city’s reconstruction. One day they encounter a chasm in the path of the city that appears to have no bottom. Exploring it will change their world. Per usual for Egan, conceptualizing the math and physics that form the foundation of this bizarre sci-fi tale takes some doing, but the results are well worth the effort.
At the Table of Wolves, by Kay Kenyon (July 11, Saga Press—Hardcover)
In an alternate 1936 where the collective trauma of World War I has caused the Bloom, a sudden appearance of psychic abilities in a small portion of the population, American-born Kim Tavistock has a very useful ability: Spill, which causes people to tell her their secrets. Working as a journalist in Britain, where she was raised, Kim is drawn into a psychic arms race—the Nazis are light years ahead in weaponizing psychics. With Britain roiling with the instability caused by King Edward’s approaching abdication, things are looking very grim— the Nazis are planning a full-scale invasion on the backs of their psychics, and Kim will have to risk everything, including her life, to go undercover and ally with the enemy in order to prevent complete disaster.
Tomorrow’s Kin, by Nancy Kress (July 11, Tor—Hardcover)
The first book in Kress’ Yesterday’s Kin series (expanded from the award-winning novella) kicks off with the arrival of aliens in a spaceship that lands gracefully in New York harbor. The visitors announce they are unable to leave their ship due to the atmospheric and gravitational differences between their home and Earth, and that they will only deal with the United Nations. When Dr. Marianne Jenner, an unknown scientist working on the human genome, is invited to the alien embassy (along with the Secretary General of the U.N. and a handful of ambassadors), she can’t say why. But what she learns there changes everything—because if the aliens are to be believed, the world is heading towards a disaster in ten short months, unless the best and brightest minds of humanity can prevent it. But for not everyone seems to want to.
Arabella and the Battle of Venus, by David D. Levine (July 18, Tor—Hardcover)
Levine’s Andre Norton Award-winning steampunk series continues with a rousing adventure that finds smart, fearless heroine Arabella Ashby launching a rescue operation for her fiancé, Captain Prakash Singh, who has been captured by the French in the wake of Napoleon’s escape from his lunar prison. Discovering Singh is being held on Venus, Ashby recruits reluctant privateer Daniel Fox and his ship Touchstone to bring the fight to her enemies—but her brother sends along Lady Corey as a chaperone. Arriving on Venus, Ashby and friends discover Napoleon has developed a superweapon that changes everything—and it’s up to them to stop him.
Strange Practice, by Vivian Shaw (July 25, Orbit—Paperback)
Shaw launches a new Victorian fantasy series featuring Dr. Greta Helsing, who makes her living supplying the undead with necessities—blood to vampires, antibiotics to ghouls, replacement bones to mummies. While simply trying to help care for the dead—and otherwise—Helsing is unwittingly caught up in the struggle against a group of supernatural monks who attack the undead and any humans they deem wicked, turning London upside-down and filling the residents—immortal and mortal alike—with terror. Greta’s particular skills and experience come in handy in the battles that come. It’s hard to resist a setup like that, and Shaw’s debut delivers all the fun and mayhem you’d expect.
Killing Is My Business, by Adam Christopher (July 25, Tor—Hardcover)
The sequel to Christopher’s Made to Kill spins out the latest case of Ray Electromatic, the Electric Detective, and the last operational robot in 1960s Los Angeles. Ray has a 24-hour memory limit, and though he wears the trenchcoat of a noirish private eye, he’s really an assassin, taking orders from his secretary—a supercomputer named Ada, who fills him in on what he’s forgotten every day. Lately, his marks keep turning up dead before he can get to them, and when he’s hired to find out what an old man is hiding—then do him in—it begins to look like Ray’s being used as a cog in a much larger machine. Combining a solid mystery with the style and dialog of hardboiled crime novels, the Raymond Electromatic books offer a surprisingly sympathetic protagonist, considering he’s just a heartless hunk of metal and whirring memory tape.
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Fourth Annual Collection, by Gardner Dozois (July 11, St. Martin’s Griffin—Paperback)
Dozois once again compiles a fantastic overview of the best short-form sci-fi from the last year. This thorough, satisfyingly huge volume includes gems from Stephen Baxter, Ken Liu, Carrie Vaughn, James Patrick Kelly, Alastair Reynolds, and others. As always, the collection includes Dozois’ lengthy introduction, which considers the directions genre headed in during the prior year, as well as a detailed recommended reading list that will ensure your TBR pile is bulging.
The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2017 Edition, by Paula Guran (July 4, Prime Books—Paperback)
If your tastes in the fantastic run toward dark corners, this is the collection you’ve waited all year for. Guran has assembled some of the most disturbing, horrifying, and downright frightening stories from some of the best writers working today, including Nadia Bulkin, N. K. Jemisin, Seanan McGuire, Fran Wilde, and many more. This is the ideal collection for anyone who thinks there’s simply too much hope and optimism in most speculative work.
What new books are you reading this month?