The Science Fiction and Fantasy Books We Loved in June

sffjuneWelcome to our monthly roundup chronicling the best books the B&N SFF stable of bloggers has read over the previous month. Old or new, it doesn’t matter—these are the ones that will stick with us.

Nicole: Indra Das’ The Devourers is the kind of speculative fiction I love most: beautiful and grotesque, equal parts horror and magical realism. It’s a novel that encompasses three stories. The first is set in modern-day Kolkata, where a lonely professor sits down with a stranger who claims to be half-werewolf. From there, we branch off into a saga that spans centuries and focuses on the consequences of a fateful meeting between a pack of shape-shifters and a defiant human woman in 17th-century India. For fans of Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, and really good books.

Kelly: I reviewed the first in Jodi Taylor’s crazy fun historians-do-time-travel series for this blog, and I have to tell you, I’ve been quickly devouring the sequels faster than you can say “more tea, please!.” In the second installment, A Symphony of Echoes, Max and the other historians visit locations as diverse as Jack the Ripper’s London, have an afternoon snack while dodo hunting, and visit the Canterbury of the soon-to-be doomed Thomas Becket. But old enemies are also still lurking, and Max’s personal life is a mess, as usual. These books are fantastic episodic reads—they can easily be read in isolation, but are all the more satisfying to revisit after you’ve spent more time with these madcap friends and foes.

Aidan: Cold Magic, the first volume in Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy, is built on the backbone of a fascinating alternate history Europe where the ice age never ended, ghouls came pouring in waves from salt mines in sub-Saharan Africa, trolls live amongst the human in America, and the spirit world is at our fingertips, if we know where to look for it. Lots of fun, with some of the best and most honest interpersonal relationships I’ve read in a long time. Magic, intrigue, compelling world-building, a breakneck plot, and characters you’ll love. What’s not to like?

Rich: In the future setting of Howey’s Beacon 23 there is an ongoing war between galaxy-settling humans and the alien Ryphs, and here the story is set on the titular deep space “lighthouse” manned by a former war hero with a dark secret. Howey includes a lot of lonely guy humor via the first person narrative, but eventually things get horribly complicated. One part solitary madness, one part love story, one part war-is-hell. Just remember, folks: war and peace have a very high price…

Mr. Splitfoot

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Sam Reader: Between the amount of horror I’ve been reading recently, and the blurbs likening Samantha Hunt’s work to Kelly Link, there was no way I would miss her slow-burning Appalachian gothic novel. Mr. Splitfoot definitely delivers on all fronts, providing an eerie and methodically paced supernatural trip through an area more writers should really consider visiting in their fiction.

Ed: As soon as I saw the on-set photos of Idris Elba as Roland Deschain, I knew it was time to finally dive into Stephen King’s epic multi-dimensional sort-of-Western, sort-of-Tolkien odyssey, The Dark Tower. Book one, The Gunslinger, definitely leans heavily on the weird aspect of weird fiction — set in a world that carries faint echoes of ours but is vastly different, it features Roland and The Boy stalking the ominous man in black across a desert and beyond. What’s really exiting to me is that The Dark Tower acts as a sort of keystone that joins together many of King’s other-dimensional novels and short stories. Plus, it’s a lot of fun picturing Elba as Roland while you’re reading.

T.W. O’Brien: By the time I got around to reading Leviathan Wakes, the SyFy adaptation The Expanse was on the horizon. I decided to follow the story through the TV series, but as great as the first season was, it did not even finish the first book, and the second season won’t start until 2017. I’m back to reading the books (Caliban’s War and Abaddon’s Gate this month).

Corinna: The Only Living Boy is the story of a young boy, Erik, running from some unseen fate at the beginning of the book, who’s transported to an alien world, somehow, where he’s the last surviving human—the only living boy. The adventure vibe reminded me of Edgar Rice Burrough’s A Princess of Mars, with wonderfully drawn aliens and alien civilizations, and the pacing, moving from one dire situation to another, held my interest. But the best part is young Erik himself, so alone, with only a stuffed teddy bear back-pack for company. He’s so determined, and it’s so easy to root for him. My 20-year-old son read this first and insisted it was good. I shan’t doubt his taste, ever.

Ardi: I scored an early copy of David D. Levine’s Arabella of Mars at the Nebula Awards conference in Chicago back in May, and this delightful steampunk novel is warming my little clockwork heart! I love our plucky young heroine, Arabella, and her desire to be more than the role she’s assigned in British society based on her gender. Born on a British plantation on Mars, she’s forced to travel with her mother to their ancestral home in England, and Levine manages to make what should be familiar Earthly landscape to us very alien as it’s filtered through Arabella’s eyes. The novel is full of action and adventure as our girl escapes her very unpleasant familial circumstances on Earth to secretly travel to Mars disguised as a boy on a Mars Trading Company ship in an effort rescue her older brother from a murder plot. I’m really hoping to see a sequel to this fun, well-plotted novel.

Ross: There is quite enough drama in the world right now, thank you very much. Joe Zieja’s Mechanical Failure is absurd and funny, but hardly ever silly, and also a pitch-perfect parody of bureaucracy in general and military life in particular. It’s also just the tiniest bit off-color, which doesn’t hurt one bit. More comedy sci-fi, please.

Joel: As much as I loved Linda Nagata’s The Red: First Light, which I read after it was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel, military sci-fi isn’t really my thing. What is very much my thing: weird nanotech futures. Which is why, when I discovered that Nagata kicked off her career with a bizarre hard-science-or-is-it-fantasy SF mind-blower, I had no choice but to circle back and read it. I’m so glad I did. More than two decades after it was published (and to some acclaim, picking up the Locus Award for Best First Novel), The Bohr Maker is a dangerously inventive slice of a far-future quasi-dystopia in which the privileged live forever in orbital cities, the poor suffer in ignorance on-planet, and taking advantage of all the wonders nanotech has to offer is tantamount to the worst crime imaginable—bad news when you’re Nikko, the novel’s artifically created post-human protagonist, fighting to remain alive in a society that views his very existence as an affront to nature.

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