This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: A Lush Historical Epic, Humanistic Cyberpunk, and Myths Reimagined

The Prophet of the Termite God, by Clark Thomas Carlton
This long-in-coming sequel to Clark Thomas Carlton’s 2011 novel Prophets of the Ghost Ants continues the Antasy series, set in a world in which people have evolved to be the size of insects, and all of human culture, from what we eat, to what we wear, to how we wage war, has been influenced by our changed relationships with the insect world—even as people remain people, as prone as ever to scheming against and killing each other. In book two, the outcast and religious zealot Pleckoo, the Prophet-Commander of the Hulkrish army, launches a fresh assault against the newly formed nation of Bee-Jor,  led by his cousin, Anand the Roach Boy, and protected by an army of night wasps. Carlton weaves a web of intrigue, plots and counter-plots, and fierce battles, set against an imaginative world in the tradition of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt series.

The Buying of Lot 37 & Who’s a Good Boy?, by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
The newest entries in the Welcome to Night Vale series collect the scripts for episodes from seasons three and four of the megahit podcast, offering a fantastic deep dive into the creepy, funny, and super smart world of creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. In addition to a ton of behind-the-scenes tidbits from the writers and the cast, introductions to each story offer insight into their inspiration and production, and gorgeous illustrations from Jessica Hayworth bring each to visual life. The end result is a pair of books fans of the podcast will devour.

Pariah, by W. Michael Gear
Horror and military SF meet in the satisfying third book in Gear’s grim and gritty saga, following Outpost and Abandoned, returning to a dangerous alien world whose human colonists face a dual threat from both the planet’s indigenous carnivorous lifeforms and the corporate masters who exploit them. A survey ship is dispatched to the newly discovered planet carrying a crew of scientists led by the ecologist Dr. Dortmund Weisbacher; they are tasked with completing the first formal survey of the world to determine if it is fit for human habitation. But something goes wrong along the way: a journey expected to take years is over in an instant, and the ship arrives to find Donovan already very much inhabited. Corporate assassin Tamarland Benteen, stranded on the planet and eager to avoid running into the corporate bigwigs who would sooner see him dead, views the vessel as his best chance at escape. Caught between them are various colonists whose own dramas play out against the backdrop of a truly hostile world.

 

Mythic Journeys: Retold Myths and Legends, edited by Paula Guran
Award-winning editor Paula Guran’s latest anthology collects incredible adaptations and reinterpretations of myths and legends from the world over, penned by some of the best writers working in SFF today, including Neil Gaiman, Ann Lecki, Yoon Ha Lee, Ken Liu, and dozens more. These are stories that have existed for centuries—or longer—recast by modern-day masters, covering subjects like the Furies of old hunting down a serial killer for revenge, Odysseus’ nymph and her power to change lives, and a humorous look at chivalric myths and their absurdities. Spanning history and geography, culture and religion, these stories are uniquely inventive, making this a standout anthology.

A Brightness Long Ago, by Guy Gavriel Kay
Fantasy master Guy Gavriel Kay returns to the fictional setting of the Sarantine Mosiac, drawn from the history of Renaissance Italy, as an elderly man named Danio tells his life story, one curiously stocked with royalty and high adventure, considering his low birth. Danio starts off his career as an assistant to a court official, and is in a position to take notice of a young woman brought in as a concubine for the city’s despotic ruler. He correctly deduces she’s an assassin in disguise, and he chooses not to expose her; she is Adria, the daughter of a duke who has chosen to serve her mercenary uncle Folco. Danio’s decision to let the assassination occur sets in motion forces that will propel him and Adria in unexpected directions and lead to world-changing events, with low-born Danio, unpredictably, ever at their center. Kay applies his skill at painting sweeping historical tapestries to the story of the lives of the sort normally lost to the ages, yet whose choices may nevertheless shape the destiny of nations.

Last Tango in Cyberspace, by Steven Kotler
Judah “Lion” Zorn is an “em-tracker,” his hyperdeveloped sense of empathy and pattern recognition giving him the ability to trace cultural and linguistic shifts based on a larger connection to all living things. It’s a skill that makes him useful to the corporations that employ him to figure out how to launch their products and exploit new trends. But when a job for a pharmaceutical company leads to a bizarre murder scene, Lion finds himself at the center of a culture war involving an empathy drug, animal rights groups, mysterious disappearances, and a rather gruesome incident of taxidermy. At first all Lion wants to do is finish the job and get out, but his own empathic gifts and curiosity keep pulling him deeper in, forcing him to choose between slow social evolution and an explosive cultural revolt. With shades of Neal Stephenson and William Gibson, bestselling non-fiction author Kotler’s second novel approaches cyberpunk cultural and anthropological perspective rather than a technological one, focusing on how the characters engage with their new world, rather than how the world changes due to the rapid acceleration of technological change.

The Undefeated, by Una McCormack
This slim novella packs an outsized punch as it follows the waning days of an aging journalist, Monica Greatorex, who once threatened to bring the powerful and corrupt to ruin across the Interstellar Commonwealth with her words, but now lives a much quieter life in retirement. Seeking a sembelance of peace, she travels to the planet where she spent her childhood, looking to reconnect with the past, but also for a place to wait out the coming of the jenjer, a race of genetically engineered servants who have rebelled against their human masters and are currently waging a planet-to-plat war of revenge across the Commonwealth. This isn’t necessarily the tale you expect from that setup—the battle never reaches Monica, and she makes no unexpected discoveries that will save humanity. Instead, it is a wistful story of a woman looking back across the book of her life, a story filled with both triumphs and sorrows, unchangeable. In poetic prose and 100-odd pages, McCormack creates characters you’ll feel for deeply, even as you wonder at the mysteries of the worlds they inhabit.

The Obsoletes, by Simeon Mills
Graphic novel author Simeon Mills (Butcher Paper) proves adept at prose in this clever debut novel, which marries sci-fi and themes of coming of age in high school. In the ’90s, twins Darryl and Kanga are typically angsty teens, except they are also robots: in this version of late-20th century America, a society to robots exists alongside our own, often hated and feared by flesh and blood types. After their robot “parents” disappeared, Darryl and Kanga have been on their own, with Darryl in charge of keeping their identities hidden from their “robophobic” neighbors—a tricky feat considering they don’t eat and bleed grease. Their cover story is threatened when Kanga discovers a love for basketball, and proves to be an inhumanly capable player, causing him to chafe against his brother’s cautious care-taking. But Darryl faces his own distractions in the form of a human girl. Like a science fictional Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Obsoletes gives the trials and travails of growing up a delightful genre twist.

Children of Ruin, by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The sequel to the British Science Fiction Award-winning Children of Time returns to the unlikely new cradle of humanity, a colony planet whereupon a disastrous terraforming attempt resulted in the creation of a new society of uplifted ants and spiders whose civilization evolved at breakneck speed before the desperate remnants of the a ravaged Earth could arrive. Now unlikely allies, the humans and the insects catch fragmentary signals broadcast from light years away, suggesting there might be other survivors from their shared homeworld. A mixed expedition sets out to solve the mystery, but what’s waiting for them out in space is another calamity set in motion by long-dead Earth scientists’ arrogant and desperate efforts to ensure the survival of their species. Children of Ruin managed to completely deliver on a truly absurd premise, and the sequel offers similar pleasures.

The Window and the Mirror, by Henry Thomas
This engaging fantasy is the low-key debut novel from actor Henry Thomas (of E.T. fame), but it is no mere vanity publication. Assembling familiar elements into a nevertheless engaging and deeply readable adventure, Thomas introduces us to the land of Oesteria, ruled over by the powerful mages of the Magistry, who are always eager to expand the boundaries of their empire. They send an expedition to scout the lands of the Dawn Tribe, a largely peaceful people, but the party is attacked and its members scattered. One of them, the young Joth, is made a captive and forced to head off on a peacekeeping mission alongside a woman of the Dawn Tribe, while another, the dangerous Mage Imperator Ulhmet, escapes his captors and finds himself in the Goblin lands, where he designs to obtain dark magic that could be used to start a war. The first book in the Osteria and the War of Goblinkind series.

What new sci-fi & fantasy books are on your to-buy list?

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