This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Black Futures, Language and Dragons, and Delivering Dystopia via Drone

The Emperor’s Fist: A Blackhawk Novel, by Jay Allan
The latest from Jay Allan, military SF master, returns to the setting of his Far Stars novels. The imperial incursion has been turned back through the efforts of Astra Lucerne and her forces, but local warlords continue to vie for control. The emperor, down but not out, has a plan to strike back and eliminate Astra and her resistance. Meanwhile, her general, the former imperial Arkarin Blackhawk, bides his time—though his heart belongs to his commander, his conditioning makes him volatile. In order to help her save the Far Stars, he’ll have to put his self-control to the test.

Black from the Future: A Collection of Black Speculative Writing, edited by Stephanie Andrea Allen and Lauren Cherelle
Inspired by voices of writers like Octavia Butler, Jewelle Gomez, Nalo Hopkinson, and N.K. Jemisin, this anthology offers 22 weird and fantastical pieces of prose and poetry—spanning horror, science fiction, magical realism, and fantasy—that explore ideas of Afro- and African-futurism. With contributions from bold established and rising voices among Black women writers, there’s something for everyone among the diverse assortment of stories here.

The Cruel Stars, by John Birmingham
Centuries ago, a group of human genetic purists known as the Sturm waged a war to destroy any humans guilty of genetic manipulation or cybernetic augmentation. They came very close to destroying any human civilization that wasn’t “pure,” but were eventually defeated and driven into the distant reaches of the universe. Now they’re back, launching a devastating surprise attack that leaves humanity teetering on the brink. The only thing standing in their way is a rag-tag group: an untested military ship with a new captain, a bunch of low-down pirates, a princess, a criminal without a body, and a hero of the first war against the Sturm, as determined as ever to defeat his ancient foe. The gritty story of their survival is ideally pitched to fans of the character-focused realism of James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series.

Turning Darkness into Light, by Marie Brennan
This standalone novel set within the fantastically beastly world of Marie Brennan’s much-admired Memoir’s of Lady Trent series focuses on Audrey Camherst, Lady Trent’s granddaughter. Like her grandmother, Audrey is equally determined to push past the societal limits imposed on her gender, and is excited to translate several ancient Draconean tablets found by the shallow, ambitious Lord Gleinheigh. With the help of her childhood friend Kudhsayn, and under the watchful eye of Gleinheim’s niece Cora, Audrey’s work is told in a series of letters and journal entries, and via the translations themselves—work that will have a stunning effect on the world, as Audrey, Kudshayn, and Cora uncover evidence of a terrible conspiracy. It’s a welcome return to a world we thought we’d left behind.

Lies of Descent, by Troy Carrol Bucher
Troy Carrol Bucher’s debut epic fantasy focuses on the experience of two children, Riam and Nola. A thousand years ago, the Fallen Gods’ war brought an army across the ocean, leaving the continent of Draegora empty and abandoned. Since then, the occupying force has ruled their new world uncontested. When Riam and Nola are found to have Draegoran blood flowing through their veins, they are torn violently from their homes to be trained as warriors. Riam, whose home life was abusive and awful, welcomes this chance at seizing a measure of power, hoping to use it to protect others. Nola resents being taken from her happy life. But both will soon find their paths taking unexpected turns.

Parable of the Talents, by Octavia E. Butler
The second and final novel of the late, great Butler’s shockingly prescient, sadly truncated Earthseed saga gets a new edition. The novel tells the story of two generations of women: in 2032, a young woman of color has formed a community and family around outcasts in the face of persecution from the country’s new, ultra-conservative president (His slogan? “Make America great again.”) By her very existence, Lauren Olamina has become a target and a figurehead, the face of everything President Jarret opposes. Years later, Lauren’s daughter Asha Vere the diary of a mother she never knew, hoping to understand why the woman she needed while growing up dedicated her life to fighting battles on behalf of others. It’s a dystopian novel that manages to maintain a sense of hope, as Olamina’s faith and philosophy guide her family into an uncertain future.

Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories, edited by Ellen Datlow
Legendary editor Ellen Datlow collects a Murderer’s Row of authors for this collection of terrifying, haunting, unsettling, and wildly differing takes on the tradition of ghost stories. With twenty-nine tales on offer, there’s something for every ghost story fan. Contributors include Seanan McGuire (the spooky carnival tale “Must Be This Tall To Ride”), A.C. Wise (“The Ghost Sequences” is a walk though an art installation that only gets stranger the deeper in your proceed), and Pat Cadigan (“About the O’Dells” concerns a girl who is haunted by forgotten memories of a murder, and perhaps something more), alongside Richard Kadrey, Joyce Carol Oates, and Alice Hoffman, among many others. With Datlow at the helm, there’s little doubt about the quality of the fiction herein.

Last Ones Left Alive, by Sarah Davis-Goff
Orpen had an almost pastoral upbringing on an empty island on the west coast of Ireland with only her mam and Maeve—an idyllic life, save for her harsh training to prepare for incursions by the zombie-like skrake. When her mam dies and Maeve is bitten, Orpen embarks on a journey through a ruined mainland Ireland to find the mythic Phoenix City. With its vivid sense of place and introspective journey through the beautiful, terrible ruins of the modern world, Last One Left Alive invites comparisons to The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

Our War, by Craig DiLouie
In an alternate United States (one that less “alternate” with every passing day), the president sets off a brutal civil war by refusing to step down when his term ends. In Indianapolis, 10-year old Hannah is all alone, believing her brother Alex is dead. As the war rages, she takes up the Free Women militia seeking refuge and purpose; her experience with these brave women inspires her to want to join the fight directly. Unbeknownst to Hannah, Alex is alive and being forced to fight for the rebels, who will kill him if he refuses. Meanwhile, a coalition seeks to rescue the child soldiers from a war they had no part in starting, but which they suffer from disproportionately. DiLouie brings depth to his dark vision of America with a stories that draws parallels to the sad reality of conscripted children fighting in real wars around the world today.

Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples, by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran
When hearing Neil Gaiman has penned his take on the story of Snow White, faithful readers should know better than to expect the Disney-fied version of the fairy tale, especially given that the story’s roots run far deeper (and darker) than many sanitized, modern retellings would imply. Here, Gaiman and artist Colleen Doran shift the focus from stepdaughter Snow to the long-suffering stepmother, imagining the story from the point-of-view of the “villain,” a queen determined to save her kingdom from the young woman that she can only see as a monster. This graphic novel adaption of the short story is gorgeously, chillingly illustrated.

The Warehouse, by Rob Hart
Rob Hart, best known for the Ash McKenna series, offers up a chilling and plausible vision of our corporate-run future, lurking the logical end of our current drive towards deregulation and privatization. After taking over the Federal Aviation Administration from the government, a familiar mega-corporation known as Cloud dominates commerce and labor to a frightening extent. In essence, the world has been turned into a huge open-air mall… run by Cloud. It is in this future where three stories converge: that of Gibson Wells, the dying founder of the company, who defends his legacy; Paxton, a former competitor turned Cloud employee living and working at one of the company’s self-sustaining facilities; and Zinnia, a corporate spy who sees Paxton as an asset and uses his attraction to her in pursuit of her own ends. Detailed worldbuilding makes this one feel nightmarish and all too real, but the thrilling plot keeps you turning pages anyway.

Meet Me in the Future, by Kameron Hurley
Kameron Hurley has emerged as one of the best and brightest writers in modern SFF, winning a Hugo for her non-fiction and being shortlisted for the Hugo, Nebula, and plenty of other awards for her fiction. This new collection brings together 16 short stories that are as much about breaking rules and subverting tropes as entertaining the reader. Hurley tackles your assumptions about military SF (“The Red Secretary”), monster hunting (“The War of Heroes”), and identity (“The Fisherman and the Pig”) among many other things, all rendered with the author’s evident skill and grim imagination. (One of the stories, “Garda,” is a novelette that was first published on this blog.)

What new sci-fi & fantasy is on your to-read list this week?

Follow B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy