This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Chinese Science Fiction, Sentient Drugs, and a #@&%-ing Weird Anthology

this week's new sci-fi & fantasyWith 17 new sci-fi and fantasy books arriving on shelves this week, there’s no time to waste…here’s what’s new.

Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation, by Ken Liu
In the year since Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem picked up the Hugo Award for Best Novel, English-speaking readers have enjoyed an influx of SF-in-translation from China. Translator/editor Ken Liu (who has translated two of Cixin Liu’s novels) delivers perhaps the most essential volume yet: a collection of 13 science fiction stories by Chinese writers, along with three perceptive, instructive essays about the significance of SF within Chinese culture. The stories range from award-winning previously translated pieces to Liu’s personal favorites, including recent Hugo winner “Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang. In short, these are some of the best stories from a culture many readers will find unfamiliar—and the unfamiliar is what SF is all about.

The Burning Isle, by Will Panzo
High fantasy has a tendency to ponder and observe, recording the results in great detail. Will Panzo’s debut, The Burning Isle, is not that kind of fantasy. It has mages and criminals, and assassins and astounding magic, but this grimdark tale is less interested in verbosity than what’s left unsaid. Perhaps a credit to Panzo’s past as a Marvel Comics editor, the storytelling style is unique, like a graphic novel turned prose, stiched together from moments in time, with key sequences occurring off the page. The style serves to reinforce the perspective of Cassius, a powerful spellcaster who’s just arrived in Scipio, a lawless island ruled by dueling warlords. Cassius’ motives remain murky, interspersed with scenes from his deliberately mysterious past. “A man has only three reasons for being anywhere: to right a wrong, to earn a coin, or because he is lost,” Panzo muses. Which of those is behind Cassius’ arrival in this haven for criminals and exiles? The answer remains unclear until the closing chapters of this fast-paced, turbulent novel.

The Weaver, by Emmi Itaranta
Eliana is a member of the Guild of Weavers, the most prestigious guild on the Island. She’s also one of the few islanders who can dream, an ability punished with imprisonment and ostracization from the community. Eliana hides her secrets well, until the day she comes across a young injured woman outside the guild’s house, rendered mute by her horrific wounds—and with Eliana’s name tattooed on her palm. As Eliana cares for the young woman, she is drawn into a web of mystery and corruption that will uncover buried secrets of the Island’s past, and plunge her into danger. The second novel from the Finnish author Emmi Itäranta (The Memory of Water), The Weaver is an multilayered dystopian delight.

Shadow of Victory, by David Weber
Our second pick from David Weber returns to the Honorverse with a book loaded with reveals, betrayals, and surprises. The Mesan Alignment has been secretly trying to guide evolution to remake humanity according to its own plans. The Star Empire of Manticore stands in the way of this complex conspiracy, forcing the Alignment to engineer not just a war, but an entire campaign of chaos and subterfuge to bring the Star Empire to its knees, an event that could change the Honorverse forever.

Shadowed Souls, by Jim Butcher and Kerrie L. Hughes
Butcher and Hughes offer up a kickass anthology of urban fantasy featuring some of the best names in the genre. With stories from Butcher, Rob Thurman, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Tanya Huff, Jim C. Hines, Seanan McGuire, and more, it’s a can’t-lose proposition made even better by the appearance of some of your favorite characters. Butcher’s “Cold Case” opens the anthology in grand style with a momentous case for Lady Molly, a familiar face from The Dresden Files novels; other standouts include stories set in the worlds of Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series and Tanya Huff’s Vicki Nelson. It’s a must-read collection for any fan of urban fantasy.

The Operative, by Gerald Brandt
Brandt’s supercharged sequel to The Courier continues the cyberpunk fun of the San Angeles series. Having survived the worst delivery of her life, megacity courier Kris Merrill has been training with the resistance, learning the skills she’ll need to be an Operator like Ian Miller, the man who helped keep her alive. Just as her training is ending, the resistance compound is attacked, and Kris and her fellow trainees are thrust into the fight, ready or not. When Ian is captured, Kris makes it her mission to rescue him, encountering unexpected twists and unexpected allies along the way. Brandt fleshes out an all-too-possible future of crushing poverty and corporate control, and the complex heroine who will lead us through to a better future.

To Green Angel Tower, by Tad Williams
This reissued third volume in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series, which George R.R. Martin has credited in part for inspiring A Song of Ice and Fire, serves as a great reminder why this trilogy was so influential in the first place. Newly available in a single trade paperback (the mass market version was famously split into two books due to size restrictions), the rerelease of this final volume offers a great opportunity to rediscover a trilogy that came to define the modern epic fantasy, in which the lines between hero and villain are blurry, and morality exists in shades of grey. The first two books, The Dragonbone Chair and Stone of Farewell, were released earlier this year; a sequel, The Heart of What was Lost, publishes in January.

What the #@&% Is That? The Saga Anthology of the Monstrous and the Macabre, by John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen (November 1, Saga Press—Hardcover and paperback)
This particularly clever horror collection pivots on a shared line of dialogue—the anthology’s title, with the grawlix replaced by a four-letter curse word of the author’s choosing, appears in every story. With contributions from Seanan McGuire, Laird Barron, and John Langan, among dozens of others, the admittedly off-the-wall setup results in a collection of tales that are clever, chilling, and #@&%ing weird, starting from the dedication page (“For Cthulhu”) on.

Binary Storm, by Christopher Hinz (November 1, Angry Robot—Paperback)
Hinz’s new novel is a prequel to his 1987 work Liege-Killer, but also serves as an excellent standalone novel. In the future, Earth has been devastated by environmental disaster and the scourge of runaway technology, chiefly the Binaries, assassins genetically engineered to be a single consciousness sharing two physical bodies. Binaries are controlled by an “alpha breed” called the Royal Caste, and opposed by a combat team assembled by programmer Nick Smith and Annabel Bakana, the leader of E-Tech, an organization dedicated to eliminating runaway technology that threatens human survival. The leader of the Binary-hunting team, however, is an agent of chaos, obsessed with Annabel, whose rash actions might just give the Royal Caste the upper hand in the war. This is a fast-paced future thriller that delivers on the promise of its high-concept premise.

Unquiet Land, by Sharon Shinn
In the latest novel in the Elemental Blessings series, Leah Frothen returns home, and to a life she tried to forget but must now rebuild. Too soon, however, she’s pulled back into her life as a spy by Darien Serlast, the man who first recruited her. She’d rather settle intoher life as a shopowner and attempt to reconnect with her estranged daughter, but the assignment, spying on a group of visiting ambassadors, might be too much to resist—quite literally, as she soon finds herself falling again for a former lover and falling into friendship with a foreign woman.

Dominion, by Peter MacLean
Demon-plagued hitman Don Drake is on another assignment in the second Burned Man novel, following January’s Drake. Beneath London, magical elementals are dying at the hands of a force known as the Rotman, and Drake is the only one who might be able to figure out why, and put a stop to it. Unfortunately for Drake, doing so will mean going head-to-head with an archdemon who spreads disease and decay wherever it goes—which, come to think of it, also spells bad news for the rest of London. Fans of Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim will dig this series about another hellish antihero.

Curse on the Land, by Faith Hunter
Hunter’s second Soulwood novel this year continues an adventure set in the same universe as her popular Jane Yellowrock series. Nell Ingram is a new agent within PsyLED, the organization tasked with keeping the world safe from paranormal threats. Now a fully-trained member of the team, Nell returns to the woods where she grew up, where she has always felt a strange connection to the land. Except now, the woods feel wrong. There is an unquiet in the land, and it’s now Nell’s responsibility to figure out what is responsible, and how to stop it.

The Burning Light, by Bradley P. Beaulieu and Rob Ziegler
This co-authored novella deposits us in a dark future and a flooded, abandoned New York City, two centuries from now. There’s a new drug wreaking havoc on the streets—Light, a sort of sentient chemical compound that infects users and disconnects them from the human mind-network that has become essential to survival in this future. Col. Melody Chu has lost her entire family to the substance, and is determined to eliminate it at any cost. Former pilot-turned-Light junkie Zola tries to resist the addiction and stay one step ahead of government troops, but the Light seems to have a will of its own, and a particular use for her. An elegant example of economic world-building and a fast-paced action thriller, it’s exactly as long as it needs to be—and leaves you jonseing for more.

The Lost Child of Lychford, by Paul Cornell
Paul Cornell’s second Lychford novella rturnes to the quiet English village when the magic and the mundane intermingle. After fending off literal evil in the form of an invading big box retailer in The Witches of Lychford, Lizzie Blackmore, newly installed as the Reverend of St. Martin’s Church, faces another crisis of faith when she begins to experience visions of a small boy lurking within the church. Whether the figure is a ghost or a herald of coming darkness, Lizzie is going to need help to figure out what is going on. Luckily, she can always turn to local oddball/undercover witch Judith Mawson and Autumn Blunstone, proprietor of the local magic shop. Just don’t call them a coven.

Willful Child: The Wrath of Betty, by Steven Erikson
If you think Star Trek is due for a bit of a piss-take, this is the book for you—hardly what we expected from the author of mammoth epic fantasy series The Malazan Book of the Fallen, but we’ll take it. In the second voyage of the Starship Willful Child, sexist, racist, borderline-incompetent Captain Hadrian Sawbuck is stepping in it once again, leaning even further toward Zap Brannigan and away from James T. Kirk. This time around, he must fight to keep his ship stay in the good graces of a pair of interlopers from high command—the suave Captain Hans Olo (try saying it out loud) and Field Agent Rand Humblenot, sent to keep Sawbuck in line. Fat chance. Fans of Erikson’s signature dense world-building need not apply—this series is about as serious as a Mad Magazine parody, and at least twice as funny.

Den of Wolves, by Juliet Marillier
The third novel in Marillier’s rich, imaginative Blackthorn & Grim fantasy series returns to the Irish kingdom of Dalriada. Bound by an enchantment, magical healer Blackthorn is forced to assist anyone who requests her aid—which means she must agree to safeguard a troubled young girl newly arrived at court, while her companion Grim is employed by her father to build a heartwood house deep in the woods, for a mysterious purpose. But when Blackthorn again encounters the cruel king who slaughtered her husband and child, she must decide if vengeance takes precedence over her friendship with Grim—or the life of an innocent girl.

An Import of Intrigue, by Marshall Ryan Maresca
The second novel in the Maradaine Constabulary series is another addictive blend of fantasy, mystery, and urban fantasy, set in the same bustling city as Maresca’s magical underworld adventure The Thorn of Dentonhill. A foreign dignitary is murdered in the disreputable neighborhood of Little East, and the Constabulary’s blackest sheep, disgraced fraud Satrine Rainey and bumbling mage Minox Welling, and tasked with solving it. With all the evidence too conveniently engineered to incite a culture clash among the disparate residents of Little East, the unfortunate pair must solve the crime before it sparks an inferno that will consume the city. 

Isra-Isle, by Nava Semel and Jessica Cohen
In three time periods, this fascinating alternate history tale imagines what would have happened if the Jewish people had settled on an island located near the border of United States an Canada—a scenario based in historical fact, as a man named Mordecai Manuel Noah did unsuccessfully attempt to establish such a settlement in the early 19th century. Co-writers Semel and Cohen imagine how history might have turned if Noah’s plan had come to fruition, jumping between the story of Isra-Isle’s founding, a detective narrative in the 2001 of our world, and an imagined timeline in which the Israeli city is as bustling as Manhattan and its female governor is mounting a campaign for president of the United States.

What are you reading this week?

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