This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Quantum Heists, Violent Queens, and Timewalkers

The Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2018, edited by JohnJoseph Adams and N.K. Jemisin
The fourth installment of this newer annual anthology series once again sees returning editor John Joseph Adams paired with an established author in the genre to serve as guest editor. This year, the honor falls to N.K. Jemisin, and we can’t think of a better choice to represent the best short SFF of the past year than the author who just snagged her third consecutive Best Novel Hugo award. This year’s TOC includes a host of names that will be familiar to anyone who reads short spec fic, from Tobias S. Buckell (whose “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance” has been collected in nearly every year’s best anthology out there), to Charlie Jane Anders (“Don’t Press Charges and I Won’t Sue,” the winner of the Theodore Sturgeon Award), to Peter Watts (“zeroS”), to Maria Dahvana Headley (“Black Powder”), as well as up-and-coming writers A. Merc Rustad and Micah Dean Hicks.

Street Freaks, by Terry Brooks
Terry Brooks has been buried deep in the universe of Shannara for so long, it’s big news when he publishes something outside of that series. The fact that he would choose to write a sci-fi novel might seem strange for someone so linked to epic fantasy, but then again, under the fantasy trappings, Shannara is a secret sci-fi setting of sorts. Here, Brooks imagines a futuristic world where robots enforce the law and adults twist their children with technology to the point where they’re no longer considered human. Ash Collins receives a warning from his scientist father moments before his apartment is raided and flees to the Red Zone where the Street Freaks work on their sleek rides and sharpen their hacking skills. This is a crisply written dystopian thriller from an old master.

Kill the Queen, by Jennifer Estep
Estep, best known for her wildly popular urban fantasies like the Elemental Assassin series, branches out into epic fantasy with the first of a new series set in a world where your social value is determined by your magical ability. Since Lady Everleigh of Bellona is not only 17th in line for the royal throne, but shows absolutely no magical ability whatsoever, she’s regarded as a non-entity, ignored and largely forgotten. Unfortunately for her, when her cousin Vasilia stages a violent coup and seizes the throne, she does not forget Evie, who only survives because her magical gift is actually an immunity to magic. Joining a gladiator troupe to escape the palace and hide from Vasilia’s spies, Evie trains as a warrior and prepares for the day when she can exact her revenge and kill the queen. Estep brings many urban fantasy touches to this story, giving it a modern edge that sets it apart in a crowded genre.

An Easy Death, by Charlaine Harris
Charlaine Harris made her name with the Sookie Stackhouse stories that were the basis for HBO’s True Blood, and followed that up with the Midnight, Texas trilogy, which also birthed a TV show. Now, she launches a whole new series about another kick-butt lady, and it seems a safe bet this one will eventually make it to the screen too. Lizbeth “Gunnie” Rose is a bodyguard and gunslinger in an alternate America shattered by the assassination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, wracked by poverty, and infused by magic—though magic is  generally distrusted and discouraged. After Gunnie’s team is wiped out in a job gone bad, she’s desperate enough to take work from a pair of Russian wizards searching for one of their own, Oleg Karkarov, who might be a descendant of Grigori Rasputin himself, and thus the key to the tsar’s survival. It quickly becomes apparent to Gunnie that this will be her hardest job yet, but Harris makes it go down easy, bringing together a fiesty lead, strong worldbuilding, and fast-paced plotting.

Zero Sum Game, by S.L. Huang
It’s difficult to live up to the label “Renaissance woman,” but S.L. Huang certainly seems qualified to do so: she has been a professional stuntwoman and weapons expert, she holds a degree from MIT, and, oh yeah, she’s written a great debut sci-fi novel. Zero Sum Game follows Cass Russell, a math genius whose ability to calculate aides her like a superpower in her mercenary work. Cass is used to thinking circles around everyone—until she discovers someone who can literally control minds. Her first instinct is to steer clear of bad odds, but she’s haunted by the possibility that her thoughts are no longer her own. Huang brings excess verisimilitude to the story, effortlessly selling the idea of a kick-butt math genius—because she basically is a kick-butt math genius.

Time’s Children, by D.B. Jackson
Tobias is a Walker, gifted with the ability to travel through time, to the detriment of his own lifespan. Trained by the Academy of Travelers, he awaits the day he’ll be given a contract to work for one of the many royal courts. But his appointment to the Sovereign of the kingdom of Daerjen comes at a cost: a mission that will send him on a near-fatal walk 15 years into the past to avert a war that threatens to consume the world. Fearing a loss, the opposing side likewise sends a crew of military travelers back to wipe Tobias and the Sovereign off the face of the earth. Meanwhile, in a totalitarian future created by both sides’ meddling, Mara, Tobias’ former childhood friend, senses something is off about the world around her and sets out with the aid of a time demon to save history, and possibly the world. Jackson (who also writes as D.B. Coe) begins a series that imaginatively blends time travel tropes with a flintlock fantasy setting.

The Quantum Magician, by Derek Künsken
Belisarius is a quantum thief (but not that one) genetically engineered with super senses that give him an awareness of quantum realms. Determined not to fall prey to the addictive qualities of his gift, he works as a small time con man, but his latest job—transporting warships through a wormhole—will take every skill he possesses. He’ll also need a crew of other augmented humans to help him pull it off. This brainy sci-fi heist novel uses mathematics like magic to pull you through a caper worthy of Jean-Pierre Melville.

The Way of the Shield, by Marshall Maresca 
Across seven previous novels, Maresca has created a fantastic character in the city of Maradaine, the setting for three linked series exploring all walks of life in his imagined metropolis. To these, and a fourth: this is the first book of the Maradine Elite, following the highly trained group of warriors that once stood in defense of the common people, but are now generally regarded as a symbolic power.  Dayne Heldrin dreamed for years of becoming one of the Elite Orders of Druthal, but after a failed rescue, his future with the order is in doubt. Meanwhile, his beloved city is in turmoil, with violence and revolution in the air. In one fast-paced, funny, highly readable novel after another, Maresca continues to build out every nook and alleyway of Maradaine, which is fast becoming one of the most richly detailed settings in fantasy.

Dragon’s Code, by Gigi McCaffrey
When Anne McCaffery passed away in 2011, it seemed to signal the end of the beloved Dragonriders of Pern series, but now, her daughter Gigi—who collaborated with her mother on several writing projects—is keeping the legacy alive with a new adventure on the world of Pern. Released to honor the 50th anniversary of Dragonflight, this story focuses on Piemur, a journeyman harper who is grieving over the impact growing up has had on his beautiful voice. The Masterharper sees something in the young man, however, and sends him on a mission to the exiled Oldtimers—the dragonriders who came from the past to save Pern from the Thread and found it impossible to adjust to their new lives. Bitter and angry, the Oldtimers live apart, but when Piemur arrives in their midst, he discovers clues that hint at a coming threat worse even than the Thread—the possibility of war between the dragons. Though there will never be another Anne McCaffrey, Gigi does her mother’s creation proud.

Priest of Bones, by Peter McLean
McLean (Drake) begins a new grimdark fantasy series that promises to be bloody good fun. Tomas Piety was once a crime lord in the city of Ellinburgh, but he found religion and went off to fight for god, forming a company known as the Pious Men. When he returns to Ellinburgh, he finds everything changed—his people are ruined, and a foreign power runs the city, and he and the Pious Men have their work cut out for them if they want to reclaim what was once his. McLean studies martial arts (and magic!) and brings that expertise to his fights scenes; those visceral affairs are but one highlight of this fantasy take on The Godfather, which also features punchy prose and a likable crew of gruff fighting companions.

An Uncompromising Honor, by David Weber
Weber’s long-running Honor Harrington series is often described as “Horatio Hornblower in space,” and that’s high praise indeed. Aside from the obvious military inspirations, Weber has also infused his series with the sort of realistic character development over time that made the Hornblower stories (as well as Weber’s other obvious inspiration, O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series) so beloved. Over almost 20 novels, Honor has slowly evolved from the brilliant but inexperienced junior officer to the highest levels of command in the Star Kingdom of Manticore’s fleet. In this installment, the first in five years, the Solarian League is sliding towards unthinkable defeat as technological stagnation and widespread corruption leech the empire of its strength, and Harrington must proceed cautiously in order to avoid atrocities and the law of unexpected consequences. But when the desperate League resorts to brutal, unthinkable tactics, Harrington is pushed until she breaks—and decides to show the League and its ruling Mandarins just how horrible war can be.

Exit Strategy, by Martha Wells
Wells has been a beloved but under-read voice in fantasy for two decades, which is why it is so gratifying to see the success she’s having with the bestselling, and now, Hugo- and Nebula-winning Murderbot Diaries novella series, which follow a rogue Security Unit cyborg that has hacked its governor module and gained sentience and free will—and given itself the (mostly ironic) name Murderbot. This fourth and final novella (a full-length novel arrives next year) finds Murderbot close to getting the goods on the evil corporation GrayCris. When it learns that its former owner/possible friend Dr. Mensch is under threat, Murderbot doesn’t understand its own urge to save him. Wells’ explorations of free will and the question of what, exactly, makes us human remain fascinating, and the snarky narrative voice—and the murder-y mayhem—that peppers the story as it marches toward to a bracing conclusion are as fun as always.

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