This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: The Alchemist’s Daughter, Pocket Dimensions, and Interoffice Politics of the Gods

The Management Style of the Supreme Beings, by Tom Holt
It doesn’t get much more high-concept than Holt’s new novel, in which the Supreme Being—yes, that Supreme Being—and his son decide to retire and move on, taking a host of lesser gods with them (but, as it happens, not all of them—one rotund fellow living in the North Pole stays behind, for example). The new management, the Venturi Brothers, have new management techniques, and abolish good and evil, right and wrong. This doesn’t sit well with everyone—including the jolly guy up north, who’s used to making lists of naughty and nice.

Shattered Minds, by Laura Lam
Carina is a mentally broken—literally, a neuroscientist purposefully driving her to hit rock bottom via an addiction to Zeal, a drug that causes users to enter a dreamscape world realer than any virtual reality simulation. They say only those with a propensity for violence can become addicted to Zeal, and it is used by the government as an unofficial method crime control. While in her Zealscape, Carina is contacted by a former colleague and friend, Mark, to help bring down Sudice, the company responsible for the drug, Carina’s broken mind, and so many other reprehensible crimes, and he soon introduces her to the anti-Sudice group known as the Trust. This standalone thriller, set in the same world as last year’s False Hearts, is part futuristic sci-fi thriller, part mystery, and part psychological potboiler, presenting a frighteningly plausible vision of a biotech future in which advances in science allow the human body to be manipulated without the subject ever being aware it’s happening..

Perilous Prophecy: A Strangely Beautiful Novel, by Leanna Renee Hieber
The goddess Persephone, imprisoned within the darkness of the Whisper-world—a place born of the misery of humankind—is only able to travel to the mortal world for brief restorative periods. To maintain the Balance, a Guard is chosen to fend off the dark tendrils of the Whisper-world. Each cycle a new Guard is chosen, a group of mortals in a different time and city. The latest round occurs in Cairo in the 1860s, as Persephone’s murdered love, Phoenix, and five loyal muses—Heart, Intuition, Memory, Art, and a Healer—have possessed six mortals in order to serve as the Guard. Beatrice Smith, chosen by Phoenix, and thus the Guard leader, must cast aside self-doubt and become someone her new-found companions can depend upon. Her second-in-command, Ibrahim—Intuition’s chosen vessel—is a source of compelling strength for them all. Now able to see the ghosts infesting Cairo, the Guard must work quickly to master their gifts and prepare for the coming darkness, for an ancient prophecy has been set in motion.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, by Theodora Goss
In a brilliant mash-up of classic horror and sci-fi tales and characters, with an added steampunk twist, Goss’s debut novel expands on an earlier short story to tell the tale of Mary Jekyll, daughter of the famed Dr. Jekyll. Impoverished, she hires detective Sherlock Holmes to track down the man who murdered her father—the monstrous Mr. Hyde. Holmes is distracted by the serial killings in Whitechapel, a parallel investigation that leads both him and Mary to other daughters of infamous men: Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappacini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein. With an unwaveringly entertaining narrative voice, Goss imbues each woman with agency and personality, crafting a story in which each can pursue her own destiny as they wrestle with their singularly odd pasts and odd families.

Transformation, by James Gunn
The next novel in the an expansive space opera series from science fiction Grandmaster James Gunn, following Transgalactic. Disillusioned ex-soldier Riley and his companion Asha, once kept captive by a race that believed humans were a dangerous threat, have discovered the Transcendental Machine, which has altered them into something beyond human, and saved the Machine itself from the threat of destruction by an A.I. Now they must fight to save the Federation itself from an ancient threat beyond time. Gunn writes widescreen “sensawunda” space opera that never feels old fashioned; though he’s in his 90s, this trilogy is never any less than cutting edge.

The Last Good Man, by Linda Nagata
In the near future, Private Military Corporations (PMCs) are the face of warfare across much of the globe. The world’s superpowers still have standing armies and wield military force, but it is the use of PMCs, often with official, if not tacit, sanction, that defines war in the mid-21st century. Meanwhile, warfare has continued to evolve through the use of drones and autonomous weapons, extrapolated from the RQ-11 and Reapers of today. No PMC—no regular army—would dream of going into the field without drones to scout the terrain and watch for and counter threats. Increasingly, these machines are full partners in combat, as important to taking out the enemy as much as the actual soldiers—or, perhaps, much more important. When the aftermath of a  tricky rescue operation in the Middle East’s pursues her back to the United States, True Brighton, an Army veteran and now member of PMC Requisite Operations, is confronted with the future of autonomous warfare and the cost of pursuing the truth—especially when that truth is a gun pointed into her own past. It is a truth that may put her at odds with the company she works for and believes in. Nagata (The Red trilogy) is a master at this sort of near-future techno-thriller—military sci-fi so prescient, it barely feels like fiction at all.

Mapping the Interior, by Stephen Graham Jones
This slim, disturbing horror novelette was haunt you beyond any measure of its slim page count. In his own home, late at night, a teenage Native American boy thinks he sees his long-lost father, who died shortly after the family left the reservation, stepping impossibly through a doorway. He follows, and finds his house is hardly the sensible, logical home he thought it was. It is a house…not of horrors, exactly, but of a wrongness that itches like a bug under the skin. The boy’s efforts to explore and chart the interior unleashes a power that puts his family in danger—and putting things right again may require a terrible sacrifice.

 

Kangaroo Too, by Curtis C. Chen
The followup to last year’s Waypoint Kangaroo, a fast-paced sci-fi spy romp about Evan Rogers, an intergalactic government agent with access to a pocket universe in which he can store and retreive virtually any item. When Rogers’ ship is attacked by a reprogrammed mining robot, an investigation reveals a retired miner may be the only one who can finger the culprit. But the miner, who is known only as Clementine, says he’ll only deal with Jessica Chu, who happens to be Kangaroo’s own doctor. But when Jessica is arrested for murder amid a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Moon landing, Kangaroo’s job becomes a lot more complicated—per usual.Smart science and a crackerjack mystery combine to make this one of the most enjoyable escapist reads of the year so far.

Down Station, by Simon Morden
The Philip K. Dick Award-winning author of the Samiul Petrovitch series returns with something entirely different: a portal fantasy story only masquerading as science fiction (or is it the other way around?). A group of London subway workers fleeing a terrible fire are somehow transported into a primitive alternate world filled with mythic monsters. There, some discover they are gifted with fantastic abilities—glum track cleaner Mary can suddenly cause entire castles to sprout from the earth—while others face terrible trials—Dalip must defend his life as a pit fighter without betraying his religous ideals. Getting home will mean pooling their abilities and trusting their destinies—to a grand quest, of course. There’s a map and everything. A fascinating setting and well-shaped characters make this another standout novel from a celebrated talent.

The Asylum of Dr. Caligari, by James Morrow
Morrow crafts a plot that takes every unexpected twist and turn possible in less than 200 pages. It starts with the quietly mediocre farm boy Francis Wyndham, and his life-changing visit in 1913 to an exhibition of modern art. Wyndham heads to Paris and sets himself up as a North American gypsy folk artist. He fails to get much attention for his work, but is offered a job at an art therapist at an asylum run by the mysterious Dr. Caligari. Wyndham soon learns that Caligari viewed World War I as a work of art, and has created a painting imbued with strange and disturbing powers that can drive anyone who looks upon it to do his bidding. Wyndham finds it’s up to him—and a ragtag bag of misfits—to fight back against the doctor’s monstrous plans to profit at the world’s expense.

Seek and Destroy, by William C. Dietz
Dietz’s second America Rising novel dives back in to a world sent spiraling into chaos by a catastrophic meteor shower and a country gripped by ruthless civil war. As president Sloan struggles to hold the Union together and the New Confederacy tries to establish a new world order based on profit and power, Union Army Captain Robin Macintyre is ordered to put down a rogue ex-Green Beret who has made the West his personal domain. When Mac discovers he’s being assisted by none other than her own sister, Confederate Major Victoria Macintyre, the confrontation is inevitable. When it comes in the streets of war-torn New Orleans, it’s a fight to the death—even as the larger conflict rages around them.

Empire of Time, by Daniel Godfrey
In Daniel Godfrey’s New Pompeii, a nefarious near-future corporation (is there any other kind?) harnessed the powers of time travel to bring the residents of the doomed city of Pompeii forward in time mere minutes before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, transporting them to an exact replica of the city, and planning to keep them ignorant of their circumstances in order to exploit them in any way possible. But the ancient Romans proved wilier than expected, and fought back, wresting control of time travel technology and threatening to use it as a weapon if anyone attempts to enter their recreated home. Historical scholar-turned Roman citizen Decimus Horatius Pullus is the only modern-day person who knows it’s just an empty threat—the Pompeiians can’t make time travel work. But then someone from outside the city walls offers to help them do it—but why? Can they be trusted, when there are those who want to destroy New Pompeii for permitting slavery? And how to explain the ancient artifact carved with Nick’s name? This fast-moving techno-thriller series reads like a reincarnation of Michael Crichton at his best.

Dark Immolation, by Christopher Husberg
Book two of the Chaos Queen series, following Duskfall. The prophet Jane Oden is gathering new followers to her religion, but her sister Cinzia fears Jane may doom them all.They are being hunted by officials from the Church and a group of assassins, and their allies are off seeking their own answers. Meanwhile, beyond the Blood Gates, a new enemy is making terrible plans, plans that require the unusual powers of one woman. This is dark fantasy of the highest order, telling an expansive story across a truly epic canvas.

What new books are you reading this week?

Follow B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy