This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Alien Symbionts, Zombie Politics, and Gone-Away Gods

WJWThe first week of October kicks off the last quarter of 2016 at a frantic pace. Here are 17 new titles to cram onto your shelves, including the first novel in six years from perennial Hugo winner Connie Willis, already enough to ensure it’s one of the best weeks of the year for SFF readers.

Crosstalk, by Connie Willis
Connie Willis’s first book in six years is a delightful return to the farcical antics and screwball romance ofRemake and Bellwether—and like those books, beneath a fluffy exterior of quipping characters and madcap action, it engages with serious SFnal ideas. This time around, she’s considering the ways the ubiquitous, instant communication afforded to us by cell phones and the internet is changing society, filtered through the lens of a signature Connie Willis protagonist: Briddey Flannigan, employee of a struggling tech company looking for the next communications breakthrough that will allow it to compete with Apple, who gets more than she bargained for when she agrees to undergo a poorly understood medical procedure intended to give her an empathetic connection with her boyfriend Trent, one of her company’s top executives. Instead of feeling what Trent feels, she wakes up hearing the every thought of C.B., the antisocial engineer who works in the basement and is less than surprised to hear voices in his head—and her accidental abilities may have terrifying implications for the world at large. Surrounding this bickering oil-and-water pair are a host of lovable oddballs, from Briddey’s feisty niece Maeve to her interfering Aunt Oona, who just wants to see her marry a foine Irish lad. You’ll happily devour all 498 pages, and hope the next one doesn’t take another six years.

The Rise of Io, by Wesley Chu
Chu returns to the universe of the Tao with a decidedly fresh take on the aliens-in-human-hosts action. Set largely in an Indian city on the edges of a demilitarized zone administered by body-swapping aliens, the story takes place in a world broken by the recent revelation that two alien races had been living with humanity, undetected, for centuries—a fact that only came to light when the conflict broke out into planet-shattering warfare. Ella, a bold thief and smuggler, encounters a woman being attacked and killed—and unwittingly inherits Io, the alien presence that had been occupying her body. Io’s very old, and has been involved in many of the the most horrific chapters in Earth’s part. Now, it’s Ella who must come to terms with hearing Io’s voice in her head as she helps the ancient symbiont investigate a series of murders that are threatening the fragile peace this new world order has established—a mission compromised by Io’s own inferiority complex and survival instinct.

Savant, by Nik Abnett
In the future, humanity is protected from a hostile universe by The Shield, a vast protective barrier that encicrcles the Earth, powerered by the psychic energies of the Actives, human savants with exceptional abilities. The integrity of The Shield is threatened when the mind of one Active, Tobe, becomes stuck in a causal loop, an operating error that infects the rest of his kind. As Earth’s leaders scramble for a solution—which could include erasing Tobe from the network—his assistant Metoo must find a way to save the world without sacrificing her friend. On the strength of her solo debut (she has written extensively in short stories, comics, and other media, sometimes with her husband Dan Abnett), Nik Abnett is an author to watch.

Into the Guns, by William C. Dietz
The first book in Dietz’s America Rising series pulls no punches from its apocalyptic opening, when more than 60 meteors invade earth’s airspace, causing greater devastation than a nuclear war—and prompting China, misinterpreting the event as an attack, to launch a war against the West. With the government decimated by dual disasters, the American military steps into the power vacuum to restore order, but its not the only faction fighting to redefine America in the aftermath of monumental upheaval. Corporate interests are attempting to seize free market destiny, even as common citizens band together to vie for resources. Dietz brings a sense of realism and danger to a scarily plausible story that asks what you might do if you found yourself in a world transformed overnight into something unrecognizable.

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016, edited by Karen Joy Fowler
The initial SFF entry in the Best American series was a huge success, and 2016 editor Karen Joy Fowler (author of the SFnal novels Sarah Canary and Nebula nominee We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves) brings a unique, refreshing perspective to this curated collection of the year’s best sci-fi and fantasy short stories. Salman Rushdie, Charlie Jane Anders, Kelly Link, and Dexter Palmer lead a strong field of contributors who offer up some of modern genre’s best writing and most intriguing ideas.

Feedback, by Mira Grant
It’s rare for a novel set thirty years in the future to feel as relevant to today as the fourth entry in Grant’s Newsflesh series. Set during a presidential election with eerie parallels to the one we’re watching unfold around us, Feedback centers on a group of bloggers seeking to raise their profiles by managing the Republican candidate’s campaign in a post-zombie uprising America, though their mixed genders, sexual orientations, and racial backgrounds make them an incongruous fit with a isolationist political agenda. As someone begins planting zombies in public places where they can disrupt and attack—in an obvious bid to affect the election—the oddly familiar Democratic candidate reaches out to the journalists. With a story drenched in paranoia, smart commentary on present-day culture and politics, and, well, blood and guts, Grant again proves that when it comes to zombie outbreaks, she’s the best writer we’ve got.

Goldenhand, by Garth Nix
Nix returns to the setting of his enduring Old Kingdom series with a direct sequel to Abhorsen (a prequel, Clariel, was released in 2014). Lirael has risen to the station of Abhorsen-in-Waiting, has jouneyed to the afterlife, lost a hand, and learned to control the dead with music. Now, just as she is left in charge while her master and the king are away, an ancient evil attacks the kingdom, and Lirael must embark on yet another quest—this time into a world without magic—in order to put things right. Though ostensibly intended for YA readers, the Old Kingdom novels make for addictive reading at any age.

Closer to the Chest, by Mercedes Lackey
Lackey returns to her Herald Spy series, a part of the larger Valdemar universe, for another thrilling fantasy spiced with romance. Mags, the former child slave with the unusually strong ability to Mindhear and Mindspeak anyone—not just those who share the gift—continues his work as a Herald, building a network of child informants throughout the city to provide intelligence on all walks of life—and hopefully root out any plots that might endanger the populace. Meanwhile, his wife Amily sits at the righthand of the king, where she chances to uncover evidence of a plot to terrorize and blackmail the women of the Court. Together, Mags and Amily must root out the hidden abuser before the harassment turns to murder.

The Rift: Uprising, by Amy S. Foster
Amy S. Foster launches a dystopian SF trilogy with major Katniss Everdeen appeal and huge YA/adult crossover potential. Teenage Ryn is a Citadel, one of the chosen few enhanced with cybernetic implants and trained to defend a Rift, one of more than a dozen gaps in the fabric of reality that provide passage to wildly divergent alternate Earths. Ryn thinks she’s ready to face whatever might wander through the dimensional doorway—until the day that something is Ezra, a scared, confused young man who hardly seems to be the kind of threat Ryn was trained to safeguard against. Drawn to him, Ryn is unsettled when Ezra begins questioning the logic of the Citadel’s edicts, sending them both on a hunt for answers that could disrupt the balance of power in more than one reality.

The Wall of Storms, by Ken Liu
The hotly-anticipated second book in the Dandelion Dynasty returns us to the story of Kuni Garu, now Emperor Ragin of Dara, a man struggling to hold his recently-healed kingdom together. Chaos descends again when an invading army from the Lyucu Empire arrives, forcing Ragin to hard decisions as he struggles to save the kingdom he only recently gained. The hardest of these is the one that isn’t really a choice at all: he must send his own grown children west to confront the invaders. Liu’s compelling storytelling, influenced by the narrative traditions of Chinese myth, and flowing prose ,make these thousand-page tomes go down as easily as his celebrated short fiction. This sequel will only leave readers clamoring for the third and final installment.

A City Dreaming, by Daniel Polansky
Polansky astounds with an incredibly imaginative take on big city magic, told from the point of view of M, a man who can adjust reality any time he wishes. After erasing a killer from existence, he returns to his home in Brooklyn—but as in any urban fantasy worth its salt, it’s part of a New York that has a familiar surface and surprising hidden depths. When M becomes embroiled in a war between the White Queen of Manhattan and the Red Queen of Brooklyn, the entire island might end up at the bottom of the ocean—unless he can successfully navigate a world of unseen magic, monsters, and subways that go directly to hell, no transfers.

Otherworld Chills, by Kelly Armstrong
Armstrong returns to Otherworld one final time with a series of short stories and novellas exploring the corners of its lore. Favorite characters returns, and a final few questions answered, in this wrap-up to a monumental urban fantasy saga.

Impersonations: A Story of the Praxis, by Walter Jon Williams
Williams’ four-book Dread Empire’s Fall sequence explored the fate of humanity in the far future, after we have been conquered by Praxis, a vast, intergalactic empire built on order and tyranny. Thee series followed a brilliant, ambitious, all-too-human Imperial officer named Caroline Sula as she almost single-handedly quelled a rebellion within the ranks of the Praxis. In Impersonations, a rare novel-length work from Tor.com Publishing, we learn that as a reward for her troubles, Sula was shunted off to an undesirable outpost in the galactic equivalent of the boonies: Earth. A seemingly dull assignment soon turns sinister, as Sula uncovers a nest of corruption and political intrigue—a matter she’d best resolve quickly, lest her own dark past come to light. Though part of an overarching narrative, this brisk work is an excellent introduction to a series that will satisfy fans of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series eager for more political maneuvering in their sci-fi.

Viscera, by Gabriel Squailia
The Gone-Away god are dead, buried deep beneath Eth, but their power still lingers over the world, their corpses radiating unknowable magical enemies that draw alll manner of broken and dangerous souls (some human, others less so) to the strange, brutal city. Cultist and addict Rafe Davin is haunted by a murder her committed to steal a woman’s organs; he ghost takes to his vicious act none too kindly. The pair forms an unlikely alliance, recruited by a living doll to locate and eliminate a sinister force known as The Puppeteer. Imaginative world-building, thoughtful consideration of gender and identity, and a wide streak of dark humor make this new novel from the author of Dead Boys a choice read for the spookiest month of the year.

Break the Chains, by Megan O’Keefe
O’Keefe returns with a followup to her Oceans 11-on-an-airship heist adventure Steal the Sky. This time, Captain Detan is the one safeguarding valuables—specificly, a hoard of selium, the precious gas that keeps airships afloat and commerce moving through the city of Hold Steading. Ensuring the safety of a fortune in fuel will require the help of an expert. Unfortunately, the best man for the job, the notorious engineer who built the gates that have protected the imperial capital for decades, is currently being held in a remote island prison. Sounds like it’s high time for a jailbreak, and another fast, funny fantasy adventure from one of the genre’s rising stars.

Angels of Music, by Kim Newman
The author of Anno Dracula is back with a new historical fantasy about a secret society run by a familiar figure from beneath the Paris Opera House. Turns out the Phantom has a lot more on his mind than wooing prima donnas: Erik is also tasked with directing a squad of female agents who work to investigate crimes the Parisian upperclass would rather keep quiet, including a particularly brutal murder during the Great Flood of Paris in 1910. Sherlock Holmes’ heroine Irene Adler and Kate Reed (of the Anno Dracula series) will also make appearances before the case is solved.

Legacy of the Demon, by Diana Rowland
So continues Rowland’s popular Demon series, chronicling the continuing adventures of erstwhile summoner Kara Gillen. In this eighth entry, Kara finds herself smack dab in the middle of a potential apocalypse, as Earth is overrun with powerful creatures from deeper into the demon realm than she cares to consider, a circumstance made decidedly worse by an ongoing feud between a trio of squabbling demon lords.

What are you reading this week?

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