This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: An A.I. Finds Herself, an Earthbound Mission to Mars, and Manhattan’s Flooded Future

A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers
Becky Chambers chose not to simply retread the pleasures of her debut, A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, opting to tell a different kind of story. It’s set in the same rambling universe, but tells a more compact story about an artificial intelligence named Lovelace, who readers of the first book will recognize as the former brain of the ship Wayfarer. The novel opens in the wake of Planet’s explosive climax, as Lovelace slips into into a “body kit” and assumes a new identity. Accompanying engineers Pepper and Blue, she heads to Port Coriol to make a life—such as it is. Lovelace’s story alternates with that of a girl named Jane working in a harsh, violent factory—a girl who has unusually strong relationships with the AIs around her. The decision to shift the focus expands Chambers’ universe while offering a very different, very compelling sci-fi story.

New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson
While many “cli-fi” novels have told us of the horrors of rising sea levels and unpredictable weather patters brought on by climate change, painting dim furutes of a post-apocalyptic society, Robinson offers up an alternative future in which life (and capitalism) have continued to march on, even after the oceans have swollen to drown the coasts of every landmass in the world. Sure, lower Manhattan is submerged, but it’s still New York real estate—and those who know how to play the real estate market know there’s always money to be made in NYC. Power centers shift, economies recalibrate, and political movements may rise, but the world continues to function, and half the fun is seeing how Robinson extrapolates a believable future in which the physical world is very different, but human nature remains the same, for good and ill. Weaving together the varied stories of the residents of one partially submerged New York skyscraper—a broker, an Internet star, a building manager, a pair of homeless children, and two coders with a taste for social revolution—this near-future fable gives us much to fear about our wet future, but also reminds us that humanity is, if nothing else, good at figuring out how to survive the worst.

The Wanderers, by Meg Howrey
Howrey injects a startling shot of originality into this story of a manned mission to Mars, following the prospective crew-members as they endure a 17-month simulation to prove they’re mentally, emotionally, and physically equipped for humanity’s first trip to the Red Planet. Constantly observed, Helen Kane, Sergei Kuznetsov, and Yoshihiro Tanaka seem like the ideal candidates—proven explorers and brilliant engineers. But Howrey doesn’t focus solely on their increasingly claustrophobic isolation in the Utah desert, also detailing the experiences of their families on the outside and the employees of the company funding the mission. Mixed together, these ingredients make for a surprising, challenging story that attempts to confront the human realities of a mission into the unknown.

The Djinn Falls in Love, edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin 
Some of the biggest names in SFF come together to tell tales of the djinn—the genies of multiple cultural legends, born of fire and possessed of free will. In various myths, they are threatening, or they are kind, or they offer salvation—they can friends, enemies, or even lovers. Some form of the djinn can be found hiding in the shadows of just about every cultural tradition, making them ideal grist for the imagination. In short stories crafted by the likes of Nnedi Okorafor, Neil Gaiman, K.J. Parker, Saad Hossein, and many more, every aspect of djinn legend and lore (not to mention every spelling of the word) is explored, often in surprising settings and with unexpected twists.

Brother’s Ruin, by Emma Newman
This novella marks Emma Newman’s return to fantasy in the wake of two consecutive best-of-the-year level works of science fiction (though in a sense, she never really left). Brother’s Ruin is set in an alternate 1850 in which the British Empire is ascendant partly due to the efforts of the Royal Society for the Esoteric Arts. In this gaslamp universe, young men who demonstrate strong magical talents are “bought” from their families for huge sums. It’s 1850, so naturally they don’t consider women as acolytes—but in the Gunn family, son Benjamin is a minor talent, while his sister Charlotte is extremely powerful. And so, to secure her family’s fortunes, she conspires to make Ben seem powerful. Charlotte is more than willing to break the rules of the time—which comes in handy when she stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens not just her own family, but all of London.

The Lady of the Lake (The Witcher), by Andrzej Sapkowski
The final novel to date in the companion series to the immensely popular video game series, The Lady of the Lake is finally available in English, rounding off the story that began in the last book, The Swallow’s Tower. Human Witcheress Ciri is trapped in an Elven realm without time, and with no clear path home to her allies. And with war raging across the world, getting back home is a matter of grave import.

The Remnant, by Charlie Fletcher
The third novel in Fletcher’s imaginative Oversight series, which follows the ancient organization responsible for safeguarding London from the supernatural realm (and vice versa), finds the secret society in shambles, scattered, and grappling with a division within its ranks that could be fatal—exposing the world at large to unimaginable dangers. It’s Dickensian Victoriana crossed with macabre visions out of Neil Gaiman’s nightmares.

Black City Demon, by Richard A. Knaak
Knaak is well-known for contributing books to massive shared worlds like Pathfinder and Warcraft, but his latest is an original—and the sequel to his last year’s Black City Saint, which followed Nick Medea, a denizen of 1920s Chicago who has devoted his life to guarding the gate that offers passage between the human and faerie realms, seeking to atone for a mistake that once unleashed a great dragon upon the Windy City. As the city is threatened by skirmishes between competing bootlegging operations in the era of prohibition, Medea must defend the gate against a direct assault—even if it means calling on a dark power within, one he may not be able to control. The fantasy action is as addictive as the period setting is enveloping.

Pilot X, by Tom Merritt
Popular podcaster and novelist Merritt’s latest book sounds like just the thing for our Doctor Who-starved brains. It’s a high concept time travel adventure about an ambassador of a race of beings able to travel through time at will. They’ve made it their missing to safeguard the flow of time and bring peace to the galaxy, but those accomplishments may vanish in a blip of causality, as Pilot X realizes a shadow war has been going on in-between dimensions, one that could unravel the universe itself.

Masquerade, by Laura Lam
The long-awaited final volume of Lam’s YA-flavored coming-of-age fantasy series about a chimera, born a girl, who escapes a noble family to become a boy named Micah Grey, running away to join the circus, but unable to escape the influence of ancient magics, nor a past constantly threatening to catch up with him. As a group dedicated to eradicating the chimera stalks the city, Micah and his allies are drawn into a conflict between the monarchy and the factions dedicated to unseating those in power—but if Micah can’t learn to control his dark visions of the future, the battle may be over before it begins.

The Craft Sequences Omnibus, by Max Gladstone
We can think of no reasons why you shouldn’t read Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, a brilliant epic/urban fantasy mashup, and many reasons why you should. Now there’s one more: you can currently grab all five novels for just $12 in a single, massive ebook omnibus. (Just what you need to prepare for the next book, The Ruin of Angels, due out this fall.)

What are you reading this week?

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