Null States, by Malka Older
The second novel in the Centenal Cycle returns us to a future where the world has been divided into population groups of 100,000, who vote as one in global elections overseen by a powerful agency called Information. The newly-elected supermajority government is going through some growing pains, however, and the assassination of a new governor in the microdemocracy of DarFur brings Information’s legitimacy into question—something that could destabilize the entire world. Making matters worse is the increasingly desperate plotting of Heritage, a political party on the wane and desperate to keep its influence—no matter the cost. Building on the pent-up violence of Infomocracy with a lattice of “fake news” immediacy, the agents of Information must work to maintain order and uncover conspiracies before it’s too late.
Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz
Newitz, the co-founder of io9, delivers seriously plausible—if chilling—future medicine in her debut, imagining a world where pharma pirates reverse-engineer drugs the way people jailbreak software today. Judith “Jack” Chen, who fancies herself a Robin Hood figure, offering affordable life-saving drugs to those who can’t afford them, hacks a far less benevolent drug called Zacuity, which supposedly makes people feel good about working long hours for their jobs—but when people start dying, she discovers the truth: Zacuity makes people addicted to working, to the point of insanity and even death. A thrilling pursuit and race against time ensues as Jack flees two determined agents—one of them an artificially intelligent robot beginning to awaken within to the soul withinits own programming—while trying to get the truth out into the open. In this terrifyingly plausible post-climate change future, pharma hackers—both blackhat and white—are a vital part of the healthcare system in which “better living through chemistry” is taken to terrifying extremes.
A Small, Charred Face, by Kazuki Sakuraba, translated by Jocelyne Allen
This Japanese novel tells of creatures known as Bamboo, which come from China, look human, hunt at night, and survives on human blood (albeit only taken from dead bodies)—so far, so vampiric—but also, every 100 years, their skin erupts in bursts of white blooms. In fairytale-like vignettes we follow their stories. A pair of Bamboo save the life of a human boy named Kyo, and they form an odd friendship—but interacting with the human world is verboten among these creatures, who are subject to a strict set of laws. A girl named Marika, transformed into a Bamboo in her teens, later encounters Kyo as a teenager. A final story goes back in time to reveal how a small group of Bamboo made their way from China to Japan. With lyrical prose and a decidedly non-Western feel, this novel has the trappings of horror but the timeless emotion of myth.
Zero-G: Green Space, by William Shatner and Jeff Rovin
In the second novel in Shatner and Rovin’s Zero-G series, set a few decades hence, following the exploits of the FBI’s “Zero-G” men who staff the U.S. space station Empyrean, where there has recently been an accident involving an experiment mixing nanotechnology and genetic engineering, creating what appears to be artificially intelligent cyborg plantlife. Zero-G Director Samuel Lord heads off to investigate the agent responsible for the disaster on a Russian space station, where the conspiracy only deepens. With colorful side characters, including Lord’s shape-shifting pangender Native American sidekick, whose ability to alter their form proves key to the mystery, the book has the flavor of a James Bond novel in space, only…weirder.
The Legion Prophecy: The Lazarus Gate, Book 3, by Mark Latham
The sequel to The The Iscariot Sanction continues the story of veteran soldier-turned-defender of the (earthly) realm Colonel John Hardwick, experienced agent of Apollo, the secret society that defends Great Britain against supernatural forces. It’s 1893, and Apollo is troubled by the frequent appearances of refugees from other worlds in London—a sure sign the walls of reality are weakening. As rumors spread of a returning threat from the past, the reluctant Hardwick is called to the front lines once again.
Stranger of Tempest, by Tom Lloyd
Published last year in the U.K., Lloyd’s series following a mercenary with a heart of gold goes well beyond a familiar setup, with fascinating worldbuilding to match its fast-paced action. Lynx is a mercenary and an honorable man, despite his profession—disillusioned by his former life serving empires and the elite, he wants nothing more than a simple job as a bodyguard, and to keep himself fed. But the plight of a kidnapped girl pulls him back into the mercenary game, and a complex plot involving strange monsters, militant religious orders, and a gun that fires bullets made out of dead gods. A twisting story structure jumps between Lynx’s latest job and his younger years, revealing only gradually how he became a jaded hero for hire.
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by Patricia A. McKillip
More than 40 years after it was first published, McKillip’s World Fantasy Award-winner is unquestionably a classic of the genre, and it reads as timelessly as ever in this new print and ebook edition. It’s the story of a woman named Sybel, who lives alone in a remote castle where she cares for a stable of magical creatures and hunts for a mythical bird, and how her world is shattered by the sudden appearance of Coren, a nobleman who delivers her a child and pulls her into a petty conflict between men. It’s a slender, beguiling story that does more with less, packing a complex, bewitching world and achingly real, frustratingly human characters into a page count that disguises the expansiveness of the ideas within.
What are you reading this week?