This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: The Empire’s Manhattan Project, a Housecat General, and a Killer Beauty Regimen

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Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel, by James Luceno
Chances are good if you’re reading this, you’re counting down the days until the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Make the wait go a little faster with this prequel novel from James Leceno, the story of conflicted scientist Galen Erso and Imperial officer Orson Krennic, the two men who team up, Manhattan Project-style, to create the Empire’s ultimate weapon. The book introduces characters from the new movie, going all the way back to the Clone Wars to tell the true origin story of the Death Star.

Extreme Makeover, by Dan Wells
The author of I Am Not a Serial Killer returns with a sharp satire about the consequences of our youth- and beauty-obsessed culture. Lyle Fontanelle is a scientist for NewYew, a company developing a new handcream that promises to reverse the effects of aging. Unfortunately, it does so by literally overwriting DNA, transforming those who use it into clones of someone else. As Lyle attempts to destroy the formula, he must combat his corporate masters, wo think they’ve struck gold, and shadowy government forces that want tot use it as a weapon.

Culdesac, by Robert Repino
Repino returns to the war-torn world he established in Mort(e) as the War with No Name rages on. The Colony, a race of intelligent ants, has humanity on the run before its army of sentient and intelligent animals. Culdesac, a housecat-turned-general for The Colony, is a brutally effective warrior, for whom violence is always the answer. As his forces occupy the town of Milton, however, he must prepare for a brutal counteroffensive from the humans, even as he discovers secrets that threaten to undermine his understanding of this new universe. Repino imbues a startling sense of realism to a story about an intelligent cat’s desire to wipe out humanity; Culdesac’s story is not only tense and violent, but oddly emotional and touching.

The Gates of Hell, by Michael Livingston
The sequel to last year’s The Shards of Heaven returns to an imagined past that combines elements of real Roman history and legends with Judeo-Christian myth, using true events and characters as the backbone for an inventive epic fantasy saga. Alexandria and Egypt have fallen, and only the sole surviving daughter of Cleopatra remains to take her vengeance against Agustus Caesar. Meanwhile, Caesar plans a campaign against his enemies to the north, seeking to subdue them with the Trident of Poseidon, a mystical artifact of the gods. This is another fascinating entry in a series that pulls back the veil of history to reveal magic swirling behind the scenes.

Pirate Utopia, by Bruce Sterling
A dieselpunk satire about a group of radicals and pirates bent on world domination, Pirate Utopia features all the best hallmarks of veteran Bruce Sterling’s style—insane gadgets, deep world-building, a ridiculous cast of colorful characters, extrapolation from existing history, and a warped sense of humor. The result is a deranged, joyful look through a warped historical mirror, equal parts thrilling and unsettling. It tells, in short vignettes, of the rise of the Futurist Regency of Carnaro, ruled by a loose collective of war veterans, poets, mad scientists, occultists, and other dreamers that straddle the line between madness and genius. Through the eyes of Lorenzo Secondari, a half-deaf pirate, “Minister of Vengeance Weapons,” and Carnaro’s most zealous servant, Sterling charts the Futurist Revolution from its humble beginnings as a small gathering of anarchists in the occupied city of Fiume all the way to its eventual place as a fascist power on the world stage.

What are you reading this week?

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