This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Genetically Engineered Giant Bears, Visions of a Utopian Future, and Dragons in Their Natural Habitat

Borne, by Jeff VanderMeer
Nebula Award-winner Jeff VanderMeer returns with his first new novel since he released all three books of the Southern Reach trilogy throughout 2014, and it’s another heady dose of unsettling weirdness: Rachel, a refugee from a drowned island, lives off of the bones of a ruined city of the future. On one of her scavenging trips, she encounters a giant, genetically engineered bear, a remnant of cruel experimentation by the corrupt Company—and nestled in its fur, a small, strange living lump she takes home and names “Borne.” He is a creature who will change her entire world. The author’s imagination is as wild as ever—Rachel is involved with a drug dealer named Wick, who processes creatures like Borne into living drugs users can put into their bodies to recall others’ lost memories of a pre-collapse world—and the slow-burning plot is propelled along by uneasy mysteries (what is Wick’s history with the company, and what secrets is he hiding from Rachel?). It’s another triumph from one of the weirdest authors in the genre, operating at the height of his powers.

The Ship, by Antonia Honeywell
Sixteen-year-old Lalla was born “at the end of the world.” The environment around her is dying—nothing grows, the seas are barren, and London is a dystopian police state. Lalla is sheltered in a high-security apartment with plenty of tinned food to eat and pure water to drink—and her father has an escape plan. He’s built a ship large enough for 500 hand-picked people, and stocked it with supplies to last them two years. Their escape isn’t easy, but once on the ocean, Lalla becomes troubled. The passengers begin to close themselves off, destroying any way to receive information, damning memory, and insisting on living in the present as if the world isn’t burning around them. As her father becomes a messianic figure, Lalla comes to believe the ship may not be escaping the apocalypse—but in some way causing it. Honeywell’s assured debut is an exercise in noose-tightening tension and lyrical prose.

Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow
Doctorow returns with a near-future story that takes a moment to ponder where our current world might be headed, as seen through the eyes of the improbably named Hubert, Etc. (so-called because his given name is 22 nouns long). In 2071 in a post-scarcity world with plenty of food, life-sustaining technology, and no reason to work. The rich have become richer, but many people around the world have chosen to become Walkaways, rejecting the comforts of society to live in the wild or in ruined cities. When technology is developed that allows for the uploading of consciousness, the question of immortality for a select few turns on the potential harm the undying might cause. With worldbuilding that borders on the eerily prescient, Doctorow weaves together thrilling story involving the kidnapped daughter of the richest of the rich that’s as much about telling our futures as telling a crackling story.

Blade Bound, by Chloe Neill
The 13th and final book in Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires series finds unwilling vampire Merit attacked by a bloodsucker apparently under the control of dark magic. Cadogan House has been infiltrated, and by the time Merit and Ethan, her lover and liege, realize how much danger they’re in, it may be too late. The whole city is under magical siege, and Merit finds herself battling forces almost too powerful to comprehend, much less fight against. But fight they’ll have to if they’re going to save the city they’ve defended for so long, their house—and everything they hold dear. It’s an action-packed sendoff to one of the most popular, longest-running urban fantasy series running.

Dark Mind, by Ian Douglas
The seventh book in Douglas’ Star Carrier finds the civil war between the United States of North America and the Pan-European Confederation finally ended. Before peace can be enjoyed, however, an alien force suddenly destroys a research ship, killing 12,000 humans onboard—and the military forces of Earth must combine into one in order to meet a new threat. On the USNA Star Carrier America, Admiral Trevor “Sandy” Gray has been contacted by the artificial intelligence Konstantin, which claims technology found in a distant system is humanity’s only hope against the alien foe. Convinced, Admiral Gray goes rogue, seeking a weapon powerful enough to destroy an invading force far beyond humanity’s ability to comprehend, or hope to defeat.

Snared, by Jennifer Estep
Number 16 in Estep’s Elemental Assassin series finds Gin “The Spider” Blanco chasing the clues about the mysterious group that runs the underworld she calls home. Hard leads on The Circle are few and far between, and Gin soon finds herself drawn into another mystery altogether—the case of a missing girl that takes her into the darkest corners of the city. By the time she figures out that there’s more at stake than just a missing girl, she’s caught the attention of a terrifying new enemy, the likes of which she’s ever seen before. And if you know anything about Gin Blanco, you know that’s saying something.

Within the Sanctuary of Wings: A Memoir by Lady Trent, by Marie Brennan
Over the course of Brennan’s terrific series, Lady Isabella Trent has grown into one of the most interesting and enjoyable characters in modern fantasy. Over 50 years of narrative time, we’ve seen her embark on adventures, capturing hearts and minds while simultaneously enriching the field of dragon science with her discoveries. In fact, it’s been so much fun reading about Lady Trent, it’s heartbreaking to think that Within the Sanctuary of Wings will be the final entry of her Memoirs—but we can be comforted by the fact that some of the most enduring mysteries of her story, including what she discovered in the titular Sanctuary of Wings, will finally be revealed. It’s one last voyage, for old times’ sake. Shall we?

Skullsworn, by Brian Staveley
A standalone set in the same universe as Staveley’s exceedingly rewarding Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, this is the remarkable story of a woman named Pyrre, an acolyte of Ananshael, the goddess of death. In order to rise to the rank of priestess, Pyrre must kill seven people in two weeks—including someone she loves, who loves her back. Pyrre has never experienced love in her life, and so returns home to locate an old companion in the hopes that she can find love—and complete her mission. From that irresistible setup, Staveley explores what it means to love, both in service to something greater than yourself and for its own messy possibilities, while taking us on a detailed tour through unexplored corners of his universe.

Buffalo Soldier, by Maurice Broaddus
Broaddus crafts a modern-day steampunk world with a redrawn map and massive shifts in technology, culture, and everything else (though in a few surprising cases, not not much has changed at all). Desmond Coke is a servant to a rich family in Jamaica who comes to care for their son, Lij. In a desperate moment, he chooses to kidnap the boy, removing from a bad situation and fleeing to America (an Albion colony), then to Tejas, and finally to the lands of the Five Civilized Tribes. The Pinkertons pursue, in the form of agent Cayt Siringo—but they want Lij for their own purposes. Exploring this richly reimagined world is half the fun, giving rise to hope that this novella is the just the beginning of a new series.

Grunt Hero, by Weston Ochse
The third novel in the military sci-fi Task Force OMBRA series, set on an Earth that has been overtaken by colonizing alien forces (following Grunt Life and Grunt Traitor). Veteran soldier Ben Mason carries the weight of that defeat with him every day, and lives only for revenge. With the help of OMBRA, an elite military unit, and Earth’s only chance to throw off the yoke of alien oppression.

Imperative, by Steve White and Charles E. Gannon
Nubula nominee Gannon and co-author and regular SF collaborator Steve White team for the seventh volume of the Starfire military science fiction series. The Rim Federation’s war with an invading alien force is over, and the once-hostile extraterrestrials have now been largely been accepted into the culture and given citizenship. However, some of them haven’t gone quite so peacefully—many among their hardened warrior caste have been plotting revenge, but their plans can only succeed with the help of traitors within the seemingly peaceful “assimilated” Arduans. Two war heroes must uncover the plot and put a stop to it before the Federation is shattered from within.

The Dispatcher, by John Scalzi
Originally released only in audio, this intriguing noirish novella from John Scalzi is finally available in print formats from Subterranean Press. In a shadowy, near-future world in which death is only permanent when you die of natural causes or suicide, and anyone who is murdered will be resurrected, it has become government policy to kill anyone about to die. Tony Valdez is one such “dispatcher” who begins to question his mission after a colleague goes missing and he is forced to reconsider the effect his manipulation of life and death has on the world. As much a mystery plot as an excuse to explore the social changes wrought by such a titanic alteration of the mortal status quo, this is a compelling read that couldn’t be further afield from the light, funny space opera that is Scalzi’s bread and butter.

The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase, by Greg Cox
Veteran SF author Greg Cox pens his second novel in the world of The Librarians TV series, and it has a premise so irresistible, you’ll want to read it even if you’ve never seen the show: The Librarians are a secret organization tasked with keeping a lid on dangerous magical relics. The latest one to exert its influence over the modern world is none other than the original book of nursery rhymes by one Elizabeth Goose, whose assemblage of spells created a tome with the power to destroy the world. As the Earth falls under seige by a plague of mysterious and oddly familiar unexplainable incidents (a woman in Pennsylvania is attacked by three eyeless rodents; a professor in Englad is trapped in a giant pumpkin), the Librarians must race to recover the missing original manuscript and avert disaster.

What new books are you reading this week?


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