Waking Gods, by Sylvain Neuvel
Sleeping Giants was a revelation: a brainy sci-fi story accessible to genre fans and newcomers alike. A young girl discovers the buried hand of a gigantic robot of alien design, and grows up to be one of the scientists studying the huge robot as more pieces are discovered and assembled; the tension ramps up when the robot’s existence is revealed to the world and international politics step in (rarely a good thing). The sequel promises to pay off on the rule that if you introduce a giant robot in book one, you have to have giant robot fights in book two (it’s a rule we may have just made up, but who would argue with it?). The race to unlock the technological secrets of the robot becomes crucial when larger, more powerful mechanical terrors appear and threaten humanity. Aside from the robot fisticuffs, this is also a book about the whys: why was the robot buried? Why is the Earth under attack? Why haven’t you read this yet?
The Moon and the Other, by John Kessel
John Kessel, a writer with an impressive raft of genre awards to his name, returns with his first novel in two decades, imagining a future in which underground city-states are scattered across the moon, each operating by various and very specific political models. The Society of Cousins is a pure matriarchy where men are free to pursue their careers but have no political voice—but it is one of many. Kessel sketches out a complicated matrix of relationships between people from several colonies, including revolutionaries seeking change and an “uplifted” canine reporter named Sirius. When the Organization of Lunar States investigates allegations of male mistreatment in the Society of Cousins, these relationships set off a chain reaction that threatens to completely destabilize Moon society. This is a meaty work of literary science fiction that will engage readers of Ursula K. LeGuin.
Brimstone, by Cherie Priest
Hugo nominee Cherie Priest (Maplecroft, The Clockwork Century series) returns with a darkly imaginative standalone historical fantasy novel that explores real issues of racism and persecution through a speculative lens. It’s 1920, and the country is still reeling from the aftermath of the Great War. Alice Dartle is a clairvoyant descended from a long line of witches, and she needs help understanding her powers. She hopes to find it at the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp of Central Florida (which really existed). Alice been dreaming about a man haunted by visions of fire and war, and she knows that if she can find him, she can help him. That man is Tomás, a Cuban immigrant who fought for the U.S. in the Great War and is having trouble returning to his former life—particularly once strange fires with no obvious causes begin to occur around him, fires he thinks may be messages from his dead wife. When their paths cross at Cassadaga, Alice becomes convinced she is the only one who can help Tomás, who fears he will be blamed for the fires and arrested. A sense of historical verisimilitude only enhances this powerful story about overcoming loss.
Fiendish Schemes, by K.W. Jeter
The sequel to Jeter’s steampunk classic Infernal Devices gets a new cover for its 30th anniversary, and just in time for the publication of the long-awaited third novel in the trilogy, Grim Expectations. It’s as good a reminder as any that the adventures of George Dower are as fun to read as they are significant to genre history. Hiding out in a rural village to escape a world transformed by his father’s brilliant inventions, George is found by the Church, which tasks him with tracking down the Vox Universalis, a translating machine a senior official wishes to use to convert whales to Christianity. And that’s probably the least surprising, most grounded part of a story that quickly spirals to involve a prime minister who is literally an iron lady, meatpunks, and valve girls—much to George’s wonder and dismay.
Red Sister, by Mark Lawrence
The first novel in Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor trilogy builds a complex universe of politics, violence, and religion on a scale sure to please any fantasy fan, right from a wowzer of an opening line: “It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size.” Nine-year old Nona Grey is about to be executed for murder when she’s purchased by the abbess of Sweet Mercy. At the convent, Nona will be trained in the art of assassination, a regimen that often awakes the slumbering blood of the ancestors, resulting in the emergence of magical skills that enhance the young postulants’ fighting abilities. Long before her decade of training is over, however, Nona’s past, rival factions within the church, and the emperor himself will influence her fate, putting pressure on the falsely accused young girl with unpredictable results. As the power structures of the empire fray in a world slowly dying, Nona finds a darkness within herself that makes her truly dangerous. Mark Lawrence is a master of no-holds-barred fantasy, and he just may have outdone himself with this one.
The Dragon’s Legacy, by Deborah A. Wolf
A dreamshifter, Hafsa, who can kill people in their sleep protects her young daughter, Sulema, from assassins sent by her father, the Dragon King, the only man capable of keeping dormant the dragon slumbering within the world. If the dragon awakes, the world cracks open like an egg. Sulema, nearing adulthood and on the verge of becoming a fearsome warrior, and Hafsa find themselves the focus of conspiracies, betrayals, and magical threats as the world literally begins to break apart around them. The dragon is stirring, and what that means for the future of this complex world of interwoven tribes and nations is impossible to foresee. Wolf’s debut fantasy is remarkably assured and deeply detailed, offering a unique universe and a trope-twisting narrative that plays out in unexpected ways.
The House of Binding Thorns, by Aliette de Bodard
De Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings is a perfect concept welded to perfect worldbuilding: in a Paris devastated by a war between fallen angels in 1914, the political struggles underlying the fragile peace between the various Houses is complicated by the frailties and desires of mortals, including addict Madeleine and former immortal-turned-hunted criminal Philippe, caught red-handed brutalizing a newly fallen angel for its magic-infused bones and blood. The first book works well as a standalone spy fantasy hybrid, but as with any great universe, there are many more things we want to know, and the sequel gives us the answers we crave. De Bodard has built a world that feels real, and filled it with wonder and mystery. Can Lucifer’s own House, Silverspires, survive? Will Paris undergo a second convulsion of angelic war? There’s so much left to discover.
The Strange: Myth of the Maker, by Bruce R. Cordell
Cordell, creator of the popular role-playing game The Strange, has crafted a novel that doesn’t feel at all like a tie-in—but does present the limitless possibilities of the RPG, ostensibly set in the modern world but allowing players to explore infinite “recursions,” or alternate universes. In Myth of the Maker, computer programmer Carter Morrison sacrifices himself and his friends, killing them and locking them in a virtual world—all to save the rest of the planet from certain destruction. Morrison’s friends have no idea what he’s done—but as the “planetvores” approach, they must come to terms with the fictional worlds they now inhabit, which serve to insulate the real world from the horrors without. Not all of them are satisfied with their forced martyrdom, either, and a man named Jason Cole—known as The Betrayer—seeks a way out of the fiction and back to reality, no matter the cost.
Winter Tide, by Ruthanna Emrys
The simple brilliance of mixing the Cthulu Mythos with Cold War paranoia and the shameful legacy of internment instantly makes Emrys’ debut (spun out of a celebrated short story) crackle with unpredictable energy. Aphra and Caleb Marsh are descendants of the clan showcased H.P. Lovecraft’s classic The Shadow Over Innsmouth; they’ve have been living in a prison-like compound ever since the government rounded them up in the wake of those unexplained occurrences. The pair is approached by the FBI to assist with examining some of the artifacts from the past; the Feds fear the Russians may have discovered the secret of magically pushing their minds into the bodies of American politicians and scientists (no comment). The surprising depths the novel mines from the premise catapult it onto the list of the year’s must-read books.
Inherit the Flame, by Megan O’Keefe
War has come to Aransa in the third book of O’Keefe’s series starring con man, noble, and scoundrel Detan Honding. His aunt’s city is under siege by two armies: one from the empire and aided by some very dark magic, and one sent by Thratia. An uneasy alliance is forged that brings a tenuous peace, but a wary Detan begins working behind the scenes to prepare for the final battle that he knows is coming.
The Horror on the Links, by Seabury Quinn
Seabury Quinn was a contemporary of pulp-horror luminaries like H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, and more prolific and popular than either of them in his day, but the name hasn’t come down to us with nearly the same level of prestige. It’s time to take another look. This collection is the first in a series that will gather the stories of Jules de Grandin, a French detective in the Agatha Christie vein who specializes in monstrous (and often grisly) crimes involving all sorts horrific creatures.
Kokoro, by Keith Yatsuhashi
Yatsuhashi’s debut, Kojiki, told the story of Keiko Yamada, a young girl following her father’s last wishes to unleash magic to defend the world against an insane ancient spirit in a work that brought together science fiction, fantasy, and Japanese religion, and myth. This sequel follows Baiyren Tallaenaq, from a distant land caught up in a war across worlds, who finds a suit of armor with the power to connect him to Earth and Keiko.
Convergence, by C.J. Cherryh
The long-running story of Cherryh’s Foreigner universe continues in this 18th volume, the capper to the current trilogy in this series-in-trilogies about the crew and descendants of a ship bound from Earth to create a distant outpost in space who got lost on the way, only to make contact with the atevi. Here, Diplomat Bren Cameron is placed in a difficult position when he is called to choose between the atevi whom he’s served for decades and the humans from which he came.
Among the Fallen, by N.S. Dolkart
In Dolkart’s fast-paced second entry in the <i>God’s Serfs</i> epic fantasy series, the gang of teens from Silent Hall have gone their separate ways in a world still reeling from the epic events of the first novel—and find themselves on opposite sides of a brewing war. Narky is leading the religious resurgence of a new god of the underworld, Criton and Bandu are stirring up a surviving group of Dragon Touched in an attempt to reclaim their lost lands, and Phaedra and Hunter are questing after magic secrets. When Phaedra discovers something that’s going to require the band to get back together to avoid catastrophe, the fact that Narky, Criton, and Bandu are about to go to war with each other becomes problematic, to say the least. Dolkart takes the time to explore the subtly original fantasy universe, a place filled with familiar fantasy tropes like gods, wizards, and dragons that manages to simmer with fresh ideas just under the surface.
Gauntlet, by Holly Jennings
The sequel to Jennings’ debut Arena ups the ante on the combination virtual reality/video game tournaments with the introduction of adaptive “pods” that constantly adjust to everything the player does, pushing them to the brink of their mental and physical capabilities. After kicking her drug habit and learning to play as part of a team, Kali has become the first woman team captain and youngest team owner in the Virtual Gaming League—but the new wrinkle in the games begins to take its toll. Kali begins to waver, risking everything she has and might ever have. Once again Kali and her teammates will have to reach deep within themselves—and rely on each other more than ever before—as the action ramps up into a blur.
Occupy Me, by Tricia Sullivan
Sullivan’s unusual and bracingly original novel tells the story of Pearl—an angel without her memories, her wings hidden in another dimension. She works for the Resistance, and organization that seeks to make the world a better place through constant, subtle kindnesses meted out on a regular basis. One day Pearl meets the man who trapped her on earth—a killer now wearing someone else’s body, and carrying a briefcase that contains a multitude of alternate realities, which could destroy the universe itself. The story swirls and surprises—creatures burst from the briefcase, Pearl looks and acts nothing like an angel you might expect, events loop back and overlap each other. Eventually, a conspiracy is traced out that is simultaneously ambitious and surprising, tying all the events and details together in satisfying and intriguing ways.
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1636: Mission to the Mughals, by Eric Flint and Griffin Barber
The newest entry in the Ring of Fire series opens with the United States of Europe beset by enemies, and in need of medicines that aren’t easily found in 17th century Europe. A mission is put together to travel to India to forge a trade deal with the Mughal Emperor to obtain opioids for the soldiers wounded in battle—but the mission is composed of people from all points in life, and the India they arrive at is in chaos; the emperor is grieving and planning the construction of the Taj Mahal, and his sons are all plotting against each other. They find their best option for an ally to be the emperor’s daughter—a woman who has carved out her own unlikely power, and who finds the freedom enjoyed by the former West Virginia women in the mission to be extremely attractive.
The Best Science Fiction of the Year, Vol. 2, edited by Neil Clarke
Neil Clarke, renowned editor of Clarkesworld Magazine, returns with the second edition of the new anthology from Night Shade books. The world of sci-fi short fiction is pretty vast, and keeping up with the sheer volume of it isn’t easy, so collections like this—curated by one of the best minds in the business—are a blessing. Including stories from the likes of Karin Lowachee, Xia Jia, Alastair Reynolds, and Ken Liu (to name just a few), this anthology provides a fantastic cream-of-the-crop overview of what’s happening in short science fiction. These are the stories that will set trends in motion that we’ll all be talking about next year. Glimpse the future by reading great stories; it’s the most sci-fi thing you’ll do today.
What new books are you reading this week?