This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Murder on a Generation Ship, Stories from a Future Iraq, and Hippos on the Loose

Iraq +100, by Hassan Blasim
This collection of stories features Iraqi authors imagining their country a century after the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, and the result—billed as the first SFF anthology to come out of Iraq—is a revelation. The country’s recent past reverberates throughout every story, as authors like Hassan Blasim (who also edited the collection), Ibrahim al-Marashi, and Hassan Abdulrazzak posit futures in which passports are contained in your fingertips, where robotic puppies eat bombs and a despotic alien ruling class has a taste for human flesh, and where love and compassion have thrillingly won the day. As a glimpse into another culture often obscured by geopolitical chess moves, it’s fascinating—and as a collection of speculative writing, it’s thrilling.

The Twilight Pariah, by Jeffrey Ford
Jeffrey Ford is a master of reality twisting tales that will stretch your mind and haunt your dreams, and his latest novella seems to be headed toward full-blown horror, before taking a swerve into poignancy. Three college students return to their hometown for one last hurrah before graduation, planning to get wasted and explore the crumbling old manor on the outskirts of town for a bit of fun. Instead, they find a mysterious sealed bottle of red liquid and a child’s skeleton bearing horns. The discovery transforms each of their young lives in unsettling and eventually horrific ways, as they begin to realize they have drawn the attention of a malevolent force searching for its missing child. It’s a tale of a fight with and flightfrom a demonic force, yes, but also a sad story about coming of age and looking an uncertain future dead in the face—truly the stuff of nightmares.

Taste of Marrow, by Sarah Gailey
Gailey’s alt-history hippo saga continues! Several weeks after River of Teeth, the feral hippos once penned into the Mississippi as part of a a botched agricultural plan have been let loose, and Archie and Houndstooth are fleeing to parts left un-feraled. Thinking Hero, who stole his heart, has been killed or captured by the assassin Adelia, Winslow Houndstooth is a shell of his former self: paranoid, aggressive, bitter and boozed up, and mad with worry for his lost Hero. It’s all Archie can do to keep him sane while she searches for her own lost love. Meanwhile, Hero has been captured by Adelia, and is very much alive. As Adelia nurses them back to health, Hero is ready to cut and run, especially with Ysabel—Adelia’s squalling newborn girl—keeps them awake at all hours. But when Ysabel is taken in an attempt to blackmail Adelia into one last job, Hero stays by her side, for better or worse.

An Excess Male, by Maggie Shen King 
King’s scarily good debut does what SFF does best, extrapolating from a real-world scenario. In a future China where the one-child policy has led to a population with 40 million more men than women, middle aged Wei-guo struggles through a life in which he is considered unnecessary. He maintains his optimism and conviction that as long as he continues to improve he will be rewarded with love, and finally saves a dowry that enables him to join an “advanced family” as a third husband—the lowest rank—to the lovely May-ling. The family is imperfect, harboring an “illegal spouse,” but Wei-guo finds kinship and friendship in this unusual arrangement. But the rulers of the nation know they are sitting on a powderkeg, and have become more intrusive and authoritarian than ever. Someone is always listening, and Wei-guo knows no matter how happy he is, he will always be an “excess male,” and thus disposable.

The Devil’s Rosary: The Complete Tales of Jules de Grandin, Vol. Two, by Seabury Quinn, edited by George Vanderburgh 
The second hefty volume (of five planned) collecting the work of forgotten pulp author Seabury Quinn’s gothic detective tales starring Jules de Grandin, who solves supernatural mysteries involving demonic cults, nasty creatures, ghosts, ghouls, and occasionally con men in the fictional town of Harrisonville, New Jersey. A contemporary of H.P. Lovecraft, Quinn published prolifically throughout his lifetime, but never gained the same kind of cult following. These volumes seek to rectify that, or at least find a new audience for one of the most prolific writers of a bygone era. This volume includes 19 stories spanning the periods from 1929’s “The Black Master” through 1930’s “The Wolf of St. Bonnot.”

Infinity Wars, edited by Jonathan Strahan 
Strahan, the reviews editor for Locus and aprolific podcaster, editor, and anthologist, assembles some of the best and brightest of military-themed SFF for the sixth entry in the Infinity series. With a starting point of “the future of warfare,” authors like Carrie Vaughn, An Owomoyela, Garth Nix, Aliette de Bodard, Elizabeth Bear, and a dozen others offer up inventive, action-packed visions that demonstrate you don’t need hundreds of thousands of words to establish solid worldbuilding and well-developed characters. The focus ranges from the small-scale to the epic, as each story provides a sobering vision of the future of war—conflated here with the future of humanity in general, which is, sadly, probably not so science fictional an idea.

Thessaly, by Jo Walton 
Walton’s expansive, three-book sci-fi thought experiment (now collected in a massive single volume) begins with an outlandish, brilliant premise, and only gets weirder from there. What if the goddess Athena, enamored with the concepts explored in Plato’s Republic, decided on an apparent whim (as is her wont as a goddesses) to see how it would turn out if she tried to set up a real-world version? In order to do so, she gathers scholars, philosophers, and idealistic dreamers from across time, all of whom, at one (greatly removed) time or another, prayed to her for just such a circumstance. Together, these disparate souls construct the framework for the perfect city (along with a few far-future robots that help with the literal construction efforts, leaving the philosophers to, you know, philosophize). Add to this 10,000 bewildered 10-year-old slave children, purchased to become the first generation of educated citizens, and the god Apollo, curious enough to change himself into a mortal to check this whole thing out and see what he can learn, and you’ve got yourself quite a show.

The Man in the Tree, by Sage Walker
Kybele is a seedship on a 200-year journey to a faraway planet with a mission to colonize it and escape the dying, resource-damaged Earth. Outfitted with state-of-the-art technology, the best and brightest scientists and administrators, and a fully functional artificial ecosystem, it’s a veritable utopia where everyone seems to be working toward a common goal—until a crewman named Cash Ryan is found impaled by tree branches during a routine system maintenance. It’s the third death on Kybele, and the first homicide, so to head off a possible PR disaster, the execs in charge appoint analyst Helt Borresen as special investigator to solve Ryan’s murder. With no established system for criminal justice, a terrorist conspiracy in the background, and a burgeoning attraction to the prime suspect, Helt must use his data analysis and systems expertise to solve the case before the last shuttle from Earth arrives and the Kybele project is scrapped for good.

Split Feather, by Deborah A. Wolf
The author of the acclaimed (by us) new fantasy The Dragon’s Legacy takes a break from the epic for tale of…well, it’s set in Alaska, so not exactly urban fantasy, but: Siggy Aleksov has been plagued by visions of demons since her childhood—and that, an unhappy one, filled with adandonment, abuse, and struggles with mental illness. It turns out she’s also suffering from a serious case of mysterious past—which she only begins to uncover after she saves the life of an assassin sent to kill her, learns via a DNA test that she has inherited a strange magical legacy,  flees north to Alaska, and begins to uncover the shocking secrets of her own origin story.

What are you reading this week?

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