This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Postapocalytpic Futures, a Robot Revolution, and a Jewel Heist in Space

The Bronze Skies, by Catherine Asaro
Asaro delves ever-deeper into the expansive Skolian Empire saga with the second novel in a sub-series exploring the gritty underworld of an interstellar civilization. Major Bhaaajan was born in the gritty slums of a backwater planet, yet still managed to make a name for herself in the Imperial military. Now retired, she has returned to the “Undercity” of Raylicon to work as a P.I.—and faces threats tougher than any she encountered on the front lines. This time, she’s hunting down a most unusual killer—a Jagernaut, one of the military’s elite, highly trained soldiers, has apparently gone rogue and killed a government official, something that shouldn’t be possible, as all Jagernaut’s have been implanted with technology that should have prevented such an act. Asaro’s series is remarkable for its ability to conform to every genre and style imaginable, and it turns out she writes a darn good hardboiled crime thriller.

Clade, by James Bradley 
The Hollywood version of climate change is sudden, dramatic, and instantly cataclysmic; Bradley’s thoughtful near-future sci-fi offers the opposite. With a time-hopping narrative focusing on a single family across years, Bradley explores a world struggling with the effects of rising temperatures that cause fierce, constant storms, battered infrastructure, and widespread extinctions. Adam is a climate scientist working on the arctic ice shelf, worried that the child his partner is pregnant with will enter a world already ruined. That child, Summer, grows up estranged from her parents as England faces collapse in the face of the relentless power of a boiling Earth. By avoiding the easy narrative, Bradley’s novel is absorbing and depressing, as it is thoughtful and fascinating, as he traces the possible paths of a future being seeded right now in the present day.

Skyfarer, by Joseph Brassey
Inspired by the science fantasy of Star Wars, Final Fantasy, and Firefly, Brassey’s epic standalone debut pivots on the legendary Axiom Diamond, a gem that will show the bearer any truth they wish to see. Sought for centuries, the gem remains legend—but when Aimee de Laurent’s first attempt at casting a portal spell goes terribly wrong, she and the sorcerer she’s been training under are forced to embark on their skyship on a quest to locate the fabled crystal. Unfortunately for de Laurent, they are opposed by Lord Azrael, fearsome leader of the Eternal Order. He will use the Order’s incredible magic power to prevent Aimee from succeeding, no matter what he destroys in the process.

Sea of Rust, by C. Robert Cargill
In this warped, Black Mirror reflection of Wall-E, a former caregiver robot that once served as a nurse to human beings wanders a blasted wasteland in search of spare parts. Fifteen years earlier, the last human was killed by the triumphant robot uprising. But instead of freedom, the robots were subsumed into One World Intelligences (OWIs), rival hive minds inexorably spreading across the globe, demanding subservience as they claim new territory. The caregiver robot, Brittle, is haunted by her own role in the human extermination. As a lone machine, she has no access to factory-made parts and must scavenge the “Sea of Rust” in order to survive—but her model is rare, making her parts valuable to a second caregiver robot called Mercer, whose attacks leave both robots vulnerable, locked in a tense race against time and the approach of warring OWIs.

Ruin of Angels, by Max Gladstone 
Having hopped publishers, Max Gladstone’s Hugo-nominated Craft Sequence—a blend of epic and urban fantasy in which divine magical and disputes over zoning regulations go hand-in-hand—returns with a sixth installment that will satisfy old fans while welcoming new ones. Familiar faces return, but the setting is new: the city of Agdel Lex, which sits atop the wreckage of another, destroyed in the God Wars. It’s a place where streets shift without notice, tethered to one reality or another only by a shared understanding, while outside the city walls lie the writhing remains of dead and dying deities. Visitors must stay focused on the country to which they were admitted, lest they fall through holes in the façade and into the dead city. Into this strange landscape wanders Kai, a priestess on the hunt for her missing sister, soon caught up in a new war between the Iskari Rectification Authority’s mission to solidify Agdel Lex’s nebulous and tenuous foundation, and leagues of “delvers” looking to poke holes in it and find pathways back to the old city.

Acadie, by Dave Hutchison
This new book by the author of the acclaimed, British Science Fiction Award-nominated Europe in Autumn trilogy crams all the genre’s epic grandeur and potential for provocative sociopolitical ideas into a novella-sized package. A colony of humans who ventured out into space, following a leader who believed in unlocking the potential hidden in their genetics, has spent a few hundred years evolving in relative peace and isolation. The humans back on Earth, not keen on a new and improved humanity hanging around waiting to reclaim their home planet, decides a preemptive strike is the best course of action. The more things change, the more they stay the same, in other words. Read an excerpt here.

Godsgrave, by Jay Kristoff
In the second in Kristoff’s Nevernight Chronicles, Mia Corvere has become a Blade in the Red Church, but she’d still obsessed with revenge against those who wrongfully executed her father and destroyed her family. The Church isn’t interested in her vendetta, and seems to be actively working against her. Hearing about the upcoming Grand Games (where Consul Scaeva and Cardinal Duomo will make public appearances), she defies the Church and arranges to be sold to a gladiator outfit, where she hopes to be brought into close proximity to the people she wants to murder. But first, as a gladiator, she’s going to have to murder a whole lot of other people. As the body count rises, Mia discovers a secret that changes everything—but doesn’t sate her thirst for vengeance. Available in an exclusive signed edition from Barnes & Noble featuring stunning bonus art and an additional short story set in the world of the Nevernight Chronicle.

Ursula K. Le Guin: Hainish Novels and Stories, Vol. 1 and 2, by Ursula K. Le Guin
When it comes to breathtaking science fictional ideas, few writers can claim as many as Ursula K. Le Guin—and many of those incredible concepts first appeared in the novels and stories of her Hainish cycle. These tales span a galaxy seeded by humanity—not the humanity of Earth, but the humanity of the planet Hain, who once performed genetic experiments and established colonies on other planets (including Earth) before ceasing interstellar travel. As humanity on these worlds begins to reach out to the stars, they discover each other, and must explore their differences even as they establish connections. This epic two-volume set (Le Guin’s nigh-unprecedented second  Library of America collection) includes all of the Hainish Cycle novels and stories, including Hugo-winners The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, along with introductions, afterwards, and additional commentary by the author. A true must-have for SFF readers.

Death’s End, by Cixin Liu
The concluding volume of Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy arrives in trade paperback, which is more than enough reason to recommend it one more time. Death’s End finds the uneasy balance of power between the TriSolarans and humanity slowly leading to true peace. As humanity advances due to the influx of TriSolaran ideas and technology, the aliens adopt aspects of human culture, leading to a true understanding not based on mutually-assured destruction. But when an engineer named Cheng Xin, in hibernation since the early 21st century, awakens, she brings with her knowledge that threatens to upset the fragile balance brought about by the Dark Forest Deterrence. Taken together, Liu’s trilogy is not just one of the greatest works of Chinese science fiction to have come to America, but one of the greatest ever written.

MJ-12: Shadows, by Michael J. Martinez
We love a good mashup, and last year, Michael J. Matrinez (The Daedalus Incident) gave us one for the ages in MJ-12: Inceptionthe first book in the MAJESTIC-12 series—alt-history Cold War-era spy thriller-meets-X-Men. The sequel takes us to 1949, as the Variants—formerly normal Americans granted extranormal powers and now working for the government—face a series of crises quickly threatening to turn the Cold War hot. A Variant team is sent to Syria to support a military coup that would shake out in the U.S. government’s favor, even as a high-profile death in Washington, D.C. has dire implications for their future as a the next evolution of humanity. Meanwhile, new secrets are revealed about the origins of the Variant’s special abilities.

Fever, by Deon Meyer
A mystery plays out against a postapocalyptic South African landscape. In a future in which a virus has wiped out the vast majority of human life, young Nico and his father Willem, who was a judge and a scientist in his life before the world ended, make way to the city of Vanderkloof, a beacon of civilization in a ruined landscape. Unfortunately, we know from the jump that Willem won’t make it out of the story alive, and so narrator Nico’s story becomes both an effective who/when/whydunnit and a potent piece of end-times worldbuilding.

The Brightest Fell, by Seanan McGuire
The 11th October Daye novel—the first to debut in hardcover—opens in a rare moment of calm for Toby, a sure sign that chaos is about to crash the party. And it soon does, in the form of Toby’s mother Amandine, one of the most powerful Fae, amid Toby’s engagement to Tybalt, King of Cats. Amandine kidnaps Tybalt and forces Toby track down her sister, August, who has been missing for decades. Toby turns to the one man who can help her in the quest—and the last person she wants to work with: her powerful stepfather Simon Torquill. Their search brings Toby into contact with the debris of her past adventures in ways that are powerfully emotional for long time readers, as the mystery of August’s long absence becomes more intense as the story progresses.

A Secret History of Witches, by Louisa Morgan
The lightly fantastical story of one supernatural gifted family across generations. Stripped of their powers since an ancestor sacrificed her life in the early 19th century, the Orchire family still tried to keep the flame of magic burning, passing down magical lore through the years, losing spells and rituals with each passing decade until the last-born daughter reaches maturity, and the power returns—and must be hidden and controlled in order to keep the family safe. The cycle continues for generations, but in the mid-20th century, with a second World War developing, their magic may be the only thing that can save the world, even if it means sacrificing their secrecy and safety in order to do so.

Immortal Architects, by Paige Orwin
Paige Orwin’s The Interminables introduced us to a fascinating fantasy landscape—al alternate version of the world we know, rent by powerful magic. In 2020, the east coast of the U.S. is under the control of a magical cabal whose two best agents—Edmund, an immortal 1940s-era mystery man, and Istvan, a ghost—are keepers of the peace. In the first book, they must investigate a shadow war that has been waged behind-the-scenes for centuries, and the consequences of their actions were wold-altering. In this sequel, Orwin returns the story of Edmund and Istvan as they deal with the fallout, facing down upstart cults and invading armies.

White Trash Zombie Unchained, by Diana Rowland 
Rowland’s hilarious sixth White Trash Zombie novel finds zombie Angel Crawford’s life in pieces—literally, after a dismemberment during Mardi Gras. As she pulls herself together (again, literally) she becomes aware of a new threat to the zombie way of, er, life—Shamblers, a mindless variant of zombie that voraciously attack anyone they come across. When the Shambler plague strikes close to home, Angel launches into kick-butt mode to clean up the mess, but then discovers the reason the plague is spreading so quickly—and things become very personal.

The Uploaded, by Ferrett Steinmetz
The concept of digital immortality is usually presented as a net positive—a way of escaping death. Steinmetz offers an alternative view in this story of a future where the elderly move on to live in a digital heaven, but one maintained only by the shrinking population of the still-living. The dead monitor the living and vote on who gets to join them in paradise, ensuring cooperation. With their lives increasingly centered on maintaining the computer universe of their ancestors in a world devastated by plague, Amichai Damrosch, an orphan, decides life should be more about serving the dead. What he finds when he begins recruiting like-minded people is nothing less than a conspiracy perpetuated by the creator of digital heaven himself—which inspires Amichai to launch a plot of his own.

The End of the World Running Club, by Adrian Walker
This debut novel follows Edgar Hill, who lives an unassuming life in Edinburgh until an asteroid strikes Earth, ushering in the apocalypse. Edgar is from from prepared to deal with the disaster or protect his family from the fallout, and is separated from them when he’s lft behind by rescuers along with six other survivors. The unlikely comanions make the decision to head south to Cornwall, nearly 500 miles away, across a ruined landscape, littered with the worst of what the remnants of humanity has to offer. If he wants to see his family again, Edgar must take charge of his life in a way he never thought himself capable of before. If you’ve ever wondered if you have what it takes to survive the end times, Edgar’s story—rich in palpable deail and realistic emotion— will make you feel despair and hope in equal measure.

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