This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Space Opera Espionage, Body-Switching Hijinkx, and Hippo Madness

The Caledonian Gambit, by Dan Moren
Combining space opera with espionage thriller, Moren sets his story in a universe divided between superpowers: the Illyrican Empire and the Commonwealth. Simon Kovalic is the Commonwealth’s greatest spy, the sort of man who engineers planet-wide events in order to shift the balance of power. He identifies an opportunity on the planet of Caledonia—but even a spy of his skill can’t gain access to the people and places he needs in order to leverage the situation. For that he needs Eli Brody, a broken man working a lowly job on a remote planet to which he fled from Caledonia years ago. Forced to return home by Kovalic, the two form an uneasy alliance as events spin outside of their control in ways that could change the balance of power in the universe forever. We’ve loved listening to Moren natter away on various fandom podcasts over the years; his debut may be the SF spy thriller we’ve been searching for.

River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey
Sarah Gailey’s debut imagines an alternate past in which the U.S. plan to kickstart a massive hippo farming operation in the southeast (which really almost happened!) goes terribly, terribly wrong. Yes, you read that right: a bit more than a century ago, the U.S. was facing a meat crisis—the population was booming, and the beleaguered meat industry was having trouble keeping pace. Thus begat a ludicrous, ingenious solution: the government would import hippos to the marshlands of Louisiana with plans to raise them en masse as an alternative to beef. Obviously, our track of history turned a different way, but this book imagines a past in which that really happened. Of course, introducing new megafauna is always going to come with risks, and when the risks involve violent hippos rampaging across the land with only a group of elite wildlife wranglers to stop them, you’ll be happy you live in the timeline where you only read about this sort of thing in fantastically entertaining, imaginative novellas.

Wicked Wonders, by Ellen Klages
Klages offers up a collection of short fiction that wanders across the spectrum of sci-fi and fantasy—and beyond, dipping a toe or two into non-genre tales. Along the way, her vibrant imagination finds deep pleasures in unusual premises, including an astronaut on Mars who discovers her pregnancy has determined her fate, ladies who lunch ever-so-politely delving into a dark side of quantum mechanics, and a player trapped inside a series of board games, and at the mercy of a fairy queen. Klages surprises in each story, but maintains a sense of humanity and warmth throughout that transforms her tales from narrative experiments into powerful observations of the human (and non-human) condition.

Radiate, by C.A. Higgins
This trilogy-closer opens in the aftermath of the attack launched on the System by terrorist Constance Harper—with an assist from criminals Mattie and Ivan—the solar system is in chaos. System forces still battle rebels, and the rebels fall out among each other—no one can be trusted. Mattie and Ivan escape from the sentient ship Ananke, but Ivan is seriously wounded, and Constance doesn’t want to help him. Against a backdrop of the violent death throes of the System, Mattie and Ivan must stay one step ahead of the Ananke, woken to consciousness by Mattie and now desperate to have him back—and seeking other ships to awaken as well. In this climactic volume, Higgins delves into the characters’ pasts, slowly expanding our understanding of their motivations while setting up a fantastic payoff waiting at the end. And of course, her science remains as hard—and intellectually satisfying—as ever.

your name. by Makoto Shinkai
Here’s something a bit different: this is the translated “light novel” adaptation of the highest-grossing anime film of all time, written by director Makoto Shinkai during the production of the film. It’s a more interior take on the story of two teens who feel lost in their own lives until they begin living each other’s, mysteriously switching bodies while they’re dreaming. It sounds silly, but the kooky premise becomes seriously spiritual and more complex as it goes, and the ending is seriously uplifting and involves a few cool sci-fi set-pieces. This is a great way to experience one of the year’s biggest science fiction stories from a different angle.

Alien: Covenant, by Alan Dean Foster
Here’s another adaptation of a major sci-fi film. Veteran novelizer and SFF author Alan Dean Foster (The Force Awakens) translates the latest film in the Alien franchise to the page, for those who want to go deeper, or prefer their scares confined to ink and paper.

What new books are you reading this week?

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