In Thomas’ sci-fi novel, a dying renegade returns to Earth from a Mars penal colony to connect with his secret ward—a young man undergoing cyberenhancements to take his place in tomorrow’s elite.
In 2143, after the convulsive wars and climate-change disasters of the Sixth Great Extinction, Earth has largely been taken over by a one-world government spearheaded by the Indian people, who have also developed a breakthrough quantum computer, the Raina, which they’ve begun to worship as a goddess. Lucas Rivera ran afoul of government oppression by acting as a “ferryman,” getting thousands of refugees to safety during the worst years. Sentenced to a Mars penal colony, where he acquired terminal cancer from radiation, the resourceful Lucas later returns to Earth to ruthlessly eliminate some old cronies and to find Dom Tessier, a state-raised youth in the process of becoming a “T-Man” (or “transformed man”), part of a social elite being wired to telepathically interface with other T-Men and the Raina. Lucas has long been Dom’s secret benefactor, using his riches from his rescues to boost the boy’s status in the ominously changing new world—but the convict’s motivations aren’t altruistic. In this era of genetic wonders, elders like Lucas can effectively data-dump their consciousness into carefully prepped human hosts like Dom, effectively rejuvenating themselves. But what if Dom (who narrates in alternating chapters), for all his conditioning, doesn’t want to be Lucas’ new body? In his introduction, the author says that he used Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations as a template for this first novel in a planned series. However, readers who expend too much mental energy looking for science-fictional clones of Miss Havisham or Joe Gargery will miss out on a crackling, well-told story that also has faint aspects of Lois Lowery’s The Giver. Thomas’ prose is reminiscent of that used by Philip K. Dick in his Cold War–influenced tales of apocalyptic intrigue and features spare yet compelling descriptions of fearsome weapons, robots, seductions, abrupt violence, deaths, and betrayals. There’s also a complex moral argument, a courtroom drama, and ethical conundrums that will likely haunt readers well after they finish the closing chapter.
An exciting, thought-provoking, futuristic narrative that transcends its Dickensian-mashup origins.
A teenager works through her emotional turmoil while waiting to become a sacrificial offering to aliens in this sci-fi melodrama.
In the near future, Earth has been conquered by 9-foot-tall, telepathic, flying vulture-demons who swoop down and eviscerate people with their razor-sharp talons and beaks—neither bullets nor bird shot nor nuclear bombs slow them down. They call themselves the Over, in honor of the Übermensch figure lionized by the philosopher Nietzsche. The Over impose a peace treaty, allowing humans to run their own affairs as long as they deliver a yearly quota of teens to the demons’ “Summer Program.” This sleep-away/death camp features canoes and cabins but also armed guards, mean counselors, numbers instead of names, and mind-numbing group therapy/brainwashing sessions. It culminates with campers being assigned to 1) getting eaten by the Over, 2) getting impregnated by other teens many times and then getting eaten, or 3) becoming a “seed” in the parasitic Over reproductive cycle. Dragooned into the program, 14-year-old rebel Jordan Fontaine continues her habitual, sarcastic defiance of authority, flinging wisecracks at officious counselors; subtly fencing with Heaven Omalis, a beautiful, sympathetic human Liaison working for the Over; carving her name into her flesh; and finally making contact with a Resistance leader who wants her to undertake a mission against the feathered Overlords. “They’re winning because they are smarter, and they are smarter because we’ve let them dumb us down,” the leader says. Ingram (Eat Your Heart Out, 2015, etc.) gives a nightmarish twist to the familiar YA formula of teenagers facing martyrdom by an oppressive society. The Over, who mainly glare balefully at people, are a distant, ominous presence in a novel that is mostly about human relationships roiled by their demands. The atmosphere of adolescent angst develops around fraught conversations, from Jordan’s anguished exchanges with her parents to her sullen mouthing off in group therapy; the result feels like a mashup of The Hunger Games, “The Lottery,” Girl, Interrupted, and Auschwitz, with malevolent buzzards thrown in. It’s also a lesbian story: Jordan gravitates toward a first girl-love with a cabin mate but melts down when Heaven starts sexually teasing her. Heaven, meanwhile, has her own affair with mysterious stripper Marla Matheson. Jordan is a believable girl in an impossible situation; despite the pulpy elements, Ingram gives her story a realism and emotional depth that make the reader care about her protagonist’s fate.
An absorbing and poignant YA dystopian fantasy with a convincing heroine.
A sci-fi thriller finds an ordinary family besieged by the structure of its seemingly utopian society.
Eight-year-old Corim Colleran is a member of the General Order. He enjoys a time when humanity suffers no disease, war, or famine. Men of the General Order live to be 36 years old, while women die at 37. One day, Corim and his classmates are addressed by Mrs. Winten, part of the higher Counselor Order (whose members reach 77). She shows the children footage of poor, starving, and elderly people, reminding them that “the system that determines how you...live and die is the same system that ensures not only your well-being, but your very existence.” When Corim and his classmates turn 13, they are allowed to visit the soft rooms, where sexuality is explored. Corim and a girl named Kiri become close but not through sex; they take long walks together and learn to value each other’s company. On the verge of adulthood, Kiri is chosen for the honor of working in a brothel, in the service of the higher Orders. When she and Corim have a child together, all seems well until the perfection of their society turns savagely against them. In crafting a narrative haunted by echoes of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Maguire (Drawn Inward and Other Poems, 2016, etc.) portrays a disturbing future of utilitarian horror. Early on, he introduces readers to the notion of Extension, or the ability of this society to revive—for three days—those who accidentally die before their allotted time. The author’s employment of this clever plot device, and the dramatic fallout, offers commentary relevant to all eras of human history, in that “those in power do what they do...because the very act of exercising their power brings them pleasure.” The prose is straightforward and often beautiful, as when young Corim loses his virginity and experiences “that hot foundry where the self melts.” This is a genre-transcending work that anyone who loves passionate storytelling should savor.
A striking feat of mature, humanistic sci-fi that explores a shocking future.
A member of a visiting alien race becomes the subject of an orchestrated hunt on Earth.
In this sci-fi debut by an author team writing under a pseudonym, Earth in the near future has become a dystopian war zone since the event known as Hatred Day, when a portal opened in the atmosphere from the distant planet Armador. Through the portal had come members of an alien superrace called the Inborn, capable of great feats of physical strength and energy manipulation indistinguishable from sorcery. But the portal itself warps Earth’s biosphere, spoiling and mutating it, and the arrival of the Inborn sparks a 22-year conflict called The Inborn War and a worldwide hatred of these aliens, given vent every year on the anniversary of Hatred Day. The plot centers on an Inborn named Snofrid Yagami, whose friends seek to save her from the slave auction block of a filthy human-run ghetto in the city of Hollowstone. They succeed, despite some serious competitive bidding, only to realize that she’s experiencing a selective form of amnesia—she can’t recall specifics of her recent past or the identity of her friends. She scrambles to cope with the fallout of relationships she can no longer remember, with men like the munitions dealer Atlas Bancroft and the deadly state-sponsored killer Lucian Lozoraitis (“With hard angled brows, light stubble, and full chapped lips, he was an untidy sort of attractive; but his badger-grey eyes harbored a calculating flare”). The authorial device of giving Snofrid such a convenient case of amnesia wears thin and is never convincing as anything more than a means of making exposition possible. But this is a minor quibble in the face of the book’s smart and dazzling worldbuilding. The magic of the Inborn is intricately conceived, and the long-term ramifications of their arrival on Earth are worked out in thoroughly believable detail. The pleasingly complex plot moves its large cast of memorable characters through a carefully controlled escalation of dangers, with Snofrid and her comrades at the heart. This confident and captivating novel should leave readers eagerly anticipating future volumes.
The first gripping installment in a sci-fi series set in a future of fractious and dangerous alien apartheid.
Ordinary human soldiers face supernatural foes in this first installment of a fantasy series.
Ray’s fiction debut stars a young man named Tammen Gilmot, a private first class in the Dragon Company of the 37th regiment in service to the Verin Empire, sent to the far-flung province of Rakhasin. Tammen is new to the service, having only recently taken the Queen’s Coin and shipped out to the frontier. He joins the unit of a legendary commander, Capt. Hoskaaner, known as the Statue Man, who initially seems like an ageless holdover from the old days when Elves still intermingled with human empires. As one seasoned soldier complacently informs Tammen: “You can’t expect things to be orderly where there’s wyrding involved.” The disappearance of the Elves has left a power imbalance that’s allowed the kingdom of Gedlund, led by an immortal witch king named Thyesten, to flourish and threaten the Verin Empire with supernatural forces such as weaponized sorcery and goblin shock troops. Early on, Tammen faces the fierce goblins (“Though he’d read of them, seen sketches in books, and even caricatures in the paper, none of that left him quite prepared for his first sight of the goblin warriors. They were much shorter than men, but their hunched run gave him little sense of size as they darted through the waving grass. Their broad olive faces were streaked in white paint”). This promising first volume mainly tells the story of Tammen’s coming-of-age as both a young man and a soldier. Ray shifts easily among scenes of campfire camaraderie and well-executed action sequences in which the Verin rifles, artillery, and bayonets go up against the swords and sorcery of their Rakhasin enemies and others. Tammen, ostracized for much of his youth because of his intellect and formal education, finds in Dragon Company unexpected friendships under fire, and his newcomer status on the frontier gives Ray a ready-made vehicle for introducing readers to the refreshingly intricate back stories of Gedlund, Verin, and the magic wars that have grown in ferocity since the departure of the Elves from the world. The book’s dialogue crackles with authenticity, its characters are unfailingly well-drawn, and although its pacing can be uneven at times, its complicated systems—political and magical—are satisfyingly multilayered.
This bracing, complex tale pits a fantasy-world version of the Victorian British Empire against a sorcerer-dictator out of The Lord of the Rings.
Renneberg’s (In Earth’s Service, 2015, etc.) stellar sci-fi sequel to 2013’s The Mothership tells a story of alien contact and conflict and serves as a prequel of sorts to his epic Mapped Space series.
Ten years have passed since aliens inhabiting a massive mother ship crash-landed in a remote area of Australia; there, they were covertly defeatedand all traces of their existence were removed. But when a trawler mysteriously disappears and native communities in the area begin vanishing en masse, American Col. Robert Beckman, who heads an elite team specializing in alien contact operating out of Area 51, is sent to investigate. He quickly realizes a chilling truth: the amphibious aliens have not only survived, but have been reproducing and acquiring knowledge of humankind for the last decade at an astonishing rate. With the looming extinction of humankind very much a possibility, Beckman and company must find a way to eradicate a vastly advanced and highly aggressive alien force without annihilating themselves in the process. Renneberg manages to integrate a massive back story into the main plot almost effortlessly, powering his grand-scale storytelling with meticulous description and relentless pacing. The brilliance of the story, though, is in the way the author develops the overarching storyline with intimate character stories, like those of Beckman and the alien matriarch, Beloved-of-the-Sea. By exploring the alien leader’s point of view with understanding, Renneberg manages to sidestep genre clichés to create a tale that feels new and original. Discerning sci-fi fans will find this novel, which can be read as a stand-alone, to be immensely satisfying.
Everything a great sci-fi novel should be: visionary, immersive, and thematically profound.
Concluding a futuristic trilogy, this novel takes aging hero Elliott Eastman out of his post-apocalyptic colony in Idaho and on an often violent quest east through a devastated America in search of other surviving communities.
This is a blood-and-thunder capper (after America 2038, 2013, etc.) to Ryan’s story starring Eastman, a former Army Ranger and reform-minded Colorado politician. In previous books, Eastman saw America—and the planet—convulse through what he calls the “Great Rendering,” a perfect storm of climate-change drought/flooding, wealth inequality, deficient government, food shortages, rapacious Wall Street traders, and civil unrest. It resulted in total anarchy, rioting, catastrophe, and mutant predator animals overtaking humanity, practically to extinction. Eastman managed to persevere with his family and some 3,000 followers in an isolated stronghold of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in a sustainable community harvesting lake algae to eat (the green stuff, fortunately, possesses restorative powers that keep the now-88-year-old Eastman fairly spry). With years since the last straggler-refugee came into their midst, Eastman ponders whether any other organized outposts of humanity persist. A large expedition led by his most capable son, Elliott the Younger, known as “E,” follows rivers east toward Missouri—and discovers pockets of vicious fiefdoms and psycho holdouts, including formidably armed ex-military men who take slave labor from revenant Native American tribes in the hinterlands. While E, Eastman, and their comrades encounter all kinds of carnivores, human and otherwise, betrayal back home in Idaho takes on a disastrous, familiar shape, and history threatens to repeat itself within North America’s last functioning society. Characters are robustly drawn, and the crosscutting chapters are practically cinematic, as Ryan turns the screws on his gallery of heroes and villains. While concluding the saga, the author avoids a sense of wrapping up everyone in a happily-ever-after package. There is a strong sensation of the beginning of a new world that does not minimize the birth pangs, the scars of the past, or the struggles that lay ahead. With the exception of the final paragraphs, Ryan does not preach on a soapbox about pathologies that laid civilization low; nor does he indulge in the guns, guts, and God populism that often typifies survivalist fiction.
A familiar post-apocalyptic survivalist epic, but it’s told with uncommon power and passion.
This first installment of a projected paranormal fantasy series chronicles the adventures of a 14-year-old boy who, after dealing with the disappearance of his mother, moves to another state.
Shortly after his mother’s blood-stained jacket is found in the mountains of Colorado, Jason Lex’s life is irrevocably changed forever. The sheriff’s office presumes she’s dead, the victim of a mountain lion attack. Then Jason’s shaken father decides to uproot the family and transport himself and his three children to a small town in Idaho. With no friends or family nearby except his Grandma Lena, Jason is shocked when he discovers that the local crazy guy—who is obsessed with filming the sky—turns out to be his mother’s twin brother. The young protagonist finds his life upended yet again when Uncle Alexander shares a bombshell revelation: namely that Jason’s ancestors have been secret guards charged with sustaining an energy field that maintains the balance between humans and cryptids (beasts like Bigfoot and the Chupacabra, whose existences haven’t yet been proved). Could Jason’s mother still be alive? Soon he is forced to unravel an outlandish mystery involving his mother, his seemingly insane uncle, and a family legacy that involves nothing less than saving the world from cryptids. Terrien’s narrative voice captures Jason’s teen angst perfectly. Insecurities involving forging a self-image and finding one’s place in the world and more serious issues, like losing a parent, are examined with compassion and insight. At one point, Jason muses about suicide: "But is that what kids do when their moms disappear? Or die? Or whatever? Wasn’t it enough to feel like you’re dragging a bag loaded with rocks? Like you’re always fighting to keep from crying?" The cast of authentic and endearing characters is one of the novel’s many strengths, along with the brisk pacing, action-packed narrative, and creation of the fascinating creatures known as Skyfish. The cryptozoological thread, which subtly blurs the lines between reality and fantasy, gives this volume a wonderfully strange undertone. In a subgenre laid low by clichéd characters and conventional storylines, this paranormal fantasy tale is not only wildly entertaining, but also undeniably unique. Both adult and YA audiences should find this book appealing.
A delightful novel that delivers a tightly plotted, character-driven story about a hero confronting wondrous creatures.
A debut novel follows a young woman as she struggles to come to grips with the realization that in a parallel universe everyone has an opposite.
This first installment of a trilogy focuses on the morally principled Riley Dale. Just days after graduating from college in Boulder, Colorado, Riley finds her world upended when she grasps that recent disturbing events—her grandmother dies of a heart attack, she stumbles across the body of a serial killer’s latest victim, and she apprehends that her bizarre visions seem much more than bad dreams—are all tied together. When she uncovers clues in her grandmother’s attic that point to not only the existence of a parallel world, but also her relative’s intimate knowledge of it, Riley unwillingly embarks on a dangerous journey of self-discovery. This quest brings her to the parallel world, where she meets her opposite self, a drug-addicted young woman whose entire life has been filled with hardship. A man trying to help Riley navigate this frightening new world tells her that she remains forever linked to this woman (“Basically, you are still connected…even though you live in two different worlds. If something really bad were to happen to this Riley, the same thing would happen to you”). Targeted by the police and assassins, the two women, unlikely partners, must stay alive long enough to figure out an operation to save the world. Dabney offers an utterly readable fusion of speculative fiction, mystery, biblical myth, and mainstream thriller. While parallel universes and alternate realities have been fertile concepts explored by fantasy and sci-fi writers for decades, the author brings a freshness to the well-trod subjects by giving the topics a deeply spiritual, biblical twist. Additionally, her savvy use of tension and pacing delivers a thrilling read, making the volume virtually impossible to put down. The only criticisms are largely unavoidable in a series opener—many questions regarding Riley’s abilities and ultimate goal to “heal the world” are left unanswered, and the conclusion is less than satisfying, being a respite more than any kind of ending.
Judging by the engrossing first volume, this trilogy about two heroines’ perilous mission has the potential to be not only highly entertaining, but profoundly edifying as well.