Humans inhabit the bottom echelons in this brief satirical novel of alien invasion that envisions a scenario more whimper than bang.
Adam, a talented artist, lives with his mother and sister after his father abandons the family. When the 1950s-culture–obsessed vuvv landed years before, people were taken in by their promises to supply advanced technology and medicine, not understanding that they’d soon be obsolete, impoverished, and, like Adam, who suffers from a debilitating intestinal illness, without any means to pay for medical care. In short vignettes titled as if they are pieces of fine art, the bleakness of this new reality is expertly rendered—as in an early chapter in which his mother is roughed up by a fellow job seeker who threatens to burn her “motherfucking house down” if she persists in applying for the same part-time position. When they decide to rent out part of their house to another family, Adam and their daughter, Chloe, fall for each other. Monetizing their connection by broadcasting their 1950s-styled romance for the vuvv becomes mightily complicated when the relationship sours. The ethnicities of the main characters are not specified—the only time race is textually indicated is a passage where white people are shown rioting on television and blaming Mexican workers for stealing their jobs—but references to European art and the way Adam and Chloe slide into a clichéd movie vision of the 1950s both imply they are white and add further layers of interpretive complexity to the book.
Resplendent with Anderson’s trademark dry, sarcastic wit, this brief, complicated read serves as a scathing social commentary and, as the title indicates, an interrogation of free market economics.
(Science fiction. 14-adult)
A galaxy perches on the edge of war when word goes out that the crown princess has been assassinated.
Except she hasn’t been. An assassination attempt from a shocking source has Rhee running from planet to planet, disguised, untangling threads of deception and betrayal. She’s bent on revenge on the man who assassinated her family years ago, which left her the last Ta’an of 12 generations of warrior emperors—but he may not be who she thought. In another thread, in breathlessly alternating chapters, Aly finds himself tossed from his life in the military (and reluctant star of a reality program) into a desperate quest to absolve himself from the charge of assassinating Rhee. It’s no coincidence that Aly, the accused, is black and belongs to an oppressed refugee group; Rhee has the tan skin of the ruling group. Never faltering in her fast pace and nuanced characterization, Belleza weaves together many complex layers: the recent Great War (massacres, famines, clouds of chemical gas that scorched whole cities to dust); racism, roundups, and imprisonments; the roles of media and propaganda; revenge, guilt, grief, and obligation; and disturbing moral questions about privacy and technology, especially regarding the cubes implanted in most people’s minds to orient them geographically and store their thoughts and memories. This is a multiplanet, multiculture, multitech world and a timely tale.
An exceptionally satisfying series opener.
(Science fiction. 14-18)
In the series’ third volume, Lozen—now healed of her deadly sickness—vows not to take another human life even as dangerous enemies stalk the residents and refugees of Valley Where First Light Paints the Cliffs, who depend on her to keep them safe.
As she turns from killing, Lozen discovers she can gather great power in her hands and direct it as needed when, through her growing ability to communicate mind to mind, she perceives deadly enemies bent on her community’s destruction. One of Haven’s four overlords is dead and the Dreamer has become an ally, but the Jester and Lady Time retain formidable powers and an implacable hatred for their former servants, Lozen especially. And Luther Little Wound—a cruel, solitary killer—survives, a fearsome enemy. Lozen draws strength from her life partner, Hussein; from the bibliophilic Dreamer; from the strange creature Hally; and from the land itself, home of her Chiricahua ancestors, including the first Lozen. Their stories, her birthright, ground and sustain her, imparting valuable life lessons. Lozen’s one of literature’s rare female superheroes: a down-to-earth leader whose crushing burden of responsibility is leavened by humility, humor, and a willingness to ask for help and accept advice. Her multidimensional journey has evolved with the series.
If the bleak world Lozen’s people and their allies have inherited is deeply scarred, this gripping saga suggests that where change is possible, hope for the future remains.
(Science fiction. 12-16)
In an apocalyptic future Canada, Indigenous people have been forced to live on the run to avoid capture by the Recruiters, government military agents who kidnap Indians and confine them to facilities called “schools.”
Orphan Frenchie (Métis) is rescued from the Recruiters by Miigwans (Anishnaabe) along with a small band of other Indians from different nations, most young and each with a tragic story. Miigwans leads the group north to find others, holding on to the belief of safety in numbers. Five years later, Frenchie is now 16, and the bonded travelers have protected one another, strengthened by their loyalty and will to persevere as a people. They must stay forever on alert, just a breath away from capture by the Recruiters or by other Indians who act as their agents. Miigwans reveals that the government has been kidnapping Indians to extract their bone marrow, scientists believing that the key to restoring dreaming to white people is found within their DNA. Frenchie later learns that the truth is even more horrifying. The landscape of North America has been completely altered by climate change, rising oceans having eliminated coastlines and the Great Lakes having been destroyed by pollution and busted oil pipelines. Though the presence of the women in the story is downplayed, Miigwans is a true hero; in him Dimaline creates a character of tremendous emotional depth and tenderness, connecting readers with the complexity and compassion of Indigenous people.
A dystopian world that is all too real and that has much to say about our own.
(Science fiction. 14-adult)
The Tribe depends on Georgie’s ability to foresee possible futures; now a world-ending blizzard of emptiness is snuffing futures out, each time precipitated by Ashala’s death, in this conclusion to the trilogy begun with The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (2014).
Distinguishing what is here and real from what might never happen is challenging for Georgie. Assisted by her cave-dwelling spiders and loyal friend Daniel, she twists vines into ropes that, when connected, map outcomes, concluding that the world’s survival turns on choices made by certain individuals at a particular time. While Georgie can identify the chooser, neither choice nor outcome is foreseeable. Further, Ash must remain unaware her life’s at risk. Dangers mount when terrorists disguised as Illegals (those, like the Tribe, with Abilities) bomb the Gull City train station, causing devastating casualties, to prevent city leaders from any rapprochement with Illegals. After a chaotic attempted coup, Ash leads a mission to free detainees slated for execution, while Georgie remains in the Firstwood seeking a way through the approaching blizzard. Alexander Hoffman, the not-altogether-likable curator of human survival, lends his voice to the intricate and intriguing worldbuilding, while Starbeauty, an ethereal (but decidedly feline) cat spirit, adorns a cosmology drawn from the Australian author’s indigenous heritage and fertile imagination.
If the plot’s complex, the theme resounding through this powerful trilogy couldn’t be clearer: we have the power to choose love over hate and life over death, to forgive ourselves and others; either all life matters or none of it does.
(Indigenous futurism. 12-adult)
A down-and-out teen, days from eviction, competes in the championships of the world’s most popular virtual reality game.
Emika Chen, 18, has been on her own for six years, living in poverty with a juvenile record, supporting herself by bounty hunting. She survives on ramen, with $13 and a debt of $3,450 to her name, and few joys: memories of her dead father, her crush on the world-famous 21-year-old inventor Hideo Tanaka, and her passion for Hideo’s game, Warcross. Universally adored, Warcross is an immersive battle game with CGI–ready virtual combats. When Emi exploits a Warcross bug in a last-ditch attempt to make some cash, she glitches into the game. Suddenly, she’s a media darling, and Hideo Tanaka himself summons her to Japan for a top-secret job. Whisked away on a private jet, Emi is flabbergasted by the perks of her new position—one of which is membership on one of the world’s top pro teams. Emi (an American with an implied Chinese heritage) grows fond of her multiethnic team (with a wheelchair-using captain), but could one of them be a saboteur? Brief shoutouts to Lu’s Legend series will intrigue ardent fans, though they don’t seem to imply a connection between the worlds.
A stellar cyberpunk series opener packed with simmering romance and cinematic thrills
. (Science fiction. 13-adult)
Reeve picks his story up directly after Railhead (2016), with more of everything, from destruction to fun.
Zen and Nova have discovered a new network populated by numerous alien races (three-legged antelopelike creatures are the least strange). There’s no Datasea or Guardians; even the sentient trains are different, but the rails are the same, and carvings of the mysterious Station Angels point to a shared origin. Meanwhile the Prell corporate family has staged a coup in the Network Empire, and Empress Threnody, accompanied by a professional criminal and a Guardian’s interface, is on the run aboard an old war loco, Ghost Wolf, who is destined to steal readers’ hearts. Reeve’s bizarre but compelling far future boasts a mainly brown population (only the strange, standoffish Prells are white) of people who are equally diverse in their personalities. There are gay AI gods, sentient bugs, and machines who very nearly think they are human but turn out to be so much more. The action-packed plot never flags; Reeve’s great strength is that he can weave worldbuilding and character development into even the most literally explosive scenes; his writing bristles with evocative details, and those details reveal worlds about the characters. Exposition is nearly nonexistent, and yet even new readers can glean enough back story to catch up.
Hop aboard and prepare for the ride of your life.
(Science fiction. 12-adult)
In an alternate present, a company named Death-Cast calls Deckers—people who will die within the coming day—to inform them of their impending deaths, though not how they will happen. The End Day call comes for two teenagers living in New York City: Puerto Rican Mateo and bisexual Cuban-American foster kid Rufus. Rufus needs company after a violent act puts cops on his tail and lands his friends in jail; Mateo wants someone to push him past his comfort zone after a lifetime of playing it safe. The two meet through Last Friend, an app that connects lonely Deckers (one of many ways in which Death-Cast influences social media). Mateo and Rufus set out to seize the day together in their final hours, during which their deepening friendship blossoms into something more. Present-tense chapters, short and time-stamped, primarily feature the protagonists’ distinctive first-person narrations. Fleeting third-person chapters give windows into the lives of other characters they encounter, underscoring how even a tiny action can change the course of someone else’s life. It’s another standout from Silvera (History Is All You Left Me, 2017, etc.), who here grapples gracefully with heavy questions about death and the meaning of a life well-lived.
Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises.
(Speculative fiction. 13-adult).