Six interwoven stories, each set farther out in time, envision the human future: fantastic but recognizable—maybe inevitable.
In the near future, Evan, 15, a semi-identical twin, struggles to accept that his life depends on organs harvested from his beloved sister’s failing body. A few years later, Milla, 16, conceals the extent to which her body was rebuilt after a car accident, acutely aware of prejudice against those who’ve undergone such procedures, until a disastrous first date with her longtime crush who’s heard the Rev. Tadd’s radio harangues against altering the human body, even to save lives. Years later, the charismatic religious zealot undergoes a startling change of heart. As genetic manipulation accelerates beyond cosmetic enhancements and lifesaving surgeries, animal and plant genes are modified, then used to modify human beings. Limbs can be added and the mortally ill frozen until their ailments are curable. For-profit enterprises, in the U.S. especially, compete in a laissez-faire free-for-all. Russia and countries behind the “Genetic Curtain” prohibit tampering with human DNA, instead transforming a burgeoning convict population into cyborgs who endure painfully inhumane conditions. While institutions worldwide, public and private, ignore ethical dilemmas, several vivid characters prove capable of heroism and generosity. Final story excepted, most major human characters appear white.
Imaginative and incisive, this asks readers to ponder what makes us human and if we’ll know when we’ve crossed the line, becoming something else.
Humans, now extinct, used their DNA to create Vispera’s nine clone models, and subsequent generations eliminated human diseases and defects; the choice to create Jack, 17, genetically human, gray-eyed, with asthma, is a troubling and intriguing mystery to Althea-310.
Gestated in tanks and born 10 years apart, each 10-member generation of the nine models appears identical. (After centuries of genetic manipulation, racial characteristics vary among models, but all have brown eyes.) Rarely, minor differences affect individual appearance, like the tiny scar on her wrist that Althea-310 covers. She wonders how Jack, barred from their games and ceremonies, can bear life without the constant presence and comfort of nine identical siblings. She intervenes when the Carsons bully him, and she provokes widespread ire when she breaks with her sisters to choose a Hassan instead of a Carson at the Pairing Ceremony. Though Jack’s poetry and music disturb her, she resists her sisters’ attempts to comfort her with their touch. When he’s blamed for acts of vandalism that threaten Vispera, she risks everything to defend him. Uncovering secrets of Vispera’s past, they discover Jack may be the key to its future. Complex issues play out in fast-paced action without oversimplification. Conformity’s benefits are real. But even if giving rein to unfettered individuality can cause harm, singularity just might be a precondition to empathy.
Like the works of Ursula K. LeGuin, inside this lyrically written, suspenseful tale is a deeply humane thematic core.
(Science fiction. 14-18)
Insurgents among the remaining Kerenza IV colonists must sabotage and delay BeiTech to stay alive long enough for survivors from Illuminae (2015) and Gemina (2016) to return and give them a fighting chance.
Rhys Lindstrom, a handsome blond techie space Marine-type, and Asha Grant, a pharmacy intern and Kady Grant’s light brown-skinned cousin, are on opposite sides—spelling trouble for this star-crossed couple. Rhys works for occupying BeiTech, while Asha’s in the resistance. Rhys has been working on the Magellan’s (nearly complete) repairs but is reassigned to the surface to maintain the crumbling colony’s infrastructure as BeiTech finishes replenishing their hermium supply so they can leave the system. Some of the (fatal) technical difficulties are the result of sabotage by colonist resisters who know that when BeiTech no longer needs them that they’re likely to be liquidated just as the “nonessential” colonists were. With Rhys horrified by the planetary situation and seeking to reconnect with his ex Asha, the resistance turns to him for a Hail Mary plan. Meanwhile, the consolidated Hypatia and Heimdall crews face tight resources, tense leadership struggles (including pushback from adults not wanting to take orders from teens), and impossible choices as they race to the colony for a long-shot rescue mission. Design as tightly controlled as the plot clarifies complicated situations and provides visceral emotional gut punches.
An adrenaline-pumping action story with timely themes and lasting resonance thanks to the focus on the characters’ humanity.
(Science fiction. 13-adult)
Near-future science-fiction crimes bleed into dystopian horror centuries later in a wildly imaginative genre-hybrid sequel to Archivist Wasp (2015).
For three years, Isabel (ex-Archivist and no longer going by “Wasp”) and the former shrine girls have gradually created a home; now savage invaders force them to fight to defend it. While hiding refugees in tunnels buried since the Before, Isabel again encounters the ghosts of a nameless, long-dead supersoldier and his partner. Instead of passing peacefully on to the afterlife, the ghosts are seeking their lost memories of the Latchkey Project that engineered them, secrets that could guarantee Isabel’s future…or destroy it. Less mythic in tone and more conventional in structure than the first, this title nonetheless delivers gripping action while deepening mysteries in restrained prose studded with flashes of vulgar brutality and startling poetry. Isabel’s post-apocalyptic world, with all its graphic violence and cruelty, still exhibits solidarity, tenderness, and joy. Allusions to names of varying ethnicities and a range of skin tones indicate an unobtrusive diversity. The emotional core of the story resides in the magnificently understated relationship between damaged, heartsick Isabel and the arrogant yet oddly fragile ghost, a kinship forged from their shared raw courage, ferocious loyalty, and bone-deep integrity, punctuated by an uncertain, heart-piercing vulnerability. Although this narrative provides satisfying closure, readers will hope for more about these unlikely allies.
Excruciating, cathartic, and triumphant.
(Science fiction/horror. 12-adult)
The fate of free will hangs in the balance as Emika must choose a side in this sequel to Warcross (2017).
In the days after Japanese Hideo triggered the algorithm in the NeuroLink enabling him to control 98 percent of its users (all except those using the beta lenses), people are turning themselves in for crimes en masse, and some child molesters and murderers are even killing themselves. Those still using beta lenses—like Emika Chen, who is implied Asian-American, and her multicultural teammates—have a little more than a week until the beta lenses will download a patch and convert to the algorithm. The tight timeline has Emika dwelling on the team-up offer from Zero—which her friends are against as he’s a terrorist—until her hand is forced by assassination attempts and Zero brings her into the secretive Blackcoat organization and into the know about his identity. Emika struggles with the Blackcoats’ extreme ends-justify-the-means stance but goes along with their plan while teasing out the truth of what happened to Hideo’s brother, Sasuke, all those years ago. The plotting is exquisite, with tiny details connecting back to the first book, big twists that never feel forced, and emotional power drawn from character growth. The flawlessly rendered characters anchor the sophisticated themes and world-altering stakes right up to the end game.
A fast, intense, phenomenal read.
(Science fiction. 13-adult)
Eager to prove herself, the daughter of a flier disgraced for cowardice hurls herself into fighter pilot training to join a losing war against aliens.
Plainly modeled as a cross between Katniss Everdeen and Conan the Barbarian (“I bathed in fires of destruction and reveled in the screams of the defeated. I didn’t get afraid”), Spensa “Spin” Nightshade leaves her previous occupation—spearing rats in the caverns of the colony planet Detritus for her widowed mother’s food stand—to wangle a coveted spot in the Defiant Defense Force’s flight school. Opportunities to exercise wild recklessness and growing skill begin at once, as the class is soon in the air, battling the mysterious Krell raiders who have driven people underground. Spensa, who is assumed white, interacts with reasonably diverse human classmates with varying ethnic markers. M-Bot, a damaged AI of unknown origin, develops into a comical sidekick: “Hello!...You have nearly died, and so I will say something to distract you from the serious, mind-numbing implications of your own mortality! I hate your shoes.” Meanwhile, hints that all is not as it seems, either with the official story about her father or the whole Krell war in general, lead to startling revelations and stakes-raising implications by the end. Stay tuned. Maps and illustrations not seen.
Sanderson (Legion, 2018, etc.) plainly had a ball with this nonstop, highflying opener, and readers will too.
(Science fiction. 12-15)
In this high-octane graphic novel series opener, creepy extraterrestrials have overrun Earth, deploying gargantuan robot "scoopers," collecting people ages 16 to 65. However, in addition to leaving children and the elderly, the aliens have also left behind anyone they deem useless, like the “disabled.” Sixteen-year-old Sam and her twin brother, Wyatt, are in hiding, trying to rebuild the aliens' abandoned technological devices in order to ascertain where their parents might be located. With the help of a rough-and-tumble band of senior citizens, the twins make their way through an eerily analogous—albeit alien-run—landscape. Though never explicitly stated, Wyatt is seemingly on the spectrum. While sister Sam has always served as his protector, in a dramatic turn of events at one point in the story, it is up to Wyatt to become the hero. Cartoonist and teacher Walz (A Story for Desmond, 2015, etc.) tells his reader, "you might be surprised to find that whatever the world sees as 'different' is exactly what the world needs more of." Here he has created a masterful sci-fi tale with relatable characters, skillful worldbuilding, and cinematically designed illustrations that convey his message. Colorist Proctor has employed a muted earth-toned palette, using color to help easily distinguish flashbacks from present action. Sam and Wyatt are both white and fair-haired. Secondary characters are widely diverse in physical ability, age, and skin color.