Bookstore shelves are flooded with genre sequels, a fact that may discourage some readers who would rather start a series from the beginning or simply read a stand-alone novel. The good news is that there's plenty of enticing titles this month that meet that requirement. That's the focus of this months science fiction, fantasy & horror new book release roundup.
Case in point: Work Done for Hire by SF Grandmaster Joe Haldeman, best known for his classic sci-fi novel The Forever War. It's about a lone war veteran named Jack Daley, now an aspiring author, who is forced to come out of retirement when a mysterious enemy threatens to harm Jack's girlfriend unless Jack will once again use his sniper skills to take a life. There's also Into the Wilderness by Mandy Hager, a social science-fiction novel that offers a strong message about race relations and the abuse of religious faith by those in power. Looking for something more gritty? Try digging into Adam Sternbergh's Shovel Ready (see what I did there?), a thriller about a garbage man–turned-hitman in a near-future New York City divided between the rich, who tap into virtual reality, and the people left to fend for themselves on the dangerous streets.
Do you like off-planet action in your science fiction? A Darkling Sea by James Cambias pits humans against aliens when an exploration team visits an ice planet and an uneasy truce between the two races is threatened. Star Road by Matthew Costello & Rick Hautala features a ragtag team of adventurers led by a imprisoned rebel who is released on the condition that he offer clemency to his former rebels, who are now led by his brutally violent brother.
If you prefer reading about an Earth that might have been, try Dave Hutchinson's Europe In Autumn, a thriller that features a Europe that has been fractured into a seemingly endless number of smaller nations and republics. Against that backdrop, a man, asked to help a friend's cousin escape from one of the countries, begins a new career in espionage. Dominion by C.J. Sansom is an alternate history that depicts Britain under the authoritarian thumb of Nazi Germany. The one hope that Churchill's Resistance has is Frank Muncaster, a scientist who is wasting away in a Birmingham mental hospital. In The Almost Girl by Amalie Howard, a 17-year-old girl arrives on Earth from a parallel Earth ravaged by a devastating android war. In her world, she was a Legion General, the Prince's right hand. She comes to our Earth to find the Prince's brother, but can she learn how to handle herself in a world so different than her own?
Sitting under the umbrella of dystopian science fiction, there's Luminary by Krista McGee, a near-future thriller set below a post–United States. In it, a group of teenage friends escape their underground dystopia to find out what's happening in the world above. Speaking of future America, Chang-Rae Lee's On Such a Full Sea depicts a strict, class-based society. Here, a woman who resides in a labor colony dares to traverse the untamed land to find the man she loves. There's also Red Rising by Pierce Brown, which features a color-coded future society on Mars. The working class live underground, longing for the day when they can live on the surface. They get a rude awakening when they learn that that's already happened, and the ruling class has been living topside for years. Another dystopian novel is Phoenix Island by John Dixon, about an island far off the coast of the United States (and immune to its laws) where delinquent teens are sent as a form of extreme punishment. (This book is oddly cited as the inspiration for Intelligence, a new, upcoming television series about a U.S. operative who fights cybercrime with the micro-chip computer implanted in his brain. Obviously a very, very loose inspiration!)
Fantasy readers have things to look forward to as well. A Different Kingdom by Paul Kearney is about a boy named Michael Fay who lives with his grandparents on a rural farm in Ireland, surrounded by woods populated with otherworldly creatures. Even more fantastic: There's a doorway to another world where Michael could have the adventure of an entire lifetime. Snorri Kristjansson's Swords of Good Men is an epic fantasy steeped in mythology. It features a Viking protector, returning home after a long journey, who makes a stop in a small coastal town where he finds unexpected adventure and more danger. The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley revolves around the death of an emperor and his two sons, sent away to learn the ways of magic and battle, ultimately to unmask the assassin.
If Urban Fantasy is more your thing, then take a look at Hang Wire by Adam Christopher, which features a man whose sleepwalking episodes coincide with the murders of the notorious Hang Wire Killer, immortals searching for an ancient power and a circus with very strange performers indeed. The Magical Enforcement Agency is tasked with keeping "dirty" magic off the streets in Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells. That's all well and good, until patrol cop Kate Prospero learns that the lead suspect in an important case is the man she walked way from 10 years ago.
If you like horror, Sarah Pinborough's Mayhem puts readers inside the Scotland Yard during the time of Jack the Ripper, where the police have a new threat to contend with: The Torso Killer, so named for his tendency to leave behind neatly wrapped packages of his victims’ headless body parts. Snowblind by Christopher Golden is a ghostly tale about a blizzard in the small New England town of Coventry, which arrived along with icy figures who floated on the wind and peered through children's windows...and left with some of the town's inhabitants who wandered off in the supernatural snow. Now, 12 years later, another storm is approaching. What fate awaits Coventry's residents this time? (Stay tuned! In an upcoming column, I will offer several more horror releases.)
Finally, if you like reading about science fiction and fantasy, you should check out What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton. It's a collection of essays and articles about the sf/f books that the author has read and written about over the past few years. Walton, a Hugo Award winning writer, presents refreshing and insightful analyses of books both new and classic.