Even the casual reader knows that there is never a shortage of books to read. The trick is finding the best of the best. Fans of speculative fiction—and even newcomers to science fiction, fantasy and horror—will find the following rundown helpful. Here's a peek at the most promising speculative fiction releases this month, which feature alternate histories, other realities, re-imaginings and genuine sense of wonder.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: This is first book of the Southern Reach Trilogy, a psychological thriller series that revolves around an isolated geographic region known as Area X. Several previous expeditions into Area X all met with various forms of disaster, yet a new scientific expedition is undertaken by four women, each of whom hold secrets that add surprises to the mystery.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: VanderMeer both defies and challenges genre boundaries, forcing readers to forget about traditional tropes and clichés and simply enjoy the storytelling.

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Archetype by M.D. Waters

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Emma wakes up in a hospital with amnesia and is given new memories by her powerful husband. Yet she is conflicted between her new memories and the dreams about her life she thinks might be real.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: The setting of this story, a future where women are a rare commodity, lays the groundwork for a thought-provoking story with a strong female protagonist. 

Blood Kin by Steve Rasnic Tem

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Following a failed suicide attempt, a man returns to his family's home to care for his grandmother, where she finally fills him in on the family's strange and mysterious history.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: The multiple storylines—alternating points of view between the present day protagonist and his grandmother in the 1930s—are an excellent hook that adds appeal to this Southern gothic story.

Cress by Marissa MeyerCress

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: In a world populated by characters both human and mechanical, Cinder, a cyborg, finds herself as a fugitive on the run. She partners with a ragtag team of cohorts plotting to overthrow Queen Levana to prevent the Queen's army from invading Earth. Their best hope? A hacker that works for the queen herself.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: The Lunar Chronicles series (of which this is the third book) is a science fictional retelling of Cinderella that proves fairy tales and sci-fi make a tasty mix. 

Dreamwalker by C.S. Friedman

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: A young girl who dreams of other worlds searches for her brother, who went missing after he incorporated his sister's visions into his computer games and strangers began asking about them.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: Friedman is an underrated dark fantasy master who never fails to please.

Empress of the Sun by Ian McDonald

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Set in a universe with multiple alternate Earths, the whip-smart crew of an airship find themselves in the middle of war between two advanced alien factions.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: McDonald's Everness series (of which this is the third book), is non-stop fun and leverages cool science fictional concepts that are rendered believable and fun.

Influx bInfluxy Daniel Suarez

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: A shadowy organization called the Bureau of Technology Control suppresses new technology and co-opts it for its own use, living the tech-rich future that the rest of the world can only imagine.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: Suarez's techno-thriller provides an entertaining answer to why mankind's predictions for the future have not yet arrived. 

Seoul Survivors by Naomi Foyle

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: As a meteor heads toward Earth and promises untold destruction, the mountains above Seoul are identified as the only safe haven. There, an American-Korean bio-engineer has found a solution to save the human race, but her solution comes at a severe cost.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: It's an end-of-the-world story infused with intrigue and Korea’s contemporary cultural scene.

The Book of Heaven by Patricia Storace

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Superficially, this is the story of four women. Symbolically, it's a retelling of biblical events as seen by Eve of the Garden of Eden.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: The hallmark of speculative fiction is that it asks an intriguing "What If?" question. The Book of Heaven asks: What if God's point of view were a woman's point of view? 

The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: While the world comes to an end, a select few are chosen and protected by mysterious silver bracelets gifted by powerful beings. The survivors find themselves on a different and strange Earth where they are hunted by enemies and possess temporal abilities they never wanted.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: With its gripping opening sequence, this promises to be a book that won't let you go.

The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: This is a retelling of the rise and fall of the Norse gods, as seen from the point of view of Loki, the universe's ultimate trickster.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: The first-person narrative is riveting and a great vehicle for dipping into the waters of Norse mythology.

The Happier Dead by Ivo Stourton

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: In a near-future London where the rich can buy immortality, a police detective is called in to invethe martian weirstigate a murder.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: This is equal parts imaginative science fiction, exciting political thriller and engrossing crime novel.

The Martian by Andy Weir

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Astronaut Mark Watney, a member of the first manned mission to the planet Mars, is abandoned there, left for dead, with no way home.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: It's one man's struggle to overcome insurmountable odds and the debilitating loneliness of being completely alone.

The Troop by Nick Cutter

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: A Boy Scouts camping trip goes horribly, horribly wrong when the campers are visited by an unexpected stranger whose body holds a bioengineered threat.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: It's just plain scary.

The Undead Pool by Kim Harrison

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Supernatural superhero (and witch) Rachel Morgan is back, this time trying to prevent a supernatural civil war as she fights to keep demonic forces at bay.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: This is the last book in the long-running Hallows series and looks to be a memorable finale.

The Waking Engine by David Edison

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: A premise that upends our ideas of life and death: When you die, instead of reaching the afterlife, you awaken on another world where you live out another life. The process repeats many times until you finally come to the City Unspoken, where the gateway to True DeaThree Princesth can be found. Except now, the gateway to True Death is failing and the Dying are increasing in number.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: Edison's a new voice on the scene whose rich imagination is refreshing.

Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Lord Scott Oken, a prince of Albion, and Professor-Prince Mikel Mabruke race to foil the plot of evil terrorist Otto von Bismarck in an alternate 19th century in which the Egyptian Empire continues to reign supreme.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: Wheeler's depiction of an imagined alternate history is rich and lavish, and the intrigue and conspiracy will keep you turning the pages.

V-S Day by Allen Steele

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: In an alternate 1941, the Germans and the United States race to build a presence in space in order to obtain military superiority.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: Steele's alternate history is a harrowing depiction, not only of what could have been, but what could be.

 White Space by Ilsa J. Bick

WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Fantasy mixes with reality when a girl writes a story about characters emerging from books, and then finds herself in the story she's written.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: This first book of The Dark Passages looks like it's enjoyably mind-bending.

SHORT FICTION

Here are some short fiction titles this month that are worth a look. Why should you read them? Because short fiction gives you chance to experience new writers and new ideas in easily digestible chunks.

¨  Further Encounters of Sherlock Holmes edited by George Mann

¨  Grim edited by Christine Johnson

¨  Lovers & Fighters, Starships & Dragons by Tom Purdom

¨  The Clock Struck None by Lou Antonelli

John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a Hugo Award-winning group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews. You can follow him on Twitter as @sfsignal