Readers of speculative fiction, never fear! Your monthly pick of best reads in science fiction, fantasy and horror are here! It took me 20 minutes to come up with that rhyme. That's 20 minutes I could have been spent reading this month's awesome lineup of books.
Science Fiction Picks
Readers of science fiction have plenty to keep them occupied this month.
For starters, how about a little bit of steampunk? Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear proves that steampunk books can be flat-out fun. Its narrator works in a high-end bordello and becomes involved in a Jack-the-Ripper-style murder investigation. This one has all the glorious trappings of the steampunk genre that thrill readers. Or perhaps robots and androids are your thing? Love in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction by Judd Trichter is a gritty and suspenseful sci-fi noir story set in a futuristic Los Angeles dependent on androids. One man, against all convention, falls in love with one of them. After she is kidnapped and sold for scrap, he sets out to recover her parts and rebuild her. Readers of post-apocalyptic zombie stories are also in for a treat: Allegiance by D. J. Molles is the newest book in the action-packed series The Remaining, which sees Captain Lee Harden fighting to rebuild America after most of population was turned ravenous by a deadly bacterium.
V.E. Schwab plays with parallel Earths in her new novel A Darker Shade of Magic, where magical "Travelers" can hop between alternate versions of London, each one strange and dangerous. Meanwhile, City of Savages by Lee Kelly takes place in an affecting post-World-War-III New York City, now a POW camp, where two sisters learn about the past through their mother's hidden journal and become outlaws in the process.
For lovers of high-tech action, Neal Asher's Dark Intelligence begins a spectacular new space opera series called Transformation. It involves a man who awakens 100 years after dying in a human war with ferocious aliens, a rogue artificial intelligence, and a deal with said artificial intelligence that begins to turn a former crime boss into something not quite human. If you're in the mood for some spacefaring action, check out Dave Bara's Impulse, the first book of a new series called Lightship Chronicles, a military sci-fi adventure featuring interstellar wars and one man's thirst for vengeance. Orphan Brigade by Henry V. O’Neil (the second book of the Sim War) offers up military action when its veteran hero, Lieutenant Jander Mortas, turns away from a desk job to leap feet first into a battle with aliens. Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor go old school with their co-written science fiction adventure novel Castaway Planet, where humans must learn to adapt to the planet on which they are stranded. The novel, like others in the series, make science integral to the story while avoiding jargon, making it accessible reading for all.
Not as high-tech, but no less entertaining, is Yuya Sato's Dendera, which is about a utopian community established by older women after they are customarily cast out by their villages. Monica Byrne has an eye towards the future in The Girl in the Road, about two women who embark on very different journeys in a on the brink of revolution and where global power has shifted east.
(Side note: You should also consider The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar, which is also new in the U.S. this month. I mistakenly discussed this in a previous article when the book had a U.K.-only release.)
Fantasy fans will have their hands full trying to keep up with all the books aimed at them. Silvia Moreno-Garcia's semi-retro literary fantasy Signal to Noise takes place in Mexico City in 1988 and 2009, when a girl returns home to mend the relationship with her estranged father and to see if she can still cast spells using music. Half the World by Joe Abercrombie, the second book in Shattered Sea trilogy, delivers more sword-fighting action as it tells the story of a girl who sets out to become a warrior and avenge the death of her father. Meanwhile James Enge builds out his outstanding sword and sorcery series even further with The Wide World’s End, which looks at the early years of his hero Morlock Ambrosius, son of Merlin. Ari Marmell's latest Widdershins Adventure, Covenant’s End, sees the thief named Widdershins returning to her home to find that her enemy has not only made a pact with dark, supernatural powers, but she's also taken over the town. Mickey Zucker Reichert expands her enjoyable Renshai series with a brand new book: Fields of Wrath. Steeped in Norse mythology, the series looks at the next generation of battle-bred warriors.
If the recent surge of "flintlock fantasy" books are what you're looking for—that is, books that mix magic and gunpowder—then you'll be pleased to know that the third and final book in Brian McClellan's Powder Mage Trilogy will be out. The Autumn Republic continues the story of Field Marshal Tamas and the search for his son.
Are you a fan of the supernatural? The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber revolves around a supernatural investigative unit set up in 1882 London. Their first case involves the search for a substance that grants immortality. Cherry Bomb by Caitlin R. Kiernan features a retired monster hunter who is herself half vampire and half werewolf. Supernatural conspiracy is the name of the game in Finn Fancy Necromancy by Randy Henderson, where Finn Gramaraye returns to the mortal world fifteen years after being framed for the crime of dark necromancy and exiled to the Other Realm. The trouble is, someone is trying to get him sent back. E.L. Tettensor continues the story of Nicolas Lenoir in Master of Plagues, which merges dark fantasy with detective fiction in a story involving a mass murderer unleashing a deadly plague on an unsuspecting city. Daughter of Gods and Shadows by Jayde Brooks is about a battle waged between a demon and a woman who is the reincarnation of the ancient being who once defeated it.
Looking for something a little creepier to read through the midnight hours? Check out The Damned by Andrew Pyper, a supernatural thriller in which the survivor of a near-death experience finds himself haunted in the subsequent decades by his dead, psychopathic twin sister. Master of Horror Clive Barker delivers a disturbing kind of "horror fairy tale" with Tortured Souls, the story of an assassin, the daughter of one of his victims with whom he falls in love, and a torture artist that's as ancient as the city itself. Micheline Helsing sees undead people in Shutter by Courtney Alameda. A descendent of the famous Van Helsing lineage, Micheline, armed with her camera, is now a ghost hunter, a career that might come to a sudden end when her and her team become infected with an otherworldly curse. And finally, The City by Dean Koontz is a modern coming-of-age story of sorts, albeit one with a magical component in the telling of its young, musically gifted protagonist and his family's inevitable collision course with a band of killers.
Short Fiction Picks
Far be it from me to deny readers of short fiction their corresponding menu of reading choices! Here are my short speculative fiction picks, any one of which will provide hours of solid reading enjoyment:
- Dragons at Crumbling Castle: And Other Tales by Terry Pratchett
- Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories by Alex Shvartsman
- Get in Trouble by Kelly Link
- Imaginarium 3: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing edited by Sandra Kasturi and Helen Marshall
- Lucky Alan: And Other Stories by Jonathan Lethem
- The Very Best of Kate Elliottby Kate Elliott
- Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, the Hugo Award-winning group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews. You can follow him on Twitter as @sfsignal.