Looking for something to read? Speculative fiction—science fiction, fantasy and horror—has you covered! Here's a rundown of the best speculative titles hitting bookstore shelves this month.
For Newcomers to Speculative Fiction
New to speculative fiction? Several titles will help ease you into the refreshing waters of the fantastical. For example, readers will no doubt find M.R. Carey's The Girl With All the Gifts engaging. It depicts an innocent 10-year-old girl who doesn't quite understand why everyone around her is so frightened. The story of Melanie, a girl with very special gifts given the circumstances, is both affecting and riveting. Then there's Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta, a geopolitical future fable set in a post-global-warming world where water is more valuable than ever. Here, 17-year-old Noria Kaitio is learning the ways of the "tea masters," those who know the location of hidden water sources—a position that forces Noria to make some tough choices. Meanwhile, the imaginative Thorn Jack by Katherine Harbour is a modern retelling of the ancient Scottish ballad, “Tam Lin.” The story, which pits good against evil and combines magic with mystery, is about a girl who relocates to a small town with her father following her older sister’s suicide. There she becomes attracted to a member of the town's powerful family...which holds a mysterious influence over the town's residents. Finally, for a Hollywood-like blockbuster, check out Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson, in which mankind learns that the robot apocalypse we thought was over, isn't.
For Seasoned Science-Fiction Fans
Travel is a common theme in some of this month’s science fiction releases. For starters, there's Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey, the latest book in the wildly popular (and recently picked up for adaptation) Expanse space opera series. The series explores mankind's travels through space. The latest book, with the rest of the universe recently made available for colonization, focuses on the hardships of establishing the first colony on this new frontier. There's also the second book in Alastair Reynolds' Poseidon's Children series; On the Steel Breeze is also about space exploration, here led by the powerful Akinya family. The central character, Chiku Akinya, is determined to ensure her family's destiny in space, but aboard the vast holoship in which she's traveling, she's about to hear some life-changing news. The Long Mars is the latest book in the Long Earth series by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter, which posits the idea that there are alternate Earths among which humans can travel. Here, while a cataclysm on our own Earth hastens mankind's migration to other worlds, the inventor of the stepper device (that allows travel among them) invites his daughter to alternate version of the planet Mars. Speaking of Mars, there's Rescue Mode by Ben Bova & Les Johnson. It's about the first human mission to Mars, the catastrophe that endangers their mission, and the political power plays that ensure back on Earth.
And speaking of alternate worlds, Guardian, the third book in Jo Anderton's far-future Veiled Worlds trilogy, reveals a sinister faction's attempts to destroy the barrier that separates the two worlds and shows one woman's attempt to save both of them. With The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J. Anderson begins a new offshoot of his The Saga of Seven Suns series, called Saga of Shadows Trilogy. In The Dark Between the Stars, galactic empires clash as opposing human factions learn to work together to prepare for an altogether new threat. The Madonna and the Starship by James Morrow is an homage to the pulp fiction days of science fiction. In 1952 New York City, lobster-like aliens arrive from outer space and pass judgment on the viewers of a religious TV program.
Character-driven stories are popular as well. In Brent Hayward's Head Full of Mountains, the congenitally malformed Crospinal, cared for by machines since he was very young, has his world shattered when his ailing father dies, the machines that tended him stop working, and he escapes his sheltered home to discover the truth about the outside world. Danie Ware's Ecko Burning continues a series that blends science fiction and fantasy tropes together. Here, Ecko (a body-modified criminal-for-hire from a futuristic London) and his companions follow a trail from myth to a ruined city on a quest that, ultimately, looks at determinism vs. free will. Finally, in Koko Takes a Holidayby Kieran Shea, set five centuries into the future, a tough ex-corporate mercenary named Koko, ostensibly enjoying an early retirement, gets a rather rude awakening when she learns that she has become the target of a murder plot. I hate when that happens.
For Veteran Fantasy Fans
Traditional fantasy fans can look forward to several interesting titles this month. In Mark Lawrence's epic fantasy Prince of Fools, for example, the unambitious grandson of an old and powerful queen undertakes a quest to help protect the realm from an advancing army. In The Leopard by K. V. Johansen, a cursed assassin known as the Leopard is sent on a quest put forth by a goddess to kill a prophet—in exchange for his curse being finally lifted. Veil of the Deserters by Jeff Salyards is a military fantasy in which its hero, who is poisoned by the memories of those he has slain, returns home to find deception, political intrigue and plans to overthrow the Emperor.
Do you prefer fantasies with magical creatures? Flight of the Golden Harpy by Susan Klaus may seem like science fiction, with its premise of a race of harpy-like beings on another world, but it reads like fantasy with elements of romance. In it, a young girl on another planet gets rescued by one of the indigenous winged harpies, and returns years later to find her rescuer. But are the harpies really malevolent creatures like most people believe or are they just misunderstood? If you like ghost stories, check out A Barricade in Hell by Jaime Lee Moyer in which a woman uses her ability to communicate with ghosts to help them and others. If your preferred fantasy includes faeries, then you will want to know about A Shiver of Light by Laurell K. Hamilton, the latest in her Merry Gentry series. Here, a faerie princess, who gave up her magic after many assassination attempts and became a private detective in modern day California, has her magic reawakened and her life thrown in turmoil.
Urban fantasy stories abound this month as well. Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z. Martin is an urban fantasy that revolves around an antique shop used by a shadowy alliance of mortals and mages to take magical (and dangerous) artifacts out of circulation. California Bonesby Greg van Eekhout is an urban fantasy heist novel in which its protagonist, Daniel Blackland, is forced out of hiding by his crime-boss uncle to steal his dead father's magical sword. And Property of a Lady Faire by Simon R. Green is another in his Secret Histories series, in which its James Bond–like protagonist protects us mere mortals from the unseen dangers of otherworldly monsters. Here, "Shaman Bond" must steal a magical artifact in order to rescue his abducted parents.
There are plenty of other fantasy stories to satisfy your reading appetite. Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica thrusts its protagonist into the world of Stormwrack, comprised of a series of island nations each with its own culture and economy, where she becomes embroiled in a conflict that could determine the fate of the world. Andrzej Sapkowski's Baptism of Fire, the latest of the Witcher novels, positions the Witchers Guild in trouble, with Geralt, the lead defender of the innocent, injured and seemingly helpless...until he undertakes a mission to rescue a girl abducted for the purpose of marrying the emperor. Finally, Shield and Crocus by Michael R. Underwood combines fantasy with superheroes in a story about a group of people with special abilities that attempt to reclaim their city from the group of tyrants that have taken control over it.
For Short Fiction Readers
Are you more of a short fiction reader? Take your pick from any of these fine titles of short fiction anthologies and collections:
- Acolytes of Cthulhu edited by Robert M. Price
- Fearful Symmetries edited by Ellen Datlow
- Irregular Verbs and Other Stories by Matthew Johnson
- Rogues edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois
- Tales from High Hallack, Volume 2 by Andre Norton
- The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Six edited by Ellen Datlow
- The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014 Edition by Rich Horton
- Unexpected Stories by Octavia E. Butler
- Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospitaledited by Stephen Jones