Welcome to a new year of reading!
If January is any indication, 2019 is going to be a great year for reading speculative fiction stories that will surprise and entertain you. (Spoiler alert: It will be. Come back next week for a look ahead at what the new year will bring.) Here are the must-read sf/f books you'll want to check out this month...
Rewrite by Gregory Benford
In this time-travel thriller noted as being a thematic sequel to Benford's 1980 novel Timescape, a sad-sack history professor named Charlie is thrust back in time after a car accident. He awakens as his 16-year-old self with all the memories he had in his late forties. He uses that knowledge to build himself a better life, anticipating the careers of Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg and becoming a screenwriter. His brief new life of success and excess ends in his twenties and he is looped back again, getting yet another chance to relive his life. It isn't long before he discovers others stuck in the same loop, changing the world to suit their own needs, forcing Charlie to reexamine the meaning the life.
Alliance Rising by C. J. Cherryh and Jane S. Fancher
SFWA Grand Master C.J Cherryh and Jane Fancher team up to create another exciting entry in Cherryh's extensive Alliance-Union Universe. In this well-imagined far future, humanity has expanded beyond the confines of our solar system to inhabit other planets and space stations throughout the universe. That expansion has resulted in the older space stations like Alpha, located near our Sun, falling out of favor—a situation could change with the arrival of a mysterious, newly-arrived ship. But will the ship help Alpha catch up to the newer stations or change the status quo of the entire universe?
The Haunting of Henderson Close by Catherine Cavendish
This spooky ghost story takes place in Edinburgh, where tour guides take tourists underground and thrill them with tales of Henderson Close, the old city that serves as Edinburgh's foundation. Henderson Close was a town teeming with people, but also the home of poverty and crime. When renovations begin to extend the location, an old evil is released, proving that legends are sometimes real.
The Fall of Io by Wesley Chu
In Chu's fast-moving and fun Io series, warring alien races have come to Earth and occupy the minds of humans. Inside Ella Patel's head resides Io, who was supposed to train Ella to be an agent in the war between the Prophus and the Genjix races. It didn't work, so Ella returned to her former life as a con artist and bank robber. However, the Genjix's plan to communicate with their homeworld is at a critical stage, and they desperately need information that Io has. Thus, the hunt is on for the information that resides inside Ella's head.
Snow White, Blood Red edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
This classic fantasy anthology reprint breathes new life into age-old fairy tales by asking authors to reimagine them with a twist. The results are surprising, entertaining and oftentimes dark. For example, a boy is haunted through adulthood by a soul-eating creature that lies forever in wait in Neil Gaiman's "Troll Bridge"; a lonely artist invites seven circus performers into her home to satisfy an obsession in "Snow-Drop" by Tanith Lee; and Wendy Wheeler delves into the deviant psyche of the predatory male in her story "Little Red." Additional contributors include Jack Dann, Esther M. Friesner, Nancy Kress, Charles de Lint, Patricia A. McKillip, Steve Rasnic Tem, Jane Yolen and more.
A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard
This captivating collection rounds up Kat Howard's noteworthy short fiction, some of which is award-nominated. It also includes two brand new stories for good measure. The stories deal with a variety of classic themes while remaining fresh for modern readers. For example, there's a novella-length Arthurian story set upon a college campus, which retells the story of King Arthur through a woman's eyes. Read these stories and see why short fiction is vital and relevant.
The Smoke by Simon Ings
The Smoke sounds like it will appeal only to hardcore science fiction fans given some of the concepts it bandies about. Primarily, in that it takes place in an alternate reality in which events (some natural, some through bio-engineering) have led to mankind rapidly evolving into three races, roughly reforming social classes. There are also miners on the moon and a spaceship being built for space exploration, both common tropes of hard science fiction. But here's the thing...Ings's character-focused narrative makes this more accessible than a hard sf novel. The ideas that rise to the top are universal: social class distinctions, loneliness, and love.
The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh
This "dystopic feminist revenge fantasy" is set on an isolated island in which a father has sequestered his wife and three daughters to protect them from the toxicity and violence of men in the outside world. There, the girls undergo cult-like rituals and therapies to protect them from the mainland at the direction of their father, the only man they've ever seen. After he disappears, two men and a boy wash ashore. As the sisters confront this ambiguous threat, sibling rivalries and secret desires come to the fore.
Shadow Captain by Alastair Reynolds
The sequel to last year's space heist story, Revenger, is an equally-gripping story about two sisters, Adrana and Fura Ness, on the hunt for the greatest treasure in the universe. Adrana is enslaved on the spaceship of Bosa Sennen, a notorious pirate. Fura is lured to the same ship with the hope of finding untold hidden treasure. Both of them are on the ship being hunted by those eager to kill the feared pirate. Even though Sennen is dead, they'll happily take the credit for destroying her ship and everyone aboard.
Marked by S. Andrew Swann
In this portal fantasy, detective Dana Rohan bears a secret mark that gives her a powerful gift. It enables her to travel to alternate pasts and futures. Thus, she is able to solve crimes by going back and witnessing them. When a man bearing the same mark warns that "the Shadows are coming" just before he is attacked and killed by an armored monstrosity out of another century, she becomes the hunted. Dana flees to alternate worlds to learn the true meaning behind the mark.
The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
The speculative nature of The Dreamers comes from the setting: it's present day and an ordinary town is stricken with an illness that puts its victims in a perpetual sleep state accompanied by increased brain activity. Victims simply cannot be woken up and the illness is spreading rapidly. Against that backdrop, Walker portrays the many lives of those affected and the resulting situations in w hich they find themselves. The result is a compelling examination about the things that should really matter to all of us.
Through Fiery Trials by David Weber
Weber's sprawling doorstopper military science fiction series, Safehold, is still going strong with this latest entry. A major theme throughout the series has been the war between those who wish to advance humanity through technology (represented by the mighty island realm of Charis) and those opposed from doing so (represented by the radical, luddite Church of God's Awaiting). That war has come to an end with technology winning out. Or so it seemed. As international alliances shift, long buried secrets are revealed that threaten to upend the new world order.
Ship of Smoke and Steel by Django Wexler
Wexler launches this new fantasy series with a bang, incorporating fast-paced plotting, interesting magic, and interesting characters. Eighteen-year-old Isoka is a ward boss in the port city of Kahnzoka, collecting money for herself and her criminal masters so she can provide her younger sister with a better life. To succeed, she uses her a secret magical power. Unfortunately, the government finds out about her abilities and forces her—using her sister's life as leverage—to steal a legendary ghost ship from which nobody has ever returned. On board the ship, Isoka must contend with a cagey captain, a ruthless crew, and supernatural monsters.
Golden State by Ben Winters
In this alternative near-future thriller, truth is everything. At least it is in the Golden State, the land that was once California, but is now a new nation built as an answer to the lies that destroyed the country. In the Golden State, the greatest crime is lying. The law of truth is enforced by agents of the Speculative Service...like Laszlo Ratesic, who has a knack for detecting untruths. Life in this utopian panopticon is far from perfect, however, and it's up to Laszlo to make things right when the endless flow of (mis)information is used for nefarious ends.
In addition to the short fiction titles mentioned above, be on the lookout for these other worthwhile short stories:
- Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett
- Barren by Peter V. Brett
- The Prisoner of Limnos by Lois McMaster Bujold
- Haunted House Short Stories edited by Laura Bulbeck
- Cosy Crime Short Stories edited by Laura Bulbeck
- The Dream of X and Other Fantastic Visions: The Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson, Volume 5
- The Dodsworth Fetch by George Mann
- In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire