If your summer reading is not yet in full swing, you will have a lot of catching up to do. Check out these intriguing titles from the land of speculative fiction and tell me I'm wrong.
For starters, if you are a reader not well-versed in the realms of science fiction and fantasy, a safe bet for an enjoyable read is something that sits towards the literary end of the reading spectrum. To that end, I would suggest either of two novels. First: Underground Airlines by Ben Winters, which examines race relations in an alternate history where the Civil War never occurred and slavery is still legal. Second: The Devourers, an unsettling debut novel by Indra Das, in which a college professor in modern-day India is hired to transcribe the exploits of an immortal shape-shifter and his revealing interactions with the human race.
Thrillers are perfectly suited to lazy summer day reading and also a great introduction to genre. This month offers a couple of notable page-turners. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch begins when its protagonist is abducted and knocked unconscious, only to awaken in an unrecognizable alternate reality. Alexandra Oliva's The Last One blurs the line between reality TV and reality itself when twelve contestants are left to fend for themselves in the wilderness, cut off from a society that may just have suffered widespread destruction. In The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone, an ancient spider-like species is discovered and wreaks havoc across the globe. Thrills get a healthy scoop of adventure in Time Siege by Wesley Chu, where an ex-time-traveler is on the run from his enemies in a corporate-run future.
If stories of worldwide destruction suit your mood, there are new post-apocalyptic titles geared for your tastes. The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis is about a seventeen-year-old girl-on-the-run who learns the terrible murderous secret of the man who took her in from the post-apocalyptic cold. The apocalypse goes old school in Harry Turtledove's Fallout: The Hot War, a Cold War-era alternate history where the fears of mankind come to pass and nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia becomes fact.
If your literary leanings are more towards military action, then seek out The High Ground by Melinda Snodgrass, the beginning of a new series about an emperor's daughter who must prove her mettle on the field of battle before she can ascend to the throne. Alternatively, there's Indomitable by W.C. Bauers, in which space marine Promise Paen, captain of Victor Company's mechanized armored infantry, must protect the Republic of Aligned Worlds from the spacefaring Lusitanian Empire.
There's lots of adventure to be found on the larger canvas of space opera, too. My top pick has to be The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, a love letter to science fiction that garnered a prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award nomination (among others) when it was released in the U.K. last year. This exciting story—in which Rosemary Harper seeks to escape her past by exploring the galaxy but gets more than she bargained for—is finally available to U.S. audiences. Then there's Alliance of Equals by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, the latest in their popular and voluminous series set in the Liaden Universe. Here, the Clan Korval desperately tries to reestablish its position as one of the top trading clans in known space, despite meeting with opposition at every turn. In Supernova by C.A. Higgins, an artificial intelligence embodied in a spaceship tries to come to terms with her own existence. Yoshiki Tanaka's Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Ambition (translated by Daniel Huddleston) depicts numerous power struggles, rebellions and battles against a background no less spectacular than a war between the Galactic Empire and the democratic Free Planets Alliance.
While we're mentioning translated fiction, a couple of recently translated speculative works push political boundaries. Firstly, there's The Doomed City by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (translated into English for the first time by Andrew Bromfield). Considered politically risky when it was first written in 1972, but less so when it was published in the late 1980s, it's set in an experimental city with an artificial sun and populated by people who were plucked from twentieth-century history and left to govern themselves. Meanwhile, The Year 200 by Hispanic author Agustín de Rojas (and translated by Nicholas Caistor) takes place centuries after the Communist Federation defeated the capitalist Empire. Overseeing the civil affairs of a divided humanity are an artificial-intelligence, a psychiatric bureaucracy, and a small egalitarian council. Their job is to eradicate "abnormal" attitudes such as romantic love.
You would think more conventional adventures could be found in the age of steam. Recent steampunk proves otherwise. Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine takes readers one hundred years beyond the age of steam, to a retro-future British colony on Mars where a young girl cons her way onto an airship and into a heap of trouble. Steampunk is mixed with magic in Gaie Sebold's Sparrow Falling, where Eveline Sparrow, a master spy and former con-artist, must rely on her old skill set to prevent a war between the magical and the mundanes. Meanwhile, in The Tinker King by Tiffany Trent, the hard-earned peace between the humans and Elementals is threatened when a group of dark Elementals plot a rebellion in the faraway city of Scientia.
If you get your kicks from stories that deal with the supernatural, check out Simon Kurt Unsworth's The Devil's Evidence, in which a detective literally from Hell investigates a murder in the hallowed halls of Heaven. In Levi Black's Red Right Hand, a diabolical Elder God known as the Man in Black, who wields a sword in his glaringly red hand, forces an unwilling Acolyte to embrace a dark magic she never knew she possessed and become an accomplice when he kills his fellow Elder Gods. In The Interminables by Paige Orwin, magic has shattered the reality we know and the East coast is run by a cabal of wizards. It Happened One Doomsday by Laurence MacNaughton puts the fate of the world in the hands of an inexperienced sorcerer. On the lighter side, check out The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez, in which the world's greatest adventurer simply dreams of an ordinary life that continually escapes her grasp.
If you crave more traditional fantasy, embark on a quest to find The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan, where the struggle for world dominance is dependent on the magical power found within the blood of the fearsome, but dying, drakes. Or Tony Daniel's The Dragon Hammer, in which the son of a Duke must rescue his family after they are captured during a surprise invasion by enemy forces. The Dragon Round by Stephen S. Power is a swashbuckling adventure that begins when a ship captain, after being abandoned by his mutinous crew, discovers a dragon and seeks sweet revenge. Taking itself less seriously is The Dragon Lords: Fool's Gold by Jon Hollins, which has a group of misfits rebelling against the dragons that rule them because (what else?) their taxes they impose are too high.
Putting a new spin on old literary characters seems to be trend. Exhibit A: Christina Henry's Red Queen, which takes Alice from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland on new and quite dangerous (and dark) adventures. Exhibit B: In Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell Paul Kane pits the world's most well-known literary detective up against his greatest nemesis yet: Cenobites, the infamous servants of hell. (But I bet you already deduced that…)
If your readerly appetite is not quite novel-sized, you'll definitely want to check out this month's short fiction offerings. If you only choose only one, make it The Big Book of Science Fiction edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer. The stories themselves are short, but this 1,200+ page monster takes readers on a chronological journey through more than a century of science fiction. For more contemporary tales, grab one of this month's "Best of 2015" anthologies: The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Third Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois or The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2016 Edition edited by Paula Guran. Better yet: grab them both! Among this month's notable single-author collections – any one of which offers a fine selection of stories – are A Natural History of Hell by Jeffrey Ford; By Bizarre Hands by Joe R. Lansdale; and The Best of Bova: Volume 2 by Ben Bova. For multi-author themed anthologies, any of the following will give you hours of solid entertainment:
- Beyond the Woods: Fairy Tales Retold edited by Paula Guran
- Deserts of Fire: Speculative Fiction and the Modern War edited by Douglas Lain
- Drowned Worlds edited by Jonathan Strahan
- In the Shadow of Frankenstein edited by Stephen Jones
- Invaders: 22 Tales from the Outer Limits of Literature edited by Jacob Weisman