A new month is just around the corner and that can only mean a whole new batch of science fiction and fantasy books coming to a bookshelf near you. Decisions, decisions! Here’s a look at the best of February’s sf/f lineup to help you decide on the best fit for your particular reading tastes. However, instead of providing a simple list, this article attempts to group books by characteristics that might attract readers to books.
SF/F With Wide Appeal
No genre is devoid of books that offer mainstream appeal. This month, you can expect accessible reads from several authors. The Best of All Possible Worlds by the critically lauded Karen Lord is a sober story about an alien society destroyed by an unprovoked act of aggression, whose survivors reach out to a humanoid culture for refuge. Marie Brennan offers A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent, a first-person account by this world’s preeminent dragon naturalist, who attempts to bring the mysticism and magic of dragons under the scrutiny of science. Robert Jackson Bennett applies his acclaimed gothic storytelling talents to American Elsewhere, which is about a town that is home to much supernatural weirdness. Meanwhile, the writing team of Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes offers Domino Falls, a story about a “Freak” infection that spreads throughout the human population. Japanese author Yasutaka Tsutsui offers Paprika, a psychological thriller involving a device that blurs the line between dreams and reality. Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman is a modern fantasy that playfully mixes magic and interesting characters into an intriguing mystery. Finally, there is the historical sf novel The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman, about Egon Loeser, whose carnal misfortunes push him beyond the boundaries of space and time.
Books Targeted at Younger Readers (But Enjoyable by Adults, Too)
Science Fiction and Fantasy is not just for kids, even when books are marketed that way. Anyone would do well to check out the young adult sf/f titles being released this month. Gail Carriger extends her popular Parasole Protectorate fantasy world to the teenage set with Etiquette & Espionage, a story about a finishing school that teaches students that it takes more than manners to survive in a world populated by supernatural forces. Meanwhile, in Laura Lam’s Pantomime, a circus of magic is the setting for a pair of colorful youths whose backgrounds are mysteriously linked to the circus. Cory Doctorow’s Homeland (a sequel to Little Brother) features tech-savvy teens and a hacker-hero who sets the example that one person can (and should) change things for the better.
The tropes of classic science fiction are alive and well this month with at least a small handful of books immediately recognized as pure science fiction. Ben Bova's Farside is a story of political intrigue, personal ambition, love, jealousy and murder surrounding an observatory on the far side of Earth’s moon originally set up to research a recently discovered, faraway planet that may support human life. The Departure by Neal Asher paints a bleak, overpopulated future Earth where the oppressive powers-that-be maintain control through a program of scheduled executions on the order of millions of souls. David Drake’s The Road of Danger continues his space opera series featuring spaceship captain Daniel Leary, who this time around teams up with a spy to save the Republic of Cinnabar.
Enticing Short Fiction Read
Short fiction-reading sf/f fans have good things to look forward to this month, in terms of multi-author anthologies and single author collections. Superheroes, edited by Rich Horton, serves up 16 tales about superheroes from the likes of Carol Emshwiller, Daryl Gregory, Kelly Link, James Patrick Kelly, Ian McDonald and more. Meanwhile, editor John Joseph Adams concocts the hugely titled The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination: Original Short Fiction for the Modern Evil Genius, a themed anthology with a fantastic author list (Harry Turtledove, Seanan McGuire, Daniel H. Wilson, L. A. Banks, Laird Barron and L. E. Modesitt, Jr. among them) filled with stories that feature mad scientists in some way. The Apes of Wrath, edited by Rick Klaw, collates short fiction that predominantly involves apes and includes work from Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mary Robinette Kowal, Joe R. Lansdale, Edgar Allen Poe, Philip Jose Farmer and Karen Joy Fowler. The Inner City by Karen Heuler is a collection of tasty mind-candy, offering inventive stories that stretch your imagination.
Looking For Unapologetic Fun?
Sometimes it’s good to know that literature can also be fun. This month’s releases include some choice picks for stories that aim to please. First up is John Scalzi’s The Human Division, a book set in his popular Old Man’s War universe, which depicts an alien alliance's attempts to go against the human Colonial Union by enlisting those they kept in the dark about their safety in the universe. (It's being released serially now before it’s released as a novel later this year.) In The Burn Zone by James K. Decker, where humans act as surrogates for aliens that rescued the Earth from destruction, a woman tries to track down the secrets behind a dangerous weapon. Matthew Hughes continues the wryly humorous misadventures of his wayward superhero in Hell to Pay, where nebbish Chesney Arnstruther deals with his wise-cracking demon and a host of evildoers to comedic satisfaction.
Promising New Voices
Looking for a new voice? There’s some promising debut genre fiction coming out this month. Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill imagines an alternate world of magic as it traces the intertwined lives of two boys from their carefree youth into their troubled adulthoods. The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian promises to be a harrowing postapocalyptic story under the guise of an idyllic Utopia where everything you can ever have is yours in the underground settlement of America-Five…until a team ventures to the Outside and sees the world as it really is. Francis Knight’s Fade to Black features a magical city that builds itself not outward, but in vertical layers, where a man with the power to draw magical power from those in pain is keeping dangerous secrets.
John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a Hugo Award-winning group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews. He also like bagels and the sound of soda fizz.