Summer reading season is in full swing, and if you'd like to join the beach party, there's plenty of entertainment to be found in the pages of science fiction, fantasy, and horror books. July's cream of the crop includes stories about a robot hitman, a dark and previously unseen perspective on Peter Pan, a woman with supernatural abilities who goes up against Nazis, aliens in New York, flying shapeshifters, and more short stories than you can shake a stick at.

 

6.28 SF_tropicofkansasTropic of Kansas by Christopher Brown

In Brown's all-too-plausible near future, the United States as we know it is no more. Instead of being a group of states ruled by the government, Middle America is a collection of warring territories where civil unrest and revolution are the new normal. The so-called Tropic of Kansas – described as "the parts of the Midwest that had somehow turned third world" – is a demilitarized zone where civilian militias impose their own brand of cowboy justice. Into this arid wasteland comes Sig, the abandoned son of political dissidents, and Tania, his foster sister, a government investigator blackmailed into helping a tyrannical government hunt down her foster brother. Brown's story moves quickly and he packs quite a lot of ideas and world building into every sentence. My advice: hang on and enjoy the dark but satisfying ride.

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Killing Is My Business by Adam Christopher

This is the latest entry into the undeniably fun Raymond Chandleresque Ray Electromatic mysteries, a noir-ish series about a robot detective-turned-hitman in 1960s Los Angeles. In this alternate retro-future, the robot revolution came in the 1950s and, because of human fear, didn't last too long. Ray is the last robot and he only has a twenty-four-hour memory-tape limit, meaning every new day is literally new. (It also means each novel in the series works as a standalone.) His latest adventure begins with a hit on a real estate magnate, except what's supposed to be an ordinary hit job turns out to be not so ordinary and leads Ray on a dangerous path towards corrupt city officials and the mafia.

 

6.28 SF_lostboyLost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry

We all have a soft spot for the classics that we read when we were growing up. But here's the thing if you read J.M. Barrie's classic Peter Pan: this retelling will poke and jab at that soft spot until you can never look at it the same way again. This dark retelling is told from the point of view of on one of Peter's estranged Lost Boys. Once his best friend and now his sworn enemy, the boy who never grew up will tell you that his nemesis is evil. But as life has often taught us, there's more than one side to a story, and this untold version will give you a new perspective on the literary classic.

 

Sand by Hugh Howey

Four siblings find themselves scattered and lost in a desert landscape that should look familiar but doesn't. In Howey's apocalyptic future, the land has become buried under sand and a new world has emerged on top of the shifting dunes. The siblings’ father is a sand diver, who goes beneath the sand to bring up valuable relics from an abandoned world. It's these artifacts that help them survive the harsh new world. But how will they survive when their father goes missing?

 

6.28 SF_tableofwolvesAt the Table of Wolves by Kay Kenyon

In this British espionage story (described as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy meets X-Men) a young woman with superpowers goes undercover to fight Nazis. In this version of 1936, supernatural powers are not unheard of, ushered into existence thanks to the Great War. The race to harness superpowers is on, but England has not gotten as far as Germany. Kim Tavistock – a woman whose abilities compel people to tell the truths they don't want to share – is tasked with exposing a German spy among the British ranks. Her assignment becomes even more important when she discovers a German plot to invade England.

 

Tomorrow's Kin by Nancy Kress

Based on the excellent award-winning story Yesterday's Kin (discussed here), Tomorrow's Kin involves aliens that have landed on Earth on a supposed mission of peace. They land in New York Harbor and inform the United Nations that they cannot leave their ship because Earth's environment is deadly to them. A team of scientists is then sent aboard the ship to learn what's going on and find out what the aliens really want. This engaging first-contact story lays the groundwork for the author to explore some delightfully meaty themes as well as portray realistic-but-flawed characters whose lives are thrown into turmoil by the events.

 

6.28 SF_artofstarvingThe Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller

In this edgy story, Matt is troubled by a boy named Tariq and his band of high school bullies who have driven away his sister, Maya. What's a brother to do? If you're Matt, and you've discovered that the less you eat the more you gain powers – like the ability to read what other people are thinking – you starve yourself. That way you can get close to Tariq and discover the truth behind Maya's disappearance.  But as Matt finds out, there are some forms of hunger that cannot be controlled.

 

The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross

The latest entry in the wildly entertaining Laundry Files series puts its protagonist, Bob Howard, through his paces. The Landry (for those who don't know) is the secret British government organization charged with defending the world from all sorts of Lovecraftian horrors. Their agents do a pretty good job when they're not bogged down in paperwork. After their latest adventure, their secret operation becomes not-so-secret and Bob becomes the television face for the Laundry. That's when they learn that the existence of the Laundry organization itself is threatened. Written with a sharp wit (and more than a knowing nod to world politics), The Delirium Brief was built to entertain from the ground up. 

 

Age of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

In Age of Myth, Sullivan introduced readers to an imaginative world where gods have been proven mortal and humans are poised to take over. In this sequel, the human uprising is threatened by enemies both outside and inside the rebellion. The good news is that the answer to uniting the human factions against their common enemy lies overseas. The bad news is that it's a land populated by a reclusive race who holds nothing but contempt for both Fhrey and mankind.

 

6.28 SF_bannerlessBannerless by Carrie Vaughn

Vaughn's post-apocalyptic mystery is set in a population controlled society, where birth control is mandatory and you must earn the right to bear children. Those who do are awarded symbolic banners to signify the privilege. To be bannerless is to be an outcast. In this bleak future, Enid is an investigator tasked with mediating disputes levied against them by this strict society and also examining transgressions. She's never really had a difficult case until now: the death of a suspicious bannerless outcast.

 

The Harbors of the Sun by Martha Wells

The newest installment in the Books of the Raksura, a series about flying shape-shifting creatures who live in large family groups, involves an attempt to rescue family members who have been kidnapped after a shocking betrayal. When Moon and Stone are sent ahead as scouts, they meet an unexpected and deadly ally who convinces them to go it alone, despite this being direct disobedience of the queen's will. Meanwhile, Jade and Malachite, following in a wind-ship, make a surprising discovery: the Fell, the mortal enemy of the Raksura, are planning an attack.

 

…AND FOR READERS OF SHORT FICTION…

You will find no shortage of short fiction this month. Whether you crave short fiction or longer novellas, you'll have a hard time choosing from this month's selection. Perhaps a good place to start is with the crop of new "Year's Best" anthologies! Lots of work goes into these endlessly entertaining books, so prepare for some fascinating reading.

6.28 sf_horrorThe Best Horror of the Year Volume Nine edited by Ellen Datlow features twenty-one chilling tales that will probably keep you up at night, with stories by Livia Llewellyn, Peter Straub, Gemma Files, and more. Or, if horror really is your thing, also check out The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2017 Edition edited by Paula Guran, which features 37 stories by the likes of Aliette de Bodard, Victor LaValle, and N. K. Jemisin. Science fiction fans will no doubt want to check out the granddaddy of speculative fiction anthologies, The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Fourth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois.

 

Want more? Some other choice anthologies and collections appearing this month:

  • Besieged: Stories from The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne
  • Best of British Science Fiction 2016 edited by Donna Scott
  • Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories by Naomi Kritzer
  • Dark Screams: Volume Seven edited by Brian James Freeman & Richard Chizmar
  • Elasticity: The Best of Elastic Press edited by Andrew Hook
  • Heroic Fantasy Short Stories by Flame Tree Publishing
  • Nights of the Living Dead: An Anthology edited by Jonathan Maberry & George A. Romero
  • Straight Outta Tombstone edited by David Boop
  • Telling the Map: Stories by Christopher Rowe
  • The Hole in the Moon and Other Tales by Margaret St. Clair
  • The Best of Subterranean edited by William Schafer
  • The Unorthodox Dr. Draper and Other Stories by William Browning Spencer
  • Time Travel Short Stories by Flame Tree Publishing

Happy reading!

John DeNardo is the founding editor of SF Signal, a Hugo Award-winning science fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews. You can follow him on Twitter as @sfsignal.