Summer is the season of reading! (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.) Armed with the following rundown of the best science fiction, fantasy and horror fiction reads coming your way this month, you'll be able to send it off with a bang (and clear the way for fall reading).
"Mainstream" Speculative Fiction
Are you new to speculative fiction? You may want to start with a book that's more accessible to mainstream audiences. Consider The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit by Graham Joyce, which is described as "only slightly supernatural." It's set in 1976 England, where a college student takes a job at the seaside resort where his father disappeared 15 years earlier. There's also Haruki Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, a story of love and friendship as a man, still affected by being shunned by his childhood friends 20 years earlier, seeks them out to find out why. The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman is the third book in his Magicians trilogy which is most easily described as "Harry Potter for grown-ups." In this satisfying conclusion, the hero of the story, Quentin, is cast out of the magical land of Fillory but may be the only one who can save it from disappearing forever. (If you recall, the first book in this magical series is being adapted as a television series.)
Science Fiction Picks
On of the best things about science fiction is that its speculative element blends so well with other genres, creating a variety of flavors to suit any palate. Mystery and thriller lovers, for example, will appreciate Lock In by John Scalzi, a near future thriller about a flu that affects about one percent of the world's population, rendering them completely motionless, but otherwise fully awake and aware. Over the next couple of centuries, the world adapts, most notably evidenced by a new technology that allows those who are infected to inhabit the bodies of others and live through them. But who is responsible for murder when you use another person in such a way to commit the crime? Meanwhile, The Ultra Thin Man by Patrick Swenson is set in the 22nd century, where two detectives attempt to solve a case. While that sounds routine, consider that this case begins with a faraway moon being thrown into its home planet and leads the pair of detectives to widespread conspiracy and danger.
If you like a little steampunk in your mystery, take a look at George Mann's Sherlock Holmes: The Spirit Box, the latest in a series of mysteries with the famous detective that involve speculative elements. For more traditional steampunk, consider The Ace of Skulls, the latest in Chris Wooding's steampunk adventure series revolving around the airship Ketty Jay. This time, Captain Darian Frey and his crew are being pulled into a civil war that they themselves may have started. Also available this month is The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter by Rod Duncan. In this story, the first of a new series called The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire, a woman named Elizabeth Barnabus leads the double life of being herself and playing her brother, a private detective. (More mystery!) Her/His latest case is the mystery involving a disappearing aristocrat and a hoard of arcane machines.
Science fiction wouldn't be fulfilling its stereotypical role if it didn't offer books set in space and/or including aliens, and this month it does. Peter Watts follows up his Hugo-nominated alien-contact novel Blindsight with Echopraxia, which depicts a future where humanity has been fractured into subspecies. The story follows a biologist, who would otherwise rather shun this evolutionary push, on a spaceship pilgrimage to meet humanity's evolutionary destiny. Author John Varley picks up his wonder-filled Thunder and Lightning series with a new book, Dark Lightning. It takes place aboard a spaceship created by an eccentric inventor who wakes from suspended animation to shock his family with the news that they must stop the ship or they will all die. Havoc by Ann Aguirre, meanwhile, has adventure aplenty. It's about a prison ship under siege from mercenaries, and the woman who leads a ragtag army of inmates to defend it.
Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson continue their Hellhole series depicting the chaotic titular planet. Hellhole Inferno includes warring aliens, a kidnapped queen and the threat of a new Big Bang that will wipe out the universe. Then there's Trial by Fire by Charles E. Gannon, sequel to the award-winning Fire with Fire, which pits humans against some very nasty technologically superior aliens capable of swatting away Earth's military forces as if they were flies. In World of Fire by James Lovegrove, an agent of the Interstellar Security Solutions wakes up in a new cloned body for every mission, his latest one being on the planet Alighieri, a planet perpetually in flames that is coveted by both aliens and the wealthy humans living beneath its surface.
There are other flavors of sci-fi, too. If post-apocalyptic stories are your thing, check out Fractured by D.J. Molles, the latest in The Remaining series, in which a group of people attempt to rebuild the savage world. Or for the online gamers out there, you'll definitely want to check out Soda Pop Soldier by Nick Cole, which is about an online combat sport arena where giant megacorporations deploy entire armies in a virtual battle for real-world global advertising space, and another virtual world exists where people can (for better or worse) realize their twisted desires.
Fantasy is no slouch either when it comes to offering up a diverse set of plots and themes in titles being released this month. Several of them are continuations of existing series. For example, Robin Hobb returns to her Farseer world with Fool's Assassin, the first book in the new Fitz and the Fool Trilogy. Here, former king’s assassin FitzChivalry Farseer, who thought he had left his days of intrigue far behind, is once again called to action when a mysterious stranger dredges up his adventuresome past and threatens Fitz's future. There's also a new novel in Ian C. Esslemont's Malazan Empire series with Assail, in which a mercenary company called the Crimson Guard ventures out to explore the mysterious and dangerous northern lands. Daniel Abraham's epic The Dagger and the Coin series continues with The Widow’s House, which sheds light on how the current war is linked to the fall of the dragons millennia in the past. Meanwhile, The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks (part of his Lightbringer series) involves a race to find the one man who can stop a civil war (who no longer has his magical powers) and the son who steps in to help. Irene Radford's The Wandering Dragon (the final book in the Children of the Dragon Nimbus Trilogy), sees its protagonist Lukan achieving journeyman magician status and embarking on a journey to rescue his mentor. In Shadows by E. C. Blake (follow-up novel to the well-received Masks), the exiled Mara Holdfast, who wields powerful magical abilities, becomes part of an underground rebellion that rejects the unjust rules of the Masked society. In The Scorched Earth, Drew Karpyshyn continues the story of the characters from Children of Fire, four young people with special abilities who will either save the world from destruction or cause it. Here, they search for a set of ancient Talismans that are supposed to prevent the return of Daemron the Slayer.
Do you want to start a new traditional fantasy series? You can also get in on the ground floor of exciting, new fantastical worlds. Kameron Hurley begins a new series (called the Worldbreaker Saga) with The Mirror Empire, a portal fantasy about two worlds that are linked together and the imaginative magic system that binds them. On the lighthearted fantasy shelf, there's The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory (first in the One Dozen Daughters series), which is about one would-be princess who disguises herself as a male sailor on the way to the New World, an finds mutiny, sorcery and romance.
Urban fantasy fans have lots of choices this month. Richard Kadrey extends his Sandman Slim novels with The Getaway God, where ancient gods threaten the world's destruction and our half-human/half-angel hero must attempt save the day. Rob Thurman, meanwhile, continues her Cal Leandros series with Downfall, in which its half-monster/half-human protagonist and his brother, Niko, fight a shadowy organization that wants to kill Cal, or more specifically, the monster into which he is changing. Simon R. Green has another Ghost Finders novel for you, in which a ragtag group of operatives of the Carnacki Institute are tasked with ridding the world of ghosts. In Green's Voices from Beyond, a group of students hold a séance and unwittingly unleash a poltergeist into the world...but that only serves to divert the Ghost Finders' attention away from the real and more evil threat. Speaking of ghosts, Stephen Blackmoore has a follow-up novel to Dead Things, which is about Eric Carter, a necromancer who can see ghosts and talk with the dead. In Broken Souls, Carter wrestles with the changes brought about by his link to an Aztec death goddess while hunting for a supernatural psychopath who can assume anyone's identity by wearing their skin. Finally there's Revenant by Kat Richardson, the latest in her Greywalker series. Here, paranormal private investigator Harper Blaine globe-trots to Portugal to investigate an ancient and forgotten cult that has allied with her boyfriend's insane father.
Horror fans needn't feel left in the dark when it comes to reading suggestions. For starters, try We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory. Described as a "post-horror horror" novel, this unique story is about a group of people affected in various way by the horrors of life, whose stories are only believed by the psychotherapist who brings them together to form a most unusual support group. Less of a support group are the descendents from ancient clans of warring witches, changelings, psychics and sorcerers, who come together for a final confrontation in We Will All Go Down Together by Gemma Files. Meanwhile, in Delilah S. Dawson's Southern gothic fantasy Servants of the Storm, a woman emerges from the medicated haze she's been in since the terrible hurricane in Savannah, Georgia. But when she stops taking her meds, she begins to see things that cannot possibly be real.
Young Adult Picks
Younger and older readers of Young Adult books can look forward to reading several enticing titles in August. Pittacus Lore (pseudonym for James Frey and Jobie Hughes) concludes the Lorien Legacies series (which began with I Am Number Four) with The Revenge of Seven, where the battle of Earth continues against the evil alien Mogadorian race. Gamers will undoubtedly like James Dashner's Mortality Doctrine series, which features an exciting-but-dangerous virtual world. The new second book in the series, The Rule of Thoughts, ups the ante when the true nature of the evil cyber-terrorist is revealed, and his plan to control anyone who plugs into the VirtNet moves closer to his goals of world domination. Mandy Hager's futuristic Resurrection takes a surprisingly hard look at the status quo and race relations under the guise of a post-apocalyptic romance. If you like adventure and imagination, you'll like Frostborn by Lou Anders, the first in the exciting new Viking-inspired Thrones and Bones series. It stars a pair of unlikely friends (Karn, a boy who would rather play the board game Thrones and Bones than take over the family farm; and Thianna, a half human, half frost giantess who's too different to be accepted by either race) and their attempt to save their families from harm. In the process they find themselves on the run from a 1,500-year-old dragon, undead warriors, wyverns, trolls and giants. Finally, there's The League of Seven by Alan Gratz, which begins a new steampunk series that takes place in an alternate 1875 America where electricity is strictly forbidden with good reason: it is the life force of giant, evil creatures that live underground.
For Short Fiction Readers
Would you like some short fiction with that? Here are some enjoyable speculative short fiction reads due in August:
- Classic Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories edited by Stephen Brennan
- Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
- Journal of the Plague Year: An Omnibus of Post-Apocalyptic Tales by C. B. Harvey & Malcolm Cross & Adrian Tchaikovsky
- Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios
- Solaris Rising 3 edited by Ian Whates
- The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume 5: We Can Remember it for You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick
- The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume 9: The Millennium Express by Robert Silverberg
- Year's Best Weird Fiction, Volume 1 edited by Laird Barron