This month, the bookstore shelves are overflowing with great science-fiction and fantasy reads. Do you only have time for the best of them? If so, then check out this month's roundup of must-read speculative titles, which includes sky cities, voluntary prison stays, feudal societies on the moon, and a teenage witch.
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: A married couple tries to make ends meet by signing up for a project where they live alternating months in a nice house and in prison. Matters take a turn for the worse when the wife falls for the man who occupies their house on the months she and her husband are in jail.
WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: Margaret Atwood's particular brand of science fiction is both engrossing and accessible.
Dream Paris by Tony Ballantyne
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: In the partially rebuilt ruins of a devastated London, a young girl named Anna meets a mysterious stranger with insectlike eyes who claims to know where the people of London—including Anna's parents—have disappeared to.
WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: The setting for this story—an ever-changing cityscape that defies everything we know to be possible—is weird yet oddly appealing.
Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Brad Beaulieu
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: The great desert city of Sharakhai is ruled by 12 power-hungry and tyrannical kings, whose grip on the city denies people true freedom. But all that can change when one lone woman stands against them.
WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: Beaulieu's fantasy worlds are well-imagined and richly drawn...the kind you want to keep visiting.
The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: In world of steam and magic, towering spires are home to the houses of aristocratic leaders who rule the city below. Captain Grimm, loyal to Spire Albion and in charge of the merchant airship Predator, finds himself grounded after fierce combat, but not without a job: the leader of Spire Albion hires Grimm to be an agent for a mission that could restore Predator to full, fighting glory.
WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: Butcher makes a break from his much-loved Harry Dresden series to launch a new, equally enjoyable steampunk magic series.
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: An unpopular magic wielder who is the leader of an otherwise respected magicians organization that prohibits women members sets out to find the reason why England's source of magic is being depleted at an alarming rate. To do so, he enlists the help of a woman who herself possesses extraordinary magical power.
WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: Combining alternate history with magic, this noteworthy debut also offers light-handed social commentary on racism and misogyny.
If Then by Matthew De Abaitua
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: James is a bailiff in a small English town that revolves around a mysterious entity known as The Process, which fills the minds of the town's residents with their own reality. James' job is to evict people when they are no longer fit to live there. Or, is he a soldier in 1915 fighting a war that may or may not be real? Different realities collide in a story that keeps readers on their toes.
WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: The alternating viewpoints set in a modern town and during World War I will have you itching to know what's really going on.
Gestapo Mars by Victor Gischler
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: A trained assassin named Carter Sloan is brought out of cryogenic sleep after two-and-a-half centuries when the galaxy-spanning Reich needs him to hunt down their enemy: The Daughter of the Brass Dragon.
WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: Sometimes you just want to read something fun, right? Action, adventure, and gelatinous aliens can only be a plus. This gonzo story fulfills that need.
Hunter by Mercedes Lackey
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Years after the barriers between our world and the Otherworld were ripped open, civilization is just coming back to some normalcy. People have learned to band together in walled cities that protect them from the monsters that invaded our world. Joyeaux Charmand is a trained hunter whose skills lead to her being called upon to protect a city of elite citizens who seem to care more about their image than their safety.
WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: The world in which this takes place sounds like an intriguing one, and the idea of the so-called Othersiders using new tactics to break through previously sufficient barriers promises escalating tension.
Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: The Moon is the latest frontier of mankind. There, five families (known locally as the Five Dragons) rule society and jockey for control amongst each other. Adriana Corta, leader of the moon's youngest "Dragon," is near the end of her life and must ensure the continued existence of her corporation against unyielding enemies, so she enlists the aid of her five children to do it.
WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: McDonald has a knack for creating believable futures in which he tells masterful personal stories. Here's another reason: it's already been optioned for a television series ahead of the book's release.
The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Teenage witch Tiffany Aching learns that an old enemy is gathering strength and the balance of power is shifting, so she summons all the witches of the land to stand with her and fight.
WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: It's comic fantasy from Sir Terry Pratchett. Also, since he's no longer with us, this is our last chance to visit Discworld.
The Silent End by Samuel Sattin
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: After they encounter a wounded monster, a trio of misfit teenage friends find themselves pitted against the unearthly beasts that dwell beneath the foundations of their high school.
WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: This is a book you and your kids can enjoy.
The Promise of the Child by Tom Toner
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: In the far future, mankind has moved to the evolutionary stage of post-humanism in a galactic civilization called the Amaranthine Firmament. But the barbarous hominid kingdoms of the Prism Investiture still exist, and they have developed a dangerous weapon that the Amaranthine Firmament wants to keep secret.
WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: Spanning thousands of years, this wide-scale "weird space opera" epic promises adventure on strange new worlds.
Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: After striking a major blow against the evil galactic empire, the Rebel Alliance learns that the enemy is not down for the count. Wedge Antilles, a pilot of the Alliance, discovers several Imperial Star Destroyers converging for a summit on how to regain control. He is captured before he can report back, so it's up to rebel fighter Norra Wexley to rescue him.
WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: Set decades after the events of The Return of the Jedi, this story is just the thing to hold you over until the theatrical release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the fall.
Updraft by Fran Wilde
WHAT IT'S ABOUT: Set in a sky city grown from living bone, where life on the ground is lost to legend and trade and communication requires flying between spires, a young woman is faced with exposing a deadly secret that endangers everyone she loves.
WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: Based on Internet buzz from early readers, this is easily the most anticipated debut of the month.
For those smaller reading moments between novels, check out the following batch of new short fiction volumes:
o Fearie Tales edited by Stephen Jones
o In the Shadow of the Towers: Speculative Fiction in a Post-9/11 World edited by Douglas Lain
o Loosed Upon the World: The Saga Anthology of Climate Fiction edited by John Joseph Adams
o Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany edited by Nisi Shawl and Bill Campbell
o The End of the Story: The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith, Vol. 1 by Clark Ashton Smith
o Zombie Apocalypse! Acapulcalypse Nowedited by Stephen Jones