Collision: Stories, by J.S. Breukelaar
A collection of 12 dark speculative stories from J.S. Breukelaar (Aurealis Award nominee Aletheia), including four appearing here for the first time. From the off-kilter (the strange, touching story of an armless piano player in “Union Falls”), to the unsettling (“Glow,” inspired by the author’s experience of the 2016 U.S. presidential election), to the alien (“Rogues Bay 3013”), to the heartfelt and haunting (in “Fairy Tale,” a veteran soldier is convinced the orphan that shows up at his door is the child soldier that shot him during the war), to the downright bizarre, these stories jump genres with wild abandon. Collision proves J.S. Breukelaar is an author to watch—likely we’ll be hearing her name a lot more in the future.
Alita: Battle Angel, by Pat Cadigan
James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez’ film adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s manga Battle Angel Alita is adapted in turn by award-winning sci-fi writer Pat Cadigan, who has penned a number of high-profile novelizations in-between writing her own award-winning cyberpunk books. Found and repaired by a good-hearted scientist living in a post-apocalyptic future in which Earth has become a trash-strewn wasteland, the cyborg Alita comes of age, discovers her destiny, and gets really good at fighting.
The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark
The second novella from Clark, after last year’s The Black God’s Drums, returns to the alternate early 20th century Cairo the author first explored in the short story “A Dead Djinn in Cairo.” In a world filled with magic, automatons, strange spirits, and powerful djinn, Hamed Nasr is an agent with the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investing minor cases of the misuse of magic. His latest job—a tram car that seems to be possessed by a malevolent djinn—turns out to be much more complex than it first seemed… perhaps more than Hamed and his stuff-shirted new partner Onsi can handle. The amount of worldbuilding packed into this slim book is remarkable—gender politics (the case unfolds against the backdrop of the Egyptian suffrage movement), class conflicts, machine sentience, commerce, and more—and the narrative voice is a delight; imagine the sensibility of Agatha Christie crossed with the magic of Saladin Ahmed.
Trump Sky Alpha, by Mark Doten
Mark Doten (The Infernal) delivers what may be the first major sci-fi novel of the post-Trump era. Certainly he’s gunning for that distinction from the premise on: the book begins one year after Trump’s Twitter rantings have triggered a nuclear war. A journalist hiding out in the Twin Cities Metro Containment Zone searches for her missing wife and daughter while ostensibly working on a story exploring internet humor amid the apocalypse. But as she dives deeper into a world of metatextual references and nested memes, Rachel finds hints of a conspiracy that may change her understanding of the past and give shape to the world’s increasingly strange future.
Where Oblivion Lives, by T. Frohock
Fans of Frohock’s Los Nefilim novellas will be thrilled with this full-length novel, which a deep dive into a historical fantasy world. In 1932, in an alt-history version of Spain and Germany, vying forces of angels and daimons are gearing up for a civil war that threatens humanity’s existence. Los Nefilim are the respective offspring of the warring species, able to either sing like the angles or hear like the daimons; they monitor the conflict and seek to avert disaster. Diago is special even among the Nefilim, born of both angel and daimon and thus able to both sing and hear. Tormented by the sound of his lost Stradivarius, Diago slips over the Rhine and searches for the source of the music that torments his demonic hearing. Along the way, he and his allies uncover evidence of terrible betrayals and a plot that would mean the end of Los Nefilim—and the world.
The Rising, by Mira Grant
Seanan McGuire, writing as Mira Grant, delivered a pitch-perfect postmodern zombie story with her Newsflesh trilogy, combining a hard look at the dirty truth of politics with the shambling dread of the undead apocalypse. The Rising collects all three Hugo-nominated volumes of the trilogy, set decades after separate cures for cancer and the common cold mutated into a virus that turned carriers into zombies and changed the balance of power the world over. Though the contagion has been contained and the zombie threat is under control, the healthy must live in secured areas and stay ever-vigilant. Blogging journalists following the presidential campaign of a Republican senator slowly stumble (no pun intended) upon a grim conspiracy using the hordes of undead to manipulate public opinion and the upcoming election. It’s smart, fast-paced sci-fi horror, and now you can rip through the whole thing without stopping.
The Very Best of Caitlin R. Kiernan, by Caitlin R. Kiernan
Polymath Caitlin R. Kiernan is well established as one of SFF’s best short story writers, but until now, much of her work has only been available in print in limited-edition publications. Finally, here is a freely available collection of her best work: 20 incredible stories that will remind fans (and prove to new readers) just how unnaturally good she is at this. Her stories dive headlong into dark emotional currents, as when a daughter must close a gate to the past opened by her father; treat in doom and despair, as when a cult leader leads his followers into the ocean; and explore the uncanny, as when a film scholar reviews a disturbing movie about the most prolific female serial killer in history. Any one of them would alone be worth the cover price. It’s hard to imagine this collection won’t rank with the very best speculative books of 2019.
Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation, edited and translated by Ken Liu
Anyone paying attention to science fiction trends in recent years knows that Chinese literature is becoming an increasingly vital part of the landscape in the English-speaking world, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Liu, who translated Cixin Liu’s Hugo-winning novel The Three-Body Problem, and edited the excellent anthology Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation. Now, he returns with a second anthology, another amazing collection of first-rate stories, featuring authors both familiar to attentive Western readers (including Hugo-winners Liu Cixin and Hao Jingfang) and newly imported but no less wonderful. With stories that treat in classic sci-fi tropes as filtered through the lenses of Chinese culture and history, and other that explore ideas that are entirely new, this is another essential exploration of an entire universe of speculative fiction heretofore inaccessible to many Western readers.
Gates of Stone, by Angus Macallan
The first book in Macallan’s Lord of the Islands series introduces the gritty, richly detailed world of the Laut Besar, where three lives are set on a collision course that might save—or destroy—a civilization. A princess is denied the throne solely because she’s a woman, and embarks on a violent quest to raise the money and power she’ll need to seize power by force. An arrogant prince is shocked into action when his kingdom is invaded by a sorcerer seeking one of seven powerful talismans that keep the Seven Hells at bay. If the sorcerer locates and possess all seven, all manner of chaos will be unleashed upon the world. Inspired by the overlapping cultures of China and India, this is a story filled with magic, epic battles, and complex characters.
The Outcast Hours, by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin
A great anthology is more than the sum of its parts, and Murad and Shurin proved their ability to curate something truly special with their first effort, the delightful The Dijinn Falls in Love and Other Stories. Here they bring together more than two dozen stories centered on the portion of society that lives by night, bathed in neon and shrinking from the morning. In other words: the outcasts. It’s a rich vein from which to mine incredible and incredibly strange stories, and the stellar cast of contributing writers certainly delivers. The anthology features works by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Marina Warner, Sami Shah, and Jeffrey Alan Love, among many others (including China Miéville, who hasn’t been writing nearly enough fiction as of late, delivers a smattering of deeply weird page-long micro-fictions). For fans of surprising speculative fiction, it is sure to be a treat.
Fleet of Knives, by Gareth L. Powell
Powell continues the Embers of War series in fine space opera style, finding the crew of the sentient ex-warship Trouble Dog responding to a distress call in the midst of the fallout of the Archipelago War. Trouble Dog tracks down the abandoned ship Lucy’s Ghost only to find that its human crew took refuge on a centuries-old generation ship launched by an alien species. Their efforts to save the humans pits them against beings that appear to them as dangerous monsters. Meanwhile, war criminal Ona Sudak leads the ships of the Marble Armada in an effort to enforce the peace at all costs—and believing that the Trouble Dog is a danger to that peace, she quickly takes steps to eliminate them, trapping the vessel and its crew between two violent enemies. Embers of War was one of our favorite reads of 2018—a space opera foregrounding the emotional journeys of its protagonists (both human and machine) without sacrificing the action or suspense—and the sequel lives up to its predecessor, and then some.
Firstborn, by Michelle West
The seventh entry in West’s House War epic fantasy series. The back cover summary is extensive—you can read it here—and likely won’t make sense to anyone who hasn’t kept up with the series so far. Perhaps it is more interesting, then, to state that this is the first half of what West intended to be the final novel in the series. What she wrote was so extensive, it had to be split into two volumes; this is the first part, and War will follow later this year. So if you love epics, know both that this is a truly epic series… and that it will be finished come June, and ready for a binge read.
What new sci-fi and fantasy is on your list this week?