Photo: Andrew Liptak for Polygon
A new Star Trek tie-in, the second Cry Pilot installment, and reissued classics from Stanislaw Lem
The end of January brought about frigid temperatures and a new layer of snow, which was the perfect background for the book that I’ve been reading lately: Waubgeshig Rice’s 2018 novel Moon of the Crusted Snow, an intriguing post-apocalyptic novel set in Northern Canada. Rice, a member of the Wasauksing First Nation, follows Evan Whitesky, who has to care for his young family and help his community hold together as a massive blackout cuts power throughout North America.
It’s a fitting novel for the temperature, Rice uses it to examine the fragility of civilization and how dependent society has become on infrastructure. While reading it, I came across a tweet that seems to underscore his argument: “Dystopia is a white people word for ‘what if all that shit happened TO US?” It’s certainly not a new trope in speculative fiction literature, but Rice puts an interesting spin on it.
The cold weather doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, and February brings plenty of new books to pick up while we wait for warmer weather to arrive. (And if you missed them, here were our January picks.)
The Initiate by James Cambias
In a search for answers after his family is killed in a demon attack, Sam Arquero encounters an old man who introduces him to an ancient magical order known as the Apkallu. If he wants answers, he must join them. But the order has strict rules and traditions, and that they might be responsible for the deaths of his loved ones.
Read the first six chapters here.
Burn Cycle by Joel Dane
Cry Pilot, Joel Dane’s debut novel, is set in the distant future where people fight for spots in corporate militaries. Maseo Kaytu volunteers to be a “cry pilot,” someone who rides along on a drone. In Burn Cycle, after fighting in an intense war, he’s given a new mission: locate the “spawn point” of their enemy, and destroy it — a next step in a battle that Earth is in danger of losing.
Listen to an excerpt.
Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
Sarah Gailey wrote one of my favorite novels last year, Magic for Liars. In Upright Women Wanted, she turns her attention back to weird westerns. Gailey follows the story of Esther, a young woman who stowed away on a librarian’s wagon to escape an arranged marriage. She’s found out, and the librarians (who are tasked with distributing approved literature throughout the new territories) find that she’s stumbled into a revolutionary scene. As she’s brought to a camp in Utah, she discovers a secret about one of the refugees that they’ve been escorting, and it throws their entire band into danger.
Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that “Gailey’s gorgeous writing and authentic characters make this slim volume a pure delight.”
Read an excerpt.
Mazes of Power by Juliette Wade
In this debut fantasy novel, Wade writes of Pelismara, a city within a deep cave, occupied by 12 ruling families that form a rigid class system. The city has been in decline, and when an epidemic sweeps over the city and kills their ruler, 17-year-old Tagaret is forced to represent his family to compete to become the heir to the throne. He has to contend with other rivals to the throne, including his sociopathic younger brother Nekantor, who threatens everything that he’s worked for.
Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review and says that the novel has an “impressively winding plot, layered worldbuilding, and psychologically acute characterizations are sure to hold readers’ attention.”
Read an excerpt.
The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet
In her debut fantasy novel, Kelly Braffet follows the story of Judah, a gifted young woman who’s raised alongside Gavin, the heir to an entire empire. But as he is elevated to the throne, she realizes that she has no future within the kingdom, and that the emperor, Lord Elban, sees her as a pawn in a larger power struggle. When a mysterious healer arrives to Highfall, it becomes clear that he has his own plans for the emperor, and Judah might play a role in their plans. Publishers Weekly says that “readers who enjoy complex characters will find much to savor here.”
Read an excerpt
Daughter from the Dark by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko
Saving a 10-year-old girl named Alyona throws DJ Alexey Igorevitch Grimalsky’s life into turmoil. The girl insists on staying with him, coming up with strange stories to account for her background, and says that she’s hunting for her missing brother. As she refuses to leave, her teddy bear comes to life and turns into a ferocious monster, thwarting any attempt to get her out of his apartment and to her home.
Publishers Weekly says that “the change Alyona enacts in her reluctant caregiver is wholly satisfying. Fans of found family tropes will be pleased with this strange, ethereal tale.”
The Light Years by R.W.W. Greene
Long before Hisako Saski was born, her parents arranged for her to be married to Adem Sadiq, an engineer who works aboard his family’s spaceship, the Hajj, in exchange for getting an expensive education. As she grows up, she resents the arrangement, and the physics that she’s required to learn that could be the key to changing human history by unlocking the key to faster-than-light travel.
Publishers Weekly says that “sophisticated worldbuilding and diverse, emotionally-resonant characters make Greene an author to watch.”
Read an excerpt.
The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood
Osorwe, an orc priestess, will one day climb a sacred mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unknown, and be sacrificed. But when the day comes, a mage named Belthandros Sethennai offers her a new fate: come with him, to help him reclaim his former throne in the city of Tlaanthothe. He trains her to become a thief and assassin — a blunt instrument to aid him in his quest.
Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review and says that “epic fantasy fans are sure to be impressed by this expertly crafted adventure.”
Read the first five chapters here.
Picard: The Last Best Hope by Una McCormack
CBS All Access debuted its new Star Trek series Picard just a couple of days ago, and to commemorate the occasion, it’s releasing a tie-in novel that sets up the events of the series, written by Una McCormack. The novel will provide some backstory to some of the show’s newest characters.
Stormsong by C.L. Polk
In Witchmark, C.L. Polk introduces a fantastical alternate world called Aeland (not unlike Edwardian England) which is dealing with the aftermath of a massive world war. Miles Singer’s magical family wanted to draw on his particular abilities, and escapes to fight and hide his abilities from persecution. Damaged by the war, he’s helped by an angel in disguise, and his sister Dame Grace Hensley pulls him back into the world of magic and politics.
In that novel’s sequel, Polk picks up the story of Grace, who helped foil an assassination attempt, now has to figure out who was behind it, and travels with Miles to their rival nation, Laneeri. Aeland is threatened by a cataclysmic storm and revolution is brewing, and she’s forced make drastic choices to help save her country.
Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that “this delectable treat is a worthy follow-up to her debut.”
Read an excerpt.
Bridge 108 by Anne Charnock
In the near future, Europe is decimated by climate change. When a 12-year-old refugee is abandoned by his mother, he’s snapped up by traffickers who take him to Manchester. When he escapes with a fellow victim, he works to try and figure out a new life for himself in a dangerous new world.
Publishers Weekly says that “Charnock’s worldbuilding grows more sophisticated and detailed over the course of Caleb’s travels. Readers who enjoy coming-of-age stories with hopeful messages will be gratified by this topical tale of human resourcefulness in the face of climate disaster.”
Read an excerpt.
Gravity of a Distant Sun by R.E. Stearns
R.E. Stearns’ debut novel Barbary Station was one of my favorite novels of 2017, and was a swashbuckling adventure of two engineers who join up with a pirate crew on a space station equipped with a murderous AI. Oh, and there are a couple of major, evil megacorporations out to get then.
After escaping their clutches in the trilogy’ second installment, Mutiny at Vesta, Adda and Iridian are on the run again, both from the authorities and the artificial intelligence, and find themselves trapped on a space station orbiting Jupiter. They’ve got one shot at escaping — traveling across an interstellar bridge to another galaxy. First, they need to survive.
Kirkus Reviews says that the book is a “worthwhile finale to a fun SF adventure series.”
Light of Impossible Stars by Gareth L. Powell
In 2018, Gareth L. Powell kicked off his Light of Impossible Stars trilogy with Embers of War, which earned the 2018 British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel, and followed the misfit crew of a former warship trying to come to terms with its role in a devastating war.
In this conclusion to the trilogy, the ship is hunted by the Fleet of Knives, and tracks down an anomaly called The Intrusion, where reality itself is warped. With human civilization under assault and on the verge of collapse, the ship might be the key to saving everyone.
Read an excerpt.
The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso
Queen Talyien carried her kingdom of Oren-yaro through a devastating war that nearly destroyed her home. To help reconcile, she arranges a marriage with the son of a rival clan, only to have things go awry when her husband, who vanished five years earlier, reappears. When she receives a message from across the sea, a plea to reconcile her past, she’s drawn into a trap, and is forced to take desperate measures to survive.
Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that the novel’s “pace is breakneck but never exhausting. This excellent work will appeal to all readers of epic fantasy.”
Read an excerpt.
The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold
Actor Luke Arnold (Black Sails) makes a jump into fantasy fiction with his debut novel, The Last Smile in Sunder City, in which he follows a human private investigator named Fetch Philips, who tries to cope with his past in a diminished magical city. He was a soldier in a devastating war, in which magic has been drained from the world and its inhabitants, leading to terrible consequences. Now he’s hired by the principal of a school to track down a missing professor — a 300 year old vampire, and discovers that there is a greater plot afoot.
Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that it “winningly [combines] the grit of Chinatown with the quirky charm of Harry Potter, this series opener is sure to have readers coming back for more.”
Read an excerpt.
Master of Sorrows by Justin T. Call
Hidden away from the world, the Academy of Chaenbalu has been responsible for teaching the secrets of magic for centuries. Its students learn how to find and steal magical objects, with the intention of protecting them from misuse. One student, Annev de Breth wants to become an Avatar — a warrior thief tasked with the most challenging missions — but carries a secret past: born marked as the son of a dark god named Keos, he was saved from death by Ancient Priest Sodar, and worked to keep his destiny a secret. But now that he’s at the school, the impulse to embrace who he was destined to become.
Grimdark Magazine says that the novel’s “[plot] and backstory of Master of Shadows are tightly done and rich in history,” and that the novel is the “perfect example of grimdark fantasy,” balancing the darker element with optimism.
Finna by Nino Cipri
In this short novella by Nino Cipri, an elderly shopper gets sucked into an interdimensional portal in an Ikea-like Swedish furniture store, prompting two of the store’s employees, Ava and Jules, to go above and beyond to track down the missing customer. Along the way, they face carnivorous furniture, doppelgängers, and their own personal issues.
MIT Press’ Stanislaw Lem series
Stanislaw Lem is responsible for some of the genre’s greatest classics, such as Solaris. MIT Press is re-releasing new editions of six of the author’s works: His Master’s Voice, translated by Michael Kandel, about a group of scientists decoding an alien signal; Highcastle: A Remembrance, translated by Michael Kandel, Lem’s memoir of his childhood; The Invincible, translated by Bill Johnston, about an interstellar mission dispatched to a distant planet, only to discover a civilization of self-replicating machines; Return from the Stars, translated by Barbara Marscal and Frank Simpson, about an astronaut who returns to Earth after a century-long mission; Hospital of the Transfiguration, translated by William Brand, about a doctor working in an asylum during the Second World War; and Memoirs of a Space Traveler: Further Reminiscences of Ijon Tichy translated by Joel Stern, Maria Swiecicka-Ziemianek, and Antonia Lloyd-Jones, a collection of several short stories about a space adventurer named Ijon Tichy.
The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Ken Liu is one of my favorite authors writing right now, and his debut collection of short fiction The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories was a fantastic volume of his best short stories.
Now, he’s got a second collection of short stories with some of his latest excellent stories, as well as an original novelette and an excerpt from the finale of his epic fantasy trilogy, The Veiled Throne.
You can read a bunch of the stories online: Reborn, Thoughts and Prayers, Byzantine Empathy, Staying Behind, Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer, Memories of my Mother, Seven Birthdays, and Ghost Days. You can also listen to a couple of stories: Real Artists and Maxwell’s Demon.