The best recent science fiction – reviews roundup

Everything About You by Heather Child, Hunted by GX Todd, The Body Library by Jeff Noon, 84K by Claire North, The Rig by Roger Levy

Heather Child’s debut novel, Everything About You (Orbit, £14.99), reads as though the author has travelled to the future and returned with an itemised report. We are in near-future Britain, and Child has extrapolated from current trends in social media to catalogue the pitfalls and benefits of a world in which most citizens take part in various forms of virtual reality and smartware curates everyone’s identity. The novel begins eight years after Freya’s 17-year-old stepsister, Ruby, vanished without trace, and Freya has been living with a burden of guilt and grief. When she borrows her ex-boyfriend’s Smartface hardware, its algorithms trawl the datasphere and provide Freya with a default virtual helpmate – a construct based on her sister’s old online presence. The novel is ...

The best recent science fiction and fantasy novels – reviews roundup

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz; Blackfish City by Sam J Miller; The Wolf by Leo Carew; The Silenced by Stephen Lloyd Jones and The Tangled Lands by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S Buckell

Autonomous (Orbit, £8.99) is the debut novel from Annalee Newitz, a science journalist and co-founder of the SF website io9. It’s 2144 and in a hi-tech, down-at-heel US – a hybrid of Blade Runner and William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy – “Jack” Chen manufactures illegal drugs for the poor. She also pirates a drug known as Zacuity, designed to aid concentration. When she learns that it has lethal side-effects undisclosed by its makers, the Zaxy Corporation, Chen turns whistleblower and must flee the ruthless agents of the International Property Coalition. What could easily descend into a routine run-around chase caper is given moral and intellectual depth by Newitz’s examination of corporate behaviour and the limits of personal freedom. A ...

The best recent science fiction and fantasy novels – reviews roundup

The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch; Embers of War by Gareth L Powell; The Bitter Twins by Jen Williams; Spare and Found Parts by Sarah Maria Griffin; All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

In The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch (Headline, £14.99), NCIS agent Shannon Moss looks into the murder of a family and the abduction of their teenage daughter: the prime suspect is a Navy Seal who was lost on a deep space mission years earlier. Agent Moss works on a black ops programme that utilises time travel as an aid to its investigations, and she journeys into the future in order to track down the kidnapped girl and the killer. As if this were not a thrilling enough premise, Sweterlitsch stirs an intriguing end-of-the-world scenario into the mix. In every possible future investigated by naval agents, the world has come to an end – and the ...

The best recent science fiction – reviews roundup

Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds, Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft, Spring Tide by Chris Beckett, The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander, The Feed by Nick Clark Windo

Alastair Reynolds excels at world building – his impressive backlist attests to that – but he’s also a master at constructing complex technological, far-future societies peopled by fully rounded characters. In Elysium Fire (Gollancz, £14.99), the Glitter Band is a vast ring of spatial habitats orbiting the planet of Yellowstone. Each is a self-governing autonomy, where citizens vote instantly via brain implants on matters political and social. Violent crime is rare in the affluent Glitter Band, and the judiciary known as the Prefects instead investigate crimes related to voting. When brain implants cause a series of deaths across the habitats, it’s down to Inspector Dreyfus, ably assisted by sidekicks Parver and Ng, to track down the killer. Elysium Fire is a tremendously assured ...

The best recent science fiction – reviews roundup

Sealed by Naomi Booth, Sherlock Holmes and the Miskatonic Monstrosities by James Lovegrove, Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Sweet Dreams by Tricia Sullivan, Austral by Paul McAuley

Naomi Booth’s Sealed (Dead Ink, £15.99) fuses near-future eco-catastrophe with psychological horror to produce an accomplished, slow-burning meditation on motherhood, pregnancy and love. Reeling with grief after the loss of her mother, and horrified at the onset of a worldwide epidemic, pregnant Alice flees Sydney for the safety of a remote Blue Mountains settlement with her childhood sweetheart Pete. Far from finding a refuge from her nightmares, however, Alice discovers that the epidemic has followed her. “Cutis” afflicts victims with outgrowths of skin covering all external orifices: is it humanity’s way of protecting itself, Alice wonders, from the deadly poisons polluting the planet? Booth strikes a fine balance between portraying her as a paranoid obsessive and as a concerned mother-to-be reacting ...

The best recent science fiction, fantasy and horror novels – reviews roundup

The Rift by Nina Allan; Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer; Our Memory Like Dust by Gavin Chait; The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts

Nina Allan excels at creating subtle, shifting narratives straddling the mundane and the bizarre, the real and the unreal. In her second novel, The Rift (Titan, £7.99), she has produced a lyrical, moving story beautifully balanced between the reality of contemporary England and the ethereal otherness of the alien world of Tristane. Selena and Julie were not only sisters but best friends, and when Julie vanishes aged 17 – the victim of a killer? – Selena’s life and that of her family changes forever. Two decades later, Julie reappears, claiming to have spent the intervening years in an alien world, supporting her story with a highly detailed account of her life there. The Rift is what Allan does best, exploring contemporary society, and what ...

The best recent science fiction, fantasy and horror novels – reviews roundup

Shattered Minds by Laura Lam; Lost Boy by Christina Henry; Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory; Mormama by Kit Reed; The Truants by Lee MarkhamIn Shattered Minds (Macmillan, £12.99) Laura Lam combines William Gibson’s noirish cyberpunk vibe with Kim Stanley Robinson’s social concern and world-building to produce a gripping, fast-paced hi-tech thriller peopled by flawed but believable characters. In a near-future US west coast state known as Pacifica, ex-neuroscientist Carina was the subject of an experiment carried out by Sudice Inc. It left her with violent urges and an addiction to a drug called zeal. With her memory of the experiment wiped, she begins to hallucinate a dead girl, a fellow victim of Sudice’s sinister mind-mapping operation. Together with a team of hackers, she works to bring down the organisation, restrain the homicidal urges in her own shattered mind and come to some understanding of her fraught past. The novel ...

The best recent science fiction, fantasy and horror novels – reviews roundup

The End of the Day by Claire North, The Book of Bera by Suzie Wilde, From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters, The Apartment by SL Grey, Cold Welcome by Elizabeth MoonClaire North, the pseudonym of Catherine Webb, has earned a reputation for tackling serious subjects with a lightness of touch, enviable readability and an assured narrative control. The End of the Day (Orbit, £16.99) is her most ambitious novel, taking on a plethora of major issues and offering hope. Charlie is the Harbinger of Death – whose office is based, prosaically, in Milton Keynes – and he travels the world meeting those about to be visited or merely brushed by Death, and observing events and cultures about to pass from existence. His fellow Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Pestilence, War and Famine, are normal men and women like Charlie who also jet around on business. It’s a surreal, whimsical conceit that allows ...

The best recent science fiction, fantasy and horror novels – reviews roundup

The End of the Day by Claire North, The Book of Bera by Suzie Wilde, From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters, The Apartment by SL Grey, Cold Welcome by Elizabeth MoonClaire North, the pseudonym of Catherine Webb, has earned a reputation for tackling serious subjects with a lightness of touch, enviable readability and an assured narrative control. The End of the Day (Orbit, £16.99) is her most ambitious novel, taking on a plethora of major issues and offering hope. Charlie is the Harbinger of Death – whose office is based, prosaically, in Milton Keynes – and he travels the world meeting those about to be visited or merely brushed by Death, and observing events and cultures about to pass from existence. His fellow Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Pestilence, War and Famine, are normal men and women like Charlie who also jet around on business. It’s a surreal, whimsical conceit that allows ...

The best recent science fiction, fantasy and horror novels – reviews roundup

The End of the Day by Claire North, The Book of Bera by Suzie Wilde, From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters, The Apartment by SL Grey, Cold Welcome by Elizabeth MoonClaire North, the pseudonym of Catherine Webb, has earned a reputation for tackling serious subjects with a lightness of touch, enviable readability and an assured narrative control. The End of the Day (Orbit, £16.99) is her most ambitious novel, taking on a plethora of major issues and offering hope. Charlie is the Harbinger of Death – whose office is based, prosaically, in Milton Keynes – and he travels the world meeting those about to be visited or merely brushed by Death, and observing events and cultures about to pass from existence. His fellow Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Pestilence, War and Famine, are normal men and women like Charlie who also jet around on business. It’s a surreal, whimsical conceit that allows ...

The best recent science fiction, fantasy and horror novels – reviews roundup

Chalk by Paul Cornell, The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams, Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds, Relics by Tim Lebbon and Hekla’s Children by James BrogdenEarly in Paul Cornell’s psychological horror novel Chalk (Tor, £14.50), something appalling happens to Andrew Waggoner, a mild-mannered schoolboy who suffers continual bullying. After a Halloween disco he’s attacked by five fellow pupils who drag him into nearby woods, tie him to a tree and mutilate him. Later that night, his tortured psyche gives birth to a Hyde-like alter ego that proceeds to do terrible things; as he tells Andrew: “You can only be healed when your revenge is complete.” What follows, seen through the eyes of the book’s unreliable narrator, is the story of Waggoner’s revenge. The setting is the West Country in the 1980s, and Cornell brilliantly delineates not only the insular milieu of rural England but the brutal materialism of Thatcher’s ...

The best recent science fiction, fantasy and horror novels – reviews roundup

Under a Watchful Eye by Adam Nevill, The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo, Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows by James Lovegrove, The Iron Tactician by Alastair Reynolds, Gilded Cage by Vic James, Defender by GX ToddAdam Nevill’s riveting ninth novel, Under a Watchful Eye (Pan, £12.99), ventures into the heartland of British horror so successfully charted by the likes of MR James and Arthur Machen. Horror writer Seb Logan is struggling with his latest novel when he becomes reacquainted with his old university friend Ewan Alexander, now a shambling down-and-out alcoholic who stalks and then moves in with Logan. Alexander is obsessed with the work of the horror writer and con man ML Hazzard, leader of a mystical cult investigating astral travel who, through Alexander, wishes Logan to do his bidding. Nevill charts Logan’s descent into the eldritch realm surrounding Hazzard and his cult with subtlety, drip-feeding doses of horror ...

The best recent science fiction and fantasy novels – reviews roundup

Creation Machine by Andrew Bannister, The Medusa Chronicles by Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds, Dreamsnake by Vonda N McIntyre, Azanian Bridges by Nick Wood and Ace of Spiders by Stefan MohamedSpace opera lends itself to the depiction of grand dimensions and great duration, but it’s one thing to talk big, quite another to present a vast universe through the eyes of fully rounded characters without the former overshadowing the latter. Many a novice has floundered, their vision ill served by technique. Fortunately, debut novelist Andrew Bannister comes to the genre with his talents fully formed in the ambitious, compulsively readable Creation Machine (Transworld, £14.99), the first volume in a trilogy. Fleare Haas, the maverick daughter of the industrialist tyrant Viklun Haas, is imprisoned in a monastery on the moon of Obel, her crime to join rebels opposed to her father’s ruthless regime. Her escape from prison and her headlong ...

The best science fiction and fantasy novels – reviews roundup

Eric Brown on Radiance by Catherynne M Valente, Eleanor by Jason Gurley, Empire V by Victor Pelevin, A Gathering of Shadows by VE Schwab and Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky In Radiance (Corsair, £16.99), her first adult novel for four years, Catherynne M Valente posits an absurdist alternative history in which the exploration of the solar system began in the 1800s and all the planets are inhabited. In 1944 film-maker Severin Unck travelled to Venus to make a film about a vanished colony. When she disappeared, along with some of her crew, the search was on to find out what had happened. In the 1960s, Severin’s adopted son Anchises St John is hired to unravel the mystery, and much of the novel follows his peregrinations around the teeming solar system. Continue reading...









The best science fiction novels – review roundup

Eric Brown on Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan, Ancestral Machines by Michael Cobley, All The Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman and AfroSFv2, edited by Ivor W Hartmann A new novel by Tricia Sullivan is an event to be celebrated, and in Occupy Me (Gollancz, £16.99), the Clarke award-winner has produced a work of literary SF that transcends the subgenre of paranormal-romance serial killer-thrillers currently choking the market. The complex, beautifully dovetailed plot follows Pearl as she tracks down a killer whose suitcase contains a surprise or two – like the fundamental facts of reality and humanity’s place in the scheme of things. We’re introduced to Pearl with the great hook: “In the very moment when I was throwing the hijacker off the plane I found myself remembering what the other angels had said when Marquita lined me up for this ...

The best recent science fiction and horror – review roundup

Eric Brown on Adam Nevill’s Lost Girl; Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy; Dave Hutchinson’s Europe at Midnight; David Barnett’s Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper; William Gay’s Little Sister Death

Adam Nevill excels at making nightmares real. His previous novels have been out-and-out horror, stories of hauntings and occult phenomena peopled by fully realised, three-dimensional characters. Lost Girl (Pan, £7.99) explores new territory and combines two hellish scenarios: the effects of climate change on society, and every parent’s nightmare of having their child abducted. The year is 2053 and the world’s population is suffering the onslaught of global warming: drought and famine push millions towards Europe; nations teeter on the edge of nuclear conflict; and Britain is rapidly failing, with the haves barricaded in gated communities and the have-nots at the mercy of criminal gangs. Amid the chaos, a four-year-old girl is abducted while playing in her garden, ...

The best recent fantasy novels – review roundup

Eric Brown on The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley, Skin by Ilka Tampke, Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, The Ragthorn by Robert Holdstock and Garry Kilworth, and The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

Natasha Pulley’s The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (Bloomsbury, £12.99) proves that well-worn genre tropes – in this case, gaslit steampunkish London and clockwork automata – can be invested with fresh lustre by combining elegant plotting, lashings of invention and jump-off-the-page characterisation. It is the 1880s and lowly telegraph clerk Nathaniel Steepleton finds that his house has been broken into and a mysterious pocket watch left in his bedroom. After he survives a Fenian bomb attack on Scotland Yard, thanks to the watch’s alarm, Nathaniel sets out to track down its maker, and locates the punctilious Mr Mori, the Japanese watchmaker of Filigree Street, who can see into the future. Soon, Nathaniel’s destiny ...

The best recent science fiction – review roundup

Eric Brown on Chris Beckett’s Mother of Eden; Becky Chambers’s The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet; Stephen Palmer’s Beautiful Intelligence; Ian Sales’s All That Outer Space Allows; SL Grey’s Under Ground; Alex Lamb’s Roboteer

Chris Beckett won the 2013 Arthur C Clarke award for his novel Dark Eden, about the survival and adaptation of human colonists on a world without light. The sequel, Mother of Eden (Corvus, £17.99), begins generations later, charting the growth and political divisions between the colonists. It follows the rise of Starlight Brooking, a humble fishergirl, and her quest to bring equality and revolution to Edenheart, a settlement ruled by a conservative patriarchy. Beckett doesn’t do traditional heroes and villains: Starlight Brooking is contradictory and flawed, at once brave and vulnerable, and likewise his villains are portrayed with sympathy and understanding. He also eschews easy answers and formulaic plotting; where a hundred other ...