Reaching Out: Arm of the Sphinx by Josiah Bancroft

On the back of the outstanding surprise that was Senlin Ascends, The Books of Babel only get better as Arm of the Sphinx expands its every aspect massively, like a balloon blown by a breathless baboon. The scope of the story, the extent of the setting and the small matter of the last narrative’s serviceable secondary characters—all are brilliantly embiggened in this superlative successor.

When schoolteacher Thomas Senlin lost track of his dear Marya at the foot of the Tower of Babel, to which otherworldly wonder they’d come to spend their hard-earned honeymoon, he imagined it would be a simple enough thing to find her before forging on with the rest of their R&R. How wrong he was. Instead, he was led on a merry chase to and through a few of the distinctive ringdoms that make up the aforementioned monolith, only to find himself drawn into the disputes ...

The Future Is Past: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

Kelly Robson’s killer novella Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach opens 250 years into our future. Many decades prior, catastrophic climate and environmental change forced humans into massive underground metropolises, or “hells.” Eventually, the plague babies—survivors of epidemics that burned through the hells in years past—braved the topside in an attempt to reclaim the land. One of those topsiders is Minh, a river rehabilitator in the struggling Calgary habilitation center. With the solid if not abundant financial backing of the banks, she and other plague babies were doing good work repairing damage to the earth to make it livable once more. And then the organization known as TERN invented time travel and everything fell apart. What little cash there was now goes to shiny new short term projects full of flash and bang rather than not so exciting long-term ecological necessities. Minh, who saw her livelihood and all her ...

Worldbuilding in the Wasteland: The Warrior Within by Angus McIntyre

The Warrior Within is Angus McIntyre’s first novella for Publishing. It’s a pretty interesting piece of work that reminds me faintly of Kameron Hurley’s Bel Dame trilogy and a little more strongly of Ankaret Wells’ independently-published Requite duology.

(Review contains spoilers.)

On a backwater planet whose inhabitants live parochial lives surrounded by the artefacts and wreckage of a long-vanished civilisation, a somewhat-disinterested religious autocracy dispenses subsistence wages and food for devotion and prayer—or salvaged artefacts—at their technological Temples. The head of each Temple is called the Muljaddy, and they’re all part of one single family, and the Temples—which are sometimes moved—are strung out along the length of a Road through a wasteland landscape, around which towns grow and falter, and along which people occasionally move.

Karsman used to be the servant of a prominent Muljaddy, and—unlike most of his neighbours—has travelled out into the ...

And They Found Us: Monster Portraits by Del and Sofia Samatar

Written by Sofia Samatar and illustrated by her brother Del Samatar, Monster Portraits is a short art-object of hybrid fiction/autobiography—about as interstitial as it gets—that “offers the fictional record of a writer in the realms of the fantastic shot through with the memories of a pair of Somali-American children growing up in the 1980s.” The text for this collaborative work was a prior finalist for the 2013 Calvino Prize; Rose Metal Press brings it to readers for the first time, filled with strange and alluring illustrations.

Monster Portraits serves the function of philosophy, or poetry: the text makes offerings, sketches connections, and requires leaps of juxtaposition as well as freefalls into implication. Each line is a treat to be savored and allowed to meld with its companions over a slow, methodical, reverential reading experience. The “happening” of the text is not located in the plot where our protagonist-author collects ...

Rise Up! Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone

In the land of Orïsha, King Saran rules with an iron fist. A decade before, he had every last maji executed in a power grab that eradicated magic and thrust thousands into inescapable poverty. Denied access to the magic they would gain when they were older, the white-haired children of the maji, known as divîners, became the slaves of the empire, the lowest of the low. There is no escape and no hope, just pain and suffering and bondage. Until one day when a magical artifact reemerges from the sea.

Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone tells the story of how pampered Princess Amari teams up with rebellious divîner Zélie and her un-magicked brother Tzain to restore magic to Orïsha. While on their quest, they are chased across the kingdom by Prince Inan, a boy driven equally by self-loathing and duty to his country. At his father’s behest, Inan ...

She Sang Out Her Song: The Strange Bird by Jeff VanderMeer

In her dreams she’s a woman: a human woman with willpower and wonder and the wealth that comes from having a companion who cares deeply about her—and, crucially, about her future.

But when she wakes, she’s avian in nature, albeit “overlaid with Homo sapiens” and a miscellany of other chromosomal material: an “unstable melange” of life-forms nipped and tucked so very cleverly together by the evil genetic-engineering empire known only as the Company that made Mord (a giant flying bear) and Borne (an amorphous multi-coloured mass) before her. She’s the Strange Bird: the long-suffering subject of the exceptional novella that bears the designation she takes as her name.

Set in the same elegantly wasted world as Jeff VanderMeer’s last, The Strange Bird is ostensibly an embellishment of Borne that crosses paths with any number of that extraordinary narrative’s characters: not to speak of the Company’s previous creatures, Rachel reappears, ...

Overgrown Empire: Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell’s The Tangled Lands

Not to be too much of a killjoy, but friendly reminder: Each of us makes the planet a little bit worse.

Every day, we make an uncountable number of decisions. Big decisions, like whether to have kids. Smaller decisions, like deciding to drive to work or get a new iPhone. And decisions so tiny they barely register: Ordering a cheeseburger. Drinking a bottle of water. In the grand scheme of things, each of those choices has an infinitesimal impact. It’s only later, when combined with others’ actions, that we see our choices’ consequences: Overpopulation. Climate change. Human rights abuses. Deforestation. Garbage patches in the Arctic.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s ecologically focused work is shelved as science fiction, but horror might be a better fit. In The Wind-Up Girl, he considered what life could look like when towering walls protect cities from rising seas, and where corporations’ genetically modified crops annihilate the ...