The best recent science fiction and fantasy – review roundup

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The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie; The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson; The Migration by Helen Marshall; The Autist by Stephen Palmer and Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh

Ann Leckie’s first four novels were award-winning space operas, which brought something refreshingly different to the genre with her examination of gender, politics and power – not to mention narrative technique. Her debut fantasy novel, The Raven Tower (Orbit, £16.99), is similarly groundbreaking. It may seem familiar, with its dispossessed lords, vengeful gods and soldier heroes, but Leckie’s central character is a transgender warrior, and the complex narrative is told partly in the second person. The warrior is Eolo, a loyal servant of Mawat, heir to the throne of Iraden. On returning from battle, the pair discover that Mawat’s father has vanished and his uncle has usurped the throne. It falls on Eolo to investigate the ...

The Spirit of Science Fiction by Roberto Bolaño review – a hymn to Mexico City

This post is by Chloe Aridjis from Books | The Guardian

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It may not have been intended for publication, but the novel’s exuberant spirit offers an insight into Bolaño’s later work

Motorcycles are the vehicles of choice in The Spirit of Science Fiction; one in particular, a stolen brown Benelli called Aztec Princess, carves its erratic path through the pages of the novel, stalling and starting, testing its engine as it changes speed and direction. Midway through the book, the narrative itself begins to feel like a motorbike being revved, a loud growl that every now and then accelerates into glee and abandon before slipping back into a more tentative mode.

The Chilean author Roberto Bolaño is best known for his effervescent novel The Savage Detectives, first published in English in 2007, four years after his death, and the epic 2666. The latest genie to emerge from his seemingly inexhaustible archive, The Spirit of Science Fiction, was ...

Unseen Robert A Heinlein novel reworks ‘awful’ The Number of the Beast

This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian

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Publisher says book, reconstructed from the author’s papers, is much closer to his traditional work than the much derided 1980 space romp

An unpublished book by Robert A Heinlein, which provides a completely new ending to the author’s controversial novel The Number of the Beast, has been reconstructed from notes and typed manuscript pages left behind by the Hugo award-winning author.

Heinlein was a major figure in 20th-century science fiction, the author of works including Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. According to publisher Phoenix Pick, which worked with the Heinlein Prize Trust to reconstruct the text, Heinlein wrote it as an alternate version of 1980’s The Number of the Beast. One of his later works, that novel was described in a blurb as following the adventures of “four supremely sensual and unspeakably cerebral humans – two male, two female”, who “find ...

The best recent science fiction and fantasy – review roundup

This post is by Eric Brown from Books | The Guardian

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Golden State by Ben H Winters; Foe by Iain Reid; The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon; The Chosen from the First Age anthology and The Revenant Express by George Mann

In Golden State (Century, £14.99), Ben H Winters posits a dystopian future California where the notion of truth is all important; anyone caught lying faces a lengthy jail sentence or exile. Citizens document their daily lives, state surveillance is ever present and recreational fictions have ceased to exist: instead people watch documentary TV. Laszlo Ratesic is a jaded fiftysomething with a talent for sniffing out lies in his role as a law enforcement agent with the Speculative Service. When he is called on to investigate after a worker falls from a roof, it looks like a simple case of accidental death – but Laszlo soon finds himself involved in a complex plot where the truth ...

Neil Gaiman on Good Omens, Sandman film rumours and his next book

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Good Omens, Neverwhere, Coraline, American Gods ... the genre-defying author joined us to answer your questions

Thank you so much to Neil for giving us his time today - and thank you all for your questions!

And yes, he has an answer for the very popular baboon versus badger question:

...and there we are! Out of time. I'm sorry if I didn't get to your questions. I typed as fast as I could.

Thank you for coming. Thank you for wonderful questions, whether I answered them or not. (Ash has been reading my books since my agent gave him the CHU board books as a gift. I think anyone who thinks my books are too wild and unstructured doesn't understand structure as well as they think they do, although I'll cop to wildness. And Ian McShane is indeed having a hoot in American Gods.)

Women write fantasy for grown-ups, too

This post is by Sian Cain from Books | The Guardian

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Why are female authors’ adult fantasy novels so often marketed at teenagers?

Why are adult fantasy novels by women often marketed at teenagers? This is the question an article on the website BookRiot has posited, arguing that unconscious sexism is to blame. “As more women’s novels get mistakenly classified as young adult, it furthers the message that grownup fantasy and sci-fi are for men. Sure, women can write for teens who like The Hunger Games, but for the ‘real’ fantasy readers? Try again,” wrote Mya Nunnally.

Sexism exists in science fiction and fantasy: until recently, the genre has remained stubbornly white and male but for the rise of authors including Nnedi Okorafor or NK Jemisin. Every time the Guardian runs reviews of sci-fi by women, commenters invariably debate whether it is sci-fi at all. But while YA fiction as we know it has been around since the ...

The Wall by John Lanchester review – ‘The Others are coming’

This post is by Tom Holland from Books | The Guardian

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From Brexit to migration, this masterly climate change dystopia explores contemporary fears with a blend of realism and metaphor

“It’s cold on the Wall.” What kind of story might be signalled by such an opening sentence? An adventure set in Roman Britain, perhaps – something by Rudyard Kipling or Rosemary Sutcliff, complete with centurions and mists over northern crags. Or a fable of the sort that Jorge Luis Borges or Italo Calvino might have written: a sombre meditation on the correlation between civilisation and frontier systems, composed in the voice of a Confucian scholar exiled to the steppes, plangent with echoes of Chinese poetry. Most obviously, in 2019 any mention of a chilly wall with a capital W is bound to conjure up images of George RR Martin’s Night’s Watch, standing guard amid the snows of northernmost Westeros. Historical fiction, fable, fantasy: the wall is an image ...

The best recent science fiction and fantasy – review roundup

This post is by Eric Brown from Books | The Guardian

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Our Child of the Stars by Stephen Cox; The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan; The Girl King by Mimi Yu; AfroSFv3 edited by Ivor W Hartmann and All the Lonely People by David Owen

Our Child of the Stars (Quercus) by first-time novelist Stephen Cox takes a number of well worn science fiction tropes – a crash-landed starship, an alien survivor up against the odds, and a big, bad government out to quash the rights of the individual – and invests them with a new energy thanks to some sympathetic characterisation and fine storytelling. What is thought to be a meteor falls to Earth near a US town; nurse Molly Myers is called on to help an injured child who turns out to be the only survivor of a crashed extraterrestrial vessel. When government officials arrive to investigate the crash site and arrest a colleague of Molly’s for hampering their ...

Tentacle by Rita Indiana review – a post-apocalyptic odyssey

This post is by Suzi Feay from Books | The Guardian

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From race and gender to queer politics and ecological disaster: huge themes are tackled in a slender Dominican dystopia that spans three time frames with dizzying results

Don’t be deceived by the slender proportions of this novel from the Dominican musician and author Rita Indiana. Tentacle shapeshifts dizzyingly around three time spans and a loosely connected group of characters, and takes on huge themes, including race and gender, the impact of tourism, apocalyptic events and ecological disaster.

Set in the future, the opening section features a maid called Acilde Figueroa, working for an elderly voodoo priestess with links to the tyrannical president. Acilde is saving up for Rainbow Brite, a one-injection gender reassignment operation; boyish and slender, she has been masquerading as an underage rent boy, until Eric, one of her tricks, comes up with a plan to fast-track her masculinity project. The seas around the island are a lifeless ...

Top 10 Irish science fiction authors

This post is by Jack Fennell from Books | The Guardian

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It might not be the first country you associate with the genre, but from Jonathan Swift to Flann O’Brien and beyond, the future’s always been there

To the uninitiated, the idea of Irish science fiction seems slightly odd; the country’s culture is generally assumed to be more invested in the past than the future, and to value the fantastic over the supposedly rational.

But it may not be quite as absurd a notion as it once was: Ireland is now as cosmopolitan as any other country in Europe; multinationals have established tech enclaves in incongruous rural areas, and Dublin’s economy is largely dependent on IT. I’ve recently put together an anthology for Tramp Press, A Brilliant Void, that proves the existence of Irish sci-fi centuries back. It has, I found, its own distinctive tenor – a kind of cautious optimism for the future, leavened with the cynical expectation that ...

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

This post is by Eric Brown from Books | The Guardian

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Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri, Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils by James Lovegrove, The Subjugate by Amanda Bridgeman and The Dark Vault by VE Schwab

In a genre replete with stock Arthurian templates, it’s refreshing to see myths and legends taken from a different culture, in this instance Malay. In Natasha Ngan’s third YA novel, Girls of Paper and Fire (Hodder, £14.99), the citizens of the lavishly portrayed world of Ikhara are divided into three castes: Moon, the ruling demons; Steel, demon-human amalgams; and Paper, subjugated humans. Narrator Lei is a Paper girl, taken from her family to become a concubine, with eight other girls, of the Demon King. What follows her initial submission is the slow-burning story of the iniquity perpetrated by the ruling elite and Lei’s affecting love affair with her fellow Paper girl Wren, a liaison ...

Thin Air by Richard Morgan review – dazzling space noir

This post is by Steven Poole from Books | The Guardian

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A jaded bodyguard encounters conflict and double-crossing on colonised Mars in a satirical novel from the author of Altered Carbon

One of the sweetest utopian thrills of cyberpunk fiction has always been that it makes software upgrades exciting: a process that can magically grant the hero new powers to defeat the forces of evil, rather than just pointlessly move things around, if not break them. For some reason, Windows updates never quite deliver the same kick.

So it is for Hak Veil, the protagonist of this super-fluid action thriller set on a colonised Mars a few centuries from now. He has a military-grade AI system called Osiris living in his head, which can offer tactical advice, hack taxis and doors, and make sarcastic comments about his romantic liaisons. At a certain point his relationship with this secret sharer is surgically enhanced, and the reader inwardly cheers, because a lot of ...

Hank Green: ‘I used all my power to make YouTube powerful, good and strong’

This post is by Sian Cain from Books | The Guardian

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The brother of author John Green reveals the pressure he felt writing his first novel, and reflects on the what has become of the video platform that made their names

A few weeks ago, billboards began sprouting up around Orlando, Florida, with advertisements for Hank Green’s first novel An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. On the face of it, this was not such a remarkable thing. After all, Green is a local boy and, being one half of popular YouTube channel Vlogbrothers (3.1 million subscribers, 711m views), it could be expected that his publishers might shell out for marketing. Except this was all paid for by his own brother: young adult novelist (and the other Vlogbrother) John Green – and just one part of John’s larger effort to promote Hank’s debut across the globe. (Among others, a professional women’s Frisbee team in Texas, AFC Wimbledon, the Netherlands’ national quidditch team and ...

Notes from the Fog by Ben Marcus review – brilliantly bleak short stories

This post is by Chris Power from Books | The Guardian

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Laughter echoes through medical and corporate dystopias as well as suburban living rooms in this impressive American collection

“As you live your life,” remarks one narrator in Ben Marcus’s brutal and brilliant story collection, “you will, on occasion, be cut open and explored. It is what life is, part of the routine.” Elsewhere, a woman, Ida, visits her father in his care home and tells him that his ex-wife is ill. “Illness is the only category,” he says, and later, wandering the halls, Ida confronts the stark truth of that statement: “She saw people in beds all alone, connected to bags, mouths agape, struggling to breathe. She saw men in ill-fitting gowns, sprawled on the floor. Women with no hair, sobbing in their chairs.” Reading this, you won’t be surprised by Marcus’s own description of his stories, given at a recent event in London: “Some are grave and ...

Rosewater by Tade Thompson review – a stellar SF debut

This post is by Adam Roberts from Books | The Guardian

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This expertly judged cyberpunk-biopunk-Afropunk thriller is set in Nigeria in the aftermath of an alien invasion

Tade Thompson’s debut novel, published in the US in 2016, is brilliant science fiction, at the cutting edge of contemporary genre.

The setting is Africa, 2066, in the aftermath of a global alien visitation that has swallowed the whole of London and rendered America “dark”. The aliens – whatever they are – don’t really interact with humanity, although they have released microscopic fungal spores into the air to create a “xenosphere”, a shared telepathic space accessible by a select group of human psychics called “sensitives”.

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The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas review – a dazzling genre-defying debut

This post is by Sarah Ditum from Books | The Guardian

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Era-hopping sex, trauma and therapy … four scientists make a world-changing discovery in a novel that breaks the rules of detective fiction, space and time

A door bolted from the inside, blood, bullets and and unidentifiable corpse. These are the classic ingredients of the locked-room mystery, but when Kate Mascarenhas deploys them in her genre-defying debut, she doesn’t play by the rules of detective fiction, or even the rules of space and time. As the novel opens, we learn that time travel was invented in 1967 by a four-strong group known as the Pioneers. There’s aristocratic cosmologist Margaret; Lucille, who has “come from the Toxteth slums to make radio waves travel faster than light”; enigmatic Grace, “an expert in the behaviour of matter”; and Barbara, a specialist in nuclear fission.

Their discovery is, of course, world-changing, but only some of them will get to share in it. Time travel throws ...

The best recent science fiction novels – review roundup

This post is by Eric Brown from Books | The Guardian

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Salvation by Peter F Hamilton; Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce; Space Opera by Catherynne M Valente; Early Riser by Jasper Fforde; and Supercute Futures by Martin Millar

It’s not hard to work out why Peter F Hamilton’s books are bestsellers: he writes long, complex, absorbing novels crammed with cutting-edge ideas and multiple storylines and utilises a number of popular sub-genres to great effect. What we have in Salvation (Macmillan, £20), the first in a new series, is an investigation into a crashed alien starship, corporate and political intrigue, espionage, murder mystery and a far-future war story. When the ship is discovered at the edge of human space, the authorities send an undercover team to investigate the vessel and its mysterious contents. What follows is the revelation of what they find, the complicated backstories of the principal investigators and their tangled personal and political motivations, and a superbly atmospheric series of ...

Is the future female? Fixing sci-fi’s women problem

This post is by Molly Flatt from Books | The Guardian

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When sci-fi fan Molly Flatt was asked to write a story about women in the future, she re-examined her relationship with the male-dominated genre – and why she remained immune to ‘the Scully effect’

Recently, I was asked if I could write a short story for a science fiction collection about “women inventing the future”. Could I write it in four weeks? I considered it. I have three day jobs, a two-year-old and was then knee deep in promotion for my debut novel. Out of those four weeks, I figured I’d have three days to write the thing – if granny could step up. “No problem,” I said breezily, and hung up. Then I panicked.

What on earth did “women inventing the future” mean? Was I supposed to write some sort of feminist space opera, full of menstruating aliens? A utopian version of the singularity, with robots who liked to ...

Hugo awards: women clean up as NK Jemisin wins best novel again

This post is by David Barnett from Books | The Guardian

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Jemisin’s third win in as many years signals an end to the influence of the rightwing ‘Puppies’ groups, with female authors winning all major categories at sci-fi awards

Author NK Jemisin has scooped her third Hugo award for best science-fiction novel and, in doing so, has become the standard-bearer for a sea change in the genre’s diversity, as women – especially women of colour – swept the boards at last night’s ceremony.

Taking the stage to accept her third win in three years for her novel The Stone Sky, Jemisin told the audience at the 76th World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, California, on Sunday that “this has been a hard year … a hard few years, a hard century,” adding: “For some of us, things have always been hard, and I wrote the Broken Earth trilogy to speak to that struggle, and what it takes to live, let ...