The watch list

My weekly[-ish] list of speculative fiction novels that I think are worth looking out for. They are mainly – but not always! – new or forthcoming releases.

Sketch-Book-icon The watch list

Metro 2034 by Dmitry Glukhovsky

Metro 2034That’s not a typo – Metro 2034 is the sequel to Metro 2033, and it’s due out in February 2014. (Here’s my review of Metro 2033.)

I’m not entirely convinced that 2034 will offer anything new, but I imagine if you’re a fan of the first book and want more of the same, you’ll probably be satisfied.  According to the blurb from the publisher:

A year after the events of METRO 2033, the last few survivors of the apocalypse, surrounded by mutants and monsters, face a terrifying new danger as they hang on for survival in the tunnels of the Moscow Metro.

Featuring blistering action, vivid and tough characters, claustrophobic tension and dark satire, the Metro books have become bestsellers across Europe.

Self-Reference ENGINE by Toh EnJoe (trans Terry Gallagher), and other PKD Award nominees

selfreferenceENGINEInstructions for Use: Read chapters in order. Contemplate the dreams of twenty-two dead Freuds. Note your position in space-time at all times (and spaces). Keep an eye out for a talking bobby sock named Bobby Socks. Beware the star-man Alpha Centauri. Remember that the chapter entitled “Japanese” is translated from the Japanese, but should be read in Japanese. Warning: if reading this book on the back of a catfish statue, the text may vanish at any moment, and you may forget that it ever existed.

From the mind of Toh EnJoe comes Self-Reference ENGINE, a textual machine that combines the rigor of Stanislaw Lem with the imagination of Jorge Luis Borges. Do not operate heavy machinery for one hour after reading.

This one’s nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award, alongside:

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke – surprisingly good! Reminded me a little bit of Tanith Lee’s incredible Silver Metal Lover, but not quite in the same league.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie – loved it.

Countdown City by Ben H. Winters – I have just started reading this one, straight after finishing book 1 of this series, The Last Policeman. Yes!

A Calculated Life by Anne Charnock.

Life on the Preservation by Jack Skillingstead.

Solaris Rising 2: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction edited by Ian Whates.

The watch list

My weekly[-ish] list of speculative fiction novels that I think are worth looking out for. They are mainly – but not always! – new or forthcoming releases.

Sketch-Book-icon The watch list

This week (by sheer accident) I have come across two books that explore post-apocalyptic themes from fresh perspectives: The Last Policeman is in fact pre-apocalyptic, set six months before an asteroid is due to hit Earth, and (from a review on tor.com) Soft Apocalypse shows society in the early stages of dissolution, unlike many post-apocalyptic stories, which ” show a finished end product, an established dystopia in which the Earth has already been torn apart and people are trying to survive the aftermath. Other stories show the events right before and during the actual earthquake/meteor strike/plague, with people trying to make it through the disaster as it happens. Soft Apocalypse instead happens during a period of gradual but inexorable decline: as the back cover says, the world ends “with a whimper instead of a bang”.”

The Last Policeman by Ben H Winters

The Last Policeman Ben H WintersWhat’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway? Detective Hank Palace has faced this question ever since asteroid 2011GV1 hovered into view. There’s no chance left. No hope. Just six precious months until impact.

The Last Policeman presents a fascinating portrait of a pre-apocalyptic United States. The economy spirals downward while crops rot in the fields. Churches and synagogues are packed. People all over the world are walking off the job—but not Hank Palace. He’s investigating a death by hanging in a city that sees a dozen suicides every week—except this one feels suspicious, and Palace is the only cop who cares.

The first in a trilogy, The Last Policeman offers a mystery set on the brink of an apocalypse. As Palace’s investigation plays out under the shadow of 2011GV1, we’re confronted by hard questions way beyond “whodunit.” What basis does civilization rest upon? What is life worth? What would any of us do, what would we really do, if our days were numbered?

Pre-apocalyptic fiction –love it! The second book of this trilogy (Countdown City)was published just a few months ago, so if this one is good at least I can move straight onto that–one of the perks of coming into a series late.

Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh

SoftApocalypse Will McIntoshWhat happens when resources become scarce and society starts to crumble? As the competition for resources pulls America’s previously stable society apart, the “New Normal” is a Soft Apocalypse. This is how our world ends; with a whimper instead of a bang.

“It’s so hard to believe,” Colin said as we crossed the steaming, empty parking lot toward the bowling alley.

“What?”

“That we’re poor. That we’re homeless.”

“I know.”

“I mean, we have college degrees,” he said.

“I know,” I said.

There was an ancient miniature golf course choked in weeds alongside the bowling alley. The astroturf had completely rotted away in places. The windmill had one spoke. We looked it over for a minute (both of us had once been avid mini golfers), then continued toward the door.

“By the way,” I added. “We’re not homeless, we’re nomads. Keep your labels straight.”

New social structures and tribal connections spring up across America, as the previous social structures begin to dissolve. Soft Apocalypse follows the journey across the South East of a tribe of formerly middle class Americans as they struggle to find a place for themselves and their children in a new, dangerous world that still carries the ghostly echoes of their previous lives.

The Land Across by Gene Wolfe

The Land Across Gene WolfeAn American writer of travel guides in need of a new location chooses to travel to a small and obscure Eastern European country. The moment Grafton crosses the border he is in trouble, much more than he could have imagined. His passport is taken by guards, and then he is detained for not having it. He is released into the custody of a family, but is again detained.

It becomes evident that there are supernatural agencies at work, but they are not in some ways as threatening as the brute forces of bureaucracy and corruption in that country. Is our hero in fact a spy for the CIA? Or is he an innocent citizen caught in a Kafkaesque trap?

The synopsis–and the reference to Kafka–brings to mind similarly Kafka-esque (and brilliant!) novels like the The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro and Ismail Kadare’s The Dream Palace. This one’s due out in about a month.

The watch list

My weekly[-ish] list of speculative fiction novels that I think are worth looking out for. They are mainly – but not always! – new or forthcoming releases.

Sketch-Book-icon The watch list

Hang Wire by Adam Christopher

HangWire Adam ChristopherWhen Ted Hall finds strange, personalised messages from a restaurant’s fortune cookies scattered around his apartment, his suspicions are aroused, particularly as his somnambulant travels appear to coincide with murders by the notorious Hang Wire Killer.

Meanwhile, the circus has come to town, but the Celtic dancers are taking their pagan act a little too seriously and the manager of the Olde Worlde Funfair has started talking to his vintage machines, although the new acrobat’s frequent absences are causing tension among the performers.

Out in the city there are other new arrivals, immortals searching for an ancient power which has been unleashed – a primal evil which, if not stopped, will destroy the entire world.

Book Depository shows that this book is available from 7 November 2013, but Angry Robot‘s site shows the publication date as  January/February 2014 (US&Can/UK). Designer and illustrator Will Staehle did the cover for this, as well as for Christopher’s other novels. My favourite is the one for Empire State.

Bête by Adam Roberts

Bete Adam RobertsA man is about to kill a cow. He discusses life and death and his right to kill with the compliant animal. He begins to suspect he may be about to commit murder. But kills anyway…

It began when the animal right movement injected domestic animals with artificial intelligences in bid to have the status of animals realigned by the international court of human rights. But what is an animal that can talk? Where does its intelligence end at its machine intelligence begin? And where might its soul reside.

This novel is still several months away from release (anticipated June 2014), but Gollancz today revealed the cover, and it really is rather remarkable.

The book includes a talking cat, as Adam Roberts explains:

‘It’s true. However felinophobic I may, myself, be, I figured it was time. And, you know: Sabrina the Teenage Witch features a talking cat. Bulgakov features a talking cat. Considering the kind of writer I am, you can probably guess whereabouts on the scale strung between those two felines my own talking cat comes. Besides, there’s a lot more than just a cat. For example, the novel starts, as does the Quran itself, with a cow.’

Uncrashable Dakota by Andy Marino

Uncrashable Dakota Andy MarinoIn 1862, Union army infantryman Samuel Dakota changed history when he spilled a bottle of pilfered moonshine in the Virginia dirt and stumbled upon the biochemical secret of flight. Not only did the Civil War come to a much quicker close, but Dakota Aeronautics was born.

Now, in Andy Marino’s “Uncrashable Dakota,” it is 1912, and the titanic Dakota flagship embarks on its maiden flight. But shortly after the journey begins, the airship is hijacked. Fighting to save the ship, the young heir of the Dakota empire, Hollis, along with his brilliant friend Delia and his stepbrother, Rob, are plunged into the midst of a long-simmering family feud. Maybe Samuel’s final secret wasn’t just the tinkering of a madman after all. . . .

What sinister betrayals and strange discoveries await Hollis and his friends in the gilded corridors and opulent staterooms? Who can be trusted to keep the most magnificent airship the world has ever known from falling out of the sky?

There’s an excerpt over at Tor: http://www.tor.com/stories/2013/10/uncrashable-dakota-excerpt-andy-marino

The watch list

My weekly[-ish] list of speculative fiction novels that I think are worth looking out for. They are mainly – but not always! – new or forthcoming releases.

Sketch-Book-icon The watch list

Most weeks, I feel completely overwhelmed by the number of awesome new books coming out, and I go crazy updating my wishlist at the Book Depository and cross-checking books’ availability at my local library and downloading sample chapters onto my Kindle. And other weeks … it gets quiet. Like now. So just one book on the list this week.

Plan D by Simon Urban

Plan D Simon UrbanOctober 2011. While West Berlin enjoys all the trappings of capitalism, on the crowded, polluted, Eastern side of the Wall, the GDR is facing bankruptcy. The ailing government’s only hope lies in economic talks with the West, but then an ally of the GDR’s chairman is found murdered – and all the clues suggest that his killer came from within the Stasi.

Detective Martin Wegener is assigned to the case, but, with the future of East Germany hanging over him, Wegener must work with the West German police if he is to find the killer, even if it means investigating the Stasi themselves. It is a journey that will take him from Stasi meeting rooms to secret prisons as he begins to unravel the identity of both victim and killer, and the meaning of the mysterious Plan D.

A dystopian alternate history murder mystery! ‘Plan D is less about the crime and more about the political backdrop and increasing tensions between the two Germanys. Urban’s world-weary main character tries to maintain his personal values within the corruption of a superbly detailed GDR regime.’ (from Putting the science into fiction.)

The watch list

My weekly[-ish] list of speculative fiction novels that I think are worth looking out for. They are mainly – but not always! – new or forthcoming releases.

Sketch-Book-icon The watch list

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice Ann LeckieThey made me kill thousands, but I only have one target now.

The Radch are conquerors to be feared – resist and they’ll turn you into a ‘corpse soldier’ – one of an army of dead prisoners animated by a warship’s AI mind. Whole planets are conquered by their own people. The colossal warship called The Justice of Toren has been destroyed – but one ship-possessed soldier has escaped the devastation. Used to controlling thousands of hands, thousands of mouths, The Justice now has only two hands, and one mouth with which to tell her tale.

But one fragile, human body might just be enough to take revenge against those who destroyed her.

Orbit describes this as “inventive and intelligent space opera for fans of Iain M Banks.” Now, I suspect that Banks fans are going to have a pretty high bar when it comes to standards for space opera – the Culture is simply inimitable, as far as I am concerned.

That aside, this first published novel by Leckie is garnering positive attention, and for me the stand out feature is this: in Leckie’s future, the default gender is female. Woah! And it’s a bit complicated. The protagonist Breq is physically female, but the distributed consciousness that inhabits is genderless. What does this to do language? There’s a link to be made to Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness.

I’m very excited about this one.

Read a sample from Ancillary Justice.

The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

Violent Century Lavie TidharFor seventy years they guarded the British Empire. Oblivion and Fogg, inseparable friends, bound together by a shared fate. Until one night in Berlin, in the aftermath of the Second World War, and a secret that tore them apart.

But there must always be an account…and the past has a habit of catching up to the present. Now, recalled to the Retirement Bureau from which no one can retire, Fogg and Oblivion must face up to a past of terrible war and unacknowledged heroism – a life of dusty corridors and secret rooms, of furtive meetings and blood-stained fields – to answer one last, impossible question: What makes a hero?

Lavie Tidhar has been nominated for loads of awards (and even won a few!) for his work, and he carried off the 2012 World Fantasy Award prize for best novel for Osama.

The press release for The Violent Century describes it as “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy meets Watchmen”, athoughtful and intensely atmospheric novel about the mystery, and the love story, that determined the course of history itself.”

Dream London by Tony Ballantine

Dream London Tony BallantyneIn Dream London, the city changes a little every night and the people change a little every day.

Captain Jim Wedderburn has looks, style and courage by the bucketful. He’s adored by women, respected by men and feared by his enemies. He’s the man to find out who has twisted London into this strange new world, and he knows it.

But the towers are growing taller, the parks have hidden themselves away and the streets form themselves into strange new patterns. There are people sailing in from new lands down the river, new criminals emerging in the East End and a path spiralling down to another world.

Everyone is changing, no one is who they seem to be, and Captain Jim Wedderburn is beginning to understand that he’s not the man he thought he was…

I am beginning to think any book with a cover illustration by Joey Hi-Fi is a book worth reading! As well as this one for Dream London, he has created covers for Lauren BeukesMoxyland (and also this one) and Zoo City, and for Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds and Mockingbird.

Joey Hi Fi

The watch list

My weekly[-ish] list of speculative fiction novels that I think are worth looking out for. They are mainly – but not always! – new or forthcoming releases.

I have been too busy lately to keep up with news of recent releases in spec fic, so both books on my list this week are older publications.

Sketch-Book-icon The watch list

Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler

Sarah CanaryWhen black cloaked Sarah Canary wanders into a railway camp in the Washington territories in 1873, Chin Ah Kin is ordered by his uncle to escort “the ugliest woman he could imagine” away. Far away. But Chin soon becomes the follower. In the first of many such instances, they are separated, both resurfacing some days later at an insane asylum. Chin has run afoul of the law and Sarah has been committed for observation.

Their escape from the asylum in the company of another inmate sets into motion a series of adventures and misadventures that are at once hilarious, deeply moving, and downright terrifying.

I have an old hardback edition waiting patiently for my attention, and it has also been republished as part of the SF Masterworks series.

The Fixed Period by Anthony Trollope

The Fixed PeriodThe Fixed Period by Anthony Trollope is an unusual early science fiction novel, originally published anonymously. It is part utopia, part dystopia, part dark satire, with overtones of modern “steampunk” and quaint technological devices.

In this amazing visionary work by the British Victorian master of social mores and relationships, Britannula is an imaginary “futuristic” island country and a one-time British colony near New Zealand, and the story is narrated by the President. In Britannula, a law has been passed decreeing that all citizens who have reached the age of 67 must be removed to “The College” to undergo euthanasia, for the good of society.What happens when the first and oldest man reaches the end of his “Fixed Period” and must prepare for his “humane” death is a fascinating study of moral and social impossibility.

David Lodge, writing in The Guardian, assures me this novel has been unfairly overlooked. I am a bit of a sucker for overlooked books (and dogs with three legs, and cats with one eye … ) so this is now on my list. First published in 1882, the book  “received mixed, somewhat baffled reviews, and sold only 877 copies, making a loss for its publisher. It has not been any more popular since then.” I suspect part of the problem is the awful cover …

The watch list

My weekly[-ish] list of speculative fiction novels that I think are worth looking out for. They are mainly – but not always! – new or forthcoming releases.

Sketch-Book-icon The watch list

The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Sklyer White

Incrementalists Brust and WhiteThe Incrementalists–a secret society of two hundred people with an unbroken lineage reaching back forty thousand years.

They cheat death, share lives and memories, and communicate with one another across nations, races, and time. They have an epic history, an almost magical memory, and a very modest mission: to make the world better, just a little bit at a time.

Their ongoing argument about how to do this is older than most of their individual memories. Phil, whose personality has stayed stable through more incarnations than anyone else’s, has loved Celeste–and argued with her–for most of the last four hundred years.

But now Celeste, recently dead, embittered, and very unstable, has changed the rules–not incrementally, and not for the better.

Now the heart of the group must gather in Las Vegas to save the Incrementalists, and maybe the world.

As John Scalzi wrote about this book: “Secret societies, immortality, murder mysteries and Las Vegas all in one book? Shut up and take my money.”

A free excerpt is online here: http://www.tor.com/stories/2013/08/the-incrementalists-excerpt

One Crow Alone by S D Crockett

One Crow Alone S D Crockett“They say it’s going to get worse. That it’s not going to end.”

The snow won’t stop falling in this dangerous-new-world prequel to “After The Snow“.The long, bitter winters are getting worse, and a state of emergency has been declared across Europe. In Poland, the villagers are subject to frequent power cuts and fuel shortages.

After the death of her grandmother and the evacuation of her village, fifteen-year-old Magda joins forces with the arrogant, handsome Ivan and smuggles her way onto a truck bound for London – where she hopes to find her mother. But London, when they reach it, is a nightmarish world, far from welcoming. Riots are commonplace and the growing chaos is exploited by criminals and terrorists alike. Magda’s mother is not to be found, and as the lost girl struggles to come to terms with her changing situation, she eventually becomes friends with a rag-tag group of travellers planning a new home and future.

Blood Red Road Moira YoungKnife-of-never-letting-goThey will need all the cunning and know-how they possess as they realise that the frozen wilderness of Britain has become just as lawless as the city.

I enjoyed the first in this series,  After The Snow, even though so many things about it invited comparison with other books that are simply better. Basic concepts, book design and even typography are very similar to Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy and Blood Red Road by Moira Young.

Thanks to Tor for the free expert: http://www.tor.com/stories/2013/09/one-crow-alone-excerpt

A Thousand Perfect Things by Kay Kenyon

A thousand perfect things Kay KenyonIn this epic new work, the award-winning Kenyon creates an alternate 19th century with two warring continents on an alternate earth: the scientific Anglica (England) and magical Bharata (India).

Emboldened by her grandfather’s final whispered secret of a magical lotus, Tori Harding, a young Victorian woman and aspiring botanist, must journey to Bharata, with its magics, intrigues and ghosts, to claim her fate. There she will face a choice between two suitors and two irreconcilable realms. In a magic-infused world of silver tigers, demon birds and enduring gods, as a great native mutiny sweeps up the continent, Tori will find the thing she most desires, less perfect than she had hoped and stranger than she could have dreamed.

Science v magic–the heart of fantasy!