Is the publishing industry trying to kill us all? There are so many must-read books coming in February that you may not have time to sleep, or socialize, or possibly go to your job to afford more books. This month's haul includes Kelly Link and Peter Beagle writing superhero tales, Neal Asher's brand new dystopian universe, a new Karen Russell story collection, and Cory Doctorow's followup to Little Brother.
Here are all the science fiction and fantasy books you must read, at any cost.
Top image: cover of The Departure by Neal Asher.
Dreams and Shadows: A Novel by C. Robert Cargill (Harper Voyager)
Cargill is an editor at Ain't It Cool News who writes under the name Massawyrm, and here he does an urban fantasy novel about cruel fairies that toy with us mere mortal humans. There are two heroes: a boy stolen by fairy-goblin hybrids as a baby, and a boy who encounters a djinn at age eight, and the two boys have to travel across the fairy lands together. It's got good early buzz on Goodreads and a starred review in Publishers Weekly.
A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan (Tor)
This is basically what it sounds like — a fake memoir by a Victorian naturalist who studies dragons, and has lots of adventures along the way, with swamps and monsters and dangers. If you're fascinated by stories of 19th century naturalists and their scientific ventures, then this book will probably make you super happy, especially with the lush illustrations by Todd Lockwood.
Blood Oranges by Kathleen Tierney (Caitlin R. Kiernan) (Roc)
Kiernan is known for her dark, weird stories — but here, she's writing a somewhat lighter urban fantasy under a pen name, and by all accounts the result is a good bit more fun. There are vampires and werewolves, but they're not like the ones you're used to from other urban fantasy — the werewolves don't look like wolves, and the vampires are like walking sharks. And the main character, Siobhan, is a homeless monster hunter with drug problems — until she gets bitten by both a werewolf and a vampire on the same night. The good news? This cures her heroin addiction. The bad news? Everything else. Also got a starred review from PW.
American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett (Orbit)
This is sort of your standard "bitter ex-cop inherits mysterious house from her estranged/dead mother" story — except that when Mona moves to the town of Wink, NM, she realizes that everybody in the town is a lot stranger than she'd realized. Sort of like Haven, except that the townspeople are all aliens trying to act like normal Americans. By all accounts, this is a very Lovecraftian take on small-town American life, with some dark horror elements.
Homeland by Cory Doctorow (Tor Teen)
This is the long-awaited sequel to Little Brother, in which Marcus has gotten into politics, and found himself potentially having to make the sort of compromises he used to hate adults for making. According to the reviews I've read, this is even darker than Doctorow's previous works, and basically tries to instill in young people a healthy loathing for schools and jobs and all the other ways the Man tries to keep you down.
Fade to Black (A Rojan Dizon Novel) by Francis Knight (Orbit)
This sounds pretty fun — in a city that's built straight upwards, with streets and buildings piled on top of each other, one hero lurks in the shadows, hiding the fact that he's a "pain mage," with the forbidden ability to draw power from pain. Rojan Dizon hears from his brother, who's in hospital, with a dead wife and a kidnapped daughter. Saving his brother's family will require Dizon to go into the Pit, a place he's never been. Mostly good buzz for this one, although apparently it has too much angst for some people.
The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist
Four identical girls live on an island, reporting on what they see — until a fifth girl, who's not quite identical, arrives. I'm guessing these girls are androids or cyborgs, and they're in some sort of post-apocalyptic world, in this YA novel. All the early reviews say this is a thought-provoking, mind-bending book — that may leave you puzzling and sifting through the clues even after you're done reading.
Superheroes, edited by Rich Horton (Prime Books)
There are tons of themed anthologies these days, and tons of superhero stories as well. But the notion of a superhero collection featuring stories by Kelly Link, Peter S. Beagle, Carol Emshwiller, James Patrick Kelly and a slew of other amazing writers is enough to make this one stand out. Full list of authors and their stories is here.
The Departure (The Owner) by Neal Asher (Night Shade Books)
This is the first book in Asher's new Owner trilogy, which has been out for ages in the U.K. already — and it sounds really dark and fun. It's the future and the Earth is an overcrowded, disastrous mess, ruled by the draconian Committee from orbit. The Committee have decided the human population needs to be reduced to 12 billion before the world can be restored, so they're basically trying to starve and neglect the human race down to a manageable size. Enter Alan Saul, a man with an A.I. in his head and revenge on his mind.
The Best of all Possible Worlds by Karen Lord
I'm halfway through reading this book, and loving it so far. Lord made a huge splash with her debut novel Redeption in Indigo, and her new book is being compared a lot to Le Guin and Miéville, because of her canny exploration of alien cultures. In a nutshell, there are some peace-loving aliens called the Sadiri, who meditate and cultivate their mental powers — until their home planet is destroyed by their distant relatives, a warlike alien race. That happens in the first few pages, and the bulk of the novel is about the Sadiri learning to live as a diaspora and trying to preserve their culture while interbreeding with their distant relatives. Really great stuff.
Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui (Vintage)
This is not a new book, but it's very worth mentioning — Paprika came out in Japan in 1993, and was made into a movie by Satoshi Kon a dozen years later. This English translation, by Andrew Driver, came out in 2009 on a small press. But now, it's out in a fancy edition from Random House, so you can learn why Japanese readers went into mourning when Yasutaka went on strike years ago. There's a lengthy review of the book, comparing it with the film, over at Strange Horizons.
The Inner City by Karen Heuler (ChiZine Publications)
This book also has a starred review from PW. And it sounds pleasingly nuts — it's a collection of 15 weird, surreal stories about cruelty and strangeness, which highlight just how inhumane our institutions and social movements are. There's a weird petting zoo where babies turn into animals and dogs turn into people, and fish become crazy and aggressive. There are strange cities, and terrifying rides. It sounds jarring and awesome.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories by Karen Russell
The author of Swamplandia is back with her second short story collection, and it's also got a starred review. These stories include vampires (as the title suggests) but also weird talismanic objects that speak for the universe, and tattoos that predict the future. By all accounts, these are some seriously imaginative, weird, giddy stories in which Russell does some fantastic things with language.
Farside by Ben Bova (Tor Books)
The multi-award-winning author is back with another serious, straight-up science fiction tale. We're building an observatory on the far side of the Moon, and it's going to be the site for betrayal, murder, conspiracy and all that good stuff. Plus we've detected an Earthlike planet just 30 light years away. Who's going to be the first to get pictures of it?
Antiquities and Tangibles: and Other Stories by Tim Pratt (Merry Blacksmith Press)
A third collection of stories by the acclaimed author, this one was a success on Kickstarter and includes 23 new stories, including a collaboration with Nick Mamatas that was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award.
The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman
This book was longlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize and has been out for a while in the U.K. According to this Guardian review, the book is full of sly historical discontinuities, like ketamine existing in pre-World War II Germany, in addition to its dizzying complex plot. A German set designer named Ned Loeser chases a girl around the world, only slightly distracted by, to quote the Independent, "a fully operational teleportation device in 17th-century Venice and 20th-century California; a Communist spy ring; Los Angeles's nascent public transport system; and a serial killer eating hearts at Caltech."