There's never been a greater time to be a fan of science fiction and fantasy books — the sheer number of great reads coming out every month can be overwhelming as well as exciting. So many books, so little time! So here are the 23 science fiction and fantasy books we think you should check out this month.
Top image: Cobra Slave by Timothy Zahn.
The publisher's pitch: Book One of the Cobra Rebellion Saga, and a new entry in New York Times #1 best seller Timothy Zahn's legendary Cobra series. Cobras are "technologically-enhanced warriors bred to fight an alien menace no ordinary human can withstand... In times of war, the Cobras are necessary, yet in times of peace they are often reviled by those they have saved." But now the Dominion of Man wants to enslave the Cobras, and meanwhile the alien Troft are trying to enslave humans again. They will both discover that the Cobras "lead the fight for freedom."
An early review: " The first Cobra trilogy was originally published between 1985 and 1987, and it's a little elderly now. But Zahn can always be relied on for an entertaining story, and I inhaled the trilogy omnibus and its sequels over the course of two days. Good fun, those books, if a little odd." — Liz Bourke
The publisher's pitch: "The award-winning author of Blue Remembered Earth continues his saga as the next generation of the Akinya family crosses interstellar space seeking humanity's future... The passengers travel in huge self-contained artificial worlds—holoships—putting their faith in a physics they barely understand. Chiku's ship is called Zanzibar—and over time, she will discover it contains an awesome secret—one which will lead her to question almost every certainty about her voyage, and its ultimate destiny." This book has been out in the U.K. since September.
An early review: "On the Steel Breeze is a fine hard SF novel that explores some interesting and intelligent ideas. The book's two-part structure allows for a lot of story to be explored efficiently, but also results in some elements not being as fleshed-out as might be desired. In addition, the ending is abrupt and there is no guarantee that the next book will explain much of it (the third book, it is rumoured, will pick up thousands of years later). It's still a fascinating novel and for much of its length is a better book than Blue Remembered Earth, but it also definitely suffers a bit from 'middle volume syndrome'." — Adam Whitehead
The publisher's pitch: "The [Outlander] story continues in Written in My Own Heart's Blood. 1778: France declares war on Great Britain, the British army leaves Philadelphia, and George Washington's troops leave Valley Forge in pursuit. At this moment, Jamie Fraser returns from a presumed watery grave to discover that his best friend has married his wife, his illegitimate son has discovered (to his horror) who his father really is, and his beloved nephew, Ian, wants to marry a Quaker... The Frasers can only be thankful that their daughter Brianna and her family are safe in twentieth-century Scotland. Or not."
An early review: "If you're a Gabaldon fan, the Scottish dialect, laid on with a spade, and all those naughty asides will be a familiar pleasure. If not—well, this overly long book isn't likely to make converts, at least not without several thousand pages of catch-up to figure out who's who, who's doing what, who's doing whom, and why.
Gabaldon works a successful formula, with few surprises but plenty of devices. And yes, there's room for a sequel—or 10." - Kirkus Reviews
The publisher's pitch: Book three of the Long Earth sequence. "2040-2045: In the years after the cataclysmic Yellowstone eruption there is massive economic dislocation as populations flee Datum Earth to myriad Long Earth worlds. Sally, Joshua, and Lobsang are all involved in this perilous work when, out of the blue, Sally is contacted by her long-vanished father and inventor of the original Stepper device, Willis Linsay. He tells her he is planning a fantastic voyage across the Long Mars and wants her to accompany him. But Sally soon learns that Willis has an ulterior motive for his request: he needs her help to trace an advanced alien technology which, he believes, will help mankind's post-Yellowstone recovery."
An early review: "Baxter and Pratchett remain in fine form, their collaboration producing another thoughtful page-turner." — Publisher's Weekly. "For series fans, the technique is familiar enough: a sprawling, meandering narrative whose purpose is less to amaze and entertain than to inquire about humanity itself and how attitudes and approaches to existential questions might or might not change.
Panoramic and fascinating, if sometimes vexingly discursive." — Kirkus
The publisher's pitch: "One minute, twenty-four-year-old Sophie Hansa is in a San Francisco alley trying to save the life of the aunt she has never known. The next, she finds herself flung into the warm and salty waters of an unfamiliar world. Glowing moths fall to the waves around her, and the sleek bodies of unseen fish glide against her submerged ankles. The world is Stormwrack, a series of island nations with a variety of cultures and economies." Weirdly, everybody in this unfamiliar world seems to know who Sophie is, and she's caught in the middle of a political firestorm.
An early review: "While Sophie's relationship with Stormwrack and its people develops slowly, her amazement at this new world and its varied fauna is shared in a satisfying manner that leaves the reader looking forward to the next installment." - Publisher's Weekly. "Child of a Hidden Sea has excellent world-building, with a rich tapestry of peoples, cultures, and several types of magic... Although I thought Sophie was a fairly weak character, her brother Bram was wonderful. He encompasses many extremes but somehow avoids caricature status, remaining realistically three-dimensional. He's a gay genius with a killer sense of style and a dry sense of humor whose favourite alkaloid is coffee." — Fine Print Blog
The publisher's pitch: "Five hundred years from now, ex-corporate mercenary Koko Martstellar is swaggering through an early retirement as a brothel owner on The Sixty Islands, a manufactured tropical resort archipelago known for its sex and simulated violence. Surrounded by slang-drooling boywhores and synthetic komodo dragons, the most challenging part of Koko's day is deciding on her next drink. That is, until her old comrade Portia Delacompte sends a squad of security personnel to murder her."
An early review: "Kieran Shea doesn't do anything new prose wise with Koko Takes A Holiday preferring instead to just produce a science fiction novel that reads like a graphic novel or a running commentary to a video game. It has its space opera and cyber punk moments, it creates a fantastic visual, and whilst set 500 years in the future events like Flynn suffering from Depressus grounds the book in a reality that really spoke to me.... This is a rock n roll concert of a book. All killer no filler, fast paced, visual and bloody enjoyable." — The Cult Den
The publisher's pitch: "1892: James Norbury, a shy would-be poet newly down from Oxford, finds lodging with a charming young aristocrat. Through this new friendship, he is introduced to the drawing-rooms of high society and finds love in an unexpected quarter. Then, suddenly, he vanishes without a trace. Alarmed, his sister, Charlotte, sets out from their crumbling country estate determined to find him. In the sinister, labyrinthine London that greets her, she uncovers a hidden, supernatural city populated by unforgettable characters: a female rope walker turned vigilante, a street urchin with a deadly secret, and the chilling "Doctor Knife." But the answer to her brother's disappearance ultimately lies within the doors of the exclusive, secretive Aegolius Club, whose predatory members include the most ambitious, and most bloodthirsty, men in England."
An early review: "The book's pleasures include frequent viewpoint shifts that require readers to figure out how each character fits into the story, new riffs on vampire rituals and language, plus several love affairs, most of which are doomed. And there's plenty of action—Mould's research, the clubmen's recruitment efforts, escalating battles between vampires and vampire hunters and among the vampires, and Charlotte's efforts to save James. Though the book has an old-fashioned, leisurely pace, which might cause some reader impatience, Owen's sentence-by-sentence prose is extraordinarily polished—a noteworthy feat for a 500-page debut—and she packs many surprises into her tale, making it a book for readers to lose themselves in." — Publishers Weekly (starred) " The book's energy, its wide reach and rich detail make it a confident example of the "unputdownable" novel." - The Economist
The publisher's pitch: "Mark Lawrence returns to the Broken Empire with the tale of a less ambitious prince… The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire dread her like no other. For all her reign, she has fought the long war, contested in secret, against the powers that stand behind nations, for higher stakes than land or gold. Her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister—unseen by most and unspoken of by all. The Red Queen's grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth—drinker, gambler, seducer of women—is one who can see The Silent Sister. Tenth in line for the throne and content with his role as a minor royal, he pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war is coming. Witnesses claim an undead army is on the march, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks it's all a rumor—nothing that will affect him—but he is wrong."
An early review: "Prince Of Fools is Mark Lawrence's newest and perhaps best attempt at proving what a talented wordsmith he is. Be sure to read this one if you enjoy dark fantasy rife with superb characterization, black humour & a fast paced plot that will leave you hooked till the very end." — Fantasy Book Critic "Prince of Fools is a great kick-off for a new series as well as a great addition to the collection of books about the Broken Empire. Mark Lawrence continues with awesome worldbuilding, interesting characters and gives as a thrilling new adventure." — It's All About Books
The publisher's pitch: "At the end of Robopocalypse, the modern world was largely devastated, humankind was pressed to the point of annihilation, and the earth was left in tatters . . . but the master artificial intelligence presence known as Archos had been killed. In Robogenesis, we see that Archos has survived. Spread across the far reaches of the world, the machine code has fragmented into millions of pieces, hiding and regrouping."
An early review: "Zombie fans will find much to love in the grotesque fusions between men and bots that are essential to the plot. More emotional sequences visit Japanese engineer Takeo Nomura and his robot queen from Robopocalypse and our bold janitor, who advises his robot opponents, "I may be a simple man, but I am very good with an ax." A satisfying but perfunctory installment that suffers from a bit of second-act similarity." — Kirkus "Robogenesis is a superb sequel that will catch readers by surprise and leave them yearning for more." — Scott Reads It
The publisher's pitch: The young-adult debut of an acclaimed adult literary author. "In this richly imagined dystopic future brought by global warming, seventeen-year-old Nat and her hacker brother Sam have come by ship to the Big Island of Hawaii for their parents' Final Week.... Nat has to choose a side. Does she let her parents go gently into that good night, or does she turn against the system and try to break them out?"
An early review: "What will happen if the nations of the world fail to combat climate change? It's a compelling question, and a good one for teens to sink their teeth into since they'll be the ones dealing with the results. Pills and Starships, the first young-adult novel by Lydia Millet, offers one thrillingly scary scenario, told in the journal entries of a teenage girl." — Washington Post
The publisher's pitch: "Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.
When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.
Melanie is a very special girl."
An early review: "Were the characters not so strong, the book might fall apart. The plot is rather slight (and reminiscent, inevitably, of so many other zombie tales), and the ending feels a little rushed; but the characters – especially Melanie and Miss Justineau – are so well drawn and so human that it's impossible not to feel for them." — The Guardian "The Girl With All the Gifts' publicity promised an awful lot: it's my pleasure to tell you M. R. Carey delivers on every inch of it." — Tor.com
The publisher's pitch: "Two never-before-published stories from the archives of one of science fiction's all-time masters. The novella 'A Necessary Being' showcases Octavia E. Butler's ability to create alien yet fully believable "others." The second story in this volume, "Childminder," was commissioned by Harlan Ellison for his legendary (and never-published) anthology The Last Dangerous Visions.
An early review: "These riveting additions to Butler's oeuvre are superb examples of her craft and will be welcomed by Butler fans and scholars alike." — Publishers Weekly (starred)
The publisher's pitch: " When Daniel Blackland was six, he ingested his first bone fragment, a bit of kraken spine plucked out of the sand during a visit with his demanding, brilliant, and powerful magician father, Sebastian.When Daniel was twelve, he watched Sebastian die at the hands of the Hierarch of Southern California, devoured for the heightened magic layered deep within his bones.Now, years later, Daniel is a petty thief with a forged identity. Hiding amid the crowds in Los Angeles—the capital of the Kingdom of Southern California—Daniel is trying to go straight. But his crime-boss uncle has a heist he wants Daniel to perform: break into the Hierarch's storehouse of magical artifacts and retrieve Sebastian's sword, an object of untold power."
An early review: "If you like capers mixed with your political noir, then shot through with dark magic, this book will blow you away. It's not just fast-paced storytelling either — it's a moving book about what happens to relationships in a world where purges destroy families as well as political regimes." — io9
The publisher's pitch: "Seeking weapons, Ecko and his companions follow a trail of myth and rumour to a ruined city where both nightmare and shocking truth lie in wait. When all of these things come together, the world will change beyond recognition. Back in London, the Bard is offered the opportunity to realise everything he has ever wanted - if he will give up his soul." The sequel to Ecko Rising.
An early review: " This is a dense and engaging read which keeps the reader hooked by stacking up one amazing thing after the other. Ecko Burning is not a subtle novel; it's violent, sarcastic, filled with nods and references to all things geeky and fun, and features perhaps one of the most scenery-chewing, over-the-top bad guys that we've seen in some time. Those new to Ware's work are firmly advised to start at the beginning. There is of course a sequel planned for sometime next year, and we can't wait." — Starburst
The publisher's pitch: "James Holden and the crew of his one small ship are sent to make peace in the midst of war and sense in the midst of chaos. But the more he looks at it, the more Holden thinks the mission was meant to fail. And the whispers of a dead man remind him that the great galactic civilization that once stood on this land is gone. And that something killed it."
An early review: "Corey's splendid fourth Expanse novel (after Abaddon's Gate) blends adventure with uncommon decency. Even as hostile biochemistries vie with slumbering war machines for a chance to exterminate squabbling people, a spark of humor and hope suggests that despite ourselves, we might find a way to prevail." — Publishers Weekly (starred)
The publisher's pitch: "From award-winning author Genevieve Valentine, a "gorgeous and bewitching" (Scott Westerfeld) reimagining of the fairytale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses as flappers during the Roaring Twenties in Manhattan."
An early review: "I'm completely confident in stating, without an ounce of hyperbole, that this is the best fairy tale retelling I've ever read.... I can't stop re-reading this book for the dancing and the fierce, scalding love the sisters have for it." — NPR
The publisher's pitch: First of a new series. "Cassidy Kincaide owns Trifles & Folly, an antique/curio store and high-end pawn shop in Charleston, South Carolina that is more than what it seems. Dangerous magical and supernatural items sometimes find their way into mortal hands or onto the market, and Cassidy is part of a shadowy Alliance of mortals and mages whose job it is to take those deadly curiosities out of circulation."
An early review: "A few loose threads leave the impression that this is the first of many adventures for Cassidy and her team, and a refreshing lack of interpersonal and sexual drama will appeal to longtime fans of paranormal mysteries." — Publishers Weekly
The publisher's pitch: "Twenty-one all-original stories, by an all-star list of contributors, will delight and astonish you in equal measure with their cunning twists and dazzling reversals. And George R. R. Martin himself offers a brand-new A Game of Thrones tale chronicling one of the biggest rogues in the entire history of Ice and Fire." Authors include Gillian Flynn, Joe Abercrombie, Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, Cherie Priest, Garth Nix, and Connie Willis.
An early review: "The biggest draw in this sprawling collection is a new Song of Ice and Fire yarn by Martin, giving back story to a mid–Targaryen dynasty scamp whose "bold deeds, black crimes and heroic death in the carnage that followed are well known to all." But then, arguably, all the men of Westeros are rogues. Of particular interest, too, are a grandly whimsical piece by Neil Gaiman that begs to be turned into a Wes Anderson film; a shaggy dog tale by Paul Cornell of a Flashman-ish character gone to seed; and, especially, an utterly arresting, utterly surprising tale by Gillian Flynn that begins, 'I didn't stop giving hand jobs because I wasn't good at it.'" - Kirkus
The publisher's pitch: "Global warming has changed the world's geography and its politics. Wars are waged over water, and China rules Europe, including the Scandinavian Union, which is occupied by the power state of New Qian. In this far north place, seventeen-year-old Noria Kaitio is learning to become a tea master like her father, a position that holds great responsibility and great secrets. Tea masters alone know the location of hidden water sources, including the natural spring that Noria's father tends, which once provided water for her whole village."
An early review: "Itäranta's fine debut is lyrically rendered, vivid and engaging despite a bit too much philosophy and a less-than-satisfying ending." — Kirkus "Where Itäranta shines is in her rejection of conventional plots and in her understated but compelling characters. The work is a deceptively tranquil examination of a world of dust and ashes where the tenacious weed of hope still survives." — Publishers Weekly (starred)
The publisher's pitch: "New York City, 1953. The golden age of television, when most programs were broadcast live. Young Kurt Jastrow, a full-time TV writer and occasional actor, is about to have a close encounter of the apocalyptic kind. Kurt's most beloved character (and alter ego) is Uncle Wonder, an eccentric tinkerer whose pyrotechnically spectacular science experiments delight children across the nation. Uncle Wonder also has a more distant following: the inhabitants of Planet Qualimosa. When a pair of his extraterrestrial fans arrives to present him with an award, Kurt is naturally pleased—until it develops that, come next Sunday morning, these same aliens intend to perpetrate a massacre."
An early review: "This delightful romp from Morrow (Shambling Towards Hiroshima) provides the breathless answer in short order; no need to wait for next week to tune in and find out." — Publishers Weekly (starred)
The publisher's pitch: "Ahjvar, the assassin known as the Leopard, wants only to die, to end the curse that binds him to a life of horror. Although he has no reason to trust the goddess Catairanach or her messenger Deyandara, fugitive heir to a murdered tribal queen, desperation leads him to accept her bargain: if he kills the mad prophet known as the Voice of Marakand, Catairanach will free him of his curse." (We loved Johansen's previous book Black Dog.)
An early review: "A surprising number of characters and plot threads are deftly interwoven and tucked into comparatively few pages. The world of mages, half-demons, devils, and false bards is also an intriguing mix of the familiar and the novel, and while the plot is mostly an appetizer, the taste is fine enough to whet the reader's appetite for future courses." — Publishers Weekly
The publisher's pitch: "In the wake of her older sister's suicide, Finn Sullivan and her father move to a quaint town in upstate New York. Populated with socialites, hippies, and dramatic artists, every corner of this new place holds bright possibilities—and dark enigmas, including the devastatingly attractive Jack Fata, scion of one of the town's most powerful families. As she begins to settle in, Finn discovers that beneath its pretty, placid surface, the town and its denizens—especially the Fata family—wield an irresistible charm and dangerous power, a tempting and terrifying blend of good and evil, magic and mystery, that holds dangerous consequences for an innocent and curious girl like Finn. To free herself and save her beloved Jack, Finn must confront the fearsome Fata family . . . a battle that will lead to shocking secrets about her sister's death."
An early review: "The climax detonates one too many reversals, revelations, and fight scenes after the lengthy buildup of dreamy mystery, but fantasy fans will find much to savor in Harbour's delicate, myth-conscious prose. Loose ends suggest a sequel." — Publishers Weekly
The publisher's pitch: "A generation of children forced to live without words. It begins as a statistical oddity: a spike in children born with acute speech delays. Physically normal in every way, these children never speak and do not respond to speech; they don't learn to read, don't learn to write. As the number of cases grows to an epidemic level, theories spread. Maybe it's related to a popular antidepressant; maybe it's environmental. Or maybe these children have special skills all their own."
An early review: "Storytelling, both on screen and in print, relies on character, setting, plot, theme, and, of course, language. Three authors work together here to master these elements, presenting an ingenious variety of perspectives and locations that create a richly textured vision of a dystopian future. If the ending is a letdown after so much inventiveness, readers are left with plenty to think about, including the role of language in family and society, personal development and interpersonal relations, and communication and community." — Publishers Weekly (starred)