When people think of sf, they usually picture far-flung futures and alien encounters. But just as many novels in the genre hew much closer to our own time and place, examining how smaller jumps in technology and science can affect humanity. Some riveting examples included in this month’s column deal with the present and the near future. In P.J. Manney’s debut (R)evolution, the development of advanced nanotechnology is the catalyst for a thriller plot. Peter Clines’s The Fold, about a top-secret teleportation project, brilliantly investigates the dangers of playing with innovations we don’t really understand. Set not long in a future in which we have begun mining the moon for fuel, James Cambias’s Corsair pushes technologies we already use to their next logical development, and Robert Charles Wilson in The Affinities extrapolates from an existing trend, social media, where it might go next.
Near-future stories don’t have to be too science-y, however. Kit Reed’s Where, set in the modern day, looks at the impact of an unexplained phenomenon. And the time periods in Neal Stephenson’s latest epic, Seveneves, range from the present to 5,000 years in the future. The challenge for any writer of near-future or present-day sf is that the predictions they make about where technology will take us and what is possible tomorrow may be proven completely wrong within a few years. But the payoff for bravely tackling a time frame close to our own is that the stories can have an immediacy and relatability that is far harder to achieve in novels set in a time more removed from our own.
Debut of the Month
Tanzer, Molly. Vermilion. Word Horde. Apr. 2015. 384p. ISBN 9781939905086. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781939905109. FANTASY
When several young Chinese men who left San Francisco to seek work on the railroad disappear without any word to their families, psychopomp Lou Meriweather is asked to investigate. Half Chinese and half English, Lou never fit into the white or the Chinese communities of the city, deciding instead to make her own way as a professional psycho-pomp, speaking to the dead and helping them move on to the afterlife. She travels to the Colorado Territories to seek the missing workers as a favor to her estranged mother, but the trail leads to a mysterious sanitarium, which harbors dark secrets. VERDICT Old West steampunk has another appealing heroine in Lou (pair her with the equally winsome female lead of Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory) to go along with the delightfully over-the- top villains. The pages turn themselves in this debut novel from a small press that deserves a big audience.
Clines, Peter. The Fold. Crown. Jun. 2015. 384p. ISBN 9780553418293. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780553418309. SF
Mike Erickson has been turning down jobs from his friend Reggie for years, but he can’t resist when Reggie tells him there are scientists working on a project involving instantaneous travel through the folding of space. Reggie works for the Department of Defense and wants Mike to check on the team’s progress as he has been unable to get the group to release any information about the project. Mike arrives at the compound where the scientists are working, encountering hostility and a level of secrecy beyond anything he expected. The team is hiding something about the machine and how it works. VERDICT A fascinating and accessible treatment of quantum physics make this a terrific example of science-run-amok that gradually turns to horror as the project’s secrets are revealed. Clines (who wrote the excellent zombie superhero series that began with Ex-Heroes) has created a great character in Mike, who has a rare form of nearly photographic memory, making him an ideal eyewitness to events unfolding.
Stephenson, Neal. Seveneves. Morrow. May 2015. 880p. ISBN 9780062190376. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780062190413. SF
After the moon is destroyed by a mysterious force, humanity faces the terrible knowledge that life on Earth is doomed. The countdown to the planet’s annihilation in a hail of debris known as the “hard rain” is spent on a huge initiative to launch as many people into space as possible, building a community of small arklets around the fragile bulk of the International Space Station. The few chosen for the program will need to find a way to survive the roughly 5,000 years it will take for Earth to cool and become habitable again. VERDICT The huge scope and enormous depth of the latest novel from Stephenson (Reamde; Snow Crash) is impressive even from an author known for wallowing in the details. Divided roughly into thirds, the narrative never fails to carry readers through the author’s sometimes unfortunate habit of leaving all his research on the page, a quibble about a major work of hard sf that all fans of the genre should read—just set aside a good chunk of time. [See Prepub Alert, 11/24/14.]
Terry Pratchett, beloved icon of sf and fantasy, died on March 12 at the age of 66. Pratchett was the author of over 70 titles, including the wildly popular “Discworld” books, Good Omens (cowritten with Neil Gaiman), and the “Long Earth” sf series (coauthored with Stephen Baxter). Diagnosed in 2007 with early onset Alzheimer’s, Pratchett became a vocal advocate for better funding for dementia research but continued writing. A Blink of the Screen (LJ 2/15/15), a collection of short fiction spanning his entire writing career, came out in March and he completed a final “Discworld” book last summer.
Pratchett’s fictions, especially the 40-plus volumes of the “Discworld” series, were full of humor and a distinctive British brand of zaniness. His work was often deeply satirical, but the author found the funny side of even his most venal and ridiculous characters, including Death, who appeared in several books. Pratchett will be deeply missed by readers around the world. Celebrate his life by reading his books.
“‘Don’t think of it as dying,’ said Death. ‘Just think of it as leaving early to avoid the rush.’”—Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch
QUOTABLE “She had known all her life that her government was as rotten as unsalted meat left out on a summer afternoon—the sort that looks fine to eat, and makes you pray for a merciful end hours later—but she had never expected them to send Clockwork Daggers to assassinate her.” The Clockwork Crown
Cherryh, C.J. Tracker. DAW. (Foreigner, Bk. 16). Apr. 2015. 416p. ISBN 9780756409098. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698164253. SF
The long-running series, last seen in Peacemaker, continues with a new trilogy. The Reunioners who left atevi space to search for Earth are back, but it won’t be easy for them to rebuild trust with those humans who stayed behind.
Chu, Wesley. The Rebirths of Tao. Angry Robot. (Tao, Bk. 3). Apr. 2015. 512p. ISBN 9780857664303. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780857664310. SF
The pro-Prophus and pro-Genjix factions are heading toward war after the events of The Deaths of Tao. Roen Tan, host to Quasing Tao, belongs to the Prophus faction, which favors coexistence with humanity. If the Genjix win, all life on Earth will be exterminated.
Fine, Sarah. Claimed. 47North: Amazon. (Servants of Fate, Bk. 2). 2015. 340p. ISBN 9781477849590. pap. $14.95. SF
This sequel to Marked focuses on Galena Margolis, sister of Eli, the hero of the series opener. Galena is a brilliant scientist working on a vaccine that could save millions. Her test subjects are dying and she herself is in danger. Luckily, Declan Ferry is working to protect her.
Martinez, Michael J. The Venusian Gambit. Night Shade. (Daedalus, Bk. 3). May 2015. 320p. ISBN 9781597808194. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781597808255. SF
In the year 2135, dangerous aliens are making their way toward Earth and in an alternate 1809 the French occupy England with an undead army. The series that began with The Daedalus Incident and The Enceladus Crisis concludes here with another tale of two eras that are inextricably tangled.
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Check These Out
Barker, Clive. The Scarlet Gospels. St. Martin’s. May 2015. 368p. ISBN 9781250055804. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466859555. HORROR
Beckett, Chris. Mother of Eden. Broadway: Crown. (Dark Eden, Bk. 2). May 2015. 480p. ISBN 9780804138703. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780804138710. SF
Cambias, James. Corsair. Tor. May 2015. 336p. ISBN 9780765379108. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466866126. SF
Cato, Beth. The Clockwork Crown. Harper Voyager. (Clockwork Dagger, Bk. 2). May 2015. 352p. ISBN 9780062313980. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062313997. FANTASY
Fletcher, Michael R. Beyond Redemption. Harper Voyager. Jun. 2015. 512p. ISBN 9780062387035. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062387059. FANTASY
Kowal, Mary Robinette. Of Noble Family. Tor. (Glamourist Histories, Bk. 5). Apr. 2015. 448p. ISBN 9780765378361. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466861237. FANTASY
Lebbon, Tim. The Silence. Titan. Apr. 2015. 368p. ISBN 9781781168813. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781781168837. HORROR
Manney, P.J. (R)evolution. 47North: Amazon. Jun. 2015. 590p. ISBN 9781477828496. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781477878491. DEBUT SF
Reed, Kit. Where. Tor. May 2015. 240p. ISBN 9780765379825. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466870499. SF
Scott, M.J. The Shattered Court. Roc:NAL. (Four Arts, Bk. 1). May 2015. 336p. ISBN 9780451465399. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101631720. FANTASY
Williams, Eli K.P. Cash Crash Jubilee. Talos. (Jubilee Cycle, Bk. 1). May 2015. 400p. ISBN 9781940456270. $25.99. DEBUT SF
Wilson, Robert Charles. The Affinities. Tor. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9780765332622. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466800779. SF
Ballantine, Philippa & Tee Morris. The Diamond Conspiracy. Ace: Berkley. (Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, Bk. 4). Apr. 2015. 368p. ISBN 9780425267325. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101621462. FANTASY
Novik, Naomi. Uprooted. Del Rey: Ballantine. May 2015. 448p. ISBN 9780804179034. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780804179041. FANTASY
Robinson, Kim Stanley. Aurora. Orbit: Hachette. Jul. 2015. 480p. ISBN 9780316098106. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316378758. SF
Megan M. McArdle has worked in collection development in public libraries for over ten years and is currently a collection specialist at the Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. She is the author of The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Genre Blends (ALA Editions, 2014) and runs a companion website devoted to genre and genre blends at www.genrify.com