The Best of Recent Science Fiction and Fantasy – Review Summary | science fiction books

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The book eaters by Sunyi Dean (Harper Voyager, £14.99)
In this intriguing twist to the vampire story, the eponymous beings consume books to survive, absorbing all the information they contain. If that conjures up images of benevolent librarians, Dean is looking for something darker. Like many literary vampires, Book Eaters are cod aristocrats, ruled by patriarchs who force young men to compete for position and resources. These include the dwindling supply of fertile females, who are marketed as broodmares and separated from their children soon after birth. Devon is on the run with her young son, who suffers from a mutation that forces him to eat human spirits unless she can pit the various book-eating factions against each other to ensure both the freedom and a remedy. The result is less a bookish Vampire Diaries, more a vampire-themed handmaid’s tale, with effective thrills that are heightened by the social commentary. Devon must unlearn a lifetime of ingrained passivity and submission, and rise above the stories she was (literally) raised on, to assert her right to rule her own life.

Paul Tremblay Porters Club

Holders club by Paul Tremblay (Titan, £8.99)
Lonely teenager Art forms a club to attend the funerals of those who have no one to accompany them. The only other member is the cool and mysterious Mercy Brown, who quickly becomes his only friend and introduces the Art to punk rock. But when Art’s health deteriorates, he becomes convinced that Mercy is to blame and that she may not be human. The story is told like a memoir written by Art decades later, interspersed with annotations from an increasingly puzzled Mercy. She insists that the narrative is pure fiction and that Art’s memories are skewed by her youthful self-absorption, erasing her ordinary humanity to turn her into a Manic Vampire Nightmare Girl. The ambiguity persists until the final pages of the novel, even as the events grow more chilling, and the portrayal of lifelong friendship and middle-aged disappointment grows more poignant.

Extinction

Extinction by Bradley Somer (Harper Voyager, £16.99)
Ben is a ranger who watches over the last surviving grizzly bear, in a climate-ravaged future in which most of humanity has left Earth. When a trio of trophy hunters show up, Ben must protect his charge, and very soon himself. What unfolds is a familiar story of wilderness survival and pursuit, told in lean, propulsive prose, but with a twist. The wilderness that Ben traverses is already despoiled, polluted and littered with the detritus of abandoned mines and logging camps. The bear itself is an end, and like most animals in the region, it is not equipped to survive in this ruined world. Why risk lives to save her? In the growing field of climate fiction, Somer raises disturbing questions about our relationship to nature, and the debt we owe to the beings with whom we share our planet – even, or perhaps especially, when not there is no longer any chance of restitution.

Women Could Fly by Megan Giddings

women could fly by Megan Giddings (Macmillan, £16.99)
Giddings places her novel in a world very similar to ours, where the existence of witchcraft has been used to justify the oppression of women. Women are taught to conform, and those who don’t — who aren’t married, or queer, or who are over-policed ​​because of their race — can be accused of being witches, resulting in a loss of rights , even their life. Jo’s mother disappeared years ago, placing her entire family under suspicion. When a condition of her mother’s will sends Jo to a remote island, she finds a hidden community of witches. The discovery of the island raises new questions. Is it possible to be fully human in a world that has no room for you? Is freedom really freedom if one has cut oneself off from the world to achieve it? In this thoughtful novel, written in a wry, realistic tone reminiscent of Kelly Link and Carmen Maria Machado, there are no easy answers – just Jo’s quietly heroic determination to chart her own course.

moon day letters

moon day letters by Emmi Itäranta (Titan, £8.99)
Finnish author Itäranta returns with an epistolary novel set in the 22nd century. In a solar system teeming with human habitation, Lumi travels between planets, moons and space stations in search of her missing spouse Sol, a botanist who may have been kidnapped by an eco-terrorist group. This tour of the solar system — including an ecologically ravaged Earth, where an economic underclass maintains a few habitable regions as tourist destinations — is reminiscent of Kim Stanley Robinson. But Itäranta weaves a distinctive thread into her tapestry: Lumi is a shamanic healer whose pursuit of Sol takes her into the spirit realm as well as the celestial bodies, re-examining their marriage in all its strengths and flaws along the way. The resulting narrative weaves together its two central questions brilliantly: whether a marriage can survive, and whether humanity can find a way to thrive that isn’t ultimately based on exploitation and inequality.


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