Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom by Bradley W Schenck
Release Date: Early Dec
Retro is definitely in at the moment, so having it turn up in some new science fiction should come as no surprise. And this new book is about as retro as you can get, taking the future as envisioned by writers of the 1930s’ and 1940s’ and bringing it to life in this hilarious story of bravery, adventure, impractically shaped robots, bubble-helmeted heroes, space pirates and of course the maddest of mad scientists. Strange things are afoot in the city of Retropolis and it’s up to Dask Kent, space adventurer and hero of the helpless to find out why. Laid-off switchboard operators, off-brand robots, cats on the moon, priests of the spider god (what?) how do they all fit together? Have current events got anything to do with them at all? Read it and find out! It’s Flash Gordon in Futurama via every black and white science-fiction film you’ve ever seen. It’s crazy stuff and the jokes don’t always hit the mark, but it’s fun and funny and if you’re a bit of an old school World of Tomorrow tragic I think you’ll enjoy it.
Splintered Suns by Michael Cobley
Release Date: Mid Dec
Technically this is the fifth of the Humanity’s Fire series, but it’s really a sequel to the fourth book Ancestral Machines, which was a new story after the end of the original trilogy. So we’re back with Captain Pyke and his intrepid crew as they undertake another near-impossible mission. This time it’s travel to a vast and remote desert planet, break into a high security museum and steal a device that can reveal the location of a ship buried somewhere under the desert. A ship a quarter of a million years old that is reputed to hold the technology and secrets of a lost advanced civilisation. Of course Pyke and his people are not the only ones looking, and their competition is just as determined and a lot more ruthless. Like the other Humanity’s Fire books this is a fast paced adventure in a high-technology and alien filled universe. It’s probably readable on its own, but the other books, especially Ancestral Machines, will give it more context. This is one for fans of Peter F Hamilton, Neal Asher and Jack McDevitt.
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorofor
Release Date: Mid Dec
Despite this book winning the World Fantasy Award in 2010 and Nnedi’s considerable success since then, it was only earlier this year that the large format paperback was released locally. Come December, the small paperback hits the shelves and new or not, I think it’s worth a mention. It’s also been optioned by HBO with a view to a series with George R R Martin as executive producer, so you’re likely to hear more about it in coming months. The book itself is set in a post-apocalyptic sub-Saharan Africa and while it does have some science fiction technology, it also draws on the rich mystical and cultural traditions of the region and adds a layer that kind of feels like magic. It’s also quite confronting, in that it engages with beliefs and practices that will be shocking to some readers and it does have quite a lot of violence. But it also has hope and characters who grow, and through them we get an insight into different ways of seeing the world. This is a fascinating book and well worth your time if you’re looking for something that will make you think.
Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin
Release Date: Mid Nov
I’m a big fan of Eastern European and Russian science fiction, so I’m always looking to add more books of the sort to my shelves. This month we’ll be getting the new reissue of Vladimir Sorokin‘s Day of the Oprichnik. It’s set in Moscow in 2028, in a Russia where the monarchy has been restored, the Tzar once again rules and a ‘Great Wall of Russia’ isolates the nation from Europe and China. Our guide through this strange and as it happens, brutal future is Andrei Danilovich Komiaga. He’s one of the enforcers for the Tzarist State called Oprichniks, and we follow him as he goes about his work of rooting out sedition and other threats to Mother Russia. What we see is a strange mix of the feudal and modern in a technologically advanced totalitarian state. Sorokin is famous for his transgressive writing, and there is a lot of confronting stuff in this book so it’s not for the easily distressed. Like so much Russian science fiction it also operates on multiple levels, being at once satire, commentary, dire warning and reminder. As with most of this sort of fiction, I’m sure there is a lot that I’m missing but even allowing that, this is still a very powerful book. One for fans of Stanislaw Lem and the Strugatsky brothers, but only if you’re willing to go somewhere much darker.
Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah Harris
Release Date: Mid Dec
This is the paperback release of one of my favourite crime novels of the year. It’s clever, charming and not too gruesome. It also has one of the most interesting narrators I’ve read in years. Jasper is a boy who sees the world in a special and fascinating way. He has a form of autism that means he can’t recognise faces, not even his own as well a type of synesthesia which causes him to ‘hear’ in colours. There’s a poetic beauty to Jasper’s world that comes across as he describes the events around him. Over the road from Jasper lives Bee Larkham, who teaches music to local children after school and more importantly (at least to Jasper) feeds the local parrots so that they flock around her house. Jasper likes Bee, and when he witnesses her murder he knows he should do something. But his perceptions are so different from those around him that they don’t understand that he know things, and so he is left to try and figure out what to do on his own. Well, not entirely. There is one person who is aware that Jasper may be the key to solving Bee’s murder and they’re not above killing to prevent it. After all, they’ve already killed once. This really is a wonderful book, and if you’re looking for a crime read over the holidays then this should absolutely be on your list.
The Corporation Wars Omnibus by Ken MacLeod
Release Date: Early Dec
This book collects all three of Ken MacLeod‘s Corporation Wars books in to a single epic volume. MacLeod is known for the level of social and political detail he incorporates into his worlds and this book is no exception. It’s set in a future where humanity has ventured into, and begun exploiting the space and planets beyond Earth. Much of the work in inhospitable places is done by robots and basic computer intelligences. When some of them develop sentience the corporations try to eliminate them in secret and in doing so start a war. The corporate shock troops in this war are made from the memories of dead soldiers, inserted via virtual reality into robot combat bodies. What is wanted is their skill and combat experience, but some have also brought their humanity and begin to question if they’re on the right side. As the human and AI forces fracture into factions the conflict becomes a complex web of alliances, betrayals and forces who have vastly different agendas. As a series, it’s basically the humans vs. computers thing in space, but with a lot more depth, in a relatable society and with a nuanced variety of characters and groups. It’s still got all the pace and action and technology that makes big scale science fiction so enjoyable, as well as MacLeod‘s sharp eye for politics and society. This is one for fans of Ian M Banks and Alastair Reynolds.