The best recent sci-fi, fantasy and horror – review summary | science fiction books
The This by Adam Roberts (Gollancz, £16.99)
Imagine a social media app implanted in the roof of the mouth for more immersive connectivity. This small step turns out to be a giant leap in human evolution, a kind of telepathy that brings everyone together as part of a vast Gestalt consciousness. But is it really such a good idea? Roberts takes a classic speculative fiction trope, combines it with current concerns, and views it all in the context of religious belief and Hegelian philosophy. The result is dazzlingly inventive, exciting, funny and addictively readable.
All white spaces through Ally Wilkes (Titan, £8.99)
This impressive debut is a vivid and immersive account of a fictional British expedition to Antarctica in 1919-20 – classic territory, but with a transgender perspective. The narrator is a teenage stowaway who wishes to leave life as a girl and start over as Jonathan Morgan. This point of view effectively defamiliarizes the standard narrative, while adding a layer of suspense, making for an engrossing read. On top of that (although it comes halfway through the book) there’s the element of supernatural horror. Here, too, the author excels, creating a new kind of ghost story in the frozen, empty deserts.
The book embroidered by Kate Heartfield (Harper Voyager, £14.99)
In 18th century Europe, two little girls discover a hidden spell book. As they are sent back to assume their roles as wives of foreign princes, the sisters are determined to become magisters and use their secret powers for the good of their people. One, the new Queen of Naples, is accepted as the first female member of the local secret order, which jealously guards this knowledge hidden. The other, now known as Marie Antoinette, shares her fate with the people and rogue magisters. Heartfield clearly did his research; the many historical figures that make up the cast of characters are depicted in compelling detail. The age of reason was also an age of secret societies, alchemists and so-called magicians. In this captivating novel, magic is a field of study like chemistry, but it requires considerable sacrifice, both physical and emotional. Focusing on two of the most famous and well-placed women of the late 18th century, Heartfield maintains a delicate balance between history and fantasy.
The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews (Raven, £14.99)
There are so many literary historical novels that cross the line into supernatural fantasy that they’re almost a genre unto themselves: this haunting debut is a fine example. The plot is as surprising and winding as the legendary sea monster in its title. In addition to biblical references to this mysterious and powerful beast, Hobbes’ Leviathan refers to a political undertone. Thomas Treadwell, a reluctant soldier in the English Civil War, finds it harder to wait for her at home, his father struck down by a stroke and his sister accusing their servant of witchcraft. He considers himself a rational man, but reason alone cannot cope with a growing death toll, and he is forced to seek help from a distant relative, the poet John Milton, who eventually reveals the terrible choice he must make. More than just an entertaining fantasy, the novel offers a lesson in the importance of accepting responsibility.
echo by Thomas Old Heuvelt (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99)
The long-awaited new novel from the Dutch author of Hex is an ambitious and voluminous work referencing the books of Shirley Jackson, Clive Barker, HP Lovecraft and other Gothic classics. The story, which revolves around the mystery of a climbing accident in the Swiss Alps, is told through a variety of manuscripts, reports, notes and recordings, most of them told by American Sam Avery and her Dutch husband, Nick Grevers, who claims to have amnesia over the disappearance of his climbing partner and the accident that cut half of his own face. It’s a long and rambling story, containing everything from psychological suspense to cosmic horror. With moments of wonder and terror, it seems to be one of the highlights of this year’s horror scene.
They by Kay Dick (Faber, £8.99)
“They” are those who distrust imagination and individuality, believe that books and art should be destroyed, approve of television and social housing… This “lost masterpiece” has was originally published in 1977. Although there is a cool and sinister edge to the stories, they don’t add much; the persecuted artists are a little too self-righteous (and privileged), and the book shows its age. Ray Bradbury’s still relevant Fahrenheit 451 is a much more cohesive treatment of the theme.