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Archive by tag: Lisa TuttleReturn
May 13, 2022

Appliance by JO Morgan; Book of Night by Holly Black; The Pharmacist by Rachelle Atalla; Beautiful Star by Yukio Mishima; Eversion by Alastair Reynolds

Appliance by JO Morgan (Vintage, £16.99)
The first work of prose fiction by the award-winning poet whose previous book, The Martian’s Regress, revelled in science fictional tropes, this is a collection of thematically linked short stories about the development of a matter transmitter from a cabinet resembling a refrigerator into a vast network of stations transporting not only goods but people all over the world. The approach is almost primitive, focusing on a single idea which is seldom dramatised, only discussed. But the very ordinariness of the characters and their conversations has a demystifying effect: in this context transporters could as well be aeroplanes or the internet. The notion of progress, and where new technologies may take us, is a consistent concern in SF, whether utopian or dystopian. Morgan takes neither approach as he gradually builds a picture of the ease and speed with which some people embrace new ways of living, while others, regardless of objections, eventually have it forced upon them: living off-grid is a fantasy few can afford.

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Apr 08, 2022

Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James; Braking Day by Adam Oyebanji; Amongst Our Weapons by Ben Aaronovitch; Stringers by Chris Panatier; The Cuckoo Cage edited by Ra Page

Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James (Hamish Hamilton, £20)
The second part of the Dark Star trilogy is the story of the Moon Witch, from her long-ago beginnings as a no-name girl, hated by brothers who blame her for their mother’s death, and made to live in a termite hill. She escapes from them as she later escapes the roles men try to assign her: whore, slave, wife, victim. She names herself Sogolon, discovers a powerful force and inadvertently attracts the attention of Aesi, who is clearly much more than just an adviser to the king. By the time she meets Tracker, the “Red Wolf” of the previous book, and becomes part of the quest to find a mysterious lost boy, she has outlived everyone who ever knew her. If Black Leopard, Red Wolf was an exploration of masculinity, this companion volume examines the more restricted lives of women in the same violent, male-dominated world. Booker winner James’s African-inspired imaginary kingdoms mark the series out from the usual run of epic fantasies, but his uniquely supple, powerful style is even more distinctive.

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Mar 11, 2022

Woman, Eating by Claire Kohda; Lambda by David Musgrave; Plutoshine by Lucy Kissick; The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi; and The Way of the Worm by Ramsey Campbell

Woman, Eating by Claire Kohda (Virago, £14.99)
A young artist arrives in London for an internship at a prestigious gallery. Without enough money for another room, she plans to sleep on the floor of her unfurnished studio. Lydia is the daughter of a Japanese father and a half-British, half-Malaysian mother, but what really sets her apart is that she’s a vampire. After her vampire mother vowed never to kill another human being, the two of them survived on fresh pigs’ blood, but alone in London, Lydia struggles to find nourishment. Blood sausage barely staves off the pangs, and she can’t digest the oats. As her hunger grows, she imagines she might starve out the vampire part of herself; watching food videos online, she considers her heritage: “In most Asian cultures … there is no reverence for the vampiric monster as there is in the West; most blood-sucking things are women … ” The most unusual, original and strikingly contemporary vampire novel to come along in years.

Lambda by David Musgrave (Europa, £12.99)
This impressive debut by a visual artist is set in an alternate 2019, in a Britain slightly different from our own. Object Relation laws have granted rights to smart machines (including talking toothbrushes), cyber-attacks are not so much terrorism as “a business plan that leverages the threat of mass murder”, and a different race of beings has been part of the population for half a century. Tiny, air-breathing aquatic mammals, the lambda arrive by sea in small groups, quickly learn English, and form an accepted, if mysterious, class, living in flooded basements, transported by terrestrial humans in fishbowls to offices to do menial jobs. But when a school bombing is blamed on the Army of Lambda Ascension, acceptance turns to hate. An imaginative revisioning of some of today’s fears and fantasies, written with bravura style and wit, this is literary SF at its best.

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Feb 11, 2022

The This by Adam Roberts; All the White Spaces by Ally Wilkes; The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield; The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews; Echo by Thomas Olde Heuvelt; and They by Kay Dick

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 one small step turns out to be a giant leap in human evolution, a sort of telepathy that brings everyone together as parts of one vast, gestalt consciousness. But is that really such a great idea? Roberts takes a classic trope of speculative fiction, combines it with current preoccupations and views the whole in the context of religious belief and Hegelian philosophy. The result is dazzlingly inventive, exciting, funny and addictively readable.

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Dec 31, 2021

The Actual Star by Monica Byrne; Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson; The Book of Sand by Theo Clare; Hare House by Sally Hinchcliffe; and The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A Lee Martinez

The Actual Star by Monica Byrne (Voyager, £20)
In her second novel, Byrne braids together three storylines, each set a thousand years apart. The final days of 1012 are depicted through the experiences of three royal siblings in the early post-classical Mayan era; in December 2012, Leah, a 19-year-old mixed race American, makes the journey of a lifetime to Belize; and in 3012, as the last of the icecaps disappear, the end of the diluvian age is celebrated all over the world. The entire population has been reduced to around 8 million, most of whom are always on the move and own no more than they can carry. A way of life forced on climate refugees has become the guiding philosophy of near-universal religion LaViaja, credited to Saint Leah, believed to have been the first person to reach Xibalba, the mystical world beyond this one. This is an incredibly ambitious and thought-provoking work.

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Jul 16, 2021

When the Sparrow Falls by Neil Sharpson; A Strange and Brilliant Light by Eli Lee; Robot by Adam Wiśniewski-Snerg; Come Closer by Sara Gran; The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig and The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry

Playwright Neil Sharpson’s first novel, When the Sparrow Falls (Solaris, £8.99), is set in the 23rd century, after the development of “contran”: a process for the quick and easy transfer of consciousness from one body to another, or from a physical body to a blissfully free existence in a virtual environment. Along with this great leap forward has come the erasure of any legal distinctions between people born the old-fashioned way and those formerly described as “artificial intelligences” – all are equal. The world has been transformed, everywhere except in the Caspian Republic, a deeply repressive society that considers itself the last outpost of humanity, forcing its mortal citizens to resist “the machine”. But, as State Security Agent Nikolai South knows, someone within the state is operating a secret contran system and smuggling people out to the free world on a new type of memory chip. An even more shocking discovery is to come. Thrillingly balanced between a grim, deliberately retro society and the possibilities of a utopian future, this is an original and gripping thriller.

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Jun 11, 2021

Widowland by CJ Carey; Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir; This Fragile Earth by Susannah Wise; Rabbits by Terry Miles; This Eden by Ed O’Loughlin; The Colours of Death by Patricia Marques

Britain under Nazi rule is a staple of alternate history, but CJ Carey’s Widowland (Quercus, £14.99) makes it fresh again. The story is seen through the eyes of Rose, who, being young, healthy and attractive to men, has the highest status permitted to women under the caste system designed by Alfred Rosenberg, Britain’s Protector. It’s 1953, and the war continues, but Britain is one of Germany’s allies. Rose, who is having an affair with her boss in the ministry of culture, is assigned to rewrite classic works of literature to ensure they align with Nazi ideals. Another task brings her into contact with inhabitants of “widowland” – a ghetto for childless women over 50 who are treated with official contempt and kept on short rations. They have not forgotten the truth about the past and have something to teach Rose about books and resistance. CJ Carey is a pseudonym for Jane Thynne, author of a series of spy novels set in 1930s Germany, and she clearly knows her Nazis. Rosenberg was a real Nazi ideologue who thought society would benefit if women were forced to live under a caste system, with older, childless widows seen as a drain. This is an absorbing, Orwellian dystopia that makes a good case for the subversive power of literature.

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May 07, 2021

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon; Dark Lullaby by Polly Ho-Yen; We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker; The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley; and The Cottingley Cuckoo by AJ Elwood

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon (#Merky, £12.99) is an exhilarating journey to the outer limits of science fiction, steeped in the southern gothic tradition and grounded in the physical and social realities of being poor, powerless, black and female in America. It begins with teenage Vern giving birth alone in the woods to twins she names Howling and Feral. She has escaped from Cainland, a religious compound ostensibly set up to allow black people to live free from white oppression, but with strict rules that make it a prison. She is determined her children will grow up truly free. Their life in the woods is hard, but also idyllic – unfeasibly so, but there’s a reason for that, revealed when she makes an impossible escape from an armed stalker, and realises that her body is in a process of transformation. She is becoming superhumanly strong and quick, but there are other changes, physical and mental, which frighten her into returning to civilisation to search for answers and find safety for her babies. After many struggles, she uncovers the terrible truth behind Cainland. A furious, justified anger drives this novel, drawing on the US history of racial oppression, but it’s also joyful and wildly entertaining.

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May 07, 2021

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon; Dark Lullaby by Polly Ho-Yen; We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker; The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley; and The Cottingley Cuckoo by AJ Elwood

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon (#Merky, £12.99) is an exhilarating journey to the outer limits of science fiction, steeped in the southern gothic tradition and grounded in the physical and social realities of being poor, powerless, black and female in America. It begins with teenage Vern giving birth alone in the woods to twins she names Howling and Feral. She has escaped from Cainland, a religious compound ostensibly set up to allow black people to live free from white oppression, but with strict rules that make it a prison. She is determined her children will grow up truly free. Their life in the woods is hard, but also idyllic – unfeasibly so, but there’s a reason for that, revealed when she makes an impossible escape from an armed stalker, and realises that her body is in a process of transformation. She is becoming superhumanly strong and quick, but there are other changes, physical and mental, which frighten her into returning to civilisation to search for answers and find safety for her babies. After many struggles, she uncovers the terrible truth behind Cainland. A furious, justified anger drives this novel, drawing on the US history of racial oppression, but it’s also joyful and wildly entertaining.

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Apr 09, 2021

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer; Under the Blue by Oana Aristide; Terminal Boredom by Izumi Suzuki; and All the Murmuring Bones by AG Slatter

“If you received this, I am already gone. You’re on your own. But not alone.” These words are scrawled on an envelope containing a key, a number and an address, left at a coffee shop for the narrator of Jeff VanderMeer’s compelling Hummingbird Salamander (4th Estate, £16.99). The trail takes Jane to a storage unit where she finds a stuffed, extinct hummingbird with a cryptic note signed “Silvina”. Bored by her job, chafing at the predictable routines of home life, Jane seizes the challenge to investigate.

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Mar 12, 2021

Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley; Birds of Paradise by Oliver K Langmead; The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey; A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel; and A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley (Solaris, £14.99) combines an intriguing, character-driven plot with great splashes of science fictional weirdness. The novel grips from the start, exploring with deceptive simplicity issues ranging from the difficulties of communicating with the people we love to colonisation on a planetary scale. It opens in a traditional English village pub, run by Jem, who has returned home from a 10-year posting to the planet Qita with a Qitan called Isley. Although there is a spaceport nearby, the villagers have nothing to do with it; they belong to the Western Protectorate, a region of Britain that chose to divorce itself from the complications of the modern world and adopt a simpler way of life. But even they cannot escape the consequences of humanity’s contact with aliens who only appear to be human, as the truth about the Qitan lifecycle, and the imported psychedelic brew served by Jem from under the bar, is gradually revealed. I was reminded of the authors who first got me hooked on science fiction with their combination of deep humanity, brilliant storytelling and wild imagination: writers such as Theodore Sturgeon, Kate Wilhelm and Ursula Le Guin. Skyward Inn feels like an instant classic of the genre.

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Feb 12, 2021

The Mask Falling by Samantha Shannon; Bear Head by Adrian Tchaikovsky; Purgatory Mount by Adam Roberts; The Swimmers by Marian Womack; and Doors of Sleep by Tim Pratt

Beginning in 2013 with The Bone Season, Samantha Shannon’s fantasy series has attracted a large readership and much-deserved praise. In a field thick with medieval despots and fairytale atmosphere, it stands out for its uniquely different and complex setting. The Mask Falling (Bloomsbury, £16.99) is the fourth instalment, returning us to the near-future alternative reality that split from our own in 1859, after the veil between worlds was breached. This led to human contact with the immortal inhabitants of the Netherworld, and subsequently the overthrow of the British monarchy and the establishment of the brutal Scion regime, dedicated to the persecution of “unnaturals” (anyone with a psychic gift or interest in spiritual matters – even fantasy fiction is outlawed). The characters are believable, as are the compromises they make to stay alive under a fascistic government. This new book takes the much-abused heroine Paige Mahoney out of Britain in search of potential new allies in Paris, where the narrative exerts the same vice-like grip as before, with danger, deception, hair’s-breadth escapes and new revelations coming thick and fast.

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