Far From the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson (Orbit, £ 8.99)
When rookie pilot Michelle is assured on her first space trip that the AI never fails, readers will guess she will find herself at the helm of the Ragtime spacecraft., responsible for the lives of hundreds of passengers on their way from Earth to the colony planet Bloodroot. But that’s the only thing predictable in the inventive, thrilling, and compulsively readable new novel from the author of Rosewater. The plot involves a classic closed room mystery, but the stakes are far higher than they could be for any Earth-bound detective. Campion is constantly on the brink of death, along with everyone else on her ship, unless she can find and neutralize the murderer. This book is like the Tardis, bigger on the inside than the outside, with a range of fascinating ideas, characters, and future settings, making it arguably the best sci-fi novel in the world. year.
The Cabinet of Un-su Kim, translated by Sean Lin Halbert (Angry Robot, £ 9.99)
Before bursting onto the international scene in 2019 with the detective novel The Plotters, Un-su Kim won an award in South Korea for his first novel, in 2006. Cabinet 13 is where a bored office worker uncovers hidden case studies of famous people. as “symptoms”. They exhibit unusual symptoms like harboring a tongue-eating lizard, growing a ginkgo on a finger, or falling asleep for years. The studies were written by Professor Kwon over four decades. On his deathbed, he instructs his assistant to keep the files hidden until the symptoms are recognized as the heirs of mankind – but there are sinister characters determined to exploit them. What starts out as a rather whimsical set of stories turns into a much darker novel, raising questions of difference and acceptance, what people have to do to survive, and what is truly monstrous.
Femlandia by Christina Dalcher (HarperCollins, £ 14.99)
Dalcher’s first bestseller, Vox, was a feminist dystopia, but the villains of this story are women who push their desire to live free from male domination too far. In the very near future, with the United States suffering from a catastrophic economic collapse, the wealthy former Miranda is a destitute widow, soon to be homeless. Her main concern is protecting her teenage daughter, and after escaping from a gang of rapists, she overcomes her antipathy for radical feminism to take refuge in Femlandia, a women-only commune founded by her estranged mother. . As with most utopian towns, reality has drifted away from the original intention and Femlandia holds a sinister secret at its heart. Dalcher is not a subtle writer, but she knows how to touch emotional buttons; even if you see the twists coming, it’s a compelling and quick read.
When Things Get Dark edited by Ellen Datlow (Titan, £ 17.99)
In a new collection of short stories inspired by Shirley Jackson, Carmen Maria Machado refers without ever naming the “star cup” of The Haunting of Hill House for a powerfully suggestive story about childhood abuse and memory. Elizabeth Hand’s response to the same novel is a very different kind of haunted house story. John Langan seems to have taken inspiration from Jackson’s softly humorous plays on family life, but injected a dose of horror. Other stories are just as memorable, but for me the most memorable is Skinder’s Veil, a mind-boggling blend of fairy tale, dream and reality by the incomparable Kelly Link.
Richard Gadz’s Dirty Creation Workshop (Deixis, £ 14.99)
As the title suggests, Richard Gadz riffs on Frankenstein, to imagine Mary Shelley’s novel was based on real experiences conducted by a certain Count Victor von Frakken. In 1879, a descendant of von Frakken made huge strides in creating an unnatural life, but his attempts to enlist the help of an English scientist resulted in the leak of one of his creations. Gadz (pseudonym of horror writer Simon Cheshire) brings the misery of Victorian London to life, managing to make some modern medical procedures almost plausible in this setting. The quick story maintains a good balance between the outright horror of gleefully gruesome scenes and the increasingly sympathetic character of the “monstrous” Maria, as she learns what it means to be human.