The best recent science fiction, fantasy and horror – review roundup

Eric Brown
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images

In Sarah Pinsker’s debut novel, A Song for a New Day (Head of Zeus, £18.99), liberty and creative endeavour are compromised by political and socioeconomic reality. Pinsker presents a frighteningly real near-future US in which social gatherings have been proscribed due to terrorist attacks and viral plagues. Corporation StageHoloLive transmits virtual music events for the masses, while musician Luce retains some semblance of artistic integrity by playing at illegal underground venues. Meanwhile, Rosemary is a naive recluse, cocooned in virtual reality: when she is offered a job as a talent scout for StageHoloLive, she must leave her comfort zone. Pinsker movingly charts Rosemary’s coming of age story as her world and Luce’s collide.

Adrian Tchaikovsky follows his successful Children of Time duology with the standalone The Doors of Eden (Tor, £18.99). The novel draws the reader into a story that expands and deepens the many-worlds theory: on a series of parallel Earths, life has undergone very different evolutions. There is one world where the dominant species is fish who upload identities into computers, another where dinosaurs rule, and even a reality in which rat-like creatures are dominant. The book begins as an intriguing tale of two young women, lovers Lee and Mal, investigating sightings of the Birdman of Bodmin Moor, but quickly escalates into a dizzyingly inventive techno-thriller which explores issues of evolutionary biology and contemporary politics. Emotionally complex and intellectually satisfying, The Doors of Eden will enhance Tchaikovsky’s already considerable reputation.

In Micaiah Johnson’s entertaining first novel, The Space Between Worlds (Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99), the Eldridge Institute has not only discovered the multiverse, with 380-plus planet Earths alongside Earth Zero, but the means to travel between worlds. Only “traversers”, individuals whose doppelgangers are dead on another Earth, can make a crossing to collect scientific data for the benefit of the Institute. Enter strong-willed but vulnerable Cara, a young black woman plucked from the hostile wastelands to work for the Institute: her doppelgangers are dead on all but eight parallel Earths, allowing her almost unlimited movement. Having lived a hand-to-mouth existence fighting poverty and abuse, Cara relishes the freedom of interworld travel, but what she discovers on Earth 175 threatens to uncover not only her own terrible secret but that of the enigmatic Institute. Johnson excels at contrasting lives of privilege and poverty, and at drip-feeding information that gradually reveals Cara’s complex character.

An ambitious wide-screen space opera debut, The Vanished Birds (Titan, £8.99) by Simon Jimenez tells the story of a diverse cast of characters spanning eons and light years in an emotionally gripping narrative redolent of Samuel R Delany and Cordwainer Smith. In an exotic far-future universe teeming with life, great bird-like starships journey between worlds in the employ of the vast, heartless Umbai Company. When the captain of a starship lands on an agricultural world, she is persuaded to give passage to a boy who inexplicably fell from the stars. Young Ahro has a nascent talent that will change everything, the ability to transport himself from world to world by the power of his mind alone; this is a talent that the ruthless Umbai Company wish to exploit. Part thriller, part coming-of-age story, encompassing romance, planetary escapades and poignant meditations on the passage of time, The Vanished Birds is a moving epic that is much more than the sum of its parts.

Billed as a feminist space opera, Seven Devils (Gollancz, £18.99) is the first collaboration between Elizabeth May and Laura Lam. It’s the far future, and an evil empire has the galaxy in its grip. Thec crushes dissent, is perennially at war, and forever expanding. Heroine Eris was once heir to the throne, but turned against the brutal regime and now, with a team of four other women, works to bring the empire, led by her villainous brother Prince Damocles, to its knees. With its well drawn cast of LGBTQ characters, Seven Devils is a curious mixture of the old-fashioned – novels of rebellion against an evil empire are ten-a-penny – and the up-to-the-minute: think Star Wars recast for the modern age. Despite some scientific implausibilities, the novel moves at a cracking pace and, with neat plot twists and cliffhangers, is page-turning fun.

Eric Brown’s latest novel is The Martian Menace (Titan).