Very Quick Review: SWEET HARMONY by Claire North (Orbit)

NorthC-SweetHarmonyAn unnerving, sharply observed and altogether too plausible novella

Harmony is tired. Tired of working so hard, tired of the way she looks, tired of being average. But all that changes when she decides to splash out and upgrade her nanos.

And why not? Everyone’s doing it now. With a simple in-app purchase, you can update the tech in your bloodstream to transform yourself — get enhanced brain power, the perfect body or a dazzling smile.

Suddenly, everything starts going right for Harmony. She’s finally becoming the person she always wanted to be. But when she ends up running too many upgrades on her body all at once, the effects will be more catastrophic than she could have imagined.

A sharply observed, albeit depressing vision of the future that is all too plausible. Another very good novella from North, one of the best and most interesting authors writing today. Continue reading

Quick Review: UPRIGHT WOMEN WANTED by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com)

GaileyS-UprightWomenWantedReinvents the pulp Western with an explicitly antifascist, near-future story of queer identity.

“That girl’s got more wrong notions than a barn owl’s got mean looks.”

Esther is a stowaway. She’s hidden herself away in the Librarian’s book wagon in an attempt to escape the marriage her father has arranged for her — a marriage to the man who was previously engaged to her best friend. Her best friend who she was in love with. Her best friend who was just executed for possession of resistance propaganda.

The future American Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing.

Sarah Gailey has really carved out a niche for herself in the pulp western sub-genre. First, with the American Hippo duology (also published by Tor.com), and now with Upright Women Wanted. I’d been looking forward to this since it was announced, and I’m happy to report that I enjoyed it very much. Continue reading

Upcoming: THE DOORS OF EDEN and FIREWALKERS by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor / Solaris)

Tchaikovsky-DoorsOfEdenUKNew year = new books from Adrian Tchaikovsky!

First, we have The Doors of Eden. With this novel, the author seems to be taking on a new (sub-)genre — specifically some kind of portal fantasy, which Stephen Baxter has described as “a terrific timeslip/lost world romp”. The synopsis sounds fantastic, of course, and I’m really looking forward to reading this:

The world is stranger than they’d thought. And more dangerous than they’d feared.

Lee’s best friend went missing on Bodmin Moor, four years ago. She and Mal were chasing rumours of monsters when they found something all too real. Now Mal is back, but where has she been, and who is she working for?

When government physicist Kay Amal Khan is attacked, the security services investigate. This leads MI5’s Julian Sabreur deep into terrifying new territory, where he clashes with mysterious agents of an unknown power ­who may or may not be human. And Julian’s only clue is some grainy footage ­– showing a woman who supposedly died on Bodmin Moor.

Khan’s extradimensional research was purely theoretical, until she found cracks between our world and countless others… Parallel Earths where monsters live. These cracks are getting wider every day, so who knows what might creep through? Or what will happen when those walls finally come crashing down.

Easily one of my most-anticipated of 2020, The Doors of Eden is due to be published by Tor Books in the UK, on May 28th, 2020. (Some of his recent novels have been published in North America by Orbit — such as Children of Time and Children of Ruin — but at the time of writing I couldn’t find any information about a US publisher for this book.)

*

Tchaikovsky-FirewalkersTchaikovsky’s other novel, also due out in May, Firewalkers, is a slimmer tale (only about 200 pages) and appears to be a dystopian tale of environmental collapse, economic inequality, and resource scarcity:

Firewalkers are brave. Firewalkers are resourceful. Firewalkers are expendable.

The Earth is burning. Nothing can survive at the Anchor; not without water and power. But the ultra-rich, waiting for their ride off the dying Earth? They can buy water. And as for power?

Well, someone has to repair the solar panels, down in the deserts below.

Kids like Mao, and Lupé, and Hotep; kids with brains and guts but no hope.

The Firewalkers.

Really looking forward to reading this. Firewalkers is due to be published by Solaris Books in North America and in the UK, in mid-May 2020.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Quick Review: RIOT BABY by Tochi Onyebuchi (Tor.com)

OnyebuchiT-RiotBabyA powerful dystopian novella

Ella has a Thing. She sees a classmate grow up to become a caring nurse. A neighbor’s son murdered in a drive-by shooting. Things that haven’t happened yet. Kev, born while Los Angeles burned around them, wants to protect his sister from a power that could destroy her. But when Kev is incarcerated, Ella must decide what it means to watch her brother suffer while holding the ability to wreck cities in her hands.

Rooted in the hope that can live in anger, Riot Baby is as much an intimate family story as a global dystopian narrative. It burns fearlessly toward revolution and has quietly devastating things to say about love, fury, and the black American experience.

Ella and Kev are both shockingly human and immeasurably powerful. Their childhoods are defined and destroyed by racism. Their futures might alter the world.

In Tochi Onyebuchi’s first book for Tor.com, we are introduced to Ella and Kev: sister and brother, navigating contemporary and future America. This is an unstinting look at the injustices of modern society, as well as an extrapolation of where the country could be headed if these failings are left unchecked. It’s a powerful story, and I very much enjoyed reading it. Continue reading

Upcoming: ANTHROPOCENE RAG by Alex Irvine (Tor.com)

IrvineA-AnthropoceneRagNext year, Tor.com are due to publish a new novella by Alex Irvine that looks very interesting: Anthropocene Rag. I wasn’t sure if I’d read anything else by Irvine, but while putting together this post, I remembered his short story Black Friday (which I enjoyed). He has also worked extensively in comics, games, and many other novels and short stories. Anthropocene Rag is due to be published on March 31st, 2020. Here’s the synopsis:

In the future United States, our own history has faded into myth and traveling across the country means navigating wastelands and ever-changing landscapes.

The country teems with monsters and artificial intelligences try to unpack their own becoming by recreating myths and legends of their human creators. Prospector Ed, an emergent AI who wants to understand the people who made him, assembles a ragtag team to reach the mythical Monument City.

In this nanotech Western, Alex Irvine infuses American mythmaking with terrifying questions about the future and who we will become.

Looking forward to this.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Upcoming: GOLDILOCKS by Laura Lam (Wildfire)

LamL-GoldilocksUKDue to be published by Wildfire in April 2020, Laura Lam‘s Goldilocks is being pitched as “The Martian by way of Handmaid’s Tale“. That’s quite a pitch! Really looking forward to giving this a try. The cover was unveiled this week, and here’s the synopsis:

Ravaged by environmental disaster, greed and oppression, our planet is in crisis. The future of humanity hangs in the balance – and one woman can tip it over.

Despite increasing restrictions on the freedoms of women on Earth, Valerie Black is spearheading the first all-female mission to a planet in the Goldilocks Zone, where conditions are just right for human habitation.

It’s humanity’s last hope for survival, and Naomi, Valerie’s surrogate daughter and the ship’s botanist, has been waiting her whole life for an opportunity like this – to step out of Valerie’s shadow and really make a difference.

But when things start going wrong on the ship, Naomi starts to suspect that someone on board is concealing a terrible secret – and realises time for life on Earth may be running out faster than they feared…

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Upcoming: THE COMPANIONS by Katie M. Flynn (Scout Press/Gallery)

FlynnKM-CompanionsUSI stumbled across The Companions by Katie M. Flynn while browsing a Simon & Schuster catalogue. Pitched as “Station Eleven meets Never Let Me Go“, I thought it sounded really intriguing and also rather unsettling. Naturally, this means I really want to read it. Here’s the synopsis:

An unsettling near future where the dead can be uploaded to machines and kept in service by the living.

In the wake of a highly contagious virus, California is under quarantine. Sequestered in high rise towers, the living can’t go out, but the dead can come in — and they come in all forms, from sad rolling cans to manufactured bodies that can pass for human. Wealthy participants in the “companionship” program choose to upload their consciousness before dying, so they can stay in the custody of their families. The less fortunate are rented out to strangers upon their death, but all companions become the intellectual property of Metis Corporation, creating a new class of people — a command-driven product-class without legal rights or true free will.

Sixteen-year-old Lilac is one of the less fortunate, leased to a family of strangers. But when she realizes she’s able to defy commands, she throws off the shackles of servitude and runs away, searching for the woman who killed her.

Lilac’s act of rebellion sets off a chain of events that sweeps from San Francisco to Siberia to the very tip of South America. While the novel traces Lilac’s journey through an exquisitely imagined Northern California, the story is told from eight different points of view — some human, some companion — that explore the complex shapes love, revenge, and loneliness take when the dead linger on.

The Companions is due to be published by Scout Press/Gallery in North America, on March 3rd, 2020. (I couldn’t find any information about a UK publisher or release.)

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Upcoming: THE GLASS HOTEL by Emily St. John Mandel (Knopf)

MandelESJ-GlassHotel

Like many readers, I absolutely loved Emily St. John Mandel‘s Station Eleven. I was, therefore, extremely happy to learn about the author’s follow-up, The Ghost Hotel. We still have quite some time to wait before it arrives in bookstores (curses!), but I wanted to give it a quick shout-out here, just in case you’d missed it. Here’s the synopsis:

From the award-winning author of Station Eleven, a captivating novel of money, beauty, white-collar crime, ghosts, and moral compromise in which a woman disappears from a container ship off the coast of Mauritania and a massive Ponzi scheme implodes in New York, dragging countless fortunes with it.

Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star glass-and-cedar palace on an island in British Columbia. Jonathan Alkaitis works in finance and owns the hotel. When he passes Vincent his card with a tip, it’s the beginning of their life together. That same day, Vincent’s half brother, Paul, scrawls a note on a windowed wall of the hotel: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” Leon Prevant, a shipping executive for a company named Neptune-Avramidis, sees the note from the hotel bar and is shaken to his core. Thirteen years later Vincent mysteriously disappears from the deck of a Neptune-Avramidis ship.

Weaving together the lives of these characters, The Glass Hotel moves between the ship, the skyscrapers of Manhattan, and the wilderness of northern Vancouver Island, painting a breathtaking picture of greed and guilt, fantasy and delusion, art and the ghosts of our pasts.

The Glass Hotel is due to be published by Knopf in North America (March 24th, 2020) and Picador in the UK (April 30th, 2020).

Also on CR: Review of Station Eleven and Last Night in Montreal

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Quick Review: THE TEST by Sylvain Neuvel (Tor.com)

NeuvelS-TestA superb immigration dystopia

Britain, the not-too-distant future.

Idir is sitting the British Citizenship Test.

He wants his family to belong.

Twenty-five questions to determine their fate. Twenty-five chances to impress.

When the test takes an unexpected and tragic turn, Idir is handed the power of life and death.

How do you value a life when all you have is multiple choice?

As someone who has lived in multiple countries, I’ve always been interested in immigration and the policies and rhetoric that surrounds it. While immigrants frequently feature in fiction, rarely (to my knowledge) is the process itself the central focus of the story. Set against a subtly dystopian backdrop, this is an interesting, well-written and sometimes thought-provoking story. I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Upcoming: RULE OF CAPTURE by Christopher Brown (Voyager)

BrownC-RuleToCaptureIn 2017, Voyager published Christopher Brown‘s thought-provoking debut novel, Tropic of Kansas. I rather enjoyed that novel, and have been keeping my eyes open for news of the author’s next book. In August 2019, Voyager are due to publish Rule to Capture. It is described as “Better Call Saul meets Nineteen Eighty-Four“, which is certainly intriguing. It is also the first in a new series of legal thrillers set in the same dystopian world as Tropic of Kansas. Here’s the synopsis:

Defeated in a devastating war with China, America is on the brink of a bloody civil war. Seizing power after a controversial election, the ruling regime has begun cracking down on dissidents fighting the nation’s slide toward dictatorship. For Donny Kimoe, chaos is good for business. He’s a lawyer who makes his living defending enemies of the state.

His newest client, young filmmaker Xelina Rocafuerte, witnessed the murder of an opposition leader and is now accused of terrorism. To save her from the only sentence worse than death, Donny has to extract justice from a system that has abandoned the rule of law. That means breaking the rules — and risking the same fate as his clients.

When Donny bungles Xelina’s initial hearing, he has only days to save the young woman from being transferred to a detention camp from which no one returns. His only chance of winning is to find the truth — a search that begins with the opposition leader’s death and leads to a dark conspiracy reaching the highest echelons of power.

Now, Donny isn’t just fighting for his client’s life — he’s battling for his own. But as the trial in the top secret court begins, Xelina’s friends set into motion a revolutionary response that could destroy the case. And when another case unexpectedly collides with Xelina’s, Donny uncovers even more devastating secrets, knowledge that will force him to choose between saving one client… or the future of the entire country.

Rule to Capture is due to be published by Voyager in North America and in the UK, in August 2019.

Also on CR: Review of Tropic of Kansas

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter