The Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy of Recent Times – Review of Reviews | Science fiction books

Sunya Ding bookworms (Harper Voyager, £14.99)
In this intriguing twist on the vampire story, the eponymous creatures consume books to survive, absorbing all the information they contain. If this conjures up images of friendly librarians, Dean is looking for something darker. Like many literary vampires, bookworms are hidden cod aristocrats ruled by patriarchs who force young people to fight over position and resources. The latter include the dwindling supply of fertile females, who are sold as broodmares and weaned from their foals shortly after birth. Devon flees with her young son, who suffers from a mutation that causes him to eat human minds unless she can fight off the various factions of the Book Eaters to secure her freedom and a cure. The result was not a bookish “Vampire Diaries” but more of a vampire-themed “The Handmaid’s Tale,” with spectacular thrills enhanced by social commentary. Devon must shed her ingrained passivity and submissiveness and rise above the stories she (literally) grew up with in order to assert her right to lead her own life.

The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay

Bearing covers Club by Paul Tremblay (Titan, £8.99)
A lonely teenager, Art, creates a club to attend the funerals of those who have no one to see them off. The only other member is the cool, mysterious Mercy Brown, who soon becomes his only friend and dedicates Art to punk rock. But when Art’s health deteriorates, he becomes convinced that Mercy is to blame for everything, and that she may not be human. The story is told as a memoir written by Art decades later, interspersed with annotations by an increasingly confused Mercy. She insists that the story is pure fiction and that Art’s memories are distorted by his youthful self-absorption, erasing her normal humanity and turning her into a maniacal vampire, a nightmare girl. Ambiguity persists until the final pages of the novel, even as the events grow creepier and the portrait of lifelong friendship and midlife disillusionment becomes even more poignant.

Extinction

Extinction by Bradley Somer (Harper Voyager, £16.99)
Ben is a ranger tracking the last surviving grizzly bear in a climate-ravaged future where most of humanity has left Earth. When a trio of bounty hunters appear, Ben must protect his charge, and soon himself. What unfolds is a familiar tale of wilderness survival and the chase, told in concise, moving prose, but with a twist. The desert through which Ben moves is already desolate, polluted and littered with the debris of abandoned mines and logging camps. The bear itself is finite and, like most animals in the region, is not equipped to survive in this broken world. What is the use of risking life to save it? In the growing field of climate fiction, Sommer raises troubling questions about our relationship with nature and the debt we owe to the creatures with whom we share our planet – even, and perhaps especially, when there is no longer any chance of restitution.

Women Could Fly Megan Giddings

Women Could Fly by Megan Giddings (Macmillan, £16.99)
Giddings sets her novel in a world very similar to our own, where the existence of witchcraft was used to justify the oppression of women. Women are trained to conform, and those who don’t – single, queer, or over-policed ​​because of their race – can be accused of being witches, resulting in disqualification or even death. Jo’s mother disappeared years ago, putting her entire family under suspicion. When a condition of her mother’s will sends Jo to a remote island, she discovers a hidden community of witches. The discovery of the island raises new questions. Is it possible to be a complete person in a world where there is no place for you? Is freedom really freedom if you cut yourself off from the world to achieve it? Written in a magical realism tone reminiscent of Kelly Link and Carmen Maria Machado, this insightful novel has no easy answers – only Joe’s quietly heroic determination to forge his own path.

Letters on a lunar day

Emma Itaranth’s Lunar Day Letters (Titanium, £8.99)
Finnish author Itaranta returns with an epistolary novel set in the 22nd century. In a solar system teeming with human habitation, Lumi travels between planets, moons and space stations in search of her missing husband Sol, a botanist who may have been kidnapped by a group of eco-terrorists. This tour of the solar system, including an ecologically devastated Earth where the economic underclass maintains few habitable regions as tourist destinations, is reminiscent of Kim Stanley Robinson. But Itaranta weaves a special thread into her tapestry: Lumi is a shamanic healer whose pursuit of Saul leads her to the spirit realm as well as the celestial bodies, revisiting their marriage in all its strengths and weaknesses along the way. The resulting narrative brilliantly weaves together two central questions: can one marriage survive, and can humanity find a way to thrive that doesn’t rely on exploitation and inequality.

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