There is so much great science fiction out in July that I’m considering taking extra holiday just to keep up with it. I love the sound of the dystopian US dreamed up by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah in Chain-Gang All-Stars, where prisoners fight as gladiators in front of huge crowds for the chance of freedom. Perhaps “love” isn’t quite the right word, but I certainly want to read about it. And I’m always a sucker for a generation-ship story, so I can’t wait for Yume Kitasei’s thriller The Deep Sky. Here is my selection of the sci-fi novels I’m most looking forward to this month. Now I just have to find time to read them…
The Game of Thrones author is better known for his fantasy, but the long-running Wild Cards anthologies, which he edits, came first – and are also tons of fun. The stories take place in a universe where an alien virus has been unleashed on Earth, killing most of its people. Of those who survive, 1 per cent have, as the series puts it, drawn an “ace” and received superpowers, with the remainder drawing a “joker” and becoming bizarrely mutated. Curated by Martin, this latest anthology features stories from authors including Melinda M. Snodgrass, Gwenda Bond and Marko Kloos, and has a romantic leaning. The characters range from a teenager trapped in the body of a giant snail to a young hero given the fantastic moniker of Hero McHeroface, and all of them are looking for love.
I can’t wait for this sci-fi thriller in which Earth has succumbed to environmental collapse, and 80 graduates of an elite programme are leaving it in a single ship as humanity’s last hope. They are planning to give birth to a new generation in deep space and are halfway to a distant planet when a bomb knocks them off course. Asuka, the only surviving witness, falls under suspicion as she investigates the explosion.
Described by one reader as a sapphic Hunger Games and compared elsewhere to Squid Game and The Handmaid’s Tale, this dystopian novel is set in a fictional version of the US’s private prison system, where millions watch the inmates fight as gladiators for their chance to be freed. We follow the stories of Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” Stacker, teammates and lovers, as Thurwar and her lethal hammer near the end of their time on the circuit. Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah is already a member of the US National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35”, and this sounds explosively good.
Set in a world of AI gods and war machines, this is the first novel in Emma Mieko Candon’s Downworld Sequence, and it sounds like it’s going to be a belter. Our sci-fi columnist Sally Adee has already tipped it as one to read this summer, and it’s “everything you could want in a mecha novel”, according to the genius who is Ann Leckie. That’s good enough for me. And in case you missed it, Leckie’s own new novel, Translation State, was published in June. Set in her Imperial Radch universe, it follows the story of Qven, who was created to be an intermediary between the alien Presger and the human worlds, but decides to rebel against the path laid out for them.
In this debut novel from Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi, Anisa’s job is to subtitle Bollywood movies, but she really wants to translate great literature. When she discovers that her boyfriend Adam’s aptitude for languages comes from the Centre, a secretive programme that delivers fluency in a language in ten days, she signs up – only to discover it might be more than she bargained for. This high-concept literary debut is described as a “Black Mirror take on the world of language labs” by the Guardian.
This is out in early August but I’m sneaking it in here. Like The Centre, this literary debut with hints of Ovid’s Metamorphoses isn’t straight sci-fi. However, its human mutation elements pull it into the sci-fi space – and it sounds fascinating. Lewis and Wren have only been married for a few weeks when Lewis is given a rare and disturbing diagnosis: his body is going to gradually turn into a great white shark, but he will retain most of his consciousness. Wren wonders if they will be able to stay together, but Lewis’s carnivorous changes awaken forgotten memories for her.
Another small cheat here: along with Shark Heart, I’m also sneaking this one in as it was out in late June, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet – and Connie Willis is always brilliant. Sceptic Francie is heading to Roswell for a UFO-themed wedding. She’s busy rolling her eyes about all the talk of aliens when, wearing her neon-green bridesmaid dress, she’s abducted by one. Winner of seven Nebula awards and 11 Hugo awards for her fiction, there’s no one quite like Willis, and I am looking forward to relaxing with this blend of rom com and sci-fi.
I love a good speculative thriller, and this one sounds pleasingly terrifying. It is set in a UK decimated by a climate emergency, where a one-child policy is being enforced by a totalitarian government. We follow Kai, a so-called “baby reaper” working for the Ministry of Population and Family Planning who is tasked with preventing any of her assigned families from exceeding their quota. But when she discovers someone on the illegal list is actually her sibling, she needs to investigate before her parents pay the price.
This debut space opera follows tea expert and scribe Enitan, who becomes a spy when her lover is assassinated and her sibling abducted by Imperial soldiers. Will she be able to win back her nation’s independence?
Set in Neal Asher’s Polity universe, a distant future society run by AIs, this novel is a standalone that doesn’t need to be read as part of the series. It follows Piper, who has been implanted with secretive hardware as part of the fight against the Cyberat, a race who left Earth long ago to co-evolve with machines, and who now believe that machines should replace the physical body. When Piper’s parents are captured by the Cyberat’s Old Guard, he is offered help by the Polity. Asher is a class act, so this is bound to be great.
The follow-up to Tchaikovsky’s especially good Children of Time and Children of Ruin is out in paperback this month. This space opera tells the story of a fragile human colony on a far-flung outpost – and some corvids, which may or may not be sentient. When strangers appear, this hardscrabble community of colonists starts to fall apart. I interviewed Adrian for our podcast last year, and thoroughly recommend this. You can read it as a standalone – but why deprive yourself of the pleasure of reading all three?