The best recent science fiction, fantasy and horror – reviews roundup | Science fiction books

The best recent science fiction, fantasy and horror – reviews roundup | Science fiction books

Calypso by Oliver K Langmead (Titan, £12.99)
Langmead made his debut in 2015 with Dark Star, a science fiction/noir detective story in iambic pentameter. Following two SF novels in prose, he returns to the long-form poem with this epic tale of a bold plan to bioengineer a new home for humanity. Rochelle wakes from cryogenic sleep on board starship Calypso, disturbed to discover the other engineers gone from their pods. She finds Catherine, a specialist with powers that seem more magical than technological, and learns there was a war while she slept. A breakaway faction has made a home for themselves on the moon of this new planet, but the original plan to seed the world with lush vegetation and make it a paradise for the still-sleeping colonists is going ahead. Committed Christian Rochelle was invited on the voyage by Sigmund, the man behind the scheme, because she disagreed with much of the philosophy underpinning it, and her arguments with him will provide a necessary balance – or so he claimed. Style and story together are fresh and exciting, recalling the heady days of the 60s New Wave and suggesting how much more than standard space opera this genre can offer.

Someone You Can Build a Nest In by John Wiswell (Arcadia, £20)
This debut fantasy from the award-winning short story writer is a novel narrated by a monster, offering an outsider’s critical view of human attitudes and morality. The monster is Shesheshen, known to fearful locals as a terrifying man-eating “wyrm” but really a shapeshifter able to pass for human (very useful for getting up close to her prey). She is befriended by kind-hearted Homily, who turns out to belong to a family of monster hunters who believe they are under a curse that can only be lifted by killing the wyrm. By that time, it’s too late for Shesheshen to run and hide: the monster has fallen in love. This unusual queer romance is a heartfelt fable about disability and the possibility of reconciling conflicting needs through love and understanding.

The Familiar by Leigh Bardugo (Viking, £20)
The latest from the author of Ninth House and other bestselling series is a standalone historical fantasy set in late-16th-century Spain. Luzia works as a scullion in a house in Madrid, lightening her chores with a few magic spells learned from her aunt until she’s caught in the act by her mistress, an ambitious woman who sees a chance to make a fortune from her servant’s talent. At once Luzia is plunged into a heady, dangerous world, competing for a place at the court of King Philip II. Since the destruction of the Armada, the king is eager for miracles. Will Luzia be seen as an instrument of God, or will her Jewish ancestry come to light and have her sent to the stake by the Spanish Inquisition? She’s attracted to the mysterious Santángel, but will he sacrifice her to his own ends? A compelling, well-researched and vividly written tale of magic and desire.

The Underhistory by Kaaron Warren (Viper, £16.99)
The sixth novel from the Shirley Jackson award-winning author is set in a haunted house where owner Pera Sinclair is giving the last ghost tour of the season. She doesn’t believe in ghosts but is haunted by the tragedies that shaped her life and knows how to spin a good, spooky yarn. When a group of desperate criminals, just broken out of prison, arrives before the tour is finished, Pera sees them for the threat they are and, determined to keep the innocent tourists safe, strings them along with her stories, much like Scheherazade. She’s far from being the helpless old lady she appears. Eerie, atmospheric, full of suspense and surprises, this is a brilliantly constructed, suspenseful gothic tale.

The Universe Delivers the Enemy You Need by Adam Marek (Comma, £10.99)
In the story Am I to Blame for the Fall of Driverless Humans?, the narrator dubs science fiction writers “the risk assessment officers of the future”, saying: “We ask ourselves: ‘How might this go wrong?’ Because of course fiction is all about when stuff goes wrong.” Marek does write about the unexpected problems caused by new technologies, but he’s not in the business of prediction. These 20 short stories take a variety of approaches – sometimes absurd or metafictional, but always insightful and often moving examinations of relationships and the human condition.

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