For nearly two decades, Jim Killen has served as the science fiction and fantasy book buyer for Barnes & Noble. Every month on Tor.com and the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Jim shares his curated list of the month’s can’t-miss new SF/F releases.
Admiral, by Sean Danker (May 3, Roc—Hardcover)
Danker’s debut SF novel begins with four people awakening from cryosleep to discover their ship has crashed on an unknown alien planet in an obvious act of sabotage. Three of the survivors are cadets in the Evagardian Empire’s military, and the fourth, the narrator, is wearing an admiral’s uniform and is identified by the ship’s computer as an admiral—but he doesn’t look, or act, much like a senior officer. Doubts must be put aside as the hostile planet threatens death at every turn, and the mystery deepens as tension rises both between the survivors, and among the terrifying antagonists who rise up outside the ship. The whole mess resolves in a brilliantly executed conclusion that readers won’t see coming.
Camp Alien, by Gini Koch (May 3, DAW—Paperback)
For Kitty Martini, protagonist of Gini Koch’s long-running humorous SF series, life is exciting—and exhausting. Having barely survived the events of book 12, she begins her latest adventure as the newly-minted First Lady, but barely has time to register her change in status before the fun starts all over again. Kitty has to gear up and kick some butt when robots attack, new aliens arrive on the scene, and President Jeff Martini arrives at a crucial peace summit to discover android impostors, fem-bots, and sinister plots galore—and the stakes are pretty much the survival of Earth itself. Which is nothing unusual for this series, of course; Koch is a master of the fine balance between the tense action and a hilarious one-liner.
Children of Earth and Sky, by Guy Gavriel Kay (May 10, NAL—Hardcover)
Kay returns with a dense, immensely enjoyable book that explores an alternate Europe locked in conflict between religions, political states, and individuals set in the same near-Europe of his two Sarantium books, though set long after those stories. Afflicted by the constant pirate attacks of the Senjani, the powerful city-state of Seressa plots to manipulate the Senjani’s liege, Rodolfo of Obravic, Holy Emperor of the god Jad. These currents set the stage for a deeply-imagined world, which Kay spins into a wide-ranging tale filled with finely-etched characters with disparate motivations, backgrounds, and purposes, tracing complicated politics and conflicting loyalties without sacrificing pacing or plotting involving spying in the commercial and political sense. Any fan of beautifully written, realistically rendered fantasy realms will find this one among best examples yet written, and well worth their careful attention.
Night Shift, by Charlaine Harris (May 3, Ace—Hardcover)
We’re back in the town of Midnight, Texas, home to a colorful citizenry of witches, werewolves, and vampires. As book three begins, the town has a serious problem: a demon operating within its borders is attracting visitors, all of whom promptly commit suicide. As Fiji Cavanaugh works out the kinks (in more ways than one) with the Love Ritual that can imprison the demon (who’s taken a shine to Fiji as well), the personal problems of some other residents intrude and complicate matters. Harris hasn’t lost a single step; Night Shift continues to deepen her unique universe, as crossovers to her other series abound, providing the sense that this is a real place, despite the presence of magic, love rituals, and demons.
Outriders, by Jay Posey (May 3, Angry Robot—Hardcover)
Posey begins a new sci-fi series that nails the elusive “A-Team in space” vibe we didn’t know we were missing until just now. After a series of suspicious events push Earth and Mars close to open war, Captain Lincoln Suh is tasked with recruiting an elite unit from the top-secret 519th Applied Intelligence Group—known more casually as The Outriders—to work behind-the-scenes to discover who might be pulling the strings. The investigation leads them to a woman who should be dead, and who seems to have devised a plan that’s literally unstoppable. But Captain Suh used to be dead too, and the Outriders aren’t your typical special ops team. Readers should be prepared to strap in for a wild ride.
The Lost Stars: Shattered Spear, by Jack Campbell (May 3, Penguin—Hardcover)
Campbell delivers a fourth installment in his Lost Star series with all the requisite complications and high stakes we’ve come to expect. With the Syndicate in shambles, more and more star systems join the new government established by President Gwen Iceni and General Artur Drakon. But the rotten legacy of the Syndicate breeds distrust and chaos, and the sudden appearance—and disappearance—of an enigma warship means a devastating war might be coming much sooner than anyone feared. The twin complexities of organizing a new galactic government and preparing for an alien invasion that could strike anywhere, at any time, gives the story all the gas it needs to keep you turning pages.
Roses and Rot, by Kat Howard (May 17, Saga Press—Hardcover)
Howard’s eerily beautiful debut introduces a number of things: a mysterious, secluded setting, a compelling modern fantasy world, and a sibling rivalry that threatens to unravel the whole thing. At its heart are Imogen and Marin, sisters who have translated their troubled childhoods into flourishing careers in the arts. A writer and dancer, respectively, they both are accepted to an exclusive residency at Melete, an elite school for the artistically inclined. While each pursues he craft—and try to rekindle a relationship estranged for many years—they become entangled in a high-stakes competition intricately tied to the school’s history. When one’s success could ensure the other’s failure, the question becomes: how badly does each want to win? The tension buzzes all the way to the final chapter.
The Sorcerer’s Daughter, by Terry Brooks (May 24, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Brooks returns to the Shannara universe with a standalone book that will draw in both longtime fans and new fans of the MTV series. At a peace summit sponsored by the druids, who have sought to protect the Four Lands for centuries, a demon runs amok and the druids’ political opponents turn up dead—which doesn’t look good for the druids. Paxon Leah, leader of the ancient order, knows the sorcerer Arcannen Rai is behind the treachery, but what Rai really wants is Leah’s daughter, who possesses a powerful magic. As the two foes circle one another, Rai’s daughter—and Leah’s lifemate—Leofur plots against her father in a bid to stop him from destroying everything she loves. Magic flies fast and furious as the conflict between druid and sorcerer escalates—but the story comes down to the two women at the center of each man’s life.
The Summer Dragon, by Todd Lockwood (May 3, DAW—Hardcover)
Renowned illustrator Lockwood debuts his first novel, the story of Maia, whose family breeds and trains dragons for war. Maia is recovering from the loss of her mother, and longs for a dragon of her own to bond with—a bond that goes deeper than most can truly understand. Her hopes and dreams are pushed sideways when a dragon arrives in her aerie—not just any dragon, but one of the rare High Dragons, the Summer Dragon itself, prompting Maia to makes a risky decision and take an incredible chance. Lockwood proves to be a master of the art of world-building, crafting a universe that feels absolutely real and lived-in, and populating it with fascinating, complicated characters. It’s a grand fantasy debut that any genre fans will love—and dragon lovers will devour.
The Tower of Swallows, by Andrzej Sapowski (May 17, Orbit—Paperback)
The universe of Sapowski’s The Witcher is one of the most detailed and best-explored in modern fantasy, offering endless opportunities for fresh ideas. His latest sees the world sinking into open war as the Ciri, notorious child of prophecy, disguises herself and goes missing, living freely for the first time in her life. Pursuit is instantaneous, sending the world’s most vicious mercenaries after her—as well as the Witcher himself, Geralt, who seeks to rescue her. As the noose tightens, there is only one place for Ciri to flee: the Tower of Swallows. Complex character relationships enrich this already complex world; this is the sort of series fantasy fans will cherish.
Dark Run, by Mike Brooks (May 17, Saga Press—Paperback)
In the far future, Earth is an afterthought, our species has spread throughout the stars, and corruption runs rampant (the more things change…). The Keiko is a ramshackle starship crewed by mercenaries looking for a quick buck, smugglers trying to stay one step ahead of the law, and those just looking for an adventure, and members of that latter group, at least, are going to get what they want (and may soon wish they didn’t) when the ship takes on mission that will send them back to the derelict cradle of humanity. Someone is blackmailing Captain Ichabod Drift, forcing him to carry a secret cargo on a stealth mission—a dark run—in service of a darker purpose. It’s a fast, fun fantasy caper that will draw more than one comparison to a little Joss Whedon space show you may have heard of.
The Vagrant, by Peter Newman (May 10, HarperVoyager—Paperback)
Newman’s wildly original debut is set in a world broken and warped by an invasion of aliens (demons?) through a “Breach” in reality. Their presence has not only sparked a devastating war with humanity, it has changed everything about the world, transforming it into an alien landscape of scarred battlefields. The Vagrant has no other name, never speaks, and offers no glimpse of what’s going on inside his head. His quest is to reach the Shining City, the last holdout of humanity, and deliver a mysterious weapon. The journey is long, the land is treacherous, and the war is ongoing, allowing Newman plenty of opportunities to explore his broken landscape and the survivors who help, hinder, and observe his fascinating protagonist. The first in a series that promises to be one to watch.
The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction, by Neil Gaiman (May 31, HarperCollins—Hardcover)
The short list of SF/F personalities we’d love to spend an evening chatting with will always include Neil Himself, who has proven over and over again to be not just a talented fiction writer, but a well-read communicator with a sharp wit and keen insight into a wide variety of subjects. More than 60 of his best nonfiction essays and articles are collected here, encompassing a dizzyingly wide range of subjects, all written at Gaiman’s typically high level, all entertaining and informative. If you can’t simply call up the man and meet him for a drink (you can’t, can you?), reading this fantastic collection is likely the next best thing.
Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer (May 10, Tor Books—Hardcover)
Palmer’s long-in-coming debut crafts a distinctly unique vision of a future world—a 25th century where technology has created abundance, where religion is outlawed but personal spirituality is encouraged, where criminals are sentenced to wander the world making themselves useful. It’s an imagined outcome rooted in threads visible all around us even today. The story involves an unlikely meeting between a convict serving a family named Mycroft Canner; a “sensayer,” or spiritual guide, named Carlyle Foster; and Bridger, a young boy who seems to possess the power to make his every wish come true—a power that could completely destabilize a world that is the very definition of stability. With lush prose that recreates the feel of a period novel, this is one of the year’s most striking debuts to date.
War Factory: Transformation, Book Two, by Neal Asher (May 3, Night Shade—Hardcover)
Asher’s second Transformation book is just as dark, complicated, and sprawling as the first. Thorvald Spear pursues the deadly rogue artificial intelligence Penny Royal, but the AI continues to pull strings in the background, transforming the alien Prador Sverl into a human and apparently working tirelessly to prevent a war between humanity and the Prador. Asher’s true triumph is his rendering of an AI as a truly alien intelligence, at once comprehensible and distinctly inhuman. The story twists and turns in surprising ways as it explores an deeply imagined universe in which AIs, humans, and alien beings plot, and fight, and take unexpected actions. Penny Royal and another AI, the Brockle, form a fascinating pair as Cvorn, Sverl’s son, comes to distrust his transforming father’s new affection for humans, thickening the plot and dragging readers deeper into Asher’s dark vision.
World of Warcraft: Ultimate Visual Guide, Updated and Expanded, by DK Publishing (May 3, DK—Hardcover)
Anyone who’s played World of Warcraft knows the addictive allure of its setting, lushly visualized and incredibly complex. This beautiful visual guide explores the people, places, and creatures of this vast universe, alongside a detailed overview of the history and events that have shaped the iconic locations. With 16 brand-new pages of updated information, this is the most complete guide available, a book that will serve as a vital reference tome and a beautiful object of art.
This post was published simultaneously on the B&N Sci-fi and Fantasy Blog.