For 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 best science fiction & fantasy books.
Brief Cases, by Jim Butcher
(June 5, Ace—Hardcover)
Butcher offers up 12 stories set in the world of Harry Dresden, wizard and private investigator working an alternate, magic-filled Chicago. Several stories follow Harry’s adventures with River Shoulders, a smart sasquatch with a half-human son. Others involve Harry’s apprentice Molly Carpenter, crime boss John Marcone, and even Wyatt Earp. The novella “Zoo Day” follows Harry as he takes his young daughter Maggie to the zoo—and since this is Harry Dresden, you know there’s more in store than daddy/daughter bonding. Dresden fans may have encountered some of these stories before, but rereading them in this collection, alongside one all-new tale, should help ease the pain for waiting for Harry’s next novel-length adventure.
Free Chocolate, by Amber Royer
(June 5, Angry Robot—Paperback)
In the distant future, Earth is part of a larger universe of alien civilizations, valued for the one thing that we can supply that no other planet can: chocolate. In order to protect our sole valuable export, chocolate plantations are heavily guarded, and theft is swiftly punished—bad news for Bo Benitez, who’s just been caught trying to steal a cacao pod. Jumping onto an unmarked alien ship to escape the police, she’s believes she’s safe—only to discover the vessel is crewed by beings known for eating stowaways. Hunky aliens, a universe that prizes chocolate above all else, and a smart heroine on the run are the key ingredients in this sweet sci-fi adventure, equal parts space opera and soap opera.
Star Trek: Discovery—Fear Itself, by James Swallow
(June 5, Pocket Books—Paperback)
Set in the Star Trek: Discovery series, Swallow’s story focuses on Lieutenant Saru, a Starfleet Officer on the U.S.S. Shenzhou. Saru was born into a prey species, hunted on his native planet by a horde of fierce and terrifying predators; his psychology is thus defined largely by fear. Saru intends to rise above his base nature, but his fierce efforts to prove to both himself and his shipmates crew is more than his genes suggest leads him to act recklessly when the Shenzhou picks up a distress call. Saru soon finds himself in an uncomfortable command position, caught between two alien forces and his own duty as an officer. Discovery has breathed new life into a 50-year-old franchise, and this tie-in will hold you over until the next season begins streaming.
A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising, by Raymond A. Villareal
(June 5, Mulholland Books—Hardcover)
Vampires have come to the United States—and they expect their civil rights to be respected. Lauren Scott, a CDC virologist, is called to Arizona to investigate a corpse with unusual bruising and contusions—but the body is missing when she arrives. A fresh corpse with the same injuries confirms her suspicions: vampires, known as gloamings, are on U.S. soil. Scott finds herself paired with FBI agent Hugo Zumthor and Father John Reilly of the Catholic Church in the struggle against a rising wave of vampiric transformations—and as more and more people are turned, the question of whether or not vampires and humans can coexist becomes more than theoretical.
Starless, by Jacqueline Carey
(June 12, Tor Books—Hardcover)
The author of the beloved Kushiel novels returns to epic fantasy with a whole new adventure. Chosen at birth to be a shadow—one bonded to the Sun-Blessed Princess Zariya of the House of the Ageless, and sworn to protect her—Khai has spent his whole life in the desert, preparing for his role. As his presentation to the princess draws near, however, Khai discovers he is actually bhazim—born genetically female, and raised as a male, even as learns of a prophecy of a fallen god rising in the west, whom the Sun-Blessed is destined to fight. Princess Zariya is determined to fulfill prophecy, despite her frail health, and so must assemble a force of untested defenders to face the awesome power of a risen god—including Khai, must navigate love, friendship, and overwhelming odds to serve his princess and survive.
We Are Where the Nightmares Go and Other Stories, by C. Robert Cargill
(June 12, Harper Voyager—Hardcover)
Novelist and screenwriter Cargill (Sea of Rust, Doctor Strange) assembles a collection of 10 chilling stories, all linked by their fantastic, horrifying premises. The living fend off spirits that wish to take their bodies. The extinction of the dinosaurs leads to a battle with undead alpha predators. A little girl discovers a hidden door in her wall, and going through it, encounters less than wonderful. A would-be terrorist gets a surprising offer just before committing a violent act.
Before the Storm, by Christie Golden
(June 12, Del Rey—Hardcover)
A prequel to the upcoming expansion of the video game World of Warcraft, Golden’s novel is set after the Horde and the Alliance have turned back the Burning Legion. In the battle’s waning moments, the titan Sargeras struck a blow that wounded the heart of Azeroth—and now Azeroth is dying, and a remarkable material known as Azerite is unleashed. Azerite can be used to create or destroy, and the Horde and the Alliance must unite again unlock its secrets use it to heal the world. But Azerite’s power makes betrayal very tempting. Anduin Wrynn, the king of Stormwind, drafts a desperate plan to bring lasting peace—but can the Dark Lady Sylvanas Windrunner, warchief of the Horde, be trusted?
Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee
(June 12, Solaris—Paperback)
Lee brings the Hugo and Nebula award-nominated Machineries of Empire trilogy to its conclusion with a brainy, fast-paced final entry. Shuos Jedao wakes up in the body of a much older man rather than the 17-year old one his memories led him to expect. He’s shocked to discover he’s now a general, commanded by Hexarch Nirai Kujen—a tyrant hiding behind an easy smile—to conquer the haxarchate using an army compelled to obey his every command. Worse—he quickly discovers that the soldiers despise him for a massacre he doesn’t remember committing. Worst—someone is hunting him, seeking to bring him to justice for his crimes. The first two books in the trilogy stretched imaginations and taxed brains, and this one is no different—and no less worth the effort it takes to puzzle it out.
Low Chicago: A Wild Cards Novel, edited by George R.R. Martin
(June 12, Tor Books—Hardcover)
George R.R. Martin’s long-running shared universe series grows larger and weird, as eight authors tackle a new, standalone tale in a universe wherein an alien virus released in 1946 transformed those who were infected and survived into superpowered villains (Jokers), heroes (Aces), or something in-between. After a game of Low Chicago goes horribly wrong, the players are sent hurtling back in time. The Immortal John Nighthawk leads a team sent after them by the time-manipulating Sleeper, seeking to effect a retrieval before history is changed for the worse. Not all of the stranded folks are in a hurry to get back to their own time, however. Written by a bunch of authors who are Aces in their own right—including Saladin Ahmed, Christopher Rowe, and Mary Anne Mohanraj—this one will satisfy longtime readers, but it also works as an introduction to the long-running franchise (which is poised to become a TV series).
The Skaar Invasion, by Terry Brooks
(June 19, Del Rey—Hardcover)
The second installment in the Fall of Shannara quartet, which will end the Shannara saga, picks up with the Druid stronghold of Paranor sent into limbo, and their leader, Drisker Arc, trapped alongside it. Dar Leath, once in charge of protecting Paranor, searches desperately for a way to free Drisker, seeking to locate his apprentice, Tarsha Kaynin—but Leath isn’t the only one searching for Tarsha, and the Skaar aren’t standing idly by while all this happens; Ajin d’Amphere, the Skaar commander, plots to set her opponents against each other, intending to take advantage of the resulting chaos to conquer the Four Lands for herself. Brooks is clearly working hard to make sure the series ends with a bang. This is essential reading for Shannara fans.
The Grey Bastards, by Jonathan French
(June 19, Crown/Archetype—Hardcover)
This deftly plotted and wildly original debut was a self-publishing sensation (winning author Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off contest), and is now aiming for a wider audience with mainstream publication. The titular bastards are a rough-and-ready unit of half-orc warriors, capable fighters who ride wild boars into combat. The Lot Lands lie between the humans (known as frails) and the orcs (known as thicks). Both sides disdain the Grey Bastards as half-breeds. The half-orcs patrol the Lot Lands and protect humans from full-blood orc invasion. Grey Bastard Jackal thinks their leader, Claymaster, is losing his grip—especially when arrival of a wizard the Bastards call Crafty has only exacerbates Claymaster’s strange behavior. When Jackal’s attempted coup fails, he is sent into exile, where he begins to learn the truth about the half-orcs and the border they patrol.
The Thousand Year Beach, by Tobi Hirotaka
(June 19, Haikasoru—Paperback)
The first novel in translation from Japan’s Tobi Hirotaka, a three-time winner of the Seiun Award (often referred to as “the Japanese Hugo”). Costa del Número is a virtual resort, divided into several zones, including the Realm of Summer. Humanity used to find release and rest from a chaotic world among the artificial intelligences in the Realm, but no human has visited in a thousand years. The AIs there have continued to exist in their endless summer, however—until one day, an army of hungry spiders arrives and decimates the Realm in short order. As night falls, the few surviving AIs prepare for a final, hopeless battle against the invaders, uncertain of what’s happening in the real world beyond their virtual one.
The Reign of the Departed, by Greg Keyes
(June 19, Night Shade Books—Paperback)
The first book in the High and Faraway series tells the story of Errol Greyson, who wakes up after a suicide attempt trapped in a wooden body, while his flesh-and-blood one lies in a coma. His spirit has been captured by a woman named Aster Kostyena, who put it into the automaton in order to force Errol to travel to the Kingdoms, a place of magic and mystery, to retrieve a magical elixir that will cure her dying father. Errol’s no fan of this plan, but considering Aster can send his spirit into an eternal nothingness on a whim, he agrees. The pair travel to the Kingdoms, a land of strange beauty and dark terrors, encountering strange allies and dreadful enemies, as Errol begins to wonder if all of it is really happening, or if he’s just losing his grip on his sanity.
The Robots of Gotham, by Todd McAulty
(June 19, John Joseph Adams Books—Hardcover)
When the robopocalypse comes, America tries to resist, outlawing artificial intelligence and going to war with machine-run fascist regimes. America loses. Badly. Suing for peace, The country is partitioned, with huge swaths of territory ruled by implacable machines. Canadian CEO Barry Simcoe is visiting Chicago when his hotel is attacked, plunging him into a war of survival. Stumbling onto a machine plot to unleash a virus that will eliminate problematic humans for once and for all, Simcoe finds himself connecting with the American Resistance, and discovering a secret that could tip the balance of power within this new world order. Debut author McAulty is an expert in machine learning, giving this look into humanity’s dark future a terrifying sense of verisimilitude.
Witchmark, by C.L. Polk
(June 19, Tor.com Publishing—Paperback)
Polk’s debut is set in a universe resembling Edwardian England, except for the fact that in this reality, the elite families that sit atop government and the social order have magical powers as well as political ones. Miles Singer is from just such a family, but when he flees the lap of luxury to join the war effort, he grows disillusioned with the trappings of power, and takes the opportunity to fake his own death and assume a new identity. Posing as a doctor at a failing veterans’ hospital, he sees firsthand how war changes people, never for the good—soldiers are returning from the front plagued by terrible versions, and shortly thereafter, committing terrible acts of violence. When one of his patients is poisoned, Miles not only accidentally reveals his healing powers, he is thrust into a mystery that involves an aloof, beautiful man who is more than human—and who may hold the secret to stopping a brewing inter-dimensional war. This bewitching story of political maneuverings, dangerous magic, and bicycle chases is never less than addictive.
HALO: Bad Blood, by Matt Forbeck
(June 26, Gallery Books—Paperback)
Set in the popular video game universe of Halo, This novel from franchise veteran Matt Forbeck centers on the efforts of Cortana, the artificial intelligence turned malevolent, to destroy the Spartans of Blue Team and Fireteam Osiris in the wake of the battle of Genesis. The Spartans are on the run, and the Office of Naval Intelligence comes up with a secret mission that might change the odds. Spartan Edward Buck is convinced, against his better judgment, to reform his old team, Alpha-Nine—including the one Spartan Buck would prefer to never have to serve next to ever again, someone who betrayed Buck in a way he can’t ever forgive.
Red Waters Rising, by Laura Anne Gilman
(June 26, Saga Press—Paperback)
The final book in The Devil’s West trilogy finds Isobel—the Devil’s Left Hand, charged with helping the powerful but not omnipotent devil make deals and control the roiling, unsettled area west of the Mississippi—and her angelic companion Gabriel arriving at the southern edge of the Territory and the Free City of Red Stick. Red Stick is far from peaceful; homesteaders are crowding the native populations, causing tempers to flare, and an American Fort across the river isn’t helping matters. Worse, there is disease in the city, contributing one more element of chaos to an already roiling situation. Gilman closes out her weird western fable in fine style, with another strongly character-focused story in a setting that would almost be familiar, if it weren’t so fantastically strange.
Awakened, by James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth
(June 26, Harper Voyager—Hardcover)
The law of unintended consequences can be amusing—or terrifying. In a future New York, mayor Tom Cafferty has finally achieved what he hopes will be his legacy: the Z line, a subway linking Manhattan to New Jersey. Three hundred feet underground, a host of VIPs—including the president—join Cafferty to greet the inaugural train, whose passengers include Cafferty’s wife, Ellen. But when the train arrives, it’s a smashed-up, bloodstaine, and empty. The Secret Service invokes extreme measures to protect the president from the perceived terrorist attack, but it soon becomes clear that the drilling and digging has awakened something supernatural—and Cafferty must somehow protect his guests from the unknown while rescuing his wife from something unimaginable.
Summerland, by Hannu Rajaniemi
(June 26, Tor Books—Hardcover)
Like all the best alternate histories, Summerland pivots off of a real-world event: in the midst of inventing radio, Guglielmo Marconi manages to tune into supernatural frequencies. In the alternate world between World Wars that emerges from this strange change, the great powers are managing two spy agencies each—made up of the living and the dead. In England, Rachel White is part of the Winter Court of living spies, and is on the trail of a suspected mole in the Summer Court in the afterlife—known colloquially as Summerland. The dead endlessly complicate history—in Russia, Stalin can’t quite get rid of Lenin, and a fresh colonial age has exploded into the afterlife with unpredictable results. Rajaniemi has written a standalone novel that couldn’t be more different from his celebrated sci-fi novel The Quantum Thief, yet is no less dense, bizarrely original, and imaginative.
Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse
(June 26, Saga Press—Paperback)
Roanhorse’s buzzy debut is set in a post-apocalyptic world comparable to Mad Max: Fury Road in intensity, with worldbuilding drawn from the author’s Indigenous American heritage. In an America devastated by rising sea levels, the Navajo Nation has been reborn as Dinétah—and with it have come the old gods and monsters of Native American legend. Maggie Hoskie is a monster-hunter, gifted with the power to fight and defeat these beasts. Hired by a small town to locate a missing girl, she teams up with a misfit medicine man named Kai Arviso, and the two dive into a mystery that takes them deeper into the dark side of Dinétah than they could have imagined—a world of tricksters, dark magic, and creatures more frightening than any story. This is urban fantasy like you’ve never experienced it before.
Gate Crashers, by Patrick Tomlinson
(June 26, Tor Books—Paperback)
The research vessel Magellan stumbles onto something impossible in the depths of space: an hourglass-shaped object at perfect rest. The discovery not only wakes up the cryogenically-frozen crew, it sparks a crack team of scientists on Earth to figure out it’s a navigational buoy—and might provide clues to humanity’s first hyperspace drive. Politics, budgets, and personalities get in the way—and things only get worse when humanity starts to realize they’re considered primitive and brutish by most of the alien civilizations out there. One group even sees a chance to burnish their own galactic reputation by framing humanity as a genocidal race—just as an overconfident captain of a human warship arrives on the scene to complicate things even further. Tomlinson (The Ark) blends Douglas Adams-style absurdity with a rollicking first contact plot—shelve it between The Hitchhiker’s Guide and Catherynne Valente’s Space Opera.
A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe, by Alex White
(June 26, Orbit—Paperback)
In a past life, Boots Elsworth was a treasure hunter—one of the best. Now past her prime, Boots has been reduced to selling fake information about salvage opportunities and hoping no one comes back for a refund—but then she unexpectedly stumbles onto some real information: the story of what happened to the legendary warship Harrow, one of the most powerful weapons ever created. Nilah Brio was once a famous racer in the Pan Galactic Racing Federation, until she was framed for murder. On the run to prove her innocence, Nilah chases her one lead—the real killer, now hunting someone named Boots Elsworth. When they meet, an uneasy alliance is formed, and the chase for the Harrow—and for justice—is on.