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.
Rewrite: Loops in the Timescape, by Gregory Benford
(November 6, Saga Press—Hardcover)
Nearly 40 years after the publication of his Nebula Award-winning time travel novel Timescape, veteran author Gregory Benford (who is also a winner of two Hugo Awards and a John W. Campbell Award, and is also a professor of physics and a noted academic) has penned a new book in the spirit of that landmark temporal adventure. In 2002, a history professor named Charlie is dealing with mid-life despair when he’s involved in a terrible car accident. He wakes up in 1968, in his own 16-year old body, and discovers he has somehow traveled back in time and been given the chance to do everything over again. Charlie does what anyone would—he uses what he knows about future history to game the system, and becomes a huge success in the world of motion pictures. When he dies again, he finds himself back in 1968—and realizes he’s not the only “reincarnate” living on a loop and able to change history. Charlie realizes his purpose isn’t to perfect his own life, but to alter the history of 1968 in a very specific way—and someone he knows is working against him to make sure he doesn’t succeed. A tense game of temporal chess breaks out as Charlie seeks to fulfill his ultimate destiny.
The Subjugate, by Amanda Bridgeman
(November 6, Angry Robot—Paperback)
Bridgeman made a splash in her native Australia with the Aurealis Award-nominated Aurora space opera series, and caught the eye of Angry Robot Books, which is releasing her newest novel worldwide. With a premise that mixes procedural tropes with plausible near-future tech, The Subjugate certainly seems poised to introduce a host of new readers to the prolific author. A series of brutal murders bring a pair of troubled detectives to a community dominated by The Children of Christ and served by Subjugates—violent criminals who have had their minds “edited” to transform them into calm, peaceful servants. The detectives’ own dark pasts travels with them into the tight-knit religious community, where they discover no shortage of repressed violence and potential motives for the killings in a town populated by supposedly reformed violent criminals.
Someone Like Me, by M.R. Carey
(November 6, Orbit—Hardcover)
Mike “M.R.” Carey, comic book writer extraordinaire (X-Men and The Fantastic Four) and, under a pseudonym, the author of the smash hit The Girl with All the Gifts, delivers a twisty story that straddles the line between SFF and thriller. Liz Kendall is a divorced mother of two who knows she has a mysterious dark side—one so forceful, it’s almost a separate identity, ruthless and violent. One evening she is attacked by her ex-husband, and that other intelligence takes over her body and fights him off, allowing her to escape. Another woman, Fern Watts, has been on serious medication her whole life to combat hallucinations—and even so, she’s accompanied everywhere by her friend Jinx, an imaginary fox. One day Fern, goes to her psychiatrist’s office and encounters Liz—and is pretty certain Liz is her.
An Agent of Utopia, by Andy Duncan
(November 6, Small Beer Press—Paperback)
Andy Duncan is a writer’s SFF writer—his short fiction has earned him a Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Award, and three World Fantasy Awards and won him endless praise from genre giants like Gardner Dozois, Nancy Kress, Michael Swanwick, and Jonathan Strahan. Now, Small Beer press has assembled his most noteworthy stories—along with two new tales—into a wildly varied and consistently brilliant collection drawing from tall tales and legends of old, and featuring a Utopian assassin, an aging UFO contactee, a haunted Mohawk steelworker, a yam-eating zombie, Harry Houdini, Thomas Moore, and more.
Breach, by W.L. Goodwater
(November 6, Ace—Paperback)
Stories mixing magic into the politics of the Cold War era have become something of a rend as of late, and W.L. Goodwater’s debut is a worthy addition to the subgenre. Karen O’Neil is a scientist and a magician who, despite a prejudice against the supernatural, eagerly volunteers when the State Department seeks her help investigating a breach in the Berlin Wall, which, in this alternate reality, is an arcane barrier that not a city but the entire world. As Karen hunts down the truth behind the wall’s construction and attempts to uncover its true purpose, she faces a wealth of opposition, both from run of the mill political maneuvering and spies, saboteurs, and maybe even magic itself working against her from the shadows.
Terminus, by Tristan Palmgren
(November 6, Angry Robot—Paperback)
Tristan Palmgren wowed us earlier this year with his debut novel, Quietus, which told the story of a transdimensional anthropologist sent to our Earth’s middle ages to observe the Black Death, who meddled with the true course of history by saving a doomed man. The sequel finds that traveler’s transdimensional empire in collapse, with the planarship Ways and Means hiding in the middle ages after ending the plague and various agents of the old order scattered across our world like fallen embers, each pursuing their own agenda. As Ways and Means and its agent Osia continue to meddle in the past, the ripples of changed history become more and more prominent, and an Italian soldier named Fiametta raises an army in revolt against the powers that be that threatens to change everything.
The Arrival of Missives, by Aliya Whiteley
(November 6, Titan Books—Paperback)
Whiteley, twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, is best known for her short fiction, including the two novellas published in the single volume The Beauty in early 2018. The Arrival of Missives (originally released in England in 2016) is her third novel, and its arrival in the States only serves to prove the British writer is just as skilled working in a longer form. In a future England recovering from a horrific world war, Shirley Fearn is a girl on the verge of adulthood. Educated far beyond the norm for women in her village, she is all scorn and pride, and completely unaware of how trapped she is by the sexism and traditions she scoffs at. When a handsome new teacher, injured and broken in the war, catches her eye, she indulges in romantic fantasies until the true nature of his injury—and what’s keeping him alive—is fully revealed.
They Promised Me The Gun Wasn’t Loaded, by James Alan Gardner
(November 6, Tor Books—Paperback)
Hugo and Nebula nominee James Alan Gardner delivers a terrific sequel to last year’s hilarious superhero romp All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault. The story is set just days after four college kids led by a woman named Jools gained extra-normal abilities in a world where Darklings—basically, monsters—have suddenly appeared. Jools and her friends are still arguing over what their superhero group’s name should be when they’re tasked with tracking down a doomsday weapon developed by a insane genius—despite the fact that no one’s quite sure what the weapon does. When she meets a group of superpowered Robin Hoods, Joola joins in with the merriment, but soon finds herself questioning the morality of supers in a mundane world.
The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, by J.R.R. Tolkien
(November 7, Mariner Books—Paperback)
The fictional universe of The Lord of the Rings got a little bit larger this year, a lasting testament to the power and influence of Tolkien’s epic. But even longtime fans may not be aware of Tolkien’s other works of fiction, many of which eventually folded into aspects of Middle-earth history and mythology—especially because some of it has been out of print for decades. Originally written in 1930 and published in 1945, The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun is inspired by the Celtic myths and legends Tolkien was working on in his early career. This edition, edited by the author’s son Christopher, includes additonal poems and supporting reference material that seeks to place it into context in the elder Tolkien’s career. Now available in paperback, this volume offers a glimpse into the real-world inspirations that Tolkien synthesized into the most famous epic fantasy of all time—the story of a childless lord who makes a tragic deal with a witch in order to secure an heir, and is then forced to make a terrible choice.
The Long Price Quartet, by Daniel Abraham
(November 13, Tor Books—Paperback)
A decade ago, Daniel Abraham, one half of the pseudonym James S.A. Corey (The Expanse novels and TV series) and a frequent collaborator of George R.R. Martin’s, quietly began one of the most complex and emotionally affecting epic fantasies of the 21st century with The Long Price Quartet. The series garnered critical accolades but remained under the radar and criminally underrated (the fourth volume was never even released in paperback). That will hopefully change with the release of this omnibus edition, including all four volumes of the series, each of which tells a standalone story that is connected to the others in ways that surprise and satisfy as the narrative jumps forward in time: the main characters are teenagers in book one, then adults, then middle-aged, and finally elderly; characters born in one book appear as major players in later chapters. Set in a universe where so-called “poets” are able to shape concepts into physical reality, a fragile system of city states survives in the wreckage of a once-mighty empire, it’s a remarkably different reading experience than much of epic fantasy. You’ll want to read this massive all-in-one volume all the way through.
Vita Nostra, by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko
(November 13, Harper Voyager—Hardcover)
Marina and Sergey Dyachenko stand with the best writers of fantasy in Russia, but very little of their work has been translated into English. Hopefully, Vita Nostra—which has been hailed as perhaps their greatest work (it was named the best fantasy of the 21st century by the attendees of Eurocon 2008)—will begin to change that. It’s the story of a young girl named Sasha who, after a series of bizarre and disturbing events, is enrolled against her will in the mysterious Institute of Special Technologies, where she will learn a very peculiar sort of magic—think philosophy and linguistics rather than spells and wands. Hogwarts this isn’t—the Institute is a cold, austere place, and Sasha’s exploration of magic offers all the charm of cramming for a post-grad final—but the novel somehow makes her coursework thrum with the drive and suspense of a thriller, all the way through the mind-melting ending.
The Winter Road, by Adrian Selby
(November 13, Orbit—Paperback)
Self-professed Tolkien fanatic Adrian Selby’s second novel (after 2016’s Snakewood) is far grimmer than anything you’ll find in Middle-earth. It’s the story of Teyr Amondsen, a warrior without a home leading a band of mercenaries protecting a merchant caravan. They’re headed into the Circle, a wilderness of eternally warring clans, in order to establish a trade route that could bring peace and prosperity to the land. The soldiers use a variety of plant-based substances to enhance their fighting abilities—and they’ll need every one of them, as a new warlord has begun uniting previously independent clans, making Teyr’s noble goal of taming the wild seems perpetually just out of her grasp.
Bedfellow, by Jeremy C. Shipp
(November 13, Tor.com Publishing—Paperback)
Acclaimed horror writer Jeremy C. Ship offers up another slice of his dark imagination in this short novel, which charts the slow decline of a family forced to learn to live with the strange, human-shaped thing in a Space Jam t-shirt that settles into their home and refuses to leave. At first, the intruder terrifies the Lund family—but the creature seems to have the power to edit memories; as soon as the family has accepted him as a homeless man who saved their son from choking as they dined at a restaurant, he becomes a friend from work, a distant relative, even father Hendrick Lund’s twin brother. As the invading entity works to complete his own special project in the Lund’s spare bedroom, he continues to manipulate their minds, using their worst fears and misdeed against them. Shipp constructs a constantly self-editing narrative that is all the more compelling for its shifting strangeness.
Empire of Sand, by Tasha Suri
(November 13, Orbit—Paperback)
Tasha Suri draws on the history of the Mughals in her debut novel, set in the fictional Ambhan Empire. Mehr is the unacknowledged daughter of the governor of Irinah, an Amrithi descended from spirits. The Amrithi are outcasts, both desired and feared. Mehr is protected by her status until she performs magic, drawing the attention of the ancient, immortal founder of the empire and his disciples (known as the Maha), and leading to a forced marriage aimed at ensuring the dominance of the empire and the immortality of the Maha. Trapped by a suffocating social system and her own dire importance to the established order, Mehr must use her intelligence and courage to survive—and avoid waking the vengeful gods themselves.
The Sky-Blue Wolves, by S. M. Stirling
(November 13, Ace—Hardcover)
S.M. Stirling reaches a milestone with The Sky-Blue Wolves, the 15th book in his Emberverse series, the concluding book of the sub-series that began with The Golden Princess, and the final book of the Change, which encompasses some 18 novels and yet more short stories. We’re now decades past the titular Change that caused all electronics and most machines to stop working, and the world has become a very different place than it was, with redrawn borders and new powers to covet and fear. Crown Princess Órlaith Mackenzie struggles to preserve the peace her father the High King forged in the Western United States. With her ally Empress Reiko of Japan, she takes on the Yellow Raja, who have kidnapped her brother Prince John, and will have to face the Sky-Blue Wolves streaming out of Mongolia, riding under the ancient flag of Genghis Khan and seeking to conquer the world entire.
Creatures of Want and Ruin, by Molly Tanzer
(November 13, Mariner Books—Paperback)
Molly Tanzer does it all; from her debut novel, named best book of 2015 by i09, to the “thoughtful erotica” she edits at her magazine, Congress, she’s proven to be one of the most distinct voices in contemporary SFF. Her followup to last year’s Creatures of Will and Temper mixes a dash of F. Scott Fitzgerald and a shake of H.P. Lovecraft into something wholly original. It’s the Prohibition Era. Ellie West engages in bootlegging in a desperate bid to pay her bills, and winds up acquiring some extremely unusual moonshine, which she brings to a party thrown by the out-of-her-depth socialite Delphine Coulthead. The supernatural liquor—brewed from poisonous mushrooms by a cult of devil worshippers— triggers horrifying, realistic visions of destruction, and hinting at the cult’s plans to drag the world back to “the good old days.” Delphine and Ellie must work together to figure out what’s real, what’s not, and what it all means. When the cult’s actions become extremely personal for Ellie, the stakes rise accordingly, as Tanzer balances wink-wink references to contemporary politics with pulpy tropes and solid storytelling.
Lies Sleeping, by Ben Aaronovitch
(November 20, DAW—Hardcover)
Former Doctor Who writer Ben Aaronovitch returns with his seventh book in the Rivers of London supernatural procedural series, in which London police officer Peter Grant—the first apprentice magician in decades—deals with unimaginable magical threats. The most recent (and dangerous) of those is the Faceless Man, a rogue magician finally unmasked and, now, on the run. Grant has been charged with the final capture of the villain—real name, Martin Chorley—but as Grant pursues him and pieces together Chorley’s endgame, ancient artifacts begin to go missing. Seems the Faceless Man is trying bring King Arthur back to life, despite the fact that he’s largely fictional. Hilarious as always, Aaronovitch’s rich worldbuilding rewards longtime fans with subtle nods to previous adventures, as Grant struggles to figure out the motive behind Chorley’s mad plan—and deal with the fact that his foe’s apprentice is Grant’s former partner.
City of Broken Magic, by Mirah Bolender
(November 20, Tor Books—Paperback)
Bolender’s debut, part of Tor’s #FearlessWomen campaign, lives up to its killer elevator pitch—The Hurt Locker meets dangerous magical artifacts. It’s set in the island nation of Amicae, where society is organized along class and status in a strict caste system that even governs where you are allowed live. Centuries ago, ancient magi created a terrible weapon that consumed magic—and led to infestations of waves of monsters that would endanger the entire world if not dealt with. Only the non-magical Sweepers are capable of containing these outbreaks, but there are precious few of them left, and training new recruits tends to result in more fatalities than not. Clae and her new apprentice Laura are among the last Sweepers standing, and among the few who know that despite the government’s assurances that these infestations are no threat, the city is at a crisis point. The pair must battle monsters, criminals, and their own hierarchal society in order to do their jobs in this series starter, a compelling blend of worldbuilding and fast-paced procedural storytelling.
Firefly—Big Damn Hero, by James Lovegrove, from a story by Nancy Holder
(November 20, Titan Books—Hardcover)
If you’re a fan of Firefly—perhaps the greatest one-season TV series of all time—you’re excited for any new sign of Mal Reynolds and the crew of Serenity. Big Damn Hero, written by James Lovegrove (The Age of Ra) from a story by veteran Buffy tie-in scribe Nancy Holder, marks the start of a new, officially canonized line of novels, conceived with the input of Joss Whedon. Mal finds himself defending his war record when he’s kidnapped by a group of angry Browncoats convinced he was to blame for their betrayal at the Battle of Serenity Valley, the climatic siege that led to the Independents’ ultimate defeat by The Alliance. As his friends scramble to locate him, Mal has to defend himself against the charges, even as he is forced to admit that someone on his side was definitely guilty of treason.
Fire and Blood: 300 Years Before A Game of Thrones (A Targaryen History), by George R.R. Martin
(November 20, Bantam—Hardcover)
George R.R. Martin delivers a treat for fans of A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones alike, even if it’s not exactly the one they were hoping for. The first volume in a detailed history of House Targaryen, who three hundred years before the events of the books conquered Westeros’ seven kingdoms with a little help from their dragons, offers us a full portrait of ancient history heretofore only hinted at, including what exactly compromised the so-called Doom of Valyria. Like the backstories doled out in The World of Ice & Fire, these tales are shared in the manner of a real historical text rather than a straight-ahead novel, but the effect is no less engrossing. The book also contains more than 80 new illustrations from Doug Wheatley, who brings Martin’s grim universe to vivid life. As we wait for the final season of the HBO series, not to mention that long-anticipated sixth book, this deep dive into Westerosi history is the perfect balm.
Dragonshadow, by Elle Katharine White
(November 20, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
White’s 2017 debut, Heartstone, fused epic fantasy with the manners of Jane Austen so perfectly, she basically created a whole new sub-genre. The sequel picks up the charm offensive where the first book left off: Aliza Bentaine, dragonrider and recent bride, hopes she can forget the dragon battles she’s fought and enjoy her newlywed status—but rumors of a monster attacking Castle Selwyn soon lead to a summons from Lord Selwyn. Aliza, Alastair, and their dragon Akarra are soon headed back into the fray, pursued by an ancient evil, as Aliza begins to realize the battle she’d hoped was over was simply the beginning of a war.
Bright Light: Star Carrier: Book Eight, by Ian Douglas
(November 27, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
Ian Douglas delivers the exciting eighth installment of the Star Carrier series. Trevor Gray has been stripped of his command—beached. As humanity faced certain defeat against an invading alien force with technology and firepower superior to anything Earth can summon, Gray threw in his lot with the artificial intelligence known as Konstantin—but the gamble didn’t pay off, and now he’s become a bystander to humanity’s last stand. At least until the second part of Konstantin’s plan kicks in, and Gray suddenly finds himself tapped to travel to the distant star Deneb, where he’ll use the use the advanced AI Bright Light’s help to contact another alien race—and perhaps find a way to stave off disaster for the human race.
How Long ‛til Black Future Month?, by N.K. Jemisin
(November 27, Orbit—Hardcover)
N.K. Jemisin solidified her place as one of the most important SFF writers of the 21st century with her third consecutive Hugo win for The Stone Sky earlier this year. With her next novel still a year away, it’s a perfect time to explore the true breadth of her talent, which comes through to grand effect in her first collection of short fiction. The highlight is the Hugo-nominated ‛The City Born Great,” the biography of a living city and the basis for the aforementioned next book, but there is much more to savor in these 22 tales. Jemisin is an essential voice in modern-day SFF; she writes both as a fan—her story “The Ones Who Stay and Fight,” for example, was penned as a direct response to Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”—and for fans—there’s a new story here set within the universe of the Broken Earth trilogy. Essential.
Infernal Machines, by John Hornor Jacobs
(November 28, Gollancz—Paperback)
John Hornor Jacobs delivers the third and concluding book in his Incorruptibles trilogy, an under-the-radar gem that deserves discovery by many more readers. Shoe and Fisk, mercenaries in a world that combines fantasy, ancient Rome, and the Wild West, find themselves dealing with an emperor sliding into insanity; an invasion by an overwhelming enemy force; and Livia Cornelius, highborn lady of Rume and mother of Fisk’s child—who he has never seen. Fisk is determined to find his way to them, even if it means crossing battlefields and front lines. We’re mystified as to why these books haven’t caught on—Chuck Wendig brilliant billed them as The Lord of the Rings meets The Gunslinger, a description as accurate as it is irresistible—but hopefully that will change now that you can binge them all, one after another.