Sunday, July 21, 2024

These are the best new science fiction books to read this June 2024 -Dlight News

There is a wealth of great new science fiction out this June, with all tastes catered for. Want a wild ride to stop a volcano erupting and ending the world? The late Michael Crichton (and his collaborator James Patterson) have it nailed. Want a robot finding his way in the world? Head for Adrian Tchaikovsky and his robot servant Charles. Climate dystopia, poetically rendered? Turn to Roz Dineen.

I am also delighted to see a smattering of space-opera romances, from authors including Emily Hamilton and Rebecca Fraimow – hurrah for some light-heartedness in our sci-fi. That light-heartedness is  exactly what we are currently enjoying at the New Scientist Book Club – sign up, and join us in reading Martha Wells’s wonderful All Systems Red, the first in her Murderbot series.

But back to June, where I have also cunningly managed to shoehorn in a mention of one of my top dystopian reads of all time, the criminally overlooked A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher.

Crichton, who gave us novels including Jurassic Park (great fun) and State of Fear (less so), died in 2008. Eruption has thus been finished by the prolific James Patterson, taking a break from his usual collaborations with the likes of former US presidents and Dolly Parton.

The premise: the Big Island of Hawaii is about to be hit by a mega volcanic eruption. Unfortunately for the world, the US military chose to hide some very dangerous substances right by the volcano, and if their containers are broken, we are all going to die.

I have found the book silly but fast-moving and fun so far. Emily H. Wilson, our esteemed sci-fi columnist, was less enamoured (“The only mystery is: will these cardboard-thin characters be successful in their logistical efforts?” she wrote, in her May sci-fi column). Perhaps I am just a sucker for rugged volcanologists battling with lava flows, but I am enjoying this absurd quest to save the world for now.

This is the second book of the year from the prolific Tchaikovsky, after Alien Clay. This time we are following the story of robot servant Charles, who is loyal to a fault until a malfunction causes him to murder his owner, and he sets out into the wider world. Tchaikovsky is an author our sci-fi columnist Emily H. Wilson describes as “a huge talent, writing at the peak of his powers”; she loved this latest.

Four twenty-somethings are investigating an old spaceship when the “stupid dark matter engine” starts on its own, and they find themselves on a one-way trip to Proxima Centauri. This is described as a mix of space odyssey and Sapphic romcom, and it sounds like just the sort of light-hearted read I need to read by the pool. The comparisons being made to the brilliant Becky Chambers are particularly appealing.

More romance among the stars, as Ruth, a hustler on an interstellar cruise line, is out to get revenge on Esteban, the man who broke her sister’s heart. Ruth’s plan is to make Esteban fall in love with her, then break his heart right back. But then Ruth meets Esteban’s older sister Sol…

I have enjoyed Manda Scott’s novels ever since I discovered her historical Boudica books; her historical spy thriller A Treachery of Spies won the McIlvanney Prize for the Best Scottish Crime Novel of the Year when I judged it in 2019 (it is excellent). So, I am intrigued by this latest offering from a  multi-talented writer – a “visionary thriller” that weaves together “myth, technology and radical compassion” according to its publisher, set in a world at breaking point, but where change is coming.

As a die-hard fan of Diana Gabaldon’s time-travelling Outlander books, this is going to fill the gap nicely as I wait for book 10 (come on Diana…). It is 2005 and Isla is researching her Japanese ancestors when she travels from Scotland to Kagoshima. There, she is thrown through a strange white gate by a typhoon, and finds herself in 1877. There is romance with a samurai and decisions about whether or not to remain in the past. Honestly, this is right up my Jamie Fraser-loving alley. And the time-travel means we can definitely claim it as sci-fi – after all, time may only be an illusion created by quantum entanglement…

Five years after Idrian, an interstellar pirate, ordered a death curse (known as a withering) on Remy’s brother, Remy is out for revenge. He orders a withering on Idrian – only for the curse to rebound onto him. The only way Remy can slow the curse down is to be closer to Idrian, so Remy infiltrates Idrian’s crew, only to discover this pirate is in fact bringing supplies to thousands of innocents. Perhaps he is not as bad as he seems.

This is the latest in a stream of recent stories set in a world facing apocalypse that home in on how one individual faces catastrophe – think the Jodie Comer film The End We Start From, based on Megan Hunter’s 2017 novel, or (one of my all-time favourites) A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher. It is a trope I love and, as a mother of three, I am keen to follow the story of how Cass, raising three children alone in a world on fire as her medic husband serves in a war overseas, sets off from the city for a place of greater safety.

At the end of the 19th century, in a version of our world that is filled with marvels, the only thing that can cross the terrible Wastelands which lie between Beijing and Moscow is the Great Trans-Siberian Express. As a disparate crew step aboard for the journey, something uncontrollable is trying to break in. This is pitched as historical fantasy, but it is also being compared to a “steampunk Solaris” and a “steampunk Piranesi” by early readers, so I think there will be plenty here for sci-fi fans to enjoy.

In this follow-up to Mohamed’s The Annual Migration of Clouds, 19-year-old Reid is travelling through Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, which are ravaged by the climate crisis, as she heads for safety at the fictional Howse University. But when she reaches one of the “domes” – the only places where pre-collapse society survives – she discovers that the inhabitants are holding back resources from the rest of humanity.

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This is the conclusion to O’Keefe’s Devoured Worlds space-opera trilogy, and her characters Naira and Tarquin have found a new home on Seventh Cradle. Unfortunately for them, Naira is seeing visions of a terrible future, while Tarquin discovers a plot to end the universe.

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