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16 science fiction and fantasy books to read this September

16 science fiction and fantasy books to read this September


Robots, magicians, and the making of Blade Runner

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I took a short vacation to Maine recently, and ended up blowing through Deliliah S. Dawson’s new Star Wars novel Phasma. It’s one of a few recent books exploring the darker side of the franchise, along with Battlefront II: Inferno Squad and Thrawn. Given that one of my regular hobbies is dressing up like a Star Wars villain, this has special appeal to me, but it’s also a good read in its own right — you can read my full review here.

All three of these novels ask you to empathize with characters on the wrong side of Star Wars history: fan-favorite General Admiral Thrawn, upcoming Battlefront II soldier Iden Versio, and First Order enforcer Captain Phasma. They poke a hole in Star Wars’ usual good-versus-evil story, showing that its villains can be more complex than they seem — even if we don’t end up rooting for them, they become more than cartoon foils for the heroes.

But Phasma is just one of the many interesting books coming out this month. Here are 17 that caught our eyes.

September 5th

Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone

Ruin of Angels is a sort of relaunch to Max Gladstone’s fantastic Craft Sequence, an urban fantasy series set in an alternate world where magic is treated more like law than something mystical. Here, priestess / investment banker Kai Pohala visits a fantastical megacity called Agdel Lex to see her estranged sister, Ley. She discovers that Ley is at the center of a sketchy business deal, and is on the run from the law. But Ley has her own agenda, which involves a heist that could free the city from its oppressive officials. The book earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, saying that “Gladstone packs a lot into his tale,” and that “longtime readers may find some of his choices surprising.” If you’re curious, you can read more in an excerpt we published earlier this year.

The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones

In the near future, the United States is infested by deadly, disease-carrying ticks that forcing its citizens to live behind rings of scorched Earth, called salt lines, which few venture beyond. Some adrenaline junkies break this rule, and one particular expedition finds itself targeted by an outlying community that is determined to preserve its existence. Kirkus Reviews gave the novel a starred review, describing it as having “darkly clever worldbuilding [that] creates a nightmare that seems far from unthinkable.”

Hainish Novels and Stories, Vol. 1 and 2 by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin has created some of science fiction’s most beloved masterpieces, including many short stories and novels set in a massive shared universe called the Hainish Cycle. The Library of America has put together a two-volume collection that encompasses the entire series, and it includes classics such as The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, Roccanon’s World, and The Word for World is Forest, alongside essays, introductions, and more.

MJ-12: Shadows by Michael J. Martinez

Last year, Michael Martinez released MJ-12: Inception, an early-Cold War thriller where governments use super-powered spies called Variants. The Barnes & Noble Sci-fi & Fantasy Blog noted that it was an excellent start to a series, which now continues with MJ-12: Shadows. It’s set several years later in 1949, and as the US is interfering with a Syrian independence movement, an unknown threat could be poised to unveil the Variants’ program. It could be coming from the Soviet Union... or somewhere far worse.

Sourdough: A Novel by Robin Sloan

Robin Sloan published his first novel, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, to great acclaim back in 2012. His next book is Sourdough, which follows a software engineer named Lois Clary who works at a San Francisco robotics company. Her only human contact is with two brothers who run a small restaurant in her neighborhood. When they’re deported, they give her their possibly sentient sourdough bread starter, imploring her to keep it alive. Lois starts by baking for her co-workers, but then, she finds a secret underground farmer’s market that combines old-school cuisine and modern technology. It’s an optimistic look at how Silicon Valley culture can dig into traditional fields like baking.

The Glass Town Game by Catherynne Valente

In this young-adult fiction take on the Brontë sisters, fictional versions of Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne escape from their miserable world with a game that they invented called Glass Town — where their toy soldiers fight Napoleon, and nobody dies. When Charlotte and Emily are sent to a harsh boarding school, they find themselves whisked away to a real Glass Town that’s stranger than the one they invented.

The stakes are high here: the soldiers they command can die, and when Anne and Branwell are kidnapped, it’s up to Charlotte and Emily to stand up to the Napoleonic army, save their sisters, and escape to England. Kirkus Reviews gave the book a starred review, saying that it’s a must-read for Brontë fans and newcomers alike.

September 12th

Image: John Joseph Adams Books / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Retrograde by Peter Cawdron

Humanity has established a colony on Mars, deep under the surface of the planet’s crust. The thrill of landing on a new planet has worn off for the members of the Endeavour colony as they go about their scientific mission. They’re completely prepared to handle disasters, but when war breaks out on Earth, the international crew finds their loyalties tested as they figure out what happened back at home, and how to move forward.

An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King

In the year 2030, China faces a problem: there are 40 million single men without wives, a result of the country’s one-child policy. One man, Wei-guo, has diligently worked into his forties to save enough for a matchmaker to help him join a family as a third husband. When he’s matched with May-ling and her two existing husbands, he finds a family that he can imagine spending the rest of his life with. However, he faces the realities of a complete surveillance state, and the peculiar living situation of his impending marriage between three men and a woman.

Future Noir Revised & Updated Edition: The Making of Blade Runner by Paul M. Sammon

Blade Runner 2049 is one of our most anticipated films of the year, and to commemorate its release, Paul M. Sammon is re-releasing his definitive behind-the-scenes book from 1996. Future Noir delves into the production and making of the film, as well as how it became a cult phenomenon. This new edition features some new information about the upcoming film and new interviews with the people behind this year’s sequel.

September 19th

Image: Tor Books

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

You probably know the name Annalee Newitz from the website that she founded, io9. She’s also gained acclaim as a short story author, and Autonomous is her debut novel. in 2144, it follows Jack, an anti-patent drug pirate who smuggles cheap pharmaceuticals to people who can’t afford them. After her is a military agent named Eliasz, and his robotic partner, Paladin, who are trying to stop information about one of Jack’s drugs from getting out. Publisher’s Weekly gave the book a rave review, saying that it’s a phenomenal debut that is a “sincere [exploration] of free will, social accountability, corporate morality, and scientific responsibility.”

Null States by Malka Older

I really enjoyed Malka Older’s debut novel Infomocracy last year, finding it to be an intriguing thriller about a future election. Null States picks up after the major, controversial election that surprised the world in that first book, and follows the new majority government as it works to establish itself. However, problems begin to arise, with assassinations and major parties working to bring the microdemocracy movement to an end, potentially undoing three decades of peaceful transition, all while a plot threatens to take down the non-partisan social service known as Information, which keeps news and information flowing around the world.

September 26th

Slayers & Vampires: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized History of Buffy & Angel by Edward Gross & Mark Altman

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which has prompted authors Edward Gross and Mark Altman to take a definitive look back at the series in a new oral history project.

Gross and Altman were the authors behind last year’s Fifty-Year Mission, a two-volume set that chronicled the history of Star Trek, and this new history to be an interesting look at the show, with interviews from the likes of Joss Whedon, James Marsters, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and many, many more.

Image: Saga Press

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard

In an alternate New York City, magic reigns supreme, but it’s managed by a cabal of ancient houses. There’s a competition called the Turning, in which magical houses compete to become the head of the Unseen World. One exiled son of House Prospero aims to found his own house, and recruits an unusually talented magician named Sydney to fight for him. She has plans of her own, however: disrupt and destroy the system that controls the city.

Provenance by Ann Leckie

Ann Leckie made a name for herself a couple of years ago when she published her debut novel, Ancillary Justice, and its followups, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy. While she wrapped that story up in three books, she’s now back with a standalone novel set in the same world, Provenance, about a young woman named Ingray Aughskold, who goes to great lengths to recover a prized artifact for her people, and to free a thief from an inescapable prison planet. Kirkus Reviews describes the book as a “deeply personal story” set against the backdrop of the world first seen in the Ancillary novels, and Motherboard has an excerpt.

Horizon by Fran Wilde

Fran Wilde first introduced readers to her Bone Universe trilogy with Updraft, a coming-of-age tale about a teenage girl named Kirit who lives in a fantastical city of bone towers. She continued the trilogy with Cloudbound, picking up the story of Kirit’s wing brother Naton, as he discovers more secrets about the city they inhabit. The trilogy comes to a conclusion with Horizon. The living city is coming apart, and Kirit and Nat are at odds with one another after a rebellion tore them apart. As the city crumbles, they need to learn how to trust each other in order to save their families and community from destruction.

The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune by JY Yang

Some authors have a debut book. JY Yang is releasing a pair of them: twin novellas set in the same world, which can be read in either order. The two novellas follow Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of Protector Sanao who are trying to find their place in a fantastic, steampunk-styled world known as Ea.

The Red Threads of Fortune is focused on Akeha, who has the ability to see the strings of power that motivate adults, and visions of possible futures. Mokoya sees visions of the future as it will be, and is the lead character in The Black Tides of Heaven. While Akeha falls in with rebels known as The Machinists, Mokoya has been broken by the loss of her daughter, and embarks on her own journey, drawn into a conspiracy that forces her to contend with her gifts and what she has to lose. Publisher’s Weekly gave The Black Tides of Heaven a starred review, saying that “Yang captures an epic sweep in compact, precise prose,” and that The Red Threads of Fortune “authentically depicts trauma and lays promising groundwork for future books in the series.”