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The 12 gripping science fiction and fantasy novels you need to check out this May

The 12 gripping science fiction and fantasy novels you need to check out this May


This month’s picks include stories about AI, interstellar warfare, and a world without prisons

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Photo by Andrew Liptak / The Verge

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Slate’s podcast Slow Burn, an engrossing dive into the Watergate scandal that eventually prompted President Richard Nixon to resign. The series prompted me to pick up a book that has been on my to-read list for nearly four years: Crooked, by Austin Grossman. It’s a book that depicts Nixon’s many flaws against the backdrop of Lovecraftian horror.

Grossman’s novels are compelling in general: Soon I Will Be Invincible is an incredible take on the superhero genre, while You is a much better take on geek nostalgia than Ready Player One ever was. His books deconstruct genre tropes by reexamining them in a new light, and Crooked is no different. It’s a fun, pulpy adventure that you’ll regret procrastinating on. His approach to fiction seems to run in the family: he’s the twin brother of Lev Grossman, whose The Magicians trilogy did something similar with the fantasy genre.

There are plenty more books coming out this month you won’t want to wait to pick up. Here are 12 that caught our eye.

May 1st

Image: Tor

Medusa Uploaded by Emily Devenport

Oichi Angelis is a bionically modified worker on a generation ship called the Olympia, delegated to mundane tasks and rewarded only with meager rations. After the wealthy Executive class she serves killed her parents by destroying the Olympia’s sister ship, she’s bent on revenge. She spends years working her way into the ship’s most vital systems, bonding with the Olympia’s AIs, preparing for an uprising that will upend the Olympia’s rigid social structure.

Read an excerpt.

Black Helicopters by Caitlín R. Kiernan

Kiernan is a prolific master of horror fiction, and in 2014, Black Helicopters earned her the World Fantasy Award for best Novella. She’s since revised the story, which is set in the same world as last year’s Agents of Dreamland. It follows an agent known as Ptolema, who is tasked with investigating a mysterious, otherworldly event occurring off the coast of New England. Publisher’s Weekly says that it’s a “well-wrought dark fantasy struck from the template of the black-ops thriller.”

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

After a massive war, an orphaned girl named Rin surprises everyone when she aces the Empire-wide test known as the Keju. It earns her entry into her world’s elite military school, the Sinegard. It’s a moment that frees her from the constraints of her upbringing, but when she arrives, she finds that she’s an outsider from her lighter-skinned, wealthier classmates. Then she discovers that she has an unusual power, which means she could be the only person who can prevent another devastating war. Publisher’s Weekly says that it’s a “strong and dramatic launch to Kuang’s career.”

Read an excerpt.

Image: Del Rey / Penguin Random House

Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel

The Verge’s Chaim Gartenberg interviewed Neuvel last year when we unveiled the cover for Only Human, this third installment of his Themis Files trilogy. In the trilogy’s first installments, Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods, he revealed the discovery of a hidden, giant robot on Earth — and the aliens that are coming to defeat it. In this final installment, scientist Rose Franklin has worked to master the workings of the robot, and while it has allowed them to fend off a massive attack from said aliens, they are captured in their retreat. Ten years later, Rose returns to find her home planet roiled in another war, the result of the sudden power vacuum left when she vanished. The Verge’s film and television editor Tasha Robinson said that she was impressed at how unsentimental Neuvel is, and likes that he doesn’t “allow readers any sort of safety zone to retreat to.”

May 8th

What Should be Wild by Julia Fine

Maisie Cothay is cursed: if she touches another person, she will either kill or resurrect them (yes, just like in Pushing Daisies). As a result, she’s spent her childhood alone at the edge of a forest, which her father has warned her not to enter, warning of its long history of disappearances. But when he himself vanishes, she ventures in to find him, and in doing so, must come to terms with her mysterious powers and her own ancestry. Kirkus Reviews says that the “poise and skill with which the story unfolds is an undeniable pleasure.”

Blood Orbit by K.R. Richardson

In this science fiction noir, a newly minted cop named Eric Matheson is stationed on the corporation-controlled world Gattis, and becomes entangled in a murder investigation. He’s partnered with the cybernetically enhanced Inspector J. P. Dillal, and together they find a conspiracy that will expose some of the planet’s deepest secrets that could cost thousands of lives — even their own. Publisher’s Weekly says that the story isn’t terribly surprising, but that the “storytelling is outstanding.”

Afterwar by Lilith Saintcrow

Set in an alternate United States, the country has undergone a devastating second Civil War. The conflict is coming to a close, and the nation’s rebuilding is underway. But that reconstruction will be challenging, as the country and its population works out just how to reunify after so many years of division.

Read an excerpt.


Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

I really loved Martha Wells’ novella All Systems Red, the first installment of her Murderbot series. Last fall, we revealed the cover for the next installment, Artificial Condition, in which Wells noted we can expect to learn more about the world and of Murderbot’s past. In this story, Murderbot heads back to the mining facility where it first went rogue; it’ll find something that changes the way it looks at the world. Locus Magazine reviewer Liz Bourke says that it’s “perfectly paced, and Wells brings both a strong sense of humour and deep pathos to Murderbot’s character and to their voice.”

Read an excerpt.

May 15th

The Soldier by Neal Asher

With The Soldier, Asher begins a new trilogy, Rise of the Jain, set in his vast Polity universe. A solar system designed by a long-dead civilization known as the Jain borders the Polity, a civilization of human-held worlds and the Prador kingdom, a civilization of crab-like aliens. Neither have or want control of the Jain system, and they’ve placed a part-AI sentinel called Orlandine to watch over it. But there are other parties seeking out some of the powerful technology from the system to launch an attack against the Polity. Publisher’s Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that “Asher’s work continues to combine the best of advanced cybertech and military SF.”

Image: Penguin Randomhouse

Ascendant by Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell continues his new Genesis Fleet series with Ascendant, which follows former fleet officer Rob Geary and former Marine Mele Darcy as they work to protect the blockaded world of Glenlyon. Tensions stemming from earlier battles are still on the rise, and when one of their planet’s warships is destroyed trying to break the planetary blockade, Geary’s flagship Saber is the planet’s only remaining defense. When a diplomatic mission is dispatched to a star known as Kosatka, he’s sent along for protection. But when Kosatka is invaded by a “peacekeeping force,” he’ll have to decide whether or not to stand with the Kosatkans.

Read an excerpt.

May 22nd

84K by Claire North

In the future, there are no prisons, and no human rights. The Criminal Audit Office determines the cost of each crime, and determines how the debt to society is best paid. If you can afford to pay the fine, you can get away with anything. Theo works for the CAO, and when he finds the body of Dani Cumali, her price is £84,000. The killer has already confessed, but he is determined to dig more deeply, and make those responsible pay for more than what’s on the balance sheet. Says Kirkus Reviews: “North is an original and even dazzling writer, and fans of her work will enjoy this grim tale of capitalism taken to a terrifying extreme.”

Read an excerpt.

May 25th

Twelve Tomorrows edited by Wade Roush

Since 2011, MIT Technology Review has produced a series of special issues called Twelve Tomorrows. The issues — all proper science fiction anthologies — contain 12 exciting, thought-provoking stories about technology and the near future world. This year’s issue contains an incredible lineup of authors, including Elizabeth Bear, Liu Cixin, Ken Liu, Nnedi Okorafor, Malka Older, Alastair Reynolds, and many others, which makes this a really appealing read.