For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been catching up on a book that’s been on my to-read list for a while now: Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear. It came out back in March, and I’m kind of kicking myself for not getting to it earlier. It’s a huge space opera that follows the adventures of two salvage workers and their AI as they discover a fantastical alien ship.
Engineer Halmey Dz is infected with something on board the alien ship, and that paints a target on their back by governments and space pirates. It’s a book that reminds me quite a bit of The Expanse and other recent space operas like R.E. Stearns’ Barbary Station, Mike Brooks’ Keiko trilogy, and Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series.
While I’m enjoying the adventures of the crew and their spaceship, I’m really loving Bear’s approach to the world and the bond that her characters share. Halmey, her pilot Connla, and their AI Singer (as well as their two cats) make for a really intriguing group: friends who care deeply for one another and who hold each other up as they go on the run. I’m looking forward to what the next book brings.
Here are 11 science fiction and fantasy novels coming out in the first half of June that you should check out. Come back later this month for the next list.
Spine of the Dragon by Kevin J. Anderson
Kevin J. Anderson is probably best known for his Dune and Star Wars novels, but with Spine of the Dragon, he kicks off a new epic fantasy series. Long ago, humanity was created to serve the wreths, an inhuman race who later fought an ancient dragon and vanished, leaving Earth to their creations. Centuries later, the wreths reawaken with plans to remake the world in the middle of a bloody war between two human civilizations, which must put aside their differences to face this new threat. Kirkus Reviews says that Anderson “builds momentum with a measured but relentless pace, introducing multiple characters and points of view in different locations and steadily increasing complications with glimpses of plots within plots, motives behind motives, and secrets inside secrets.”
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
Ivy Gamble is an experienced private investigator working out of the Bay Area where she usually handles cases involving infidelity or fraud. But when Marion Torres, the headmaster for a school called the Osthorne Academy for Young Mages, arrives, she’s pulled into an entirely unexpected case: a teacher at the school was brutally murdered. She’s not a fan of magicians (her estranged twin sister works at the school), but she has to pay the bills somehow. As she begins to investigate, she immerses herself in her sister’s world, and as she searches for the killer, she explores her past and the decisions that drove her and her sister apart. Kirkus Reviews says that it’s a “poignant and bittersweet family tragedy disguised as a mystery but with a magic all its own.”
Unraveling by Karen Lord
Right after forensic therapist Dr. Miranda Ecouvo helps with the arrest of a serial killer, she has a near-death experience. It sends her to a place outside of time where she encounters two brothers named Chance and the Trickster, both of whom are interested in her case. It turns out that there’s more to the killer’s murders than she thought, and some shadowy figure is still out there trying to achieve immortality. Publishers Weekly says that “readers drawn to Miranda and her story will find that the effort it takes to untangle Lord’s puzzle is well repaid.”
Air Logic by Laurie J. Marks
Laurie J. Marks earned acclaim for her Elemental Logic series — Fire Logic, Earth Logic, and Water Logic — which were published between 2002 and 2007. That series has been left unfinished for years, but with Air Logic, she returns to bring the series to a conclusion. The series is set in the world of Shaftal, which was invaded and occupied by an army that worked to eradicate magic. This latest book follows Karis, who has become a leader for her world, picking up the pieces after a devastating war. She must now contend with a traitor who threatens to undo everything she’s worked for. Kirkus Reviews says it’s a read that sticks the landing for a series, “a final book that stays true to the spirit of the whole, sending readers out of Shaftal on a high note.”
The Ragged Blade by Christopher Ruz
In the aftermath of a magical war, Richard is a soldier who realizes that he’s been fighting for the wrong side and that the magician he serves has done terrible things. He flees into the desert with his daughter Ana to keep her safe, along with a valuable magical talisman that he hopes will buy him safety away from his former master. What he doesn’t realize is that the magician has plans for Ana — and is coming after them both.
Fall; or, Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson
Neal Stephenson returns with a new novel featuring Richard “Dodge” Forthrast, the founder of gaming company Corporation 9592 and protagonist of his earlier novel Reamde. While undergoing a routine operation, everything goes wrong, and a comatose Dodge is declared brain-dead. His will stipulates that his body should be handed over to a cryonics company and his brain should be scanned. So when technology improves, his brain gets reactivated into a new virtual society, but his digital afterworld isn’t quite the utopia he thought it would be. Kirkus Reviews gave the book a starred review, saying that it’s “an audacious epic with more than enough heart to fill its many, many pages.”
The Fire Opal Mechanism by Fran Wilde
Fran Wilde’s latest book is a standalone sequel to her 2016 novella, The Jewel and Her Lapidary, about a kingdom protected by the Jewels and Lapidaries, people who are bound to powerful, magical gemstones. An invasion forces Jewel Lin and her Lapidary Sima to go to great lengths to protect the valley. Fire Opal Mechanism picks up eons later, after the Jewels and Lapidaries have passed into myth. Two unlikely individuals — the thief Jorit and the librarian Ania — are trying to protect the kingdom from the marauding “Pressmen” who seek to steal the world’s knowledge. When they come across a mysterious clock with a jewel in it, they might have found a way to save their world.
Recursion by Blake Crouch
In Blake Crouch’s latest thriller, he intertwines two stories. A neuroscientist named Helena Smith is trying to find a way to preserve memories in dementia patients in 2007, and a mysterious benefactor provides her with a research team, unlimited funding, and an isolated facility in the Pacific Ocean to carry out her work to its fullest extent. In 2018, an NYPD cop named Barry Sutton has to deal with a mysterious illness that’s sweeping the world — False Memory Syndrome, where victims suddenly get memories of a life that they’ve never had. Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that “Crouch effortlessly integrates sophisticated philosophical concepts—such as the relationship of human perceptions of what is real to actual reality—into a complex and engrossing plot.”
We could see an adaptation of the book at some point: Netflix, along with Shonda Rhimes and Matt Reeves, is developing the book as a feature film and as a television series.
Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed
The next big Star Wars novel looks a bit like a throwback to some of the best Expanded Universe novels in the franchise. Alphabet Squadron kicks off a trilogy and follows a squadron of scrappy Rebel pilots after the events of Return of the Jedi. The squad is tasked with an important mission: going after a mysterious Imperial squadron called Shadow Wing, which has been causing problems for the New Republic. This book is part of a new initiative between Disney’s various publishing arms; it ties in with a comic book series that launched in April, which is called TIE Fighter and follows the adventures of Shadow Wing.
The Outside by Ada Hoffmann
An autistic scientist named Yasira Shien has developed a novel type of warp drive, but when she tests it for the first time, she accidentally destroys her station and crew. The accident attracts the attention of a cabal of AI Gods who rule over the galaxy and horde advanced technologies. They capture her and, rather than kill her, give her a task: track down her mentor, Dr. Evianna Talirr, who might have had a hand in her experiment’s failure. Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that “Hoffmann confidently layers morality and disability rights into a breezily told adventure that bursts with sheer fun.”
Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe
After her gunship is blown up under her, military pilot Sandra Greeve wakes up to discover that she’s been in suspended animation for 230 years aboard an empty spaceship, with only an artificial intelligence to keep her company. Megan E. O’Keefe intersperses Sandra’s recovery with flashbacks of her brother, Biran, as well as her efforts to save a rebel soldier, Thomas. Kirkus Reviews says that the book is a “meticulously plotted, edge-of-your-seat space opera with a soul; a highly promising science-fiction debut.”