I always enjoy a good space opera thriller. In recent weeks, I’ve been reading Dan Moren’s latest book, The Bayern Agenda, which I’d characterize as John le Carré meets Battlestar Galactica.
In it, Simon Kovalic is an intelligence agent for the Commonwealth of Independent Systems, which has been engaged in a sort of cold war with the Illyrican Empire. He was injured in the course of his last mission, and his covert team of operatives has been handed over to his ex-wife, Lieutenant Commander Natalie Taylor, for a mission to the banking planet Bayern Corporation. When he’s tipped off that their cover might have been blown, it’s up to him to go in and save them. The book is the perfect beach read for science fiction fans, with plenty of spy craft set against galactic intrigue. The book is set in the same world as his debut novel The Caledonian Gambit (although the two stand apart); a sequel, The Aleph Extraction, is due out next March.
If you’re looking for more books to check out this summer, here are 10 science fiction and fantasy novels hitting stores in the first half of August. Check back later for the next batch.
Cry Pilot by Joel Dane
In the distant future, Earth has been devastated by war and horrific bioweapons, and the remains of humanity live in corporate districts. Maseo Kaytu is a refugee from one of the war zones who’s been trying to join the corporate military, but his past is making that difficult. He’s given one chance to get in: volunteer as a “cry pilot,” someone who rides on a combatant-activated vehicle, a drone that helps protect human settlements. It’s generally a suicide mission, but when he survives, he joins the military and bonds with his fellow trainees, working to keep his past a secret. Publishers Weekly says that the book is an “intriguing, thoughtful exploration of what a corporatized future might look like, liberally peppered with scenes of military life.”
The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang
R.F. Kuang made a splash when she released her debut novel The Poppy War last year. That novel was one of our favorites, set in a fantasy world with a conflict inspired by the second Sino-Japanese War. The story follows a young woman named Rin who joins the Nikara Empire’s elite military academy, the Sinegard, and soon discovers the horrors of war. She brings the conflict to an end, but at a terrible personal cost. In its sequel, The Dragon Republic, Rin is now on the run and seeking to murder the Empress who betrayed her country, while struggling with her addiction to opium and the commands of the Phoenix, a god who has incredible powers. Publishers Weekly says that “Kuang brings brilliance to this invigorating and complex military fantasy sequel.”
First Cosmic Velocity by Zach Powers
In this alternate take on the early days of the space race, the Soviet Union has sent five capsules into space and returned them to Earth — or so it seems. In reality, the mission’s planners knew that they would be suicide missions, and concocted a plan to avoid losing face against the United States: they used identical twins, one of whom died in space, while the other pretended to have gone and returned. One of these twins, Leonid, has begun to question his role while on the press tour, and the ruse is close to being uncovered, because they’ve run out of twins to send into space. Meanwhile, Premier Nikita Khrushchev has volunteered his prized dog for the next mission. Kirkus Reviews calls the book “a lovely and hopeful story from a promising writer.”
Rule of Capture by Christopher Brown
In 2017, Christopher Brown published his debut novel, Tropic of Kansas, a near-future thriller that explores how climate change and broken politics have created a dystopian wasteland, and which follows a pair of travelers as they make their way across the country. His second book, Rule of Capture, is a prequel set in the same world, and follows Donny Kimoe, a lawyer who defends people who are deemed enemies of the state. He’s representing a filmmaker named Xelina Rocafuerte, who watched as a political opponent was assassinated, and is now accused of terrorism. Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, and says that “interpersonal drama fuels the story as much as legal maneuvering, and Brown keeps tight control of his narrative even as this alternate America slips its gears.”
The Echo Chamber by Rhett J. Evans
In The Echo Chamber, Mike is a promising Silicon Valley engineer who watches as the company he works for launches an addicting social media platform that brings the country to the brink of collapse. He gets caught in a loop of his own memories, and is forced to watch society disintegrate around him over and over, until he comes across an actress who might hold the key to taking down the whole system.
The Golden Wolf by Linnea Hartsuyker
Linnea Hartsuyker finishes out her Golden Wolf Saga (starting with The Half-Drowned King and The Sea Queen) with The Golden Wolf, which follows Harald, the king of Norway during the country’s era of Viking exploration. In this finale, Ragnvald has helped support King Harald after having a vision in which he sees the king bring peace to the country. As their friends, family, and allies age and get ready to hand over the reins of power to a new generation, they face unexpected challenges and challengers that could undo everything they’ve worked for. Kirkus Reviews says the book is “a political whirlwind with adventure galore; Hartsuyker bows out on a high note.”
The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Z. Hossain
A djinn king named Melek Ahmar awakens after millennia only to discover that the world he left has utterly changed. People have forgotten magic and instead have technology to fulfill their every whim. When he attempts to return to power and take over the city-state of Kathmandu, he finds that he has nothing to offer its citizens. He discovers only one unhappy person in the city, a former soldier and murderer named Bhan Gurung, who has secrets of his own that the djinn might be able to exploit, changing the city forever. Kirkus Reviews says, “In the space of this slim novel are elements of buddy comedy, thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, and philosophy. But somehow it all comes together in an entertainingly madcap story that asks what it means to be a citizen and what equality really looks like.”
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (translated by Stephen Snyder)
Japanese author Yoko Ogawa’s latest novel is set in a near future where society is watched by an oppressive state surveillance system. On an unnamed island, random objects are beginning to vanish — birds, hats, flowers, ribbons, and more. While most of the island’s inhabitants don’t notice, those who do live in fear of the Memory Police, a brutal organization that makes sure that those disappeared objects remain forgotten, searching homes and interrogating people. The book’s unnamed narrator discovers that her editor is one of the people who can’t forget, and she hides him in her home. Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly each gave the book a starred review, with the latter saying that it’s “a quiet tale that considers the way small, human connections can disrupt the callous powers of authority.”
Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh
Set in an alternate world where England developed its own space program, 10 astronauts travel to a distant planet in 2012, Terra-Two, which might become a new home world for humanity. Six of the astronauts are in their teens, and have trained for their entire lives for the mission. The voyage will take them 23 years, and there’s no rescue in the event that things go wrong.
Pale Kings by Micah Yongo
The Five Lands have been at peace for three centuries, but that balance is beginning to fray around the edges, bringing war with it. In Micah Yongo’s sequel to his 2018 novel Lost Gods, a young assassin named Neythan is summoned to Súnam, expecting to be assigned a new target. Instead, he’s confronted with secrets from a childhood that he’s forgotten, linked to a scroll that he carries with him. As war looms, he begins to look into his past to find out about the secrets of the powers that he carries.