The best recent science fiction, fantasy and horror – reviews roundup | Science fiction books

The best recent science fiction, fantasy and horror – reviews roundup | Science fiction books

The Reformatory by Tananarive Due

The Reformatory by Tananarive Due (Titan, £9.99)
Set in 1950 in segregated Florida, and inspired, like Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys, by the violent abuse and deaths of Black children sent to the Dozier school for boys, this could have made for an unbearably grim read. Due wrote it to honour the memory of a great uncle who died at the Dozier school, aged 15, in 1939, and never flinches from depicting the horrors of racism and the cruelties it engenders. But around that kernel of truth she has woven a tense, exciting thriller. When 12-year-old Robert Stephens Jr arrives at the reformatory he is assailed by “haints” – ghosts of all the children who died there, to whom the adults and older boys seem oblivious. He is frightened, and struggles to ignore their presence, until he discovers there could be benefits to his talent for ghost-spotting. Or will it make his situation even worse? Never predictable, harrowingly believable and seamlessly blending the real and supernatural, this rich, vividly written novel exerts a powerful grip.

The Lost Cause by Cory Doctorow
Photograph: Head of Zeus

The Lost Cause by Cory Doctorow (Head of Zeus, £20)
Doctorow’s new novel can be read as an urgent call to action. It’s set in California 30 years from now, when rising seas, floods and fires have made millions homeless; a desperate situation we can already see coming. The viewpoint character, Brooks, is eager to become a Blue Helmet, one of millions around the world who are part of the solution, trained to mitigate climate change, to fight fires, build new homes, care for others. His friends share his attitude; life is hard, but not miserable. But not everyone is on board – his grandfather, and other older white men, refuse to accept the world has changed, and cling to their anger and their guns, despising fellow citizens who are now refugees. It is rare to read realistic depictions of climate disaster that inspire hope rather than despair, but this lively work of cli-fi does.

Him by Geoff Ryman

Him by Geoff Ryman (Angry Robot, £9.99)
Ryman’s last SF novel, Air, was a multi-award winner, a brilliant depiction of a fictional Eurasian country on the brink of adopting a world-changing new technology. In it, the main character becomes impossibly pregnant. His new novel is set in Palestine more than 2,000 years ago and begins with a miraculous pregnancy. Maryam, knowing herself blessed by God, hopes her daughter will be a prophet, yet at a very young age the girl insists she is a boy. The child grows up to call himself the Son of Adam, attracting followers, performing miracles and preaching a new way of life, all the while knowing how his own story must end. This alternate history is solidly grounded in realistic descriptions of the harshness of life in an unforgiving landscape. It will offend those determined to be offended, but it is a serious, heartfelt exploration of profound human questions by one of our best writers.

Audition by Pip Adam

Audition by Pip Adam (Peninsula, £10.99)
Three giants on a spaceship are trying to remember their former lives in the opening of the fourth novel by the prize-winning New Zealand author. The ship, nicknamed Audition, is powered by sound, so they need to keep making noise on their voyage into the unknown. They had grown too big and frightening to be allowed to stay on Earth. Is this an elaborate, expensive execution, or does a better life await them elsewhere? Subsequent chapters provide the backstory, until the ship reaches its destination and they are released to begin another journey beyond the event horizon. This is an unusual, thought-provoking blend of SF, surrealism and gritty social realism.

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