Device from JO Morgan (Vintage, £16.99)
The first work of prose by the award-winning poet whose previous book, The Martian’s Regress† enjoyed science fiction style figures, this is a collection of thematically connected short stories about the development of a matter transmitter from a cabinet resembling a refrigerator to a vast network of stations transporting not only goods but also people around the world. The approach is almost primitive, centered on a single idea that is rarely dramatized, only discussed. But the mundaneness of the characters and their conversations has a demystifying effect: in this context, transporters could just as well be airplanes or the Internet. The idea of progress, and where new technologies can take us, is a constant concern in SF, both utopian and dystopian. Morgan takes neither approach, as he gradually builds a picture of the ease and speed with which some people embrace new ways of living, while others, regardless of the objections, eventually get it forced on them: living off-grid is a fantasy that only few can afford.
Book of the Night by Holly Black (Cornerstone, £16.99)
Charlie Hall wants to go straight, but scamming people, revealing secrets and stealing valuable books is what she’s good at – so when she hears it’s Liber Noctem† a legendary spellbook has gone missing, she is pulled back into the dangerous world of shadow magic. In her first adult novel, the best-selling children’s fantasy author has created an original, compelling world in which a subculture of magicians known as “gloamists” practice wizardry by harnessing the power of shadows — their own or others’. Shadows can give or take power, they can be formed, lost or stolen. It’s a wonderful invention, well-developed and original, but with a deep mythical note, as the best fantasies can. The troubled, clever villain Charlie is a believable, likeable character. With a gripping, perfectly timed story and a killer ending, this dark fantasy feels like an instant classic.
The Apothecary by Rachelle Atalla (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99)
The setting for this compelling debut novel is a bunker where 0.2% of the population of a British city has been living for more than six months. The titular pharmacist, Wolfe, gives no details about the nuclear war that must have sent them underground. She tells herself that she is lucky to have a place inside and a profession. The others are mostly politicians, bankers and wealthy businessmen close to ‘the leader’, and she is one of the few who has had to leave her family behind. During an unexpected encounter with the leader in his heavily guarded lair, she notices that he still has access to art and other forbidden luxuries. The people who work for him also benefit, and when he asks her to report something about her neighbors, she hardly hesitates. But if his demands escalate, how far will self-interest take her? Reminiscent of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four† this disturbing story is a nightmare for our times of preparation for the end of the world, increased nuclear insecurity and political inequality.
Beautiful Star by Yukio Mishima (Penguin, £12.99)
Mishima was one of the most famous Japanese writers of the 20th century, but this 1962 novel has never been published in English before – probably due to the low esteem science fiction had in literary circles. The story is about a family whose life revolves around the sighting of flying saucers and the belief that every relative came from other planets, before uniting on Earth to try to save humanity from nuclear annihilation. Eventually, they meet other aliens who think humans are better off dead. Mishima had a deep interest in UFOs and belonged to the Japan Flying Saucer Research Association, an organization whose stated ultimate goal was world peace. This is a strange, rather awkward novel that moves from vividly described scenes of ordinary human life and the beauty of the natural world to discussions about human nature and whether peace is possible on this side of death.
Eversion by Alastair Reynolds (Orion, £20)
Reynolds is best known as an author of hard science-based space operas, but his latest novel begins aboard a ship sailing along the Norwegian coast in the early 1800s. The mystery deepens as the same group of people, on a different ship of the same name, reappear in different places and times, always searching for the same mysterious building. It would be unfair to reveal more details of this delightfully entertaining puzzle wrapped in an adventure story, which turns out to be science fiction after all. A clever distraction from a writer who is always worth reading.