The best latest science fiction and fantasy reviews roundup | Books


Apparatus from JISLAND Morgan (Vintage, £ 16.99)
The first prose fiction work by the award-winning poet whose previous book, The Martian’s Regress, Swallowed in science fiction tropes, this is a collection of thematically related short stories about the evolution of a case transmitter from a cabinet resembling a refrigerator, to a large network of stations transporting not only goods but people around the world. The approach is almost primitive, with a focus on a single idea, which is rarely dramatized, only discussed. But the very ordinaryness of the characters and their conversations has a demystifying effect: in this context, carriers could just as well be airplanes or the Internet. The concept of progress, and where new technologies can take us, is a consistent concern in SF, whether utopian or dystopian. Morgan takes none of the approaches as he gradually builds a picture of the ease and speed with which some people embrace new ways of living, while others, regardless of objections, eventually get forced: living off the grid is a imagination that few can afford.

Book of the Night

Book of Night by Holly Black (Cornerstone, £ 16.99)
Charlie Hall wants to go straight, but cheating people, revealing secrets and stealing valuable books is what she’s good at – so when she hears that Liber Noctem, a legendary spell book, has disappeared, she is drawn back to the dangerous world of shadow magic. In his 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” work their magic by drawing on the power of shadows – their own or others’. Shadows can give power or take it, can be shaped, lost or stolen. It is a wonderful invention, elaborate and original, yet a deep mythical tone that the best fantasies can. The restless, smart bad-girl Charlie is a believable, likeable character. With a gripping story at the perfect pace and a murderous ending, this dark fantasy feels like an instant classic.

The Pharmacist by Rachelle Atalla

The Pharmacist by Rachelle Atalla (Hodder & Stoughton, £ 16.99)
The setting for this compelling debut novel is a bunker in which 0.2% of the population of a British city has survived for more than half a year. 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 an employment. The others are mostly politicians, bankers and wealthy businessmen close to the “leader”, and she is one of the few who may leave her family. In an unexpected encounter with the leader in his heavily guarded hole, she notes 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 on her neighbors, she hardly hesitates. But when his demands escalate, how far from morality will self-interest lead her? Reminiscent of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, this disturbing story is a nightmare for our times with preparations for the end of the world, increased nuclear insecurity and political inequality.

Beautiful star

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 not been published in English until now – which probably reflects the low esteem in which science fiction was held in literary circles. The story is about a family whose life revolves around observations of flying saucers and the belief that each family member came from other planets before uniting on Earth to try to save humanity from nuclear destruction. Eventually, they meet other aliens who think humans would be better off dying. Mishima had a deep interest in UFOs and belonged to the Japan Flying Saucer Research Association, an organization whose ultimate goal was declared world peace. This is a strange, rather awkward novel, moving from vividly described scenes of ordinary human life and the beauty of the natural world to arguments about human nature, and about peace being possible on this side of death.

Eversion by Alastair Reynolds

Eversion by Alastair Reynolds (Orion, £ 20)
Reynolds is best known as the author of hard science-based space operas, yet his latest novel begins aboard a ship sailing up Norway’s coastline in the early 19th century. The mystery gets deeper, as the same group of people, on another vessel of the same name, reappear in different places and times and always seek the same mysterious edifice. It would be unfair to reveal more details about this wonderfully entertaining puzzle wrapped in a fairy tale that, after all, turns out to be science fiction. A clever distraction from an author that is always worth reading.

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