The Latest in Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror – Critic Summary | Books


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Monica Byrne’s Real Star (Voyager, £ 20)
In his second novel, Byrne weaves three plots, each one thousand years apart. The last days of 1012 are described through the experiences of three royal siblings at the start of the post-classical Mayan era; in December 2012, Leah, a 19-year-old Métis American, made the trip of her life to Belize; and in 3012, as the last of the ice caps disappeared, the end of the torrential age was celebrated around the world. The entire population has been reduced to around 8 million, most of whom are still on the move and have no more than they can carry. A way of life imposed on climate refugees became the guiding philosophy of the almost universal religion LaViaja, attributed to Saint Leah, who was said to have been the first person to reach Xibalba, the mystical world beyond it. It is incredibly ambitious and challenging work.

Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson;

Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson (Borough, £ 20)
Stephenson opens its doors about 10 years in the future, on a day when the air in Houston is too hot to support planes. This means the private jet flown by the Queen of the Netherlands must be hijacked, causing unexpected additions useful to those around her on the way to meeting a Texan billionaire who has a radical plan to cool the planet. How it might work, how it works, why isn’t everyone happy with this privately funded geoengineering feat, and how they might outsmart it get the plot. As usual, Stephenson writes at length and in detail about everything and everyone. At best, his style creates immersive depth, but sometimes he goes too far; as her queen of the Netherlands will admit, when she has tidal waves “explained to her in a level of detail that would have made most of the royal family catatonic.” But moments like this are the exception in an absorbing speculative fiction about our climate crisis.

Theo Clare's Sand Book

Theo Clare’s Sand Book (Century, £ 12.99)
A small group of people find themselves in a dangerous desert world, where they are told that their only hope for survival is to treat each other like family. They are responsible for searching in a series of deserted towns “the Sarkpont” which will allow them to escape. Failure means terrible death inflicted by terrifying creatures they call the Djinn. Their story alternates with that of McKenzie, 17, an American high school student obsessed with weather and deserts, who begins to question everything she thought she knew. The two strands finally come together in a way that is both shocking and satisfying. Theo Clare is a pseudonym for thriller writer Mo Hayder: she completed the first two novels in a planned series before her death last July from motor neuron disease. Hayder’s books were memorably disturbing studies of violence, but here she offers something more positive. Yes, there is constant danger and the characters must fight for survival, but the joys found in friendship and the power of mutual support are themes that run through this fascinating and absorbing fantasy quest.

Hare House by Sally Hinchcliffe

Hare House by Sally Hinchcliffe (coat, £ 14.99)
The anonymous narrator of this modern Gothic begins her story with the accidental killing of a hare. The meaning of the creature will be clear to anyone familiar with the legends of the shape-shifting witches and setting the tone for Hinchcliffe’s weird and subtle second novel. The narrator, a former teacher in London, looks forward to peaceful solitude in the tiny cottage she has rented in a remote Scottish estate. But although she enjoys her lonely explorations of the beautiful countryside, she falls prey to the sour and disapproving woman of the adjoining cottage and irresistibly drawn to the big house, where her handsome owner lives with her troubled younger sister. Tension is mounting after a heavy snowstorm destroyed power lines and closed roads. This deliciously icy tale dodges the expected outcome and maintains a delicate balance between psychology and witchcraft until its ominous end.

Constance Verity's Last Adventure by A Lee Martinez

The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A Lee Martinez (Jo Fletcher, £ 8.99)
For 27 years, Constance Verity has led a life of fantasy adventures, solving crimes, revealing plots, saving lives, and even traveling through time and space. But she’s fed up now and wants nothing more than a normal life, a regular boyfriend, and even a boring job. She decides to hunt down the fairy godmother whose gift marked the course of her life and forces her to undo the spell. Of course, it is no easy task, with danger around every corner, but it has never failed yet. This very funny and enjoyable fantasy from 2016 is first released in Britain with a sequel, Constance Verity Saves the World. A film adaptation is in preparation.

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