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15 new science fiction and fantasy books to check out in May

The first Hunger Games prequel and other more intergalactic adventures

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It seems like it’s been years since the last column in this series. Staying at home has prompted people to figure out how to entertain themselves while social distancing, and book backlogs have been an obvious way to do that.

I decided to make the most of this and pick up a somewhat non-genre book that I’ve been eyeing lately: Michael Zapata’s debut novel, The Lost Book of Adana Moreau, which came out earlier this year, and has a premise that really spoke to my interest in the history of science fiction. It’s about a Dominican woman named Adana Moreau, who marries a pirate and immigrates to the United States in the 1920s, where she writes a landmark science fiction novel, The Lost City. When she unexpectedly falls deathly ill, she destroys the only copy of its sequel, A Model Earth, before perishing.

Decades later, a man named Saul Drower receives a package that his late grandfather has been trying to send to a physicist named Maxwell Monraeu. Inside is a copy of the sequel to The Lost City. As Zapata jumps from decade to decade and from character to character, he unravels the unexpected mystery and plays out a powerful story about the power of stories and memories.

While the quarantining continues, there are still plenty of new books hitting bookstores. Here are 15 that are slated to come out this month. (As before, some of these could shift their release dates at the last minute.)

May 5

Westside Saints by W.M Akers cover Image: Harper Voyager

Westside Saints by W.M Akers

W.M. Akers follows up his debut novel Westside with Westside Saints, a mystery set in an alternate, Jazz-era New York City. The city has been split into two zones, where the east side is a prosperous metropolis and the west an overgrown wasteland. In Westside, Akers introduced readers to Gilda Carr, a detective who specializes in “small mysteries,” and who ended up trying to solve the mystery of her missing father.

In this new adventure, Carr stumbles upon a new mystery when she’s hired by a group of street preachers from the Electric Church to recover the severed finger of a lost saint. They believe that this digit will bring about a resurrection, and Carr drawn in when her dead mother unexpectedly returns. Publishers Weekly says that “the harsh realities of Westside Manhattan is richly imagined and the diverse cast is expertly shaded. New readers won’t want to start with this one, but series fans will be gratified by this excellent outing.”

Read an excerpt.


The Down Days by Ilze Hugo cover Image: Skyhorse Books

The Down Days by Ilze Hugo

Ilze Hugo’s debut novel hits close to home this month: it’s set in a near-future South Africa, during a strange pandemic. The infected experience hallucinations, paranoia, and uncontrollable laughter, which prompts Cape Town officials to issue a quarantine to prevent the spread of the illness. The situation finds a woman named Faith September working to collect dead bodies and attempting to right the spread of misinformation that follows in the plague’s wake.

When an orphan named Tomorrow Pretorious, approaches her to help her track down her kidnapped baby brother, the pair descend into a world of black market hustlers and con men. As the search goes on, Faith begins to wonder if the baby is even real. Publishers Weekly says that “The arresting prose, an effortless blend of Afrikaans slang and invented jargon, peppered with evocative turns of phrase (“the mountain was undercover, going full vigilante in a smoking gray cape”), elevates this from run-of-the-mill science fiction thriller.”

Read an excerpt.


Goldilocks by Laura Lam cover Image: Orbit Books

Goldilocks by Laura Lam

In the nearish future, climate change has ravaged the Earth, and women around the world have steadily seen their rights eroded away in the aftermath. When scientists discover a habitable world called Cavendish in a distant solar system, they ready an expedition to explore it as a potential new home for humanity. But a team of women, including botanist Naomi Lovelace and her mentor Valarie Black, steal a spaceship that can travel out to it, hoping to escape their oppressors on Earth. As they travel out to Cavendish, they face everything from malfunctions to secrets that could derail their mission.

Kirkus Reviews gave the book a starred review, saying that it’s a “a slow-burning fire of a novel that begs the reader to keep turning the page.”

Read an excerpt.


Driving the Deep by Suzanne Palmer Image: DAW Books

Driving the Deep by Suzanne Palmer

Last year, Suzanne Palmer released her debut novel Finder, a science fiction heist novel about a man named Fergus Ferguson, who’s hired to steal an advanced starship called Venetia’s Sword. The job turned out to be a bit more complicated than he expected, and he ended up in the middle of a civil war.

In this follow-up, Fergus is trying to relax on Pluto when the shipmakers there convince him to confront his past on Earth. When he was a teenager, he stole a motorcycle from his cousin, and ever since, it’s weighed on him. When he goes to recover the bike, he finds that not only is it gone, but its hiding place is full of stolen artwork. He’s pulled into a bigger conspiracy, his friends are kidnapped, and his quest takes him deep under the oceans of Enceladus.

Read an excerpt.


Network Effect by Martha Wells cover Image: Tor.com

Network Effect by Martha Wells

Over the course of four novellas, Martha Wells introduced readers to Murderbot, a cantankerous Security Unit android that keeps trying to find some peace and quiet only to get dragged into protecting a bunch of humans. The four books are fantastic reads — they earned Wells the Hugo and Nebula awards in 2018 for All Systems Red, and nominations for Artificial Condition — about a machine trying to understand what it means to be human.

Now, Wells continues the adventures of MurderBot with a full-length novel, Network Effect. It’s sort-of creator, an AI called ART (short for Asshole Research Transport) has been taken over by hostile alien technology, and calls on MurderBot for help. Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that “Wells puts an astonishing amount of technical detail into SecUnit’s narrative, which will please hard sci-fi readers without detracting from the engaging story line.”

Read an excerpt.


May 12

Stealing Thunder by Alina Boyden cover Image: Ace Books

Stealing Thunder by Alina Boyden

Razia Khan was once the Crown Prince of Nizam in the kingdom of Darystan, but fled when she embraced her true identity and her father’s wrath. She becomes a dancer and a thief, and when she steals something from the Prince of Bikampur, Arjun Agnivansha, she finds herself not only in the midst of a deadly political war, but also deeply in love with her target.

Library Journal gave the book a starred review, saying that “This delightful debut is rich with detailed worldbuilding, political intrigue, and South Asian cultural references drawn from Boyden’s experience as a trans activist who has traveled in India and Pakistan.”

Read an excerpt.


The Aleph Extraction by Dan Moren cover Image: Angry Robot

The Aleph Extraction by Dan Moren

In The Bayern Agenda, Dan Moren wove together the story of political operatives in the midst of an interplanetary cold war — the Illyrican Empire and Commonwealth of Independent Systems have been fighting for years, and to get a leg up, the CIS dispatches a team to the Bayern Corporation, a planet-sized bank. When that mission goes sideways, Agent Simon Kovalic is sent in to rescue his former team.

In this sequel, Moren brings back Kovalic and his team to carry out a heist onboard a starliner. They’re tasked with stealing a priceless artifact from a crime lord before their rivals in the Illyrican Empire get their hands on it.

Publishers Weekly gave the novel a starred review, saying that it’s “fantastically fun,” and that “Readers will end this installment deeply attached to Moren’s bold characters and eagerly anticipating what comes next.”

Read an excerpt.


May 19

cover for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins Scholastic

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

In this prequel to her blockbuster Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins explores the early years of Panem and the rise of a young Coriolanus Snow, who’ll eventually become the brutal dictator of the dystopian society. Snow is tasked with training the tribute from District 12, Panem’s most impoverished zone.

Lionsgate has already snapped up the rights for a film adaptation, and has tapped Francis Lawrence (who directed Catching Fire, Mockingjay Part 1 and Mockingjay Part 2) to direct it.

Read an excerpt here.


Veil by Eliot Peper  cover Image: Eliot Peper

Veil by Eliot Peper

Cumulus and Bandwidth author Eliot Peper turns his attention to the future of geoengineering in his latest tech thriller. In the near future, Zia León shifts careers from diplomate to humanitarian leader after her mother dies in a devastating heat wave that leaves tens of millions dead around the world.

What Zia learns is that some unknown party has begun to change the Earth’s climate, and the lives of billions are at stake. To try and stop the plot from unfolding, she has to assemble a coalition of allies to try and derail the geoengineering efforts and build a new world for everyone.


Sea Change by Nancy Kress cover Image: Tachyon Publications

Sea Change by Nancy Kress

A couple of years from now, a biochemical accident causes an environmental catastrophe and subsequent financial crisis, resulting in a worldwide ban on genetically modified organisms.

A decade later, humanity is facing an even greater challenge: a rapidly changing climate that threatens the world’s food supply. A ban on GMOs has also made the creation of new varieties, ones that can withstand the vigors of climate change, illegal. That forces people like Renata Black underground. She’s part of Org, an illegal researcher who’s trying to find ways to help humanity adapt to the changing world. However, the Department of Agricultural Security is after them, and a mole within the organization threatens all of their work.

Locus Magazine says that “the science-fictional side is not that far-out, either: a hard-edged 21st-century cautionary tale of unintended consequences and the fragile, interlocking complexities of climate, biosphere, agricultural systems, and civilization,” and that the “the book kicks harder because we see and feel the impact of these processes on a whole life, close-up.”

Read an excerpt.

May 26

Out of Body by Jeffrey Ford cover Image: Tor.com

Out of Body by Jeffrey Ford

In Jeffrey Ford’s new horror thriller, a librarian named Owen Hapstead is traumatized when he witnesses a murder in a local business.

He soon finds that the incident imparted a strange ability: he can leave his body whenever he falls asleep. As he begins to roam the town, its secrets open up to him. He discovers a horrifying serial killer that lives in town, one that shares his abilities.

Publishers Weekly says that “Ford’s elaboration of the night world is wildly imaginative and his depiction of Owen’s invisible explorations of it verges on the voyeuristic, adding unusual piquancy to the story. Readers will find this well-wrought tale of a mysterious world both eerie and bewitching.”


Ballistic by Marko Kloos  cover Image: 47 North

Ballistic by Marko Kloos

Author Marko Kloos rose to fame within the science-fiction world with his military science fiction series Frontlines, but changed things up last year with a new project: the first installment of a new series, the Palladium Wars. The first book, Aftershocks, was set in a solar system broken by war, and is about a former soldier named Aden Robertson, who is trying to move on after being on the losing side of the war.

In Ballistic, Aden is still trying to keep his identity a secret, and has joined up on a smuggling ship called the Zephyr, shipping goods to the occupied planet Gretia. The planet has become a hotbed for insurgents and revolutionaries, and Aden realizes that it could push the solar system back into another devastating war.

Read an excerpt.


Sunshield by Emily B. Martin Image: Harper Voyager

Sunshield by Emily B. Martin

This month, Emily B. Martin launches a new fantasy series set on a harsh world built on inequality. Bands of desperate refugees live in the desolate canyons of Alcoro, led by Lark — the Sunshine Bandit — robbing supply coaches headed for the luxurious forest state of Moquoia.

Built on slave labor, Moquioia is experiencing its own turmoil, as an ambassador named Vernan works to take down the system that built it. When a Moquoian prince is abducted, Vernan turns to Lark for help.

Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that “Martin spins a graceful web of intrigue, coups, and budding revolution in this fast-paced, swashbuckling adventure, tying up just enough loose ends to bring this series opener to a satisfying close, while leaving enough mysteries unsolved to have readers chomping at the bit for the next installment.”


Burn-In by P.W. Singer and August Cole cover Image: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Burn-In by P.W. Singer and August Cole

In 2015, military strategists P.W. Singer and August Cole released their debut novel, Ghost Fleet, a view of what a third world war might look like between the US, China, and Russia. Extrapolating from geopolitical trends and new advances in technology, the pair wove together a story that seems to be growing more likely by the day. Their next collaboration is Burn-In, in which they take a similar approach to artificial intelligence in our near future.

In this novel, political tensions are pushing the US to the brink of a revolution, right as the robotics and artificial intelligence science fiction promised us, has come to fruition. The novel follows FBI Agent Lara Keegan, who’s tasked with field-testing a new police robot, Tactical Autonomous Mobility System (TAMS). As their partnership begins, they come across a conspiracy that threatens to upend the country.

Publishers Weekly says that Cole and Singer have “clearly done their research,” and that “for all the emphasis on high-tech fears, the authors tell a very human story.”


The Archer at Dawn by Swati Teerdhala cover Image: Katherine Tegen Books

The Archer at Dawn by Swati Teerdhala

Swati Teerdhala follows up her debut novel The Tiger at Midnight with The Archer At Dawn, an Indian-inspired epic fantasy. In the former, an assassin named Esha and a soldier named Kunal cross paths in an epic clash that forces both to choose what side they’re on.

In this latest installment of the trilogy, Esha and Kunal are finally work together as rebel spies infiltrating the court of King Vardaan. The celebration of Sun Mela is approaching, and proves to be a prime opportunity to work their way into the royal court for a crucial peace summit for the nations of Jansa and Dharka. But carrying out their mission — rescuing the captured princess of Jansa to reclaim the throne — is more challenging than first expected, and it’ll challenge the loyalties of both spy and soldier.

Read an excerpt.