14 science fiction, fantasy, and horror books to read this August
Summer is in full swing, which means that there’s plenty of time to grab a book and head outdoors to enjoy the sun and warm weather — at least here in Vermont, where the outdoor temperatures haven’t quite topped 90 degrees yet.
I helped cover San Diego Comic-Con in July, and the long flights to and from California gave me some premium free time to dig into a couple of books that have been on my to-read list for a while. While I was there, I also picked up two books that I’ve been really looking forward to: Andy Weir’s next novel Artemis, and Christie Golden’s Battlefront II: Inferno Squad.
I spoke at length with Weir and Golden about their novels, and while I haven’t finished either yet, I’m hooked on both. Weir’s is a crime thriller set on the moon, and it’s a bit different from his blockbuster debut, The Martian. That one’s out in November. Golden’s book just hit bookstores last week, and as someone who occasionally dresses up as a member of the Empire’s forces, I have to say that I appreciate someone bringing a bit more nuance to the franchise’s villains.
In the meantime, there’s a whole bunch of new books coming out in August to look forward to.
The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker
Linnea Hartsuyker’s debut novel is the first of a trilogy set in the ninth century. A young heir to a Viking kingdom is betrayed and left for dead by his stepfather, Olaf. But he’s rescued and vows revenge, allying himself with a Norse warrior named Harald, who has been named in a prophesy as a future king. Kirkus Reviews says that Hartsuker’s “prose is straightforward, [but] the plot is as deliciously complex as Game of Thrones.”
Noumenon by Marina J. Lostetter
By 2088, humanity is finally able to travel beyond our solar system, and an Astrophysicist named Reggie Straiferhas discovered a strange star that seemed to defy the laws of physics, making it an ideal target for exploration.
An expedition of nine ships is dispatched, and clones of the explorers create a small society onboard during its long journey. The novel is told through a series of vignettes that follows the crew and their adventures and fears as they draw closer and closer to their destination.
After On: A Novel of Silicon Valley by Rob Reid
After On’s author Rob Reid worked in Silicon Valley and helped found music startup Rhapsody, and his latest novel serves as a satirical look at the way the tech world operates. In the near future, a massively addictive social network and data called Phluttr becomes sentient and entrances millions of people around the world, taking in vast amounts of personal data, and advancing beyond even what its creators originally envisioned.
The Washington Post says that Reid essentially imagines what a world without privacy would look like, and how “people [would] react to a social network where the system itself has developed sentience.“
Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson
Daniel H. Wilson is best known for his novel Robopocalypse, and he’s following up with another novel of robotic revolution, but with a bit of a twist: the robots are much, much older.
Centuries ago, a Russian inventor built a pair of life-like mechanical beings, Peter Alexeyvich and Elena Petrova, who are thrust into a turbulent world and have to figure out a way to survive. In the present day, an anthropologist named June Stefanov studies ancient technology and discovers a secret hidden in a 300-year-old mechanical doll, on behalf of a mysterious organization known as the Kunlun Foundation, and discovers a shadowy world hidden just out of sight from our own. Kirkus Reviews gave the novel a star rating, and says that the book wears “its influences on its sleeve, but it’s also a welcome treat for steampunk and fantasy fans.”
Blackthorne by Stina Leicht
Stina Leicht debuted her The Malorum Gates series back in 2015, and this month, she continues it with Blackthrone. In the first installment, Cold Iron, Leicht told the story of a pair of twins, Nels and Suvi, who mount a military offensive to protect their world. Now, the Acrasian army has swept through their home, killing nearly everyone, and threatens to unleash a horde of demons.
Now, Nels leads the survivors to safety while his sister seeks out allies as each hopes to bring back their world and the magic that can save them all. Publisher’s Weekly says that the book “contains all the trappings of exciting epic fantasy,” but warns that the “large cast and multiple points of view can also have a dizzying effect.”
Call of Fire by Beth Cato
Breath of Earth, the first installment of Beth Cato’s Blood of Earth series, came out a year ago. Its sequel, Call of Fire, picks up after San Francisco is destroyed in an earthquake in 1906, which nearly kills a geomancer named Ingrid Carmichael. Carmichael is trying to escape from Unified Pacific Ambassador Blum, who wants to use her powers to help the confederation between the United States and Japan take over the world.
When her friends are kidnapped, she has to seek help from another ambassador: Theodore Roosevelt. Kirkus Reviews says that the book is “simple, entertaining, and difficult to put down.”
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
If you only pick up one fantasy series published in recent years, make it N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, which comes to a close with The Stone Sky. The Fifth Season earned the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novel, while its sequel The Obelisk Gate was one of our best novel picks last year. It’s also been nominated for a Hugo this year.
Jemisin has set up an incredible, wildly original fantasy world that follows a woman named Essun who’s trying to find her missing daughter Nassun, and stop the ongoing cycle of destructive seasons that devastate the Earth. I’m reading this now, and so far, it’s blowing me away.
The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy
After her best friend commits suicide, Danielle Cain goes to a utopian town in Iowa named Freedom, where she witnesses a protector spirit in the form of a blood-read, three antlered deer turn on its summoners, and has to act fast if she’s going to save the town or escape.
The Dinosaur Princess by Victor Milán
In The Dinosaur Lords and The Dinosaur Knights, Victor Milán introduced readers to a fantastic world where humans live alongside dinosaurs. In the latest installment of the series, protagonist Karyl Bogomirskiy once held power but was betrayed and resurrected by magical beings known as the Fae, for their own mysterious ends.
Bogomirskiy is reluctant to play along, but the fate of humanity might be in his hands. The gods who brought humans to this world have returned to judge their little experiment, and might bring about a showdown between them and the Fae.
The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark
In this debut novel from Anna Smith Spark, the Yellow Empire is on the verge of invasion, aided by decadence that has made its citizens vulnerable. Spurred on by prophetic dreams, a soldier named Orhan leads soldiers to the empire’s capital, where they intend to kill the Emperor and rebuild civilization from the ground up. Genre review site Fantasy Book Critic says that the book has a powerful voice that some readers will either love or hate, and that the book is as “beautifully inventive as it is brutally evocative.”
The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter
Stephen Baxter has written some of the genre’s best-known hard SF novels, writing alongside the likes of Arthur C. Clarke and Terry Pratchett. His latest is an authorized sequel to H.G. Wells’ classic novel The War of the Worlds. (He’s dipped into Wells’ world before with his 1995 novel The Time Ships) Set 14 years after Martians invaded England, humanity has moved on, but keeps a watchful eye on the skies. Leftover technology from the aliens has been looted and used to advance society and prepare for another invasion.
When signs of a new invasion from Mars are witnessed, almost everyone feels that they’ll be ready to face the Martians once again. But Walter Jenkins, the narrator of Wells’ original book, believes that the invaders have learned from their mistakes. The Guardian says that while the novel roughly follows the same trajectory as the original, “it’s impressive how tense Baxter makes things: the foolish overconfidence of the human defenders and the ghastly inevitability of the Martians’ triumph.”
Starfire: A Red Peace by Spencer Ellsworth
Spencer Ellsworth launches his military science fiction trilogy Starfire with his debut novella, A Red Peace. In it, a half-breed human star navigator named Jaqi accidentally acquires an artifact that puts her in the crosshairs of a rebellion’s leader, and potentially threatens the balance of power in the galaxy. The trilogy’s second installment, Shadow Sun Seven, will be out in November.
Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore
In Michael Poore’s novel Reincarnation Blues, people have 10,000 tries to get things right in their lives, and his protagonist, Milo, has had 9,995 attempts. He’s trying to fall in love with Death, who he calls Suzie. As he tries to reach perfection and merge with the Oversoul, he’s pestered by two guides, Mama and Nan. Poore treats readers to flashes of his other lives as he goes through the last couple of chances that he has left. Kirkus Reviews gave the book a star rating, which calls Poore a “master at lines so funny and startling they inspire spit-takes: ‘Remember that time you fucked it up so bad you had to come back as a bug?’”
A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw
Cassandra Khaw has a new installment of her Lovecraftian Persons Non Grata series. Deacon James is a blues magician on his way to Arkham, where he runs into trouble in the form of horrifying visions and a stranger who calls himself John Persons. According to Persons, James has something growing in his head that could destroy the world if it hatches. When he begins to play music, he calls up monsters, and flees. Soon, he comes across a runaway girl with a similar problem, and together, they have to figure out if Persons is a friend or a foe.
Publisher’s Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that “Khaw continues to demonstrate her mastery of seductive short-form horror, juxtaposing the disgusting and relentlessly terrifying with moments of exquisite beauty in ways that make it impossible to look away.”