J’s apparatusEITHER Morgan (Old, £16.99)
The first work of prose fiction from the award-winning poet whose previous book, The Martian’s Regress, This is a collection of thematically linked short stories about the development of a matter transmitter from a cabinet that resembles a refrigerator to a vast network of stations that transport not only goods but also people around the world. The approach is almost primitive, focusing on a single idea that is rarely dramatized, only discussed. But the very daily life of the characters and their conversations has a demystifying effect: in this context, the transporters could well be planes or the Internet. The notion of progress, and where new technologies can take us, is a constant concern in science fiction, be it utopian or dystopian. Morgan takes no approach as he gradually builds up a picture of the ease and speed with which some people adopt new ways of life, while others, regardless of objections, are eventually forced to: living off the grid is a fantasy that few can afford.
Holly Black Book of the Night (Keystone, £16.99)
Charlie Hall wants to do well, but tricking people, discovering secrets, and stealing valuable books is what she’s good at, so when she hears that the Liber Noctem, a legendary book of spells has disappeared, she has returned to the dangerous world of shadow magic. In her first adult novel, the best-selling children’s fantasy author has created an original and compelling world in which a subculture of wizards known as “gloamists” practice their sorcery by drawing on the power of shadows, whether their own or those of others. Shadows can give or take energy, they can be shaped, lost or stolen. It is a wonderful invention, well crafted and original, but with a deep mythic note, as the best fantasies can do. The troubled and intelligent bad girl Charlie is a believable and likeable character. With a gripping story, perfectly paced and a killer ending, this dark fantasy feels like an instant classic.
Rachelle Atalla’s Pharmacist (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99)
The setting for this compelling debut novel is a bunker where 0.2% of the population of a UK town 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 occupation. The others are mostly politicians, bankers and wealthy businessmen close to “the leader”, and she is one of the few who had to leave her family behind. In an unexpected meeting with the leader in his heavily guarded lair, she notes that she still has access to art and other forbidden luxuries. The people who work for him also benefit from her, and when he asks her to report on her neighbors, she hardly hesitates. But when the demands on her increase, how far will the self-interest of morality take her? Remember Nineteen Eighty-Four by Orwell, this disturbing story is a nightmare for our times of doomsday buildup, increased nuclear insecurity, and political inequality.
Yukio Mishima’s Beautiful Star (Penguin, £12.99)
Mishima was one of the most famous Japanese writers of the 20th century; however, this 1962 novel had not been published in English until now, probably reflecting the low esteem in which science fiction was held in literary circles. The story is about a family whose lives revolve around sightings of flying saucers and the belief that each member of the family came from other planets, before uniting on Earth to try to save humanity from nuclear destruction. They eventually meet other aliens who think that humans would be better off dead. Mishima had a deep interest in UFOs and belonged to the Japan Flying Saucer Research Association, an organization whose stated goal was world peace. This is a strange, rather uncomfortable novel, moving from vividly described scenes of ordinary human life and the beauties of the natural world to arguments about human nature and whether peace is possible after death.
Alastair Reynolds Eversion (Orion, £20)
Reynolds is best known as the author of hard science-based space operas, but his latest novel begins aboard a ship sailing off the coast of Norway in the early 19th century. The mystery deepens when the same group of people, on a different ship with the same name, reappear in different places and times, always looking for the same mysterious building. It would be unfair to reveal more details of this wonderfully entertaining puzzler wrapped up in an adventure story, which turns out to be science fiction after all. A clever distraction from a writer that is always worth reading.