Return of the old heroes – the best new sci-fi novels

It’s been 90 years since the hyper-masculine barbarian Conan of Cimmeria first appeared in the pulp fiction magazine Weird Tales. This was followed by a series of meat-written adventures that saw our laconic, sword-wielding hero wander through a mythical prehistoric world teeming with witches, monsters, and cute women. But his career ended early when, in 1936, its creator, Robert E. Howard, died by suicide at only 30 years old.

Book cover

Since then, countless Conan stories have been written by third parties, the latest being SM Stirling’s thriller Snake blood (Titan £18.99). In Stygia – a country almost like Egypt – Conan comes to the aid of the pirate Valeria, who is pursued by a vengeful sorcerer whose brother she killed when he tried to rape him. The tale serves as a direct prequel to Howard’s 1926 novel red nails (reprinted in the book), which many consider his masterpiece. While the connections between the two aren’t smooth sailing, Stirling evokes the race, savagery, and smell of a primal past with fervor.

Book cover

In Howard’s day, female characters had little or three-dimensional agency. Modern fantasy fiction is really eager to get this right, and the prime example of that Good killer (HarperVoyager £16.99) by Hannah Kanner. Protagonist Kisen is the titular slayer of the gods, a powerful, foul-mouthed, flawed mercenary fighting her way through a Norse-infested world where the gods are rarely benign and mostly malevolent. Against her better judgment, she takes under her wing an orphaned young noblewoman, Inara, who has become mysteriously connected to the God of White Lies, and the pair fall in with Elugast, a bitter veteran-turned-baker. When a group of mismatched outcasts gather like this, an inevitable quest ensues.

Kaner’s debut offers all the bloodshed, demons, and magic that fantasy fans could want, while championing contemporary values ​​like inclusivity — Kisen, for example, is bisexual and disabled. The book ends with the suggestion that more are to come, which is welcome.

Book cover

Those who wanted more of Jonathan Carroll had to be patient. From 1980 onwards, the US-born, Vienna-based author has produced a series of cryptic and mercurial fantasy novels, but in 2014 Lion bathing It was his last full-length work to date. breakfast mr (Melville House £20) Well worth the wait. Failed comedian Graham Patterson impulsively gets a tattoo, which turns out to give him the ability to visit three alternate lives: his current life, one rich and famous, and one in which he married his true love rather than separated from her. At the end of the experiment, he will choose the person he wants to be his.

Honestly, one might say this is Carroll’s position Christmas carolPatterson’s existential saga is more ferocious and unpredictable than Scrooge’s. breakfast mr It is a tale of regret, reincarnation, and second chances that arrived perhaps too late. Its narrative threads are folded within each other and everything is crafted in original prose. For Carroll, ordinary things can bring unexpected joy and danger, making everyday life wonderful.

Book cover

Meanwhile, in some distant future galaxy, love is blossoming between two gay space pirates, one human and the other a sentient spaceship. Aliette de Boudard The red scholar woke up The film (Gollancz £18.99) opens with scavenger Xích Si being held captive aboard ‘The Rice Fish, Resting’. Reason makes her casually captive: marriage or slavery. She wants to use Xích Si’s technological skills to help her discover why his ex-wife Huân was killed. The pair soon navigate the difficult waters of mutual attraction and virtual sex but must also deal with shifting loyalties between pirate clans and rescue Xích Si’s daughter from slavery.

book cover or

De Bodard’s novel, with its rich overlay of Vietnamese culture, is a luxuriously romantic experience. Mary Bader Kaley holes (Angry Robot £9.99) It’s dirtier in every way. A genetic plague has left the world divided along the lines of HG Wells’ Morlocks and Eloi. Genius and sickly subterraneans live underground, stronger but not like the average Omniforms above, with the two factions interdependent but still at odds. Brilliant underground teenager Zozan Kian, whose albinism has left her blind in bright light and whose life expectancy is only a few years, becomes instrumental in trying to find a cure for the disease that has divided society.

This is a tough intellectual story about scientific ethics and overcoming obstacles, and the author draws on her experience as a mother of an autistic son to say that with empathy and cooperation, anything is possible.

Join the Online Books Group on Facebook at FT Books Café

Leave a Comment