Deserts, dystopias and otherworldly perils — a round-up of new sci-fi

The Book of Sand (Century £12.99) is the primary novel beneath the identify Theo Clare, a pseudonym for Clare Dunkel, an writer higher recognized by one other pseudonym, Mo Hayder. As Hayder, Dunkel produced a string of extremely profitable and darkly visceral crime novels, beginning with Birdman in 2000. Sadly, she died of motor neurone illness final July, aged 59, leaving The E-book of Sand, together with its sequel The E-book of Clouds, to be revealed posthumously.

What we have now here’s a fantasy about religion and the seek for non secular certainty — and whereas it isn’t fairly as bleak as any of the Hayder titles, it’s not a lot much less gruelling both. One in every of its twin narrative strands takes place in a wierd, hostile desert the place a gaggle of various people try to seek out an artefact often known as the Sarkpont, which can or could not ship their salvation; on the similar time, they must fend off rivals and conceal from deadly, demonic creatures they’ve dubbed Djinni.

The opposite strand follows modern American teenager McKenzie, who’s obsessive about deserts and — since she retains seeing imaginary lizards — suspected of being schizophrenic. How the 2 plotlines dovetail is a part of the novel’s unfolding thriller, and its not-quite-an-ending paves the best way for subsequent 12 months’s follow-up, which, one hopes, will develop upon and make clear this ebook’s bold spiritual parable.

There’s an identical mix of mysticism and brutal realism in How High We Go in the Dark (Bloomsbury £16.99) by Japanese-American writer Sequoia Nagamatsu. A group of linked quick tales, the ebook opens with the invention of a millennia-old physique within the thawing Siberian permafrost. A contagious virus lurking throughout the mummified stays will get free and proceeds to wreak havoc the world over, killing first kids after which adults by mutating their inner organs. The ebook traces its results over a span of years, all the best way to its profitable eradication and past, right into a far future when civilisation has been left depleted and irrevocably altered.

The ebook was conceived and accomplished properly earlier than the pandemic, and so, mercifully, doesn’t come throughout as some impassioned Covid allegory. Reasonably, Nagamatsu makes use of his narrative to discover love, loss and grief. One part, “Metropolis of Laughter”, set in a theme park with a rollercoaster designed to euthanise children, is especially poignant; one other, “Pig Son”, during which a scientist in search of a remedy for the illness creates a pig with human-level intelligence, is pure tragicomedy. How Excessive We Go within the Darkish additionally encompasses interstellar journey, alien astronauts and life after loss of life, and if finally it proves to not be better than the sum of its components, these components themselves are individually enthralling.

Interstellar journey and aliens are likewise options of Mickey7 (Solaris £16.99), and so, in a vogue, is life after loss of life. This glorious providing from Edward Ashton rockets us off to far-flung Niflheim, a frozen planet the place a band of colonisers has settled. The titular character, Mickey Barnes, is what’s often known as an Expendable. Each time he’s killed, his consciousness is uploaded right into a freshly cloned physique and he picks up the place he left off. Naturally, the one jobs that come his manner are probably the most menial and probably life-threatening.

When his seventh incarnation suffers an accident, Mickey is left for lifeless however survives. Returning to the colony, he finds that an eighth Mickey has been generated within the meantime and there aren’t the assets to maintain each of them alive. On high of this, battle is brewing between the colonists and the big, insectile indigenes they’ve nicknamed “creepers”. It’s a story instructed with rigour, verve and cheery black humour.

Additionally set in frozen climes, but considerably nearer to dwelling, is All the White Spaces (Titan Books £8.99), a debut by Ally Wilkes. Shortly after the primary world warfare, some British explorers set sail for the Antarctic. They’re near their vacation spot when catastrophe strikes, forcing them to take refuge on the ice. There, with barely sufficient tools to outlive, they must contend not solely with the treacherous sub-zero situations but additionally with malevolent ghosts who lure them out of shelter to freeze to loss of life.

Protagonist Jonathan Morgan has stowed away aboard the ship, decided to show his value after each his older brothers have been killed within the trenches. It isn’t simply notions of bravery that drive him, nevertheless: Jonathan, born feminine, needs to flee a cosseted life and be free to embrace his true gender.

The thought of a polar expedition beset by supernatural forces was the idea of Dan Simmons’s formidable The Terror (2007), however All of the White Areas differs inasmuch because the horror is subjective and deeply metaphorical, emblematic of a nation traumatised by warfare and struggling to course of the disaster it has suffered. That and the principle character’s well-drawn inside turmoil make this an authentic and arresting — to not point out unsettling — learn.

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