The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of April

Best SF and fantasy of April
Well, there's a lot of science fiction this month in the reviews below (sorry, fantasy folk), but never fear: there is more fantasy in the full list for April, including new novels from Mark Lawrence, Cinda Williams Chima, and Roshani Chokshi.

Science fiction readers, you have a treat in store for you this month....


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Void Star by Zachary Mason - Immersive and labyrinthine, this near-future SF suspense novel sets a billionaire seeking immortality in a crumbling world against a tech genius whose neural memory implant allows her to communicate with networks and AIs. Irene’s ability to talk with machines makes her a much-coveted and very expensive troubleshooter, but her meeting with billionaire Cromwell sets off all sorts of subconscious alarm bells, as does the frightening glimpse of a wild AI she’s never encountered before. As Irene follows the trail of her suspicions and odd details her implant picked up, her path is set to intersect with that of Kern, a self-taught street fighter who raised himself within the favelas of San Francisco and who is on a mission to rescue a young woman who may (or may not) be an ally. Unlike most thrillers, Void Star utilizes a deliberate, predatory pace more common to the most exquisite horror novels. A buildup of tiny tells, headlong plunges into the sharp-as-glass memories saved in Irene’s implant, and eerie snapshots of the strange and inexplicable hammer the tension into a near-unbearable drumbeat as Irene and Kern’s quests threaten to collide. But even as Irene and Kern crisscross the planet—sometimes on the run, sometimes on the chase—it’s the essential role of memories that gives this novel its heft, coaxing us to consider what we keep and what we leave behind in our own daily world-building.

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American War by Omar El Akkad - American War will give you chills. Set in in 2075, Omar El Akkad's debut presents a fractured and frightening America, where the sun burns hot and the country has turned into war zones and refugee camps. Over the course of two decades, Akkad traces the fate of the Chestnut family, who flee their home in the south and spend the better part of their lives in a sprawling, impoverished encampment. This is where Sarat, a young, brave, tomboy, comes of age: “Perhaps the longing for safety was itself just another kind of violence—a violence of cowardice, silence, submission. What was safety, anyway, but the sound of a bomb falling on someone else’s home?” Albert Gaines, a radicalized Southerner, takes Sarat under his wing, equipping her with the fervor and tactics needed to win the war. Akkad piercingly describes the ravaged towns, the gel packets of fruit rations, the torturous effects of growing up in war. Written with precise care for the fictional truth—news articles, press releases, and oral histories emerge throughout – the book sounds a warning blast. American War is a disquieting novel of immense depth, and possibly a classic of our time. (Review by Al Woodworth)

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Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray - After 30 years, the uneasy detente between break-off planet colony Genesis and the small assembly of planets it once belonged to has deteriorated into a steady onslaught that puts Genesis at risk of defeat. Noemi, a starship pilot training for a suicide mission that could give Genesis time to rearm itself, encounters a one-of-a-kind enemy mech named Abel who has been adrift alone for 30 years...and whose programming has developed quirks during his isolation. As Abel and Noemi uneasily team up, Abel gets them off on the wrong foot by mech-splaining too much, and Noemi isn't shy about her intention that her suicide mission becomes his suicide mission instead. But as Noemi learns about the other planets in the system, the mission begins to change. And when Abel's old owner reenters the picture, Abel has to figure out whether he's going to follow his programming or his heart. Gray does an excellent job in both painting the complexities of civil war and exploring the growth of emotion between two people who have no reason to trust each other.

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Thrawn by Timothy Zahn - One of the most popular and strategically brilliant characters from the now-"Legends" extended Star Wars universe, Thrawn was the only Imperial officer to really give Luke, Leia, Han, and the rest of the rebels a run for their money in the years after Return of the Jedi. Zahn's new novel sends readers back to when Thrawn first joined the Empire at the moment when barely-there rumors are starting to surface of the creation of a massive weapon. Bouncing between Thrawn, his aide, and a woman determined to rise through the political ranks to get vengeance, the story line stretches over years as the characters maneuver into more powerful positions. Unfortunately, the Thrawn POV chapters are the weakest as they try to show how Sherlock Holmesian the enigmatic Thrawn is. But, like Watson's, the aide's chapters provide the most insight and entertainment. A solid addition to the new official Star Wars novels.

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The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard - The second book in the Dominion of the Fallen series is just as atmospheric as the first and shoves you right into the middle of the twisty political action in which fallen angels and (yay!) dragons compete for people and power. De Bodard knows how to craft a deliciously tense story in which flawed characters with competing agendas keep you flipping the pages to find out what happens next--and her broken, dark Paris is the perfect setting. Fantasy and urban fantasy fans should start with The House of Broken Wings with a happy confidence that book two is excellent as well.





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