The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of September: Our Top 5 Picks

The best SF and fantasy of SeptemberIf you take a look at our full list of picks for the month—all 12 of 'em—you'll notice that at least a third of the books are set in a postapocalyptic world. This was coincidence, but as hurricanes and earthquakes batter the world and smoke from massive forest fires are choking the air here in the beautiful Northwest, these novels of doom and disaster are seeming more prophetic than fictional these days.

That doesn't mean you can't enjoy these excellent reads. Just be ready for the niggling sense that it's time to double-check your bug-out bag in case aliens, viruses, robots, or giant ticks decide that they want Earth all to themselves....


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Fever by Deon Meyer - Months after a fever has swept the world and decimated the population, a father and his teen son settle in a town near a hydroelectric dam and decide to start civilization anew. As survivors, many of them orphaned children, begin to gravitate toward the town, hostile forces that believe in might over right threaten the budding community. A mix of first-person narratives but primarily told from the point of view of the son, Fever reminded me a bit of World War Z, with its focus on how messy rebuilding can be, whether the threats come from within or without. Wide-ranging in scope and throbbing with storytelling talent, Fever also brings a dose of freshness, set in South Africa rather than more familiar territory.

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Autonomous by Annalee Newitz - Captain Jack is more than a pirate in command of a submarine (though that's cool in itself). She reverse engineers expensive pharmaceuticals and donates the drugs to countries that can't afford them at all. But when a new drug, not yet to market, demonstrates fatal side-effects on the people Jack thought she was helping, she knows not only has she screwed up, she is now in the crosshairs of big pharma, who has a lot of money riding on the new drug. And one of the big pharma assassins on her trail is a robot who, once its contract is up, will be able to claim autonomy and live as free as any non-indentured human. Newitz's future Earth is chockablock with genetic manipulation and molecular engineering; slavery, indentured servitude, and autonomy; and the evils of big corporations. Sometimes Jack's flashbacks get in the way of the current action, slowing the pace, but Autonomous is an marvelously fun read for those who enjoy having their cozy assumptions challenged.

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An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock - I used to thrill to new stories with airships, but the joy wore off for me after too many books relied on using airships as "plot" instead of creating actual plots. Happily, An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors has plenty of plot—and blood magic and political backstabbing and derring-do—as well as clever, enjoyable characters, making this not only a sparkling debut but a book whose sequel is already on my must-read list. 

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Zero Repeat Forever by G. S. Prendergast - Another apocalypse book, this time with alien invaders as the baddies. Teenager Raven is a counselor at a wilderness survival camp (an irony, she realizes) when humanoids known as Nahx begin decimating major cities, including her home town of Calgary. She holds on to hope until her boyfriend and fellow counselor is killed, and then she only has revenge to sustain her. But when a defective Nahx known as Eighth comes to her rescue and treats her wounds, Raven's world is slowly upended. And Eighth finds someone new to protect, even if it means protecting her from himself. Yes, this is pure YA, with all the feels and torn loyalties and mixed motivations you should expect and will thrill to. (Even if Eighth is pretty darn screwed up.) Plus it has a humdinger of an ending.

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Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray - I'm making my tween daughter rewatch Episodes IV-VII with me over the next few months, to make sure she's completely immersed in Star Wars-land before The Last Jedi, and now I'm considering adding Leia, Princess of Alderaan to her must-read list as well. The day that Leia turns sixteen (or when she thinks she's sixteen—she knows she's adopted), Leia, as per tradition, declares herself a princess of Alderaan and sets herself three goals to achieve to prove her worth to her planet. She also, more desperately, wants to regain the attention of her once-loving parents, who now have no time for her. It's fun having the inside scoop—understanding that Leia's parents are busy secretly supporting the Rebel Alliance, and knowing that characters like Captain Antilles and Tarkin will have more future encounters with Leia. Most important, Grey does a lovely job imbuing Leia with the hot spark we recognize in her on-screen persona while keeping true to the turmoil of being sixteen and having to grow wise on an accelerated schedule, with all the mistakes Leia makes and regrets she accumulates along the way. 
Don't forget to check out all our picks for the best science fiction and fantasy of the month.

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