Warren Ellis has a dark view of the future, and he wants to give you the inside scoop. In his newest book Normal, the prolific author of dozens of graphic novels shares his creepy and worryingly plausible view of the future of surveillance and technology in the world.
The book begins at Normal Head, an isolated facility in the Pacific Northwest. Normal is where futurists, people whose job it is to look forward and prepare for catastrophes, go to recover when the pressures of their jobs drive them to depression, exhaustion and madness. The protagonist is a newly arrived patient who investigates a strange disappearance of another patient at the facility.
While not being an uplifting tale, the book does present an interesting take on where the future of technology may head. Normal is almost more an education on problems humanity may face in the future than a story. It stares unblinkingly at a future that the reader may feel is implausible, but can’t entirely dismiss as impossible. Though it sounds grim, the book is full of memorable and funny — if bizarre — characters, each defined by their quirks and their fears.
Overall the book is a great read, especially for fans of speculative, near-future sci-fi. Not truly dystopian, it shows how we got from present day to a world destroyed. Normal is weird and quirky and dark but ultimately delightful.
Readers who enjoyed this are also likely to enjoy some of Ellis’ other works, such as Trees, a graphic novel set in a near future where our world has been irrevocably changed by massive technological columns (the titular Trees) from space. They might also enjoy Transmetropolitan, another graphic novel by Ellis that is set in the full on dystopian future, though that series is a good deal more crude and adult than this book. For something a little more hopeful, though no less dark, readers could also try Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. This book, also set in the near future, discusses the dangers of government surveillance through the eyes of a teenager living in San Francisco in the wake of a terrorist attack.
In Meg Howrey’s The Wanderers, the first mission to Mars is approaching. Helen, Yoshi and Sergei are a team of astronauts that want to be chosen for the mission. But first, the team must be successful in a 17–month-long simulation on Earth — proving they are the right team that is prepared for any challenges. Though the astronauts believe they are on Earth in an eerily realistic simulation, they begin to question if everything is real or not.
Howrey thoroughly explores the relationships of the astronauts to the people in their lives and to each other. Helen, Yoshi and Sergei demonstrate how the life choice of being an astronaut affects themselves and those around them. Helen feels that she may not have been and continues not to be the mother her daughter, Mireille, needed her to be. Dmitri, Sergei’s son, hides how he truly feels and behaves from his father. Yoshi’s wife, Madoka, believes her husband doesn’t know who she really is and that it would destroy their marriage.
Though this story seems very much like one about the first mission to Mars, it really isn’t at all. This is a story about humanity. It’s about the way the astronauts and the people in their lives are affected by the demanding and adventurous life of an astronaut. It’s about the urge to travel into space and what it is really like once you have been in space. Howrey’s beautiful language and view into the personal thoughts of this group of people make The Wanderers an intriguing and charming read.
The writing team styled as James S.A. Corey picks up the ever complex interplanetary politics and resulting war without missing a beat in book six of The Expanse series. Longtime fans of the series will enjoy the return of many characters from previous books in the newest installment, Babylon’s Ashes.
The spaceship Rocinante’s crew is reunited for a drawn-out debriefing on Luna Base. Captain Holden and company ship out under former Martian Marine Bobbie Draper’s command to help coordinate what remains of the joint fleet from Earth and Mars, as well as the unaligned OPA factions, to put a stop to Marco’s plans.
The complex tribal nature of the Belt is given a hefty portion of the storytelling though the voices of Naomi, Dawes, Pa, Prax, Filip and Marco. Corey devotes time into exploring the poisonous father-son relationship between Marco and Filip, as well as Naomi’s guilt for sacrificing her son to Marco’s control. One of the most striking moments of the book occurs when Filip has an important realization about his father.
If you are new to the novels that precede the sixth installment, make sure to get started with Leviathan Wakes, or check out season one of The Expanse before the next season starts back up on February 1.
Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black is the first installment of a new series that takes an exciting and refreshing approach to the aliens attacking Earth story. Set 500 years in the future, the people of Earth have been in a grinding war with a mysterious alien species. With them came the mysterious force of "thelemity", which they brought to use as a weapon. Luckily, humans found that they could use thelemity too.
Black introduces us to a variety of characters that, through their multiple viewpoints, build up this multifaceted and detail-rich story. Jax is a 12-year-old "fontani", someone who can use the mysterious element of thelemity and plays an important part in the defense of the Ninth City. Torro is a factory worker in a settlement of the Ninth City who is chosen in a sudden draft for the war. Naomi and Rae are sisters that travel and live outside of the city who end up becoming much more important to the Ninth City than they could have known. Though these are just a few of the characters who lend their viewpoints, we learn the truths of the war and their part in it as each of them train and prepare for battle.
Black’s future Earth is wonderfully imagined with sharp attention to detail. Many things aren’t what you think they are initially, and the twists in the story add an air of mystery that I was not expecting. Lovers of science fiction and fantasy will find Ninth City Burning intriguing and intense in the best possible way. Be sure to keep an eye out for the rest of the series.
If you tore through Netflix’s Stranger Things as quickly as I did and are craving more nostalgia-inducing science fiction, look no further than Paper Girls. Created by an all-star team including Brian K. Vaughan of Saga fame and Cliff Chiang, the artist behind Wonder Woman, Paper Girls is a coming-of-age story that reads like the twisted result of a partnership between John Hughes and John Carpenter.
Four preteen newspaper delivery girls trying to make their rounds early the morning after Halloween are met with hurdles in the form of costumed bullies, overbearing local police and mysterious masked figures with secrets aplenty. Those familiar with Vaughan’s work will recognize his signature oddball brand of science fiction here; the truly bizarre is interwoven with the ordinary in a way that brings out the best in both. The interactions between the paper girls and the surreal and strange characters they meet result in some of the snappiest dialogue I’ve ever read; this pre-teen gang genuinely feel like they fell right out of your favorite '80s movie and into this book.
Cliff Chiang reunites with colorist Matt Wilson here to create a truly dreamy nostalgic landscape. The almost flat pastel colors lend an ethereal air to the whole book; even the scenes that are grounded in reality have a certain otherworldliness to them that is well suited for the tone of the book.
Grab yourself a Crystal Pepsi, put on John Carpenter’s Lost Themes and prepare to get weird.
Spies. Monsters. Super powers. And…bureaucratic humor? In Stiletto, Daniel O’Malley delivers a riveting novel that covers all of the above and more. A follow up to his smash hit The Rook, this novel delves deeper into the world of the Rookery, a covert agency in the English government that employs individuals with unusual abilities to protect their country from threats internal and external.
In this book, the Rookery is looking to make nice with an age old foe. But how do you join two groups, when both have been raised since time immemorial to despise the other? Old wounds are re-opened and loyalties are tested when these organizations are forced to confront very real threats to themselves, their colleagues and to England itself.
While modern fantasy/espionage/horror/office humor is a pretty niche sub-genre, Daniel O’Malley does a great job of making this book accessible to all audiences. Funny and insightful one moment, terrifying and tense the next, O’Malley seamlessly blends genres to keep the reader engaged from start to finish. He also does a great job of mining his premise for unexpected humor — at one point they discuss how a Gorgon was driven from England not by an armed assault, but by a series of increasingly withering tax audits.
A great read for fans of urban fantasy, this book has humor, heart and a few good scares in store for its readers. If you enjoy this book, you could also check out The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross, another series about English spies defending crown and country from the supernatural while dealing with bureaucratic red tape. Urban fantasy fans might also enjoy Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files; the first book in that series is Storm Front. It follows a modern day private investigator who also happens to be a wizard, mixing dry humor with thrilling action and some terrifying moments.
In the year 2052, a comet is approaching the Earth, which has inspired a suicide cult called Heaven’s Gate to begin sacrificing animals. The cult believes that killing animals will help them achieve a “level above human.” Because of this, animals around the entire world face mass extinction. In Bill Broun’s Night of the Animals, one man named Cuthbert Handley believes he must free the animals of the London Zoo, one of the last remaining havens for animals, to save the animals themselves and all of humanity. Cuthbert is an indigent man in his 90s with a serious heart condition, an addiction to a hallucinogenic drug and a curious gift called the Wonderments, that allows him to communicate with animals.
During his mission to free the animals, Cuthbert experiences a variety of mixed emotions and thoughts, from wondering if he actually possesses the Wonderments to wondering if he’s just crazy and hallucinating, to hoping that he is just doing the right thing. Cuthbert’s struggle to deal with the consequences — good or bad — of his decisions leads to some in-depth pondering and philosophical discussions with some interesting animals. Will Cuthbert be successful in his mission? Will the night of the animals be everything he hoped?
Though the story revolves around the single night of Cuthbert’s mission, Broun takes us through Cuthbert’s life and what led him to this event. We learn that Cuthbert’s entire life has been difficult, from the disappearance of his older brother to being accepted by his parents to his present time, where he struggles more than ever. Cuthbert’s character is strongly developed and completely charming.
The dystopian world and science fiction details of Night of the Animals only highlight and emphasize the important aspects of the plot, Cuthbert’s struggle with humanity and the fate of the world. This detail-rich story draws you in, and will have you questioning everything until the end. You simply won’t want to put this exciting and adventurous book down.
The year is 2089 and humanity’s vices have only grown more severe with time; the only escape from the bleak reality of a world wrecked by pollution is to sugarcoat the dreary with flashy new virtual distractions. The neon-splashed cyberpunk future of Rick Remender and Sean Murphy’s Tokyo Ghost: Vol. 1 is equal parts entertaining and unsettling.
Constable Led Dent is a ruthless servant of the criminal overlords running Los Angeles, numbed to the horrendous acts of violence he commits by his seemingly unbreakable addiction to constant artificial audiovisual stimulation. Led’s only remaining link to the real world is his partner and lover, Debbie, whose unwavering dedication to finding a way to get Led clean lands them with a dangerous job in Tokyo, the last bastion of technology-free living in a world obsessed with staying connected.
Artist Sean Murphy and colorist Matt Hollingsworth are a flawless art team. Murphy’s dynamic lines and Hollingsworth’s masterful use of texture and color make for page after page of truly jaw-dropping artwork. Frenetic action sequences are rendered in hyper-detailed gory glory, the futuristic media projections are colorful and full of playful nods to current pop culture trends, and the tranquil landscapes of Tokyo stand in stark contrast to the gaudy streets of Los Angeles.
Remender often uses his stories to explore topical ideas pushed to their extremes, and Tokyo Ghost is no exception; while the exaggerated technology and over-the-top characters exist firmly in the realm of science fiction, you’re sure to latch onto at least one idea in this book that will make you examine the way that you interact with the world.
If you’re as blown away by the art in this book as I was, try The Wake, an Eisner Award-winning series that pairs the same art team with writer Scott Snyder and somehow manages to make fish people scary. Seriously.
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel is a captivating new science fiction novel about a giant metal robot whose parts are strewn across different parts of the earth and the physicist determined to uncover its origins and purpose. Dr. Rose Franklin encountered the robot firsthand when she was a young girl. She was riding her bike when, suddenly, she fell through the ground and into the palm of a giant metal hand. Rose slowly learns that the hand is just one of many robot parts being discovered around the world, but it’s not clear what these robots were meant for. Making human lives easier? Destroying human lives? The story is told in journal entries, interviews and transcripts, so the reader feels the suspense of trying to piece the story together. Each interviewer and interviewee shares a new perspective to this mystery, and the results unfold at a thrilling pace.
This novel is engaging and moves quickly. Its realistic premise makes it a great read for fans of The Martian and science fiction lovers. Although the scientific and robotic concepts are realistic, the language and style of the story are easily digestible. Neuvel has an education in linguistics and a background as a software engineer, so his story is fun to both read and speculate about. It's the first book in a new series, so readers who enjoy this book can look forward to the next installment Walking Gods, coming out in April 2017.
Can a person con their way out of a "lawyer-tight" contract that promises his or her soul to the Devil upon death? K. J. Parker, a two-time winner of the World Fantasy Award, will elegantly feed you this delicious information in his science fiction and fantasy novella The Devil You Know.
“...Why exactly do you want to sell your soul to us?” This is a question that a demon case officer, who is in the soul buying business, asks his new client, Saloninus, the world’s greatest philosopher, liar, cheat and trickster. Time flew by rather quickly for Saloninus, a 77-year-old man who believes he wasted his talent on scheming others. Unhappy with the fact that he has no self-respecting achievements, he decides to sign a contract to sell his soul to the Devil in order to acquire 20 more years of life on Earth and a youthful transformation to age 25 for the opportunity to make a mark on history. Once Saloninus signs the contract, the demon case officer becomes his servant, who uses his own supernatural abilities to grant Saloninus outlandish requests. When the demon questions Saloninus about what he plans to do with his additional years on Earth, the philosopher behaves suspiciously. This behavior gives the demon a reason to believe that the old trickster is up to his old tricks again and that his target is… the Devil. Saloninus is supposed to be the cleverest man on Earth. Will Saloninus successfully swindle the Devil? The demon case officer is supposed to be the best in the business. Will he halt Saloninus’ plan? To swindle or not to swindle, that is the question.
Readers who relish stories that involve the supernatural, mortality and good and evil, will find K. J. Parker’s novella The Devil You Know delightful and possibly frightful. Add this entertaining treat to your summer reading list — if you dare.