Best new science fiction and steampunk

August 19

The year is 2096, and field biologist Daniel Brüks has exiled himself to the Oregon desert. He’s trying to escape the horrific scientific crimes of his past while working to ensure humanity’s future in Echopraxia (Tor, $24.99), by Peter Watts. Daniel lives in a world where soldiers have a zombie switch that lets them fight in battle, religious zealots with cerebral implants make ground-breaking technological discoveries, and vampires have been scientifically resurrected. Despite Daniel’s exile, he finds himself pursued by zombies and Valerie the Vampire, a quirky predator who learns as she kills. Soon, both humans and post-humans find themselves escaping on the Crown of Thorns, a ship bound for space to find a new life form. Staying alive on this pilgrimage is no easy task, and we get a sense of everyone’s hidden agenda and secrets faith — whether in technology, God or revenge. An alien whom they discover makes for an unlikely ally. Watt’s literary science fiction is engaging and stunningly bleak, but he asks all the right questions about our evolution.

In John Scalzi’s Lock In (Tor, $24.99), the world has been ravaged by Haden’s syndrome, a virus that kills or renders its victims completely immobile. A small set of the afflicted, known as Integrators, survive the virus and have the ability to momentarily “house” the consciousness of anyone else with Haden’s. Twenty-five years after the initial outbreak, paralyzed survivors can live full lives via androids synced to their consciousness. On the eve of a law going into effect that will take away some of their rights, a murder is committed in the Watergate Hotel involving a high-profile Integrator. FBI rookie Chris Shane, a Haden himself, along with his partner, Leslie Vann, must decipher who was in the room at the time of the murder and why it was committed. Their hunt for the truth leads to deeper conspiracies. Witty banter between Shane and his partner keep the novel from becoming too philosophical while exploring what it means to live a virtual existence.

Rod Duncan’s The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter (Angry Robot; paperback, $7.99) is the first novel in the Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire series. It’s all steampunk and circus wonder as we follow the adventures of Elizabeth Barnabas. She flees her home after a corrupt duke ruins her family’s fortune, essentially shutting down their carnival and demanding that Elizabeth become his slave. Now she lives on a boat in the Anglo-Scottish Republic, moonlighting as her fictional twin brother, who is a private investigator and also her chaperon. She has been able to keep up the guise, but money is short, and the rent for her boat is due. When a mysterious duchess tasks Elizabeth to find her missing brother, promising enough money to secure her freedom, how can she say no? She takes up with a circus that helped the duchess’s brother run away from home, but soon Elizabeth finds out just why he fled. Soon she is being pursued by the law, the corrupt duke and even the circus that had temporarily housed her. The double crosses along the way keep the plot tight and fun, and the conclusion sets us up nicely for book two.

Hightower is the author of “Elementari Rising.”


“Lock In” by John Scalzi (Tor /Tor )


“The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter: The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire, Book 1” by Rod Duncan (Angry Robot/Angry Robot)
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