One of Us (Orbit)
Craig DiLouie imagines a small Southern town in 1984 grappling with a government-run program for “plague children,” kids born with extreme genetic mutations as a result of a sexually transmitted infection. These children are often neglected, abused and forced to labor in neighboring farms for people who hate them. DiLouie switches his point of view between characters such as Dog, a sweet plague child who hopes to be a farmer and make friends with non-plague humans when he grows up; Brain, whose mutation gives him the appearance of a gorilla but the intellect of a genius; and Amy, a seemingly “normal” girl who has internalized all the hate she’s been told about the children. A chance meeting in the woods between the plague children and unaffected inhabitants sets off a cascade of increasingly explosive events that embroils the entire town. Be warned that DiLouie does not spare his child protagonists from violence. “One of Us” is a horror mash-up of “Wild Cards” and kid-capers like “The Goonies,” but its portrayal of hatred feels all too real — and will stay with you long after the book is done.
Rich Larson’s debut is an exciting twist on a hostile-alien-takeover drama. A part of the United States has been walled off by some mysterious substance, and an alien race has “clamped” all the adults, using a strange technology to turn them into walking dreamers. Meanwhile, the children have been lured into care facilities by horrifying bug-machine versions of their mothers; there they are implanted with something called a “parasite” and kept sedated. Eleven-year-old Bo escapes from a facility and discovers the parasite implanted in him gives him strange abilities. He runs into a teenage girl, Violet, who sees this new world as freedom from the society that didn’t accept her true self. She introduces Bo to a group of escaped children who train to use their parasites against the aliens. But the creatures aren’t the only thing Bo and Violet need to watch out for. This exhilarating tale hurtles briskly to its heartfelt conclusion.
Everdeen Mason reviews science fiction and fantasy every month for The Washington Post.