In S.K. Dunstall’s “Stars Uncharted” (Ace), Nika Rik Terri and Josune Arriola are two women on the run from corporate gangsters in a future where humans lay claim to multiple planets and colonies across the galaxy. Explorers and companies alike seek maps to long-lost worlds, where they hope to find precious resources. Nika is a body modifier who redesigns people into works of art, but she leaves all she’s built to escape from an abusive boyfriend and the company he works for. Josune is a crew member of the explorer ship Hassim and has infiltrated a rival explorer ship. But when she tries to return to the Hassim, Josune finds that the company has wiped out her crew, and now she’s a target. She ends up in Nika’s care, and the two pair up to escape the clutches of the company — and maybe get rich along the way. At times, the action can get in the way of bigger ideas — the repercussions of Nika’s tinkering, for example — but still, this is a fun adventure novel with an irresistible ragtag crew.
Abbey Mei Otis is an exciting voice in contemporary science fiction. Her new book “Alien Virus Love Disaster” (Small Beer) is a short-story collection that explores those left behind in typical sweeping science fiction adventures — the children, discarded robots, school dropouts and blue-collar workers with the misfortune of being near something toxic. A stand-out story is “Moonkids,” about young humans from the moon who find themselves living and working on a beach town on Earth after being expelled from lunar society. Humans born on the moon end up becoming physically changed from the atmosphere, and if they fail a high-stakes exam, they are returned to Earth with nothing to do but be gawked at by normal people. Like many of Otis’s stories, it’s dreamy but with an intense physicality that belies the violence behind the longing.
In “Relic” (Del Rey), Alan Dean Foster keeps his distance when writing about the plight of poor Ruslan, the last human alive after a biological weapon wipes out humanity. Ruslan is an old man when an alien species called the Myssari finds him on the planet Seraboth and tries to gain his consent in hopes of cloning him and reviving the human race. Ruslan is cynical and borderline suicidal, but he trudges on almost out of politeness. Unsure whether humanity should be restored, he agrees to allow the Myssari to clone him — but only if they help him look for Earth. Ruslan and the Myssari examine each other with quiet, clinical precision. Because of this, it can be difficult to connect to the characters or feel their despair, loneliness or hope. Still, the questions Foster raises about whether humanity should survive make this a provocative read.
Everdeen Mason reviews science fiction and fantasy every month for The Washington Post.