The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Best new science fiction and fantasy this month

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Best-selling authors Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell team up on The Tangled Lands (Saga), a rich and haunting novel that explores a world where magic is forbidden. Each of the book’s four interconnected tales is devastating in its own way, because the authors don’t let anyone get away clean. All of the stories are set in the city of Khaim and its surroundings, where the use of magic causes a wild, poisonous bramble to grow, choking the land of food and casting anyone who touches it into a deep sleep. Even the smallest use of magic could cause harm for someone else, so casting magic is punishable by death. In “The Alchemist” a man tries to beat back the bramble with his inventions. “The Executioness” follows one mother on her quest to find her children and exact revenge. Another tale, “Children of Khaim” is told through the eyes of a young refugee who tries to keep his sister alive even though she’s been pricked by the bramble, and last, “The Blacksmith’s Daughter” is a crushing story about a family building armor for a noble at too high a cost. Like we do, the citizens of Khaim grapple with their complicity in the destruction of the world, even as they fight for the right reasons.

Paris Adrift (Solaris), by E.J. Swift is an effervescent blend of revisionist history, fantasy and science fiction. We’re introduced to a mad spirit, what’s left of the first time traveler from hundreds of years ago. She and a mysterious team of travelers have one shot to stop the world from ending in 2070. They work to manipulate a young woman named Hallie in the year 2017, after she has fled her home in Britain and is looking for a job in Paris. A mysterious man tells her about a job at a bar called Millie’s, and soon Hallie is swept into a world of cheeky misfit bohemians. She stumbles across a time rip in the cellar of the bar, and soon she is embroiled in a plot to save the future — and later, her present. Hallie’s newfound family and bar life is utterly charming, and it’s this that holds your attention even as the plot meanders. The stakes — world-destroying as they may be — never feel higher than whether Hallie will make it through a shift at Millie’s.

Vandana Singh’s poetic collection Ambiguity Machines: And Other Stories (Small Beer) is as ambitious and cerebral as the various experiments her scientist characters embark on. The stories are full of the musings of these scientist-philosophers as they navigate relationships, grief and the space-time continuum — fitting, as Singh herself is a physicist. “A Handful of Rice,” told in the cadence of a biblical tale, explores the friendship of two men after one becomes a powerful king. “Are You Sannata 3159?” is like the darkest “Black Mirror” plot, about a young boy who follows his hunch that the new slaughterhouse that has brought jobs and food into town is more than it seems. “Ruminations of an Alien Tongue” is a trippy look at how people are connected across time and universes, how they remain familiar even as they change. There’s a wonderful discordance between the cool, reflective quality of Singh’s prose and the colorful imagery and powerful longing in her narratives. Singh’s final novella — exclusive to this collection — has no finality to it. It’s a new beginning.

Everdeen Mason reviews science fiction and fantasy every month for The Washington Post.

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