Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 (Orbit) feels eerily prescient at times. Here Robinson (“Aurora,” “2312”) explores the lives of several residents of an apartment building in Manhattan after global warming has caused almost all of the world’s coastlines to go underwater. The novel follows the adventures of seven characters; each one intricately describes how society would change in a major natural disaster. Robinson covers all his bases: the science behind what caused the rise in the tides, the potential consequences to the U.S. economy, even the ins and outs of how to grow food with vastly diminished resources. The book is a strange hybrid. It has the tenacious, encyclopedic detail that Robinson is known for, the big ideas of a modern climate fiction novel and the twists and turns of a heist movie. The characters are memorable, particularly the two orphan boys and the Internet video star, Amelia. It all comes together (perhaps a little too) beautifully in the end. Anyone familiar with Robinson’s work knows that he can be tedious and heavy-handed, and this novel is no exception. But like the others, the thought-provoking ideas and vivid details make the book worth reading.
Emma Newman also conjures up a changed society in Brother’s Ruin (Tor), but this one is in the past. The novel takes place in Victorian London, which is full of magic. Anyone who has the talent to become a mage must be tested and then trained at the Society of Esoteric Arts, and their families are paid for their gifts. Hiding a talented person — or, worse, claiming someone is talented when he or she isn’t — has grave consequences. That’s why the protagonist, Charlotte, is in trouble. Her father has accidentally attributed her magical gifts, which she kept hidden, to her brother, who will now be tested. As she attempts to use her powers to pass off her brother as a talented mage, Charlotte uncovers a sinister conspiracy in the Society, and she must use all of her gifts and cunning to protect her family. Newman’s novella is a departure from her tight, psychological novels and introduces us to a fun world with plucky heroines, handsome and mysterious strangers, and devious doctors.
The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories (Solaris) opens quietly with an intense, thrumming poem from Egyptian poet Hermes, and then ignites like the creature it profiles over the next 200 pages. Edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin, this collection of short stories features the works of a diverse, engaging group of writers, each crafting a version of djinn, or genie, folklore. The authors weave the magical beings into their own cultures, some taking heavy hints from “The Arabian Nights,” others using djinn as an abstract, heavy longing to belong or as a haunting presence on Mars. The djinn is used to explore topics such as women’s sexuality and the disconnect between modern warfare and human lives. Neil Gaiman fans will recognize his contribution, an excerpt from “American Gods,” but the true standouts include Saad Z. Hossain’s “Bring Your Own Spoon,” a tale that depicts a dystopian- and disease-ridden future where a man and his djinn friend decide to start a restaurant. Monica Byrne’s “Authenticity” is another gem — a tongue-in-cheek look at a tourist’s quest for a genuine experience in a foreign country. Together, these fantasy stories offer a rich and illuminating cultural experience.
Everdeen Mason reviews science fiction and fantasy every month for The Washington Post.