Through an almost satirical look into a near-future China, Maggie Shen King's debut, An Excess Male (Harper Voyager), makes a compelling argument that marriage stands as a method of societal control. Set in 2030, after the one-child policy greatly skews the ratio of men to women, Wei-guo is one of many "leftover men" still unmarried at the age of 40. He works to save for a high dowry and market himself as a desirable marriage partner. He gets an opportunity to join a family as a third husband, the maximum allowed by law, and instantly falls in lust with May-ling. However, her family's secrets threaten to put it — and Wei-guo — at odds with the state. We hear from Wei-guo, May-ling and her two husbands as they struggle to figure out how far they are willing to go for family or country. King writes distinctive and sympathetic characters, and her vision of a not-so-far future is unnerving and thought-provoking.
With Provenance (Orbit), Ann Leckie returns to the universe she built in her acclaimed Imperial Radch trilogy. Ingray, the insecure foster child of a prominent politician, plans a dastardly scheme to cement her status in her mother's eyes, pull one over on her jerk of a brother and regain precious artifacts highly coveted by her people. To pull this off, she must free an infamous thief from an inescapable prison. Plans go awry, and Ingray is thrust into a high-stakes interplanetary conflict. She and her retinue of charming criminals have to make new plans to save her world. Leckie introduces several new human and nonhuman cultures to the Radch universe, and the intricacies and oddities are a delight. The plot can get a bit convoluted, especially as Ingray's motivations become unclear — does she want to be in power or does she want to be free? — but the novel is still a thrill for fans of heists and capers. While the book is intended as a stand-alone, it does help to be familiar with Leckie's previous novels.
Marie Lu's highly anticipated Warcross (Putnam) doesn't waste any time thrusting the reader into the heart of the action with a thrilling chase by teenage bounty hunter and hacker Emika Chen. She is trying to make ends meet in a New York City not unlike our own — except the world has been changed by the invention of deeply immersive augmented reality glasses. Cities such as Tokyo have been completely redesigned with AR in mind, and a whole new black market has formed. The biggest cultural event is the Warcross Games, a tournament centered around an immersive video game where players can battle and quest in fantasy worlds. When Emika runs an untested hack during the opening ceremony, she is thrust into the spotlight and into the Warcross Games. Though billed as a young adult novel, Lu's world will seem familiar to fans of Neal Stephenson's adult classic, "Snow Crash."Lu sticks to her tried-and-true formulas here, but the book is as brightly hued as Emika's sleeve tattoo and rainbow hair — a fast-paced, fun-filled adventure.
Everdeen Mason reviews science fiction and fantasy every month for The Washington Post.
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