In Summerlong (Tachyon), Peter S. Beagle, the beloved author of “The Last Unicorn,” explores how ordinary relationships in a small town are altered by the appearance of a living myth. Lioness Lazos is a young waitress who can somehow pull fully formed flowers from underground and purify contaminated well water so it tastes as if it comes from a spring. When Abe, an aging academic, and his partner, Joanna, discover that Lioness has no home and few belongings, they invite her to live with them at their home on an island in the Puget Sound. Soon the presence of Lioness awakens long-lost passions in Abe and Joanna. But someone is hunting the young woman, too, and Abe and his family realize that they are caught up in a much bigger story of love, desire and a long-ago promise. Beagle uses an ancient myth as a backdrop, creating a brilliant stage to explore the personal dynamic of Abe and Joanna’s vibrant yet deteriorating relationship.
Children of the New World (Picador), a story collection by Alexander Weinstein, takes us into a future populated with robotic children, a time when memories can be bought and sold. In the title story, a virtual-reality program enlivens the sex life of an aging couple — resulting in children and a craving for adventure. But when the pair set out for the red-light district, the program accidentally gives them a computer virus that they can destroy only by making a terrible sacrifice. In “Saying Goodbye to Yang,” a family gets a robot sibling named Yang to help care for their daughter. When Yang malfunctions, the family becomes desperate to try to preserve his presence, leading to a rather grotesque outcome. Like many of the stories here, this one gives us a darkly comic look at how far people will go to hold on to the devices that are replacing human experience.
Sarah Beth Durst’s The Queen of Blood (Harper Voyager) is set in a magical world called Renthia, where nature and humankind coexist in an uneasy relationship. The spirits that create and help maintain nature are instinctually violent and wish to destroy humans. Only the queen of Renthia can restore balance. But the queen seems to be losing her powers. At a special academy, young women are being trained to take the queen’s place. Among them is Daleina, whose village was destroyed by wood spirits. While she is in training, Daleina discovers that the heirs are being assassinated and that more villages are being lost to the woodland spirits. She must figure out the deeper conspiracy or else she and the rest of the heirs will be lost. Durst, whose previous books include “The Girl Who Could Not Dream” and “Conjured,” is an expert world-builder and has crafted an enthralling tale filled with an intriguing ensemble of characters.
Nancy Hightower, who reviews science fiction and fantasy every month for The Washington Post, is author of “The Acolyte.”