In Beacon 23 (John Joseph Adams, $28), Hugh Howey presents us with a wisecracking, slightly obsessive-compulsive ex-soldier. This nameless narrator now operates a space station — called Beacon 23 — that helps illuminate the Milky Way so ships can safely maneuver through it. He is a cynical, lonely war hero and something of an eccentric. He’s not above talking to a rock (and hearing it talk back) or adopting a Labrador/leopard hybrid named Cricket. Soon the Beacon starts to break down, and war is on the horizon. Our narrator must make a terrible choice between allowing warships to pass through or let them to be wrecked in the darkness. The book — originally published as a series of e-books — is the perfect blend of a fast-paced action coupled with a psychologically insightful portrait of loneliness, of the little idiosyncrasies we develop when living on our own, and how we crave companionship.
Dexter Palmer’s Version Control (Pantheon, $27.95) explores the complexities of narrative and time travel. The main character, Rebecca Wright, is a high-functioning alcoholic in a loveless marriage. Her growing unease is suddenly disrupted by a terrible car accident that destabilizes her future in unforeseen ways. In one version, she has lost her son in a car crash. In another, it is her husband who is the casualty. Rebecca comes to realize that the world is horribly “upside down” with either version, and it is up to her to create a narrative that makes sense. With time travel as a fascinating backdrop, Palmer (“The Dream of Perpetual Motion”) delicately examines the layers of stories we create when trying to differentiate “the information from the truth.”
Mo Daviau creates a witty time travelogue in her first novel, Every Anxious Wave (St. Martin’s,$25.99). Bar owner Karl Bender has discovered a wormhole in his closet that’s a portal to other eras. Karl decides that the gateway can be used only to attend past rock concerts and that nothing in history can be altered. However, that all changes when his friend Wayne tries to save John Lennon from being killed in 1980, but is accidentally sent to A.D. 890. Whoops! Karl employs the help of Lena, an emotionally scarred physicist, to help him get his friend back and soon falls in love with her. Karl wants to heal Lena, so he moves through time to undo her childhood traumas. But with each tweak of the past, the Lena he knows in the present becomes radically different. Reminiscent of Wayne Gladstone’s hauntingly funny “Notes From the Internet Apocalypse,” Daviau’s book beautifully illustrates how the best love stories are revised narratives.
Nancy Hightower, who reviews science fiction and fantasy every month for The Washington Post, is the author of “The Acolyte.”