Helen Oyeyemi’s first collection of short fiction, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours (Riverhead, $27), is a series of loosely connected, magically tinged tales about personal and social justice. Built around the idea of keys, locks and magic doors, the stories cover a wide territory — from mythology and fairy tales to smartphones and YouTube stars. In the wryly titled “If a Book Is Locked There’s Probably a Good Reason for That Don’t You Think,” the narrator discovers the price for invading privacy when she forces open a sealed diary. As she copies down purloined information, the black ink in her pen turns violet, and the journal begins to unfold on its own so that it’s “sitting upright . . . and seems to fill or absorb the air around it.” Other works, such as “Dornicka and the St. Martin’s Day Goose” and “Drownings” take us further back into European folklore with retellings of Little Red Riding Hood and magical kingdoms ruled by tyrants. In each, Oyeyemi, a Nigerian-born British writer named one of Granta’s best young British novelists in 2013, again shows her ability to mesmerize and enchant.
Ken Liu beautifully weaves myth with Asian cultural and political history in his long-anticipated The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories (Saga, $24.99). This sweeping collection of stories and novellas from the acclaimed author of “The Grace of Kings” includes his Hugo award-winner “Mono No Aware” and Nebula finalists “The Waves” and “All the Flavors.” Other stories are equally captivating. “The Literomancer,” for example, tells the story of Lilly, a little girl newly moved to Taiwan from Texas who is befriended by a young boy and his grandfather, who can divine the past and future. Soon Lilly must decide whose story to believe, that of the kindly grandfather, whose magic protects her from school bullies, or that of her father, who works for government intelligence and believes the older man is a communist agent. The title story, “The Paper Menagerie,” a Hugo and Nebula Award winner, is a magnificent, poignant tale about a mother who can breathe life into the origami animals she makes for her son; it is only after her death that he discovers why. Liu’s wondrous tales eloquently explore the place where ordinary and the extraordinary meet.
At the center of Robert J. Sawyer’s Quantum Night (Ace, $27) is Jim Marchuk, a quiet, unassuming experimental psychologist whose specialty is psychopaths. While being cross-examined during a court case, he realizes that six months of his memories have been erased, the result of a neurological experiment that had briefly turned him into a raging psychopath. But the experiment had also garnered important information about the fact that people fall into one of three categories: zombies who do mostly what they are told; psychopaths who are trying to manipulate the large masses of zombies; or humans who have a communal consciousness. But now the psychopaths are influencing the zombies to become violent mobs, and Marchuk and a team of scientists must figure out a way to make the zombies truly human again without turning them into psychopaths. It’s a dangerous challenge that Sawyer, a Nebula Award-winning author whose works include “The Terminal Experiment” and “Calculating God,” spins into a fast-paced sci-fi thriller.
Nancy Hightower, who reviews science fiction and fantasy every month for The Washington Post, is the author of “The Acolyte.”