Good Morning, Midnight (Random House) by Lily Brooks-Dalton is a beautifully written, sparse post-apocalyptic novel that explores memory, loss and identity. The narrative moves seamlessly between Augustine (Augie), a 78-year-old scientist at an observatory at the top of the Arctic archipelago, and Sullivan (Sully), a mission specialist on a deep space flight to Jupiter. Motivated by their deep curiosity of the natural world, both Sully and Augie have left their families and devoted their time to scientific inquiry in the most desolate of landscapes. Yet both must begin to re-evaluate these life choices when all communication goes dead as a result of a world-changing apocalyptic event. Augie discovers a mysterious young girl who was left behind in the evacuation and begins to care for her as they brave the arctic terrain. Sully and her crew decide to return to Earth, but with no mission control, their journey is especially treacherous — and only brief radio contact with Augie gives them hope that there might be an Earth to return to. Fans of Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven ” and Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Aurora” will appreciate the Brooks-Dalton’s exquisite exploration of relationships in extreme environments.
Michael Swanwick shows his extraordinary range in Not So Much, Said the Cat (Tachyon) The 17 stories here blend and bend the science fiction and fantasy genres. “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled . . .”, a Hugo nominee, is narrated by Rosamund, a space suit A.I. Her lover, Quivera, is sent to an alien city of giant millipedes in an effort to form an alliance. The alien planet is attacked, and Quivera flees with a case he believes is their library, but soon he discovers it holds something even more important. “Goblin Lake” places us at the end of the Thirty Years War in 1646, when a young soldier named Jack discovers the magical world beneath the surface of a lake where people live as self-aware characters in fiction. Jack is given a difficult choice to make: live in messy reality with all of its tragedy and loss, or stay in a fictional one that would grant him eternal life. “The Man in Grey” plays with a similar theme as a young woman is saved from an accidental death only to discover her life is created, in part, by stagehands and props. Swanwick’s stories are wistful and weird, at times tragic yet still hopeful as the mythic and scientific intertwine.
Genetically engineered ants command center stage in Chuck Wendig’s enthralling science-fiction thriller Invasive (HarperVoyager). When the body of a young man is found totally stripped of flesh, the FBI calls in futurist Hannah Stander to help them profile what kind of killer this could be. Clues point to millionaire Einar Geirsson and his team of scientists who have a secret lab on Kauai, but could they have created a monstrous race of ants to destroy all humans? The daughter of survivalists, Stander is undaunted as she tries to outmaneuver both insect and human assassins. Wendig does an impeccable job blending fact and fiction as he describes invasive species and insects being used as biological weapons. This is a propulsive tale that also examines our interaction with — and manipulation of — the natural world.
Nancy Hightower, who reviews science fiction and fantasy every month for The Washington Post, is the author of “The Acolyte.”