There are many strange little towns in America, but none so strange as Night Vale, where librarians can kill you, all the angels are named Erika and the only way to get out of town may be to touch a plastic flamingo. The very popular Welcome to Night Vale podcast by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor now has a companion novel, Welcome to Night Vale (Harper Perennial, $19.99). The book features a surreal plot centered on Diane Crayton, the single mother of a 15-year-old shape-shifting son, and Jackie Fierro, a 19-year-old in charge of the local pawn shop. Diane must find a missing co-worker whom only she can remember. Jackie has been given a slip of paper that she can’t throw away or destroy. When Diane’s son disappears and a new visitor in town starts to divide into multiple selves, Jackie and Diane realize the answers lie in a mysterious place called King City; they just have to figure out how to get there. The book is charming and absurd — think “This American Life” meets “Alice in Wonderland.”
Catherynne M. Valente’s Radiance (Tor, $24.99) is set in a golden age of space travel. Valente, author of the best-selling 2011 novel“The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making,” conjures a galaxy in which all the planets have something so exotic and spectacular to offer that Earth is described as “glum” in comparison. Severin Unck is a documentary maker who wants to film a wrecked village on Venus. But when she travels to the planet, Severin disappears. The reader must piece together Severin’s tale — not only of what happened on Venus but also of her childhood — through an assortment of documents such as diary entries, interviews, gossip columns and screenplay fragments. Valente describes “Radiance” as a “decopunk alt-history Hollywood pulp SF space opera mystery with space whales and silent movies.” Fair enough; more simply, it is an intriguing examination of how we piece together our personal narratives.
The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015 (Mariner; paperback, $14.95), edited by Joe Hill and John Joseph Adams, shows just how much respectability genre fiction is gaining in American literature. The stories presented here are whimsical and haunting, touching on themes of personal erasure and attempted reclamation. Neil Gaiman lets his readers return to Neverwhere in “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back.” Shortly after his untimely death and subsequent resurrection, the Marquis de Carabas must follow a dangerous trail to recover all of his personal belongings, among them, a coat “the color of a wet street at night.” Kelly Link’s “I Can See Right Through You,” follows demon lover Will as he tries to survive his acting career while watching his doppelganger steal the affections of his best friend. Part critique of social-media culture, part revamped Orpheus tale, Carmen Machado’s “Help Me Follow My Sister into the Land of the Dead” is written in the form of a Kickstarter campaign as a girl searches for her sister in a land of ghosts. This volume’s diverse list of well-known and rising stars — including Sofia Samatar, Sam Miller, Nathan Ballingrud, Alaya Dawn Johnson and Theodora Goss — makes it a welcome addition to the “Best American” series.
Nancy Hightower, who reviews science fiction and fantasy every month for The Washington Post, is the author of “The Acolyte.”