China Miéville expertly mixes science fiction, fantasy and surrealism in his latest short story collection, “Three Moments of an Explosion” (Del Rey, $27). For Miéville, the setting itself can often function as a character. In the story “Polynia,” for example, giant floating icebergs hover above London, becoming almost ghostly in their presence as they test the relationship between two boys. In “The Dowager of Bees,” professional card players discover that there are other, “hidden” suits (such as Chains and Scissors) that force losers to perform a task they don’t want to do. “After the Festival” is a surreal, grotesque exploration of addiction as participants in a carnival are chosen to wear animal heads that they then refuse to take off. Amid the longer stories are more cerebral, poetic flash pieces that will haunt the reader beyond the pages of this exceptional book.
“The Fifth Season” (Orbit; paperback, $15.99) is the much-anticipated and brilliant first installment of N.K. Jemisin’s new Broken Earth trilogy. In this fantastical tale, Earth has gone through cataclysmic seasonal shifts, and, in response, a new branch of humans has arisen. Called the orogene, these humans can shift the Earth and atmosphere to protect themselves — or harm others. If discovered by guardians when they’re young, the orogene are rounded up and trained in special centers to prevent them from causing damage. Within this apocalyptic landscape, Jemisin (“The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms”) lyrically narrates the lives of three orogene women: Essun, whose son has just been brutally murdered by her husband; Damaya, a young girl taken from her home to be trained by a vicious Guardian; and Syenite, who must breed with one of the most powerful orogenes. Amid these and other difficulties, each woman discovers a secret about mysterious obelisks that suddenly appear and can channel an orogene’s energy, thereby holding the next fateful season in their hands. Jemisin’s new novel sets up her trilogy with gorgeous writing and unexpected plot twists.
Aliette de Bodard presents a gritty, otherworldly Paris in her fast-paced, fantastical thriller “The House of Shattered Wings ” (Roc, $26.95). Sixty years after a war tore the city apart in 1914, humans, immortals and the Fallen (angels cast from heaven) vie for power. Philippe, a Vietnamese mortal with an immortal past and a terrible curse, is conscripted to serve the of House Silverspires. Psychically linked with the Fallen he tried to kill, Philippe and the Fallen must work to protect the House against a nameless, growing evil that has infiltrated it. Other forces sense Silverspires’s weakness and plan to capitalize on it. But when old betrayals and shifting loyalties among the inhabitants — both dead and living — threaten to destroy not only Silverspires, but the city itself, Philippe must choose between winning his own freedom and protecting the House that has enslaved him.
Nancy Hightower, who reviews science fiction and fantasy every month for The Washington Post, is the author of “The Acolyte.”