Carola Dibbell’s fascinating debut, The Only Ones (Two Dollar Radio; paperback, $16.99), details the emotional journey of Inez Fardo, a 19-year-old who has survived terrible trauma and yet still manages to find life wondrous at times. In a time when most of the population has been wiped out by a series of superviruses, she makes a meager living cleaning up contaminated sites. But when it’s discovered that she is resistant to the viruses that continue to threaten the world, an amateur scientist and his team offer to harvest her DNA to make healthy babies for others. Inez goes along with the plan, but soon a series of events forces her to raise the one child produced by the experiment. What follows is a heart-piercing tale of love, desire and acceptance as Inez tries to give her daughter a different life from the one she’s experienced. Readers will be mesmerized by Dibbell’s staccato prose as much as they are by the harrowing circumstances this mother and child must endure.
The Mechanical (Orbit; paperback, $17), by Ian Tregillis, presents an intriguing steampunk/alternate history set in the 1920s, when the Dutch have kept control of Europe and most of the known world with an army of clockwork soldiers known as Clakkers. The story focuses on the escapades of three unlikely rebels: Jax, a century-old Clakker who is emboldened by the battle cry “Clockmakers lie”; Berenice, a French noble and superspy for the exiled king; and Visser, a Catholic spy working for Berenice in the Netherlands. By the end of the novel, the physical and emotional transformations they have endured promise an even more exciting sequel. This tightly wound plot yields timely conversations regarding consciousness and technology as various forms of human and machine merge.
Francesca Haig’s The Fire Sermon (Gallery, $26) features a world divided 400 years after a nuclear holocaust. Humans are now born only as twins — a healthy Alpha, with an Omega “shadow counterpart” who harbors some mutation (missing arms, extra toes, visions). While the twins’ lives are permanently linked, the Omegas are seen as freaks and are sent away to camps. Having been kidnapped and imprisoned by her twin, Cassandra, a young Omega woman with the gift of second sight, discovers a terrifying new holding cell where Omegas are kept. With the help of another Omega whose memories have been wiped clean, Cass sets out to destroy this terrifying compound while also preserving the life of her brother. Haig’s post-apocalyptic world is colorfully fleshed out, and the conclusion ask us to consider who, really, is the Other.
Nancy Hightower is the author of “Elementari Rising.”