In The Three-Body Problem (Tor, $25.99), Cixin Liu — a prolific and popular science fiction writer in China — tackles politics, philosophy and virtual reality in a story that moves at a thriller’s pace. Set in part during the Cultural Revolution of the ’60s and ’70s, the narrative follows Ye Wenjie, an academic who watches Red Guards brutally kill her father. Forty years later, Wang Miao, a researcher who specializes in nanomaterials, is asked to infiltrate a group of elite scientists, several of whom have mysteriously committed suicide, among them, Ye Wenjie’s daughter. Wang’s investigation leads him to an online virtual reality game in which players try to figure out why an apocalypse keeps wiping out a civilization. But Wang discovers the game has far-reaching consequences, including the fate of Earth. Liu successfully interweaves hard science and adventure in this series debut.
Elysium (Aqueduct, $18), by Jennifer Marie Brissett, follows the lives of two characters as they switch genders and lives in this haunting, surreal story about surviving at all costs. The two characters’ narratives are continually rebooted, erased, fixed and corrupted by a computer system bent on preserving their memories even as cataclysmic events morph humans into beastlike creatures. In a desperate attempt to save their loved ones from madness, decay and invaders who live in the fourth dimension, humans build underground cities, even growing wings and flying in this rich exploration of identity and memory.
Set in 2023, Jamie Metzl’s techno-thriller Genesis Code (Arcade, $24.95) finds the United States in dreadful economic straits, deeply in debt to China and in the midst of a divisive culture war. When a newspaper reporter begins an investigation of a woman’s mysterious death, he uncovers something more sinister that involves genetic manipulation (the genesis code of the title) and various government and rogue forces. Metzl, who has worked for the National Security Council and is now a Senior Fellow of the Atlantic Council, has a strong command of the financial, political and bioethical questions at the heart of his fast-paced dystopian novel.
Hightower, the author of “Elementari Rising,” reviews science fiction and fantasy every month for The Washington Post.