Edgar Cantero, Meddling Kids: Scooby Doo meets Cthulhu in an adventure that is very self-aware but tries too hard to pull it off for my taste. In 1977, four meddling kids and their dog exposed a supposed haunting as merely a crook in a suit. But in 1992, they’re still suffering the effects of what they saw (those that are still alive) and Andy, the butch Hispanic who’s still in love with Kerri, the brilliant redhead, gets the group back together (those that are still alive, and the dog’s grandson) to find out what really happened. I feel bad saying this, but the writing was too clever (I don’t even know what a night as dark as a pornographic metaphor means, and shotgunning has a meaning that overrides its unusual use to mean “shooting with a shotgun”). If you like metafiction a lot, then this may well do the trick.
Geoff Ryman, Air: A Novel: It took me a while to get around to this, but I was very glad I did. Mae is a peasant entrepreneur in an isolated village in a Central Asian country with a history of Chinese invasion and suppression of a minority ethnicity. A botched test of an always-on, no-hardware-needed internet system leaves her consciousness entwined with that of an old woman who died during the test, and Mae has to adapt or die. Except I’ve only explained maybe half of the key complications of her situation, which also involves her husband, her family, her lover, the gangster who takes an interest in her, the government man and the rebel girl and the frenemies—this is a book about a person who is only herself as part of a community, but is also quite distinctly herself, to the dismay of many of those around her. Air, the name for the global information system that’s coming, is the internet, but it’s also change, inevitable and deadly and needing to be embraced for all that. There was a bit of magical realism-type plot that seemed metaphorically fitting but otherwise unnecessary, but in general I really enjoyed it—and it’s nice to read about middle-aged women who are the heroes of their own lives, who are mothers but whose lives didn’t become focused solely on the children.
Kat Howard, Roses and Rot: Imogen and her younger sister Marin escaped their abusive childhood, though not undamaged. Both of them have been selected for an exclusive artistic mentoring program that seems more than perfect. Both of them find good mentors and sexy love interests—and then secrets start to emerge. For every faerie gift, there is a price, and Imogen’s retellings of fairy tales turn out to be more relevant than she might’ve wished. It’s an elegant retelling of Tam Lin, along with a meditation on escaping a terrible past and the compromises people make to do so.
Martha Wells, All Systems Red: Murderbot! Half cloned flesh, half machine, the security device is leased as part of a corporate package to a group of explorers on a new planet; what they don’t know is that its electronic governor is nonfunctional, so it can decide for itself what to do. Though it calls itself Murderbot (based on past actions), mostly what it wants to do is watch soap operas. Unfortunately, its latest job calls for a little bit more than that. I understand why people are really happy with this novella—it’s just the right length for the story, and let’s face it, most people would spend more of their time watching soap operas if they could, programming or not.
M.R. Carey, The Boy on the Bridge: Sequel to The Girl with All the Gifts. Another expedition leaves from humanity’s increasingly fractious outpost, where a military coup seems to be brewing, hoping to find some trace of the Charles Darwin’s crew or at least to find out whether they found any place where the zombie fungus couldn’t grow. When they encounter the new generation of “hungries”—children with the speed and strength of zombies, but able to think and talk—one of the scientists, a young autistic genius, tries to communicate with them, but of course it goes horribly wrong because this is a crapsack world. Carey managed to convince me that several of the very dumb things that characters did to further the plot made sense to them at the time given their goals and preexisting beliefs, but I could still see the mechanisms grinding away. There’s a little bit of hope at the end, but basically the same amount as for the previous book. Again, very readable, but I am just zombied out right now and want more libraries instead.
Alexis Hall, For Real: London, today. A newbie dom who’s going nowhere in his job picks up a jaded sub with a brilliant medical career, and slowly figures out what to do with him. Told in alternating first person POV, with lots of sex and a slowly developing relationship. And once again I’m reminded that no matter the other elements, I’m almost always going to prefer f/sf; the conflicts and obstacles here were believable even though it was basically love at first sight, but ultimately this wasn’t really for me.