Jason Sheehan

Nora Seed wants to die.

This is where we begin, in Matt Haig's new novel, The Midnight Library: with a young woman on the verge of making a terrible choice. She's lost her job, her best friend, her brother. Her relationships are in shambles and her cat is dead. More importantly, she is just deeply, seemingly irretrievably, sad. She can't imagine a day that is better with her in it. Living has become nothing but a chore.

So she ends it. Overdose. Antidepressants. The world goes black.

Okay, sit still. I have a lot of things to say about Maria Dahvana Headley's new book, Beowulf, and I'm gonna try to say them all right now.

You know how sometimes people say, Oh, it's okay. You don't have to read the first book in this series to dive right into the second.

This is not that kind of book.

You know how sometimes people say, It's like everything you loved about the first book, only MORE.

This is not that kind of book.

I like a small book. I trust a small book. I appreciate a small book for all the things it doesn't do, for all the stories it does not tell.

Big books? They're dangerous in their excess. Bloated (often) with words they do not need and larded (often) with detail that no one asked for. You can slip into a big book and lose your way too easily. But a small book is intimate. Close. Every word it says matters. The writer of a small book knows that every page has to count.

From the very first page of Paul Tremblay's new book, Survivor Song, you know exactly how it's going to end. You know because you know. Because you've seen this movie before, read these books before, heard these stories before. You know because it is in your bones to know how certain stories end even before they've really begun.

Samanta Schweblin is not a science fiction writer. Which is probably one of the reasons why Little Eyes, her new novel (translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell) reads like such great science fiction.

Ken Liu does a lot of things as a writer. He creates big, doorstopper novels of his own (the Dandelion Dynasty series), and translates works from some of the best Chinese genre writers working in that language (Liu Cixin, Hao Jingfang, others).

You have to be careful. Claire North's The Pursuit of William Abbey is not the book you think it is.

Grungy magic is the best kind of magic. Grungy, dirty, street-side magic — hard-earned, poorly understood, wild and dangerous. I have little use these days for old beardos in pointy wizard hats, for powerful ancient necromancers or prancing elves.

A riot grrl concert. First loves. An alt-future Manitoba. Belly dancers at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893, and senior year of high school, Irvine, California, 1992.

This is Annalee Newitz's new novel, The Future Of Another Timeline. The basics, anyway. The bones.

In the myriadic year of our lord — the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death! — Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.

There's no good way to start a critique of Quichotte, Salman Rushdie's new novel. There are, depending on how you look at such things, either too many ways in or no way in at all.

Is it a book that needs to be examined in the light of its author's existence? Of his own life as a British Indian novelist, his past, his family, his love life, his various (quite real) adventures? Or is it one that demands all that be ignored — to be taken simply for the sum of words inside it, evincing no exterior life at all?

Any illusions of rescue that my return may have awoken now dispel. I cannot wave my hands and whisk them back to Mars.
This is no tale of salvation, it is one of sacrifice. This is our Thermopylae.

Yeah, the Reaper, Darrow of Lycos, (arguable) hero of Pierce Brown's epic Romans-in-space saga Red Rising is back. And he is furious.

Imagine an alternate world with me for a moment — one where Mario Puzo's The Godfather didn't define crime drama for half a century, where mob stories and their relentless imitators didn't hog all the oxygen in the market. Imagine a clean slate. A place of no comparisons and no rules.

So there's the one about the puma in the airplane toilet. The one about the time traveler who doesn't feel like saving the world. The one about the fake-woke boyfriend. The one about the woman hiring the Ultimate Assassin to kill her husband and how it all goes wrong.

The problem with time-travel stories is the haywire factor: Their tendency (almost guaranteed) to, at some point, just go completely off the rails.

See, there's an in-built suicide switch in a time-travel story that's endemic to the form. Because once you start messing with timelines and alternate, competing realities, you're decoupling effect from cause, removing consequence from action. And once you do that, narrative structure, like a doughnut in hot coffee, just falls all to pieces.

It is a terrible thing to read a Paul Tremblay story.

Terrible because you know, going in, that it's probably going to mess you up. That his stories and his words have this way of getting under your skin. Of crawling inside you like bugs and just ... living there. They become indistinguishable from memory. They become a part of all the cells and goop that make you you.

Hey, you. Did you really like A Canticle For Leibowitz but think it needed more robot hookers and a talking goat? Then FKA USA is the book for you.

Did you think The Road suffered by not having enough gunfights with Mormons? Do you have a fondness for The Wizard Of Oz but believe, deep in your weird little heart, that it suffered a crippling lack of footnotes, bad language and fart jokes? Yeah, me, too. Which is (maybe) why I liked FKA USA so much.

Here's the thing you gotta know about Blake Crouch.

You remember that guy from college, sophomore year? The one that was always there at the bar, on the strange nights when it felt like you could hold off last call just by talking fast enough and thinking big enough? He was the one you'd find yourself listening to at 3am, sitting on the floor, weed and cheap beer twining together in your head as he spun out some bonkers theory about perception, psychology, memory, reality. The one who never seemed to sleep. Who always said the most fascinating things.

The story begins with the death of one woman. It ends with the death of a city.

Elvia Wilk's novel Oval is like an ever-expanding sphere. A slow-growing, smoldering fire that doesn't really dig in and become something until the very, very, very end.

Neal Stephenson has a new book out, called Fall, or Dodge In Hell.

For some of you, that means nothing. Couldn't care less. For some of you, it's a curiosity — Stephenson is a big deal among sci-fi fans of a certain taste and vintage, and adding a new book to his canon is, at the very least, noteworthy.

There's an alien under the bed and another on the lawn. Zoe Snapp has a pearl in her pocket that's really a transdimensional gateway, opened solely by playing a particular riff on her trumpet. A few blocks away, Villy (who is maybe, kinda, Zoe Snapp's boyfriend) and his younger brother Scud are arguing about hamburgers, the replacement of spark plugs and the road trip Villy and Zoe have planned.

It begins with Roger Middleton and Dodger Cheswich. Twins, separated at birth, not entirely human. Telepathic twins, sporadically present in each other's heads and each other's lives. Destined (it seems, possibly by design) to never be long apart.

There are books so jammed with brilliant, mind-exploding ideas it's like the author packed fireworks between the covers, all strung together on a very short fuse.

The astronaut alone in their capsule. The explorer stranded far from home. The one who wakes to the flickering light and failing systems of their underground bunker. The lonely survivor in a ruined world — Last Man Alive.