Science Fiction Books to Look for this February

February is a month on hold, when time is frozen, waiting for something to happen. It’s so bad that the greeting card industry had to create a holiday just to keep from having to shut down for the month. Fortunately, all that stasis makes it a perfect month for reading; thankfully, we’ve got some excellent novels, novellas, and more.

The Light Years is R.W.W. Greene’s debut novel and I can’t think of a better space trader opera to curl up with. Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey remakes the cowboy saga with librarians in a dystopic future. It’s only a novella (sadly) but it’s really good. Finna by Nino Cipri is a short but wacky trip through an interdimensional Ikea, which makes sense in a weird sort of way. I’ve seen a number of reviewers dancing around the fact they haven’t read the Picard prequel (The Last Best Hope by Una McCormack), but I’m betting the studio didn’t want to spoil the series release. Anne Charnock looks at the plight of climate refugees in Bridge 108 and Joel Dane provides plenty of mil-sf slugfesting in Burn Cycle his second Cry Pilot book. If you’re in the mood for a collection, Ken Liu’s second one (The Hidden Girl and Other Stories) comes out this month, and it’s full of gems from one of today’s most significant writers.

Of course, there’s more out than I have time to cover, so be sure to look at my Other Recommendations and what The Ususal Suspects have to say.

The Light Years by R.W.W. Greene
02/11/2020 (Angry Robot)

The Light Years is a Rob Greene’s debut novel though he’s written plenty of short stories. It’s an excellent space opera with a family-owned slower-than light ship making its run between post-diaspora worlds during which decades pass for every year of the trader’s transit. There’s a touch of Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy in here, as well as a lot of original thought.

At the outset, Adem, the son of the ship’s captain, goes planetside to arrange for a wife. He won’t take delivery until the ship’s next visit (more than two decades away) and his mother (the captain) has very specific requirements for the still-nascent bride, including aptitudes in math and physics, which can be genetically tweaked into her. The story follows both Asem and Hisako as she grows up to be a strong and independent woman and Asem reassess the future in his accelerated time frame. The future, as William Gibson has pointed out, is not evenly distributed.

The Light Years is rich in cultural details, full of great characters, internal conflicts, and family drama, and enough explosions and betrayals to keep it all lively. Highly recommended.

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
2/4/2020 ( Novella

In a dystopian future that looks like the Old West crossed with The Handmaid’s Tale, librarians roam the Southwest in covered wagons loaded with government-approved books.  When a young girl flees the arranged wedding her father set up (after hanging her best friend), she hopes to hide her queer side and join the company of upright women…and maybe even get straightened out in the process.  What she discovers instead is that they are purveyors of sedition and wild ideas and a refuge for women who are outside society’s norms.

Ironically, though this is clearly about a dystopian future, the idea of roaming the range with lesbian librarians of the purple sage is as romantic as any cowboy tale (except for the bandits, corrupt lawmen, and other desperados, or possibly because of them). It’s a fine story in the western pulp tradition by a well-liked author, and could easily have been a full-length novel. The end leaves it open for future adventures, so here’s hoping, but in the meantime, readers can enjoy Magic for Liars (2019) and other longer works from the author.

Finna by Nino Cipri
2/25/2020 ( ) Novella

Finna is another fine novella from Tor this month with a whimsical premise that makes intuitive sense:  That blue and yellow flat-pack furniture store with the Swedish meatballs, with its convoluted layout and lifesize dioramas is just the thing to attract wormholes that connect alternate realities…all opening up into other worlds. Of course, the store’s name has been changed to protect the innocent (or maybe that’s just what it’s called in the universe in which the story begins), but who can say. What I can say is that this happens often enough that when a customer wanders into a wormhole there’s a videotape ready to explain how to handle the incident, ideally by retrieving the customer, and any volunteers. The last thing you’d want is to be stuck hopping between universes with the person you’d just broken up with, so naturally, that’s what happens. Finna is funny, exciting, and touching all at once and my only beef is that the author outs the trans character’s gender/ethnicity in passing. I’d have loved for them to just be “them”. Otherwise, it’s fun and worth diving into.

The Last Best Hope (Star Trek: Picard) by Una McCormack
2/11/2020 (Pocket Books/Star Trek)

if you’re frustrated by CBS’ decision to drop an episode a week, rather than letting us binge Star Trek: Picard (the way it should be watched), you’ll be happy to know that the prequel novel will come out on February 11 and will “introduce you to brand new characters featured in the life of beloved Star Trek captain Jean-Luc Picard”

Pocket Books tapped Star Trek/Dr. Who veteran Una McCormack to write the prequel for the new Star Trek series, so we know it’s in the hands of a true fan who happens to be a New York Times bestselling author. I don’t like to recommend books I haven’t actually read, but security around the book’s content seems considerably tighter than that around Star Fleet HQ in the pilot episode, so unless a Romulan spy can get me a copy, we’ll just have to wait.

Bridge 108 by Anne Charnock
2/18/2020  (47North)

Spain is burning in the new novel from Anne Charnock, set in a near-future England where Climate Change refugees are fleeing a devastated Europe. Caleb is a 12-year-old boy who fled north with his mother, who suffers a breakdown and disappears on the way, leaving him prey to traffickers.  When the story opens, he is in England as an undocumented worker making bespoke garments for a woman who sells them in the local market. Encouraged to run away by a girl in a similar situation, he provides a cook’s tour of refugee life, and the point of view changes as he goes from situation to situation.

You won’t find a lot of tech here ,and in fact the village life seems a throwback to medieval times, but it’s an interesting read and poses questions about the choices refugees must make to survive. You could challenge the idea of a non-refugee writing this, similar to the pushback on Jeanine Cummins’  American Dirt, but the near-future setting and range of POV characters allow the author to offer a thoughtful examination of the impacts of cimate change.  It’s not long, 200 pages in paperback, but it’s about the right length and allows Caleb’s story to come full circle by the end.  Anne Charnock is the winner of the Arthur C. Clarke award for her previous novel, Dreams Before the Start of Time, and I’m looking forward to her future work.

Burn Cycle (Cry Pilot Book 2) by Joel Dane
2/4/2020 (Ace)

Joel Dane’s second book in the Cry Pilot series (which looks like a trilogy at this point, but who knows) follows Maseo Kaytu’s recovery from wounds received in the first book fighting off the mysterious “Lamprey” swarms that have appeared on Earth to rampage across the landscape. Maseo is the survivor of a city that was shut down and quarantined, and he carries the guilt of having been a child soldier in that conflict. He’s also the only person who’s been able to completely bond with the CAV fighting machines that the AIs designed before they were all taken down. The CAVs were designed to use a human for secondary processing power rather than as an actual pilot, but thanks to a member of Maseo’s squad who has preternatural tech talents, Maseo managed to jump the gap, creating the only effective tool against the Lamprey’s. Now the government is frantic to find a way to bind other pilots to the machines and find the source of the infestation to stop it before the planet is overrun. Unfortunately, Maseo can’t afford to expose his squadmate’s secret because he knows what the government would do to her.

Maseo was emotionally damaged by his losses as a child and he tries to use his squad to fill in his broken bits. He doesn’t see himself as a real soldier, just a street rat who got lucky by being hooked up to a CAV. In the end, what you want doesn’t matter in the face of what you need to do. Burn Cycle has plenty of action and an interesting cast of characters, but it focuses on mil-sf action rather than breaking new ground.

Collections, Anthologies, and Novellas

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu
2/25/20 (Gallery / Saga Press)

Ken Liu crosses a lot of boundaries and this excellent collection, his second, he stays true to form. The science fiction stories are thoughtful and prescient, with a number using current crises as a base, whether gun control and social media (Thoughts and Prayers) or refugees (Byzantine Empathy), or the immigrant experience (Ghost Days). The title story (The Hidden Girl) happens to be fantasy, but the majority are sf, and all in all the collection serves to remind us what a major talent Liu is, and how fortunate we are to have him as a bridge between cultures.

Seventeen stories all told, plus an excerpt from the third book in the Dandelion Dynasty seriesThe Veiled Throne. Recommended.

Other Recommendations

The Usual Suspects

Since I’m often done with this after the beginning of the month, I do check what I consider to be the usual suspects, but mainly to see if they agree with my picks, which oddly enough, they more or less do. You might check them out at:

About the Reviewer’s Pics:

For the most part, this list sticks to what appeals to me as science fiction, about which I’m willing to be fairly flexible, but if here there be dragons, you can expect to find some tweaked DNA to explain it. I make up this list based on what I’ve read, what I heard and what I’m looking forward to. Quite a few will wind up getting full-length reviews here or around the web, especially at where I’m editor emeritus. Please note that these are my selections, and do not represent the opinions of the editor or publication.

You can find me on Facebook at @Ernest Lilley or on my blog @ beingErnest

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