Science Fiction to Look For July 2021

Happy July sci-fi readers! If you’re feeling the heat this July, there’s plenty of Cli-Fi out this month to assure you others feel your pain. Or you can chill out in the deep black with some fine space opera. There are even some tales where Androids declare their independence,.

July is sizzling along with folks enjoying the first barbeques in more than a year while trying to keep from frying themselves in record temperatures. At our house, both occurrences are fair game for curling up with a good book, as you’ll often find folks at one of our parties enjoying the hubub from a comfy chair with a book in hand. As always, I’ve got a lot for you to choose from.

Restoring things is in this month. In Subject Twenty-One by A.E. Warren they’re bringing the animals of the past back to life, while in AfterLIfe: An Undead Space Opera by BL Craig they’re bringing back the dead as zombies. In Matt Bell’s Appleseed, a cyborg gets reprinted over and over, and in The Past Is Red by Catherynne M. Valente, one brave girl tries to keep the past in its place. Finally, there’s a LeCarre meets Liebowitz vibe in Notes from the Burning Age by Claire North when a monk doesn’t illuminate ancient manuscripts but wrestles with the knowledge they contain.

If you like Muderbot, you might find the droids you’re looking for in Becky Chambers’s A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot, 1) or Lena Nguyen’s We Have Always Been Here. For galactic intrigue, you can turn your telescopes to Assassin’s Orbit by John Appel and The Summer Thieves by Paul Di Filippo. If you’re looking for a murder or a two, check out The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry and Midnight, Water City by Chris Mckinney.

There’s mil-sf with Space Nazis on Mars in Damien Larkin’s Blood Red Sand, some Coast Guard in space action with Hold Fast Through the Fire by K. B. Wagers, and a chance to catch up with old friends from Star Trek TNG in Shadows Have Offended by Cassandra Rose Clarke. There’s a gamer who might just save the day in Capsule by Mel Torrefranca, and the collision of race issues and the Hunger Games in The Freedom Race by Lucinda Roy

Lastly, we’ve got some anthologies to look at: When Worlds Collide edited by S.C. Butler and Joshua Palmatier from Zombies Need Brains, and a hand-picked collection by the author in The Best of David Brinout from Subterranean Press.

You’re clearly going to have to take a few weeks off this summer to catch up on your reading list.


Collections and Novellas

if you can’t wait for these titles to be released, check out last month’s column.

Novels (in order of publication)

Subject Twenty-One
by A.E. Warren | 07/01/21 |Del Rey

A.E. Warren’s debut novel was originally published by Locutions Press in 2018 as The Museum of Second Chances, but Del Rey is giving it a second chance on its own. The story revolves around Elise, a girl some hundreds of years in the future, a member of the lowest class of humans, the genetically unmodified Sapiens, who bear the blame for the sins of their eco-devastating forebearers and are kept in lower-class drudgery for their inherited crimes. Genetically modified humans get to lord it over the Sapiens as they strive to undo the damage to the planet.

There’s a Jurassic Park meets Night at the Museum vibe, as Elise manages to get a job at the Museum of Evolution, caring for subject Twenty-One, a genetically resurrected Neanderthal, who would rather be known as Kit. Intrigue, class struggles aplenty, and connections across cultures and species combine to make this an insightful debut and a good read.

AfterLIfe: An Undead Space Opera
by BL Craig | 07/06/21 |BooksGoSocial

William Butcher seems to have it made. Chiseled good looks, decorated Navy pilot, hero of the Miranda conflict where he turned the tide against alien invaders about to overrun a colony. He’s even about to propose to his gal. One thing you can count on in AfterLife, the debut outing for the writing team of Brandy and Lorne Craig, is that nothing is what it seems. William may seem to be the luckiest guy alive, but the reality is that fate has dealt him from the bottom of the deck at every turn, and just as he’s about to catch a break, a waiter stabs him in the neck, killing him instantly. He doesn’t know it as the world fades from view, but his luck has just turned for the better.

William gets resurrected by AfterLife, a company that lets you take out a mortgage on your body’s hereafter, turning you into a zombified version of yourself, mostly intact, and with silvery goop instead of blood. It’s a poor imitation of life–you’re an indentured servant working off your debt, and there’s no meddling with the living, but it’s life…after a fashion.  William even gets to go back to piloting, as there was a critical need for someone with his skills on the other side.  It’s another strong debut, and I’ll have a full review later this month.

Blood Red Sand
by Damien Larkin |07/06/21 |Dancing Lemur Press

Mars! Nazis! Brits! Majestic-12! Aliens! Bloody Hell! Damien Larkin is back with a sequel to his 2019 alt-history novel about the Nazis that fled Earth after WWII to set up camp on the Red Planet. We follow Sergeant McCabe and the Mars Expeditionary Force as they try to route the Nazis one more time, but there’s more afoot than just dealing with the remnants of the Third Reich, as McCabe is assigned to work with a mysterious special ops group whose name will be familiar to UFO enthusiasts: Majestic-12.

Blood Red Sand is as gritty as its title suggests, full-on mil-sf. Larkin has been compared to Heinlein, which is interesting as Starship Troopers is the only piece of actual mil-sf by Heinlein that I can remember offhand. Both this and the Big Red are getting good buzz, but you’ve got to like kinetic warfare.

Prime Directive
by Davis Bunn |07/06/21 |Severn House Publishers

Davis Bunn’s latest novel, Prime Directive, isn’t Star Trek, despite the TOS vibe to the title:  it’s a  space opera about a planet of telepathic aliens that scientists are literally dying to study.

You’d think that a scientific outpost on an alien world would call for help when sixteen scientists are killed, one by one. Instead, they asked for replacements, and the line goes around the block. Lieutenant Amanda Bostick, stuck working at GSA headquarters, figures that something’s up, and she wants in on the looking into, even if she has to go around her supervisor to get an Admiral’s attention. Now she’s got everything she ever dreamed of, heading off on her own to handle a crisis, a hand-picked team to help her, and a chance to get out from under those that want her to fail rather than show them up. She’s got ten days to make good, and if she fails, she can pack in her career.

Living on an alien world will change you, as Amanda discovers, and she’s got her work cut out for her when a whole planet seems to have an agenda of its own, and the humans she’s supposed to helping don’t seem to want any help. Strong echoes of other recent books like Planetside by Michael Mammay (2018)and Amid the Crowd of Stars by Stephen Leigh (2021).

The 22 Murders of Madison May
by Max Barry | 07/06/21 |G.P. Putnam’s Sons

When real estate agent Madison May meets a new client he tells her he loves her….in every world. Then he kills her…and the way things develop, he’s going to do that in every world as well.  Felicity Staples is assigned to do a story about the crime, but as she digs into the details she discovers that she’s slipped into a parallel reality…and she’s following a trail of murdered Madison Mays.

What follows is a Sliders-esque murder mystery, which Kirkus Reviews calls, a “clever, unpredictable little murder mystery with some bittersweet tones about the things we do for love.”

MGM’s Orion Television has picked up the novel and is developing a series based on it, but you really shouldn’t wait for that. Max Barry writes science fiction that beats to its own drum, and the beat just keeps getting better. I loved his quirky Machine Man (2008), about a researcher who keeps having “accidents” so that he can replace more and more parts with bionics, and Jennifer Government (2004), a full-on cyberpunk thriller with overtones of Pohl’s The Space Merchants (1952). Highly recommended.

We Have Always Been Here
by Lena Nguyen | 07/06/21 |DAW

Lena Nguyen’s debut novel is Alien meets Forbidden Planet with a darker take on AI than the Burderbot Diaraird when a crashed ship sends out a call for help on a world that warps time, space, and consciousness.  The survey ship’s crew of humans and androids are as mismatched as that of the Nostromos, but the main character, Dr. Grace Parks, one of the two psychologists on the mission, is no Ripley, even if she is the one person who has a clue about the hallucinations that the crew is suffering. Parks, as she’s referred to throughout the book, is every bit as emotionally stunted as the androids. She’d never cared for human contact and always preferred the loyal, if limited, human-shaped machines.

The story shifts back and forth between Parks and Taban, the engineer from the crashed ship, and back and forth in time between them as well. Similar to Prime Directive by Davis Bunn, also out this month, the planet will get into their minds, and nobody is going home the same as when they arrived. The android complement of the crew isn’t as evolved as Martha Well’s SecUnit, but with a little psychic mind expansion, who knows?

by Mel Torrefranca | 07/10/21 |Lost Island Press

In Capsule, Mel Torrefranca’s second YA novel about people gone missing, three wildly different teens become connected through a video game that has deadly consequences. Peter Moon is a blogger with nothing good to say about the other students at Brookwood High, so maybe people aren’t too upset when he disappears. Kat, on the other hand, is one the most popular people at the school, and she’s much more likely to be missed. When both disappear a few days apart, it falls on Jackie, a hard-core gamer, to save them, because she’s discovered that there’s a game called Capsule that’s messing with reality, and Peter and Kay could be real-world casualties if she doesn’t do something.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot, 1)
by Becky Chambers | 07/13/21 |

Becky Chambers Wayfarer series won her a Hugo in 2019, and now she’s back with a new series,  Monk & Robot, where sentient robots long ago gained independence, and then left town. But they made a promise to check in every now and then to see if the humans needed anything. In A Psalm for the Wild-Built, humanity has all but forgotten about robots until one shows up to make good on the promise, startling a monk and starting an adventure. Fans of the tea-drenched Ancillary Justice universe and Martha Well’s Murderbot Diaries should find Chambers’s new series fun.

by Matt Bell | 07/13/21 |William Morrow and Custom House

Matt Bell uses the story of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, as the launching point for his novel, which rotates between three tangentially connected time frames over thousands of years. In the 1800s a pair of brothers (one a human/faun hybrid) roam the Ohio wilderness planting apples and avoiding humans. In the next, set in the not too distant future, a tech mega-corporation decides to geoengineer not just the failing planet, but all the life on it, while Joh, a former designer for the firm wrestles with what sort of future he wants to be part of. In the last, a human/cyborg a thousand years in the future mines biomass from the glaciers creeping over the world in order to reprint succeeding versions of himself. The prose is remarkable, but I found it frustrating looking for the connecting threads. Still, it’s a story with a point to make, and readers of Kim Stanley Robinson, Neal Stephenson, and Jeffrey Ford should find it interesting.

Midnight, Water City
by Chris Mckinney | 07/13/21 |Soho Crime

When I think Soho Crime, I don’t generally think of science fiction, but I do think of excellent noir mysteries. Chris Mckinney has managed to combine the two in an alternate history story in which a scientist who averted a major asteroid impact decades earlier fears for her life and summons her old head of security to her home in the underwater habitat of Water City. He arrives too late, finds her dismembered body in a sealed hibernation chamber, and the mystery takes off. Like any good investigator, he’s got quirks. In this case, we don’t get a name to go with the face, but he’s got a unique form of synesthesia, seeing colors as clues. Highly Recommended.

Shadows Have Offended (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
by Cassandra Rose Clarke | 07/13/21 |Pocket Books / Star Trek

Trek series and movies come and go, but Trek novels give us a chance to look inside our favorite Trek characters. In this case, Picard, Worf, and Troi are on their own handling a high-profile Betazed contingent on their way to a cultural ceremony while the rest of the bridge crew head off to handle a crisis at a Federation science station. The storyline for the science station echoes that of Prime Directive, another July release with an even more Trekly ironic name.

The Freedom Race (The Dreambird Chronicles #1)
by Lucinda Roy | 07/13/21 |Tor Books

The Freedom Race is novelist Lucinda Roy’s first entry into science fiction, and its the first book in a new series, The Dreambird Chronicles, which has the feel of a racially focused Hunger Games, as the main character has to win the annual Freedom Race to gain escape slavery in a dystopic future America.

Assassin’s Orbit
by John Appel | 07/20/21 |Rebellion

Assassin’s Orbit is part police procedural, part geo-politics (both civil and interplanetary), part space war, and part spy novel. All of which adds up to a really terrific space opera. If you’re looking for a simple plot with one or two main characters, this may put you off, but if you’re looking for more than just a shoot-em-up in space (though there’s plenty of that here), this is yet another intelligent and impressive debut. The publisher’s blurb and cover both fail to do justice to this story where a mass killing on the eve of an important treaty sets off a series of events and forms a cohort of unlikely bedfellows. The story wraps up nicely, but the epilogue signals that there’s a next book, which I’m looking forward to.

Notes from the Burning Age
by Claire North | 07/20/21 |Orbit

Claire North’s newest novel is firmly Cli-Fi, but it’s also Spy-Fi, and whatever Canticle for Leibowitz Is. Following the wanton trashing of the ecosystem, humanity is thrown back to an existence more Middle Ages than modern, as it shuns the energy-intensive and environmentally damaging technologies that led to a collapse.  Humans being humans, there are some that don’t want to keep to that limited existence and seek to master the technologies of the ancient (our modern) world). Ven Marzouki, a former priest dealing with relics of the Burning Age, is co-opted by one such group to translate the obscure and archaic English in stolen documents that hold the key to lost technologies. Ven’s inner conflict gives the author an opportunity to lay out her argument for living in harmony with the natural world.

The Summer Thieves: A Novel of the Quinary
by Paul Di Filippo | 07/20/21 |Night Shade

Paul Di Filippo begins a new series with The Summer Thieves, set in a far future where the human galaxy is run by the Quinary, and planets can be owned. Such is the fate of Verano, owned jointly by the Corvivios and Soldavere, who are about to make a merger by marriage when it all goes wrong and instead of enjoying his wedding night with Minka Soldavere, Johrun Corvinos “must undertake a desperate quest across the stars to reclaim his birthright.” Also his bride. Aided by his “devoted chimeric helper, the canny Lutramella”, Johan is guaranteed to face trials. Considering this is the first book of a trilogy, many trials.

Hold Fast Through the Fire
by K. B. Wagers | 07/20/21 |Avon and Harper Voyager

K. B. Wagers’s brings us a sequel to the first book in his Coast Guard in space series, which started with Pale Light in the Black (2020). In the first book, the arrival of a freshly minted LT Maxine Carmichael fractured a high performing crew, but they came through a trial by fire with flying colors. A few years later, they are repeat winners of the coveted Boarding Games exercise. With the Commander and Master Chief both up for retirement, a pair of new spacers coming aboard, one green and the other a con whose sentence was changed to service. Ironically, this is the most realistic part of Navy or Coastie life books rarely show. Add in Expanse style conflict in the system, with Zuma’s Ghost in the crosshairs as a conflict goes hot, and you’ve got an exciting near-future tale.

Collections, Anthologies, and Novellas

The Past Is Red
by Catherynne M. Valente | 07/20/21 |Macmillan-Tor/Forge

Catherynne M. Valente’s charming and snarky Space Opera (2018) garnered a well-deserved Hugo nomination, and she’s back with an even more engaging novella, The Past is Red. It doesn’t sound promising to describe the setting: a post-global warming Earth covered with water and the surviving tatters of humanity existing on islands of floating garbage, or the occasional remaining boat, but that’s what makes Tetley, a girl named for an advertisement that plasters itself to her on her naming day, so special. She gets that Garbagetown is the most wonderful place in the world and that drooling over the world of the long-dead “Fuckwits” won’t bring back the past. Tetley never quite fit in with her family or the inhabitants of her floating garbage patch, but when she realizes the inhabitants are about to chase a dream that will ruin their existence, she acts and earns endless scorn and punishment. Tetley is terrific. Valente is terrific. Highly recommended.

When Worlds Collide
edited by S.C. Butler and Joshua Palmatier | 07/20/21 |Zombies Need Brains LLC

While it’s not the classic 1933 novel by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer, I’ll admit that the shared title caught my eye. Not to mention that it’s published by Zombies Need Brains. The cover looks like a steal from Alien Nation (1988), which didn’t help. But when I read the first story, Christopher Leapock’s “The Erratics” about a school project that spawns a micro-planet populated by intelligent nano-raptors living at a thousand times our glacial pace…I was hooked. There are 14 stories of culture clash here, not all science fiction, but it’s a solid collection worth your time.

The Best of David Brin
by David Brin | 07/20/21 |Subterranean Press

The Best of David Brin contains twenty-one short stories selected by the author spanning almost four decades of writing. He opens with “The Insistence of Vision” an excellent story about a criminal who has been blinded so that he can only see a redacted reality through his VR glasses. It’s got something of a Philip K. Dick feel, but serves notice that Brin’s short fiction is all about the Gedankenexperiment, answering the classic sf question…”what if?”

Though Brin’s scientific training is in astronomy, from the start he’s been more of a futurist in his writing, much of it revolving around genetic engineering and its consequences. Even “The Crystal Spheres” (1981), for which he won a Hugo, considers the implications of the Fermi Paradox and humanity’s reaction to isolation.

Charlie Jane Anders pointed out in one of her podcasts with Anna Lee Newitz, that “plot gives the characters something to do while they become something else” (I’m paraphrasing here). Brin takes it a step further to make both the plot and characters a vehicle subservient to the presentation of the idea. It’s a classic science fiction strategy, and fortunately, he’s a good enough writer to pull it off.

The Usual Suspects

Here you’ll find some links to some reliable lists for new releases and other reviewer’s lists for the month, which I may update as they come in. 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, heard, and am looking forward to. Please note that these are my selections, and do not represent the opinions of the editor or publication.

About Other Recommendations: this is stuff I’ve seen or heard about, but haven’t read yet.

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

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