Books Science fiction round-up April 2022

NELL is a cartographer, the daughter of cartographer parents, in Peng Shepherd’s delicious urban fantasy, The Cartographers (Orions, £14.99).

She’s been estranged from her famous father for several years when he is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library.

Among all the priceless maps he was responsible for, Nell learns that he was inexplicably obsessed with one mass-produced, but now oddly scarce, highway map.

As the mystery deepens, Nell discovers that years ago her parents learned an astonishing secret about the power of map-making, a secret which may have cost both their lives — and might cost hers too.

To an enchanting central concept, Shepherd adds tension and heartbreak.

As the human race expands through the solar system, using terraforming to make planets more uninhabitable, Pluto is next on the list, in plutoshine by Lucy KissickGollancz, £16.99).

This will be the most ambitious, and risky, undertaking yet, and will make or break the careers of scientists, engineers and administrators alike.

But not everyone is in favour, and there are two things which could yet prevent it: sabotage, or the discovery of native lifeforms. Both at once would be the ultimate disaster.

The central character of Kissick’s debut novel is a young girl, left mute after a mysterious accident.

So as well as the intriguing, solid science to be expected from an author with a PhD in planetary geochemistry, this is a moving story of a child starved of adult love.

out cast by Louise Carey (Gollancz, £16.99) is the second part of a series, but works fine as a standalone.

It’s a sf adventure set in a dystopian, near-future London, balkanised between rival corporations operating in place of governments.

Tanta works as a cop, but the mechanism which ensures her loyalty and love for her employers has recently been destroyed, leaving her uncertain which of her feelings are natural and which merely echoes of her previous conditioning.

Tanta’s corp is in a cold war with its neighbour, largely fought through proxies in the unregulated wastelands that used to be suburbs.

An assignment there leaves her forced to make the ultimate choices that she’s been trying to avoid.

A common error in dystopian fiction is making the ruling villains all-powerful, whereas in life they are always, ultimately, subject to historical realities.

Carey avoids that mistake, and the result is a convincing story, fast-moving and with engaging characters.

stars and bones (Titan, £8.99) is the beginning of a near-future human diaspora series by Gareth L Powell, current leader of the British space-opera pack.

It imagines the human race evicted from Earth by an alien species of eco-warriors, and forced to live on giant arks in space.

Eryn is the navigator on a scout ship, her grim mission to investigate the disappearance of her own sister’s ship on an unexplored planet.

What she discovers and unleashes there is a threat to continued human existence.

For intelligently written, unbloated fun in the stars, Powell is your main man.

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