After Atlas, by Emma Newman

Salvation has come and gone for most of Earth’s population, barely holding on as the environment is eroded along with their aspirations of ever living in free societies again.  Unless they’re incredibly wealthy, of course. Carlos Moreno, however, is nothing of the sort, a wage slave owned by the English Ministry of Justice, just trying to get through the next murder case and hang on to the dream of one day being owned by no one but himself, and doing his best to avoid all mention of Atlas, the Pathfinder, and those who left to seek God.

When someone close to him is murdered, though, and Carlos is asked—told—to investigate the murder, he finds himself being drowned all over again in the details of his childhood and former life after Atlas left, confronted with a past he would just as well forget.  After Atlas is an excellent example of an imaginative and accomplished writer’s ability to take the same basic premise and create two entirely different stories out of it.  It is also a stark view of the future we all face, without the prospect of a convenient ship to take anyone away to a better existence.

Newman’s use of first-person present narration, juxtaposed with the conflicts between technology users and non-users in the development of the murder case lends the novel a private eye noir feel, even as Carlos watches people have dinner conversations with interlocutors who are only there via technology and does all his research via a networked personal assistant implant.  It isn’t a complicated plot, but it is a satisfyingly logical one, with twists and turns that increase the claustrophobic feeling of Carlos’ story and the hopelessly devolving situation on an increasingly distracted and intellectually depressed Earth population.

Readers who enjoy near future science fiction narratives will get pulled into Newman’s dystopic vision of Earth, whether or not they’ve read Planetfall first, however an understanding of the events of the first in this series will certainly help. Those who look for mystery elements blended into science fiction or fantasy stories will like the pace and logical twists of this character driven story.  There are more layers to this novel than at first meet the eye, giving the reader plenty to chew on while contemplating the eventual demise of modern society.

Planetfall, by Emma Newman

On a facsimile of Earth, millions of miles from home, a small group of colonists have established a manufactured happiness, living with as little footprint as they can, surviving on the advancements of neuro-computers, 3-D printers, and a hyper-developed sense of social media etiquette.  While the Earth burns slowly behind them in waves of climate change and social unrest, Renata Ghali and her co-colonists wake up every morning at the gates of God’s City, and know they are the chosen.

Until, of course, something changes to break up their utopic existence, forcing Renata and her co-conspirator Mac to go to greater and greater lengths to maintain the fragile peace of a highly connected, insular community brought together by the lure of a planet calling them across the void, shown to them by their Pathfinder, Renata’s former best friend and lover.  This is the real story of space travel, the human side of technology and discovery, the truth under the frilly bedspread sewn by space opera romances.

Newman has a deft hand and an even keener sense of plotting, scattering details and clues to the mystery that has been Renata’s life ever since landing on this new alien planet, and even before she ever left.  She writes with a confidence in her story and ability that wraps the reader up in the plot, giving glimpses into the twists to come but the human story of Renata and her neighbors remains at the heart of the mystery, compelling and heartbreaking at the same time.

Readers interested in near-future science fiction without the authorial compulsion to educate and explain will find themselves engulfed by Newman’s vision of humanity’s future.  Those who prefer a compelling mystery plot to the hero’s journey need look no further than the twists and turns Renata takes to maintain her spun-glass story of a perfectly happy space colony. Newman’s is a refreshing and adept voice in the science fiction world and well worth checking out.

Bronze Gods, by A. A. Aguirre

In
an action-filled mash-up of steampunk and high fantasy, Janus Mikani and
Celeste Ritsuko are detective inspectors at the Criminal Investigation Division
in the city of Dorstaad; they work the night shift, tracking down criminals and
generally cleaning up after their daytime counterparts in a city whose bad
elements never seem to sleep. 

 Apart
from the rarely-used blend of fantasy elements, this novel is firmly in the
realm of mystery/suspense character dramas, with the relationship between the
inspectors Mikani and Ritsuko being just as foregrounded as the greater mystery
they are trying to solve.  The
gruesome, magic-involved murder of the daughter of a powerful house leads to a
trail of deception and civil unrest that only roguish Mikani—with his strange,
possibly magical, ability to read people—and straitlaced Ritusko—whose
attention to detail and work ethic are second to none—are fit to solve.  Throw in an overworked department
chief, a few past relationships, and a phantom of the opera hiding beneath his
own theater, and this novel pushes all the required buttons for a fast-paced
fantasy thriller.

The
novel relies on typical mystery structure in order to further the
worldbuilding.  Without too much
exposition, the story reveals a world reminiscent of some popular fantasy
tropes, but leaves just enough unknown to be a tantalizing aspect of the novel
instead of forgettable. 

Readers
who like thrillers or fantasy that errs on the romantic side will enjoy the
multiple levels of romantic tension that operate within Bronze Gods.  Anyone
looking for a different take on second world fantasy will be intrigued by
Aguirre’s blending of multiple subgenres. 
Those looking for a fast-paced fantasy read should take a look at this
novel.

The Well, by Catherine Chanter

Readers might feel, upon jumping into
the well, that they had no idea what they were in for.  Ruth and Mark, who decide to leave the
London after allegations of pedophilia and viewing child pornography on his
work computer refuse to leave them alone, don’t know what they’re in for when
they buy The Well and decide to become farmers either.  The
Well
takes readers on a long, strange trip through the human psyche,
plumbing the depths of fear, rage, love, and religious zealotry. 

When the
temporary drought in England turns into years-long lack of water for most of
the country, it continues to rain at The Well.  Ruth and Mark at first thank their good fortune, but as
their neighbors grow increasingly hostile and suspicious, tensions—which they’d
thought long left behind in London—flair up between Ruth and Mark.  The rift between them is further driven
by the arrival first of Ruth’s daughter Angie, with her son Lucien and friends
they are traveling with, and then a mysterious religious group of four women
who want to worship at The Well. 

Told by
Ruth, who is under house arrest for a suspicious death that occurred at The
Well two months previous, The Well is
an all-too-prescient look at what could happen in the near future from climate
change.  Ruth is a sincere, though
non-reliable narrator trying to figure out the point at which it all went
wrong, and the reader is with her every step of the way, with every discovery
she makes.  While scientists crawl
over the fields and waterways of the The Well’s lands trying to solve the
mystery of the continuing rain, Ruth roams the cottage, the woods, the fields, trying
to find the evidence that will either release her or confirm her worst fears
about herself.

The Well will appeal to
near-future science fiction lovers interested in dystopia and the social
implications of climate change. 
Readers who enjoy mystery and psychological thrillers will find much to
love in Chanter’s claustrophobic ride through Ruth’s memories.  Families and relationships feature
strongly in this novel, which will appeal to readers who like character-driven
narratives that investigate how people relate to each other and what makes them
tick.  This is definitely a
recommended new novel for people looking to get caught up in a compelling
story.