PLANETFALL / AFTER ATLAS by Emma Newman
(Penguin $28 & $24)
Long-kept secrets come to light when someone arrives at the gate of a religious colony; not the guru Lee Suh Mi, whose return the pilgrims have awaited for 20 years, but her grandson Lee Sung Soo. Renata, the 3D printer engineer who makes the pilgrims' easy lives possible, is forced to finally face the role she played in events when the Atlas expedition made planetfall. The story she slowly reveals is an engrossing, multi-stranded mystery grounded in human fallibilities. After Atlas is a sequel set chronologically before Planetfall — on the failing Earth the colonists left behind. Carlos is an indentured police detective trying to solve the murder of a cult leader that quickly becomes entangled with the forthcoming opening of the technology capsule the colonists on the Atlas left behind. Newman draws a dystopian picture of a future where privacy, fresh food and space are all at a premium. A third book can be expected.
A CLOSED AND COMMON ORBIT by Becky Chambers
(Hodder & Stoughton, $17)
Becky Chamber's debut novel, Long Way to a Small Angry Planet was extremely successful; this is a more modest story, alternating the tale of a person created in the first book with the childhood of the woman who rescues her. Sidra, a spaceship AI in an illegal and counterfeit human body, adjusts to her new life on Coriol. Pepper grew up as Jane 23, a clone slave working in a rubbish recycling facility on an isolated world that carried out genetic enhancement. As Sidra comes to terms with who she is now, she finds a way to help Pepper with another rescue. This is an engaging character exploration that focuses on found family and learning what it means to be a person against the backdrop of a multi-species community that takes joy in its diversity.
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BORDERLINE by Mishell Baker
(Simon & Schuster, $24)
The conceit at the centre of Borderline is that Hollywood talent depends on a relationship with the Seelie Court. Millie was an up-and-coming indie film director before she crashed and burned; she's left a double amputee with borderline personality disorder, hiding out in a recovery home. She jumps at a job offer that will put her back in the film-making world — working for the Project, who monitor the Gates to Arcadia. The supply of fey muses is carefully controlled, and as Millie gathers evidence about missing fey commoners she will have to hold off on sabotaging herself and her new relationships long enough to stop a group of megalomaniacs trying to opening a new gateway to Faerie. Sharp writing with plenty of dark humour.
AN ACCIDENT OF STARS / A TYRANNY OF QUEENS by Foz Meadows
(Angry Robot $17 & $20)
The Manifold World series is modern portal fantasy. Aussie teenager Saffron follows a strange woman, Gwen, through a crack in the air and finds herself in the land of Kena. By bad luck she catches the attention of Queen Kadijah who mutilates her hand, an act of cruelty that seems out of step with Kena's pleasant society. Saffy is rescued by Zech, whom Gwen has sent to find her and the quest to remove Kena's evil rulers will send them to Veksh where Zech faces mortal challenges to claim her birthright. Saffron returns home to deal with her family's reaction to her disappearance and the changes she has been through. When she tries to escape back to Kena, she finds herself in a different world and in a wary alliance with Leoden, the evil king she helped dethrone. Slowly, she and Gwen realise there is a much more than just political maneuvering at stake. Meadows delves into the linguistics, religion and politics of her invented world, creating rich, interesting stories.
ALL SYSTEMS RED by Martha Wells
(St Martins Press, $29.25)
It's a boring life as a cyborg hired out as security to planetary survey teams. All Murderbot (a self-applied designation) wants is to watch serials but when the mission is sabotaged it may prove a good thing that it hacked its own security protocols — at least it won't be the one murdering all its clients — this time. But it will have to actually interact with the humans if it is to save them. This first brief story in The Murderbot Diaries series is a remarkably charming space opera given complexity by the decision Murderbot makes at the end.