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The best new science fiction books of September 2023

September will always feel like a time for new beginnings to me, regardless of the fact that I no longer need a new pencil case or any fresh pencils. Reading-wise, it’s time to reset after the holiday novels of July and August – but before I do, if you didn’t pick up two of last month’s recommendations, Lauren Beukes’s Bridge (our latest pick for the New Scientist Book Club) or Daniel Kraus’s Whalefall (about a boy trying to escape the belly of a sperm whale), then do – they’re amazing! This month promises even more great reads, with new novels out from two of my favourites, Stephen Baxter and John Scalzi, plus an intriguing-sounding debut from Em X. Liu that reimagines Hamlet as sci-fi, and near-future speculative novels from Sebastian Faulks, C. Pam Zhang, and Kelechi Okafor.

Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View – Return of the Jedi

To mark the 40th anniversary of the release of Return of the Jedi, this anthology sees 40 scenes from the movie recreated through the eyes of a supporting character, from droids to Mon Mothma. So, among the 40 writers and artists contributing, we have Olivie Blake giving a glimpse into the mind of Emperor Palpatine, Mary Kenney telling the story of Wicket the Ewok’s dream of a quiet day on the forest moon of Endor and (most excitingly for me) Charlie Jane Anders looking into that terrifying mouth gaping in the desert of Tatooine.

Creation Node by Stephen Baxter

Stephen Baxter is the author of one of my all-time favourite moments in a sci-fi novel: when the oceans close over the top of Everest in Flood. I think of his drowned Earth relatively often – it is an image burned into my brain. His latest book sounds equally intriguing and I’ll definitely be giving it a read. Set in 2255, it follows the discovery of an object called Planet Nine, which a woman named Salma spots from her spaceship. It’s not a planet, or the “ninth” of anything; it was briefly believed to be a black hole, but then it sends a message that there is something waiting on its surface. Meanwhile, a quasar has appeared and is heating up the solar system. Lots to deal with, then.

Starter Villain by John Scalzi

This is the sort of sci-fi novel that needs to be described as a “caper”, I feel. It’s set on Earth today and sees divorced substitute teacher Charlie inherit his long-lost late uncle Jake’s supervillain business (complete with island volcano lair). Unfortunately for Charlie, he also inherits his uncle’s enemies. We are also promised intelligent, talking spy cats and unionised dolphins – what’s not to like?

The Seventh Son by Sebastian Faulks

This is more speculative than straight sci-fi, but Faulks is such a class act, and the novel promises fertility experiments that will “upend the human race as we know it” – so I think we can comfortably claim it for our round-up.

Baby Seth, the result of a series of secret IVF treatments masterminded by a billionaire entrepreneur (you’ve got to watch out for these guys), begins to attract attention when his differences – of appearance, interests and more – start to show. I am reading this now, and am absolutely engrossed.

The best new science fiction books of August 2023

The best new science fiction books of August 2023

From speculative novellas by Josh Malerman to a first venture into science fiction from H is for Hawk author Helen Macdonald, August brims with sci-fi potential, says culture editor Alison Flood

Land of Milk and Honey by C. Pam Zhang

I adored Zhang’s first novel, How Much of These Hills Is Gold, set in the 19th-century Old West. I highly, highly recommend it: Zhang is a phenomenal writer. Her second book moves the action to the near future, where food crops are disappearing and a smog is spreading. Hoping to escape her troubled reality, a chef takes a job in a mountaintop colony for the global elite and discovers plans to reshape the world.

The Circumference of the World by Lavie Tidhar

Tidhar is always excellent, and his latest comes highly recommended by Sally Adee, our sci-fi columnist. It sees a mathematician, a book dealer and a mobster on the trail of a book that disappears once it is read – or does it? Only its author, a sci-fi-writer, knows the truth.

I loved talking to Tidhar earlier this year for New Scientist about his dystopian film, Welcome to Your AI Future!, which used the AI image-generation program Midjourney to tell the story of an AI trying to help the last surviving human, and I am looking forward to this new novel.

The Death I Gave Him by Em X. Liu

This novel had me at “reimagines Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a queer sci-fi locked-room thriller”: I mean, why ever not? It sees Hayden Lichfield out to avenge the death of his father, who has been murdered in their lab, where they were developing the Sisyphus Formula – which might one day reverse death itself. When the lab is put on lockdown, Hayden is trapped with four other people, one of whom must be the killer. His only ally is Horatio, the lab’s AI.

Edge of Here by Kelechi Okafor

What a treat this sounds: a speculative short story collection to dip into in this busiest of months. Okafor, who is host of the Say Your Mind podcast, sets out to explore contemporary Black womanhood, but sets her stories in a Black Mirror-esque version of the near future. There’s one in which you can experience someone else’s emotions through a chip in your brain, one where you can view bits of a distant relative’s life with help from your DNA, one where you can explore an alternative love life with a stranger…

The best new science fiction books of July 2023

The best new science fiction books of July 2023

From George R. R. Martin’s new Wild Cards anthology to Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah's dystopian take on America, there is a wealth of exciting science fiction out this month. Culture editor Alison Flood shares the novels she is most anticipating

The Fractured Dark by Megan E. O’Keefe

This is the second in the Devoured Worlds series – which I can’t believe I haven’t stumbled on before, as a space opera with dying planets, dangerous conspiracies and secret romances sounds right up my street.

I’m going to start with the first in the series, The Blighted Stars (which comes garlanded with praise from writer Connie Willis, who calls it a “riveting adventure at a rocketing pace”). This latest sees Naira and Tarquin out to discover more about the blight that has been killing habitable planets and digging into the Mercator family secrets. Then the head of Mercator disappears with the universe’s remaining supply of starship fuel.

This Is How We End Things by R.J. Jacobs

This isn’t really sci-fi, but it’s science and it’s fiction and it’s a thriller – and I love the sound of it, so I’m banking on some of you also being keen. We start with a group of graduate students who are studying the psychology of lying. This is a crime novel, so all of them have something to hide, and one of them winds up dead after an experiment. Oh – and they’re also trapped on their abandoned campus by a snowstorm.

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