Even though most of us couldn’t afford to make it to Comic-Con last weekend, it’s a good bet that we still wanted to. It’s fairly indisputable that sci-fi and fantasy are still at the peak of their popularity, and that’s not going to change any time in the near (or distant) future. This week’s Brit + Co book club gives you three new genre thrillers and mysteries to put you at the edge of your (Captain’s) seat.
1. The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein ($15): Transporters are one of the sci-fi technological advances we long for most (who wouldn’t want to be able to beam to work and not have to deal with a commute, or go halfway around the world in a second?), but these magical devices are also notoriously tricky. Dr. McCoy always complained about having his atoms scattered across the galaxy, the ones in Galaxy Quest could accidentally turn you inside out, and Riker wound up having to deal with a weird duplicate who wanted to date his ex. That’s the situation in which Joel Byram, hero of debut novelist Klein’s The Punch Escrow, finds himself: A report of his death causes his wife to panic and use a transporter to create a copy. This turns out not to have been the worst plan, as Joel suddenly finds himself up against a conspiracy, and could really use an extra set of hands.
“Maybe it’s a good idea for us to start with the past past, like stuff that happened in my past that is relevant to my present, which is still your past, but now possibly relevant to our present.” It’s 2147, and corporations control everything (who would have thought?). Joel’s job entails posing increasingly complex problems to AIs in an attempt to stump and improve them. His wife Sylvia is working on some sort of classified project, which necessitates her increasing absence. To try to bridge the widening gap between them, Sylvia suggests a 10th anniversary trip to a remote location in Costa Rica, but Joel’s transport coincides with a bombing in Greenwich Village. He rematerializes where he left off, but Sylvia, already in Costa Rica and convinced of his death, insists on using the transporter’s pattern buffer to make Joel 2. Now International Transport is after them, as well as an anti-transporter religious sect for whom the ethical quandary of holding a person’s duplicate in “escrow” is too grim.
Klein’s world of the future is built with great, fascinating details like the genetic engineering of mosquitos that have saved the world by feeding on carbon monoxide, and the freight transporter accident that vaporized the Mona Lisa and led to the creation of escrow technology for humans. At its core, it’s a story about a relationship on the mend in the midst of utter chaos, with characters you can’t get enough of (which is good, because sometimes there’s two of them). After all, psychological introspection is one thing, but it’s another to actually be confronted with another you, with all your virtues and faults. Even nerd queen Felicia Day says, “I couldn’t put it down,” so beam this one up.
2. Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw ($15): If the last name Helsing rings a bell to you, then you won’t be surprised to find out that Greta Helsing, heroine of Vivian Shaw’s Strange Practice, has a very strange practice indeed. Greta caters to those who would normally be out of the range of doctors’ hands; you see, they’re all already dead. Okay, undead. “For the past five years, she had run a bare-bones clinic out of Wilfert Helsing’s old rooms in Harley Street, treating a patient base that to the majority of the population did not, technically, when you got right down to it, exist. It was a family thing.”
In what promises to be the first of a highly entertaining series, Greta cares for vampires, bogeymen, banshees, and a host of other supernatural creatures, each with its own particular set of problems (banshees, for example, need an ENT specialist for all the screaming they do. Workplace hazard). They don’t really bother her, though some are better patients than others. On the other hand, a series of killings (both human and supernatural creature alike) are terrifying Londoners. Turns out it’s a group of mysterious monks, and Greta might be the only one who can stop them. Like Liam Neeson, she has a very particular set of skills.
“No one knew now exactly what remained in the tunnels, and no sensible person would go down there alone — but certain esoteric subsectors of society had always gravitated to such places. As long as there was secrecy, there would be a need for holes to hide in.” The monks consider their victims to be “unclean,” but in Shaw’s universe, the monsters aren’t really the bad guys; they retain their monster identities, but they’re pretty decent folk, nice, helpful, and sympathetic. Some of them are even good at latte art and writing snarky letters to the editor. Most importantly, they’re polite, which Greta returns with her devotion to doctor/monster confidentiality. If you like the idea of a mystery that turns our concept of what’s truly monstrous on its head, or of a world where there’s a difference between vampires and vampyres, this practice may be perfect.
3. The Dream Keeper’s Daughter by Emily Colin ($16): One of the staples of sci-fi and fantasy is time travel. Thankfully, Emily Colin doesn’t believe in the temporal Prime Directive, and gives us a love story that searches through time and place. Eight years ago, Isabel Griffin thought she’d lost everything when her longtime confidant and boyfriend, Max Adair, went missing from the same place her mother did when Isabel was 16. “He disappeared less than fifty feet from where I was standing, while I screamed his name.”
Nothing was ever heard from him again, until Isabel, on an archaeological dig in Barbados, gets a phone call with “Max” on the caller ID. The call consists of four words: “Isabel. Keep her safe.” The voice certainly sounds like Max’s, and Isabel is pretty sure the “her” refers to their seven-year-old daughter, Finn, though Max disappeared before her birth. Isabel doesn’t know what to do, because she’s tried her best to move on, and there’s Ryan, her best friend and surrogate father to Finn. Her father’s near-ruinous obsession with finding her mother serves as a cautionary tale.
However, as her curiosity gets the best of her, we discover that both Max and Isabel’s mother, Julia, have been sent back to 1816 to Max’s ancestors’ Barbados sugar cane plantation; the Adair family home in Charleston happens to be a place where the worlds of the living and the dead collide. Isabel’s present quest to figure out what’s happened and her feelings about it is twinned with Max and Julia’s attempt to prevent a looming slave revolt that they know is bloody and doomed. Will Finn’s exceptional, possibly magical, abilities come into play? Blending past and present, The Dream Keeper’s Daughter makes us wonder if it’s possible to regain what’s lost.
What books make you reach for the stars? Tag us in your next speculative read @BritandCo.
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