20 Amazing New Science Fiction And Fantasy Beach Reads

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Whether you need something to read on vacation or you’re staying home, these twenty science fiction and fantasy new releases will take you to new worlds full of adventures.

Ordinary Monsters by J.M. Miro (Flatiron; June 7)

This historical fantasy set in the Victorian era combines penny dreadful vibes with classic fantasy tropes. Some children are born with talents, rare magical abilities to manipulate their bodies. Charlie Ovid can heal himself, the child Marlowe emits an unnatural glow, Komako can control dust, and Ribs can make herself invisible. All four are whisked away to Cairndale, a school for talented children such as themselves. However, a darkness follows them, a former student intent on taking Marlowe with undead monsters at his beck and call, and he’s not the only one taking too much interest in the glowing boy. Meanwhile, the barrier between the world of the dead and the world of the living is becoming fractured. Despite the high-stakes plot and action-packed scenes, character development and backstory drive the novel’s sometimes meandering but always intriguing plot forward. I listened to this sprawling romp on audio, narrated by Ben Onwukwe, and it fully transported me into the world. While this is the first book in a planned trilogy, it has a satisfying ending.

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Buffalo Is the New Buffalo by Chelsea Vowel (Arsenal Pulp Press; June 7)

These eight Métis futurism short stories defy genre by blending the past, present, and future to create liberating possibilities for Métis and Indigenous futures where Indigenous peoples are very much present. In one story, nanite technology enables a queer Indigenous couple to ensure their child’s first language is Cree. In another, a Métis man becomes invisible after being run through by a radioactive Bison, and he uses this ability to become a superhero. In several stories, virtual realities provide opportunities for Indigenous characters to embody animals. Through all the stories, Vowel provides extensive footnotes that relate the content to reality, reminding readers that though fictional, these stories are very much grounded in the Indigenous present. She also provides a fascinating introduction to her work and Métis futurism. This is a must for short story readers.

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Boys, Beasts & Men by Sam J. Miller (Tachyon; June 14)

Miller’s fantasy and science fiction short stories have won and been nominated for numerous awards, though this is his debut short story collection. The collection opens with an allosaurus making a sudden appearance in a small town and a child learning to see his mother differently in its wake. “Ghosts of Home” occurs during the 2008 housing crisis, when spirits that haunt houses grow lonely after the owners leave. Many stories embrace queerness, such as “The Heat of Us: Notes Towards an Oral History,” an alternative history of the Stonewall Riots where the supernatural threads its way through the queer people who fight back against police brutality. All 14 of these brilliant, character-driven short stories are perfectly crafted, subtly altering reality using SFF elements while managing to fully explore the repercussions of doing so with the conciseness a short story requires.

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The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison (Tor Books; June 14)

Addison continues Thara Celehar’s story in this second book in The Cemeteries of Amalo series and the third set in the same world as The Goblin Emperor. In this second book, Celehar is presented with several murders to solve while also training a new Witness for the Dead, the widow Velhiro Tomasaran, who discovers her ability to speak to the dead when her husband dies. While investigating the death of a high-ranking Amalo woman, Celehar uncovers a nefarious child sex abuse plot involving foundling girls. However, in helping the girls, he may lose the most important ability he has: his ability to listen to the dead. Despite the high-stakes plotting, these short yet immersive fantasy detective novels are pleasantly quiet and optimistic. The audiobook narrated by Liam Gerrard perfectly captures Celehar’s voice. While The Grief of Stones can be read as a stand-alone, I recommend reading The Witness for the Dead first.

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Juniper & Thorn by Ava Reid (Harper Voyager; June 21)

This riveting, atmospheric dark fantasy unflinchingly explores the disturbing roots of classic fairy tales. Marlinchen and her three sisters are the last true witches. Marlinechen, the youngest and most powerful of the three, can read people’s secrets with a touch, while her other sisters can glimpse into the future and create healing potions. Their cursed wizard father hires their magic out while keeping them separate from and ignorant of the world outside their home. However, the two eldest sisters often sneak out at night. The novel opens with Marlinchen’s first night sneaking out with her sisters. They attend a ballet where Marlinchen immediately becomes riveted with the male lead. As Marlinchen continues to escape at night to seek out the ballet, her father becomes increasingly tyrannical. Meanwhile, everyone in town whispers about a monster on the loose and its ruthless murders.

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The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi (Del Rey; June 21)

El-Arifi unfolds a complex and brutal magical world where those born with red blood enslave people born with blue or clear blood in this first book in an African and Arabian–inspired epic fantasy trilogy. Rebels raised red-blooded Sylah to become a traitor to the red-bloods and end their tyranny. However, after her family is murdered, she becomes addicted to drugs and instead fights in illicit rinks and longs for the next high. When her brother — whom she thought was murdered along with the rest of the family — reappears, he breaks her drug haze, though she no longer wants to be the hero she was raised to be. Meanwhile, Anoor — the daughter of the Empire’s most powerful ruler — is a constant disappointment to her mother. Despite being relentlessly demeaned, she quietly rebels against the Empire’s injustices. Hassa, who has clear blood, had her tongue and hands removed as a child, as all clear bloods do. She serves as a servant, unseen by influential red-bloods, and perfectly placed to gather all the secrets needed for a rebellion. Together, these three women take the Empire by storm in this rich debut fantasy.

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Invisible Things by Mat Johnson (One World; June 28)

Sociologist Nalini Jackson lands a position on the SS Delany because of her scientific background. Her assignment is to study group relationships on the ship’s mission to Jupiter while also assisting the lead scientist, Dwayne. However, the crew’s leader, Bob, is an entitled white man with no scientific background who encourages his team of engineers to play pranks on Nalini and Dwayne, the only two Black people on board. Nalini and Dwayne dub the crew the Bobs and spend much of their days ranting about them. Then comes the discovery of a lifetime. In their research, Nalini and Dwayne discover a biodome on Europa that has to be human-made. While at first the crew of Bobs think Nalini’s playing a practical joke on them, they soon come to realize the biodome is all too real when they’re abducted and forced to join the biodome’s captives. This refreshing, stand-alone sci-fi is both surprisingly funny and insightful in its exploration of group dynamics.

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Elsewhere by Alexis Schaitkin (Celadon Books; June 28)

Vera lives in an idyllic, remote village, where everyone takes joy in the beauty of simple tasks and their traditions. However, the village’s beauty comes at a cost. Mothers disappear every year, evaporating into the clouds never to be seen again. Vera’s mother disappeared when she was a child, and her austere and quiet father raised her. When Vera is young, before she becomes a mother, she feels passionate about how the disappearance of mothers enables the villagers to truly live and experience the beauty of life. Her opinions change when she becomes a mother and begins to experience early signs of disappearing. This is a fascinating speculative novel about the life-altering experience of motherhood that reminded me both of Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” and Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” The audiobook narrated by Ell Potter is riveting.

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The Dream Runners by Shveta Thakrar (HarperTeen; June 28)

Seven years ago, Tanvi was kidnapped and taken to the underground realm of Nagalok, leaving behind her parents and twin sister. In Nagalok, the naga wiped Tanvi’s memories and trained her as a dream runner. She and the other kidnapped children go to the human world at night and collect dreams for the naga. The dreams help stave off the naga’s boredom, but they can also be formed into unique creations, and the human Venkat, who voluntarily went to Nagalok as a child, is being trained as a dream creator. The naga place him in charge of the dream runners. A chance encounter while dream running has Tanvi remembering snippets from her past, which is exacerbated when a naga princess drags Tanvi along to meet her human boyfriend. Tanvi’s spiraling memories, the princess’s recent engagement, and Venkat’s dream creations all lead to a larger plot to overthrow Nagalok itself. The unique world building and Hindu mythology make this YA contemporary fantasy a must-read.

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Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert (Flatiron; June 28)

Albert follows her captivating The Hazel Wood duology with another dark YA contemporary fantasy with The Craft vibes. The novel alternates between two characters and timelines. In the suburbs, right now, Ivy knows something isn’t quite right with her mother. After her ex-boyfriend almost runs over a naked girl on the road and Ivy helps her, Ivy begins experiencing weird things, like catching glimpses of the girl in her mirror and finding a decapitated rabbit in the yard. The second timeline takes place in the past when Ivy’s mother is a teen. When a new girl named Marion shows up at Dana’s job they immediately become friends and are joined by Dana’s best friend/sister Fee. After Marion uses magic to curse a sexist jerk hassling the trio, Dana and Fee beg Marion to teach them. The three become entangled in a world of dark magic and witchcraft, and their actions will reverberate through the decades. This atmospheric read is both disturbing and enthralling. The audiobook narrated by Chloe Cannon and Emma Galvin is an intense and fun listen.

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Where You Linger & Other Stories by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (Vernacular Books; July 11)

Prolific short story writer Stufflebeam makes her booklength debut with this fascinating collection of 12 queer science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories. In the opening story, skeletons of extinct animals quietly plead for freedom as a group of friends gather in a campground, all obsessed with the same girl and ignoring the skeletons around them. In the following story, ghosts keep a father company as his memories slowly slip away while his daughter cooks and cleans up after them and wishes the ghosts would take her father for good. Stufflebeam explores memory once more in the Nebula-nominated novelette “Where You Linger.” The narrator undergoes an expensive procedure to relive memories of her promiscuous early love life to try and pinpoint why she felt compelled to cheat on her ex-wife, despite her deep feelings for her. Varied yet intricately connected by themes of memory and loss, these stories are as memorable as they are creative.

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers (Tordotcom; July 12)

The second book in the Monk and Robot novella series, which begins with A Psalm for the Wild-Built, is as charming and heartwarming as the first. The series takes place in a utopian future where people help support one another and the environment in villages while robots, who are now free, inhabit the forest. Dex is a nonbinary, tea-serving monk who befriends Mosscap, a curious robot, on a sojourn to the forest. Now that Mosscap has helped Dex on their exploration of the wilds, it’s Dex’s turn to show Mosscap the human world. The two are now good friends and have an easy rapport as they travel from village to village, uncovering many philosophical dilemmas along the way and making many new friends. Both books are such refreshing reads.

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The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne (Redhook; July 26)

This gorgeous, feminist retelling of “Rapunzel” immediately captivates. Haelewise’s mother, a midwife, made a bargain with Haelewise’s father that she would suppress her magic and embrace Christianity. Haelewise, however, made no such bargain, and her magic refuses to be suppressed from the start, fighting its way to notice by causing fainting fits. The magic also allows Haelewise to feel the presence of souls as they enter and depart the world, making her unusually gifted for midwifery. The townsfolk fear Haelewise and her suspected witchcraft, so after her mother’s death, Haelewise flees the town and escapes into the forbidden forest, where she finds Mother Gothel living in a tower and trains with her in old magic. However, it’s clear from the beginning that Mother Gothel is hiding something from Haelewise. When a princess fleeing an unwanted marriage finds refuge in the tower, the secrets slowly start unfolding. Readers of Naomi Novik and Katherine Arden will adore this new fairytale fantasy.

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A Strange and Stubborn Endurance by Foz Meadows (Tor Books; July 26)

This immersive m/m fantasy romance focuses on healing and trust in a richly-imagined world. Vel's father has arranged his marriage to a Tithena princess, a politically advantageous alliance to Vel's father, but one leaving Vel, who is gay, cold. When his father discovers his preferences after a former flame rapes Vel, Vel contemplates suicide. However, the Tithena ambassador, who is nonbinary and holds no such prejudices against LGBTQ+ people, proposes a solution: Vel can marry the Tithena prince, Cae, instead. While Vel understandably fears his future marriage with Cae — especially after his sexual assault — cinnamon roll Cae might be precisely what he needs to learn to accept and love himself. Though this novel opens with trauma, it's ultimately a hopeful and beautiful read. While the main plot revolves around romance, there's still a nice dose of political intrigue. There's also excellent disability representation in a mute secondary character who uses sign language to communicate with Vel.

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A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys (Tordotcom; July 26)

This alien first-contact novel takes place in a hopeful future Earth where watershed networks have overthrown corporate control to create communities focused on protecting the environment and taking care of people. However, just when things look like they’re getting better on Earth, aliens come offering to whisk humanity away from the planet that will surely destroy them as humanity has almost destroyed it. New mother Judy Wallach-Stevens is the first to make contact with the aliens. It’s night when she receives an alarm of possible environmental contamination in the Chesapeake Bay. Figuring that it’s false, she brings her infant and wife to investigate, and the trio discovers a spaceship of intelligent insectoids instead. After first contact, everyone worldwide wants to speak with the aliens, but the matriarch refuses to speak to anyone but Judy because she’s a mother. Emrys presents a fascinating future full of possibilities in conversation with the more popularly imagined stark dystopian future of environmental collapse and corporate control.

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Everything for Everyone: An Oral History of the New York Commune, 2052–2072 by M. E. O'Brien and Eman Abdelhadi (Common Notions; August 1)

This is a really fascinating glimpse into a future New York City after a revolution has transformed the U.S. and much of the world into an anti-fascist, communist utopia. No more capitalism, no more military, no more police. People live in communes, taking care of one another and the Earth. The two authors place themselves into this fictional future by interviewing people who participated in the revolution or in the managing/founding of communes for a book they are compiling. The interviewees represent a diverse and intersectional range of identities, from a Chinese immigrant who went from being imprisoned in internment camps in the US to participating in revolutions in both China and the US, and becoming a trauma healer, to a child victim of a white supremacist cult who went from being a vocal advocate of the cult to participating in its downfall and escaping into an adulthood supporting teenagers and embracing their nonbinary identity. This hybrid novel is both necessary and empowering, providing a hypothetical foundation for an ideal future.

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The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean (August 2; Tor Books)

Dean's debut novel is a delightfully weird exploration of motherhood, queerness, and escaping patriarchal norms. Centuries earlier, as the book eaters believe, an alien species arrived on Earth and left behind information gatherers disguised as humans, then forgot about them for unknown reasons. These aliens form their own little mini, archaic world. Most eat books instead of food, though some eat human minds. These mind-eaters become dragons, used as weapons to maintain patriarchal control over the families. Because women are rare, their fertility is tightly managed, and they're not allowed to stay with their children. Book eater Devon, however, deeply loves her children and refuses to leave them. She will do whatever it takes, commit whatever evils necessary, to ensure her mind-eater son's survival and that they remain together.

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Sultana's Dream and Padmarag by Rokeya Hossain, translated by Barnita Bagchi (Penguin Classics; August 9)

Hossain is a 19th-century Bengali Muslim feminist and writer whose work should really be better known than it is. Written in 1905, Sultana's Dream explores the possibilities of a future where gender norms are flipped. Ladyland is a feminist utopia where women are free to invent and explore while men stay at home. Solar ovens, cloud condensers, and flying cars are just a few of the inventions women have created. It's a fascinating and satirical take on gendered power dynamics. While Sultana's Dream is firmly rooted in science fiction, Padmarag, originally written in Bengali, is set in the real world, where a diverse group of women escapes from patriarchal oppression within a community founded and organized by other women. It's her only novel-length work.

The Oleander Sword by Tasha Suri (Orbit; August 16)

The first book in the Burning Kingdoms series, The Jasmine Throne, was one of my favorite fantasy novels of 2021. I’m happy to say that The Oleander Sword more than exceeds my expectations. Malini and Priya begin the novel on their separate journeys towards power. As the prophecy foretold, Malini leads an army intending to depose her brother and become the empress of Parijatdvipa. Meanwhile, the priestess Priya, now an Elder of Ahiranya, seeks to rid her country of colonialist rule and find a cure for the toxic, magical disease that continues to spread. While their goals may seem opposed to one another, they’ll once more have to join forces to succeed. Like the first book, The Oleander Sword has a vast cast of characters, expansive and intelligent world-building, and lots of fiery, intense interactions. Epic fantasy readers must check out this series if they haven’t already.

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Babel by R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager; August 23)

This brilliant historical fantasy takes place in an alternative Victorian-era Oxford. Silver bars inscribed with unique word combinations can be activated to do magical tasks, from the mundane like heating tea to the essential like holding up a bridge. Because of the nature of silver working, people who can speak multiple languages are crucial, especially less common languages in England. To that end, a professor from Babel — Oxford's translation tower and the world center of silver working — essentially steals Chinese children with promising language skills and whisks them away to England. Robin Swift, the protagonist, is one such child. He spends his childhood learning languages, and if he tarries, he faces the professor's wrath. When he arrives at Oxford to begin classes, he befriends other outsiders like him: charismatic Rami, originally from India who quickly becomes Robin's best friend; brilliant and principled Victoire, originally from Haiti; and stubborn Letty, a white woman born to wealth who refuses to be married off by her father. These four become everything to one another, but they cannot escape Babel's fractious, colonialist politics. Kuang deftly explores the period and its legacy of racism and colonialism while also fully committing to Robin Swift's character arc. It's an impressive, emotional read. ●

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