Genres roundup – the best new sci-fi books



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The world might not have known they needed a vampire novel billed as a long poem, but now they’ve got one in the shape of a Baby teeth (Small Island, £ 6.99) by Meg Grehan. Immy, our immortal narrator, has lived a number of different lives, her identity always changing but her core truth – she is a vampire – remaining fixed. Nowadays, she doesn’t suck blood so much for food as it does to appease the ancient incarnations nestled within her, some of which were less than pleasant.

Then she suddenly and deeply falls in love with Claudia, and their intense and doomed affair forces her to confront and integrate her past with her present. Using short, blank lines of verse embellished with repetitive language and rhythms, Grehan evocatively evokes Immy’s tragic sense of isolation and self-acceptance.

Vampires have been a staple of horror cinema for almost a century, dating back to the 1922 expressionist classic of German director FW Murnau Nosferatu. A more recent horror film subgenre is the Slasher Film, which reached its peak in the 1980s with franchises such as Halloween, Friday 13 and Freddy. In these and their ilk, a serial killer – a malevolent and supernaturally unkillable force in human form – hacks, clubs, and dismembers a succession of victims, usually teenagers. The sole survivor of his depredations is almost always a woman, giving birth to the Final Girl trope, a character who makes it through the end credits being a bit braver and purer than her peers.

that of Stephen Graham Jones My heart is a chainsaw (Titan, £ 8.99) reads like a love letter to the slasher movies. Her high school heroine Jade Daniels is so steeped in their rules and traditions that she lives her life as if playing a part in it. When a couple of foreign tourists are killed in her rural Idaho town, she is convinced it is a precursor to a real massacre.

All the necessary elements are in place, from a lake with a grim history to a new subdivision whose well-to-do residents are divorced from the local community. There’s even a stereotypical Final Girl in the form of her friend, Letha Mondragon. Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, that no one heeds Jade’s warnings.

The novel is slow to start, a little too preoccupied with its theme, but it speeds up halfway to becoming the happy gore festival we’ve been made to anticipate. Slasher fans will appreciate the plethora of references to both well-known and obscure films with which the author underpins the clever architecture of his story.

Murder is also underway at Guy Morpuss Five spirits (Viper, £ 12.99), a wonderfully curvy thriller with a unique SF premise. In a crowded future, the lifespan of people is regulated in various ways to ensure a fairer distribution of the Earth’s scarce resources. One option is for five individuals to share a single body, with each spirit gaining supremacy for a set number of hours at a time.

However, not all of these so-called communes act as a harmonious unit. This is very much the case with the one whose occupants take turns telling the story, and relations between them become especially strained after a member, Kate, accepts an offer that is too good to be true.

Soon the five find themselves taking part in a series of challenges – races, treasure hunts, moral puzzles, and more. – in which years of life can be bet and death is a real possibility. These dangerous games are the most captivating and entertaining parts of the novel, but the whole thing has the brutal, mechanical ingenuity of an Agatha Christie mystery.

There is another overcrowded future Earth in The shift (Angry Robot, £ 9.99). Here, however, the solution to the problem is both simpler and harsher: at 18, you name one of your parents for public execution. For Miri, the choice is more difficult than for most. One of her mothers, Jac, is engaged in a project to cover the radiation-ravaged wilderness of Greenland with willows. His work can reverse climate change and save the planet. But Miri is estranged from Jac, as she loves her other mother, Alix.

In addition, Jac’s reforestation program is experiencing difficulties and is not producing the expected results. The novel deals with her predicament and Miri’s unenviable dilemma with ruthless forensic rigor. Author Calder Szewczak is actually two people, Natasha C Calder and Emma Szewczak, and together these co-authors have produced a vision of a ravaged world where everyone must make sacrifices for the greater good, with personal happiness being the first thing to do. This is by no means a heartwarming read, and its dark, tongue-in-cheek ending offers only a glimmer of hope.

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