Paul Kingsnorth began his ambitious Buckmaster trilogy with The Wake (2014), set just after the Norman Conquest, which was long listed for the Booker prize. The Beast (2016) was set in the present, while Alexandria (Faber, $34.99) is set 900 years in the future. Nearly all of humanity has uploaded into an AI utopia, Alexandria, created by a machine intelligence "Wayland". Only a small pagan religious group, hiding in the East Anglia fens, resist Wayland's meta-human Stalkers, believing that when the "lost gods", the "Swans", return, Alexandria will fall. Written in a combination of Anglo-Saxon and contemporary slang, Alexandria is a challenging read in more ways than one.
Canberra-born Kathryn Barker's first novel, In the Skin of a Monster, won the Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel in 2016. Now comes another impressive YA novel Waking Romeo (Allen and Unwin, $19.99). Barker has Romeo and Juliet and Wuthering Heights as her plotline inspiration. In a bleak future world of 2083, in which most of humanity has time-travelled to the future, Jules has survived her suicide pact with Romeo, but he remains in a coma. When handsome time-traveller Ellis arrives, here the Brontë reference, one of only a few who can travel back in time, Jules and Romeo's future will be changed forever.
Christopher Priest has been setting stories and books in his Dream Archipelago since 1974 and continues with The Evidence (Gollancz, $49.99). The archipelago has hundreds of islands which have temporal and gravitational quirks. Crime writer Todd Fremde, travelling to the "mutable", sub-polar, island of Dearth, finds himself caught up in a cold- case murder mystery which extends back to his home island. Priest juggles alternative versions of reality in a Kafkaesque mirror world novel that effectively blends the crime and SF genres.
Thomas McMullan's debut novel, The Last Good Man (Bloomsbury. $29.99), set in a near future of ecological and social collapse, has deliberate echoes of Nathaniel Hawthorne's A Scarlet Letter. Duncan Peck arrives in a village on the edge of Dartmoor where alleged crimes are posted on a communal wall with harsh justice subsequently meted out. How can Peck live as a "good man" when legal and moral standards have collapsed. McMullan extrapolates from today's toxic social media into the dangers of mob rule.
Another debut novel, Last One at the Party (Hachette. $32.99) by Bethany Clift has been described as "Fleabag meets I Am Legend". In November 2023, the human race has been wiped out by the 6DM virus, (Six Days Maximum life). The unnamed thirty-something narrator is the last woman standing in Britain. Clift, often with dark humour, follows her drug and alcohol binge in a deserted London, before a retrospective self-discovery road trip around Britain. "The end of everything was her beginning", but to what end? The reader finds out in a 2042 afterword.
Planetary geologist, Dr S. J. Morden, says that Gallowglass (Gollancz. $32.99) could be described as "Treasure Island in space". In a 2069 Earth devastated by climate change. Morden's main character, Jaap van der Veerden, escapes from his stifling super-rich family, by joining a ship of gallowglass, aka mercenaries, heading to capture an asteroid for mining. Morden's background ensures lots of science data and world building but at the expense of the narrative flow.
Kate Elliott has described Unconquerable Sun (Head of Zeus. $32.99), the first book in a trilogy, as "gender-swapped Alexander the Great on an interstellar scale". Set in an Hellenic/East Asian universe of warring and commercially competing worlds, Princess Sun, denigrated by her powerful and ruthless mother, Queen-Marshal Eirene, faces Machiavellian court rivalries while using her proven military prowess to save her world. The fast-moving, multiple viewpoint narrative, is underpinned by explorations of gender equality and social inequality.
Courttia Newland has labelled A River called Time (Canongate, $32.99), "a work of African futurism". Set in a polluted world, where colonialism and slavery never occurred, but class stratification still remains, Newland's main character, Markriss, is working as a propagandist in the elite 'Ark' in Dinium City a.k.a. London. Markriss has the power of astral projection which allows him to become in a multiverse, "a dark spirit", organising resistance against the Ark. Newland's imaginative and complex narrative, in which African cosmologies play an important part, sees a remix of history to explore class and power in society.
British bestselling author, Derek B Miller fully acknowledges that the 1959 post-apocalyptic classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter J Miller, was the direct inspiration for Radio Life (Jo Fletcher, $32.95). Set in the US 400 years after an apocalypse, "The Commonwealth" searches for fragments of the knowledge of the old world in order to rebuild, only to be resisted by the "The Keepers", who fear another apocalypse. Miller uses his experience at the United Nations to explore what makes civilisations rise and fall.