Annalee Newitz combines time travel, multi-alternative realities and feminist politics in the fast-paced, complex and mind-bending The Future of Another Timeline (Orbit, £8.99), a follow-up to her well-received 2017 debut Autonomous. Time travel has always existed through the agency of the Machines, five mysterious devices situated at various points around the world since the Cambrian era, which allow travellers to make small changes to history that will affect the future. The novel follows Tess in her fight against a misogynist cabal known as the Comstockers, named after the 19th-century US anti-vice moralist Anthony Comstock. The Comstockers are using the Machines to edit history and will stop at nothing to eradicate women of influence, as well as gay and transgender people, in order to build a male-dominated future. There are echoes of Joanna Russ as Newitz deploys her extensive knowledge of feminism, gender politics and history in a compulsively readable novel of controlled anger that, despite the horror, offers hope.
The Complete Short Stories of Mike Carey (PS, £12.99) gathers all his 17 published stories plus one previously unpublished fragment. Known for his bestselling fantasy and horror novels – as well as for film and comic scripts – Carey doesn’t often venture into the short form, but is adept at bringing fresh twists to the ghost and zombie genres, and excels at combining fantasy, gross-out horror and mystery. In a volume of uniform excellence, stories of note include “The Sons of Tammany”, featuring Edgar Allan Poe’s detective C Auguste Dupin in a mystery about police corruption in 1870s New York; “Taproot”, a fantasy set in 1930s Istanbul about an American ingenue, her fascist father and their involvement with Nazi spies; and “Face”, a courtroom drama set in a weird fantasy world akin to a grotesque British Raj.
There’s another take on colonialism and its consequences from Claire North in her seventh novel The Pursuit of William Abbey (Orbit, £18.99). The eponymous Abbey is a flawed character who in 1884 ventures to Africa with little more on his mind than sex with Hottentot women. While serving as a doctor in Natal, he witnesses the burning to death of a Zulu boy by a white mob, and does nothing to save the child. He is cursed by the boy’s mother: he will be followed to the ends of the earth by the boy’s shadow and, when it finds him, his loved ones will die. He will also become a “truth-speaker”, with the ability to see into the hearts and minds of those he meets. Along with other truth-speakers, he’s dragooned by the British to work as a spy. What follows is a tense, historical picaresque as Abbey flees the curse, comes to understand the evils of his paymasters, and seeks his revenge against them. North employs a fascinating supernatural conceit to explore the complicity and guilt of those involved in colonialism.
Over the course of half a dozen novels Alison Littlewood has built a reputation for atmospheric, well researched and impeccably observed horror stories. Her seventh, Mistletoe (Jo Fletcher, £14.99), is her best yet. Following the deaths of her husband and son, Leah Hamilton buys a derelict farm in remote Yorkshire – partly because her husband had wished to renovate the place, partly to keep her busy over a lonely Christmas. In the best tradition of haunted house stories, strange things begin to happen as soon as she moves in: her son’s toys mysteriously appear in the house, along with dolls wrapped in mistletoe; children’s voices echo down the corridors, and snowballs launch themselves at the front door. Then Leah begins to experience visions from the past, and learns that the farm harbours a terrible secret. Mistletoe is a creepy, page-turning triumph enlivened with excellent folkloric details, beautiful descriptions of winter landscapes and sensitive characterisation.
Kim Lakin-Smith’s fourth novel Rise (NewCon, £12.99) presents a bleak vision of the world in the year 5059. Two races exist in a super-heated future, where lava flows between impacting tectonic plates and cities are surrounded by inhospitable deserts. The Bleek dominate the Vary, an under-race treated little better than cattle. The totalitarian state of Bleekland is ruled by High Judge Titian, and the bulk of the novel is told from the viewpoint of his daughter Kali Titian, a pilot and bio-engineer. When Kali comes to realise the inhumanity of her father’s regime and rebels, she’s imprisoned in the concentration camp of Abbandon where the Vary are mercilessly worked to death. The novel provides a relentless catalogue of the tortures visited on the inmates before their eventual rebellion, led by the guilt ridden and morally conflicted Kali. Powerful and heartfelt, Rise demonstrates the ease with which humanity can be led to demonise those viewed as “other”.