Playwright Neil Sharpson’s first novel, いつ インクルード Sparrow Falls (Solaris, £8.99), is set in the 23rd century, after the development of “contran”: a process for the quick and easy transfer of consciousness from one body to another, or from a physical body to a blissfully free existence in a virtual environment. Along with this great leap forward has come the erasure of any legal distinctions between people born the old-fashioned way and those formerly described as “artificial intelligences” – all are equal. The world has been transformed, everywhere except in the Caspian Republic, a deeply repressive society that considers itself the last outpost of humanity, forcing its mortal citizens to resist “the machine”. だが, as State Security Agent Nikolai South knows, someone within the state is operating a secret contran system and smuggling people out to the free world on a new type of memory chip. An even more shocking discovery is to come. Thrillingly balanced between a grim, deliberately retro society and the possibilities of a utopian future, this is an original and gripping thriller.
Eli Lee’s debut, A Strange そして Brilliant Light (Jo Fletcher, £16.99), is also concerned with the co-existence of human beings and AI, but her imagined world is much closer to our own. The story is told from the perspectives of three young women from a traditional working-class background. Lal and Rose have been best friends since childhood, and work together in a coffee shop, but Lal’s ambition drives a wedge between them when she lands a job with Tekna, the corporation behind the system of robotic devices known as “auts” that is putting baristas, waiters and clerks out of a job – soon even human management won’t be required. その間, Lal’s sister Janetta, a brilliant grad student, may be on the brink of creating conscious, thinking auts. Important ideas are wrapped in an absorbing, character-driven novel that’s also a thought-provoking consideration of the ways we might cope with something that is already happening all around us.
Despite its title, Robot by Adam Wiśniewski-Snerg (translated by Tomasz Mirkowicz, Penguin, £8.99) is not about artificial intelligence: それよりも, it concerns the nature of reality, and how far human beings are capable of understanding our own situation in the universe. A naked prisoner, dubbed Unit 66, is told he has been created as a living tool, programmed to serve the Mechanism, before being dropped into an underground shelter where he must quickly figure out his role. What follows is a strange, hypnotic journey through various levels of reality. The unusual story combines practical physics with philosophical discussions; dreamlike adventures are complicated by time’s relativity as the narrator travels through what he first thinks of as a “black mirror”, and eventually comes to understand how the very different environments on each side are connected. Published in 1973, this Polish classic gets its first appearance in English: a brilliant new addition to the Penguin Classics science fiction list.
I have been haunted by Come Closer by Sara Gran (Faber, £8.99) since it first came out more than 15 数年前, and often recommend it to horror fans, so it is great to see it back in print. A short, wickedly sharp tale, elegantly constructed and genuinely disturbing, this take on demonic possession as experienced by a young, happily married, successful female architect in New York still feels contemporary and relevant today. But beware: it is truly nightmarish, and could take up residence in your head.
ザ・ Book の Accidents by Chuck Wendig (Del Rey, £16.99) is another horror story, but in the more leisurely style made traditional by the modern American epics of Stephen King. It begins in a quite traditional way: a serial killer awaits death in the electric chair; 数年後, a married couple move with their emotionally fragile son to an isolated old house in the country … Yet this is neither a haunted house story nor another lurid look at an unfeasibly clever murderer, but something more interesting. Wendig combines cosmic horror and human heroism with his continuing theme of the traumatic effect of abusive relationships handed down from father to son; this is a rich, rewarding tale.
A serial killer also features in Max Barry’s latest novel, ザ・ 22 Murders の Madison 五月 (Hodder, £16.99). Though he serves to drive the plot, the villain is not the focus here, in one of the most interesting explorations of the many worlds theory that I’ve read in years. It is also an unusual crime story featuring two well drawn, believable and sympathetic characters: Felicity Sharp, a New York journalist who takes the role of the detective, and Madison May, an actor who is far more than just the woman in jeopardy. 元の, intelligent, unputdownable.