The best new science fiction books this month from Terry Pratchett to Sandra Newman’s 1984 sequel

Terry Pratchett … Inimitable.

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Welcome to our round-up of the science fiction to look forward to in October. In a pile on my desk at home, ready for me to tear into them once I get a minute, are two of the books I mention below as ones I am particularly excited about: Julia, Sandra Newman’s fresh take on Nineteen Eighty-Four, and A Stroke of the Pen, a collection of recently uncovered short stories by Terry Pratchett. Both are absolute must-reads for me, as a huge fan of both writers.

But this October, I am also hoping to make time for a new space opera series from Bethany Jacobs (because I can never say no to space opera) and for a little bit of horror, as Halloween is on my horizon and I very much enjoy scaring myself. There is lots to look forward to in science fiction, though, whether you are after satirical dystopias, climate disasters – or even ghosts stalking the metaverse. So read on, fellow fans!

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Julia (Suzanna Hamilton) and Winston (John Hurt) in a film adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

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Julia by Sandra Newman. This sequel to Nineteen Eighty-Four, authorised by the Orwell estate, is probably the book I am most excited about this month. Newman is an incredibly talented writer – and besides, who wouldn’t want to learn about the events of George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece from the perspective of the woman Winston Smith meets? Our science fiction columnist Sally Adee is raving about it (although she advises that it packs quite an emotional punch), and according to novelist J. Robert Lennon, Newman has “succeeded wildly at the impossible task she was given”.

A Stroke of the Pen: The lost stories by Terry Pratchett. But wait – a new collection of stories from the late and inimitably great Sir Terry? Perhaps this is my biggest title of the month. These stories were written by Pratchett in the 1970s and 1980s, while he was working for a regional newspaper, and have never been attributed to the Discworld author until now. They sound like a real mix of science fiction and fantasy, with topics ranging from time travel tourism to a visitor from another planet, and characters including cavemen, gnomes, wizards and ghosts. None are set in Discworld, but I, for one, can’t wait to hear the wry, dry humour of Pratchett once again.

The Wolfe at the Door by Gene Wolfe. I will never forget my first experience of reading Gene Wolfe. His masterpiece The Book of the New Sun is a true epic of science fiction, set far in the future. I still think about his Urth, lit by the last light of its dying sun, regularly, so I will be picking up Wolfe’s final collection, which features short stories, poems and essays from the late author, some never previously published. From a man who gets to travel to the stars, to an immortal pirate, it is a blend of genres, and I won’t be missing it.

These Burning Stars by Bethany Jacobs. The beginning of a new space opera series, recommended for fans of Ann Leckie, Arkady Martine and Alastair Reynolds? Sign me up right now. Jacobs’s debut follows con artist and hacker Jun Ironway, who has stumbled on evidence that could implicate a powerful family in a planet-wide genocide that took place 75 years earlier. Unsurprisingly, various people are after her, and we are promised “a bloody confrontation that no one will survive unscathed” by Jacobs’s publishers. Fantastic.

A Fire Born of Exile by Aliette de Bodard. More space opera here, this time from the award-winning de Bodard, set in the far reaches of her Xuya universe. In the Scattered Pearls Belt, where habitats are kept under strict military rule, the enigmatic Quynh arrives, offering a chance of escape for Minh, whose father is the belt’s ruling prefect. We are promised that this will explore the power of love and revenge, as well as the wounds of the past.

Night Side of the River by Jeanette Winterson. This new collection of short stories from the award-winning Winterson has an intriguing premise, which, in my opinion, treads the line between science fiction and fantasy carefully enough to be of interest to us sci-fi fans: in the internet age, ghosts have adapted, innovated and found new channels to reach us, inhabiting our apps and walking the metaverse, just like they do our memories. As Winterson writes: “In the metaverse, we are all alternative forms. The Dead will join us.”

Red River Seven by AJ Ryan. And on that note, it is October, so I think we should let some science fiction-infused horror into our round-up this month, to mark the coming of Halloween. And Red River Seven, described by one reader as “Bird Box meets World War Z”, sounds pleasantly terrifying. Seven strangers, with no memory of who they are, wake up on a boat at sea. Each has a gun, and they agree to work together to survive as the boat’s computer informs them they are “Proceeding to Point A”. But what are the screams they can hear beyond the mist, and why can’t they remember anything?

A Haunting on the Hill by Elizabeth Hand. I’m straying a little further away from science fiction here, but sticking with the horror theme, and I hope you will forgive me – partly because this is no less than a sequel to the scariest book of all time, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, and partly because it is written by the brilliant, award-winning science fiction and fantasy author Elizabeth Hand. Set 60 years after Jackson’s haunting, it is officially authorised by her estate. Let me remind you of the way in which Jackson started her own tale, one of the best openings ever written, and defy you not to join me in reading this follow-up. “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more.” She was a genius.

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Zoey Ashe is heiress to a criminal empire in a futuristic world in Jason Pargin’s Zoey is Too Drunk for This Dystopia.

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Zoey is Too Drunk for This Dystopia by Jason Pargin. Back to more standard science fiction with this next pick – the third in a satirical sci-fi thriller series about Zoey Ashe, heiress to a criminal empire in a futuristic world. This time around, Zoey’s people are organising the annual music festival in the new city of Tabula Ra$a, as well as the drunken riot that follows it (the citizens need some controlled chaos every now and then, after all). But then a social network broadcasts a horrific crime, live, and Zoey investigates.

She’s a Killer by Kirsten McDougall. More satirical thrills from this novel which takes place in a world in which the climate crisis has sent wealthy immigrants flocking to New Zealand for shelter, where they are stealing land and taking over. Meanwhile Alice, who has an IQ of 159 and only communicates with her mother in Morse code, meets Erika, who draws her into radical, dangerous action.

Vurt by Jeff Noon; A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge. I also wanted to draw your attention to two reissues out this month – both for the completists amongst you and for those who may have yet to read these classics. First up is a 30th anniversary edition of Jeff Noon’s cyberpunk novel Vurt, set in a world where hallucinogenic feathers take you to the shared reality of the Vurt. We can also look forward to a new edition of Vernor Vinge’s Hugo award-winning A Deepness in the Sky. This version of Vinge’s story about humanity being on the verge of contact with an alien race comes with an introduction from the excellent Jo Walton.

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