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Science fiction gets criminal

Science fiction is often treated like a genre (and for a good reason), but genre lines can be incredibly blurry, with quite a bit of variation and room to play. One area that’s been growing recently is the sub-genre of crime stories and mysteries within sci-fi. Here is a selection worth investigating.

The Salt Line” by Holly Goddard Jones (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $26)

This is an exciting novel, with unexpected twists and turns and excellent character development, but it starts small: with a tick. Far into the future, when climate change has taken its toll on our planet, a tick roams the U.S. and carries with it a deadly, incurable disease. People live clustered in cities, protected from the outside world. But the romance of the wilderness still exists, and tour groups take wealthy adventurers beyond city borders. Marta doesn’t want to embark on one of these trips, but her criminal husband, David, insists. As Marta gets to know her fellow travelers, she starts to think that maybe this wasn’t such a terrible idea — that is, until her group is attacked from within and someone is murdered. Are Marta’s husband’s deeds catching up with her, or does someone else in the group have a secret? Not all the characters in this novel are easy to like, but I absolutely believed that they were capable of anything.

Six Wakes” by Mur Lafferty (Orbit, $15.99 paper)

Locked-room mysteries go back to the earliest crime fiction (Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders In the Rue Morgue” was published in 1841) and this is an excellent addition to the sub-genre. In the future, when cloning is legal, people have additional bodies at the ready; their memories can be downloaded to their new hosts in a snap. But when six clones awaken to a violent scene aboard a spaceship, they find a bloodbath. The victims? Their former selves. It’s clear that one of them did the ugly deed, but without memories of the event, it’s impossible to tell who. Lafferty builds a rich and vibrant world, all within the confines of a single spaceship. Her characters are incredibly well-drawn and vivid; as she explores each clone’s past, even the most difficult of them becomes sympathetic. It is a gripping murder mystery that also poses the most difficult philosophical question: What does it mean to be human?

Black Mad Wheel” by Josh Malerman (Ecco, $26.99)

In the decade after WWII, the Army discovers a mysterious sound coming from somewhere in the Namibian desert, one that drives people mad and has the ability to disarm nuclear weapons. They’re at a loss as to how to handle this threat and hire musicians to take it on. Enter a band called the Danes, who agree to investigate the source. This novel is told in two time periods, jumping back and forth between the initial search for the sound and the recovery of the expedition’s sole survivor. It’s brutal, even visceral, but also sometimes lovely. Its brooding tone feels as though everything is about to fall apart. It wanders into stranger and stranger territory as the novel progresses, but if you enjoy dipping your toes into the horror side of genre, and are curious about the latest literary offering from the lead singer of the rock group the High Strung, this book is a great choice.

Yesterday” by Felicia Yap (Mulholland Books, $27)

Felicia Yap’s debut novel is set on an Earth much like ours, with one significant twist: People have extremely short memories. Monos, the bulk of society, only remember the events of the past day. Duos, considered the elite of this world, have two days of memories. Both monos and duos rely on journals to recall the events of their lives. It’s the way the world has always been. It’s in this complicated setting that a murder occurs: the body of a young woman with ties to a Duo politician, Mark, is found, and causes Claire, his long-suffering Mono wife, to question everything she thought she knew. It’s a poignant look at the fallibility of memory, and how we can deceive ourselves into believing the most bald-faced lives to protect our own comfort and security.

Krishna writes for Paste Magazine and Syfy Wire and is half of the podcast Desi Geek Girls.

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