Pirates, Drugs and Time Travel: The Best of New Science Fiction and Fantasy

This is the mytho-scientific premise underlying a madcap, rapid-fire tale of South Africa in the year 2064, where a handful of individuals are suddenly plagued by godhood. One, Nomvula, is a lonely little township girl born with power. Several others acquire their abilities from godsend, to varying degrees of trauma or delight: Muzi, a gay teenager facing multiple tests of manhood; Stoker, a politician struggling with identity and idealism; and Riya, a diva with a magical voice and a hidden disability. Meanwhile Sydney, a nail technician who was born powerful like Nomvula but is much older and more ruthless, decides it’s time to reclaim her birthright as a bloodthirsty, vengeful demi-goddess. As a genetically engineered virus spreads and threatens to awaken the latent godhood of billions, these few special individuals come together to decide, ultimately, what manner of gods will rule the future. Oh — and also, the technological apocalypse looms as personal robots all over the world quietly become self-aware.

Nomvula’s and Muzi’s tales end up being the most compelling of this lot, if only because those are coming-of-age arcs, while Stoker’s and Riya’s are more single-note. Villainous Sydney is the novel’s weak point, although she is hilariously horrific, but her monotonous evil serves well as a foil for the more complex main characters. Drayden’s delivery of all this is subtly poignant and slap-in-the-face deadpan — perfect for this novel-length thought exercise about what kinds of gods a cynical, self-absorbed postmodern society really deserves. Lots of fun.

A generation or two after a plague of fake news and societal polarization brought America to the brink of another civil war, most major cities in Brenda Cooper’s WILDERS (Pyr/Prometheus, paper, $18) have sealed themselves off from the rest of the country as sovereign states. Now the megacity of Seacouver (the combined metropolitan areas of Seattle and Vancouver) is a technological superpower, sending forth “ecobots” and “rewilding” crews to transform ecologically damaged land back into forest. The teenager Coryn Williams, a citizen of Seacouver who lost her parents to tragedy, decides to venture forth from the city in order to find her older sister, Lou, who abandoned her and went Outside two years before.

The first half of the story is more engaging, as it follows Coryn’s quest; she’s completely unprepared for the world beyond the city, where she finds…

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