Red Planet RunA reluctant Star  and her sulky twin teenagers are sent to Mars by her Machiavellian boss to investigate the traces of a possible past civilisation. A botched landing leaves them on the wrong side of the planet, and they soon realise a vicious enemy from the Belt is hard on their heels. Can Star fix her relationship with her kids, survive a loony and solve the mystery of the Cydonian ruins? Of course she can. She’s Alaskan.

Book cover: Orthe - Chronicles of Carrick V by Mary Gentle (Golden Witchbreed / Ancient Light)Ancient Light continues the epic world-building of Golden Witchbreed, giving us a good look at the Southern Continent to explain the fragile balance of power before the action returns to the Hundred Thousand for the devastating final act.

This is great stuff, but ultimately a tough sell and not one for readers seeking happy escapism. I think Ancient Light is a book that needs to be read in the context of the time it was written (the 1980s) to be fully appreciated – while it works on its own terms, the themes gain resonance when you keep corporate greed and the Cold War in mind.

Book cover: Orthe - Chronicles of Carrick V by Mary Gentle (Golden Witchbreed / Ancient Light)I didn’t mean to read this, but I’m ever so glad I did – it’s an excellent book and a great introduction to Mary Gentle.

Earth has mastered FTL travel, and sent diplomats and xeno-teams all over the galaxy to establish relations with our alien neighbours. Relatively inexperienced Lynne Christie is sent to the enigmatic world of Orthe / Carrick V when the previous envoy dies – in part, she soon realises, because she is expendable.

explorerThe first manned expedition in years will go deeper into space than anyone has gone before. It’s a thinly-veiled PR stunt, an attempt to reinvigorate interest in manned space exploration, and of course it all goes wrong. Cormac Easton is the journalist on board and the last survivor, chronicling the disasters and his own mental and emotional deterioration as he faces up to the inevitability of his own death.

Book cover: Blood and Iron by Elizabeth BearBlood and Iron is a slow ride that is quietly demanding. Elizabeth Bear makes no allowances for her reader’s familiarity with faerie tales or Irish pronunciation, weaving the implicit weight of her chosen myths into her own sharp tale of the war between Faerie and Man. If you don’t know what you’re missing, it may feel both surprising and sketchy; if you have long loved Irish myth and the Matter of Britain, you will probably get a good deal more out of it.

UK Cover - The Girl with all the gifts by M R CareyI’m a latecomer to this little gem, but I devoured it in 24 hours, so I clearly enjoyed it (although it didn’t make for easy dreams).

I had been tipped off to the central conceit before I started reading, but knew very little else – which is a great way to approach it, so for those you as yet unspoilt, I’ll try to keep this review spoiler-free.

Book cover: The Rook by Daniel O Malley

When Myfanwy Thomas wakes up surrounded by dead bodies in a London park and no memory, she’s ever so grateful for the note in her pocket with instructions. Now she just has to fake she knows what she’s doing as a very senior member of a very secret government agency, save Britain from supernatural threats and figure out who stole her memory… without anyone noticing.