The best recent science fiction and fantasy – reviews roundup

HellSans by Ever Dundas; Leech by Hiron Ennes; Jackdaw by Tade Thompson; The Green Man of Eshwood Hall by Jacob Kerr; and The Black Maybe by Attila Veres

HellSans by Ever Dundas

HellSans by Ever Dundas (Angry Robot, £9.99)
That one person’s heaven can be another’s hell is brilliantly and graphically depicted in this novel set in a near-future Britain. Smartphones have been replaced by a cyborg combo of lovable pet and telepathic personal assistant called the Inex, and the general population is in a near-constant state of bliss induced by a sans serif typeface used on all signage and in written words. But for a minority, instead of ecstasy, the HellSans font causes severe allergic reactions that include vomiting, peeling skin and copious bleeding. HellSans Allergics (HSAs) are forced into ghettoes, supposedly for their own protection, but mainly to spare the feelings of the blissed-out majority, who are encouraged to hate them as deviants and potential terrorists. Even to talk of a possible cure is dangerous, and when Dr Icho Smith develops one, she finds herself tortured and threatened with death. This is a violent and compelling thriller, fuelled by real anger and compassion, with far more psychological and moral complexity than the general run of dystopian fiction.

Leech by Hiron Ennes

Leech by Hiron Ennes (Tor, £16.99)
The narrator of this debut novel is a single personality inhabiting multiple bodies. They are the Interprovincial Medical Institute, with a unique monopoly on medical practice acquired over centuries spent seeking young hosts and taking over their minds. When one doctor in a distant northern region dies from self-inflicted wounds, a replacement is sent to find out what happened. During the autopsy, a worm-like tendril found inside the eye of the dead body reveals a previously unknown parasite; a new threat that is nearly impossible to kill, and is spreading rapidly throughout the local population. With a hard winter setting in, the replacement doctor is aware of their physical isolation and danger, and increasingly haunted by memories of their lost human childhood. A strange and fascinating far-future world is gradually revealed in this accomplished combination of gothic horror and sci-fi.

Jackdaw by Tade Thompson

Jackdaw by Tade Thompson (Cheerio, £15)
In 2017, Arthur C Clarke award winner Tade Thompson’s horror fantasy The Murders of Molly Southbourne was described by one reviewer as being “as unsettling as one of Francis Bacon’s screaming popes”. That line from The New York Times Book Review is presented as the source of this metafictional memoir-cum-horror, which is supposedly the result of Thompson having been commissioned to write a book inspired by Bacon’s art. With no ideas, but confident in his abilities, the author decides he must open himself up to the artist’s personality by suppressing his own and giving “free rein to my Id”. This results in an erotic obsession with one of Bacon’s models and a run-in with the terrifying ghost of his fiercely protective nanny, before the narrator goes out in search of painful encounters with a violent criminal and a professional dominatrix. As he struggles to maintain a facade of normal life, a weird alien flesh-sculpture is growing in his attic study. Against this fantastical material, autobiographical elements ring true in a wild, darkly comic nightmare set on the borderlines of creativity, imagination and madness.

The Green Man of Eshwood Hall by Jacob Kerr

The Green Man of Eshwood Hall by Jacob Kerr (Serpent’s Tail, £14.99)
This evocative short novel is a work of folk horror, closer in spirit to Alan Garner’s fantasies rooted in the land than to films like Midsommer. Set in the imaginary English county of Northalbion in 1962, the narrative focus shifts between 13-year-old Izzy and her careless, self-absorbed mother. Izzy is the only one who hears noises in the night, but when things are found broken downstairs in the morning, she gets the blame. She tells no one about her strange experiences in an abandoned chapel she discovers deep in the nearby woods, and has no idea of the danger she’s courting until it is far too late. Striking a perfect balance between myth and psychosocial realism, this beautifully written debut is the first of a projected series set in an imaginary version of Northumberland.

The Black Maybe by Attila Veres

The Black Maybe by Attila Veres, translated by Luca Karafiáth (Valancourt, £12.99)
Attila Veres is known in Hungary for writing screenplays and horror fiction, but this is his first book to be published in English. The 10 “liminal tales” here range from the unsettling to the deeply disturbing. All are deeply rooted in the reality of contemporary Hungarian life, some in rural, others in urban settings, but human fears are universal, and the author’s talent for twisting ordinary situations (a funeral, a holiday at a spa hotel, harvest time on a farm) into something increasingly bizarre and unexpected makes this a book no horror reader should miss. The most original debut collection of weird stories I have read in years.

Contributor

Lisa Tuttle

The GuardianTramp

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