"The Free People's Village" by Sim Kern; "Earthdivers, Vol. 1: Kill Columbus" by Stephen Graham Jones, Joana Lafuente (Colorist), and Davide Gianfelice.; and "The Duke Gets Desperate" by Diana Quincy.

The Mary Sue Book Club, September 2023: Climate Fiction To Sink Your Teeth Into, More

As you can probably feel, anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change is in full swing and people continue to be priced out of what little comforts are left. While books can serve as a sort of escapism to this daunting future, stories can also give us hope. Two books this month do just that, albeit in very different ways.

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Texas-based journalist/activist Sim Kern‘s latest book centers on an English teacher joining a fight against gentrification, but in a very different present. In this alternate timeline, for the past 20 years, Democrats have maintained a three-branch majority rule and used neoliberal greenwashing to keep affluent people from the effects of global disaster. Another story set in the future happens to be a graphic novel debut of the Stephen Graham Jones. Weaving together SFF and historical fiction, his story follows a group of Native Americans left behind on an uninhabitable Earth. After most of the wealthy left for a space colony, they embark on a quest to travel back in time and kill the start of their dystopian hellscape. Each of these stories tackles the legacy (and present status) of environmental racism and so much more.

Okay, so this all might sound adventurous, but kind of heavy. There are still other great stories coming out this month with a bit more levity. In terms of sci-fi, there’s a story of a man who inherited his uncle’s supervillain business. Drop the ‘fi’ and learn about the six women competing to be the third woman (first American woman) in space. If you’ve always wanted to try a Diana Quincy novel then now’s the perfect time as she’s started a new series. Is steamy romance not dramatic enough? Then a trial set in Victorian era England might just do the trick. Regardless of what you decide, happy reading!

The Fraud by Zadie Smith

The Fraud by Zadie Smith.
(Penguin Press)

It is 1873. Mrs. Eliza Touchet is the Scottish housekeeper—and cousin by marriage—-of a once-famous novelist, now in decline, William Ainsworth, with whom she has lived for thirty years.

Mrs. Touchet is a woman of many interests: literature, justice, abolitionism, class, her cousin, his wives, this life and the next. But she is also sceptical. She suspects her cousin of having no talent; his successful friend, Mr. Charles Dickens, of being a bully and a moralist; and England of being a land of facades, in which nothing is quite what it seems.

Andrew Bogle, meanwhile, grew up enslaved on the Hope Plantation, Jamaica. He knows every lump of sugar comes at a human cost. That the rich deceive the poor. And that people are more easily manipulated than they realize. When Bogle finds himself in London, star witness in a celebrated case of imposture, he knows his future depends on telling the right story.

The “Tichborne Trial”—wherein a lower-class butcher from Australia claimed he was in fact the rightful heir of a sizable estate and title—captivates Mrs. Touchet and all of England. Is Sir Roger Tichborne really who he says he is? Or is he a fraud? Mrs. Touchet is a woman of the world. Mr. Bogle is no fool. But in a world of hypocrisy and self-deception, deciding what is real proves a complicated task. . . .

Release date: September 5.

The Free People’s Village by Sim Kern

The Free People's Village by Sim Kern.
(Levine Querido)

In an alternate 2020 timeline, Al Gore won the 2000 election and declared a War on Climate Change rather than a War on Terror. For twenty years, Democrats have controlled all three branches of government, enacting carbon-cutting schemes that never made it to a vote in our world. Green infrastructure projects have transformed U.S. cities into lush paradises (for the wealthy, white neighborhoods, at least), and the Bureau of Carbon Regulation levies carbon taxes on every financial transaction.

English teacher by day, Maddie Ryan spends her nights and weekends as the rhythm guitarist of Bunny Bloodlust, a queer punk band living in a warehouse-turned-venue called “The Lab” in Houston’s Eighth Ward. When Maddie learns that the Eighth Ward is to be sacrificed for a new electromagnetic hyperway out to the wealthy, white suburbs, she joins “Save the Eighth,” a Black-led organizing movement fighting for the neighborhood. At first, she’s only focused on keeping her band together and getting closer to Red, their reckless and enigmatic lead guitarist. But working with Save the Eighth forces Maddie to reckon with the harm she has already done to the neighborhood—both as a resident of the gentrifying Lab and as a white teacher in a predominantly Black school.

When police respond to Save the Eighth protests with violence, the Lab becomes the epicenter of “The Free People’s Village”—an occupation that promises to be the birthplace of an anti-capitalist revolution. As the movement spreads across the U.S., Maddie dreams of a queer, liberated future with Red. But the Village is beset on all sides—by infighting, police brutality, corporate-owned media, and rising ecofascism. Maddie’s found family is increasingly at risk from state violence, and she must decide if she’s willing to sacrifice everything in pursuit of justice.

Release date: September 12.

The Six: The Untold Story of America’s First Women Astronauts by Loren Grush

The Six: The Untold Story of America's First Women Astronauts by Loren Grush.
(Scribner Book Company)

When NASA sent astronauts to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s the agency excluded women from the corps, arguing that only military test pilots—a group then made up exclusively of men–had the right stuff. It was an era in which women were steered away from jobs in science and deemed unqualified for space flight. Eventually, though, NASA recognized its blunder and opened the application process to a wider array of hopefuls, regardless of race or gender. From a candidate pool of 8,000 six elite women were selected in 1978—Sally Ride, Judy Resnik, Anna Fisher, Kathy Sullivan, Shannon Lucid, and Rhea Seddon.

In The Six, acclaimed journalist Loren Grush shows these brilliant and courageous women enduring claustrophobic—and sometimes deeply sexist—media attention, undergoing rigorous survival training, and preparing for years to take multi-million-dollar payloads into orbit. Together, the Six helped build the tools that made the space program run. One of the group, Judy Resnik, sacrificed her life when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded at 46,000 feet. Everyone knows of Sally Ride’s history-making first space ride, but each of the Six would make their mark.

Release date: September 12.

Earthdivers Vol 1. Kill Columbus by Stephen Graham Jones, Joana Lafuente, & Davide Gianfelice

Earthdivers, Vol. 1: Kill Columbus by Stephen Graham Jones, Joana Lafuente (Colorist), and Davide Gianfelice.
(IDW Publishing)

The year is 2112, and it’s the apocalypse exactly as expected: rivers receding, oceans rising, civilization crumbling. Humanity has given up hope, except for a group of Indigenous outcasts who have discovered a time travel portal in a cave in the desert and figured out where everything took a turn for the worst: America.

Convinced that the only way to save the world is to rewrite its past, they send one of their own—a reluctant linguist named Tad—on a bloody, one-way mission to 1492 to kill Christopher Columbus before he reaches the so-called New World. But there are steep costs to disrupting the timeline, and taking down an icon isn’t an easy task for an academic with no tactical training and only a wavering moral compass to guide him. As the horror of the task ahead unfolds and Tad’s commitment is tested, his actions could trigger a devastating new fate for his friends and the future.

Release date: September 19.

Starter Villain by John Scalzi

Starter Villain by John Scalzi.
(Tor Books)

Charlie’s life is going nowhere fast. A divorced substitute teacher living with his cat in a house his siblings want to sell, all he wants is to open a pub downtown, if only the bank will approve his loan.

Then his long-lost uncle Jake dies and leaves his supervillain business (complete with island volcano lair) to Charlie.

But becoming a supervillain isn’t all giant laser death rays and lava pits. Jake had enemies, and now they’re coming after Charlie. His uncle might have been a stand-up, old-fashioned kind of villain, but these are the real thing: rich, soulless predators backed by multinational corporations and venture capital.

It’s up to Charlie to win the war his uncle started against a league of supervillains. But with unionized dolphins, hyper-intelligent talking spy cats, and a terrifying henchperson at his side, going bad is starting to look pretty good.In a dog-eat-dog world…be a cat.

Release date: September 19.

The Duke Gets Desperate by Diana Quincy

The Duke Gets Desperate by Diana Quincy.
(Avon)

Anthony Cary, Duke of Strickland, inherits his spendthrift father’s title and can finally restore the family castle to its former glory. But at the reading of the will, Strick is stunned to learn that his father has secretly disentailed him, leaving the family manor—home to twelve generations of dukes—to Strick’s American stepmother. Everyone knows Strick detests the dowager duchess, and when she dies mysteriously, damning rumors start to surface.

When Raya Darwish unexpectedly inherits her glamorous late cousin’s castle in the English countryside, she clashes with the charismatic young duke who insists the castle is rightfully his. The estate is practically bankrupt, so she must find a way to work with the duke in order to save both of their futures.

The two cannot stand each other, but mutual disdain soon gives way to desire. When questions arise about how her cousin died, Raya cannot help wondering if Strick’s sudden unbridled passion for her is part of a scheme to get his castle back…

Release date: September 26.

Which of these titles are you most excited to read? Let us know in the comments.

(featured image: Levine Querido, IDW Publishing, and Avon)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.