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FICTION Fantasy and sci-fi round-up

Reviews of The Coven by Lizzie Fry, Witherward by Hannah Mathewson, Escape Pod anthology and The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

THE COVEN by Lizzie Fry (Sphere, £14.99) is set in a world similar to our own except that there, witchcraft exists as part of normal life. Or it did, until a right-wing religious movement in the US saw a misogynist campaign against witches as its route to state power and ultimately to world domination.

As suppression and oppression of witches specifically, and women in general, grows, a small band of escapees and their allies are on the run in the British countryside.

So what we are presented with is essentially a chase thriller with magical elements and good fun it is too. Star readers will cheer as the characters discover that the division between men and women is intended primarily as a means to strengthen the division between rich and poor.

In Witherward by Hannah Mathewson (Titan, £8.99), young Isla, a runaway from a cruel orphanage, works as a magician’s assistant in Victorian London.

It’s a job which both employs and disguises her own magical powers and she spends her spare time searching for others of her kind, hoping to find an answer to the mystery of her origins.

In the end, though, it’s the magic that hunts her down, not the other way round and she’s taken through a portal to an alternative London. In a way, she’s home at last but this other London, long ago divided into territories by rival magical tribes, is on the verge of a catastrophic civil war.

This debut fantasy features impressive world-building and a vivacious central character.

Escape Pod (Titan, £8.99) is an anthology of short stories edited by Mur Lafferty and SB Divya, celebrating the 15th anniversary of the pioneering and highly successful podcast of the same name. Fifteen writers associated with the site provide an unusually diverse range of pieces, with the emphasis firmly on entertainment.

Early on in The Ministry for the Future (Orbit, £9.99), author Kim Stanley Robinson declares that depressing cliche of the 21st century, that it’s “easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”

But Robinson has made a unique career in near-future fiction by refusing the hackneyed and easy path of writing dystopias. In this, perhaps his most powerful and ambitious novel yet, he does indeed imagine the end of capitalism and describes in detail how it might come about through a combination of militant anti-imperialism, human ingenuity, and the desperation caused by galloping climate change.

His characters are forced to confront the central truth of our century — that either capitalism dies or the human race does.

By the end of this long and at times strange book you will feel battered anew by the giant horrors that face this generation and the next.

But you will also be bolstered by Robinson’s unanswerable insistence that we already know the solutions and that in the end political change is driven by material conditions, not idealism.

 

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