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Science Fiction Round-up Moribund melodies, monstrous evil, library laughs and war worries

IN PRESENT-DAY Budapest, Krisztina hunts dying people for their songs in The Teardrop Method by Simon Avery (TTA Press, £8). Her first album was released to some acclaim a few years earlier but then she found her soulmate and contentment quietened her muse.

It's only when her lover dies in an accident that this strange gift — or curse — of being able to hear and claim the songs of the doomed arose to replace her talent.

But what if Krisztina isn't the only one? And what if someone else wants her song?

This highly original piece is written with the sad, chilly atmosphere of much central European fiction but it has a very British rejection of miserabilism for its own sake. The desire for even the most fantastical stories to make sense and to make progress keeps breaking through and the result is a charming, and charmingly odd, novella which stays in the mind like an overheard song.

What The Hell Did I Just Read by David Wong (Titan, £7.99) is the third in a wonderful series of what, for want of a better term, are comedy-horror novels. Its starting point is the familiar idea of a small US town which for some unlikely reason is remarkably vulnerable to incursions of monstrous evil from another dimension.

As so often, it seems that only a small team of neurotic slackers can save the world.

What makes this series stand out is that Wong, a leading internet humorist, has the rare knack of knowing how to produce barkingly funny comedy which is simultaneously poignant and thought-provoking. Robert Rankin and Kurt Vonnegut come to the reader's mind but Wong's style is entirely his own.

Stephen R Donaldson, one of the most celebrated post-Tolkien writers of "high fantasy," returns to the field with Seventh Decimate (Gollancz, £16.99), the first book in a new series.

It takes place amid a war between two nations which used to be one state that has lasted for generations. Belleger, the weaker of the two statelets, survives only because its sorcerers have found a way to produce reliable rifles.

When all sorcery becomes suddenly inoperable in Belleger, Prince Bifalt is sent on a probably suicidal mission to discover a fabled library, the presumed source of this anti-magic.

For all its battles and spells, this is really a psychological adventure story. Bifalt begins by believing that war is honourable, sorcery cowardly and peace impossible.

His journey from idealism to honesty involves a painful struggle against himself, more than against his enemies, and is presented in a way that's both absorbing and credible.

Jonathan Strahan's deeply impressive series of themed short story anthologies continues with Infinity Wars (Solaris, £11.99).

The concept behind these books — "to revisit some of science fiction's core ideas and themes in refreshing new ways" — is an inherently attractive one and this volume of 15 diverse stories considers anew the old question: if there must always be war, what will it look like in the future?


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