Future Treasures: The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas: 2015 edited by Paula Guran

Saturday, March 28th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas 2015-smallJust this morning, in my article on Peter Crowther’s anthology Cities, I observed that the novella is the natural length for fantasy and science fiction. The novella has an exceptional history in this field, from H.G. Wells “Time Machine” to John W. Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” to Clifford D. Simak’s “The Big Front Yard” and Fritz Leiber’s “Ill Met in Lankhmar.” Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of places that publish them these days… and even fewer that reprint them. Only a handful of Year’s Best volumes can afford to make space for novellas, which means that, if you miss their original appearance (frequently in small press outlets), you may never see some of the finest works published every year.

Paula Guran has set out to rectify that with a brand new anthology series: The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas: 2015, from Prime Books. It’s the companion volume to Rich Horton’s popular The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy from the same publisher, which publishes its seventh volume this year, and Paula’s own Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror. Here’s the description.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Novellas: 2015 inaugurates a new annual series of anthologies featuring some of the year’s best novella-length science fiction and fantasy. Novellas, longer than short stories but shorter than novels, are a rich and rewarding literary form that can fully explore tomorrow’s technology, the far reaches of the future, thought-provoking imaginings, fantastic worlds, and entertaining concepts with the impact of a short story and the detailed breadth of a novel. Gathering a wide variety of excellent SF and fantasy, this anthology of “short novels” showcases the talents of both established masters and new writers.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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Vintage Treasures: Cities edited by Peter Crowther

Saturday, March 28th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Cities Peter Crowther-smallIt’s been said many times that the ideal length for SF and fantasy is the novella. Long enough to establish a fascinating setting, and short enough to pack a punch. It’s been my experience that this is very true — much of the best fantasy I’ve read has been at novella length, and the format has a long history of excellence.

Peter Crowther is one of the most accomplished editors in the genre, and he’s produced some terrific anthologies over the years. But I think perhaps I’m fondest of his 2004 collection of fantastic novellas featuring four very different fantasy cities, by four of the biggest names in the field: China Mieville, Michael Moorcock, Paul di Filippo, and Geoff Ryman.

The city has always loomed large in the imaginary landscape of fantasy. Cities celebrates the fantastic potential of the city, whether in the terrible grandeur of China Mieville’s ruined London, a city overrun by a sudden, fantastical invasion, or the unsettling high-tech, high-paranoia of Geoff Ryman’s urban future. Elsewhere, heaven and hell snap at the heels of the inhabitants of Paul di Filippo’s Linear City, and Michael Moorcock invites us to join Jerry Cornelius on a tour of the uneasy streets of a future built on the ruins of September 11th. Here is fiction from four of the genre’s most respected names: an A-to-Z to the streets of the imagination.

With four of the biggest names in fantasy fiction united in one volume, each with a novella that has never been available outside the collectors’ market, Cities is the fourth of Peter Crowther’s Foursight anthologies and is proof positive that the fantastic novella is alive and thriving.

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Fantasy Literature: Lord of Mountains or An Exercise of Wishful Thinking

Friday, March 27th, 2015 | Posted by Edward Carmien

Lord of Mountains-smallThis blog has discussed S. M. Stirling’s Emberverse in some detail for the past several months. Beware spoilers as we move on to Lord of Mountains, Stirling’s 2012 addition to the series.

The logical second third of the post-quest novel Tears of the Sun, Lord of Mountains is the Act II confrontation that follows logically from the Act I setup, and coming before The Given Sacrifice‘s Act III, resolution. That these three chapters, published separately as novels, did not appear together under the same cover is a pity.

As previously discussed, the amount of “recap” material included with each is now crippling any loyal reader’s enjoyment of the texts. In fact, even new readers now feel the grit in the gears, as every time a character new to the individual text — for example, the first time Ingolf the Wanderer appears in Tears, Lord, and Given paragraphs of material is provided to foreground the character. Unfortunately, that background is now long behind Ingolf, and the current action of the narrative. And besides, how many readers are genuinely picking up the Nth book in this series, cold? And need to be reminded? Like, that one guy in Missouri, right? Yeah, you in the hat.

Would that this need be done only one time in one larger novel of three parts. First, the overall text would shrink considerably. Second, the sense of immersion would increase (and loyal readers of this blog remember what value we genre readers place on immersion, right?). Third, the narrative would flow more naturally.

As a Bush-era Secretary of Defense once opined, one goes to war with the army one has, not the army one wished one had. This sentiment is echoed by a character in Lord of Mountains, and it applies to the novels, or extended chapters, that continue to arrive annually. Perhaps in some future republication they can be packaged together, but even then would it pay for Stirling to take the time to thin the herd of redundant descriptions? Surely not.

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New Treasures: Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson

Friday, March 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Unwrapped Sky-smallWhen Unwrapped Sky, the debut fantasy novel by Australian writer Rjurik Davidson, appeared in hardcover last April, it got solid reviews for its innovative world building and original setting. Locus praised its “tough urban setting, influenced by noir mysteries as well as steampunk,” and Hannu Rajaniemi, author of The Quantum Thief, called it “Brilliant… Caeli-Amur is one of the more memorable cities in recent fantasy.”

Rjurik Davidson is already being acclaimed as a young master of the New Weird. Unwrapped Sky arrived in paperback earlier this month, and I picked up a copy as soon as I saw it. This looks like the kind of book I could lose myself in.

A hundred years ago, the Minotaurs saved Caeli-Amur from conquest. Now, three very different people may hold the keys to the city’s survival.

Once, it is said, gods used magic to create reality, with powers that defied explanation. But the magic — or science, if one believes those who try to master the dangers of thaumaturgy — now seems more like a dream. Industrial workers for House Technis, farmers for House Arbor, and fisher folk of House Marin eke out a living and hope for a better future. But the philosopher-assassin Kata plots a betrayal that will cost the lives of godlike Minotaurs; the ambitious bureaucrat Boris Autec rises through the ranks as his private life turns to ashes; and the idealistic seditionist Maximilian hatches a mad plot to unlock the vaunted secrets of the Great Library of Caeli-Enas, drowned in the fabled city at the bottom of the sea, its strangeness visible from the skies above.

In a novel of startling originality and riveting suspense, these three people, reflecting all the hopes and dreams of the ancient city, risk everything for a future that they can create only by throwing off the shackles of tradition and superstition, as their destinies collide at ground zero of a conflagration that will transform the world… or destroy it.

Unwrapped Sky was published by Tor on March 3, 2015. It is 516 pages, priced at $8.99 for both the paperback and digital editions. The cover art is by Allen Williams.

Book Clubs. No, I Said BOOK Clubs. Not The Other Kind

Friday, March 27th, 2015 | Posted by Violette Malan

Station ElevenAre there many of you out there who are members of books clubs? I have other questions, but my first is: Why?

I know why I joined one, and, frankly, I’m trying to compare my own experiences to those of others, see if I can find some common ground. Answer some questions that have popped up over the last few months. Like, do men join book clubs? Do all clubs read the same kinds of books?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start with why I joined a book club in the first place. In a way, it’s because I both read too much, and not enough. As a fantasy writer, my percentages probably break down something like this: 40% fantasy; 20% SF; 20% crime and mystery; 20% research and related materials (such as posts in Black Gate magazine).

That’s probably not entirely accurate, but it’s close enough to have made me feel that my reading was getting narrower than it has been in the past; maybe I was getting a little too comfortable and stuck in my ways, maybe I needed to shake things up. I think I was looking for the type of experience that’s often found in university and college, where there’s so much required reading, and so much that’s possibly outside of the student’s comfort zone.

Keeping in mind that outside of one’s comfort zone is a place writers often need to be.

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Launching in June: The Year’s Best Military SF and Space Opera edited by David Afsharirad

Thursday, March 26th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year's Best Military SF and Space Opera-smallI count no less than nine Best New SF, Fantasy and Horror volumes on the market today. We’ve already covered four of the more interesting titles coming later this year:

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Nine, edited by Jonathan Strahan (May 12)
The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2015, edited by Paula Guran (June 24)
The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015, edited by John Joseph Adams and Joe Hill (October 6)
Year’s Best Weird Fiction Volume Two, edited by Kathe Koja (October)

and I’ll be reporting on some of the others in the coming weeks.

Still, I was intrigued to see Baen is launching a brand new volume with a very specific focus early this summer. The Year’s Best Military SF and Space Opera will be edited by David Afsharirad, and promises to be the first of its kind — a Best of the Year volume exclusively devoted to military and adventure SF tales. I enjoy adventure SF, and I especially enjoy Space Opera with pulp sensibilities. And that seems to be exactly what this volume has in mind, going by the blurb.

With an introduction by best-selling military science fiction author David Drake and selected by editor David Afsharirad from the top short story markets in the field, here are the most thrilling, pulse-pounding, and thought-provoking stories of the past year. Stories of future military men and women, space opera on a grand scale, and edge-of-your-seat adventure tales in the pulp tradition, from giants of the genre to brilliant up-and-comers.

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Future Treasures: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Grace of Kings-smallSaga Press is the brand new fantasy and science fiction imprint of Simon & Schuster. I met Navah Wolfe, the editor for Saga Press, at the World Fantasy convention last November, and she really impressed me with her enthusiasm and knowledge of the field.

Their first book, Ken Liu’s debut novel The Grace of Kings, hits the stands in two weeks, and it looks like a major new heroic fantasy. In his short career Liu has won the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards for his short fiction, and — based on the pre-release buzz — it seems apparent his first novel will make a major splash.

As the Empire Falls, A War Will Consume All in the Name of Justice.

The archipelago of Dara was once divided into seven kingdoms, with shifting alliances and constant battles — a tempest of diverse dialects and cultures. When a relentless king united the seven lands into one empire, some thought it would bring peace, an end to the turmoil. Instead, it brought stagnation and suffering, the anger of the gods, and, finally, a rebellion.

Kuni Garu is a wily bandit who is more concerned with finding his next drink and being well-liked than with the affairs of the empire, until he meets his match: Jia. This free-spirited daughter of a well-regarded family has a prophetic vision about Kuni that transcends his slovenly beginnings: He has greatness within him and may be the key to freeing Dara from a cruel despot. Driven by Jia’s love and touched by the grace of the common people, Kuni sets out on an unlikely path to heroism — and perhaps a daring wager against the gods.

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Two Great Books by Poul Anderson: The High Crusade and The Golden Slave

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

The High Crusade Poul Anderson-smallIf Three Hearts and Three Lions owes something to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, then so does The High Crusade. But The High Crusade inverts Mark Twain’s concept. This book isn’t written by a modern who time traveled to Arthur’s court, but rather is written by a medieval scribe who witnessed Sir Roger Baron de Tourneville and his knights and court invade an alien spaceship and end up using it to conquer a major portion of interstellar Space. The bookends are provided by a space captain of Earth’s future space age, who hardly can believe, by reading the contained epistle, that humans from the Middle Ages have been in space for some time now and even have established a Holy Galactic Empire. Add to this, at the plot’s center, a courtly betrayal through a love triangle much like that of Arthur’s, Guinevere’s and Lancelot’s.

This book is really good. It’s a fast, enjoyable read. It was serialized originally in Astounding magazine as that publication was changing its name to Analog. When the book was published as a novel, it lost out on a 1961 Hugo to Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. I find it interesting that Miller’s work, along with Anderson’s The High Crusade, limned medieval perspectives on futuristic landscapes. Perhaps this was the zeitgeist of the time. I read Baen’s edition of The High Crusade, which begins with a number of appreciations. This edition also contains a coda in the form of a short story called “Quest”, which takes place in the universe of The High Crusade. If the novel is a take on the Arthurian love triangle, then this story is a take on Galahad’s quest for the holy grail.

Also really good is what Wikipedia calls a historical novel and what Zebra, one publisher, calls heroic fantasy, though I certainly see no reason to quibble about terms of genre, and I’m guessing that terms were not so rigid in 1960 (or even in 1980, which is the date of the revised Zebra edition). I am talking about Poul Anderson’s The Golden Slave.

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New Treasures: Clarkesworld: Year Seven, edited by Neil Clarke and Sean Wallace

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Clarkesworld Year Seven-smallThese annual Clarkesworld anthologies are a tremendous bargain. The individual magazines are $3.99 each, but these volumes collect all the original fiction for a full 12 months in a handsome package for just $16.99.

If you haven’t tried Clarkesworld, you’re missing out on one of the most vibrant and celebrated SF and fantasy magazines on the market. It is a three-time winner of the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine, and in 2013 it received more Hugo nominations for short fiction than all the leading print magazines (Asimov’s, Analog, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) combined. Last November the magazine was awarded a World Fantasy Award.

Clarkesworld Year Seven collects original fiction from many of the most exciting writers on the market, including Genevieve Valentine, Aliette de Bodard, James Patrick Kelly, E. Catherine Tobler, E. Lily Yu, and many others.

The book also serves as a fund-raiser for the magazine, and every purchase helps support one of the finest magazines out there.

This year’s edition contains a whopping 36 stories. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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Join Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward in a Swords Against Death Re-Read

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Swords Against Death-smallI’ve been enjoying the re-read of Fritz Leiber’s famous Lankhmar stories over at Howard Andrew Jones’ website. Howard and Bill Ward have taken a break from their entertaining examination of Lord Dunsany, and have turned their keen eye towards one of the most famous sword and sorcery series of all time, Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books. They open the series with an overview of the second volume, Swords Against Death, a collection of short stories. Here’s Howard.

Once I got past the short, storyless opening (“The Circle Curse”) I was engrossed. Every short story was approximately the same length, and a few were tangentially connected. It was a little like episodic television.

More importantly, it was exciting, fast-paced, brimming with magic and sword-play and horror and mystery — and beautiful women, a subject that was becoming increasingly interesting to teenaged Howard. I loved Swords Against Death so much that I read it at least six times in the next few years (oh, to have so much spare time and energy).

Swords Against Death was not only one of the first fantasy books I read, it was my introduction to true sword-and-sorcery. These days the line between sword-and-sorcery is a lot more blurred than it was in the mid ’70s. Back then you pretty much had high fantasy, or sword-and-sorcery, and I definitely preferred the latter for the grit and the kind of protagonists, not to mention the pacing.

Swords Against Death was published in July 1970 by Ace Books. It is 251 pages, originally priced at $0.75. The gorgeous cover is by the one-and-only Jeff Jones.

Read the complete overview here, and part one (a look at “The Circle Curse”) here.

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