The Actual Star (Harper Voyager, September 14, 2021)
Tomorrow I’m playing hooky from work and spending the day at the Windy City Pulp and Paper show in Lombard, Illinois. It’s my favorite annual convention, and the first I’ve attended in the pandemic era. It will be great to meet up with Black Gate contributors Rich Horton, Doug Ellis, William Patrick Maynard — and Greg Mele, whom I’ve never met in person before.
Even though I’m going to be spending the three days immersed in the great SF and fantasy of the past, I’m still here for you when it comes to SF and fantasy of the future. So before I jump in my trusty pulpmobile and head out for the weekend, I want to take a minute to tell you about Monica Byrne’s second novel, The Actual Star, arriving in hardcover next week. Her first novel The Girl in the Road (2014) was nominated for the Locus award and won the 2015 James Tiptree, Jr. Award. And this one has garnered a lot of advance praise — Booklist calls it “Complex and captivating,” and Tor.com says it’s “Reminiscent of Octavia E. Butler… Byrne creates cultures and characters that embody depth, sensitivity, and a riveting story line.” Here’s a snippet from the feature review by Michael Marshall at New Scientist, who labels it “a stone-cold masterpiece.”
It’s frequently very satisfying to get advance proofs of major titles long before they hit bookstores. If you’re lucky, you can get a heads up on the year’s most important releases before virtually anyone else, and you can enjoy watching the buzz steadily build.
I was lucky enough to get a copy of My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones back in March — hot on the heels of his 2020 breakout novel The Only Good Indians, which James McGlothlin said was “packed with wallops of horrific fright… a top-notch horror novel.” And I just fell in love with the premise: a disaffected teen and lover of slasher films sees a chillingly familiar pattern in a series of horrific local deaths, and tries in vain to warn her home town what is coming. Kirkus calls it “Extraordinary… an essential purchase,” and Polygon proclaims it “An intense homage to the classic horror films of yore.” Here’s a snippet from the starred review at Publisher’s Weekly.
Kids and the supernatural have always had a connection. Maybe it has something to do with the innocence of youth making them more accepting and open minded. I clearly remember my friend Noona as the little girl who lived behind the headboard of my bed in the small apartment we called home until I was six. The apartment was the second floor of an old house that my Mom and Dad rented when they were first married. Mom was 22 when I was born and tells me I used to scare the crap out of her. She says she’d come in my room to check on me during the night, and find me sitting up wide awake, making happy baby noises to the wall at the backside of the crib.
When I could talk, these nighttime adventures turned into me whispering with Noona. When I was nearly 7, we moved into our newly constructed home a few blocks away and Noona stayed behind. Either I grew out of her, or she couldn’t leave that old house, or…
Ask a published writer at any level and they’ll tell you writing is, in some respect, a colossal pain in the ass. (Can’t remember if I’m allowed to say “ass” here but let’s leave it and see what happens.) Superstar authors with massive advances and multi-book deals rightfully claim that it’s tough to maintain the passion when writing becomes the day job. Folks at the opposite end of that career spectrum point out how demoralizing it is trying to break in. We’re all at the mercy of luck, circumstance, editor whims, etc, and it can be tough. But we’re passionate about telling stories, so we keep doing it anyway.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it again (before this column dies the hero of Black Gate or lives long enough to become its villain): I love a novel that’s about conflict resolution through words.
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2020, edited by Rich Horton (Prime Books, June 2021). Cover by Argus
The print version of Rich Horton’s 12th Year’s Best volume was delayed roughly six months by the pandemic, and it finally arrives next week. The delay was a little frustrating for those of us who look forward to this book every year, but considering how deeply the pandemic impacted the publishing world overall, I figure it could have been a lot worse. (The digital version has been available since December, but I remain stubbornly a print guy.)
Rich’s introductions to the early volumes belonged to the get-out-of-the-way-and let-the-fiction-do-the-talking school, but over the years they’ve loosened up a bit, and this year’s is one of his best, a lively and thoughtful look at the impact of this very eventful year on science fiction, and some thoughts on famous genre pandemic fiction. Here’s part of his comments on the tales within.
A Dead Jinn in Cairo (Tor.com, 2016), The Haunting of Tram Car 015 (Tor.com, 2019),
and A Master of Djinn (Tor.com, 2021). Cover art by Kevin Hong (left) and Stephan Martiniere (right two)
I get a lot of email from Black Gate readers. Stuff like, “Hey John, I’m boarding a five hour flight to LA , what should I put on my Kindle?” Seriously? Come on, people. I have a life. I don’t have time to drop everything to be your personal librarian.
Ha-ha-ha-ha. I know, right? Like I have a life, outside of being your personal librarian. So let’s get to this. Got five hours? Here’s what you do: You download P. Djèlí Clark’s novelette “A Dead Djinn in Cairo,” (originally published at Tor.com), and his Locus, Nebula, and Hugo-nominated novella The Haunting of Tram Car 015, set in the same alternate fantasy Cairo.
And then when you land, you can pre-order the next book in the series, Clark’s debut novel A Master of Djinn, on sale from Tor.com on Tuesday. Here’s the details.
Tim Pratt has been nominated for the Nebula, World Fantasy, Sturgeon, Stoker, and Mythopoeic Awards, and he won the Hugo Award for his short story “Impossible Dreams.” His latest — and most ambitious — work is the Axiomspace opera trilogy, which Tor.comcalled “a witty, heartfelt sci-fi romp.” The first volume, The Wrong Stars, was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award; we covered the whole series back in 2019.
His latest is a collection of three previously unpublished novellas set in the Axiom universe, and they sound terrific. The Alien Stars and Other Novellas was originally funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, but the end result was successful enough that Angry Robot picked it up for reissue in paperback. Locus calls the collection a “Compelling, fun, explosive work of space opera pulp. It’s delightful,” and Publishers Weekly said,
With these three exciting novellas, Pratt explores and expands the lively pulp world of his Axiom space opera trilogy… “The Augmented Stars” finds cyborg engineer Ashok captaining his own wormhole generator–equipped vessel. He and his crew contend with ancient alien artifacts from Axiom facilities and cosplaying space pirates… In the epistolary title story, alien Lantern risks her life to prevent her own treacherous people from destroying humanity and save the human woman she loves… each of these tales delivers the buoyant humor and adventure of the Axiomnovels.
The book arrives in paperback next week. Here’s the publisher’s description.
Alias Space and Other Stories By Kelly Robson Subterranean Press (400 pages, $40 hardcover/$4.99 eBook, April 30, 2021) Cover by Lauren Saint-Onge
If there’s one thing that characterizes Kelly Robson’s stories, I think it’s the love and care that you can see in each one. It’s hard to describe in words, but it’s like I can see how she’s built each world around her characters in a way that either supports or challenges them, oftentimes both. Take Zhang Lei in “A Study in Oils,” surrounded by strangers he can’t trust but who are best placed to understand the pain he’s running from and his need to hide from an interconnected world, and to support him when he’s finally free. Or creche manager Jules, who has to face her past on Luna, no matter how much she wants to forget it, because of the choices everyone else makes around her in “Intervention.” Even fleeing a dragon in “La Vitesse” forces mother-daughter duo Bea and Rosie to understand each other better. Plus dragons!
Robert Silverberg is a Science Fiction Grand Master, a living legend of SF, and one of the most prolific and widely respected genre writers of the 20th Century. And here he is, 21 years into the 21st Century, still producing important books that command our attention.
Is Voyagers: Twelve Journeys through Space and Time an important book? Sure looks like it to me. It is, according to my count, his 50th collection, appearing almost exactly 60 years after his first, Next Stop the Stars, was published in 1962. It contains a dozen of his most celebrated stories, including tales of Spanish conquistadores who find the Fountain of Youth, a tourist in Mexico who makes a startling discovery, and spacefarers who find a nightmare world.
If you’re not familiar with Silverberg, this may be one of the most important and rewarding purchases you make this year. And if you are, you already know it’s an essential buy. It arrives in trade paperback from Three Rooms Press in two weeks. Here’s an excerpt from the enthusiastic Publisher’s Weeklyreview.
SFWA Grand Master Silverberg brings together 12 tension-filled speculative stories from throughout his long career in this impressive collection. Silverberg’s adventurous and melancholy tales are united in taking characters to vividly detailed settings, including a grisly ancient Egyptian embalming market in “Thebes of the Hundred Gates”; a “nightmare world” of “gaudy monsters” called Sidri Akrak in “Travelers”; and even the microscopic space between electrons in “Chip Runner.” Exploring themes of death and identity, the stories range from the bittersweet to the truly tragic, yet the collection never feels grim. These timeless topics also mean that even the decades-old stories still resonate… Readers will be won over by the immersive worldbuilding and clever plot twists of these thought-provoking stories.
Voyagers: Twelve Journeys through Space and Time will be published by Three Rooms Press on April 20, 2021. It is 448 pages, priced at $16 in trade paperback and $9.81 in digital formats. Get all the details at the publisher’s website.
See all our recent coverage of the best upcoming SF and fantasy here.