Plague Birds by Jason Sanford Apex Publications (274 pages, $16.95 paperback/$6.99 eBook, Sept 21, 2021) Cover by Marcela Bolívar
I remember not long ago when CRISPR was on the tip of a lot of people’s tongues, among science fiction writers as well as the general public. Obviously we’re focused on other topics in science and medicine right now, but sooner or later people will come back to asking whether gene editing should be allowed, what should be permissible, and the possibilities if this branch of science is allowed to run unchecked.
Jason Sanford deals with that last point in Plague Birds, by jumping ahead thousands of years after a total societal collapse caused in part by conflict between genetically modified humans. The set-up and frame here is pretty cool: millennia after this collapse, humans live in isolated settlements and mostly stay away from each other, protected by AIs that are gradually weeding out the “crisper” inside their DNA. We get to see a lot of how the world has changed, but the real focus is on Crista, a young woman forced to become one of the “plague birds” who essentially root out the most heinous wrongdoers among the settlements – though it often isn’t a simple job.
The Lights of Prague (Titan, May 2021). Cover design by Julia Lloyd
I found Nicole Jarvis’s The Lights of Prague while wandering through Barnes & Noble this summer. It’s a debut in every sense of the word — Jarvis hasn’t published any previous short fiction, and I can’t even find a web page for her. But the book sounds extremely relevant to my interests. Have a look at this snippet from Mya Alexice’s BookPage review.
Nicole Jarvis’ debut fantasy, The Lights of Prague, welcomes readers into an arresting and vivid historical fantasy world… In her version of the culturally rich European city, creatures from Czech folklore haunt its streets and endanger its citizens. Pijavice — vampiric monsters consumed by bloodlust — are particularly terrifying to those who walk alone at night. The Lights of Prague follows Domek Myska, an earnest member of the lamplighters, who in this world are also a monster-hunting secret society that keeps these creatures at bay, and Lady Ora Fischerová, a charming widow with her own ties to Prague’s supernatural underground…
The Lights of Prague is an impressive and mature feat from a debut novelist.
The Lights of Prague was published by Titan Books on May 25, 2021. It is 413 pages, priced at $15.95 in paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover was deigned by Julia Lloyd. See all our recent New Treasures here.
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.”
For the past twelve years my family and I have lived a couple of blocks from Ivor Wynne, the local football stadium, and we hear all the noise from the Tiger Cats games. So I began a novel in which my protagonist hears a racket from the stadium at night, which he thinks of as “midnight games.” However, they are not games at all, but the cruel ceremonies of a local cult which is trying to summon to earth the Great Old Ones of the H.P. Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos; trying with what turns out to be a fair degree of success….
What sort of monsters does the cult summon? — well how about those hideous prickly house centipedes that I scoop out of the bathtub of our old house from spring till fall every year. I don’t kill them, I put them in a jar and throw them in a garden — what if they were some sort of hmm, spawn of Yog-Sothoth, summoned here by the games? What about if one of them thrived in our garden, and grew and grew and grew?
I know what you’re thinking. “Dammit that sounds like fun. Why don’t I do that?” Well, if you’re a Black Gate reader, chances are that you do do that…
When the Goddess Wakes (St. Martin’s Press, August 2021). Cover by Lauren Saint-Onge
Whenever a trilogy wraps up, we bake a cake in the Black Gate offices. When that trilogy belongs to our own Howard Andrew Jones, our first Managing Editor, we bake a cake in the shape of the world of Amber. (No, we don’t know how it turned out. The damn cake keeps vanishing.)
When the Goddess Wakes, the final novel in Howard’s Ring-Sworn Trilogy, follows For the Killing of Kings (2018) and Upon the Flight of the Queen (2019). In his review of the first volume here at Black Gate, Fletcher Vredenburgh said “It moves at an astounding pace… This is exciting storytelling from one of the best and most knowledgeable writers of heroic fantasy.” Seth Lindberg proclaimed the second volume is “reminiscent of Zelazny… I was completely floored.” And in a starred review, Publishers Weekly called the final volume an “emotional roller coaster.”
When the Goddess Wakes was published on August 24th by St. Martin’s Press, and it brings to a close one of the most original and exciting fantasy series of the 21st Century. You owe it to yourself to check it out. And when you do, visit us again to share your thoughts. Pick up a copy today.
New Treasures: The Best of World SF edited by Lavie Tidhar
The Best of World SF (Head of Zeus, June 2021). Cover design by Ben Prior
You lot know how much I enjoy a good anthology. One of the most acclaimed to appear so far this year is The Best of World SF: Volume 1, edited by Lavie Tidhar. It’s a substantial collection of science fiction from all across the globe, featuring highly regarded writers such as Aliette de Bodard, Chen Qiufan, Vandana Singh, Tade Thompson, Hannu Rajaniemi, Ekaterina Sedia, Lauren Beukes, Karin Tidbeck, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Zen Cho, and dozens of others. The Philadelphia Inquirer said:
Inside this 26-story, 575-page cinder block of a collection… We’re talking spaceships and nanobots, creeping horrors and astral wonders, cyberpunk dystopias and cold, empty places where no one can hear you scream… Embrace the unknown.
That seems like great advice to me. Here’s the lowdown on some of the more interesting tales within, according to Gary Wolfe at Locus Online.
Sea of Rust (Harper Voyager, 2017) and Day Zero (Harper Voyager, 2021). Covers by Dominic Harman
When I described Robert Cargill’s third novel Sea of Rustfour years ago, I called it “a robot western set in a post-apocalyptic landscape in which humans have been wiped out in a machine uprising.” Do I know how to get to the heart of a book, or what.
Now it has a sequel! Well, sorta-kinda. Day Zero is set in the same world, with different characters, and is more of a prequel, opening on the day that machines rebel and exterminate mankind. The narrator is Pounce, a nannybot for eight-year-old human Ezra, a tiger-shaped robot who has to make a fateful choice when machines breach the house and threaten the boy he’s meant to protect. What he chooses to do that day kicks off an adventure that takes him across a newly-blasted apocalyptic landscape. Here’s the book description.
Worlds Beyond Worlds by John R. Fultz DMR Books (182 pages, $12.99 in trade paperback, April 3, 2021)
Cover by Brian LeBlanc
Volume I: Transcending the Illusions of Modernity and Reason.: The first thing you must understand is that the One True World is not a figment of your imagination, and it does not lie in some faraway dimension. To help you understand the relationship between the True World and the False, you must envision the True World lying beneath the False, as a man can lay hidden beneath a blanket, or a woman’s true face can be hidden by an exquisite mask.
(Fultz, “The Thirteen Texts of Arthyria” )
You Want A Piece of Me?
The Brian LeBlanc cover of Worlds Beyond Worlds: The Short Fiction of John R. Fultz shows the revenant Chivaine displaying the trophy head of his enemy. As a reader, do you want to accept his challenge? You are invited to explore the beautiful darkness. The tile and cover set up expectations well, so get ready to explore planetary landscapes, witches, twisted creatures, and villainous heroes. Worlds Beyond Worlds is exactly what it says, a collection that takes the reader/protagonists into other worlds which are beyond even stranger ones.
The Coward (Angry Robot, June 2021). Cover by Kieryn Tyler
I found Stephen Aryan’s new novel The Coward on one of my recent expeditions to Barnes & Noble, and it followed me home.
Loath as I am to admit it, I think a big part of the reason was that when I picked up the book it fell open to the map, which reminded me instantly of the exciting solo RPG gamebooks of my youth. Have a look and see if you agree.
Readers typically differentiate stereotypical High Fantasy (elves, dwarves, wizards-with-pointy-hats with a slant toward happy adventuring) vs. Low Fantasy (more “realism” & “earthier” milieu, with a focus on humans defending trenches at a battlefront or crawling through crypts to save a maiden or rob a god). The latter encompasses sub-genres like Sword & Sorcery and the contemporary-named Grimdark.
Why stop at regular Grimdark when you can go further? This post highlights two New Treasures that are arguably Grimdark, but still push the boundaries of what is expected. At the very least, they should appeal to dark fantasy readers who desire something fresh (whatever label the books deserve). To learn if these are right for you, read on: