Tales from the Spaceport Bar and Another Round at the Spaceport Bar
(Avon Books, 1987 and 1989). Covers by James Warhola and Doug Beekman
Science fiction has a rep for being serious stuff. Tales of dystopias, climate catastrophes and environmental collapse, dire warnings about worrying trends, that’s SF in a nutshell. Even dressed up in its best story-telling adventure garb, Star Wars or Mad Max-style, it’s still often perceived as all about desperate battles in apocalyptic settings.
Of course, science fiction is much broader and richer than that, and most of its best writers have amply demonstrated their love of whimsy and fun. One of SF’s best-loved sub-genres is the Club Tale/Bar Story, exemplified by Arthur C. Clarkes famous Tales From the White Hart, L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s long-running Gavagan’s Bar stories, Lord Dunsany’s Jorkenstales, Isaac Asimov’s Black Widowers mysteries, Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Bar, Larry Niven’s spacefaring tales of Draco Tavern, and many others.
In the late 80s Weird Tales editors George H. Scithers and Darrell Schweitzer assembled a collection of the best such stories, Tales from the Spaceport Bar. It made the Locus Award list of Year’s Best Anthologies (in 11th place), and was quickly followed by Another Round at the Spaceport Bar. Both books are a fine antidote to anyone who’s dabbled just a little too long on the dark side of science fiction.
Augustus Thorne is a Cambion — a human/demon hybrid. Cursed with a hunger he can barely control, it’s been a struggle to retain his humanity. All he’s ever wanted to do is enjoy what everyone else takes for granted. To lead a normal life. Fall in love. Start a family. Alas, such things are denied him because of what he is. Fated to feed off humans, he has channeled his self-loathing into a quest for revenge. For over two hundred years, Augustus has hunted and executed every Incubi and Succubae he can find. But he has yet to track down and kill the one responsible for attacking his mother and causing decades of suffering: his own spawn-father, Fanon.
— From the Prologue to Call of the Cambion
Andrew P. Weston’s second outing is just as good as the first book in his new series, A Hybrid’s Tale, which I have also reviewed here. This time around, in Call of the Cambion, Weston delves deeper into Augustus Thorne’s past, his relationships and his character. Born in 1760, Thorn has sworn to seek out and destroy the Demondim and its “department” of Incubi and Succubae assassins, known as the Forge, as he hunts for Fanon, the Incubus who sired him, then abandoned him and his mortal mother. Thorne is a complicated man: in spite of his supernatural and magical powers, and his killer’s instinct, he is an honorable and loyal man, not without mercy and his own code of ethics. Once again, Weston combines magic, metaphysics, science fiction, and the paranormal to tell his tale and give substance to his world and his characters. …
The Jasmine Throne and The Oleander Sword (Orbit, June 2021 and August 2022). Covers by Micah Epstein
The Jasmine Throne, the opening volume in Tasha Suri’s Burning Kingdoms fantasy epic, was named one of the best books of 2021 by Booklist, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and the New York Public Library. The second installment, The Oleander Sword, is due August 16, and early reviews have only heightened the anticipation. This is shaping up to be one of the major fantasy series of the decade.
Suri is also the author of two well-received fantasy volumes, Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash — though, as Liz Bourke at Tor.com points out in her review of The Jasmine Throne, “[I] admired them as well-constructed epic fantasy with a strong romantic component, but they never made me feel like this — gobsmacked, a little awestruck, violently satisfied, painfully engaged.”
The Sun Eaters series (so far): Empire of Silence, Howling Dark, Demon in White, and Kingdoms of Death. All published by DAW. Covers by Sam Weber (book 1) and Kieran Yanner (books 2-4).
Every time an author completes a fantasy trilogy, we bake a cake at Black Gate headquarters. I can’t comment on anyone else, but speaking personally, this job has kept me fat for over a decade. I have no complaints.
The corporate protocol is a little fuzzier when an author produces four books in a series (though I did see Bob Byrne attempt a souffle last month.) And when we see that rare fivebook milestone? I can’t remember the last time it happened, but I think it involved ice cream and a catapult.
We better figure it out soon, though. The fifth and final book in Christopher Ruocchio’s groundbreaking Sun Eater series is scheduled to arrive this year, and it will bring to a close one of the most popular and acclaimed space operas of the decade. Library Journal called the opening volume a “wow book… stretched across a vast array of planets,” and Eric Flint labeled it “epic-scale space opera in the tradition of Iain M. Banks and Frank Herbert’s Dune.” It won Ruocchio the 2019 Manly Wade Wellman Award.
The Library of the Dead and Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments (Tor Books, June 2021 and April 2022)
Tor Books seems to have a hit on its hands with the Edinburgh Nights novels by Zimbabwe author T. L. Huchu (who writes non-genre novels under the name Tendai Huchu). The opening book The Library of the Dead hit the bestseller lists in the US, and expectations were high for the second, Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments, which arrived in April.
The international press raved about the first book. The Times called it “A fast-paced, future-set Edinburgh thriller… mixes magical mysteries with a streetwise style of writing,” and SFX labeled it “One of the strangest and most compelling fantasy worlds you’ll see all year.” But my favorite coverage was Stuart Kelly’s thoughtful review in The Scotsman, which said, “Contemporary fantasy, at its best, is both escapist and urgent: this does both admirably.” Here’s a longer snippet.
The Budayeen Trilogy: When Gravity Fails, A Fire in the Sun, and The Exile Kiss
(Bantam Spectra, 1988, 1990, and 1992). Covers by Jim Burns (When Gravity Fails), and Paul Youll & Steve Youll
George Alec Effinger’s Budayeentrilogy, sometimes called the Marîd Audran trilogy, is one of the enduring early classics of cyberpunk.
It had its birth in his short story “The City on the Sand,” originally published in the April 1973 issue The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It was his first story set in the futuristic walled city of Budayeen, the city in the sand, a place of dark shadows and even darker inhabitants. Eventually Effinger set nine tales in Budayeen, including his most famous story, the Hugo and Nebula Award-winner “Schrödinger’s Kitten,” and all three of his most popular novels: When Gravity Fails (1987), A Fire in the Sun (1989), and The Exile Kiss (1991), featuring the street-smart detective Marîd Audran.
The Tensorate Series (Tor.com, September 21, 2021). Cover by Yuko Shimizu
I love omnibus volumes. They’re the safety blanket of the fat fantasy market. Let’s face it, if your plane’s going down over a desert island and you can only grab one book, you’re gonna secure yourself a thick omnibus, right? Of course you are. Heaven knows how long it will take until that stately cruise liner arrives to rescue you. I plan all my book purchases with this in mind, and it’s worked out well so far.
It’s great to see Tor.com start to produce omnibus editions of their popular novellas. They did it with Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti. The did it with Andy Remic’s An Impossible War novellas, and Sarah Gailey’s American Hippo stories. They did it with Matt Wallace’s Sin du Jour. They did it with…. well, actually, I think that’s it. But what the hell, it’s a start.
Late last year Tor.com published a tidy omnibus volume of all four of Neon Yang’s Tensoratenovellas, a series that has been nominated for the Hugo, World Fantasy, Nebula, and Locus awards, and it was such a great value I snatched it up immediately. I’m ready for the plane to go down, Captain.
I am the in-house mystery guy (that’s how I hoodwinked John O’Neill into giving me a weekly column. Eight years later, he’s still trying to configure the Fire Wall to keep me from getting up my Monday morning post! I organized the Discovering Robert E. Howard, and Hither Came Conan series’ here at Black Gate. And contributed, of course. That’s the advantage of being in charge of them!
Robert E. Howard is my second-favorite writer (trailing only the terrific John D. MacDonald), and I’ve written quite a bit about him here at Black Gate. With more to come, of course. I’ve got part of a series written, in which I’ll look at the first dozen of Roy Thomas’ Conan the Barbarian comics; including how the series came about. And I’m pretty sure Solomon Kane will succeed Hither Came Conan in the all star contributor series.
I came late to Howard. I have loved mythology since grade school. The Iliad remains one of my all-time favorite stories, and I have a copy of Schleimann’s Ilios. That led me to Dungeons and Dragons in Middle School, and I know I was reading The Lord of the Rings somewhere around the 8th grade. I was a fantasy fan for life.
I bought the first Ace Conan paperback, but it sat on my shelf, unread. Not sure why. I know I read David C. Smith’s Oron, but not that one. As my son was playing with the Thomas the Train layout in the kids section of Barnes and Noble one day, I started reading the first Dely Rey Conan book. I read that the next time we were there. And I bought it. And Robert E. Howard would move up the ranks of my favorite writers, as I bought more Del Reys. Conan still holds the top REH spot, followed by El Borak, and then Solomon Kane. But I just continued to like Robert E. Howard, more and more.
I’m off to my first-ever Howard Days in a few days! It’s gonna be great!! Here are all of my own Robert E. Howard-related essays here at Black Gate. A couple are pretty good, I think. Mostly in the first two sections below. Check out a couple, please. By Crom!
In an alternate 1920s Manhattan in which a heavily fortified wall running along Broadway divides the island into Eastside, where the normal laws of reality still apply, and Westside, where things have gone down the magical drain, the latter has become a magical wasteland where only the dregs of society — criminals, artists, and drunks — remain. Gilda Carr calls Westide home, and works as a private investigator specializing in bite-sized mysteries like recovering lost gloves. Somehow, though, her latest case pushes her into a gangland war that connects to her own long-missing father and the reason for the Westside’s descent into unreal chaos. As much as she might like to, Carr can’t sidestep the responsibility she suddenly feels to get to the bottom of both mysteries, for her own sake and that of everyone living in the magic-ravaged city. Akers’ hugely enjoyable debut marries inventive alt-history with truly strange magic and a protagonist you won’t soon forget.
An alternate 1920s Manhattan, a magical wasteland, and a PI who only takes tiny cases? You know I need to check out this one. Westside was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; sequel Westside Saints arrived a year later. Westside Lights, published in March, closes out the trilogy.
Black Sun (paperback reprint) and Fevered Star (Saga Press, June 2021 and April 2022). Covers by John Picacio
My first novel The Robots of Gotham was released in June 2018, and it was gratifying to see a summer debut could quickly climb bestseller lists, receive wide attention and praise from numerous venues, snag a Nebula and Hugo nomination, and win a Locus Award.
Not mine, of course. No, all that breathless acclaim went to Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning, released a week after Robots. It was consistently annoying to hear the excited chatter about that book from friends, coworkers, parents, children, and people standing next to me at the damn post office.
I decided to read Roanhorse’s book so I could see what I was up against. That was a huge mistake. Pretty soon I was talking it up to anyone who would listen — or even make eye contact. You haven’t read Trail of Lightning?? I heard myself say. Check it out first — it’s fantastic. I guess I suck as a self-promoter, but I’m still your guy for honest book recs.