When Immortals Die: The Arc of a Scythe Series by Neal Shusterman

Sunday, February 25th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Scythe Neal Shusterman-small Thunderhead Neal Shusterman-small

Neal Shusterman is the author of dozens of books for young readers, including The Dark Side of Nowhere, The Shadow Club, The Star Shards Chronicles, The Skinjacker Trilogy, and the Unwind Dystology. His latest series, set in a far-future world of eternal life, where teenagers train to become sanctioned killers to control the population, began with Scythe in 2016 . Here’s Kirkus Reviews on the opening novel.

On post-mortal Earth, humans live long (if not particularly passionate) lives without fear of disease, aging, or accidents. Operating independently of the governing AI (called the Thunderhead since it evolved from the cloud), scythes rely on 10 commandments, quotas, and their own moral codes to glean the population. After challenging Hon. Scythe Faraday, 16-year-olds Rowan Damisch and Citra Terranova reluctantly become his apprentices. Subjected to killcraft training, exposed to numerous executions, and discouraged from becoming allies or lovers, the two find themselves engaged in a fatal competition but equally determined to fight corruption and cruelty… Elegant and elegiac, brooding but imbued with gallows humor, Shusterman’s dark tale thrusts realistic, likable teens into a surreal situation and raises deep philosophic questions. A thoughtful and thrilling story of life, death, and meaning.

The second volume in the series, Thunderhead, arrived last month. It was published by Simon & Schuster on January 9, 2018. It is 504 pages, priced at $18.99 in hardcover and $10.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Kevin Tong. Read an excerpt at Entertainment Weekly.

Birthday Reviews: A.M. Dellamonica’s “A Key to the Illuminated Heretic”

Sunday, February 25th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Jeff Easley

Cover by Jeff Easley

A.M. (Alyxandra Margaret) Dellamonica was born on February 25, 1968. She began publishing short fiction in 1994 and published her first novel, Indigo Springs, the first novel in a duology, in 2009.

From 2014-2016, she published the Hidden Sea trilogy, beginning with Child of a Hidden Sea and continuing with A Daughter of No Nation and The Nature of a Pirate. With Steve Berman, Dellamonica edited Heiress of Russ 2016: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction.

Dellamonica won the Sunburst Award for Indigo Springs and the Aurora Award for A Daughter of No Nation. She has one other Aurora nomination and has also received nominations for the Lambda Award for novel and the Gaylactic Spectrum Award for short fiction.

“A Key to the Illuminated Heretic” was original published in Alternate Generals III, edited by Harry Turtledove in 2005. It was nominated for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. Dellamonica later published the story in an e-chapbook.

A.M. Dellamonica creates a world in which Joan of Arc is not burned at the stake on May 30, 1431, instead surviving to continue to be a thorn in the side of not only King Henry VI on England and King Charles VI of France, but also of Pope Eugene IV, continuing her battle not only for the secular realm of France, but also in support of her own heretical sect of Christianity, the Listeners, who follow Joan and believe in her visions.

While much of the story describes her military escapes in France, the focus is really on her relationship with a young artist, Dulice Aulon, and the paintings she created of important moments in Joan’s life. Descriptions of these paintings are found throughout, as if written for an exhibit catalog, and the paintings described help illuminate the action that immediately follows.

Dellamonica notes that Joan was illiterate, which serves to heighten the importance of Aulon’s paintings. They are the way Joan’s story is spread to the masses, gaining Joan adherents who are willing to fight for Joan’s visions and vision for France and support her, particularly the city of Orleans, which Joan had rescued from siege prior to Dellamonica’s point of divergence.

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The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog on the Best Comics & Graphic Novels of February 2018

Saturday, February 24th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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I don’t have time to keep tabs on all the fabulous new comics showing up every week at my local comic shop, so I’m glad there are folks I trust who do. One of them is Ross Johnson at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, who checks in with a list of the 19 most promising new graphic novels this month. Here’s a few of the highlights.

Scales & Scoundrels, Vol. 1: Into the Dragon’s Maw, by Sebastian Girner, Galaad, and Jeff Powell

Girner and Galaad introduce a new breed of fantasy adventurer in Luvander, a tough loner who sets out on a quest to find what treasure awaits in “the Dragon’s Maw,” a labyrinth that she hopes will bring an end to her days of penniless wandering. The only problem: she needs a team. The colorful story offers a modern take on medieval-style fantasy with a light touch and a sense of the epic.

Godshaper, by Simon Spurrier and Jonas Goonface

Following the collapse of the laws of physics in 1958, everyone received their own personal deity, whose size, shape, and influence determines your fate. Then there are those women and men like Ennay, who were born without their own gods but with the power to shape the deities of others. Ennay meets up with Bud, a god without a human, and together, they wind up in the heart of a mystery. It’s a unique story with some lovely, colorful artwork.

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Green Girls and Planet Texas: The 70s Science Fiction of Zach Hughes

Saturday, February 24th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The novels of Zach Hughes-small

The Signet science fiction novels of Zach Hughes

Zach Hughes’ For Texas and Zed (1976) was one of the very first science fiction novels I ever read, at the tender age of twelve. I probably plucked it from the paperback spinner in the PX on Rockcliffe airbase in Ottawa in the fall of ’76, shortly after we arrived from Nova Scotia — the same place I bought A.E. van Vogt’s Slan a few weeks later. The description on the back of For Texas and Zed was precisely the kind of thing that would have appealed to me at the age of 12, even if I was a little vague on where Texas was, exactly.

Spacemen from Texas on Earth had settled this remote planet centuries ago. While the rest of the galaxy was being divided between two vast warring empires, Planet Texas preserved its independence, created its own unique civilization, developed its own advanced technology. But now all that Planet Texas was and all that it believed in were threatened, as the super-powers of space moved in for the kill.

I was still figuring out what science fiction was all about at the time. But even at 12, I knew For Texas and Zed wasn’t a very good novel (even if if did contain the very first sex scene I ever encountered, with a casual description of female nipples that’s still scorched into my brain four decades later). Slan proved to be a much better book, and I gladly searched out more by A.E. van Vogt. But I never read another Zach Hughes novel (though it’s possible I did furtively flip through them in book stores, on the lookout for the word “nipple.”)

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Beowulf: A New Telling — Almost Forgotten Childhood Classic

Saturday, February 24th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

beowulf-new-telling-robert-nye-coverMy formative reading years in late elementary school, that Golden Age of preparation to become an adult reader, contains a row of perennial favorites to which I’ve frequently returned. Madeleine L’Engle, Lloyd Alexander, John Christopher, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, John Bellairs, Robert C. O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and that’s only getting started. But for mysterious reasons, one book often slips through the cracks of memory, even though it had an enormous influence on my later interests in history, literature, and myth: Beowulf: A New Telling by Robert Nye. When I do recall it from the marshland of childhood memory, its prose and images are as vivid as any other juvenile book I embraced in fourth and fifth grade. The pictures it conjured in my mind are the ones I still see when reading the original poem. There’s no denying the quality of a work that had such a powerful effect on my conception of Beowulf.

When I recently picked up a copy of Nye’s book, I discovered it retains its potency as both a great story and a reflection of the magic of the actual poem. Some of Nye’ sentence structures are simplified for middle-grade readers, and his prose retelling can’t match the authenticity or allure of an Anglo-Saxon epic poem composed over twelve hundred years ago. But its achievement as a short novel version of Beowulf impressed me enough on this re-read that I want to buy cartons of it and ship them to elementary schools. Hey, you kids who like Harry Potter! Here’s a short fantasy book with three great monsters in it, and it’s super violent and gory, but that’s totally okay because it’s a version of the first classic of English poetry. It’s educational: your parents can’t stop you! (Okay, I won’t guarantee that last part …)

Beowulf: A New Telling was published in 1968, although it felt new when I first read it around 1982. A teacher had recommended the book to our class for extra credit and gave us a short summary of its background: a modern re-telling of a poem by an unknown author. The original was written in the foundling days of English, possibly the eighth century. I bought a copy at a school book fair, and my blood thrilled at the haunting cover: the hero astride a horse, riding into a damp fen aflutter with bats, the monster Grendel (or perhaps Grendel’s Mother) lurking in the corner waiting for him.

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Birthday Reviews: August Derleth’s “The Return of Hastur”

Saturday, February 24th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

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Cover by Virgil Finlay

August Derleth was born on February 24, 1909 and died on July 4, 1971. It was Derleth who coined the term “Cthulhu Mythos” for H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, although Derleth had earlier suggested the “Hastur Mythology,” which Lovecraft rejected.

In 1939, Derleth and Donald Wandrei founded Arkham House, a small press dedicated to preserving the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, and eventually those who were influenced by Lovecraft.

Although best known as a proponent of Lovecraft and for his own stories which expand on Lovecraft’s work, Derleth also wrote children’s books and biographies aimed at kids and detective fiction, most notable the Solar Pons series. He felt his Sac Prairie saga, which was based on Sauk City, Wisconsin, where he lived, was his most important work.

“The Return of Hastur” was purchased by Farnsworth Wright and appeared in the March 1939 issue of Weird Tales, which also included a story by Lovecraft. Derleth reprinted the story in his collection Someone in the Dark in 1941 and again in The Mask of Cthulhu in 1958. Lin Carter selected the story for The Spawn of Cthulhu and it was eventually included in Robert M. Price’s The Hastur Cycle. It was included in the Barnes and Noble collection of Derleth stories The Cthulhu Mythos and in In Lovecraft’s Shadows: The Cthulhu Mythos Stories of August Derleth, issued by Arkham House in 1998. The story has been translated into French, Italian, and German. Lovecraft is known to have read and commented on an early version.

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Future Treasures: Good Guys by Steven Brust

Friday, February 23rd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Good Guys Steven Brust-smallThe first book I ever read by Steven Brust was Jhereg, the opening volume in the long-running (15-book!) and best-selling Vlad Taltos series that has come to define his career. In 2013 he collaborated with Skyler White to launch a contemporary fantasy series, The Incrementalists, but before that his last standalone novel was Agyar in 1993.

So I was surprised and pleased to receive a review copy of Good Guys this week, which the accompanying press materials describe as a “snarky, irreverent tale of secret magic in the modern world, the first solo standalone novel in two decades from Steven Brust.” Here’s the description.

Donovan was shot by a cop. For jaywalking, supposedly. Actually, for arguing with a cop while black. Four of the nine shots were lethal ― or would have been, if their target had been anybody else. The Foundation picked him up, brought him back, and trained him further. “Lethal” turns out to be a relative term when magic is involved.

When Marci was fifteen, she levitated a paperweight and threw it at a guy she didn’t like. The Foundation scooped her up for training too.

“Hippie chick” Susan got well into her Foundation training before they told her about the magic, but she’s as powerful as Donovan and Marci now.

They can teleport themselves thousands of miles, conjure shields that will stop bullets, and read information from the remnants of spells cast by others days before.

They all work for the secretive Foundation… for minimum wage.

Which is okay, because the Foundation are the good guys. Aren’t they?

Good Guys will be published by Tor Books on March 6, 2018. It is 316 pages, priced at $25.99 in hardcover and $12.99 for the digital edition. Read the first two chapters here, and our recent coverage of Steven Brust here.

See all our recent coverage of the best in upcoming fantasy here.

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly 35 Now Available

Friday, February 23rd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Q35

During the August 2017 solar eclipse, 37,814 Americans suffered temporary retinal damage from looking at the sun. Each victim had an afterimage burned into their eye that appeared when they blinked rapidly. When those runes were written down and arranged in a scroll in exact sequential order, following the path of the sun from west coast to east, they formed the text of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #35. Pretty sweet.

Now that we have the transcription in house (and translated into English by blind precogs from the rainforests of Brazil), we can tell you that the latest issue of HFQ includes stories by Raphael Ordonez, Mary-Jean Harris, and Norman Doege, plus poetry from James Matthew Byers, Mary Soon Lee, and Karen Bovenmyer.

Here’s the complete TOC, with fiction links.

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Wordsmiths: Black Gate Interviews Jim Butcher at ConFusion 2018

Friday, February 23rd, 2018 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

If you talk to Jim Butcher, he might tell you that he’s a “crazy hermit shut-in” and scoff at being referred to as the Jim Butcher — showing that even one of the greatest fantasy writers around might be as uncomfortable with accolades as the rest of us mere mortals. How do I know this? Because I got the chance to sit down with Jim at ConFusion last month, for an hour-long chat about his published work, his craft, and what makes him tick.

I’ve been a huge fan of Jim’s ever since a friend shoved Storm Front at me and insisted I read it, and I sincerely hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed taking part in it. There is a lot that can be learned from Jim Butcher, and I’m really happy with what we were able to get into here.

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Birthday Reviews: W.E.B. Du Bois’s “Jesus Christ in Texas”

Friday, February 23rd, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

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W.E.B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du Bois was born on February 23, 1868 and died on August 27, 1963. He was the first black man to earn a doctorate from Harvard University and taught history, sociology, and economics.

Du Bois helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909. Most of W.E.B. Du Bois’s writings were sociological in nature, focusing on the plight of African-Americans. Throughout his career, he fought for equal rights for blacks and against lynchings and Jim Crow laws.

“Jesus Christ In Texas” was original published in Du Bois’s collection Darkwater: Voices from the Veil in 1920. It has been reprinted numerous times since.

Two of Du Bois’s stories have elements of the fantastic in them, including “Jesus in Texas.” As told in the title, this story is about a visitation of Jesus to Texas. During his brief time, he sees black prisoners used on a chain gang, the whites who are benefiting from their labor, and a prisoner who has escaped.

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