A Tale of Two Covers: The Race and The Rift by Nina Allan

Friday, June 30th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The Race Nina Allen-small The Rift Nina Allen-small

Last July Titan Books released Nina Allen’s debut novel The Race, which was nominated for the British Science Fiction Award and short-listed for both the John W. Campbell Memorial Award and Locus Award for Best First Novel. Her second novel The Rift arrives from Titan next month, and I immediately assumed — based on the strikingly similar art, title font, and cover design — that it was a sequel.

Turns out looks are deceiving (maybe?) Nothing I can find points to any kind of connection between the two. The Race (which we covered here last year) is a loosely connected set of four stories set in a near future Britain ravaged by ecological collapse, and The Rift is about two sisters re-united after two decades, when one of them claims to have been abducted by aliens.

There’s nothing wrong with using similar cover designs for disconnected books. I suppose it’s more of a refection of the times, in which the default assumption for a second novel is automatically that it’s a sequel. Of course, if it turns out the two books are connected, then ignore everything I just said. In fact, here’s the description for The Rift. Make up your own mind.

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In 500 Words or Less: Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

Friday, June 30th, 2017 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

oie_3005748uG2KzsYG (1)Revenger
Alastair Reynolds
Orbit (544 pages, $15.99 paperback, $9.99 eBook, September 2016)

Alastair Reynolds is one of the few authors I’ve read who manages to draw me into a standalone novel, immerse me with compelling characters and a complex world, and leave me begging for a sequel by the time I read the last page. He accomplished it with Terminal World. Then he did it again with House of Suns. And with my latest Reynolds read, Revenger, I sat back again and demanded out loud, “But wait – what happens next?!”

No one should be surprised when I say that Reynolds is a masterful storyteller. If you’re a fan of science fiction, you’ve probably at least heard his name – and if you haven’t, go pick up one of his books right now. Probably the best part about his writing is that it’s very much hard science fiction, but isn’t overly detailed or cumbersome the way I find a lot of hard SF writers to be (I lean way more toward soft SF and fantasy).

Reynolds’ work is always fast-paced and interesting, weaving the detailed science with just enough of the fantastic to add that sense of wonder and a perfect balance of action and character work. Revenger, for example, has the pacing of Firefly or Star Wars, so that even as he’s explaining the steampunkiness (is that a word?) of the starships and personal technology in the novel, you’re never mired in an info-dump or bored by too much scientific description, just to understand how everything works.

Revenger is particularly good because it’s a very human story: it focuses on two sisters who want to escape their homeworld and sign on with a starship crew not for pure escapism like Luke Skywalker, but specifically to earn money to help their father’s struggling business. What begins as a story of adventure and wild-eyed wonder as these sisters get to know their very first crew becomes a dark and harrowing tale almost immediately, as Reynolds takes his protagonists through multiple twists and unexpected locales.

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Goth Chick News: Stranger Toys for Cool Kids

Thursday, June 29th, 2017 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Stranger Things Funco toys-small

Netflix’s Stranger Things is one long nostalgia trip for kids from the ’80s, so it only makes sense that at some point, homage would be paid to the most prominent of 80’s attributes aside from should pads – rampant consumerism.

Funko, the company best known for their Pop! Vinyl toy line agrees. It’s preparing Stranger Things action figures that are bound to rekindle memories of playing with GI Joe or Masters of the Universe toys as a kid and cause collectors who love the show to be willing to traverse the Upside Down to get their hands on them.

The news comes directly from Funko’s website, where they explain that they’re selling two separate three-packs of 3 3/4 tall action figures. One pack contains figures based on the characters of the group’s de facto leader Mike Wheeler (played by the awesomely-named Finn Wolfhard), the logic-driven Lucas Sinclair (played by Caleb McLaughlin), and the mysterious Eleven (played by Millie Bobby Brown). The other pack includes figures based on the unfortunate Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), the loyal Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), and the evil Demogorgon.

The figures are all fully articulated, and most come with some sort of prop that reflects the character: Eleven has her Eggo waffles (obviously), Mike has a walkie-talkie, and Lucas gets two – a slingshot and a pair of binoculars. The second pack is far more sparse; it looks like the only prop that comes with that is a package of chocolate pudding, which I’m guessing isn’t intended for the Demogorgon.

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Vintage Treasures: Agents of Insight by Steven Klaper

Thursday, June 29th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Agents of Insight-small Agents of Insight-back-small

These days blending genres is fairly routine. Like supernatural mob crime novels? Try Chuck Wendig’s The Blue Blazes. Enjoy human P.I’s in a fantasy setting? Try Glen Cook’s Garrett, P.I.. Vampire detectives? P.N. Elrod’s The Vampire Files. Zombie private eyes? There’s lots to enjoy! Check out Tim Waggoner’s The Nekropolis Archives or Stefan Petrucha’s Hessius Mann series.

Science fiction and spy thrillers… now that’s a slightly rarer breed. There are a few, but you have to look around. The earliest one I can think of is Agents of Insight, a mid-80s SF novel by Steven Klaper. Agents of the psi-spy agency Insight are being murdered around the world, and two agents have to expose the sinister nemesis behind the scenes, in a fast-paced race for the truth across a futuristic Earth — and beyond.

I don’t know much about this Steven Klaper fellow. Nuthin’, really. He published this single novel, and nothing else. No short stories, no articles, no reviews. Is Klaper a pseudonym for a more well-known writer? I have no idea. Anybody know?

Agents of Insight was published by Tor Books in October 1986. It is 224 pages. priced at $2.95. It has never been reprinted, and there is no digital edition. The cover is by Barclay Shaw. See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

The Traveller Central Supply Catalogue Page by Page: New Rules and Armour

Thursday, June 29th, 2017 | Posted by M Harold Page

csc-coverTraveller Rule 0 is, roughly, “The Referee Can Make S…tuff Up.”

Even so, in the case of equipment, it’s handy if somebody else has worked out the details, and if the stuff doesn’t just break the universe.

Edgar Rice Burroughs could put in Radium Rifles — fantastically accurate at fantastic distances — and then ignore the logic of their existence and write a Sword and Planet romp. However, if RPG players find a loophole, they will “exploit” it; and in a simulationist game such as Traveller, that’s what they’re supposed to do anyway. You can’t tell players, “be creative in your problem solving, but not in this or that area”.

This has to be especially true for rumbustious teenagers… which takes me to my son’s gaming group, for whom I’m planning to referee later in the summer. They’re not really interested in narrative or genre conventions, or even schooled in them. (Some of them — shock! — haven’t watched Firefly yet.) So they’re bound to break what’s breakable.

With this in mind, I asked Mongoose to send me a review copy of the Traveller Central Supply Catalogue.

It’s a 150 page hardback, with nice authoritative binding. There’s an index at the back (hurrah!), nice illustrations throughout, and a lots of equipment with supporting rules.

The expanded equipment lists also include items from the Core Rulebook, making it self-contained enough to just hand the thing over to players when they want to go shopping. The “players’ reference” angle more than justifies the use of paper real estate for amusing adverts and flavour images: the book is the game’s user end.

I have a few quibbles.

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June 2017 Lightspeed Magazine Now Available

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Lightspeed June 2017-smallOver at Quick Sip Reviews, Charles Payseur takes at detailed look at the latest issue of John Joseph Adams’ Lightspeed.

“Marcel Proust, Incorporated” by Scott Dalrymple (4,130 words)

This is a fascinating story about education and about capitalism and about people being treated like property. This is a rather deeply dystopic story that follows a journalist in education who is brought into a story that is…well, rather huge. The story slowly reveals the scope of a project to make memory, to make education, property. And not just property, but property that doesn’t really belong to the person in whose mind the knowledge of education resides. Instead, this future world imagines what it would be like if there was a drug that would allow corporations and institutions to keep people in debt indefinitely with the looming threat that if people fail to pay, their memories will literally disappear, essentially repossessing the education that they can’t afford to pay for…. It’s a deeply unsettling piece that shows just how far and how bad things could go, and how in need we are of protections now more than ever to value human beings above profits and banks…

“Crossing the Threshold” by Pat Murphy (4,180 words)

This story speaks to me of bargains and loss and chaos. It features a woman whose father has died and who has to sort through his strange and varied estate. At the same time, it’s a story about her maybe-sorta helping the devil do some mischief, and trying to help undo some of that. It’s a bit of a weird contemporary fantasy story where the speculative elements are ones that “could maybe” be explained away, but as that never bothers me I do appreciate the way it moves, the way that it sets up this picture of the world that is only slightly off, where chaos and order seem to be more palpable forces in the world… Luckily there’s a helpful witch willing to work in exchange for some fertility idols. I like the strangeness of the piece… it’s a great read!

This month’s Lightspeed offers original fantasy by Shweta Narayan and Pat Murphy, and fantasy reprints by Carlos Hernandez and Ben Hoffman, as well as original science fiction by Scott Dalrymple and Matthew Kressel, along with SF reprints by Vandana Singh and Elizabeth Bear. The non-fiction includes author spotlights, Book Reviews by Amal El-Mohtar, Movie Reviews by Carrie Vaughn, and an interview with Yoon Ha Lee by Christian A. Coleman.

The exclusive content in the ebook version of Lightspeed this month includes a reprint of Yoon Ha Lee’s “Iseul’s Lexicon” and an excerpt from Seanan McGuire new novel Down Among the Sticks and Bones, plus a bonus excerpt from Never Now Always by Desirina Boskovich.

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Amazing Stories, October 1963: A Retro-Review

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017 | Posted by Rich Horton

Amazing Stories October 1963-smallBack to Cele Goldsmith’s era at Amazing. This issue has a couple of middling stories by two of the strangest and most original of SF writers. The cover is by Lloyd Birmingham, illustrating Cordwainer Smith’s “Drunkboat.” Interiors are by Birmingham, George Schelling, and Frank R. Paul (who had just died). Indeed, Norman Lobsenz’ editorial opens by mentioning Paul’s death (Paul, of course, famously painted the cover for the very first issue of Amazing); and goes on somewhat randomly to mention a National Spelling Bee winner who credited reading SF for his vocabulary (though reading Amazing could hardly have helped his spelling, given the standard of proofreading displayed this issue!); and then mentions Groff Conklin’s latest anthology, Great Science Fiction About Doctors (which in fact made a point of including a number of stories BY doctors, though none by the Good Doctor*).

(*Of course, Isaac Asimov was not a medical doctor, though he was a professor at a medical school.)

“Or So You Say …,” the letter column, features letters by Kathryn Avila (complaining about the low quality of the July issue), Norman M. Davis (praising Robert Young’s “Redemption,” one of the stories Avila had complained about), and Paul Scaramazza, theorizing that the then low (he says) status of fantasy literature is the fault of readers without imagination.

In The Spectroscope, S. E. Cotts reviews a now quite obscure book, The Fools of Time, by William E. Barrett, and an anthology from Sam Moskowitz, The Coming of the Robots. (She [as I now assume Cotts was] didn’t like the first, did like the second.) Moskowitz himself contributes a Profile of Edmond Hamilton.

The stories are:


“Drunkboat,” by Cordwainer Smith (11,200 words)
“The Prince of Liars,” by L. Taylor Hansen (17,300 words)

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New Treasures: Want by Cindy Pon

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Cindy Pon Want-small Cindy Pon Want-back-small

One thing I look for in modern SF is exotic locales. When I read science fiction, I want intrepid explorers in strange landscapes… and what could be more exotic than a near-future Taipei plagued by viruses and strange pollutants? Cindy Pon’s new novel Want features a group of teens who take on a corrupt society to save their city, and soon discover that their enemies may be even more dangerous than they thought. It was published in hardcover this month by Simon Pulse.

Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits, protecting them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is, or destroying his own heart?

Want was published by Simon Pulse on June 13, 2017. It is 327 pages, priced at $18.99 in hardcover and $10.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Jason Chan. Get more details at cindypon.com.

Tournaments, Isolated Outposts, and Strange Magic: The Wall of Night Trilogy by Helen Lowe

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

The Heir of Night-small The Gathering of the Lost-small Daughter of Blood-small

There are times when I want a quick read. And there are times when I want something edgy and new. And then there are times when I just want to sink back into my chair with a comforting 2,000-page fantasy trilogy, featuring squabbling royal houses, dark forces, river cities, tournaments, honor guards, wind-swept bastions, strange magic, wild lands, isolated outposts, black treachery — and a towering mountain wall that’s the last defense against the ravening hordes.

Helen Lowe’s The Wall of Night trilogy fits the bill nicely. The opening novel, The Heir of Night, won the Gemmell Morningstar Award for Best Fantasy Newcomer, and The Gathering Of The Lost was nominated for the Gemmell Legend Award for the Best Novel. The series wrapped up last year with Daughter of Blood. Here’s the complete publishing deets.

The Heir of Night (466 pages, $7.99 paperback/$2.99 digital, September 28, 2010) — cover by Gregory Bridges
The Gathering of the Lost (672 pages pages, $7.99 paperback/$3.99 digital, March 27, 2012)
Daughter of Blood (768 pages, $7.99 paperback/$4.99 digital, January 26, 2016) — cover by Don Sipley

All three are paperback originals from Harper Voyager; all three are still in print. Here’s the back covers.

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May Short Story Roundup

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_2764037nEltoy1EJust a short post this month. It’s that story-dry period between magazine issues that comes along a couple of times a year. Since I missed last month’s roundup, I thought I’d have two issues of Swords and Sorcery Magazine to review, but the June issue hasn’t come along as of June 25th. I do have a cool extra, though, that I’ll leave to the end.

Swords and Sorcery Issue 64 is a typical issue of the publication. That means two straight up swords & sorcery stories, just like in almost every other issue.

In “A Woman of Means” by James Edward O’Brien, an aging and mostly-retired thief named Shanley is approached by the titular character. She wishes to hire him, the only reliable independent thief in town, for a special job (isn’t that always the way?). Instead of the heavily guarded and magically warded sorcerers’ library, she wishes him to snatch some grimoires secretly produced in its bindery.

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