John DeNardo on 31 Science Fiction & Fantasy Books You Should Read in July

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Hullmetal Girls-small Lost Gods Micah Yongo-small From the Depths and Other Strange Tales of the Sea-small

Over at Kirkus Reviews, John Denardo has a regular monthly book column. For July he mixes things up a bit by recommending a book for every single day of the month.

I am constantly in awe at the vast number of books that are published every month. July alone sees the publication of several hundred speculative fiction titles vying for your reading time. It can thus be a daunting task for readers to find their way to the best of them. That’s where I come in. Every month, I sift through the vast number of speculative titles and pick out the ones that deserve your attention…

In Emily Skrutskie’s intriguing Hullmetal Girls, the path to a better life (or at least the money to buy one) may be volunteering to become a mechanically-enhanced soldier called a Scela. That’s what Aisha Un-Haad decides to do to raise the money she needs for her brother’s medical treatment. In the Fleet is where Aisha meets Key Tanaka, a Scela with only fuzzy memories of her former, well-to-do, pre-Scela life. Both women from disparate backgrounds must work together if they are to challenge the pending rebellion… There’s also Micah Yongo’s Lost Gods, a dark fantasy in which a young assassin named Neythan finds himself hunted by his assassin brothers and sisters when he is framed for the murder of his closest friend. Neythan’s journey will lead to him learning the true nature of his revered assassin brotherhood… I said it before and I’ll say it again: Short fiction rocks. July is stuffed so full of short fiction, you won’t know where to start. I do… check out From the Depths: and Other Strange Tales of the Sea edited by Mike Ashley.

Hullmetal Girls is available in hardcover from Delacorte Press (320 pages, $17.99, July 17). Lost Souls is from our friends at Angry Robot (448 pages, $12.99 in trade paperback, July 3, 2018). From the Depths is part of the Tales of the Weird library from British Library Publishing (320 pages, £8.99/$12.50 US, July 19, 2018). Check out John DeNardo’s complete list of July recs here.


Vintage Treasures: Fata Morgana by William Kotzwinkle

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Fata Morgana William Kotzwinkle-small Fata Morgana William Kotzwinkle-back-small

William Kotzwinkle isn’t much talked about today. Now that I think about it, he didn’t get as much attention as he deserved 30 years ago, either.

That’s likely because of the fact that, while he wrote a fair degree of fantasy, he was chiefly published by mainstream publishers. His World Fantasy Award-winning novel Doctor Rat (1976) was published in hardcover by Alfred A. Knopf, and The Bear Went Over the Mountain (1996), about a bear who finds a manuscript buried in the woods and uses it to become a New York literary sensation, was published by Doubleday. It was also nominated for a World Fantasy Award. His most famous book, the novelization of E.T., was published in paperback by Berkley in 1982.

Bantam Books released a pair of Kotzwinkle’s popular early fantasies in matching paperback editions: Doctor Rat and Fata Morgana (1977), his fifth novel. Fata Morgana, a genre-blending hard-boiled detective/fantasy, follows Inspector Picard as he investigates a conjurer whose fortune-telling machine is causing a sensation in 1861 Paris. David DeValera at Goodreads has a fine synopsis:

Fata Morgana is a solid mystery with fantasy elements that elevate it from sleuth versus villain into an enigmatic and elusive tale tinged with Gypsy mystery, parlor games and extortionist magic. Inspector Picard, (career descending and body weight ascending), is on the trail of Ric Lazare who is bilking high-society members out of considerable cash. Ric Lazare possesses a machine that foretells the future, but this alone does not explain his hold on those in his circle of influence. Picard investigates with the intention of exposing the salon scam of a medium and his costly advice; instead, he encounters the unknown — Black Magic, Grand Bewitching, the creations of a German toy maker, and a nagging foreshadowing of events, particularly his own demise…

Fata Morgana has been out of print since 1996, but is well worth tracking down. A digital version was published by E-reads in 2012. The Bantam edition above was published in September 1980; it is 195 pages, priced at $2.95. The cover is by Sandy Kossin.


Into the Night: She Is the Darkness by Glen Cook Part 2

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

0812555333.01.LZZZZZZZI think this reread of She Is the Darkness (1997) took me so long because I subconsciously remembered how disappointing it is. The first half (reviewed last week), despite a bunch of problems, is all right because of Cook’s usual talent at creating cool characters and sticking them into tough situations. It also had some epic battle scenes. As the Black Company inched its way toward the Shadowmaster’s fortress, the good managed to outweigh the bad. This was not the case for the book’s second half, despite some crowning moments of awesome. Not at all.

We left off last week’s post with the siege of Overlook about to begin. The Taglian legions raised and trained by Croaker and Lady invest the fortress. The great castle eventually falls not to starvation or the walls being thrown down, but to a coup de main. Overlook is so vast and so undermanned that Lady and her most loyal troops were able to secretly bore their way into its foundations and operate from within. After much planning (and magical scouting by Murgen), Lady is able to capture Longshadow.

Back in Taglios the Prince’s sister, the Radisha Drah, starts hunting down the Black Company’s allies. She has always feared the Company; now that Longshadow is defeated the time is ripe for its destruction. Having assumed a betrayal would come (as it always does for them), Croaker has readied the Company for the for the final trek to Khatovar.

The road to Khatovar lies to the south of Overlook, through something called the Shadowgate. From the gate come the shadows — deadly spectral things Longshadow and the Shadowmasters could control to a certain extent. Beyond the gate lies a great barren circular plain. From the gates (turns out there are more than one) are roads leading to the plain’s center, like the spokes of a wheel. And there stands a ruined fortress even greater than Overlook. Its inner courtyard measures nearly a mile across.

Certain the answer to where or what Khatovar is lies within, Croaker leads the core of the Black Company, along with its most important prisoners, — Longshadow, Howler, and Soulcatcher — into the ruins. But instead of answers, what lies behind the broken walls is a devastating trap. The book ends with the most important military commanders and veterans of the Black Company in stasis, and Soulcatcher racing back to Taglios in order to unveil some yet-undescribed scheme.

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Birthday Reviews: Kim Newman’s “Richard Riddle, Boy Detective in ‘The Case of the French Spy'”

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by John Picacio

Cover by John Picacio

Kim Newman was born on July 31, 1959.

Newman won the Bram Stoker Award for his books Horror: 100 Best Books and Horror: Another 100 Best Books, both written with Stephen Jones. He won the British Fantasy Award for his collection Where the Bodies Are Buried and the British SF Association Award for his short story “The Original Mr. Shade.” His novel Anno Dracula won the Prix Ozone, the Lord Ruthven Award, and the International Horror Guild Award, with its sequel, The Blood Red Baron also winning the Prix Ozone and the short story “Coppola’s Dracula” winning the IHG Award. He has been nominated for the Sidewise Award five times, twice for works in his Anno Dracula series, twice for works co-written with Eugene Byrne in their Back in the U.S.S.R. series of stories, and once, with Paul McAuley, for their script for the Prix Victor Hugo, given at Intersection, the 53rd World Science Fiction Convention held in Glasgow.

“Richard Riddle, Boy Detective in ‘The Case of the French Spy’” was originally published in volume one of the anthology Adventure, edited by Chris Roberson in 2005 (there was no volume 2). Stephen Jones reprinted it in Summer Chills: Tales of Vacation Horror. Newman included it in his collection The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club, a series to which the story is loosely connected. Jones reprinted the story a second time in the anthology Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth.

Dick, Violet, and Ernest are three kids growing up in Victorian England. To keep themselves occupied, Dick has formed the Richard Riddle Detective Agency, in which he solves minor crimes using Violet’s inquisitiveness and education and Ernest’s muscle. How real the crimes are is a matter of conjecture, and the kids admit that the majority of the “crimes” they solve were committed by their nemesis, Tarquin “Tiger” Bristow. The story is a tribute to the sort of boys adventure stories which flourished from the late nineteenth into the twentieth century.

The Case of the French Spy focuses on a fundamentalist minister, Daniel Sellwood, who comes to the kids’ attention when he destroys a large ammonite that Violet has found. Violet’s current interest is paleontology, but the anti-Darwinian Sellwood views fossils as being planted by the Devil to lead people astray, and therefore only fit for destruction. The members of the Detective Agency soon decide that Sellwood is either a smuggler or a spy and break into a tower that belongs to him, only to discover that his villainy goes much deeper than they had suspected.

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Future Treasures: Relic by Alan Dean Foster

Monday, July 30th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Relic Alan Dean Foster-smallIf it seems like it’s been a while since Alan Dean Foster released a standalone SF book from a mainstream publisher, that’s because it has. Over a decade now, since Pyr published his novel Sagramanda: A Novel of Near-Future India way back in 2006. And the one before that was Interlopers (Ace, 2001).

It’s not like he hasn’t been busy. Foster is in great demand as a media tie-in writer, and his recent books include top-selling titles like Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and Alien: Covenant (2017). But his many fans who remember his fine early novels like Icerigger (1974), For Love of Mother-Not (1983) and the other Pip & Flinx books, and the tales of the Humanx Commonwealth Universe, are impatient to see something new from him.

It looks like we will finally be rewarded. Foster’s latest book Relic has been called “Stunning… A true first contact novel on many different levels” by Library Journal. It arrives in hardcover from Del Rey in two weeks.

The last known human searches the galaxy for companionship in a brilliant standalone novel from the legendary author of the Pip & Flinx series.

Once Homo sapiens reigned supreme, spreading from star system to star system in an empire that encountered no alien life and thus knew no enemy… save itself. As had happened many times before, the basest, most primal human instincts rose up, only this time armed with the advanced scientific knowledge to create a genetically engineered smart virus that quickly wiped out humanity to the last man.

That man is Ruslan, the sole known surviving human being in the universe. Rescued from the charnel house of his home planet by the Myssari — an intelligent alien race — Ruslan spends his days as something of a cross between a research subject and a zoo attraction. Though the Myssari are determined to resurrect the human race, using Ruslan’s genetic material, all he wants for himself and his species is oblivion. But then the Myssari make Ruslan an extraordinary offer: In exchange for his cooperation, they will do everything in their considerable power to find the lost home world of his species — an all-but-mythical place called Earth — and, perhaps, another living human.

Thus begins an epic journey of adventure, danger, heartbreak, and hope, as Ruslan sets out in search of a place that may no longer exist — drawn by the slimmest yet most enduring hope.

Relic will be published by Del Rey on August 14, 2018. It is 320 pages, priced at $27 in hardcover and $13.99 for the digital edition.


A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — May, 1934

Monday, July 30th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

BlackMask_May1934

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Last week, we looked at an article on writing from famed Black Mask editor, Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw, which appeared in the May, 1934 issue of Writer’s Digest. What? You didn’t read that post? Well, click on over, do it, and then come back here and continue! Yeesh..

Done? Okay, let’s continue.

May, 1934 featured yet another solid issue of Black Mask under Shaw’s direction. The cover art was by J.W. Schlaiker, who had about fifty covers from 1929 to 1934. I don’t know why he abruptly stopped drawing for Black Mask. He served in France during World War I and was the War Department artist during World War II. He did portraits of Eisenhower, MacArthur and Patton.

Carroll John Daly carried the cover with Race Williams’ “Six Have Died,” which became part of the novel, Murder in the East. There were two more stories in this serial, which featured  The Flame. There would be one more story (“The Eyes Have It”) in November, and then Race Williams was no more in Black Mask. Williams would appear twenty-one times in Dime Detective but his successful career was in decline by May of 1934.

George Harmon Coxe’s Flashgun Casey was the subject our the very first post in this column. The hardboiled newspaper photographer was in the midst of appearing in seven consecutive issues; this story being “Two Man Job.” I like Casey, who was replaced by the more genteel Kent Murdoch.

From 1927 to 1934, Horace McCoy wrote thirteen stories about Captain Jerry Frost, leader of a group of Air Texas Rangers nicknamed ‘Hell’s Stepsons.’ They were basically a special ops team and Frost was a hardboiled problem solver. “Flight at Sunrise” was the second-to-last Frost story. I don’t believe that McCoy’s air tales have every been collected.

Of all the pulpsters, none may have had greater pretensions to greatness than McCoy. He’s best remembered for his novel, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, which became a successful film after his death. McCoy was a member of ‘The Fictioneers,’ which was an informal social club consisting of southern California pulpsters, including, at various times, Raymond Chandler, Norbert Davis, William Campbell Gault and W.T Ballard.

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Birthday Reviews: Reginald Bretnor’s “Cat”

Monday, July 30th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Ed Emshwiller

Cover by Ed Emshwiller

Reginald Bretnor was born Alfred Reginald Kahn on July 30, 1911 and died on July 22, 1992.

Bretnor’s short story “Earthwoman” was nominated for the Nebula Award in 1968 and his story “The Gnurrs Come from the Voodvork Out” was nominated for a Retro Hugo in 2001. His non-fiction book Modern Science Fiction: Its Meaning and Its Future was nominated for a Retro Hugo in 2004. Bretnor may be best remembered for his series of short shaggy dog stories about Ferdinand Feghoot and published under the pseudonym Grendal Briarton, an anagram of Reginald Bretnor.

“Cat” was originally published in the April 1953 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas. It was translated into French as “Langue de chat” and published in 9th issue of Fiction in August 1954. Annette McComas included it in her 1982 anthology The Eureka Years and it was the first story in the Bretnor collection The Timeless Tales of Reginald Bretnor, edited by Fred Flaxman in 1997. The story also appeared in The Second Cat Megapack: Frisky Feline Tales, Old and New, edited by Robert Reginald and Mary Wickizer Burgess.

Reginald Bretnor’s title “Cat” refers less to the animal and more to the language spoken by those animals, which Dr. Emerson Smithby and his wife, Cynthia, not only claim to have learned, but also claim they can translate and teach. Their claims wreak havoc for Professor Christopher Flewkes, the head of the language department at Bogwood College, who must try to maintain the college’s reputation amidst Smithby’s spectacular claims and the other professors’ refusal to work in the same department as a man they view as a charlatan.

While “Cat” may not be as humorous as the Papa Schimmelhorn stories of the Feghoots for which Bretnor is best known, it does have its moments of humor as Flewkes and one of the professors in his department, Witherspoon, try to either expose Smithby or place him into compromising positions with the aid of a private investigator. In the end, their attempts to subvert Smithby and his wife prove to be their own undoing.

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The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog on the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of July 2018

Sunday, July 29th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Kill the Farm Boy Kevin Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson-small City of Lies Sam Hawke-small Redemption’s Blade Adrian Tchaikovsky-small

July has been a terrific month for fantasy readers, with several exciting debuts, more than a few big names, and a handful of highly anticipated installments in popular series. As usual, Jeff Somers at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog handily summarizes the most interesting titles of the month. Here’s a half-dozen of his best selections.

Kill the Farm Boy by Kevin Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson (Del Rey, 384 pages, $27 in hardcover/ $13.99 digital, July 17)

Hearne and Dawson set out to undermine the white male patriarchy in a hilarious and surprisingly deep fantasy in the Pratchett mold. The titular, clichéd farm boy destined to save the world is killed more or less immediately after being anointed the Chosen One, but his death doesn’t end the threat to the world. A colorful band of unlikely heroes must assemble to do the job for him, including a half-rabbit bard, an aspiring evil wizard whose main skill is conjuring bread, a rogue lacking any sort of coordination, and, naturally, a talking goat. Their quest to take on the Dark Lord infesting their world with evil curses and evil-er magic is filled with plenty of jokes, songs, and riffs on the fundamental importance of cheese — but also delves into the inner lives of these crazy characters, making them real, interesting people. (Which is more than can be said of many super-serious epic fantasy stories.)

If Kill the Farm Boy is half as much fun as I’ve been hearing, it deserves to be the breakout title for the month. It’s book 1 of The Tales of Pell; no news yet on the next release.

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Modular: Pathfinder Planar Adventures

Sunday, July 29th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Planar_AdventuresFor as long as it has existed, Dungeons & Dragons (and its spin-off game, Pathfinder) have not been about a single world, but a multiverse of different worlds and dimensions. The entities that exist within these realms can be good or evil, or sometimes merely strange and exotic. But regardless of their precise nature, they are distinctly other than us, because these different realms and dimensions are governed by rules different than event he fantasy rules that govern the main adventuring worlds.

As Pathfinder First Edition begins slowing down its cycle of new rules releases, paving the way for the upcoming Pathfinder Playtest starting at GenCon and, ultimately, the release of Pathfinder Second Edition at GenCon 2019, it’s good to see that their final First Edition hardcover rulebook release, Planar Adventures  (PaizoAmazon), provides a mix of setting material that will be broadly applicable to any game set within the multiverse that contains the Pathfinder world of Golarion.

Following a general tradition within Pathfinder rulebooks, the first chapter focuses on characters. There are a dozen new planar-related archetypes, such as the Azatariel (Swashbuckler champions of Elysium), the Gloomblade (a Shadow Plane-influenced Fighter), and Progenitors (Druids with powerful bonds to the First World of the fey). Character options include new feats, spells, and magical items related to travel throughout the planes.

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Birthday Reviews: Forrest Aguirre’s “Matriarch”

Sunday, July 29th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Lara Wells

Cover by Lara Wells

Forrest Aguirre was born on July 29, 1969.

Aguirre’s career began around the turn of the millennium with several short stories appearing in various magazines and several Wheatland Press projects. He co-edited Leviathan, Volume Three with Jeff VanderMeer, which earned them a nomination for the Philip K. Dick Award and won them a World Fantasy Award. He also edited Leviathan 4: Cities and Polyphony 7, the latter with Deborah Layne.

Aguirre wrote “Matriarch” for inclusion in the David Moles and Jay Lake edited All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories. The next year, Aguirre included the story in his collection Fugue XXIX.

“Matriarch” is a very short story, almost a vignette, which does not provide any real context for the story itself. It is set aboard a zeppelin which appears to have a crew of three: the titular pilot and her two crewmembers, LeFevre and LeBlanc. More important than setting or context is the story’s imagery. Aguirre describes the zeppelin in short terms, but they are evocative. The airship has clearly recently been in a battle and the losing forces, officials from the city below it, are dangling from ropes lowered from the zeppelin, skirting the heads of children in the city who have turned cannibal.

Even in their moment of triumph and riding above the ravenous throngs, the Matriarch and her crew don’t feel completely safe. LeFevre finds himself falling into the crowd below the zeppelin, and is killed and stripped clean by the children, almost as if he had fallen into a river swarming with piranhas. Losing LeFevre and the dangling officials to the cannibals allows the zeppelin to flee the scene of its victory and the carnage below, however, LeBlanc misreads the situation, much to his dismay.

There is little story and little setting in “Matriarch,” but Aguirre is fully able to describe the scenes through which the Matriarch zeppelin is flying. The imagery is almost cinematic in nature even if he doesn’t give too many specifics on what his characters, the city, or the airship look like. When he does deploy his expressive powers, Aguirre gets fully value.

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