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

Sunday, September 30th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Hidden Sun by Jaine Fenn-small Rosewater by Tade Thompson-small Salvation by Peter F Hamilton-small

Geez, it’s the last day of the month already. I’m used to failing at my ambitious monthly reading plans, but at least I usually try. This month has been so busy that I haven’t even been able to keep track of all the great books I missed, much less crack any of them open.

September still has a few hours left, and I’m going to use that time to educate myself. And the best resource for that are book blogs like The Verge, Unbound Worlds, Kirkus Reviews, and especially the excellent Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, which has gradually become my go-to source for the best new releases. This month Jeff Somers does his usual top-notch job, pointing me to 26 tantalizing titles I might have otherwise overlooked. Here’s the best of them.

The Hidden Sun by Jaine Fenn (Angry Robot, 448 pages, $12.99 trade paperback/$8.99 digital, September 4)

Fenn is as known for her short fiction as she is for her Hidden Empire novel series — and for her tendency to take stories in unexpected directions, whether on the micro-scale in short stories or the macro-scale of novels. [In] Hidden Sun Fenn kicks off an all new series set in a universe of shadowlands and bright alien skylands. Rhia Harlyn is a well-born woman in the shadowland Shen, struggling against old-fashioned sexism as she pursues scientific knowledge. She gets a tragic opportunity to use his skill for research and discovery after her brother vanishes. She sets off to the skylands to seek the truth behind his disappearance and finds herself caught between a rebel and a cult leader on an alluring, dangerous world.

Jaine Fenn won the British Science Fiction for her short fiction. She’s the author of the 5-volume Hidden Empire series, published in the UK by Gollancz, which does not yet have a US publisher. The Hidden Sun is the first volume of a 2-part series titled Shadowlands; the sequel, Broken Shadow, will be released on April 4. This is her first US release; if it does well, I hope that means we get to see a lot more of her.

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Vicarious Roleplaying

Sunday, September 30th, 2018 | Posted by Jeff Stehman

Critical Role-banner

Dungeons & Dragons has become a spectator game, and regularly scheduled, live-streamed D&D games are legion. The voice actors of Critical Role, led by Matthew Mercer, are probably the best known. Their weekly live game has around 30,000 viewers, and each episode gets hundreds of thousands of follow-up views on YouTube.

I’m trying to keep up with Critical Role‘s new Mighty Nein campaign, but it’s 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there. If I had three to four hours a week to watch a live RPG, I’d have three to four hours to play an RPG.

I do, however, have time for podcasts. In fact, between chores, the gym, and the occasional road trip, I average about fifteen hours of podcasts a week. I have a regular list of fiction, gaming, and news podcasts to fill most of that time. However, in the fall, with all the chores that must be completed before winter arrives, my regular list falls very short.

Enter actual-play D&D podcasts. There are many. Most I’ve sampled are not to my liking, but here are the few that stuck with me beyond a few samplings.

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Birthday Reviews: Theodora Goss’s “Singing of Mount Abora”

Sunday, September 30th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver



Theodora Goss was born on September 30, 1968.

Goss has won two Rhysling Awards for Long Poem. The first was in 2004 for “Octavia Is Lost in the Hall of Masks” and the second for “Rose Child” in 2017. She has also twice been nominated for the Nebula Award, the Mythopoeic, the Seiun, and the World Fantasy Award, winning the last once. She has additionally been nominated for the William L. Crawford/IAFA Fantasy Award, the SLF Foundation Award, and the Compton Crook Stephen Tall Memorial Award.

Goss wrote “Singing of Mount Abora” for John Klima’s anthology Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories in 2007. The story was picked up by Rich Horton for Fantasy: The Best of the Year, 2008 Edition and by Jonathan Strahan for The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Two. It was late reprinted in Lightspeed by John Joseph Adams in the July 2012 issue. The story won the World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction in 2008.

“Singing of Mount Abora” was written for an anthology in which all the stories are inspired by words that were the winning entries in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, so it is appropriate that Goss’s language is a feature in the story, which was based on the word “Dulcimer,” which won the contest for Kim Calvin in 1949. The story is also based on lines from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” notably “ A damsel with a dulcimer/In a vision once I saw:/It was an Abyssinian maid/And on her dulcimer she played,/Singing of Mount Abora.”

Goss weaves together two tales set in three different times. The first is the story of Kamora, a woman in ancient China who has fallen in love with the Cloud Dragon, but cannot marry him until she convinces the Empress to let her leave. The second story tells of Sabra, a literature student who is beginning to fall in love with another student, Michael, much to her distant mother’s disdain. Both Kamora and Sabra must overcome obstacles set by the Empress or Sabra’s mother in order to have the chance to be with their loves.

The story of Kamora and the Cloud Dragon reads like a fable. Kamora is in service to the Empress who won’t let her leave until she can find someone who will entertain her as much as Kamora has. Kamora goes on a quest, starting with her uncle, the man who made her dulcimer. Known for his cleverness, he sends her to a distant mountaintop where she can meet the Stone Woman who may be able to help her, for the right price.

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Pathfinder Playtest Update

Saturday, September 29th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

PathfinderPlaytestSince Gen Con 2018, the Pathfinder Playtest has been in full swing, testing the new rule system that will form the basis for Pathfinder Second Edition, slated to release at Gen Con 2019. The game looks to streamline the system, and create a more coherent play experience across the diverse options that players of Pathfinder have available.

Participating in the Playtest

The major materials – the Pathfinder Playtest Rulebook and the Doomsday Dawn adventure book, as well as supplements like the Playtest Bestiary and pregenerated characters – are all available for free download from, so that anyone can participate in the playtest experience. Feedback is provided through the messageboards on the Paizo forum and also by entering survey data when you’ve run someone through an adventure or scenario.

In addition to the download of the Rulebook, you should also download the Rulebook Update sheet. This is updated regularly – every couple of weeks so far – and includes ongoing modifications to the rules, which are to be incorporated immediately. The biggest change was a pretty comprehensive revamp of the Death & Dying rules, although they’ve since gone in and modified some of the classes a bit, added an additional healing option for the Medicine skill, and made other changes as needed.

The Doomsday Dawn adventure book has a series of 7 adventures that are linked together in a campaign style, set over a period of ten years, but you don’t always play the same characters. The adventures begin at first level and then skip levels as you proceed. The characters you play at first level show up in subsequent adventures, at higher levels, but in between you play with some different characters, with some adventures focusing more on outdoor adventures or healing characters. The goal is that playing through the entire adventure, you’ll have an opportunity to test out lots of different play styles and aspects of the game.

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New Horror Comics: Harrow County and Witch Creek Road

Saturday, September 29th, 2018 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


One of the forms of fantasy I’m interested in is horror. I can’t say I quite understand how it works, not enough for me to write it well consistently. So I’ve been looking at different works of horror, trying to learn. I blogged about Marvel’s horror comic Carnage, older horror comics like Eerie, year’s best collections like Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror Volume 8, movies like The Exorcist and The Shiningand classics like DC’s Swamp Thing.

Lately my reading has turned to Dark Horse’s Harrow County, by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Cook. It’s been heavily lauded in the comics press, has tons of great creators singing its praises, and I’ve been discovering it with delight.

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Vintage Treasures: Songs of Stars and Shadows by George R.R. Martin

Saturday, September 29th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Songs of Stars and Shadows George RR Martin-small Songs of Stars and Shadows George RR Martin-back-small

George R.R. Martin is the most popular fantasy writer in the English language, and indeed one of the most popular fantasy writers of all time. I know a great many aspiring young twenty-something writers who aspire to be him, or at the very least aspire to his career. Most have read his magnum opus, the Game of Thrones novels, but few seem to be aware that not so very long ago GRRM was also a struggling twenty-something writer. If you’re serious about studying his career, the place to start is his early short story collections, which gather the best work of a gifted young writer who even then was obviously destined for great things.

George’s second collection Songs of Stars and Shadows was published in paperback by Pocket Books in 1977. It contains nine tales, including four in his Thousand Worlds milieu, his Hugo-nominated “And Seven Times Never Kill Man,” his space dogfight story “Night of the Vampyres,” and “This Tower of Ashes,” which he calls in his Introduction “in my estimation the best short story I have ever written.”

George’s lengthy intro, in fact, is one of the best things about the book, especially for modern fans. It’s a delightful peek behind the scenes at the life of a young science fiction writer in the early 70s, enduring writing slumps, half-heartedly accepting thick research packets on lasers from new Analog editor Ben Bova, sleeping on the floor at science fiction conventions (with his boots as a pillow), and sneaking into the Playboy Club with Howard Waldrop. Here’s a colorful snippet that talks about how his first collaboration with Waldrop, “Men of Greywater Station,” came to be.

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The Complete Carpenter: Vampires (1998)

Saturday, September 29th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

vampires-1999-one-sheet-posterEscape from L.A. was almost the final film in John Carpenter’s career. He wasn’t enjoying filmmaking as much as he once did, and retirement was looking more attractive. There was also a depressing feeling that movie trends were passing him by — the master’s students had started to take over genre filmmaking. But when Largo Entertainment approached him about directing an adaptation of John Steakley’s 1990 novel Vampire$, the director couldn’t resist the chance to take another crack at making a Western using another genre. The popularity of vampire films had surged in the late 1980s and through the ‘90s. One of the biggest vampire movie hits and a significant influence on the approaching superhero boom of the 2000s, Blade, came out the same year as Vampires.

Blade is arguably one of the problems Vampires ran into when it was released the day before Halloween. Although opening strong at #1, Vampires suffered an enormous second week drop and barely made back its production budget in the US. Younger audiences apparently wanted to see the slick black trenchcoat vampire-hunting heroics of Wesley Snipes in a modern city rather than a grungy ode to Italian Westerns starring James Woods. (The CinemaScore rating of audience reactions to Vampires was a dismal D+. Blade got an A-.) The film that horror magazines had touted throughout the year as John Carpenter’s comeback ended up hastening his retirement.

The Story

Jack Crow (James Woods) is the leader of a vampire-slaying squad working for the Vatican to eradicate the plague of bloodsuckers across the southwestern US. After his team wipes out a vamp nest in New Mexico, the master vampire (Thomas Ian Griffith) slaughters all of Crow’s team while they’re boozing it up at a nearby motel. Only Crow and Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) escape. They take along Katrina (Sheryl Lee), a prostitute who was bitten by the vampire. Crow plans to use Katrina to track down the master and kill him. The Vatican assigns a new priest to work with Crow, Father Adam Guiteau (Tim Guinee), as they hunt for the powerful vampire, who is none other than Jan Valek, the first vampire ever created. Valek is seeking for an object hidden somewhere in the Southwest that will allow him to complete his original reverse exorcism and become the first vampire capable of walking during the day. Crow and Guiteau hunt desperately while Montoya becomes ensnared by Katrina.
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Birthday Reviews: S.N. Lewitt’s “Festival”

Saturday, September 29th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Nicholas Jainschigg

Cover by Nicholas Jainschigg

S.N. (Shariann) Lewitt was born on September 29, 1954. She has also published as Rick North and Gordon Kendall, the latter in collaboration with Susan Shwartz.

Lewis has published under her full name as well as her initials. Her novels include original works such as Angels at Apogee, Rebel Sutra, and Memento Mori, as well as the Star Trek novel Cybersong. She collaborated with Shwartz on the novel White Wing and has written two books in The Young Astronauts series as Rick North.

“Festival” appeared in the Summer 1994 issue of Pirate Writings, edited by Edward J. McFadden. It was reprinted in The Best of Pirate Writings: Tales of Fantasy, Mystery & Science Fiction, also edited by McFadden.

Lewitt has set “Festival” on an alien world settled by humans. The early settlers found the world to be an inhospitable place with a jungle that seemed practically sentient and intent on destroying the colony. Eventually, technological means were invented to keep the jungle from encroaching on the colony and at the same time a raucous annual festival emerged, which invariably resulted in the deaths of some of the revelers. Secret Societies sprung up to find those who died in the revels and take their bodies outside as a tribute to the jungle.

Sandro is preparing not only for the festival, donning a costume like all the other revelers, but also for his induction into the Red Men’s Society. The story talks about his preparations and then goes into a lengthy flashback to give the reader the history, intentionally vague, of the planet and the festival, before connecting Sandro to his sponsor for membership in the Red Men’s Society, his co-worker Chema. The two men go out on patrol, looking for the bodies of the dead to drag out into the jungle while wearing full environmental suits so they won’t have to worry about their own exposure.

The short length of the story combined with its flashback nature gives it a disjointed feel. Lewitt is not able to give sufficient coverage to either the origins of the colony’s culture nor to Sandro and his desire to become part of the Red Men’s Society or his reaction to the secrets he is exposed to. While his reaction to those secrets is one which seems completely human and normal, it doesn’t seem to take the colony’s values into consideration.

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New Treasures: The Centenal Cycle by Malka Older

Friday, September 28th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Infomocracy-small Null States-small State Tectonics-small

Every time the final novel in a trilogy is published, we bake a cake in the Black Gate offices. (And yes, we do eat a lot of cake. What’s your point?)

Malka Older’s debut novel Infomocracy made a huge splash in 2016 — The Huffington Post called it “one of the greatest literary debuts in recent history,” and it was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington PostThe VergeFlavorwireKirkus, and Book Riot. The sequel Null States arrived last year, and was not a disappointment. Liz Bourke at labeled it “wondrously strange,” and The Chicago Review of Books called it “A riveting science fiction thriller that brings the future of democracy to vivid, divisive life… a hell of a good story.”

The third and final novel in the series, State Tectonics, is one of the most anticipated books of the year, and it finally arrived in hardcover from Tor earlier this month. Here’s the description.

The future of democracy must evolve or die.

The last time Information held an election, a global network outage, two counts of sabotage by major world governments, and a devastating earthquake almost shook micro-democracy apart. Five years later, it’s time to vote again, and the system that has ensured global peace for 25 years is more vulnerable than ever.

Unknown enemies are attacking Information’s network infrastructure. Spies, former superpowers, and revolutionaries sharpen their knives in the shadows. And Information’s best agents question whether the data monopoly they’ve served all their lives is worth saving, or whether it’s time to burn the world down and start anew.

State Tectonics was published by Publishing on September 11, 2018. It is 432 pages, priced at $27.99 in hardcover and $14.99 for the digital editions. The cover is by Will Staehle. Read the first five chapters of Infomocracy here, and see our previous coverage here. See all our coverage of the best new SF and fantasy here.

The Princess Bride: What’s Not To Love?

Friday, September 28th, 2018 | Posted by Violette Malan

the-princess-brideIt would have been about this time of year, thirty years ago, that we first watched The Princess Bride. Anyone who knows me knows this is one of my favourite movies, it’s in my top 10 list of favourite sword-fighting movies, and it’s one that gets re-watched on a regular basis. However, I confess I was a bit concerned when I was first introduced to it: I found the title worrying. What could this be about? What kind of movie was it? All I could be sure of was it wouldn’t be some romantic nonsense, because of the friend who recommended it.

But that was all I could be sure of. This particular friend’s recommendations were either wildly successful, or horrible misfires – nothing in between. What was this one going to be?

You know the answer to that already.

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