In 500 Words or Less: The Quantum Magician by Derek Künsken

Friday, October 5th, 2018 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

The Quantum Magician-smallThe Quantum Magician
by Derek Künsken
Solaris (480 pages, $11.99 paperback, $6.99 eBook, October 2, 2018)

When I reviewed Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit last year, I joked that there’s a reason why I teach in the humanities, which is the same reason I don’t read a lot of hard science fiction. For me to enjoy a hard SF novel enough to discuss it here is a big deal – and I really enjoyed Derek Künsken’s The Quantum Magician, even though I’m sure that like Ninefox, I didn’t get as much out of it as someone else might have.

To be clear, the worldbuilding here is intricate, compelling and absolutely fascinating. From the moment concepts were introduced I wanted to know more, especially the different subsets of humanity that Künsken presents, each the product of generations of genetic manipulation. I mean, an entire population of neo-humans nicknamed Puppets because of their diminutive size, who double as religious zealots worshipping their divine beings’ cruelty? Or an intergalactic political hierarchy based on the economics of patrons and clients, complete with the inequalities and social issues you might expect? These demand further unpacking, which Künsken does with deliberate skill, slowly revealing more and more about humanity’s divergent offshoots and the galaxy they inhabit.

But I can’t say that I walked away from The Quantum Magician with a crystal clear sense of what I read. The core plot is a con game perpetrated by a team of ragtag scoundrels, trying to sneak a flotilla of warships through a wormhole controlled by another government… but don’t ask me to explain more than that. Künsken does an amazing job of presenting a bunch of quirky protagonists who play off each other well, but the characters that stand out do so powerfully; between that and the rich worldbuilding of things like the Puppets, I forgot about that flotilla and the original aim of the con for a good third of the novel, until they came back into focus.

Much as I rooted for protagonist Belisarius (who would be the Danny Ocean of these scoundrels) and his partner/love interest Cassandra (who I suppose is Tess and Rusty from Ocean’s Eleven combined), the secondary characters stole the spotlight for me, particularly AI-on-a-religious-mission Saint Matthew and the creepily dangerous Scarecrow hunting these scoundrels down.

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Douglas Draa’s What October Brings is a Lovecraftian Celebration of Halloween

Thursday, October 4th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

What October Brings-smallHalloween and Lovecraft. Two great things that belong together. And Weirdbook editor Douglas Draa is the man to make it happen.

His new anthology What October Brings is a handsome collection of original stories by Adrian Cole, Storm Constantine, Tim Curran, Cody Goodfellow, Nancy Holder, Brian M. Sammons, John Shirley, Lucy A. Snyder, Chet Williamson, Black Gate writer Darrell Schweitzer, and many others — all packaged under a gorgeous cover by Italian artist Daniele Serra.

It’s from UK publisher Celaeno Press, a new name to me, but they clearly do good work. Here’s the description.

Halloween, a time for laughing children in white bedsheets and superhero costumes. A time for chocolate candy, and pumpkins, and Trick-or-Treat.

… a time for dark things everywhere to slink out of the shadows and into our lives, reminding those unlucky few that our charades of Halloween cannot erase the centuries of history and pain behind the facade…

What October Brings celebrates the dark traditions of the autumn rituals, of Halloween and Samhain, in homage to the uniquely fascinating fiction of HP Lovecraft. Masters of the short story offer you a “once in a lifetime” Trick-or-Treat experience…

…perhaps your last!

This is a sizable anthology packed with long stories. Over half are 18+ pages, and one, Lucy A. Snyder’s “Cosmic Cola,” is a generous 30 pages. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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Future Treasures: The Islevale Series by D. B. Jackson

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Time's Children DB Jackson-small Time's Demon DB Jackson-small

D. B. Jackson is the author of four novels in the popular Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy set in pre-Revolutionary Boston, which Kirkus Reviews calls “Splendid… with [a] contemporary gumshoe-noir tone… An unusual series of great promise.” Fletcher reviewed D.B.’s collection Tales of the Thieftaker for us, saying:

I enjoyed myself, ripping through the book at a quick pace. Jackson’s prose is clean; he’s a good storyteller. The stories are tense, the mysteries good, the characters well-drawn. His Boston reeks believably of crowded, dirty streets and you can smell the creosote from the wharves… Tales of the Thieftaker is a brisk read with an engaging lead, a colorful supporting cast, and a nicely detailed setting.

‘D.B. Jackson’ also happens to be Black Gate contributor David B. Coe, whose “Night of Two Moons” was the most popular story in Black Gate 4, and whose Books and Craft blog posts here have covered topics as diverse as World Building and Nicola Griffith’s 90s classic Slow River.

David’s latest release is Time’s Children, arriving next week from Angry Robot. It’s the opening novel in the Islevale series, and David tells us “This is my best book to date.” Sequel Time’s Demon is scheduled for May. Here’s what we know so far.

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New Treasures: Halls of Law, Book 2 of Faraman Prophecy by V.M. Escalada

Saturday, September 8th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Halls of Law-small Gift of Griffins-small

Halls of Law, the first book in the Faraman Prophecy series, introduced a world of military might and magical Talents on the brink of destruction. It’s especially interesting to me because “V.M. Escalada” is also Black Gate‘s long-time Friday blogger Violette Malan, who took on a pen name for this switch to epic fantasy. Rob H. Bedford at SFFWorld had some fine things to say about the novel.

In Halls of Law, V.M. Escalada brings together familiar fantasy elements of a nation being invaded, a rigid military, people with supernatural mental abilities, a race of lost creatures returning, and of course, prophecy. Familiar elements when handled well, make for an entertaining, enjoyable story… Escalada is no stranger to fantasy, she’s published several enjoyable Sword and Sorcery novels as Violette Malan. This novel and series is a slight switch to a more large scale story of Epic Fantasy from those intimate Sword and Sorcery tales and launches a promising series…

There’s a sense of fun to the novel… There’s a lot of myth in the background of the worldbuilding, as well as just wanting to know what happens next for Kerida, that I’m greatly looking forward to the second book in the series. Sometimes a book lands in your lap at exactly the right time, and Halls of Law was precisely the kind of book I didn’t realize I needed when I opened the first few pages. I was drawn in by the comforting prose and stayed fully invested because of the characters and world. Halls of Law is a fun, optimistic Epic Fantasy that proved a welcome change of pace from some of the more grimdark fantasy I’d been reading.

The second novel, Gift of Griffins, was released in hardcover by DAW last month. Here’s the description.

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Today Only — Get Todd McAulty’s The Robots of Gotham for Just $2.99

Wednesday, August 29th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Robots of Gotham cover wrap-small

Todd McAulty was one of the most popular writers in the print version of Black Gate. Free SF Reader said “McAulty appears to be world class,” and Locus declared “Todd McAulty is Black Gate‘s great discovery.” His debut novel, The Robots of Gotham, was published in hardcover by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in June, and has been accumulating rave reviews ever since:

“Massive and impressive… McAulty maintains breathless momentum throughout.”— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“The whole story is a thrilling action flick in book form… Read it while walking in slow-motion away from an explosion.” — RevolutionSF

“Beautifully combines a post-apocalyptic man-versus-machine conflict and a medical thriller… This is thrilling, epic SF.”— Booklist (starred review)

“A massive, fast-paced, action-packed epic… Every page has the fierce readability of early Neal Stephenson, which is as high praise as it gets.”— Toronto Star

“A fast-paced, engaging read… The book is a thrilling ride.”— The Verge

Amazon’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year (So Far)

The Robots of Gotham is 688 pages, and priced at $26 in hardcover. But for today only, August 29th, the digital version of the book has been discounted to $2.99. Copies are available at Amazon, Kobo, and other fine online retailers.


The Strangest Alien: Julie E. Czerneda’s Esen-alit-Quar Returns in Two New Books

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Webshifters Julie E Czerneda-small

Julie E. Czerneda is one of the leading SF writers of the 21st Century. A biologist by trade, she’s brought a unique appreciation for the far-ranging possibilities of extraterrestrial biology to her fiction, and the result has been some of the most joyously alien characters in all of modern SF. One of her most popular characters is Esen-alit-Quar, the alien protagonist of the Web Shifters trilogy (Beholder’s EyeChanging Vision, and Hidden in Sight), published by DAW between 1998-2003. Who or what is Esen? Here’s Julie, in an essay she wrote for The Little Red Reviewer.

Short answer? A blob of blue, shaped like a teardrop. Who happens to be a semi-immortal shapeshifter. Who has really good intentions… but is working on her life skills.

Writing Esen’s attempts to protect life in the universe – or at least keep it civil – makes me happy and always has. As it turned out, Esen made you happy too, dear readers. I’ve received more feedback and love from you for the Dear Little Blob than for all my other work combined.

For those unfamiliar with my work, I’m a biologist by training, an optimist by preference, and have been writing the stories I want to read for quite a while now, thanks to Sheila Gilbert and DAW Books. If you read and enjoy my other SF, you’ll find Esen’s stories funnier, with more aliens and their worlds, but with no less — and sometimes more — heart. I came across this email from Tanya Huff the other day, about Esen’s first book. “…this was so much fun. It reminded me of all the reasons why I started reading SF in the first place.” Yup. Grinning.

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Sign up to Support Heroic Fantasy Quarterly through Patreon!

Friday, August 24th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

HFQ Patreon-small

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly is one of the most reliable outlets for top quality adventure fantasy on the market. In his review of Volume One of The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Fletcher Vredenburgh wrote:

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly is… the most consistent forum for the best in contemporary swords & sorcery. Some may think I’m laying it on a little thick, but The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly: Volume 1, 2009-2011, a distillation of the mag’s first three years, should prove that I’m not.

HFQ‘s reputation doesn’t just rest on quality. They’ve published four issues a year like clockwork for nearly a decade — and all of it available free online. Fans have been asking for a way to support the magazine for years, and the editors have finally created a Patreon where those who love quality fantasy can make meaningful contributions. Here’s HFQ editor and Black Gate blogger Adrian Simmons:

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly has brought new voices in sword and sorcery, adventure fiction, and historical fiction to the people since 2009. On our shoestring budget we have hit our goal of publishing three stories and two poems every three months AND started working in artwork, AND starting working in audio; and with more funds we could do much more.

Even just a few dollars a month can have a huge impact. Make a much-needed contribution to HFQ here, to help ensure one of the best modern fantasy magazine can continue for years to come. And check out their latest issue here.


Time Travel, Shoggoths, and the Land of the Witches: The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2018 edited by Rich Horton

Thursday, August 9th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2018-smallI always enjoy Rich Horton’s introductions to his annual Year’s Best collection, and this one doesn’t disappoint. I was especially delighted to see him select one of my favorite stories of last year for this year’s volume, and to see him call it out in the intro:

One source of originality is new voices, and thus I am excited every [year] to see new writers producing excellent work… But one of the reasons I choose stories by some writers over and over again is that they are always fresh. What story this year is stranger than C.S.E. Cooney’s “Though She Be But Little?”

This year’s volume is dedicated to Gardner Dozois, who passed away in May, and I was particularly touched by Rich’s thoughtful reminiscence.

As for Gardner Dozois, who was closer to me in a personal sense — I was really shaken by news of his passing. He was one of the greatest editors in the field’s history (an argument can be made — and I’ve made it — that he ranks at the top); and he was also a very significant science fiction writer…

We who produce these similar books, the best of the year volumes, never regard ourselves as rivals. Our books are paragraphs in a long conversation about science fiction. I talked with Gardner about science fiction for years, in different ways — face to face, or on message boards, discussing our different ideas about who should have won the Hugo in 1973 or whenever; month by month in our columns in Locus; or in the tables of contents of these books, each of us proposing lists of the best stories each year. I always looked eagerly for Gardner’s “list,” and his stories for me represented a different and completely interesting angle on what really mattered each year.

I already miss that voice.

Rich’s 2018 volume is so crammed with fiction that the publisher had no room for the traditional “About the Authors” and “Recommended Reading” sections in the print edition; instead they’ll make them available online for free at the Prime Books website (and in the ebook version). They’re not available yet — and in fact the Prime website looks like it hasn’t been updated since 2016? — but presumably they will be soon.

This year’s volume has stories by Samuel R. Delany, Rich Larson, Sarah Pinsker, Michael Swanwick, Peter Watts, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Charlie Jane Anders, Robert Reed, Maureen McHugh, Sofia Samatar, Yoon Ha Lee, Kameron Hurley, and many others. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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Birthday Reviews: Rick Norwood’s “Portal”

Saturday, August 4th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Todd Lockwood

Cover by Todd Lockwood

Rick Norwood was born on August 4, 1942.

Norwood published his first piece of fiction in 1972, following up with several stories in 1982, and then began publishing fiction again in 2003 with “Portal.” He was active in the nderground comic scene, editing God Comics and writing essays and articles for various comic magazines and websites. He also earned a Ph.D. in Mathematics and has taught since the early 1980s.

“Portal” appeared in the sixth issue of Black Gate magazine, released in Fall 2003 and edited by John O’Neill. The story has not been reprinted.

Ostensibly, “Portal” is the story of Ian, an escaped serf who is eluding capture and working temporarily at a fair for Stolnesserene, who runs a Blade Maze, a chance for people to try to reach into a box containing a series of razors and blades to retrieve a sword. However, rather than focus solely on Ian, the stories jumps between him, his boss, Ian’s friend Tod, and Carver, an art dealer who is also on the fair circuit and is intent on retrieving the blade from the maze.

Norwood follows each of these characters to some extent, but in a manner that indicates there is more to the story than he is sharing, not necessarily in background, although that clearly has depth, but in the future. As such, “Portal” almost comes across as a vignette rather than a full story. The title takes its name from an ability that Ian has to create portals that open to other worlds. These portals are not fully understood by the inhabitants of Ian’s world and when he first opens one accidentally, his father berates him. In the course of “Portal,” Ian enters one of the doorways he creates, which may be the first time someone has gone through and come back, further pushing the idea that this story is part of a larger whole.

“Portal” has the feel of the opening chapter of a much longer work, whether a series of short stories set in the same world or a novel. Norwood introduces several characters as well as their situations and includes prediction about Ian and Tod without showing how their fate will play out or even if they will live up to the expectation laid before them. Ian’s backstory opens “Portal,” and although his concern at being captured runs through much of the story, it isn’t picked up again, further providing the feel that Norwood is positioning this story as the opening of a novel.

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Amazon Selects the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year (So Far)

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Only Harmless Great Thing-small Artificial Condition The Murderbot Diaries-small The-Robots-of-Gotham-medium

Amazon has selected the Best Books of 2018 (so far) in a dozen different categories, including Mysteries & Thrillers, Comics & Graphic Novels, Literature and Fiction… and, of course, Science Fiction & Fantasy. The list includes several titles we’ve covered recently at Black Gate, including

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller
The Book of M by Peng Shepherd
Fire Dance by Ilana C. Myer
Before Mars by Emma Newman
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

and others. Best of all, it showcases a pair of Black Gate writers: Martha Wells’ Artificial Condition, the second installment of her wildly popular Murderbot series from Tor.com, and Todd McAulty’s breakout debut novel The Robots of Gotham. Check out all the details here.


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