Three Miles Around but Infinitely Deep: Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019 | Posted by James Van Pelt

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Here’s a shout-out for one of my favorite books, Robert Holdstock’s amazing, 1985, World Fantasy award winning novel Mythago Wood. Holdstock’s book dovetailed neatly with my other favorite of that time, David Brin’s The Postman.

I really can’t recommend Mythago Wood enough. In a time when everyone else was echoing Tolkien, Holdstock created a completely different take on fantasy (rural fantasy — if that’s a genre). I loved this story of two brothers, their estranged and absent father, and a patch of wood that was only three miles around but infinitely deep.

Of all the books I’ve read, none has impacted me as strongly at the end as this novel. Endings are hard, so when I read a perfect one, I take notice.

Stylistically, Holdstock nailed it too. I didn’t notice the smoothness and rhythm of his work at first, but on subsequent rereads I paid much more attention to his sentence and paragraph building. He has taught me a lot. If you are looking for an outstanding read to start your 2019, give Mythago Wood a try.

I’m always looking for my next, great novel. Do you have a recommendation of a book that exists in your personal canon of classics?


The 2019 Philip K. Dick Nominees

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Alien Virus Love Disaster-small Time Was Ian McDonald-small THE BODY LIBRARY by Jeff Noon-small

The nominees for the 2019 Philip K. Dick Award, given each year for distinguished science fiction originally published in paperback in the United States, have been announced. They are (links will take you to our previous coverage):

Time Was by Ian McDonald (Tor.com)
The Body Library by Jeff Noon (Angry Robot)
84K by Claire North (Orbit)
Alien Virus Love Disaster: Stories by Abbey Mei Otis (Small Beer Press)
Theory of Bastards by Audrey Schulman (Europa Editions)
Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories by Vandana Singh (Small Beer Press)

Special shout-out to Small Beer Press for placing two fine collections on the ballot.

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Future Treasures: Fog Season, Book II of Tales of Port Saint Frey by Patrice Sarath

Monday, January 14th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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I was proud to publish Patrice Sarath’s short story “A Prayer for Captain LaHire” in Black Gate 4, and see it reprinted in Year’s Best Fantasy 3 (2003). She turned to novels with the popular Gordath Wood trilogy (Gordath Wood, Red Gold Bridge, and The Crow God’s Girl). But her real breakthrough came last year with her first release from Angry Robot, The Sisters Mederos, the tale of a once-great family fallen on hard times, and the two sisters — one a masked bandit, and another with secret supernatural powers — who reverse their family’s downfall. Louisa Morgan (A Secret History of Witches) called it:

A colorful Dickensian fantasy that leads the reader on an unpredictable path of murder, intrigue, and mystery… It’s a tale of magic lost and recovered, fortunes made and squandered, and broken lives healed, all of it engineered by Yvienne and Tesara, two resourceful and delightful protagonists, in the company of some charming and often dangerous sidekicks.

Publishers Weekly gave it a rousing review saying,

The young women, newly returned from boarding school to a fantasy version of a preindustrial European port city, are determined to restore their family’s fortune and revenge themselves on the corrupt Merchant’s Guild, whose machinations lie behind House Mederos’s downfall. Yvienne, “the smartest girl in Port Saint Frey,” provokes through newspaper editorials, takes a governess job as an entrée into the houses of the powerful, and eventually discovers the excitement of committing armed robbery. Tesara, who conceals supernatural powers that she blames for the shipwreck that ruined her family, ingratiates herself with the upper classes at gambling tables… [The] heroines are entertaining company, and the dynamic between the two sisters — occasionally contentious, often secretive, always loving — is the most enjoyable part of this effervescent tale.

I’m delighted to see the sequel, Fog Season, scheduled to arrive February 5, less than a year after the release of the first, and I hope it’s the sign of more to come. Here’s the description.

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A Gritty Medieval Fantasy of Battles, Treachery, and Monsters: The Tales of Durand by David Keck

Sunday, January 13th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

In the Eye of Heaven-small In a Time of Treason-small A King in Cobwebs-small

The Christmas break, traditionally my longest reading holiday of the year, is over, and it’ll be a month or two at least before I can contemplate tackling another epic fantasy trilogy. But it’s not too early to start stacking by my bedside in preparation.

I’ve already picked out a promising series to start the new stack: David Keck’s Tales of Durand. Publishers Weekly praised the first book, In the Eye of Heaven (2006) as a “winning debut, a gritty medieval fantasy full of enchantment… deftly told,” and called the sequel, In a Time of Treason (2008) “grand-scale storytelling.” But they reserve their strongest praise for the long-awaited concluding volume A King in Cobwebs, saying

Keck concludes his Tales of Durand trilogy with this superlative fantasy epic, which sees the warrior Durand Col take his place among battles and treachery that threaten the kingdom of Errest the Old. Durand stands as champion to Abravanal, Duke of Gireth and holder of the Duchy of Yrlac. Although the Yrlacies are restless under Abravanal’s rule, the duke is commanded to ride with his household to the Fellwood Marches by his unhinged king, Ragnal. Yrlaci rebels harry the soldiers of Gireth on the road to the Fellwood, and, once there, they are chased by the inhuman host of maragrim, “hideous in their innumerable deformities.” … Keck sends the stalwart Durand through darkness and a lost land, facing terrors and beset by the dead. Human politics and dreadful foes are combined in this tale that stands with the very best fantasies.

A King in Cobwebs was published by Tor Books on December 4, 2018. It is 444 pages, priced at $28.99 in hardcover, $17.99 in trade paperback, and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by David Grove. Read an excerpt from In the Eye of Heaven here, and see all our recent coverage of the best in new fantasy series here.


New Treasures: Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

Saturday, January 12th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Occupy Me-smallTricia Sullivan is the author of Lethe (1995), a Locus Award nominee for Best First Novel, Someone to Watch Over Me (1997), and the Clarke Award-winning Dreaming in Smoke (1998). Her latest novel is something different — the tale of an angel on Earth who gets caught up in a tale of international intrigue, and much more. Here’s the description.

A woman with wings that exist in another dimension. A man trapped in his own body by a killer. A briefcase that is a door to hell. A conspiracy that reaches beyond our world. Breathtaking SF from a Clarke Award-winning author.

Tricia Sullivan has written an extraordinary, genre defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over.

And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.

It was Mahvesh Murad’s Tor.com review of the original Gollancz UK edition that first intrigued me. Here’s the money quote.

Occupy Me is full to bursting with intriguing ideas and concepts, philosophy and complex physics. It’s high concept and heady. It’s also got a lot of humour… Sullivan takes the whole ‘strong female protagonist’ to a literal level too, giving Pearl massive physical strength (she can lift a truck!), the ability to fly and pure, brute will to survive and make things right. She’s a likeable character, easy to relate to even though her origins are mysterious and shrouded.

Occupy Me is… clever and complex and forces you to think outside of your comfort zone. It’s a thriller, complete with international hijinks, corporate corruption and an evil megalomaniac. What it isn’t is a standard paranormal fantasy featuring angels — it’s much more compelling in its originality.

Occupy Me was published by Titan Books on September 4, 2018. It is 361 pages, priced at $14.95 in trade paperback and $8.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Sidonie Beresford-Browne. See all our recent New Treasures here.


Vintage Treasures: Stories of the Supernatural by Dorothy L. Sayers

Friday, January 11th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Stories of the Supernatural Dorothy Sayers-small Stories of the Supernatural Dorothy Sayers-back-small

I stumbled across a copy of Stories of the Supernatural in a paperback collection I acquired a few months ago, and fell in love with it immediately. Partly it’s the great table of contents — eleven classic tales of supernatural horror by E. F. Benson, Arthur Machen, Saki, Charles Dickens, W. W. Jacobs, and others. And partly it’s the early 60s, breathlessly over-the-top marketing copy (“Read it in the daytime… and hope your blood will unfreeze by the time the terrors of the night steal in.”)

But chiefly it’s the knockout cover by Richard Powers. Huge swatches of color, giant staring faces, and a dark backdrop reminiscent of deep space… that’s classic Powers all right. I don’t know what it is I find so deeply satisfying about settling down in my big green chair with a vintage paperback anthology from a great editor, but whatever it is, the feeling is significantly amplified by a Powers cover.

Speaking of great editors, the one on duty here is Dorothy L. Sayers. She had a surprising assortment of genre anthologies to her credit, such as Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery and Horror (1928) and its two follow-on volumes. Two of her later paperback anthologies, Human and Inhuman Stories (1963) and Stories of the Supernatural (1963), both released posthumously, were selections from her massive 1929 anthology The Omnibus of Crime, a 1,177-page Harcourt hardcover. I’m very glad I found Stories of the Supernatural, but I’m even more pleased that it led me to discover The Omnibus of Crime, which is a truly monumental survey of early crime fiction (even if it doesn’t have a Power cover).

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Andre Norton Wrote Scarface

Wednesday, January 9th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Scarface Andre Norton-small Scarface Andre Norton-back-small

Andre Norton wrote Scarface.

No, no. Not the Al Pacino gangster classic directed by Brian De Palma. I mean the 1948 pirate novel, whose full title is Scarface, being the story of one Justin Blade, late of the pirate isle of Tortuga, and how fate did justly deal with him, to his great profit.

Scarface was published early in her career. Like, very early. It was her fifth novel, written four years before her first science fiction novel, Star Man’s Son, 2250 A.D (1952), and decades before she became the first female SFWA Grand Master in 1984. But it was very well received, getting a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, among other accolades, and eventually being reprinted in a beautifully designed paperback edition from Comet in September 1949 (above). The Comet paperback was copiously illustrated by Lorence Bjorklund — see below for a sample of some of the eye-catching interiors.

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Future Treasures: The Numina Trilogy by Charlie N. Holmberg

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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I think I first discovered Charlie N. Holmberg back in June 2015, while compiling a list of the most interesting fantasy releases of the month. The Master Magician, third in her (yes, Charlie is a her) Wall Street Journal bestselling Paper Magician trilogy was released that month, and it piqued my curiosity. Fast forward to 2019, and Charlie is fast tracking a brand new trilogy, with the first novel Smoke and Summons due February 1st, followed by Myths and Mortals less than three months later on April 16, 2019. They’re the first two installments of The Numina Trilogy, set in a world of monsters and magic. Here’s the blurb for the first book.

As a human vessel for an ancient spirit, Sandis lives no ordinary life. At the command of her master, she can be transformed against her will into his weapon — a raging monster summoned to do his bidding. Unlike other vessels, Sandis can host extremely powerful spirits, but hosting such creatures can be fatal. To stay alive, she must run. And in a city fueled by smoke and corruption, she finds a surprising ally.

A cunning thief for hire, Rone owns a rare device that grants him immortality for one minute every day — a unique advantage that will come in handy in Sandis’s fight for freedom. But Sandis’s master knows how powerful she is. He’s determined to get her back, and he has the manpower to find her, wherever she runs.

Now, to outwit her pursuers, Sandis must put all her trust in Rone and his immortal device. For her master has summoned more than mere men to hunt her down…

No news on the third book, but you can keep an eye on her website for updates. Smoke & Summons will be published by 47North on February 1, 2019. It is 365 pages, priced at $24.95 in hardcover, $14.95 in trade paperback, and $4.99 for digital editions. Myths and Mortals arrives April 16, 2019 with the same pricing; no word on page count yet. The covers are by Marina Muun.

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


Solving Crimes in a War-Torn Tokyo: Ninth Step Station, created by Malka Older

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Serial Box is one of the most exciting new genre publishers to arrive on the scene in the past few years. They’ve brought a very old concept — serialized fiction — into the 21st Century, and attracted an incredible line-up of top-notch writers to give it new life. So how does it work? Serial Box offers multiple stories in a rich variety of genres, and they release new episodes every week. Each serial typically runs for a “season” of 10-16 weeks, and each is written by a team of talented writers. Just check out this list of contributors: Max Gladstone, Amal El-Mohtar, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Ian Tregillis, Michael Swanwick, Mary Robinette Kowal, Brenda Clough, Michael R. Underwood, Marie Brennan, Alyssa Wong, Paul Cornell, Paul Tremblay, Christopher Golden, Yoon Ha Lee, Becky Chambers, and many, many more. The stories are easy to jump into, individual episodes are standalone (but contribute to a larger story arc), and each episode is available in ebook and audio formats, and takes about 40 minutes to enjoy.

Their newest serial Ninth Step Station launches this week. Created by Malka Older and written by Older, Fran Wilde, Jacqueline Koyanagi, and Curtis C. Chen, Ninth Step Station is the tale of two unlikely partners in a future Tokyo who solve a series of murders. Here’s the description.

A local cop. A US Peacekeeper. A divided Tokyo.
In the future, two mismatched cops must work together to solve crimes in a divided Tokyo.

Years of disaster and conflict have left Tokyo split between great powers. In the city of drone-enforced borders, bodymod black markets, and desperate resistance movements, US peacekeeper Emma Higashi is assigned to partner with Tokyo Metropolitan Police Detective Miyako Koreda. Together, they must race to solve a series of murders that test their relationship and threaten to overturn the balance of global power. And amid the chaos, they each need to decide what they are willing to do for peace.

Ninth Step Station is only one of the many offerings from Serial Box. Here’s a few of the others.

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Rescued from the Vaults of Time: The Sapphire Goddess – The Fantasies of Nictzin Dyalhis

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_801451Zc9o2K4DDave Ritzlin, impresario of DMR Books, has rescued another writer from the distant, fog-obscured days of pulp fantasy. He has done for Nictzin Dyalhis as he did for the nearly-forgotten Clifford Ball (reviewed by me here). If you, like most people, have no idea who Dyalhis was, Ritzlin presents as much information as is available in an excellent introduction to The Sapphire Goddess (2018), his new collection of all nine of the author’s fantasy and science fiction stories.

A quote from the introduction:

Even though Nictzin Dyalhis was the eccentric author’s legal name at that time, it’s highly unlikely he was named that way at birth. He claimed that “Nictzin” was a Toltec Indian name and “Dyalhis” was an old English (or, alternately, Welsh) surname. Neither of these claims is true. Many speculated that his real name was Nicholas Douglas or Nicholas Dallas or something similar, which he modified into something more exotic.

Nonetheless, Weird Tales publisher Farnsworth Wright swore to Donald Wandrei that all the checks for Dyalhis’s stories “were made out to that name.” Whatever the reality, there’s something wonderfully perfect about a fantasist being remembered solely by a name of mysterious origins.

The nine stories in The Sapphire Goddess were published between 1925 and 1940. Eight were published in Weird Tales, with only “He Refused to Stay Dead” published in another magazine, Ghost Stories. Save for the explicitly sci-fi “When the Green Star Waned” and its sequel “The Oath of Hul Jok”, they are a mix of horror and heroic fantasy. Running through most of them is a theme of reincarnation or forgotten past lived in another dimension.

“When the Green Star Waned” (1925) and “The Oath of Hul Jok” (1928) are two adventures of the planet Venhez’s greatest heroes. The first concerns a journey to the now-silent planet Aerth to determine why no one’s heard anything from its inhabitants in years. Dyalhis’s first published story, it’s not an especially finely-wrought story, but it is very successful at creating a nightmare atmosphere, made all the more malevolent with horrible semi-material monsters from the dark side of the moon. It also seems to have introduced the word Blastor for ray guns. That alone is a more than worthy legacy for any pulp story.

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