Birthday Reviews: Paul Cornell’s “Michael Laurits Is: Drowning”

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Donato Giancola

Cover by Donato Giancola

Paul Cornell was born on July 18, 1967.

Cornell’s short story “The Copenhagen Interpretation” was nominated for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award and won the British SF Association Award. His novella Witches of Lychford was also nominated for the British SF Association Award as well as the British Fantasy Award. He has been nominated for the Hugo Award nine times for Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form, Graphic Stories, Novelettes, and Fancasts, winning for both of his Fancast nominations as part of the SF Squeecast, with Lynne M. Thomas, Seanan McGuire, Elizabeth Bear, and Catherynne M. Valente. He won the 2007 Writers Guild of Great Britain Award for his work on the series Doctor Who.

“Michael Laurits Is: Drowning” was originally published in Eclipse Two: New Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Jonathan Strahan. In 2015, Cornell included the story in his collection A Better Way to Die: The Collected Short Stories.

When Michael Laurits’s friends are notified that the Nobel laureate is drowning via Lief, they mostly exhibit concern and shock, but other friends decide to try to do something about it. Laurits drowned when his research vessel in Japan’s Inland Sea came under attack as a casualty between Ground State Sanity and Obvious Caution Sanity, two rival atheist groups operating in Japan. Their dispute hinged on whether or not atheists should believe in a God who offered incontrovertible proof of existence.

Lief is a next generation of social media, however, and one of Laurits’s friends, David Savident, came up with the solution of having the drowning Laurits transfer his sensory processes into Lief’s computer array. The result is a virtual immortality for Laurits, living in the social media engine through which he previously had been connected to so much of the world. In his new form, Laurits is easily able to pass a Turing test and his wife vouches for his authenticity as a person.

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3 New Titles at Once: Rogue Blades Entertainment’s Ambitious New Agenda

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018 | Posted by Jason M 'RBE' Waltz

Crazy Town RBE Crossbows and Crosses

A few days back, Black Gate guru John O’Neill wrote perhaps one of the best articles to appear here during 2018. Then he invited me to comment further in my own post on behalf of Rogue Blades Entertainment’s latest titles. So let’s get to it!

One point I wish to make from the onset — all three of 2018’s open calls for submissions are for first-ofs for RBE. We have always intended to be the publisher of everything heroic action adventure (fiction and nonfiction), and we began with our first love — fantasy. Since we started up our presses with extreme, sword- and sorcery-slinging short story heroics, we often are considered a Sword-and-Sorcery publisher.

I love that, and utterly embrace the genre, but RBE is more than that, so I don’t want anyone confused as to our identity or aim. We publish heroics and deliver intense action adventure. Our byline “Putting the HERO back into HEROICS” isn’t just a cool soundbite — it’s what we do.

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A Ball of Confusion: Bleak Seasons by Glen Cook

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_16212649x4iuiFoAWith Bleak Seasons (1996), Glen Cook broke a six year hiatus from the series that had made his reputation as an important voice in epic fantasy. The previous book, Dreams of Steel (1990), had ended in chaos, with Lady and Croaker reunited, but their newborn daughter stolen by murderous Deceiver, Narayan Singh. The siege of Dejagore was finally lifted, but Soulcatcher remained at large and the Shadowmaster Longshadow continued to build his mega-fortress, Overlook, and field powerful armies. During that six very long years, I became increasingly doubtful I’d ever learn what happened next, or just what made the siege of Dejagore so horrible.

And then Bleak Seasons appeared — just showed up on a Barnes and Noble shelf one day. I bought and devoured it almost immediately. I couldn’t really say my questions had been answered since it had been so long since the last book I forgot some of them. On top of that, the book was a mess; its narrator literally jumping around in time with no clear rhyme or reason. That it was packed with tons of great stuff made it a frustrating read. All the good bits were enough to tilt it to the good side, and I trusted Cook enough to hope the next book would be a return to form.

My reread of the book over the last two days didn’t change my opinion one bit. Well, except that reading Bleak Seasons right up against Dreams of Steel does make all the cool stuff cooler. The jumping around in time, that remains frustrating and poorly explained and with little obvious justification.

Bleak Seasons opens with a short chapter that clearly tells us four years have passed and terrible things have happened. Based on the timelines in the previous book there would seem to be no way this could make sense unless something drastic had happened.

The second chapter introduces us to the book’s narrator, Murgen. The youngest member of the six Company survivors from the original trilogy, he was standard-bearer and, before the disaster under the walls of Dejagore, Annalist-in-training. He opens with a tour of the city of Dejagore during the siege and an introduction of the factions defending it against the army of the Shadowmaster Shadowspinner.

The Black Company and its Taglian auxiliaries have split into two camps. The first is composed of the Northerners and most of the men recruited on the road to Taglios, and is led by Murgen — because no one else wants to be in charge. The second, and stronger, is led by Mogaba and his fellow Gea-Xle warriors. Mogaba is not happy with the situation and soon it’s clear he has it in for Murgen and friends.

Mogaba, possessed of a will of steel and a willingness to do every single bloody act necessary, is the overall commander of the defense of Dejagore. As supplies dwindle, Mogaba routinely ejects members of the Jaicuri population to almost certain death. Later, it’s learned he has returned his fellow Gea-Xle to the darkest part of the Black Company’s origins as soldiers of Kina, the goddess of destruction.

The Nyueng Bao are a third party; a group of pilgrims from the distant Main River delta in the east who had the misfortune to be caught in Dejagore when the siege started. They are secretive, insular, and, it becomes clear quickly, dangerous. Finally, the native Jaicuri, peaceful by nature and beaten down by years of Shadowmaster rule, just try to stay on the good side of Mogaba’s and Murgen’s soldiers and hope for the best.

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Birthday Reviews: Cory Doctorow’s “Chicken Little”

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Pablo Defendini

Cover by Pablo Defendini

Cory Doctorow was born on July 17, 1971.

Doctorow won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2000. He has won the Prometheus Award three times, for his novels Little Bother, Pirate Cinema, and Homeland. Little Brother also won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, Golden Duck Award, the Emperor Norton Award, and the Sunburst Award. Doctorow had previously won the Sunburst Award for his collection A Place So Foreign and Eight More. He received the Copper Cylinder Award for the novel Homeland. His story “The Man Who Sold the Moon” received the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award in 2015. Doctorow is also one of the editors of the website Boing Boing.

Doctorow originally self-published “Chicken Little” in his collection With a Little Help through CorDoc-Co, Ltd., the company’s only project, in 2009. The next year it was included in Gateways, a Festschrift anthology celebrating the life and work of Frederik Pohl, edited by Pohl’s wife, Elizabeth Anne Hull. On April 6, 2011, the story appeared on Tor.com, edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Liz Gorinsky. Gardner Dozois included the story in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Eight Annual Collection. Nielsen Hayden and David G. Hartwell chose the story for their anthology Twenty-First Century Science Fiction, published in 2013.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from and you me.” Cory Doctorow takes this statement to the extreme in “Chicken Little.” Leon works for an ad company whose sole purpose it to figure out what product can be sold to one of the super-rich quadrillionnaires who live in vats, having shuffled off their human bodies, but not their mortal coils.

When it becomes clear to Leon that he issn’t doing anything useful at the company, he began delving into what everyone else at the agency is working on, trying to build up a complete picture and unable to come up with any leads. This approach, however, brings him to the attention of Ria, a representative for Buhle, one of the super-rich. Ria gives Leon insight into the levels of mechanization the super-rich employ.

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New Treasures: The Reign of the Departed by Greg Keyes

Monday, July 16th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Reign of the Departed-small The Reign of the Departed-back-small

Greg Keyes is no stranger to epic fantasy. He’s the author of the Age of Unreason series, The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, and the Children of the Changeling novels. For much of the past two decades he’s made his living primarily through media tie-in novels, including Star Wars, Elder Scrolls, XCOM, Babylon 5, Independence Day, Pacific Rim, Planet of the Apes, and others.

So I was pleased to see a major new release from him on the shelf at Barnes & Noble last month. The Reign of the Departed is the opening novel in a new dark fantasy series, The High and Faraway, which features a golem, a giant, a ghost and a wizard, on the run from a Sheriff and his shapeshifting posse. Carolyn Cushman at Locus says:

Errol Greyson says he didn’t intend to commit suicide – but he wakes in a body carved of wood and joined by wire and bolts, and his classmate Aster tells him his real body’s in a coma. She’s originally from another world, and needs to re­turn there for the magic water of health to save her father, and maybe help Errol. For her quest, she needs three companions: one mostly dead (Errol), one completely dead, and a giant – so off they go to find a local ghost, Veronica, a girl who’s been dead for 30 years. Errol goes along, stumbling through a series of strange adventures in a world of nightmarish creatures, curses, and transformations, where twisted fairy tale elements mix with Weird Western bits, and some references to Pinocchio. At times the story reads like YA fiction, with its messed-up young protagonists and recurring theme of bad parents, but it’s a dark tale; not horror, exactly, but seriously twisted and dramatic…

The Reign of the Departed was published by Night Shade on June 19, 2018. It is 348 pages, priced at $14.99 for both the trade paperback and digital versions. The cover is by Micah Epstein. Read more at the Night Shade website.


Birthday Reviews: Esther M. Friesner’s “Miranda’s Muse”

Monday, July 16th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Treachery and Treason

Treachery and Treason

Esther M. Friesner was born on July 16, 1951.

Friesner has won the Nebula Award for her short stories “Death and the Librarian” and “A Birthday,” the latter of which was also nominated for the Hugo Award. She has also received nominations for the Gaylactic Spectrum Award and the James Tiptree, Jr. Memorial Award. In 1994, she was the recipient of the Skylark Award, presented by NESFA.

“Miranda’s Muse” was written for Laura Anne Gilman and Jennifer Heddle’s anthology Treachery and Treason. The story has not been reprinted.

Miranda Ford is a highly successful romance author who seemed to lead a perfect life with her husband, Alan. After Alan’s death, however, Miranda finds herself suffering from writer’s block and, more importantly, is confronted by her new agent, Billy Samson, about the extremely overdue manuscript her publisher is clamoring for. Billy quickly learns that Alan was very definitely Miranda’s muse. His poor and boorish behavior provided her with all the villains in her novels, with barely any modifications. Billy offers Miranda a solution that she can’t believe. He explains that he is a necromancer and can bring Alan back from the dead.

Although Miranda doesn’t believe Billy will be successful, she accompanies him to the graveyard and watches as he brings her husband back to life, or at least unlife, using an incantation analogous to a high school football cheer. While Alan’s partial resurrection is potentially good for her career, Miranda didn’t question Billy too closely about the specifics, and Billy didn’t offer the information, so everything that happens next –Billy’s binding of Alan and Miranda, the rules that govern their new relationship, and the fact that Alan is no longer jealous of Miranda’s success — all come as a surprise.

Feeling betrayed by Billy, Miranda’s vengeance on him also backfires, but in the end, she and Billy are able to work out a new, amicable working relationship and, perhaps, even a level of mutual respect. Although Alan was a horrific human, and likely to remain that way as a revenant, Miranda isn’t a whole lot better herself, but she is also Billy’s meal ticket if he wants to be a successful agent.

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A Relative Journey: Starflight 3000 by R.W. Mackelworth

Sunday, July 15th, 2018 | Posted by Tony Den

Starflight 3000-Balllentine

Cover by Chris Foss

While perusing the shelves of Bookdealers of Rosebank, in Johannesburg, an excellent shop that sadly closed its doors a while back, I came across a nondescript book with an unbent spine. Finding a used paperback of any age with a good-as-new spine is a rarity, and I was drawn to it.

I slipped it from its recess and took a closer look. It was a Ballantine paperback with an intriguing space ship on a wrap around cover. The title was Starflight 3000 by R.W. Mackelworth.

I had never heard of Mackelworth, but then again I am not the best informed on science fiction authors. While I was impressed with its pristine condition, it also set off some warning bells. Why was it unread? Was the story that bad? But hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained. And besides, it was a very reasonable price. I bundled it with some other selections and headed to the cashier.

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Barry Malzberg on the Pocket Best of…. Volumes

Sunday, July 15th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Barry MalzbergOn Friday I wrote here about the Best of collections from Pocket Books published in the late 70s, which featured Robert Silverberg, Poul Anderson, Walter M. Miller, and many others. Most had introductions by Barry Malzberg, the respected editor who’d helmed Amazing and Fantastic (and future editor of the SFWA Bulletin), and I wondered aloud if the books had been edited (or ghost-edited) by Malzberg.

Reader Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, author of Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg, leaped into action. “I asked Barry if he did the editing & teaser texts, per your speculation,” he told me. “Here’s his answer, which he said was fine to share.” Based on the comments on that post, I thought you lot might be as interested as I was, so here’s Barry’s reply.

The eight Best of collections were conceived by Robt. Gleason, the sf editor at the time [my novel] Beyond Apollo was acquired for sublicense from Random House and he remained there from 1972-1976. Those collections were acquired by him; he was fired in 1974 (went over to Playboy Press) and succeeded by his young assistant (b. 1952) Adele Leone Hull.

It was her idea to commission me for the eight Introductions (at $75 apiece!) and she wrote the cover copy; I had nothing to do with the collections beyond the Introductions. Hull was the sf editor at Pocket Books until 1978, went over very briefly to Pyramid and when Pyramid in 1979 was fully absorbed (under the Jove imprint) into Harcourt she became an agent.

That’s the first confirmation I have that there were eight volumes in the series with a Malzberg intro (I count at least 10 overall), so I’m doubly grateful to Alvaro for passing that along. Our previous coverage of Barry includes my thoughts on his collections Astounding Science Fiction in the 1950s and Bug-Eyed Monsters (both co-edited by Bill Pronzini), and his novel Underlay.


Future Treasures: Annex by Rich Larson

Saturday, July 14th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Annex Rich Larson-smallIf you’ve been paying attention at all to short fiction recently you’ve likely come across Ottawa author Rich Larson. He burst onto the scene in late 2012, and over the past six years he’s sold over 100 stories — that’s more than one per month. He’s appeared virtually everywhere, including Interzone, Asimov’s SF, Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Tor.com, Apex, Analog, F&SF, Lightspeed, OMNI, and anthologies like Infinity Wars, Upgraded, The Book of Swords, and Clockwork Phoenix 5.

In 2016 Jonathan Strahan proclaimed “this year seems to belong to Rich Larson and Dominica Phetteplace, both of whom have had fine stories in a range of publications,” and Gardner Dozois called him “one of the best new writers to enter science fiction in more than a decade.” His work has appeared in numerous Year’s Best anthologies, including five different 2018 volumes from Rich Horton, Neil Clarke, Jonathan Strahan, David Afsharirad, and Gardner Dozois. Anticipation for his debut novel Annex has been extremely high, and it arrives this month from Orbit.

In Rich Larson’s astonishing debut Annex, only outsiders can fight off the true aliens.

At first it is a nightmare. When the invaders arrive, the world as they know it is destroyed. Their friends are kidnapped. Their families are changed.

Then it is a dream. With no adults left to run things, Violet and the others who have escaped capture are truly free for the first time. They can do whatever they want to do. They can be whoever they want to be.

But the invaders won’t leave them alone for long…

This thrilling debut by one of the most acclaimed short form writers in science fiction tells the story of two young outsiders who must find a way to fight back against the aliens who have taken over her city.

Rich’s first collection, Tomorrow Factory, will also be released in October from Talos Press. Get more details here.

Annex, the opening book in The Violet Wars, will be published by Orbit Books. It is 368 pages, priced at $15.99 in trade paperback and $4.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Greg Manchess. Check out the intriguing cover reveal at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog.


Birthday Reviews: Edo van Belkom’s “The October Crisis”

Saturday, July 14th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Barclay Shaw

Cover by Barclay Shaw

Edo van Belkom was born on July 14, 1962.

Van Belkom won the Bram Stoker Award for his short story “Rat Food,” co-written with David Nickle. He has won the Aurora Award three times, for the short story “Hockey’s Night in Canada,” for editing Be VERY Afraid!, and for his novel Wolf Pack. He has written erotica under the pseudonym Evan Hollander and has written at least two Deathlands novels using the James Axler house name.

In the 1990s Mike Resnick published several alternate history anthologies, including Alternate Tyrants, which took various world leaders and put them in a situation which allowed them to exercise their dictatorial desires. Edo van Belkom’s submission was “The October Crisis,” a Canadian alternate history which has never been reprinted.

“The October Crisis” of the title of Edo van Belkom’s alternate history was a period that lasted for most of October in 1970 when members of the Front de libération du Québec took hostages in Quebec in an attempt to forward their separatist movement. While Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau implemented the War Measures Act, permitting himself a wide range of powers, the measures expired in November in our own timeline. In the world of van Belkom’s story, Trudeau continued to use the powers to suppress any dissent, political or journalistic.

The story follows our own timeline pretty closely until Trudeau decides to use the acts powers against the kidnappers directly, and also orders the secretive murder of the released kidnapping victim in order to drum up further support for his policies. At this point in the story, van Belkom switches point of view to have the leader of the opposition, Robert Stanfield, describing Trudeau’s excessive actions to Richard Nixon to attempt to get the US to intervene in the growing tyranny in Canada. Van Belkom introduces some ambiguity at this point, leaving the question open as to whether Nixon will respond to Stanfield’s pleas to help, or give into his own tyrannical tendencies to model his own manner of leading the US after the policies instituted by Trudeau.

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