A Tale of Alchemy and Magic in Gilded Age New York: The Last Magician Series by Lisa Maxwell

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Last Magician-small The Devil's Thief-small

I received a review copy of The Devil’s Thief a few months ago. It’s the second volume in Last Magician series by Lisa Maxwell, and I didn’t have a copy of the first one, last year’s The Last Magician.

But The Devil’s Thief still managed to capture my attention. Man, I hate that.

We covered Lisa Maxwell’s previous book, the Peter Pan homage Unhooked, back in 2016. But it was The Last Magician that really put her on the map, becoming an instant New York Times bestseller. The tale of a girl who travels back in time to find a mysterious book that could save her future, The Last Magician was called a “twisty tale of alchemy and magic in Gilded Age New York” by Cinda Williams Chima.

How do I know all this? Because I shelled out for a copy, because I’m a sucker. Here’s the description.

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Ouroboros: The Citadel of the Autarch by Gene Wolfe

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

I have no way of knowing whether you, who eventually will read this record, like stories or not. If you do not, no doubt you have turned these pages without attention. I confess that I love them. Indeed, it often seems to me that of all the good things in the world, the only ones humanity can claim for itself are stories and music; the rest, mercy, beauty, sleep, clean water and hot food (as the Ascian would have said) are all the work of the Increate. Thus, stories are small things indeed in the scheme of the universe, but it is hard not to love best what is our own—hard for me, at least.

— Severian

oie_1342155N3OR5AdvWith The Citadel of the Autarch (1983) the story ends where it began: Nessus, the great city of the Commonwealth. Severian is no longer a young torturer exiled for an act of mercy, but a figure of incredible power and importance. Realistic depictions of peace and war are interwoven with excursions into phantasmagoria. Severian encounters old friends as well as enemies, experiences mass combat, and meets the strange soldiers of the Commonwealth’s Orwellian enemy, Ascia. Told in Wolfe’s often elliptical style, there are the familiar hints of Clark Ashton Smith, the stench of Wolfe’s time during the Korean War, and a solid whiff of Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday.

At the end of the previous book, The Sword of the Lictor, Severian’s great sword, Terminus Est, was broken. So too, seemingly, the life-restoring Claw of the Conciliator he means to return to the religious order, the Pelerines. Searching for the blue gem’s pieces, he discovered that at its shattered heart was a simple thorn. The gem itself was mere glass.

Citadel begins with Severian continuing northward in search of the Pelerines and the front between the Commonwealth’s and Ascia’s armies. He soon meets the trailing edge of the Autarch’s armies: supply trains, cavalry patrols, and the scattered remains of the killed. As he pilfers supplies from one dead soldier he is struck by the callousness of his actions and by the contents of a letter written by the dead man to his beloved. He restores the corpse to life with the thorn from the Claw. Whether unable or unwilling to speak, the resurrected soldier travels with Severian until they finally come to a great field hospital run by the Pelerines.

Severian, it turns out, is suffering from a fever and is taken in by the ministering sisters. He strikes up a friendship with several fellow patients, a woman and three men who wish to marry her. And here, Citadel takes a storytelling detour. To choose a husband from among her suitors, Foila decides that whomever can tell the best story will win her hand. She asks Severian to act as judge. Each story has its own strengths, but it’s that of the Ascian prisoner I found the most interesting.

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Pyr Sold to Start Publishing

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

A Guile of Dragons-small Blood Orbit-small The Hanged Man K.D. Edwards-small

Publishers Weekly is reporting that Pyr, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of Prometheus Books, has been sold to digital publisher Start Publishing.

Under Editorial Director Lou Anders, who founded the line in March 2005, Pyr was one of the most dynamic and exciting independent publishers in the industry, acquiring books from Michael Moorcock, Ian McDonald, Kay Kenyon, Sean Williams, Alan Dean Foster, Adam Roberts, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Tim Lebbon, Paul McAuley, Brenda Cooper, Jack Dann, Ken MacLeod, Robert Silverberg, and many others. Pyr launched numerous talented new writers as well, including Black Gate authors James Enge, Chris Willrich, Jon Sprunk, and others. Lou left Pyr in 2014 to pursue his own writing career, but under new editor Rene Sears Pyr has continued to be a force in the industry, with a backlist of over 170 titles. Recent releases include K. R. Richardson’s Blood Orbit, Tracy Townsend’s Thieves of Fate series, and the excellent Nebula Awards Showcase anthologies; its forthcoming titles include K.D. Edwards The Hanged Man.

I’m not sure what this means for Pyr, and especially their print editions. But PW claims Start Publishing will continue the print versions, and retain at least two editors from Pyr and their sister crime fiction imprint Seventh Street Books.

Start Publishing began has an exclusively digital publisher but, through a series of acquisitions, now releases print editions as well. Start will publish both print and digital editions of the newly acquired titles. Jarred Weisfeld, president of Start, told PW two editors from Prometheus will stay on to continue to release frontlist titles under both imprints. Start will also hire a new public relations/marketing person to promote the two imprints.

Read the complete announcement here.

Sentient Starships, Cyborgs, and Eerie Horror: The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018 edited by N.K. Kemisin and John Joseph Adams

Monday, November 12th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018-small The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018-back-small

The Year’s Best season came to a close last month. It was a pretty spectacular year, with no less than 10 volumes from editors Rich Horton, Gardner Dozois, Neil Clarke, Jonathan Strahan, Paula Guran, Jane Yolen, Michael Kelly, David Afsharirad, and others. We’ve covered them all, and we close out 2018 with The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018. This is the fourth volume; the series is edited by John Joseph Adams with a different co-editor every year. His partner this year is N.K. Jemisin, who may be the most honored SF writer in the field at the moment, with three back-to-back-to-back Hugo wins under her belt.

This year’s volume received a rave review from Publishers Weekly. Here’s an excerpt.

An almost unheard-of diversity of tales absolutely sing in this superlative anthology of short speculative stories. Encompassing a wide range of styles and perspectives, the book swings gracefully from thoughtful superhero SF (“Destroy the City with Me Tonight” by Kate Alice Marshall) to nuanced horror based on Congolese mythology (“You will Always Have Family: A Triptych” by Kathleen Kayembe) to musings on the justice and the multiverse (“Justice Systems in Quantum Parallel Probabilities” by Lettie Prell) without a single sour note. A. Merc Rustad contributes “Brightened Star, Ascending Dawn,” a heartfelt piece about sentient spacecraft and found family, and Caroline M. Yoachim delves further into ideas of family and obligation with the windup characters of “Carnival Nine.” From the Chinese afterlife (“The Last Cheng Beng Gift” by Jaymee Goh) to a future of cyborgs run amok (“The Greatest One-Star Restaurant” by Rachael K. Jones), this anthology delivers.

As always, this volume contains 10 fantasy and 10 SF tales. This year’s contributors include Samuel R. Delany, Charlie Jane Anders, Carmen Maria Machado, Maureen F. McHugh, Caroline M. Yoachim, Peter Watts, Tobias S. Buckell, and two stories from Maria Dahvana Headley. Here’s the complete TOC.

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New Treasures: The Wastelanders by K.S. Merbeth

Sunday, November 11th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Wastelanders-small The Wastelanders-back-small

I was picking up some books at Sally Kobee’s table at the World Fantasy Convention when I spotted K.S. Merbeth’s The Wastelanders, with the cover blurb “A full throttle, sand-in-your-eyes, no-holds-barred ride through a Mad Max-style wasteland” (from Delilah S. Dawson). That got my attention, sure enough.

But I was bringing back too many books from the con as it was, so I put it back reluctantly. I finally got a copy on Friday, and I’m glad I did. Turns out The Wastelanders is an omnibus edition of two Orbit paperbacks, Bite and Raid, which share a gritty post-apocalyptic setting. Booklist gave a rave review to the first when it first appeared; here’s a snippet.

Merbeth’s action-driven debut introduces us to Kid, a teenage girl who has known no world other than this postnuclear apocalyptic one. She’s barely surviving alone after the death of her father. Knowing she should not trust strangers but too tired and hungry to care, Kid gets in a car with two ominous figures, the large, dreadlocked Wolf and the bright-blue-haired Dolly. And so begins a fast-paced ride through a barren world in which food and water are scarce, “Raiders” and “Sharks” rule the trade routes, and cannibalism is a real survival option. The first-person narration will leave readers hanging on Kid’s every word as she falls in with Wolf and his gang. The first battle scene comes immediately and is closely followed by another and then another, constantly escalating… Filled with dark humor, wit, and a realistic dystopian setting, Bite plays with the idea of who the good guys are in such a harsh world. Think Carl Hiaasen thriller set in a Mad Max world, and you have an idea of what to expect.

We covered Bite after it first appeared last year (and I note that I was just as intrigued by that cover blurb back then… at least I’m consistent). But I somehow managed to totally miss the sequel Raid, so I’m grateful for the chance to rectify that oversight now.

The Wastelanders was published by Orbit on October 16, 2018. It is 595 pages (including 22 pages of sample chapters from two other Orbit releases, Lilith Saintcrow’s Afterwar and Nicholas Sansbury Smith’s The Extinction Cycle), priced at $16.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover was designed by Lisa Marie Pompilio.

Birthday Reviews: Neil Gaiman’s “Snow, Glass, Apples”

Saturday, November 10th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Charles Vess

Cover by Charles Vess

Neil Gaiman was born on November 10, 1960.

Gaiman has received Hugo Awards for his novels American Gods and The Graveyard Book, his novella Coraline, his short story “A Study in Emerald,” and his Graphic Story The Sandman: Overture. Both American Gods and Coraline won the Nebula Award and Gaiman has also won the Bradbury Award from SFWA for his screenplay for the Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife.” His short story “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” part of his Sandman graphic novel, won the World Fantasy Award for Gaiman and collaborator artist Charles Vess. Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano won the Bram Stoker Award for The Sandman: Dream Hunters and Gaiman has also won the award for American Gods, Coraline, and The Sandman: Endless Nights. He won the British SF Association Award for Coraline and The Wolves in the Wall, the latter in collaboration with Dave McKean. His novelette “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” earned him a Shirley Jackson Award in 2011 and the anthology Stories: All New Tales earned him and collaborator Al Sarrantonio a second Shirley Jackson Award that same year. Gaiman’s work in both prose and comic has won him several other awards as well. He was the guest of Honor at Anticipation, the 67th Worldcon in Montreal in 2009. Gaiman has collaborated with numerous authors and artists for his work in comics and collaborated with Terry Pratchett on the novel Good Omens. Other prose fiction collaborators include Dave McKean, Kim Newman, Eugene Byrne, Gene Wolfe, Toby Litt, Alisa Kwitney, Jaime Delano, and Bryan Talbot.

Snow, Glass, Apples was originally published as a chapbook in 1995 by DreamHaven Press to support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow selected the story to appear in their anthology The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Eighth Annual Collection and Poppy Z. Brite included the story in her anthology Love in Vein II: Eighteen More Tales of Vampiric Erotica. The story was translated into Spanish in 1997 for inclusion in the July issue of the fanzine Artifex. Gaiman included it in his collection Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions, which was translated into French. The story has also been translated into Dutch. In 2007, Martin H. Greenberg included it in the anthology Women of the Night and John Joseph Adams used the story in his 2009 anthology By Blood We Live. The next year, it appeared in Peter S. Beagle’s anthology The Secret History of Fantasy. Gaiman adapted the story into a play in 2002 and that same year, he recorded the play along with another for HarperAudio. The story was also adapted into a play by the Edinburgh University Theatre Societty in 2012.

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Mystery, Megacorps, and a Murderous A.I.: The Shieldrunner Pirates by R. E. Stearns

Thursday, November 8th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Kirkus Reviews called Barbary Station, the opening novel in R.E. Stearns’ Shieldrunner Pirates trilogy, “Super cool… It mixes unpredictable mysteries, a murderous AI, space battles, [and] an awesome and fashionable Pirate Leader… a blend of Die Hard and The Illuminae Files.” Stearns’ debut featured two engineers who hijack a spaceship to join a band of space pirates, only to discover the pirates are hiding from a malevolent AI. We covered it enthusiastically last year.

The sequel Mutiny at Vesta arrived right on time last month, and it picks up the story without missing a beat. In her Tor.com review, Liz Bourke writes:

Stearns has written a worthy successor… If Barbary Station was a variant on the gothic novel in space (complete with a haunted house in the form of a space station), Mutiny at Vesta is a nested, layered series of capers in which Adda and Iridian work with limited resources and the pressure of time and other people’s competing priorities to pull off the damn-near impossible… Stearns writes measured, tense, and intense space opera, filled with a diverse selection of believable characters. I really enjoyed this book.

Here’s the publisher’s description.

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Sword Masters and Dangerous Texts: The Khorasan Archives by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Bloodprint-small The Black Khan-small

Ausma Zehanat Khan is the author of the contemporary thriller The Unquiet Dead and its four sequels, including The Language of Secrets and A Deadly Divide. The Khorasan Archives is a considerable departure for her: an ambitious four-volume secondary world fantasy. It opened last year with The Bloodprint, which S.A. Chakraborty (The City of Brass) called “wonderfully written… reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic Odyssey… this time with a pair of women warriors at the helm.”

The second volume, The Black Khan, arrived last month from Harper Voyager. I’m quite intrigued by this series, and may not be able to wait until it’s complete to dip into it. Here’s the back cover text for The Bloodprint.

The author of the acclaimed mystery The Unquiet Dead delivers her first fantasy novel — the opening installment in a thrilling quartet — a tale of religion, oppression, and political intrigue that radiates with heroism, wonder, and hope.

A dark power called the Talisman, born of ignorance and persecution, has risen in the land. Led by a man known only as the One-Eyed Preacher, it is a cruel and terrifying movement bent on world domination — a superstitious patriarchy that suppresses knowledge and subjugates women. And it is growing.

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In Which Severian Becomes Human: The Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_622120n9dhjJAUSeverian has finally arrived in the fortress town Thrax and taken up his duties as lictor, or “he who binds”, and jailor. More importantly, he serves in his trained capacity as torturer and executioner. It is his latter duties that lead to a rift between Severian and Dorcas. No matter how rationally he makes his case for legal torture and execution, she is more and more disturbed by his work. Eventually she leaves him and takes up residence in a tavern.

His refusal to employ his guild talents for the personal desire of Thrax’s ruler leads him to flee northward — that and the fiery salamander sent to kill him by an agent of his old nemesis, Agia. Severian hopes to return the life-restoring gem, the Claw of the Conciliator, to the traveling sisterhood from which Agia stole it back in the first book, The Shadow of the Torturer. With the revealing of several dire secrets, Dorcas leaves Severian to return to Nessus and uncover the truth of her past.

1980’s The Shadow of the Torturer is a coming-of-age tale of Severian’s passage into young adulthood and out of the safe confines of his guild’s tower. While Severian’s constant withholding of information makes his narration unreliable, the book still flows in a generally normal fashion — Severian has adventures during which he journeys from point A to point B.

1981’s The Claw of the Conciliator reads like little more than a series of someone else’s dreams and nightmares. There are powerful passages, but like dreams, their potency comes not from basic storytelling, but strange imagery and psychologically dislocating events. I’m still not sure how much of Wolfe’s story eluded me, even thinking back on it now, but there are sequences that I will not forget any time soon.

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Birthday Reviews: Catherine Asaro’s “Echoes of Pride”

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by James Gurney

Cover by James Gurney

Catherine Asaro was born on November 6, 1955.

Asaro has won the Nebula Award for Best Novel for The Quantum Rose and the Nebula Award for Best Novella for “The Spacetime Pool.” She has also won three Sapphire Awards, presented by the SF Romance Newsletter, for the novel Catch the Lightning and the stories “Aurora in Four Voices” and “Moonglow.” Asaro served as President of SFWA from 2003-2005.

“Echoes of Pride” was originally published in the anthology Space Cadets, edited by Mike Resnick and published by SCIFI to coincide with Loscon IV, the 2006 Worldcon. The story is based on a scene from Asaro’s 2004 novel Schism. The story was reprinted in the fifth issue of Galaxy’s Edge in November 2013.

Sauscony Valdoria, Soz, is a cadet in the Dieshan Military Academy, although she harbors a secret which even her closest bunkmates don’t know. When the Imperator, Kurj comes to inspect the troops, he seems to single Soz out for special treatment, ordering her to run an advanced obstacle course which is generally reserved for more advanced cadets.

Even as Soz follows her orders, she tries to figure out why the Imperator, her half-brother, is so focused on humiliating her. Is he trying to get her to wash out, picking on a half-sibling, or making her prove her mettle? Perhaps even more importantly to Soz, she is figuring out how to maintain her secret from her bunkmates, or even wondering if they will recognize how out of the ordinary Kurj’s interest in her is.

As a reworking of a chapter (13) from the 2004 novel Schism, the story clearly ties into a more complex work, yet at the same time, Asaro has managed to let it stand on its own. Without the surrounding novel, “Echoes of Pride” could almost be set in any military training milieu, the intricacies of Asaro’s universe only impinging on it in parts. The story as is offers up sibling rivalry as well as a warrior out to prove who she is and what she is capable of. Being part of a novel, the story can provide an introduction not only to Schism, but to Asaro’s wider works.

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