Birthday Reviews: Adam-Troy Castro’s “MS Found Paper-Clipped to a Box of Jujubes”

Sunday, May 20th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Amy Sterling

Cover by Amy Sterling

Adam-Troy Castro was born on May 20, 1960.

Castro has been nominated for the Nebula Award 8 times in the three short fiction categories, beginning with a Best Novella nomination for “The Funeral March of the Marionettes” and most recently for the novella “With Unclean Hands.” “The Funeral March of the Marionettes” was also nominated for the Hugo Award, and Castro later shared a Hugo nomination with Jerry Oltion for “The Astronaut from Wyoming.” Castro and Oltion would go on to win the Seiun Award for “The Astronaut from Wyoming” in 2007. He won the Philip K. Dick Award for the novel Emissaries from the Dead in 2009. Four of his stories have topped the Analog Readers Poll, including “The Astronaut from Wyoming,” “Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl’s,” “With Unclean Hands,” and “The Coward’s Option.”

“MS. Found Paper-Clipped to a Box of Jujubes” was an original story included in Castro’s 2000 collection An Alien Darkness. It is the only time it has been published and was one of three stories first published in that collection.

It is only natural to look at a Ferris wheel and think about what would happen if it broke loose from its moorings. Of course, the reality of the situation would be deadly and horrific, but Castro paints a more surrealistic scene in “MS Found Paper-Clipped to a Box of Jujubes.”

Joe and Mary Sue are riding on a Ferris wheel, ignoring pretty much everything except for each other, when the wheel jumps from its holder and begins to roll down the midway and eventually out of the fairgrounds, gaining speed as its goes and causing Mary Sue to fall out of the wheel (unharmed). Joe just goes along for the ride as police try to stop the runaway wheel, treating it more like a speeding driver than anything else. Eventually, the wheel goes on to achieve cross-dimensional status and the wheel’s riders begin to work to regain control of the ride.

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Win One of Ten Copies of Todd McAulty’s The Robots of Gotham

Saturday, May 19th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Robots of Gotham cover wrap-small

Todd McAulty was the most popular writer to appear in the print version of Black Gate magazine. Locus said “Todd McAulty is Black Gate‘s great discovery,” and in their wrap-up of our entire 15-issue run, Free SF Reader wrote: “McAulty appears to be world class… If I was crazy enough to want to be an editor, I’d be trying to poach him, or wheedle work out of him, or kidnap him and have him chained up and guarded by a woman with blunt weaponry.”

We’ve been waiting for a long time for a full-length novel from Mr. McAulty, and at long last the wait is almost over. His massive debut The Robots of Gotham, a fast-paced thriller set in a world on the verge of total subjugation by machines, will be published next month by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Early buzz has been mounting fast — Julie E. Czerneda calls it “Incredible,” Publishers Weekly says it “maintains breathless momentum throughout,” James Enge says it’s “The sort of book that makes people SF addicts for life,” and bestselling author Daniel H. Wilson calls it “A thrilling ride.” Early reviews from the public have been breathless as well — Joe Crowe was the very first to rate it at Goodreads, saying,

The whole story is a thrilling action flick in book form, with cool robots and conspiracies and things blowing up. Read it while walking in slow-motion away from an explosion.

You’ll have to wait until June 19th to buy the hardcover…. or if you can’t wait, jump over to The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, where they’re giving away 10 advance copies! You’ll need a Twitter account to be eligible, but how hard can that be? Easier than surviving the coming robot apocalypse, that’s for sure. While you’re contemplating, click the image above to see the beautiful ‘splosiony cover in full detail, with the end flap text and all those cool blurbs.

The Robots of Gotham will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/John Joseph Adams Books on June 19, 2018. It is 688 pages, priced at $26 in hardcover and $12.99 for the digital version. The cover was designed by Mark R. Robinson. Get all the details here.


Birthday Reviews: Wendy Rathbone’s “The Beautiful People”

Saturday, May 19th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by J.K. Potter

Cover by J.K. Potter

Wendy Rathbone was born on May 19, 1960.

Although Rathbone has published several short stories and some novels, she may be best known for her poetry, which has been collected in Moon Canoes: The Selected Poetry of Wendy Rathbone, Autumn Phantom, Turn Left at November, Dead Starships, and Unearthly: The Collected Poetry of Wendy Rathbone. Rathbone’s poetry has been on the Rhysling ballot three times.

The only publication of “The Beautiful People” was in the 1998 anthology Bending the Landscape: Science Fiction, edited by Nicola Griffith and Stephen Pagel.

Rathbone’s story looks at the relationship between Noah, a plain bartender, and Tam, the talented and attractive singer in a band. Both characters are outliers in a world in which people can undergo treatment to improve their looks and gain the appearance of perpetual youth. Noah refrains because he blames the treatments for his sister’s suicide and Tam avoids the treatment because he feels he doesn’t need them to look good.

As their relationship progresses, including marriage, Noah remains steadfast in his belief that the treatment is wrong and takes something out of people, while Tam seems to be increasingly concerned about his own imperfections, which Noah describes as extremely minor. However, Tam is a performer and feels the need to keep up with his competition and his bandmates, all of whom have undergone the treatment and are “naturally” impeccable, while he needs to groom himself to achieve even a semblance of a perfection he doesn’t feel.

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In 500 Words or Less: Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis C. Chen

Friday, May 18th, 2018 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

Waypoint Kangaroo-small Kangaroo Too-small

Waypoint Kangaroo
By Curtis C. Chen
St. Martin’s Press (320 pages, $25.99 hardcover, $13.99 eBook, June 2016)

I met Curtis C. Chen at my first time out to the Nebulas (about this time last year), and I remember chatting with him in the con suite about Waypoint Kangaroo and its sequel, Kangaroo Too. The premise alone was enough for me to add it to my reading list right away: a covert agent in the near-future forced to go on vacation to Mars, but who can’t seem to avoid trouble. Oh, and he can open a window to a pocket dimension at will, which is why he’s so valuable – because otherwise, he’s a bit of a screw-up. But you know how reading lists get; they’re huge, and I never quite got to reading Waypoint, and felt like a jerk when I hung out with Curtis again at Can*Con and still hadn’t picked it up.

Now that I finally have, I feel even more like a jerk. Why?

Because the next time I write a science fiction adventure novel, I want to do it like Curtis C. Chen.

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Birthday Reviews: Jonathan Maberry’s “Red Dreams”

Friday, May 18th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Dead Man's Hand

Dead Man’s Hand

Jonathan Maberry was born on May 18, 1958.

Maberry won the 2007 Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel for Ghost Road Blues, which was also nominated for Best Novel. The next year he won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Nonfiction with David F. Kramer for their book The Cryptopedia: A Dictionary of the Weird, Strange & Downright Bizarre. In 2012, he won the Bram Stoker for Best Young Adult Novel for Dust & Decay, and again the following year for Flesh & Bone. In 2015, he shared a Bram Stoker Award for Best Graphic Novel with Tyler Crook for Bad Blood.

“Red Dreams” original appeared in Dead Man’s Hand: An Anthology of the Weird West, edited by John Joseph Adams in 2014. In 2017, Maberry included it in his collection Wind Through the Fence and Other Stories.

Set in the American West of 1876, the story follows Jonah McCall, who has been leading a band of mercenaries against a Cheyenne tribe led by Walking Bear, in hopes of earning the bounty placed on the head of each member of the tribe. When the “Red Dreams” opens, McCall has wiped out the Cheyenne and won the bounty, but at the cost of all of his own men. He and his horse, Bob, are the only survivors on the empty Wyoming desert where they watch a meteorite fall through the atmosphere.

Alone on the desert, McCall begins to reflect on his history with the Cheyenne, dating back to an enormous raid that massacred women, children, and the elderly, to the recent destruction of Walking Bear’s war party. Although McCall only sees himself doing his job and what is right for the local white settlers, his thoughts show him as an antihero. Maberry doesn’t indicate that Walking Bear was any less damaged than McCall, but Walking Bear’s thoughts and deeds aren’t being presented in the story, at least not by a reliable narrator. What is clear is that McCall has no personal animosity towards Walking Bear, but rather does hold him in a grudging respect.

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Future Treasures: Adrift by Rob Boffard

Thursday, May 17th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Adrift Rob Boffard banner

Rob Boffard is the author of the Outer Earth series, which was recently re-packaged in a brick-sized (1,024 pages!) omnibus volume selected by Unbound Worlds as one of the Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books of February. His newest novel is Adrift, the tale of a group of tourists caught in a cat-and-mouse game with a deadly alien ship in deep space. It arrives in trade paperback from Orbit next month.

In the far reaches of space, a tour group embarks on what will be the trip of a lifetime – in more ways than one…

At Sigma Station, a remote mining facility and luxury hotel in deep space, a group of tourists boards a small vessel to take in the stunning views of the Horsehead Nebula. But while they’re out there, a mysterious ship with devastating advanced technology attacks the station. Their pilot’s quick thinking means that the tourists escape with their lives – but as the dust settles, they realise they may be the only survivors…

Adrift in outer space on a vastly under-equipped ship, they’ve got no experience, no weapons, no contact with civilization. They are way out of their depth, and if they can’t figure out how to work together, they’re never getting home alive.

Because the ship that destroyed the station is still out there. And it’s looking for them…

Adrift will be published by Orbit on June 5, 2018. It is 416 pages, priced at $15.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. Read the first chapter at the author’s website.


Vintage Treasures: Four for Tomorrow by Roger Zelazny

Wednesday, May 16th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Four for Tomorrow-small Four for Tomorrow-back-small

If you’ll allow me to wax nostalgic for a moment (I know, I know…. when do I do anything else?), I’d like to spend a moment fondly remembering an era when relatively unknown writers could make a huge splash with a mass market paperback collection.

Roger Zelazny’s first collection Four for Tomorrow was published as a paperback original in March 1967 by Ace Books, with a rather uninspired (and very green) cover by Jack Gaughan. Now, Zelazny wasn’t exactly an unknown writer in 1967 — the year before he’d published his first novel ..And Call Me Conrad, which tied with Frank Herbert’s Dune for the Hugo Award for Best Novel, and his second, The Dream Master, an expansion of his Nebula Award-winning novella “He Who Shapes.” In fact, it was a busy time for Zelazny — his novelette “The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth” won the 1966 Nebula Award, and his groundbreaking Lord of Light, one of the finest SF novels ever written, won the 1968 Hugo Award.

It was Zelazny’s time. And it’s certainly no surprise that his slender 45-cent collection Four for Tomorrow, which collected four of his best-known longer works from his fledgling career, was a huge success. It was reprinted more than half a dozen times over the next 25 years, and is still fondly remembered.

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Birthday Reviews: Bruce Coville’s “The Passing of the Pack”

Wednesday, May 16th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Gary Lippincott

Cover by Gary Lippincott

Bruce Coville was born on May 16, 1950.

Best known as a YA author, Coville won the Golden Duck Award in 1992 for his novel My Teacher Glows in the Dark, won it again in 2000 for I Was a 6th Grade Alien, and in 2006 won a Golden Duck for an audio production of Robert Heinlein’s novel Rolling Stones. His novels have twice been nominated for Mythopoeic Awards and in 2000, he received a Skylark Award from NESFA. He received the Empire State Award for Excellence in Literature for Young People from the New York Library Association in 2012.

“The Passing of the Pack” was originally written for the young adult anthology Werewolves: A Collection of Original Stories, edited by Jane Yolen and Martin H. Greenberg in 1988. Coville included the story in his collection Oddly Enough in 1994 and when that volume and its successor were collected in the omnibus Odds Are Good: An Oddly Enough and Odder Than Ever Omnibus, the story saw print again. In 2011, Coville issued the story as an e-book.

Throughout most of history, wolves have been seen as an enemy. They threaten the livestock on small villages and, when particularly hungry can also threaten humans. Bruce Coville channels that fear of wolves in the opening of “The Passing of the Pack,” which describes a wolf attack on a sixteen year old boy and then flashes back to the first time wolves attacked his village when he was five years old.

The story looks at the character’s life as a fatherless boy in a small village, specifically how he was treated almost as an outsider by the rest of the villagers. When he came to the defense of a girl he had befriended, the accusation of witchcraft against her was applied to him as well. By this time, Coville has shown an affinity for him by the wolves and his rescue by the animals is not really a surprise.

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New Treasures: Verdigris Deep by Frances Hardinge

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Verdigris Deep-small Verdigris Deep-back-small

Frances Hardinge has twice been nominated for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, for her novels Cuckoo Song and The Lie Tree. Verdigris Deep has previously been published in the US under the title Well Witched (2008), and was nominated for the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book. Amulet has now released it under its original title as part of a set of matching editions with Fly By Night, Fly Trap, and others. Farah Mendlesohn at Strange Horizons said:

Verdigris Deep confirms what I already suspected: Frances Hardinge is the best new fantasy writer for children since Diana Wynne Jones. There is simply no one to match her…

Three children, Josh, Ryan, and Chelle… steal money from an old wishing well. Initially, nothing much happens: then Ryan looks in a mirror and sees water running from his eyes, and passes a poster on which a woman comes alive, her eyes streaming like a fountain. The woman commands him to fulfil the wishes attached to each coin they stole. When Ryan contacts Chelle and Josh he discovers that each of them has acquired “powers” to aid this directive: Josh can now affect electricity and any item that can carry current, while Chelle has become a radio receiver for the wishers—in their vicinity she spills their every thought. Ryan’s “power” remains hidden for a while, mere warts on his hand; but as things proceed the warts develop into eyes which can see the wishes people make as long smoky threads emerging from the chest.

Serving the spirit in the well begins as empowering fun: Ryan, Chelle, and Josh help a young man to win a Harley Davidson, and facilitate a young woman none of them like in finding her true love, but as the story develops it darkens: wishes become more worrying, some of them are out of date and no longer accord with people’s desires yet must still be fulfilled, others are downright nasty or require nastiness to achieve… As the book rolls on to its crescendo, water and emotions flood the page. The ending is deeply satisfying: it is incomplete, problematic, and flows off the edge of the page.

Verdigris Deep was published by Amulet on April 10, 2018. It is 287 pages, priced at $10.99 in hardcover and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Vincent Chong.


The Roots of Grimdark:The Black Company by Glen Cook

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

No one will sing songs in our memory. We are the last of the Free Companies of Khatovar. Our traditions and memories live only in these Annals. We are our only mourners.

It is the Company against the world. Thus it has been and ever will be.

from The Black Company

oie_1471611MVbvsrErYou never know, when you pick up a book, the impact it will have on your life. In 1984, my friend Carl tossed me a copy of The Black Company (1984), a book I’d end up rereading half a dozen times over the next thirty-five years. It turned out to be the first book in what eventually grew into a ten book series (eleven actually, as the first new Black Company book in eighteen years, Port of Shadows, is to be published in September) and one of my favorite works of epic fantasy. Several of Cook’s other books are better written, better plotted, and more cohesive than The Black Company, but none of them has left as indelible a mark on me as this one.

The setup of the novel is this: a mercenary company unknowingly signs on to the service of Sauron’s wife the Lady, a great and powerful sorceress. Her empire has risen up in rebellion against her and her minions, the Nazgul Taken. Assassinations, intrigue between world-shaking sorcerers, and massive battles unfurl in a world notable mostly for its corruption, constant deceit, and an assumption that nothing ever really goes right. Never an especially good bunch of guys, by the book’s end, several important members of the company have grasped the awfulness of their employer and have started to have second thoughts about remaining in her pay. That may not sound original in 2018, but back in 1984, villains as protagonists was mind-blowing.

The novel is presented as a volume from the annals of the Black Company, a notorious band of sell-swords, as written by the company’s annalist and surgeon, Croaker. Not a senior officer, but not a grunt either, he serves as the perfect narrator of the book’s calamitous and epic events. He’s rarely in on the plotting out of the Company’s next missions, but he’s usually in a position to participate in the more important aspects of them.

There’s a sizable epic fantasy-sized cast in The Black Company, but by focusing so intently on a single character, Croaker, the story’s told on a very human scale. Croaker’s primary concerns, as a member of the company and as its doctor, are for the lives of his brothers-in-arms, more than for the concerns of empire. Through him we get a feel for the most prominent of the company’s soldiers and wizards. We see huge events from the perspective of someone effected by them but without any significant control over them. This is not a book about the destinies of kings and princes or heroes and wizards, but men who carry spears, grumble about bad rations, and worry about paying off their debts from losing at cards.

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