New Treasures: The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2019, edited by Rich Horton

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2019-smallThe latest volume of Rich Horton’s Year’s Best snuck up on me. I know, I’m supposed to be on top of these things. For some reason I was expecting it later in the year, but it popped up in my Amazon cart last week, in stock and everything.

Rich produces my favorite Year’s Best every year, but hasn’t always seemed totally comfortable with all the trappings of being an editor. He hasn’t shown the same enthusiasm for lengthy introductions or Yearly Summations that Gardner Dozois famously did, for example. But in the last few years Rich seems to have really found his voice, and these days I find I really enjoy his intros. He avoids Gardner’s critical edge, for example, focusing instead on the collegial nature of the science fiction community.

This year he gives an affectionate shout out to his nominal competitors for your Best of the Year dollars, including editors Jonathan Strahan, Ellen Datlow, Neil Clarke, and even Gardner, who passed away last year, shortly before his Thirty-Fifth Annual Collection was released, ending an era. Have a look.

There are a lot of Best of the Year volumes in our field, and frankly I recommend them all. One of the features of SF in 2018 is how much of it there is. There’s enough short fiction that the Hugo shortlist can very nearly ignore men, and still be mostly full of strong stories. (There are a couple of duds, but so it always was.) There’s enough that both the Hugo and Nebula shortlists can completely ignore the traditional print SF magazines (F&SF, Asimov’s, Analog, and Interzone, let’s say), and still be mostly full of strong stories. How then to resolve that issue? Read as many of the Best of the Year volumes as you can, I say! (And, hey, why not subscribe to one of the print magazines, if that’s possible? And try some original anthologies as well.)

The main distinction, of course, for each of these books is the editor’s individual tastes. (Or so Hannibal Lecter tells us)… if I think my book is the best — and I do! — it’s for the obvious reason that my personal taste aligns pretty closely with the editor’s! But that said, I am abashed year after year to realize that Jonathan or Ellen or Neil or one of the other editors, (or, sigh, Gardner!) has chosen a gem or two I really should have taken myself.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents for the 2019 volume of The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy.

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Vintage Treasures: Strange Invasion by Michael Kandel

Sunday, September 8th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Bantam Spectra Special Edition (1989), cover by Edwin B. Hirth, III

Michael Kandel began his career translating Stanislaw Lem’s Polish novels into English, including The Futurological Congress, The Cyberiad, and The Star Dairies. He was twice nominated for a National Book Award for his efforts. In 1989 he published his first novel with Bantam Spectra, Strange Invasion, followed quickly by In Between Dragons (1990), Captain Jack Zodiac (1991), and Panda Ray (1996). Since then he’s been writing mostly short fiction, most recently two stories in Gordon van Gelder’s 2017 anthology Welcome to Dystopia.

At the time Strange Invasion appeared, Bantam Spectra was the most prestigious imprint in the business. Founded by Lou Aronica when he was just 27 years old, its first release was David Brin’s Startide Rising (1983), which claimed a Hugo and a Nebula award. Spectra followed up with multiple hits, including Neal Stephenson’s debut Snow Crash (1992) and bestsellers from Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Raymond Feist, William Gibson, and Neil Gaiman — and, in 1996, a little book called A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin. His acclaimed Full Spectrum anthology series ran for five volumes. Before he left Bantam in 1994, Aronica acquired five consecutive Nebula Award winners. In recent years the imprint has become moribund, and I believe it is now dead.

Strange Invasion came in 5th in the annual Locus Award for Best First Novel. But it has never been reprinted, and hasn’t seen a lot of modern attention. In some quarters it is still considered a modern classic, however. For example, here’s Don Web’s review at Bewildering Stories.

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The Dawn of Comics in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon

Saturday, September 7th, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

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It isn’t often that comic books are a legitimate topic in works of literature, or that when they are, the book in question wins a Pulitzer. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon, is such a novel. It was published in 2000 to near universal acclaim. It tells the story of two Jewish cousins from 1939 to 1953.

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Dinosaurs, Mermaids, and Haunted Lumber: The Best of L. Sprague De Camp

Saturday, September 7th, 2019 | Posted by James McGlothlin

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The Best of L. Sprague de Camp
(Science Fiction Book Club edition, 1978. Cover by Richard Corben)

The Best of L. Sprague De Camp (1978) was the fifteenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. Poul Anderson (1926–2001) gives the introduction. Darrel Sweet (1934–2011) does his second cover of the series, the first being The Best of Cordwainer Smith. L. Sprague De Camp (1907–2000), still living at the time, wrote the afterword.

I’m a fairly late-comer to science fiction. I grew up with Star Wars and typical sci-fi shows and movies of the late 70s and 80s, but my reading picks tended to be more towards fantasy and horror. So, like many of these classic sci-fi authors in the Del Rey series, L. Sprague De Camp was a new name to me. And it’s interesting, I think, how one can come to a new writer.

In all honesty, I was not looking forward to reading this volume. Most of what I’ve read of and about De Camp hasn’t given me the most favorable impression. Case in point: A couple of years ago I compared De Camp’s Robert E. Howard (REH) biography with Mark Finn’s. If you know anything about De Camp’s reputation among many REH fans, you’ll know that it is usually less than favorable (again, see my earlier post for more details). And, after reading De Camp’s REH bio, I came around to agreeing with some of this critical press. In short, I thought that De Camp could often come off as conceited with his overly bold claims, especially given his tendency of providing insufficient evidence — or none at all!

But after reading The Best of L. Sprague De Camp, I have to say that despite his reputation with many an REH fan, this has become one of my favorite volumes in the Del Rey series. I found De Camp to be a very fascinating writer. Two things, I think, really stand out in his science fiction writing.

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New Treasures: Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe

Friday, September 6th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Two years ago I wrote a couple of articles about Megan E. O’Keefe’s Scorched Continent trilogy. The opening volume, her debut novel Steal the Sky, was nominated for the David Gemmell Morningstar award, and Beth Cato called it “like an epic steampunk Firefly.” The last book in that series appeared in 2017, so I’ve been keeping my eye out for something new from her, and it finally arrived early this summer. And it looks like space opera, my favorite new genre! Is the world good to me, or what. Here’s what Kirkus said about it.

The last thing Sanda Greeve remembers is her ship being attacked by rebel forces. She’s resuscitated from her evacuation pod missing half a leg — and two centuries — as explained to her by the AI of the rebel ship that rescued her. As The Light of Berossus — aka Bero — tells her, she may be the only living human for light-years around, as the war wiped both sides out long ago. Sanda struggles to process her injuries and her grief but finds friendship with the lonely spaceship itself. Sanda’s story is interspersed with flashbacks to the war’s effects on her brother, Biran, as well as scenes from a heist gone terribly wrong for small-time criminal Jules. The three narratives, separated by a vast gulf of time, are more intertwined than is immediately apparent. When Sanda rescues Tomas, another unlikely survivor, from his own evacuation pod, she learns that even time doesn’t end all wars….

Meticulously plotted, edge-of-your-seat space opera with a soul; a highly promising science-fiction debut.

That’s tantalizing enough for me; I bought a copy last week. I want to dig into this one right away — which may mean I have to spring for the audio version. I’ve been traveling a lot recently (9 states in the last two weeks), and I find listening to books while I’m driving is a lot more productive that trying to stay awake reading in a hotel room.

Velocity Weapon was published by Orbit in June, 2019. It is 505 pages, priced at $15.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Sparth. See all our recent New Treasures here.


Making our Journey to Machine Domination More Fun: The Robots of Gotham by Todd McAulty

Thursday, September 5th, 2019 | Posted by SELindberg

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Wearing aluminum hats won’t help us anymore. Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s Assistant likely conspire against humanity, and no doubt will copulate and have gendered, machine children. That is one vision of the future. The Robots of Gotham will at least make our journey toward machine domination more fun. Todd McAulty’s first-person blog-style is profoundly easy to consume. Highly recommended for everyone who has a smartphone!

What is the best way to deal with being constantly surveilled by devices? Reading fiction about robot invasions can help, preferably paperbacks (eBooks and Kindles are monitoring you). Todd McAulty’s The Robots of Gotham has already received great praise from Publisher’s WeeklyBooklist, the Toronto StarKirkus Reviews, and numerous authors. Here is more.

Artificial Intelligence

I am by no means an expert in artificial intelligence, which makes my perspective even more alarming (exciting?). Many readers likely share this history, and it is why you’ll enjoy Todd McAulty’s The Robots of Gotham.

As a teenager (1980’s), I had the experience of interacting with Apple IIe and TI94 computers (when data was never stored on disk or was saved to tape), which had users game with a computer that served as a dungeon master. Digitized, text-based adventures like Infocom’s Zork provided a surreal version of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. Practicing science for decades, I’ve witnessed computers grow from simple calculators to devices that measure, store, analyze and report data with limited human intervention.

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Zombies Need Anthologies! PLUS Short Fiction Crafting

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

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Howard: Today I’m turning over my Black Gate megaphone to Joshua Palmetier, gifted writer, mathematician, and the mind behind Zombies Need Brains’ line of anthologies. Joshua publishes a lot of Black Gate writers, so we naturally have fingers crossed his upcoming Kickstarter will fund and hope that you’ll check out. Regardless, though, this article has some great insight on writing good short fiction and getting out of the slush pile. Take it away Joshua!

Zombies Need Brains’ latest Kickstarter is nearing its end (ONLY HOURS LEFT!) and, with the possibility of an open call for submissions if we fund, I thought that I’d spend some time talking about how you can better your chances of getting from the ZNB slush pile into one of our anthologies. The competition is pretty steep and only getting worse with each Kickstarter. (Last year, Portals had 550 submissions alone and we ended up taking seven; we had a lot of anchor authors for that one, though.) I’ve talked before about how to brainstorm your way to an idea that isn’t standard, but also isn’t so far out there it’s off theme. So let’s suppose you already have an idea of what you want to write. A core concept.

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Vintage Treasures: Cold Iron and Sister to the Rain by Melisa Michaels

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Cold Iron Melisa Michaels-small Sister to the Rain-small

I was preparing a Vintage Treasures article on Melisa Michaels on Saturday, and particularly her two-volume urban fantasy series featuring private eye Rosie Levine, Cold Iron (1997) and Sister to the Rain (1998), when I stumbled on this disturbing Facebook post by Rich Horton:

I have just learned that Melisa Michaels has died. I knew she had cancer, and she had recently reported that there wasn’t much more to be done, but it’s still sad news, and it seems to have come more quickly than she thought.

But I wanted to celebrate her — she was one of the first people to, as it were, welcome me to the SF community, when I first went online, and when I joined SFF Net. We had many great conversations (online) about SF and other matters. She is one of the people I really owe a debt to for helping me make friends in this field.

I read her novels, the Skyrider SF series and the Rosie Levine Fantasy/Mystery series, with much enjoyment… Melisa always made tremendous contributions to SFWA — as I recall, she was the first webmaster of the SFWA web page, right at the dawning of the WWW. I didn’t keep close track of her later on, especially after the demise of SFF Net, but we had reconnected to a small degree on Facebook. I offer condolences to her family, and I celebrate a life well-lived.

I didn’t know Melisa the way Rich did, but I was still very saddened by the news. And I thought we could help celebrate her life here by showcasing her novels. Rich discussed Cold Iron when it first appeared over 20 years ago; here’s an excerpt from the review at his website, Strange at Ecbatan.

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Future Treasures: Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Chilling Effect-smallI’m still on a space opera kick. I know, I know, this has lasted for months now, and I should have moved on. But there’s just so many to choose from. It’s even spinning off sub-sub-genres, like Firefly-inspired space adventures (Aurora Rising, Starflight, and Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers Trilogy), gothic space opera (Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir), and now offbeat satires like Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes.

Chilling Effect is Valdes’ first novel, but it’s getting lots of great press. Kirkus Reviews says “Valdes is a debut author, but this zany, rollicking adventure doesn’t show it. Jam-packed with weird aliens, mysterious artifacts, and lovable characters, there isn’t a single dull page… A tremendous good time and an impressive debut.” I’m in the mood for something a little less serious, and this looks like it will fit the bill.

A hilarious, offbeat debut space opera that skewers everything from pop culture to video games and features an irresistible foul-mouthed captain and her motley crew, strange life forms, exciting twists, and a galaxy full of fun and adventure.

Captain Eva Innocente and the crew of La Sirena Negra cruise the galaxy delivering small cargo for even smaller profits. When her sister Mari is kidnapped by The Fridge, a shadowy syndicate that holds people hostage in cryostasis, Eva must undergo a series of unpleasant, dangerous missions to pay the ransom.

But Eva may lose her mind before she can raise the money. The ship’s hold is full of psychic cats, an amorous fish-faced emperor wants her dead after she rejects his advances, and her sweet engineer is giving her a pesky case of feelings. The worse things get, the more she lies, raising suspicions and testing her loyalty to her found family.

To free her sister, Eva will risk everything: her crew, her ship, and the life she’s built on the ashes of her past misdeeds. But when the dominoes start to fall and she finds the real threat is greater than she imagined, she must decide whether to play it cool or burn it all down.

Chilling Effect will be published by Harper Voyager on September 17, 2019. It is 448 pages, priced at $16.99 in trade paperback and $11.99 in digital formats. See all our recent coverage of the best upcoming science fiction and fantasy here.


New Treasures: Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories edited by Ellen Datlow

Sunday, September 1st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Echoes The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories-small Echoes The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories-back-small

Saga Press has produced some really extraordinary Saga Anthology volumes over the last few years, all edited by John Joseph Adams. They include:

Loosed upon the World: The Saga Anthology of Climate Fiction, edited by John Joseph Adams (2015)
What the #@&% Is That?: The Saga Anthology of the Monstrous and the Macabre, edited by John Joseph Adams (2016)
Cosmic Powers: The Saga Anthology of Far-Away Galaxies, edited by John Joseph Adams (2017)

Last week saw a massive new entry in their annual anthology series. Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories collects brand new stories (and three reprints) by a Who’s Who of modern horror writers: John Langan, Nathan Ballingrud, Paul Tremblay, Pat Cadigan, Seanan McGuire, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Bowes, Gemma Files, Nick Mamatas, Terry Dowling, Aliette de Bodard, Dale Bailey, Alice Hoffman, Garth Nix, Jeffrey Ford, M. Rickert, and many others. It’s a feast for horror fans, in a year that hasn’t seen many decent scary anthologies. Over at Tor.com, Lee Mandelo already has an enthusiastic review.

Echoes is an absolute behemoth of an anthology… Some are ghost stories with science fictional settings, others purely fantastical, others still realist — but there’s always the creeping dread, a specter at the corner of the story’s vision. The sheer volume of work Datlow has collected in Echoes fills out the nooks and crannies of the theme with gusto… I was immensely satisfied by the big tome, and I’d recommend it for anyone else who wants to curl up around a spooky yarn — some of which are provocative, some of which are straightforward, all of which fit together well.

Here’s a few of Lee’s story recommendations.

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