A Dead Colony and a Deep Space Mystery: The Memory War by Karen Osborne

Sunday, September 6th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Architects of Memory-small Engines of Oblivion-small

Here’s something interesting — an ambitious two-book space opera from debut novelist Karen Osborne. Opening novel Architects of Memory, which Publishers Weekly calls “a twisty, political space opera about corporate espionage and alien contact,” will be released in trade paperback on Tuesday. Book Two, Engines of Oblivion, arrives in February.

Here’s a snippet from the feature review of the first book at The Nerd Daily.

Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne is a stellar debut that explores the corruption in capitalism and what we will go through to protect the ones we love.

Salvage pilot, Ashland Jackson, just wants to finish her company indenture and get the citizenship she desperately needs to gain access to the treatment for the celestium sickness that is quickly killing her. When Ash and the crew of the Twenty-Five stumbled upon a mysterious weapon while on a salvage op, they are thrown into a world of corporate espionage and betrayals. As buried secrets and alliances become revealed, Ash and the crew must figure out who to trust and how to keep the weapon out of the wrong hands….

Architects of Memory is a good debut that leads me to believe Karen Osborne will definitely be taking up space on my favourites of science fiction bookcase. Her subtle way of building up characters brings them to life in ways that few authors can achieve. If you are looking for a science fiction story with authentic characters, twisty plots, a stuffed unicorn toy, and plenty of action and feels, then this is the one for you!

Here’s a peek at the back cover for Architects of Memory, and complete publishing deets both volumes.

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A Science Fiction Catastrophe

Saturday, September 5th, 2020 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) Just another day living with COVID-small

Just another day living with COVID

When is this going to end? Will it ever truly be over? I certainly don’t know and I don’t know of anyone who does. Neither can I claim that I was prepared when the COVID era suddenly leaped out of the ground and threw itself at our throats like Ray Harryhausen’s murderous skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts, though I do like to think that we science fiction readers were taken just a little less by surprise than most folks were.

Before this happened, we’d at least spent time (in the literary sense) with people who have foreseen disasters like the one we’re living through. Perhaps no theme is more common to the genre, and any science fiction fan worth his or her salt has whole shelves full of books that describe the human race wrestling with apocalyptic attacks that come out of nowhere and change everything. (I know you were hoping the science fiction that would be realized during your lifetime would be contact with a benevolent alien civilization or antigravity cars or an endless power supply that you could carry in your pocket, not this. Me too.)

Maybe that’s why the opening of H.G. Wells’s great book (and the granddaddy of all such end-of-the-world nightmares), The War of the Worlds, has been much on my mind lately.

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New Treasures: Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies by John Langan

Thursday, September 3rd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies-back-small Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies-small

Cover by Matthew Jaffe

Word Horde, Ross E. Lockhart’s small press, has produced some knockout titles over the past few years, including Vermilion by Molly Tanzer, the Bram Stoker Award-winning novel The Fisherman by John Langan, and The Children of Old Leech, edited by Ross E. Lockhart and Justin Steele. Last month they released Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies, the big new collection by horror master John Langan. The Publishers Weekly review teased some of the stories within nicely.

Langan (The Fisherman) draws inspiration from Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, David Lynch and other masters of the strange and horrific to create an impressive collection of 21 tales as terrifying as they are mysterious. The exceptional title story finds two siblings investigating family secrets hidden away in their grandfather’s basement and stumbling on a horrific realization. “With Max Berry in the Nearer Precincts” offers a disturbing vision of the afterlife, while “Ymir” ventures into a Canadian mine with an eccentric billionaire and his female bodyguard. True Detective meets Stephen King’s It in “The Communion of Saints,” about a detective whose faith is tested when the Catholic saints are revealed to be other than they appear… This well-crafted collection will delight fans of dark, literary horror.

On his website Langan notes, “This is a big book, modeled after collections like King’s Skeleton Crew and Barker’s Books of Blood.” Here’s the complete table of contents.

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Vintage Treasures: Merchanter’s Luck by C.J. Cherryh

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Merchanter’s Luck (DAW, 1982). Cover by Barclay Shaw

I haven’t covered many C.J. Cherryh novels in my ongoing Vintage Treasures project, and that seems like a serious oversight. Cherryh was a constant presence on the paperback racks in my youth. She sold her first novel Brothers of Earth to Donald A. Wollheim at DAW in 1975; since then she’s published more than 80 science fiction and fantasy books, including the most ambitious and successful first contact saga in science fiction, The Foreigner Series. Volume 21, Divergence, arrives in hardcover next week.

I recently picked up a copy of the author’s 1982 paperback original Merchanter’s Luck, and I thought it would be a good place to start. It’s the first novel in her Company Wars saga, set in the Alliance-Union universe where humanity has split into three space-faring power blocs: Union, the Merchanter’s Alliance and Earth. I remembered Jo Walton’s Tor.com review of Merchanter’s Luck from a decade ago, enticingly titled “A girl on a haunted spaceship.” Here’s an excerpt.

Ben JB and I were talking about Gothics, and Ben JB asked if you could have a Gothic on a spaceship. My immediate response was Merchanter’s Luck, a 1982 novel by C.J. Cherryh. It has a girl and a haunted spaceship and a mysterious man with lots of secrets in his past. But on re-reading it, I have to admit that it doesn’t quite work as a Gothic… Allison is far from a gothic heroine — she’s empowered, and most of the time in the novel she is the one in the position of power. She goes onto the spaceship and goes into abandoned cabins, full of the possessions of the dead, but she doesn’t go alone. She’s not virginal, not isolated, and never helpless…

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Future Treasures: The Year’s Best Science Fiction Vol. 1: The Saga Anthology of Science Fiction 2020 edited by Jonathan Strahan

Tuesday, September 1st, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year's Best Science Fiction Volume 1 The Saga Anthology of Science Fiction 2020-small The Year's Best Science Fiction Volume 1 The Saga Anthology of Science Fiction 2020-back-small

Cover design by Richard Yoo (click to embiggen)

Jonathan Strahan’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction Vol. 1 feels like a beginning. Probably because it is a beginning, in more ways than one. Jonathan has been editing Year’s Best books since 2003, and he curated thirteen volumes of the excellent Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, the first seven with Night Shade (2007-2013) and the last six with Solaris (2014-19). He’s now switched publishers to Saga Press/Gallery Books, and with that transformation comes other changes as well.

Most obvious is a switch in title, to The Year’s Best Science Fiction Vol. 1: The Saga Anthology of Science Fiction 2020, a reset in the numbering scheme (back to #1), and a refocus (dropping fantasy altogether). But the most interesting alteration (to me, anyway) is foreshadowed by the touching dedication:

In memory of my dear friend Gardner Dozois (1947-2018), who would have loved these stories.

With the title change, it seems to me that Jonathan assumes the mantle of Dozios (who edited 35 volumes of his own The Year’s Best Science Fiction between 1984-2018), and the duties and responsibilities that go with it. For example, Gardner’s introductions to his volumes were legendary, an annual summation of the Year in Science Fiction that fans looked forward to and read with relish. Jonathan’s summations have always been more modest — his intro to last year’s edition was a humble 8 pages — but with this one, titled A New Beginning, Jonathan stretches his legs admirably. His introduction to The Year’s Best Science Fiction Vol. 1 clocks in at 23 pages, room to weigh in not just on the best stories of the year, but the finest novels, collections, anthologies, magazines, and nonfiction, and well as report on rumblings in publishing, deaths in the field, award news, and more. Jonathan is a natural at this kind of opinionated writing, and he nails it.

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Andrew Liptak on 20 Sci-fi and Fantasy Books to Check Out in August

Sunday, August 30th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

By Force Alone by Lavie Tidhar-small Seven Devils by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May-small The Mother Code-small

Cover art: uncredited, Dan dos Santos, and Anthony Ramondo (click to embiggen)

I’ve grown to rely on Andrew Liptak’s newsletter to keep me up-to-date on the latest releases, especially during the era of the pandemic. He’s got a keen eye, and roves far and wide to compile a list of the best new books every month. His list of August’s most noteworthy titles does not disappoint, with new releases from Carrie Vaughn, Tamsyn Muir, Seth Dickinson, L. Penelope, Lavie Tidhar, Lisbeth Campbell, Marina J. Lostetter, Emily Tesh, Gardner Dozois and Michael Swanwick, Karen Osborne, Carole Stivers, and Ashley Blooms. Here’s a few of the highlights.

By Force Alone by Lavie Tidhar (Tor Books, 416 pages, $27.99/$14.99 digital, August 11, 2020)

Over the years, I’ve really enjoyed Lavie Tidhar’s work — particularly The Violent Century and Unholy Land. (I still need to read Central Station). He likes to play with tropes, upending conventional characters and stories, and his next is an intriguing-sounding take on the King Arthur mythos.

Tidhar puts a gritty edge to the Arthurian legend, portraying Arthur and his companions as gangsters and criminals running drugs and weapons through a London that’s been abandoned by Rome. Writing for Locus, Ian Mond writes that “For all its foul language and radical deconstruc­tion, of which I’ve provided only a taste (you should see what Tidhar does with the Holy Grail), By Force Alone isn’t a desecration of the Arthurian romances. Instead, he pays homage to the writers and poets who took their turn in adapting and refining Monmouth’s text.”

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New Treasures: grotesquerie by Richard Gavin

Saturday, August 29th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Mike Davis (click to embiggen)

Undertow Publications commands my attention these days. Editor Michael Kelly has a truly keen eye for fiction, and he’s published some of the most acclaimed short story collections of Weird Horror in the last decade, including Simon Strantzas’s Nothing is Everything, V. H. Leslie’s Skein and Bone, and Kay Chronister’s Thin Places. On Tuesday he adds another to that impressive list, grotesquerie by Richard Gavin.

Gavin is the author of five previous collections, including Omens (Mythos Books, 2007), At Fear’s Altar (Hippocampus Press, 2012), and Sylvan Dread: Tales of Pastoral Darkness (Three Hands Press, 2016). Ramsey Campbell said, “Richard Gavin’s tales are genuinely evocative of the strange and alien,” and Publishers Weekly reviewed grotesquerie warmly last month, saying:

The 16 dark tales in this collection from Gavin (Sylvan Dread) are distinctive and macabre… The strongest — including “Neithernor,” in which a man stumbles upon his cousin’s uncanny art show at a strange gallery; “Scold’s Bridle: A Cruelty,” about a mask used as a torture device; and “Three Knocks on a Buried Door,” about a man who discovers an elaborate residence occupied by a mysterious being just beneath his apartment building — are richly articulated nightmares that will delight horror fans… the heady, transportive atmosphere of many of these stories… will put readers in mind of both classic weird fiction and the supernatural mysteries of the 1970s. Dedicated weird fiction readers will find this worth a look.

grotesquerie will be published by Undertow Publications on September 1, 2020. It is 292 pages, priced at $17.99 in paperback and $5.99 in digital formats. The hypnotic cover is by Mike Davis. Order copies directly from Undertow.

See all our recent New Treasures here.

Vintage Treasures: So Bright the Vision by Clifford D. Simak

Friday, August 28th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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So Bright the Vision by Clifford D. Simak (Ace, 1976). Cover uncredited, but likely Michael Whelan

Over the last few weeks I heartily enjoyed writing a pair of lengthy articles on the way Berkley Books packaged and marketed Poul Anderson in 1976-79, and Ace Books did the same thing with Robert Silverberg in 1977. I think I had so much fun because it allowed me to indulge in my favorite past time (obsessing over old paperbacks) for hours, and dress it up as legit research. Yes, I did relentlessly track down every single Poul Anderson paperback published by Berkley in the 70s, including The High Crusade, even though I already had four editions of that damn book. But I did it for science. Well, paperback science. Which is totally a thing, and not a form of hoarding or mental illness or anything. Look, I have these scholarly articles to prove it.

In any event, my thoughts have now turned to what author/publisher combo I should examine next (for science, naturally). There are lots of possibilities of course, but ideally it should be a terrific writer, paired with a cover artist who knocked it out of the park. And the more I think about it, the more I think it should be the four Clifford D. Simak paperbacks published by Ace in a single month in September, 1976.

Simak had been a steadfast earner at Ace for decades, but despite having many of his titles in their back catalog, they’d never done any author branding for him. When the Ace editorial team simultaneously secured the rights to a set of Simak reprints in 1976 — CitySo Bright the Vision, The Trouble with Tycho, and Time and Again — they gave him a consistent cover design for the first time, and paired him with a young 26-year old up-and-coming artist named Michael Whelan, who’d done only four previous covers for Ace in his short career.

Needless to say, Whelan did indeed knock it out of the park, delivering iconic illustrations for all four books. Well unofficially, anyway. Because while the cover art for the sole collection in the set, So Bright the Vision, is clearly by Michael Whelan, officially the cover artist remains unidentified.

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Are Some “Classics” Best Neglected?: Eric Frank Russell’s Sinister Barrier

Thursday, August 27th, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly


Sinister Barrier by Eric Frank Russell; Magazine version: Unknown, March 1939.
Cover art H. W. Scott. (Click to enlarge)

Sinister Barrier
by Eric Frank Russell
UK: World’s Work (135 pages, 5/-, hardcover, 1943)
US: Fantasy Press (253, $3.00, hardcover, 1948)

Here’s an early “classic” of science fiction that I came across in a used bookstore in Oakland early last year. I say “classic” with quotes because I had heard of the title for years, but hadn’t recalled ever seeing a copy. Indeed, the invaluable isfdb.com indicates that while it was included in an omnibus from NESFA Press in 2001, there hasn’t been a separate English language edition of the book since Ballantine Del Rey issued it in 1986, nearly 35 years ago. Hmm, why would this be?

Well, because it’s a terribly written book, dated both in language and in plotting and in its sexual and racial attitudes, exhibiting all the worst features of pulp writing, and far worse than the works of, say, Asimov and Heinlein that have survived from that era. That would be the reason modern publishers haven’t kept it in print. If it’s a classic in any way, it’s for its striking conceptual premise, and then only in its historical context. More on that in a bit.

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Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: No One Suspects the Spanish Inquisition (Wasn’t That Bad)

Wednesday, August 26th, 2020 | Posted by Greg Mele

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G. Willow-Wilson author photo by Amber French for SyFy.com

Since this column began this year, we’ve looked at the visual continuity of Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings (and why, ironically, it does a better job of wordlessly telling the sweep of Middle Earth’s history than Tolkien’s millennia-long, cultural stasis does), authenticity (and lack thereof) in The Witcher, and talked about the commonalities and differences of historical fiction and fantasy with several, excellent authors who work in both arenas. Along the way, I’ve coined a few loose terms (or rather, put existing ones into a hierarchy):

  1. Historical Fiction — Stories set in our world, but in generations prior to ours, generally just on the edge, or earlier, of living memory.
  2. Historical Fantasy — Stories set in the same milieu as the above, but with fantastical elements, sometimes very subtle (a lot of magical realism falls in here), sometimes not so — urban fantasy set in bygone eras, alternate history with vampires, or magic works, or orcs, etc. The world is clearly our own, so the fantastical elements can’t too dramatically upset that balance.
  3. Low Fantasy — Stories set in a secondary world, that is “realistic” to varying degrees but generally follows the real world in terms of technology, laws of physics, etc. A great deal of old-school Sword & Sorcery, and modern Grimdark fit in here.
  4. High Fantasy — sky is the limit. The secondary world has its own peoples, its own laws, and it is whatever the author wishes it to be. Anything from Tolkien’s Middle Earth to Zelazny’s Amber, the worlds of Brandon Sanderson, Robin Hobb and Robert Jordan all fit here.

In the future, we’ll look at these “big themes” and interviews with authors once more. But it’s time to look at how actual works play with these ideas, to varying degrees of success. And here is the trick: success as a novel, does not necessarily mean success as history. In these next two columns, I’m going to look at two authors whose work I really enjoy — and talk about why a particular work of theirs just didn’t work for me. In one case, because of a failure of historical authenticity; in the other, because of too much slavish devotion to it.

First up, The Bird King, by G. Willow-Wilson.

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