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Love Exotic Science Fiction on Desert Planets? Try Donald Kingsbury’s Courtship Rite

Love Exotic Science Fiction on Desert Planets? Try Donald Kingsbury’s Courtship Rite

Courtship Rite (Timescape Books, July 1982). Cover by Rowena Morrill

Noe took her strange Liethe in a comforting embrace. “Some of us make our Contribution to the Race through Death, and others of us make our Contribution to the Race through Life. That’s the way it has always been.”

One of the distinctive pleasures of science fiction is the heterotopia — a story set not in a good place (a utopia) or an evil place (a dystopia) but in an interestingly different place. Geta, the setting of Donald Kingsbury’s Courtship Rite, has long been my favorite heterotopia.

The society Kingsbury portrays is shaped in important ways by its physical setting. Geta is a desert world, a science fictional trope that goes back to Percival Lowell’s Mars and the many stories set there, from Burroughs on. It’s not as harsh as Herbert’s Arrakis, but certainly harsher than Le Guin’s Anarras. For one thing, its native life is biochemically incompatible with its human inhabitants; eating it, without careful detoxification, is lethal. The only things truly safe to eat are a limited number of introduced Earth lifeforms: bees, eight species of plants (not all named) — and other human beings, because Geta’s most visibly distinctive cultural trait is institutionalized cannibalism. Kingsbury calls this out on the first page of the novel, where the children of a famous man, Tae ran-Kaiel, attend a funeral feast where his roasted body is the main course.

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Immaculate Scoundrels: That Tarantino-style Wuxia-80’s Heist-Fantasy Film… with Lizard People… you never knew you needed

Immaculate Scoundrels: That Tarantino-style Wuxia-80’s Heist-Fantasy Film… with Lizard People… you never knew you needed


Immaculate Scoundrels (Flying Wizard Press, March 5, 2024). Cover by Brian Leblanc

There are lots of jokes associated with being GenX; so many, in fact, that arguably, the best joke is being GenX, period. I mean, multiple discussions of various generations literally provided lists and manage to forget that there actually is a group of people born between 1965 and 1980 at all!

But thanks to the odd 80s nostalgia of Stranger Things, Maverick, and the never-ending exploitat… er… expansion of the Star Wars franchise… the rather odd era of Big Hair, Nuclear Escalation, the birth of the Summer Blockbuster and a lot of pretty bitchin’ music is in vogue. It was an interesting, weird and contradictory time to grow up, with a lot of contradictory media and mixed messages (I’ll never forget seeing a literal “Say No to Drugs” commercial attached to the trailer for Porkys).

The end result was a generation marked for having a certain feral cynicism born of constant reminder from about age 13 that we were the “baby bust” and had zero political or economic influence and likely never would so just “go do you.” And any inclination otherwise probably ended with the dot.com crash, 9/11 etc. all hitting as most of us were 25 – 33, with 1/2 the generation still on a Clintonian hangover and the other half still believing Reaganomics had been a thing.

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A Really Impressive First Novel: The God of Endings by Jacqueline Holland

A Really Impressive First Novel: The God of Endings by Jacqueline Holland


The God of Endings (Flatiron Books, March 7, 2023)

At this year’s Capricon I shared an autograph session with Jacqueline Holland. In the way of things, especially with customers sparse, I ended up signing a couple of my books for her and she signed a copy of her first novel, The God of Endings, for me. The novel was published in March 2023 by Flatiron Books, a fairly new imprint.

Jacqueline Holland got her MFA from the University of Kansas, studying with the wonderful Kij Johnson. She has published work in some impressive literary journals, like Big Fiction. This novel is fantasy, and she told me her next two novels will be science fiction. It’s a vampire novel, which is normally not my thing, but Jacqueline’s description made it sound intriguing, and not your standard vampire novel (certainly these are not sparkly vampires!) and it lived up to that.

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Vintage Treasures: The Bantam Spectra Élisabeth Vonarburg

Vintage Treasures: The Bantam Spectra Élisabeth Vonarburg


The Bantam Spectra Élisabeth Vonarburg: The Silent City (August 1992),
In the Mothers’ Land (December 1992), and Reluctant Voyagers (March 1995).
Covers by Oscar Chichoni, Oscar Chichoni, and Stephen Youll

I left Canada to attend grad school at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign in August 1987, and when I did I lost touch with much of the vibrant Canadian SF scene. There were a few Canadian authors celebrated in the States — folks like Charles de Lint, Donald Kingsbury, Julie Czerneda, Peter Watts, Guy Gavriel Kay, and a handful of others — but they were the exception. I had to get used to not hearing favorite Canadian acts on the radio (like The Box and Gowan), and I gradually got used to a lack of Canadian representation in bookstores as well.

That’s why it was such a delight to see French Canadian author Élisabeth Vonarburg experience a brief but marvelous period in the sun in the mid-90s, when Bantam Spectra translated three of her most famous novels into English, and brought them to the attention of grateful American readers.

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New Treasures: Your Shadow Half Remains by Sunny Moraine

New Treasures: Your Shadow Half Remains by Sunny Moraine


Your Shadow Half Remains (Tor Nightfire, February 6, 2024). Cover by David Seidman

Nightfire is Tor’s new horror imprint, and it’s made quite an impact on the field in the the past two years. Some of its releases include the Locus Award-winning What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher, Cassandra Khaw’s Stoker nominee The Salt Grows Heavy, and Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey’s The Dead Take the A Train.

Sunny Moraine’s novella Your Shadow Half Remains arrived from Nightfire last month, and while I was browsing Sally Kobe’s booth at Capricon it leaped enthusiastically into my hands.

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The Martian Chronicles Meet True Grit: The Strange by Nathan Ballingrud

The Martian Chronicles Meet True Grit: The Strange by Nathan Ballingrud


The Strange (Saga Press, March 21, 2023). Cover uncredited

I wish I could take credit for the headline of The Martian Chronicles Meet True Grit for Nathan Ballingrud’s terrific novel, but according to the author, Karen Jay Fowler came up with it. I hope she won’t mine me stealing it because it is as spot on as any description I could come up with.

The more prosaic version is that The Strange is a Western riff on Ray Bradbury’s vision of Mars, but without the canals. A Mars in an alternate 1930s timeline when interplanetary space travel first began during the Civil War, an oblique reference (among a slew of oblique references to classic SF tropes and personages) to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter, an ex-Confederate Barsoom warlord. Just as Bradbury had no interest in explaining how humans could actually exist on Mars sans space suits in a sort of off-world version of 1950s Illinois, or Burroughs how you can get astrally projected from an Arizona cave to Mars, Ballingrud just wants you to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride.

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Five Things I Think I Think (March 2024)

Five Things I Think I Think (March 2024)

And it’s another installment of Five Things I Think I Think. Because we all like to tell EVERYONE else our opinions, right? Social media was a godsend for mankind’s overweening self-absorption. Not that I have a problem with that…

Hopefully I hit on an item or two of interest.

1) BARKER & LLEWELYN IS AN EXCELLENT SERIES

Will Thomas has written fourteen novels and one short story featuring Sherlock Holmes’ “hated rival upon the Surrey shore” (“Adventure of the Retired Colourman”). Cyrus Barker is an Eastern-trained private inquiry agent. Thomas Llewelyn is his Watson. I had read the first several novels years ago.

Audible has most of them, and I went back to book one, the aptly-titled Some Danger Involved, and am about to start book eight, Hell Bay. I highly recommend this to Holmes, or Victorian detectives, fans.

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Vintage Treasures: World’s Best Science Fiction First Series edited by Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr

Vintage Treasures: World’s Best Science Fiction First Series edited by Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr


World’s Best Science Fiction First Series (Ace Books, 1970). Cover by Jack Gaughan

If you want to understand science fiction, it’s not a bad idea to start by reading Year’s Best volumes. And if you’re going to do that, it’s not a bad idea to start with the World’s Best Science Fiction, edited by Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr, an annual series that began in 1965 and lasted for an amazing 26 volumes. The last of which, The 1990 Annual World’s Best SF, appeared four months before Wollheim’s death at the age of 76.

The series survived both editorial changes and a switch in publishers (from Ace to DAW, in 1972), and was one of the only Year’s Best series to receive multiple paperback reprints. In fact, for collectors like me, its publication history is all rather confounding. Follow along while I try and figure it all out.

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Emancipation: April by Mackey Chandler

Emancipation: April by Mackey Chandler


April, Mackey Chandler (self published, May 4, 2019). Cover uncredited

Back in 2020, one of the blogs I follow had a paragraph about a newly released self-published novel, Who Can Own the Stars? by Mackey Chandler. The title sounded interesting, so I tracked it down on Amazon. It turned out to be volume 12 of a series; having enjoyed it, I went back to the first volume, April, and then read through the entire series, one volume at a time.

Like many science fiction writers of an earlier era, Chandler has a background that’s technological rather than literary. The April series is self-published, and has the rough spots that often go with that: It could benefit from a professional line edit, both to catch errors of language and to avoid minor inconsistencies such as changing a character’s name. As a copy editor, I’m sensitive to such things, and often they put me off a book. However, I just finished rereading April, and still found it both enjoyable and interesting.

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New Treasures: The Water City Trilogy by Chris Mckinney

New Treasures: The Water City Trilogy by Chris Mckinney


Midnight, Water City; Eventide, Water City; and
Sunset, Water City (Soho Crime, 2021-2023). Covers by Vlado Krizan

I was in Barnes & Noble last week, and saw an intriguing set of books on the shelves: The Water City Trilogy. It’s not often an entire trilogy manages to sneak past me, especially one with covers this colorful. The back of the first volume had this enticing blurb from Buzzfeed.

This gritty noir set in a sci-fi landscape is a real page turner.

I’m not familiar with the publisher, Soho Crime, and I’ve never heard of the author, Chris McKinney. But I’m not known in this business as a crazy risk taker for nothing. I put down my money and brought Midnight, Water City home.

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