A Cyberpunk Video Game Between Two Covers: The Cry Pilot Trilogy by Joel Dane

Sunday, January 19th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Matt Griffin

“Joel Dane” is the pseudonym of an author of over 20 novels who launched an intriguing new military SF trilogy in August. The opening novel Cry Pilot followed a recruit with a secret drawn into a desperate war against lampreys, biological horrors created by the terra fixing process remaking a ruined Earth. Publishers Weekly raved, summing it up as “Riveting action paired with a sharp psychoemotional landscape.. the explosive launch of a futuristic trilogy.” In a review titled “The Closest Thing to an Immersive Cyberpunk FPS Video Game Between Two Covers,” S. Qiouyi Lu at The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog said:

Terrafixing gives abandoned machines and technology a new life, turning them into violent creatures that are both organic and inorganic — a fusion of weapon and mutated animal. After proving himself as a cry pilot, Kaytu becomes part of a squad training to defend against the latest of these threats (not to mention the most dire to date) — mysterious, ruthless creatures called lampreys hell-bent on destruction. With no known weaknesses and a casualty count mounting higher and higher, the pressure is on Kaytu and his squad to keep their reflexes quick and use all their training to fight against this seemingly unbeatable foe…

Cry Pilot… is a vivid, immersive novel that leans strongly into its military science fiction identity. Its main asset is its voice: Kaytu’s strong personality and first-person narration creates an intimate reading experience… Cry Pilot feels like a high-definition cyberpunk first-person shooter video game, with sleek, polished graphics and tons of lore to explore. If that’s your thing, suit up and dive in — this book will take you for a hell of a ride.

Hot on the heels of Cry Pilot comes Burn Cycle, with the third volume Kill Orbit already in the pipeline for July 2020. Here’s all the details.

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An Alien Mystery in the Heart of an Ancient Space Object: The Embers of War Trilogy by Gareth L. Powell

Saturday, January 18th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Julia Lloyd

Gareth L. Powell is the author of the popular Ack-Ack Macaque series, and two short story collections, The Last Reef (2008) and Entropic Angel and Other Stories (2017). His new space opera trilogy began with Embers of War (Titan Books, 2018), and folks took notice immediately. Here’s Joel Cunningham at The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

Gareth L. Powell’s Embers of War is a space opera that does everything right: it’s expansive in scope, but character-focused. It nods to genre tropes, but interrogates them too, considering the real-world ramifications of the lasting trauma of war. Oh, also: it has a great sentient starship. It quickly became a favorite of ours — not to mention the voters who handed it this year’s British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel — and our enthusiasm was not at all muted by the recent release of the just-as-good sequel Fleet of Knives.

Powell’s series is one of the more popular space operas on the market (and you all know how I feel about space opera). I was intrigued by the first two books immediately, but hesitant to jump in until the third one arrived. So this week I was delighted to receive a review copy of Light of Impossible Stars, the third installment in Embers of War, which formally goes on sale February 18 from Titan.

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A YA Novel that Violates Contemporary Writing Conventions: How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse by K. Eason

Friday, January 17th, 2020 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse CoverYoung Adult fiction is populated with fast-paced novels that sweep readers into adventure from the very first page, only letting up when the final page reads The End. Their prose shows in gorgeous detail, transporting readers into whole new universes, rather than merely telling what’s going on. Novels that feature heroines begin when they are old enough to be the targets of romance; starting when they are younger not only provokes no interest, but also threatens to confuse booksellers, who must decide where to shelve them. According to many writing experts, passive voice must be scoured from the pages. The first chapter should be comprised exclusively of action; exposition kept to a minimum, and sentences clipped short. The author must avoid entire discursive paragraphs like, say, this one.

Eason’s How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse is marketed as a Young Adult Hardcover. But it violates these contemporary writing conventions.

We begin before Princess Rory Thorne is born. Indeed, while she is still in the womb. Our heroine, who will cause many kerfluffles throughout her childhood, creates her first by being born a girl, when everyone had planned for her to be a boy.

Shortly after Rory’s birth, thirteen fairies descend onto the palace for Rory’s Naming Ceremony, even though no one really believes in fairies anymore, and the only reason they were invited was as a nod to tradition, silly as it may be. But still, the thirteen fairies suddenly appear in the ballroom, coming from out of nowhere. The first eleven give Rory various gifts, some of which are obviously quite useless, like playing the harp.

The thirteenth fairy gives Rory the ability not just to tell when people are lying, but also to hear the truths they are covering up.

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Vintage Treasures: A Woman of the Iron People by Eleanor Arnason

Friday, January 17th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Gary Ruddell

Eleanor Arnason is the author of five novels, including The Sword Smith (1978), To the Resurrection Station (1986), Daughter of the Bear King (1987), and Ring of Swords (1993), plus dozens of short stories, chiefly in her Hwarhath series, SF tales of mankind’s interactions with the sole other species we find able to travel among the stars. But her most famous book is the first contact novel A Woman of the Iron People, which won both the inaugural James Tiptree Jr. Award in 1991, and the 1992 Mythopoeic Award. Publishers Weekly called it “excellent, anthropologically oriented SF… an intelligent, provocative book,” and at Tor.com Jo Walton wrote:

It’s definitely Arnason’s masterpiece and I love it. A Woman of the Iron People is anthropological science fiction, in the tradition of The Left Hand of Darkness and Mary Gentle’s Golden Witchbreed and Janet Kagan’s Hellspark. Lixia has come on a spaceship through cold sleep to a new planet, one that has aliens…. A Woman of the Iron People also won the Tiptree Award, and this is easier to understand without any parables, because it really is a book with a focus on gender. The aliens live separately — the women live in usually nomadic villages, raising children. The men leave at puberty and live alone, fighting each other. They mate with the women in the spring. These are their accepted customs and their biological imperatives, but we see several edge cases…

Lixia travels with Nia, and later with the Voice of the Waterfall, a male oracle, and Derek, another human anthropologist. They travel through culture and landscape, learning them both. It’s great that these future humans are also strange and also bring problems of their own to the story… Unlike almost all the other anthropological SF out there, the end of the journey and connecting up with the main expedition raises more questions than it solves, and there’s a twist at the end of the book that I thought was wonderful.

Read Jo’s complete review here. A Woman of the Iron People was published in hardcover in 1991 by William Morrow, and broken into two volumes for AvoNova’s paperback reprint a year later. Here’s the back covers for the paperback editions.

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New Treasures: One Man by Harry Connolly

Thursday, January 16th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Harry Connolly was one of the most popular writers we published in Black Gate magazine, starting right out of the gate with his first fiction sale “The Whoremaster of Pald,” which you can read here and which appeared way back in Black Gate 2. His career really took off with his first novels, including the 4-volume Twenty Palaces series (which opened in 2009 with Child of Fire) and The Great Way trilogy, which M Harold Page called “More hardboiled than the Dresden Files.” It’s been some four years since Harry published a new novel, so the arrival of One Man in November, from Harry’s own Radar Avenue Press, was a very welcome surprise. He explains on his blog.

It’s been four years since I released a new novel… This book is the reason.

I spent two years writing One Man. It’s is a big book, over 150,000 words. It’s complicated, with lots of POV characters and locations. The setting is limited – almost every chapter takes place in a single city – but it’s complex. Which is another way of saying that a lot of time and sweat went into this novel, and I’m proud of the result.

See, I wanted to try an experiment. Most fantasy novels have huge stakes: A Dark Lord trying to conquer all. A usurper seizing the throne, pushing a kingdom toward civil war. A world-shattering magical cataclysm. Invasion of monsters. Return of monsters. Whatever. But what if I wanted to create a fantasy story about a quest for something small. Something important, but not world-shattering. For instance: the life of a single little girl. Not even his own, just someone he knows…

I think it’s a good book. A thriller with strange magic, desperation, betrayal, and murder. But it’s an odd book, too, with bourgeois hobbit vampires, and sleeping giants whose flesh can heal you, and a sprawling city built inside the skeletons of two gods… I’m hoping you’re interested in a big, odd, ambitious book about crime and magic and a screwed-up guy who has one last chance to do something decent in this world.

One World is the first novel in The City of Fallen Gods (which is maybe the name of a new series, I dunno?) It was published by Radar Avenue Press on November 26, 2019. It is 637 pages, priced at $17.99 in trade paperback and $4.99 in digital formats. Read the first two chapters here, and see all our latest coverage of Black Gate writers here.


Future Treasures: The Bard’s Blade, Book I of The Sorcerer’s Song by Brian D. Anderson

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover art by Felix Ortiz

Brian D. Anderson is a self-published author who’s sold over half a million copies of his books worldwide — no mean feat. His bestselling series include The Godling Chronicles and Dragonvein. This month he makes the move to mainstream publishing with his first book for Tor, The Bard’s Blade. It’s the opening novel in The Sorcerer’s Song, which Publisher’s Weekly calls “an ambitious, enjoyable tale.” Here’s the description.

Mariyah enjoys a simple life in Vylari, a land magically sealed off from the outside world, where fear and hatred are all but unknown. There she’s a renowned wine maker and her betrothed, Lem, is a musician of rare talent. Their destiny has never been in question. Whatever life brings, they will face it together.

But destiny has a way of choosing its own path, and when a stranger crosses the wards into Vylari for the first time in centuries, the two are faced with a terrible prophecy. For beyond the borders, an ancient evil is returning, its age-old prison shattered.

The two must leave their home behind, and in doing so will face sorcerers and thieves, con-men and assassins, treachery and greed. How far down this path will they have to go to stop the rising darkness and save their home? And how much of themselves will they have to give up along the way?

The Bard’s Blade will be published by Tor Books on January 28, 2020. It is 430 pages, priced at $17.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Felix Ortiz. It will be followed A Chorus of Fire, coming in August. Read a brief excerpt at the Tor/Forge Blog, and see all of our recent coverage of the best upcoming science fiction and fantasy here.


The Best in Modern Sword & Sorcery: The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Volume 3

Sunday, January 12th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Zoltan

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly has been published, like clockwork, every quarter since June 2009. And every eight issues, like clockwork, the editors of HFQ assemble a Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly volume, as a way to celebrate another milestone and promote their worthy magazine.

These books are top-notch examples of modern sword & sorcery (and I’m not just saying that because I was invited to write the introduction for Volume I.) In his review of Volume I, Fletcher Vredenburgh wrote:

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly is… the most consistent forum for the best in contemporary swords & sorcery. Some may think I’m laying it on a little thick, but The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly: Volume 1, 2009-2011, a distillation of the mag’s first three years, should prove that I’m not.

Volume III has just arrived, with a dynamic cover by Zoltan and stories by Charles Gramlich, P. Djéli Clark, Adrian Simmons, David Farney, and many others — plus an introduction by Darrell Schweitzer, and original art for each story by Miguel Santos, Justin Pfiel, Garry McCluskey, Robert Zoltan, and others. It’s an all-around gorgeous package, and a fine reminder that Heroic Fantasy is still a vibrant genre in the 21st Century. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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New Treasures: Unnatural Magic by C. M. Waggoner

Sunday, January 12th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Tomas Almeida

In these days of effortless online shopping, it still pays off to visit your local bookstore.

Yesterday I did exactly that, with my regular Saturday trip to our local Barnes & Noble in Geneva, Illinois. There I picked up my usual batch of magazines (Asimov’s SF, Analog, F&SF, and Interzone), and spent 20 minutes browsing the science fiction section. I’m pretty good about keeping on top of new releases in the industry, but the staff stocking the shelves at B&N always manage to surprise me — and they didn’t disappoint. I found nearly a dozen new titles, including a few that insisted they come home with me. Top of the list was Unnatural Magic by newcomer C. M. Waggoner, which Martin Cahill treated with a rave review over at Tor.com.

Unnatural Magic, a debut from author C. M. Waggoner, is utterly delightful.

It has all the elements of a parlor room mystery, with the depth and complexity of any sturdy secondary world fantasy, with just enough sense of humor, danger, and reality to round out the whole book into a startling sort of debut. Waggoner has created a world set at about the turn of the century, with a feel of industry sitting alongside a pastoral and intimate world, one which humans share with the mysterious clans of long-lived trolls, who hold a different sort of magic away from their human neighbors. Both have opinions on the others, as human and troll culture are wildly different from the other, but this world exists with mostly respect for each other, until the murders begin….

Unnatural Magic contains something for everyone. It has gentle, but efficient worldbuilding, with a colorful cast of characters… It has lush prose, with poetic turns of phrase scattered throughout. It has romance, certainly, and daring in heaping amounts. It has magic, and it has a mystery at its core. But mostly, what this brilliant debut novel has, is a massive amount of heart. It made me smile and it made me happy, and mostly, it made me very excited to see what Waggoner has cooking next. If it’s anything like Unnatural Magic, sign me up now. She’s absolutely an author to watch.

Unnatural Magic was published by Ace Books on November 5, 2019. It is 390 pages, priced at $16 in trade paperback and $11.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Tomas Almeida. Read an 8-page excerpt from Chapter One here. See all our recent coverage of the best new science fiction and fantasy here.


RBF Author: Writing Sword and Sorcery in the Days of High Fantasy

Friday, January 10th, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

Howard changed my lifeAuthor C L Werner is one of a number of authors to provide an essay for publisher Rogue Blades Foundation‘s release later this year of the book Robert E. Howard Changed My Life. Below Werner writes of Howard and the influence of sword and sorcery literature.

I have a curious relationship as regards sword and sorcery, because for me this tribe of fantasy fiction was encountered only after spending my formative years with what would be termed “high fantasy” in modern parlance. The Tolkien epics, the Arthurian sagas, and a good deal of Dungeons & Dragons during its heyday in the mid to late 1980’s when there was an emphasis on a grand scale for narratives, as demonstrated by the Dragonlance novels. I didn’t really get a proper introduction to sword and sorcery until much later, after moving to Arizona in 1993. That was when I first read the actual stories (or at least the Lin Carter/L. Sprauge deCamp revisions of them) of Robert E. Howard and his creations Conan the Cimmerian, Solomon Kane, and Kull of Atlantis.

Now I’d had a peripheral awareness of Robert E. Howard’s characters before, through comic books and the Conan movies (and that really cool stunt show Universal Studios had back in the 1980s), but my belated discovery of the actual stories really had a profound effect on me. While I did enjoy The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, I was always off-put by The Silmarillion and became jaded on many versions of the Arthurian tales. My investment in Dragonlance also waned over time, and I think the culprit can be found in an inability to be engaged by protagonists who are so far beyond relatability. Elf lords who can single-handedly cross swords with a balrog or wizards who can one-shot a dragon become, sadly, not as engaging as a character who has limitations to what they can do and how they can do it. In Howard’s stories, Conan or Solomon Kane get knocked about by the bad guys, put through the ringer by the ordeals they face. Certainly these characters overcome incredible odds and mighty foes, but these triumphs always felt like they were earned rather than an inevitable, foregone result. The reader experiences the struggle to prevail alongside the hero and in a more visceral way than often can be found in narratives that are operating to some legendary scale of warring gods and unfolding prophecies.

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There Will Never Be an End to Wonder: James Davis Nicoll on Poul Anderson

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Brain Wave Poul Anderson

Brain Wave by Poul Anderson (Ballantine Books, 1954). Cover by Richard Powers.

Poul Anderson was one of my favorite science fiction writers when I first discovered the genre. That interest didn’t survive into adulthood. While I still read Vance, Zelazny, Delany, I probably haven’t picked up a Poul Anderson novel in 30 years. It’s mostly neglect, rather than any conscious choice. It’s simply been too long since a Poul Anderson book survived the cut in my to-be-read pile.

I finally read James Davis Nicoll’s Tor.com article Celebrating Five Favourite Works by Poul Anderson, published on the 93rd anniversary of his birth, November 25, and it was a fine reminder of why Anderson’s work used to appeal to me… and why much of it maybe still does. Here’s Nicoll on the the 1953 novel Brain Wave.

The Earth emerges from an intelligence-suppressing field. Every creature that can think suddenly finds itself five times smarter. All humans of normal intelligence wake to find themselves geniuses. Animals discover that they can now think around the barriers used to control them. Human institutions crumble because humans are too bright to believe in them, while the agricultural systems on which we depend are themselves threatened by animals no longer willing to be stock or prey.

This could very easily have been an apocalyptic tale (superhuman humans shrug and carry on eating creatures that now fully understand what’s going on) — but that’s not the direction in which a comparatively young Anderson took his novel. Instead, the various viewpoint characters do their best to find new, better ways to live.

That’s a strongly appealing review, especially for a 66-year old book. But in many ways that matter, Anderson still speaks to modern readers. As Nicoll writes in his review of The Enemy Stars, “Anderson delivered on the promise. He took worldbuilding very seriously. He understood the sheer immensity of the universe… There will never be an end to wonder.”

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