A Desperate Battle Against an Alien Enemy: Threshold of Eternity by John Brunner and Damien Broderick

Thursday, March 14th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

Threshold of Eternity Threshold of Eternity-back-small

Phoenix Pick (236 pages, $14.99 trade paperback/$3.99 digital, November 2017)

A couple of years ago I read an early John Brunner novel called Threshold of Eternity, published as half an Ace Double. Here’s a bit of what I wrote about that:

Threshold of Eternity was first published in New Worlds, December 1957 through February 1958. The Ace Double version came out in 1959.

It opens in California in 1957 or so, as one-legged Red Hawkins encounters a French-speaking girl who couldn’t possibly be there — and, indeed, it turns out that Chantal Vareze was just in London. What’s stranger is the other person they soon encounter, a man named Burma who turns out to be from thousands of years in the future.

We jump, then, to the future, where one Magwareet is helping to coordinate humanity’s desperate war against mysterious aliens called The Enemy. One of the side effects of their battles, and also of a strange entity called The Being, is temporal surges, which can throw people into the far past. And Magwareet has just realized that his friend Burma has been flung into the past …

Cool stuff, eh? And things continue as Red and Chantal are carried into the far future, where the two eventually agree to help with the war against the Enemy, help which involves more trips to the past, a weird situation where multiple copies of the main characters coexist uneasily, and a wild and transcendent ending concerning the true nature of The Being, leading to an unexpected and not quite successful ending. Here’s how my review closed.

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New Treasures: The Fever King by Victoria Lee

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Fever King-small The Fever King-back-small

I gotta admit, the cover of Victoria Lee’s debut science fiction novel The Fever King doesn’t really grab me. My advance copy arrived months ago; I must have picked it up and put it down half a dozen times before I finally gave it a try. Turns out it’s a YA dystopian-superhero mashup with an interesting twist, reminiscent of the alien virus that leaves people twisted or with superpowers in George R.R. Martin’s long running Wild Cards series. In this case though, the result is a disintegrated America with magical elite, witching training centers, and an intriguing form of science-based magic. Here’s the summary from Kirkus Reviews.

In Carolinia, one of the nations of the former United States, magic enters people like a virus, mostly killing them.

If you survive, the magic stays and you become a witching. Noam, the Jewish Latinx son of undocumented immigrants from neighboring Atlantia, is one. With his parents dead, Noam is brought to the witching training center, receiving personal tutoring from the minister of defense, Calix Lehrer. Noam sees this as an opportunity to work from the inside to bring rights to the many refugees who have come to Carolinia to escape the virus that still plagues other areas…. Lee’s debut is a thriller with obvious allegorical connections to today’s political climate, but it doesn’t read as message-y; even those with genre fatigue shouldn’t regret giving it a try… Diverse characters, frank discussions about sexual and mental abuse, and reasonably plausible science-based magic elevate this above many dystopian peers.

The Fever King was published by Skyscape on March 1, 2019. It is 416 pages, priced at $9.99 in trade paperback and $4.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by David Curtis.

See all of our recent New Treasures here.


Deadly Tech, Terrifying Aliens and Huge Explosions: The Lazarus War by Jamie Sawyer

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Lazarus War Book One Artefact-small The Lazarus War Legion-small The Lazarus War Origins-small

I tend to grade space opera on a curve — especially military space opera. That’s not to say I don’t have standards. I’m just more forgiving of my space-faring, laser-blasting, alien-artifact-explodin’ interstellar sagas than I am when I read, say, contemporary fiction, or even fantasy. I’m in the market for a different kind of book when I reach for space opera.

That probably means I’m not the best person to be recommending this sort of stuff. But you knew that already… and you’re still here, bless your generous little heart. With that out of the way, I want to continue my space opera obsession of the last few weeks, and tell you about another series, this one from new author Jamie Sawyer. Since he burst on the scene with his first novel The Lazarus War: Artefect in 2015, about an elite military unit who mind-swap between cloned bodies to survive the deadliest kill-zones in the galaxy, Sawyer has gradually been accumulating readers and recognition. Neal Asher summed up the first book in the series as follows:

A hostile race of alien biomechs somewhat in the mould of H. R. Giger aliens… terrorism, subterfuge and traitors… starships sporting particle beam weapons, railguns the size of skyscrapers, laser batteries, missiles… And then there are the uber-human super-soldiers clad in powered armour and wielding plasma weapons… This, dear readers, is the good stuff.

As we’ve established, I’m not the person to count on for a quality recommendation here. But I can point you to some more reliable sources. Here’s Uncle Geoff at SFcrowsnest on The Lazarus War: Artefect.

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For the Killing of Kings by Howard Andrew Jones

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_53921t7oYJGMSWhen comes my numbered day, I will meet it smiling. For I’ll have kept this oath.

I shall use my arms to shield the weak.

I shall use my lips to speak the truth, and my eyes to seek it.

I shall use my hand to mete justice to high and to low, and I will weigh all things with heart and mind.

Where I walk the laws will follow, for I am the sword of my people and the shepherd of their lands.

When I fall, I will rise through my brothers and my sisters, for I am eternal.

 

 

Pledge of the Altenerai

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kyrkenall, veteran of the great war that almost destroyed the realm of Darassus, and Elenai, a young squire, both members of the Altenerai, an elite corps of warriors, find themselves on the run from their comrades in Howard Andrew Jones’ rapid-fire new book, For the Killing of Kings. At an almost brief 350 pages, it moves at an astounding pace, each chapter ratcheting up the suspense and the danger until everything seems ready to spin out of control. This is exciting storytelling from one of the best and most knowledgeable writers of heroic fantasy around. If you haven’t yet read Jones, this is an awesome place to start.

A little less than a decade before the book begins, the barbarian Naor almost conquered Darassus. In the end, the Naor were driven to near collapse by the Altenerai under the leadership of N’lahr. Following their massive battlefield defeat, the queen of Darassus, against the advice of the Altenerai, offered the barbarians peace. They accepted and withdrew to their ancestral lands. As the book begins, though, it seems the barbarians are on the move, threatening to bring fire and death once more to Darassus.

During the war a prophecy had been made that Mazakan, warlord of the Naor barbarians, would die at the hand of N’lahr by his sword, Irion. Though Mazakan surivived and N’lahr died, Irion hangs in the Altenerai’s hall and has remained a totem strong enough to deter the Naor from a full invasion. Until now.

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Future Treasures: Warhammer Horror: The Wicked and the Damned by Josh Reynolds, David Annandale, and Phil Kelly

Monday, March 11th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Wicked and the Damned-smallFive years ago, when I was commuting to Glenview and in the car three hours a day, I got hooked on Warhammer 40K audio books. My favorites were the Horus Heresy volumes, especially Ben Counter’s epic tale of betrayal and revenge Galaxy in Flames, but I devoured them all.

I take the train these days, and don’t keep up on the unfolding drama in the dark days of the 40th Millennium the way I used to, but I still pay attention when I can. So I was very intrigued to hear about the launch of Warhammer Horror, a new line of books and audio plays (wait… like the current line isn’t dark enough??) It arrives next month with three launch titles, the short-story anthology Maledictions, an audio drama titled Perdition’s Flame, and a collaborative novel titled The Wicked and the Damned, from three stars of the Warhammer stable. That last one is the one that really interests me, and mostly because of this description:

A chilling mosaic novel by masters of their craft.

On a misty cemetery world, three strangers are drawn together through mysterious circumstances. Each of them has a tale to tell of a narrow escape from death. Amid the toll of funerary bells and the creep and click of mortuary-servitors, the truth is confessed. But whose story can be trusted? Whose recollection is warped, even unto themselves? For these are strange stories of the uncanny, the irrational and the spine-chillingly frightening, where horrors abound and the dark depths of the human psyche is unearthed.

“A chilling portmanteau. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck prickling. The perfect combination of horror and Warhammer 40,000.” – Paul Kane.

Josh Reynolds wrote the popular Nightmare Men series on occult detectives here at Black Gate, David Annandale is the author of the Yarrick series and a contributor to The Beast Arises, and Phil Kelly is the man behind War of Secrets and Crisis of Faith.

The Wicked and the Damned will be published by Warhammer Horror on April 2, 2019. It is 400 pages, priced at $16 in trade paperback. No word on a digital version yet. See all our previous Warhammer coverage here.


Elizabeth Bear on 8 Forgotten SFF Classics of the ’70s and ’80s

Saturday, March 9th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Diadem from the Stars Jo Clayton-small Sorcerer’s Son Phyllis Eisenstein-small Dreamsnake Vonda McIntyre-small The Idylls of the Queen Phyllis Ann Karr-small

Elizabeth Bear speak my language.

Over at Tor.com last month, she holds forth on my favorite topic — vintage science fiction and fantasy paperbacks. In a survey of 8 Forgotten SFF Classics of the ’70s and ’80s, she tells tales of a handful of forgotten (and a few even more forgotten) genre classics, including Jo Clayton’s Diadem from the Stars (DAW, 1977), which she compares to Jack Vance.

There’s a girl in a profoundly misogynous society, whose mother was an offworlder. She gets her hands on a powerful alien artifact that she doesn’t know how to use, and makes her escape. This is a feminist revisioning of the planetary romance, and it shows the influence of Jack Vance and similar authors — the lone wanderer in a post-technology barbaric world that hovers somewhere between magic and superscience.

Definitely on the grimdark side, this might appeal to fans of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy.

When I posted this on Facebook last month, I got a number of enthusiastic comments from Black Gate readers. Charlene Brusso wrote:

Yes! Jo Clayton’s Moongather series and the Diadem series are both worth revisiting. One of the few writers I can go back and reread and not be disappointed.

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Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Nebula and Hugo Award for Best Novelette: “Goat Song,” by Poul Anderson

Saturday, March 9th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction February 1972-small Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction February 1972-back-small

Cover by Bert Tanner

Steven Silver has been doing a series covering the award winners from his age 12 year, and Steven has credited me for (indirectly) suggesting this, when I quoted Peter Graham’s statement “The Golden Age of Science Fiction” is 12, in the “comment section” to the entry on 1973 in Jo Walton’s wonderful book An Informal History of the Hugos. You see, I was 12 in 1972, so the awards for 1973 were the awards for my personal Golden Age. And Steven suggested that much as he is covering awards for 1980, I might cover awards for 1973 here in Black Gate.

Poul Anderson (1926-2001) was one of the leading SF and Fantasy writers of the last half of the 20th Century. He won the Hugo Award no fewer than seven times for his short fiction, twice taking the Nebula for the same story. He was named an SFWA Grand Master in 1998, he also won the Gandalf Award as Grand Master of Fantasy, and he received numerous other awards including the Mythopeic Award and the Prometheus Award. His best known novel might be Tau Zero (which finished second for the Hugo in 1971). His extended Future History sequence collectively called the Technic Universe probably represents his best-known and best-received set of stories, and his most famous characters, Nicholas Van Rijn and Dominic Flandry, appear in that series.

“Goat Song” is a pure standalone story, not part of any series. It appeared in F&SF for February 1972. As noted in the title of this essay, it won both the Hugo and Nebula for Best Novelette. I would have read it first in Nebula Award Stories 8. At the time I remember being tremendously impressed, but on this most recent rereading its force had diminished. (I reread it in my paperback edition of Anderson’s very fine 1975 collection Homeward and Beyond, which includes one very significant and lesser known story, the historical “The Peat Bog.”)

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New Treasures: The Wormwood Trilogy by Tade Thompson

Friday, March 8th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Rosewater Tade Thompson-small The Rosewater Insurrection Tade Thompson-small The Rosewater Redemption-small

Tade Thompson’s second novel Rosewater was one of the more intriguing books published last year. Here’s a snippet from Ross Johnson’s rave review at the B&N Sci-fi & Fantasy blog, which labeled it “a groundbreaking future noir.”

In the Nigeria of the mid-21st century, a makeshift town has sprung up around a mysterious dome that inexplicably appeared there some time in the recent past. Though the structure is alien in origin, its purpose is unclear—its influences can be malign, but also dramatically beneficial. Approximately once a year, people come from far and wide to take advantage of the healing powers released by the structure, but the effects aren’t entirely predictable, and sometimes leave pilgrims mangled and malformed — and those who die are left vulnerable to soulless reanimation. Still, HIV and cancer are completely curable in this altered world, and that alone makes the journey worth the risk.

This is all the backdrop for the story of Kaaro, a former thief and sometimes rogue government agent, first recruited for his unique sensitivity to the minds of others. For in the new world of the dome, a small portion of humans have developed empathic and telepathic powers, to greater and lesser degrees, and Kaaro is near the top of the scale. As a young man, he used his abilities to hunt down his neighbors’ valuables. As an adult, he’s tasked with interrogating subversives and potential public enemies, even as turbulent political waters leave those categories clouded.

Though generally mercenary in his considerations, Kaaro is ultimately pushed too far by his handlers in Section 45, threads of classic noir run thread through the story. A reluctant hero (when he’s being heroic at all), there’s a strong sense throughout that Kaaro’s sins and flaws might ultimately be his undoing…  It is, on one level, an engaging future noir about a flawed protagonist falling into the role of reluctant hero while coming to grips with an alien mystery, and that alone would make for a solid read. But Thompson’s ambitions are greater, and alongside the complex puzzles and multiple mysteries, he has a great deal to say about the ways in which individuals, whatever their nations of origin, respond to oppressive governments.

The second volume in what’s now being called The Wormwood Trilogy will be published next week in trade paperback from Orbit; and the final book arrives just six months later. Here’s the description for both.

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In 500 Words or Less: Two New Anthologies! New Suns and Resist

Friday, March 8th, 2019 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

New Suns Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color-small Resist Tales from a Future Worth Fighting Against-small

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color
Edited by Nisi Shawl
Solaris (384 pages, $15.99 paperback, March 2019)

Resist: Tales from a Future Worth Fighting Against
Edited by Gary Whitta, Christie Yant and Hugh Howey
Independently published (386 pages, $14.99 paperback, $7.99 eBook, October 19, 2018)

I’ve never been a fan of predictions about the time we live in, especially if they’re grandiose, but damn if someone doesn’t claim decades from now that today was a new golden age of SFF, especially in short fiction. Sure, there’s still a lot of the same generic crap being published (for some reason), but simultaneously there’s so much compelling, engaging work coming out that I can’t keep up.

Take, for example, New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color, edited by Nisi Shawl. A few of the names I recognized in here, but so many of them I had never heard of before, which I imagine is part of the point. “Harvest” by Rebecca Roanhorse is dark and delicate as it explores a relationship between a chef and a supernatural being called the “deer woman.” Jaymee Goh’s “The Freedom of the Shifting Sea” provides soft undertones about industrial development and environmental destruction, while Tobias S. Buckell doesn’t mince any of that with his depiction of an Earth bulldozed by aliens looking for resorts and tourist traps in “The Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex.” But the one that really blew me away was Minsoo Kang’s “The Virtue of Unfaithful Translations,” written as a treatise about a painting that tells the tale of a peace treaty concocted by two translators. I’m not sure that sounds captivating, but I promise you, it is.

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Enchantment, Heartache, and Mystery: The Blackthorn & Grim Trilogy by Juliet Marillier

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover art by Arantza Sestayo

If you visit the bookstore every couple of weeks like I do, you stay on top of the latest titles. You spot the exciting new books early, and learn the names of future genre superstars. Or you stumble on books you’ve overlooked for five years and think they’re brand new, like I did last week.

The book in question was Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier, author of the 6-volume Sevenwaters Series. Looked new to me. Read the back and thought, “This sounds cool.” Took it home. Found out there are sequels, the most recent published two years ago. I guess I’m not nearly as hip as I thought I was.

Well, what the hell. Now I have a complete trilogy to enjoy instead of a single novel, so I suppose there’s an upside. Set in the mystical landscape of ancient Ireland, the series sounds like a winning combo and magic and mystery. The opening volume earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly:

Marillier (the Sevenwaters Series) opens the Blackthorn & Grim epic fantasy series by sweeping readers into a lavishly detailed world full of enchantments, devotion, heartache, and mystery. Blackthorn, an embittered wise woman, longs for vengeance against the wicked lord responsible for her grievous loss, her imprisonment, and her coming execution. Conmael, a handsome fey nobleman, offers her freedom if she will travel to Dalriada, provide healing help to all who ask, and forsake revenge for seven years… She settles at Winterfalls, home of the humane Prince Oran of Dalriada, and eventually solves a tortuous magical puzzle for him. Marillier’s fascinating narrative, based loosely on Irish myth and centered on women’s empowerment, never slips into sentimentality… a tasteful feast for the imagination.

Dreamer’s Pool won the Aurealis Award for Best Australian Fantasy Novel in 2014. Here’s the description.

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