Low-rate Mining Gigs, Warships, and the Power of Song: Tor.com on 7 Space Operas and Adventures

Saturday, July 6th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

All Systems Red Martha Wells-small Ancillary Justice Ann Leckie-small Space Opera Cat Valente-small

I’ve been saying for a while now that we’re in a space opera renaissance, and I’m not the only one to have noticed. There’s been plenty of discussion of some of the best new titles at many of our favorite sites.

Back in March I bought a copy of Arkady Martine’s Tor debut A Memory Called Empire, the tale of an independent mining station’s efforts to avoid being absorbed by the encroaching Teixcalaanli Empire, and as part of their promotional efforts at Tor.com Natalie Zutter assembled an interesting piece comparing the book to seven other recent space operas. Her list included books by Martha Wells, Ann Leckie, and Catherynne M. Valente, and I’ve found myself recommending it to people interested in modern tales of solar empires, intergalactic dynasties, and plucky space crews.

Any list that useful deserves to be shared. Here’s three of Natalie’s recommendations.

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The Early John Wyndham: Sleepers of Mars and Wanderers of Time

Friday, July 5th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Sleepers of Mars, Coronet 1973, cover by Chris Foss

Last month I wrote a Vintage Treasure piece about John Wyndham’s 1953 novel Out of the Deeps, and while I was researching it I was reminded that Wyndham — one of the 20th Century’s most successful science fiction writers — got his start in the American pulp magazine Wonder Stories, edited by Hugo Gernsback, and Walter H. Gillings’ British pulp Tales of Wonder. Someone with authentic pulp roots like that deserves a lot more attention than he’s received here at Black Gate over the years.

Much of Wyndham’s early pulp fiction was collected by Coronet in two slender paperback anthologies in 1973, Sleepers of Mars and Wanderers of Time, and they look like a great place to start. Neither were reprinted in the US, so I was unaware of them until recently (like, two weeks ago). But thanks to the wonders of eBay, I was able to locate the copy of Sleepers above for a reasonable price ($11.33). That’s more than I like to pay for a vintage paperback…. but it was almost as old as me, and definitely in better shape, so I made an exception.

Both books had introductions by Gillings. Though it’s short (2 pages), I found his intro to Sleepers of Mars entertaining and informative, especially since it shows how the first story in the collection relates to Stowaway to Mars, one of Wyndham’s pulp-era novels (and perhaps not coincidentally, also re-released in paperback by Coronet in 1972). Here’s the relevant snippet.

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New Treasures: Shadowblade by Anna Kashina

Thursday, July 4th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Ah, Angry Robot. Is there any other publisher out there taking chances on new fantasy writers they way they are? They’ve certainly claimed more than their fair share of my recent book-buying dollars, anyway. Last week it was Shadowblade, the latest from Anna Kashina. In his feature interview with Kashina at Clarkesworld, Chris Urie summarized the novel nicely.

Most of us are prone to flights of fantasy. We imagine ourselves capable heroes of a mythical kingdom full of mystery, intrigue, swordplay, and magic. But fantasy stories are often shackled by shadows of elves, rings, and medieval knights. When a fantasy novel brings ideas both new and surprising, it’s worth celebrating.

Anna Kashina’s new novel Shadowblade seamlessly blends together adventure, romance, swordplay, and intrigue with a unique world. Naia dreams of becoming a Blademaster. After her training goes awry, she meets a stranger who rescued the sole survivor of a horrific massacre. This stranger wants to topple the line of imperial succession — and Naia finds herself at the vanguard of a plot that will change the world.

Anna Kashina is also the author of The Majat Code series, published from 2014-2016 by Angry Robot with moody covers by Alejandro Colucci. Check them out below.

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A Final Gift from Gardner: The Very Best of the Best: 35 Years of The Year’s Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Very Best of the Best 35 Years of The Year's Best Science Fiction-small The Very Best of the Best 35 Years of The Year's Best Science Fiction-back-small

We lost Gardner Dozois, one of the greatest editors the SF field has ever seen, in May of last year. As devastating as that was, many of us took some solace in the fact that he had a handful of very exciting books still in the pipeline, and we’d have the opportunity to celebrate and remember him a few times yet.

The first of those, the 35th and final volume in his legendary Year’s Best anthology series, was published last July, and the monumental The Book of Magic (companion to The Book of Swords) arrived in October. The third and final book from Gardner, The Very Best of the Best, was published by St. Martins’ in February. It’s a massive tome, with a Hwarhath novella by Eleanor Arnason, an India 2047 novella by Ian McDonald, a Mars novella from Kage Baker, a novella by Robert Reed, a Quiet War novelette by Paul J. McAuley, and stories by Yoon Ha Lee, Peter Watts, Nancy Kress, Rich Larson, Maureen F. McHugh, Charles Stross, Eleanor Arnason, Michael Swanwick, Carrie Vaughn, Lavie Tidhar, James S. A. Corey, Stephen Baxter, Alastair Reynolds, Greg Egan, and many others.

While the subtitle is 35 Years of The Year’s Best Science Fiction, implying that the stories are selected from all 35 years of Gardner’s Year’s Best, that’s not true. The earliest tale is from 2002, and the most recent from 2017, meaning it’s really a retrospective looking back at the fifteen years between 2002-2017. It’s a rather idiosyncratic book, neglecting many of the most acclaimed stories from those years in favor of the authors and tales that Gardner loved best. Nonetheless, it is one final gift from Gardner, and if this truly is his final book, it’s a magnificent capstone to his career.

I owe a pretty big debt to Gardner — and not just because (for reasons unknown to me) he included me in the acknowledgments of his Year’s Best anthologies for over a decade. He edited some of the best science fiction I’ve ever read, and discovered, promoted and championed many of my favorite writers — and helped me discover many, many more.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents for The Very Best of the Best.

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The Stark House Algernon Blackwood, edited by Mike Ashley

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Promise of Air The Garden of Survival-small The Promise of Air The Garden of Survival-back-small
The Face of the Earth & Other Imaginings-small The Face of the Earth & Other Imaginings-back-small

I’ve been enjoying the attractive and affordable Stark House reprints of the work of Algernon Blackwood, much of which has been out of print for many decades. If I’ve counted correctly (and no guarantee of that) there have been ten volumes so far, collecting some dozen novels and six collections, all released under their Supernatural Classics banner in handsome trade paperbacks. Two more have arrived recently(ish), a slender collection titled The Face of the Earth and Other Imaginings, and an omnibus of two lesser-known novels, The Promise of Air/The Garden of Survival, both edited with fascinating introductions by Mike Ashley. Here’s a snippet from Mike’s intro to the latter.

Unfortunately for Blackwood, no sooner had he completed The Promise of Air, than tragedy struck. His brother, Stevie, who had long been in poor health, died on 16 June 1917 aged only forty-nine. There were deaths of other close friends, along with Blackwood’s every day witness of death working as an Intelligence Agent in Switzerland and as a Searcher for the Red Cross. Blackwood needed to express his innermost feelings and those emerged in a highly personal document later called The Garden of Survival. Blackwood had no intention of publishing it until others who read his manuscript implored him to do so.

The Garden of Survival is more a novella (taking up a mere 52 pages in this edition), but it made an impact. The Bookman called it “A remarkable psychological study,” and the Boston Herald said, “Mr. Blackwood makes the occult seem part and parcel of daily life.”

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Future Treasures: Howling Dark by Christopher Ruocchio

Monday, July 1st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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I first noticed Christopher Ruocchio last year, when he showed up as co-editor of a couple of the better Baen anthologies, Star Destroyers (co edited with Tony Daniel) and Space Pioneers (with the man himself, the great Hank Davis). Neither of those books, excellent as they were, prepared me for his debut novel, Empire of Silence, the opening volume in the epic Sun Eater space opera, which Library Journal called a “wow book… stretched across a vast array of planets,” and which my buddy Eric Flint called “epic-scale space opera in the tradition of Iain M. Banks and Frank Herbert’s Dune.” I’ve been looking forward to the follow up volume impatiently, and was surprised and delighted to receive a review copy last week. It will be published in hardcover by DAW in two weeks. Here’s the publisher’s blurb.

Hadrian Marlowe is lost.

For half a century, he has searched the farther suns for the lost planet of Vorgossos, hoping to find a way to contact the elusive alien Cielcin. He has not succeeded, and for years has wandered among the barbarian Normans as captain of a band of mercenaries.

Determined to make peace and bring an end to nearly four hundred years of war, Hadrian must venture beyond the security of the Sollan Empire and among the Extrasolarians who dwell between the stars. There, he will face not only the aliens he has come to offer peace, but contend with creatures that once were human, with traitors in his midst, and with a meeting that will bring him face to face with no less than the oldest enemy of mankind.

If he succeeds, he will usher in a peace unlike any in recorded history. If he fails… the galaxy will burn.

Howling Dark will be published by DAW Books on July 16, 2019. It is 679 pages, priced at $27 in hardcover and $12.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Kieran Yanner. See all our recent coverage of the best in upcoming fantasy and SF here.


2019 Locus Award Winners Announced

Sunday, June 30th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Calculating Stars Mary Robinette Kowal-small Spinning Silver Naomi Novik-small The Cabin at the End of the World Paul Tremblay-small

The Locus Awards, voted on by readers in an open online poll, have been presented every year since 1971. (A quarter century before there was such a thing as an online poll. Back in the day, we used to send ballots through the mail. Ask your parents what that means.) The final ballot lists ten finalists in each category, including Science Fiction Novel, Fantasy Novel, Horror Novel, Young Adult Book, First Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Anthology, Collection, Magazine, Publisher, Editor, Artist, Non-Fiction,Art Book, plus a Special Award given by committee. The winners were announced at the Locus Awards Weekend in Seattle, Washington, June 29, 2019.

Even if you didn’t vote in the awards, the list of Finalists makes a terrific Recommended Reading list. Two years ago Jonathan Strahan posted the following on his Facebook feed, and it still makes a lot of sense.

Here’s a thought, fellow SF readers. Locus has just announced its long list for the Locus Awards. Forget that it’s an awards list for a moment, though. It’s a reading list.

So why not look down the list below for Best First Novel. and try something new? Pick a book from the list below. Buy a copy, borrow a copy, go to the library and grab a copy. Track one down, and try something new…. I can recommend the Lee, Shawl and Slatter books very highly. Some of the others look really interesting.

Here’s the complete list of winners.

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Where Dogs Play a Part: Dogtime on the 5 Best Fantasy And Science Fiction Books With Dogs

Saturday, June 29th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

City Simak-small The Robots of Gotham paperback-small Top Dog Jerry Jay Carroll-small

Everybody loves recommending science fiction books. It’s not just our friends at Tor.com, Kirkus Reviews, and The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog anymore. Last week at Dogtime (Dogtime?!) Jean Andrei recommended the 5 Best Fantasy And Science Fiction Books “where dogs play a part in the story.” Starting, of course, with one of the great classics of the genre, the 1944 fix-up novel City.

Written by Clifford D. Simak, it’s told from the perspective of dogs as they explain what happened at the end of human civilization. The story tells of the advancements of humans and their desire to explore the universe. Before they leave, however, they give the gift of speech to all dogs on earth, as well as robots as their companions. It’s a compelling novel that is as strange as it is fascinating.

Even Black Gate contributors are getting in on the act. Amazon reviewer Tim in Chicago recommends Todd McAulty’s robot apocalypse novel The Robots of Gotham, released this month in trade paperback.

All of you plot-driven, immersive world, dystopian fantasy, robot-obsessed, political intrigue, action fans come right in — the pages practically turn themselves. Like a Jason Bourne with robots and a more sympathetic hero, Barry uses his most human qualities to navigate a world of robots that would rather just crush him than care about him. And there is a loyal dog — robots will never understand dogs.

Most BG readers will know about those two of course, but there are plenty more if you know where to look. Starting with Jerry Jay Carroll’s 1996 fantasy Top Dog, the opening novel in his A Dog’s Life series.

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New Treasures: Reentry by Peter Cawdron

Friday, June 28th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Retrograde Peter Cawdron-small Reentry Peter Cawdron-small

I missed Peter Cawdron’s Retrograde when it was released by John Joseph Adams Books last year. But I received a review copy of Reentry, became immediately intrigued, and eventually figured out it was a sequel. Here’s what Publisher’s Weekly, clearly more on the ball than I, said about the first novel.

Post-apocalyptic disaster meets fractured utopian space exploration in this terrifying tale, which Cawdron sets in a scientific outpost on Mars. Geologist Liz inhabits one of four subterranean modules built through massive cooperation among earth’s space agencies. Hazy news of a widespread nuclear war back home sends the astronauts into paranoid seclusion… This tense cat and mouse game plays off fears of self-aware computers to satisfying result.

Here’s the publisher’s description for Reentry.

After almost dying on Mars, astronaut Liz Anderson returns to Earth, but not to a hero’s welcome. America is in turmoil. The war is over, but the insurgency has just begun. So while life on Mars may have been deadly, at least up there she knew who the enemy was. Along with her, Liz has brought the remnants of the artificial intelligence that waged war on two planets. Buried somewhere deep within the cold electronic circuits lies the last vestiges of her dead partner Jianyu. Liz is torn, unsure whether he’s somehow still alive in electronic form or just a ploy by an adversary that will go to any length to win. Heartbroken and treated with suspicion, she finds herself caught up in the guerrilla war being waged on Earth, wondering if the AI threat is truly gone, or if it has only just begun.

Now all that’s left to decide is which one to read first. Here’s the complete publishing details.

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Vintage Treasures: Pilgrims through Space and Time: A History and Analysis of Scientific Fiction by J. O. Bailey

Thursday, June 27th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover by Ronald Clyne

You never know what strange wonders you’ll find at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Show. This year, among many other treasures on the $1 table, I found a coverless copy of J. O. Bailey’s 1947 nonfiction tome Pilgrims through Space and Time, which grew out of his 1934 Ph.D. thesis at the University of North Carolina.

You’d think a dissertation would be too dry to become a classic of genre (and in most cases you’d be right), but this was one popular enough to inspire the Pilgrim Award, given annually by the Science Fiction Research Association for contributions to the study of SF. It was first given to Bailey in 1970, and is still awarded today. Recipients have included Jack Williamson, Damon Knight, James E. Gunn, Brian W. Aldiss, Sam Moskowitz, Gary K. Wolfe, Joanna Russ, John Clute, L. Sprague de Camp, Brian Stableford, Mike Ashley, Gary Westfahl, Gérard Klein, Algis Budrys, and Pamela Sargent.

Pilgrims is a little dry for light reading, but I did find Bailey’s discussions of Lovecraft (“splendid”), and the pulp stories of Stanton Coblentz, Ray Cummings, A. Hyatt Verrill, John Taine, and others, to be entertaining enough to make me want to pick up some of my favorite pulp anthologies again — and maybe look at them in a new light.

Thomas Clareson, in his 1972 foreword to the Greenwood Press reprint edition, did a fine job summarizing the importance of this book to early SF scholarship. Here’s what he said.

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