Future Treasures: Eden by Tim Lebbon

Saturday, March 21st, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Tim Lebbon Eden-small

The ivy-cover copy of Tim Lebbon’s Eden,
mailed to me by a creative publicist at Titan Books

Getting review copies never gets old. I get far too many to write about these days, and they pile up on my library floor. When it comes time to crank out a Future Treasures post about an upcoming title, I take the time to select what looks most interesting, or the one I think you lot would most like to hear about.

Unless I’m in a hurry, in which case I grab whatever catches my eye. Then you’re at the mercy of whatever publicist or cover designer is most clever this week, and able to cut through all the clutter and grab my attention.

Today there are more than three dozen review copies and advance proofs piled up in front of my big green chair, but I’m not writing about any of them. Today you’re hearing about Tim Lebbon’s new eco-thriller Eden. Not because Kirkus Reviews calls it “Jurassic Park meets catastrophic climate change in this creepy, cinema-ready story,” or because Publishers Weekly says it’s “wondrous and deeply unsettling.” No, I’m telling you about Eden because a very clever publicist took the time to wrap a copy in plastic ivy before mailing it to me, and it’s that little bit of extra effort that gets attention. (Plus, what the hell are you going to do with an ivy-wrapped book? You can’t just stick it in the pile; the ivy will get crushed.)

It reminds me of the time the Tor publicity team sent me K Arsenault Rivera’s The Tiger’s Daughter with a seed packet that doubled as a bookmark (complete with planting instructions). You better believe I wrote about that one.

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John DeNardo on the 7 Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Books of March

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

A Pale Light in the Black-small The House in the Cerulean Sea-small The Gobblin’ Society by James P. Blaylock-small

Covers by Vadim Sadovski, Chris Sickels/Red Nose Studio, and Jon Foster

Good friends recommend good books. And that makes John DeNardo just about the best friend we have in this business. I’ve come to rely on his regular columns for Kirkus Reviews to point me towards the best new releases each month, in articles like “Sex Robots, the Future of Racism, and Cthulhu Vacations” [Jan 21] and “The Definitive List of the Top Science Fiction & Fantasy of 2019” [Dec 2019].

He also does regular monthly round-ups of the best novels — while not neglecting short fiction, which is one of the things I like about him. For March he looks at new novels by Katie M. Flynn, K. B. Wagers, Myke Cole (Sixteenth Watch), TJ Klune, N. K. Jemisin (The City We Became), Zack Jordan, and Menna van Praag, and new short fiction and collections from Tor (including Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights, and Hearts of Oak by Eddie Robson), Titan Books (including Cursed edited by Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane), Undertow Publications, the British Library, and Black Library, not to mention James P. Blaylock, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, and many others.

As always, there’s plenty of great stuff on John’s list. Here’s a few of the highlights.

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Adventures in Gaming Discovery: The Games Plus 2020 Spring Auction

Sunday, March 8th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Spring 2020 Games Plus Auction-small

Yesterday I attended the 2020 Spring Auction at Games Plus in Mount Prospect, Illinois. I exhibited more self control than I usually do, but that’s not saying much. My budget was $700, and after seven hours I reluctantly put away my bidding card, when my purchases finally tipped the scales at $1,000. That’s considerably less than I spent in 2019 or 2018, but it still filled eight boxes, and it took the combined skills of three gaming professionals to Tetris them into my tiny Juke before my satisfied road trip back to St. Charles.

It was good to bring so many great bargains home. But truth to tell, I’d attend the biannual Games Plus auctions even if I couldn’t buy a thing. It’s been said that we live in a Golden Age of board gaming, and it’s almost impossible to keep up with the tsunami of exciting new releases every month. The Games Plus auctions are a fun way to do that — not just to see the panorama of new titles as the auctioneers rattle through hundreds of games every hour, but to experience the sudden surge of interest from the crowd as rare or highly desirable items make their way to the auction block. It’s a crash course in what’s new, what’s hot, and what’s really hot.

The attendees at the Games Plus auctions are a friendly and courteous bunch, quick with gamer humor and rounds of laughter, and in those rare moments when prices shot up past $100, $200, or even $300 for truly hot items, there was always a round of appreciative applause. When I saw two determined collectors engage in a spirited bidding war for a trio of Rogue Trader supplements, and watched the loser drop his card at $155 and then good naturedly join in the applause for the winner, I knew I was in the right crowd.

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Captured at Capricon: The Best of Greg Egan

Sunday, March 1st, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best of Greg Egan-small

Cover by David Ho

I attended Capricon, a friendly science fiction convention here in Chicago, last month. And as usual I spent much of my time wandering the Dealer’s Room, looking for bargains. As I often do I ended up at Greg Ketter’s Dreamhaven booth, where he had a bunch of discount paperbacks. (Yes, I needed a box to get back to my car.) But the most interesting purchase I made wasn’t a vintage Robert Silverberg or A.E. Van Vogt paperback, but a copy of The Best of Greg Egan, the new (and monstrously huge) retrospective collection from Subterranean Press.

I’ve read Egan almost exclusively at short length, and I’ve been very impressed (especially tales like “Reasons to be Cheerful,” the story of a man who slowly learns to reprogram his own personality after a near-fatal brain injury, which I read in Interzone), so this was a very easy decision to make. The collection has been well reviewed at Publishers Weekly (“Egan’s talent for creating well-drawn characters shines”), and Library Journal (“The author’s brand of hard sf is captivating, approachable, and not overly technical”), but the best review I’ve found is Russell Letson’s lengthy feature at Locus Online.

‘Unstable Orbits in the Space of Lies’’ lies somewhere between a Borgesian fable and an old Galaxy-style comic inferno: a literalized metaphor worked out with science-fictional rigor, as an epistemological hobo tries to maintain some independence of mind as he navigates an urban landscape that has been fractured by ‘‘attractors’’ into competing ideological precincts. The physical environment of ‘‘Into Darkness’’ is one of Egan’s topological puzzles, an intruding wormhole through which the narrator moves to rescue people trapped by its alien geometry and physical laws. The story framework is a tense and effective physical adventure, while at the same time the narrator recognizes the metaphorical properties of the space he is traversing.

As massive as this book is (it weighs in at 731 pages), it’s a relative bargain, priced at $45 in hardcover.

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Best of the Small Magazines: The Digest Enthusiast #11, Pulp Modern: Tech Noir, and Weird Fiction Review #9

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

The Digest Enthusiast 11-small Pulp Modern Tech Noir-small Weird Fiction Review 9a

Covers by Rick McCollum, Ran Scott, and Colin Nitta

One of the great pleasures of the science fiction and fantasy genre is the fine selection of small magazines, covering a wide range of specialty interests. It’s only the sheer size of SFF fandom that allows these magazines to exist, and for like-minded communities to form around them. Here’s a few of my recent favorites.

The Digest Enthusiast was founded by Arkay Olgar in 2014, and has been published every six months by Larque Press since. It’s now edited by Richard Krauss, who does a fine job, and in fact issues have been getting bigger and more ambitious every year. Book Eleven, cover dated January 2020, is a whopping 159 pages in full color, and they look gorgeous.

The Digest Enthusiast is dedicated to the world of 20th Century digest magazines, and this issue includes a lengthy feature on Astounding by Ward Smith, Black Gate blogger Steve Carper looks at the time when the cover to Journey to Murder was accidentally overprinted on Terror by Twilight in 1945, and Richard Krauss pens a 32-page retropsective and checklist of one of the best known pulps editors in the 1930s and 1940s, a man who edited more than 70 publications and bought two millions words a month, in “Leo Margulies: Giant of the Digests.” The issue also contains interviews with writer and artist Janice Law, writer Paul D. Marks, and Manhunt editor Jeff Vorzimmer, plus fiction by Joe Wehrle, Vince Nowell, Sr., and John Kuharik.

The Digest Enthusiast interiors, rich with high-detail scans of magazine covers on nearly every page, greatly benefit from the full-color treatment. Here’s a few samples.

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io9 on All the New SF & Fantasy You Need to Know About in February

Thursday, February 27th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Puzzler's War-small The Last Smile in Sunder City-small The Firmament of Flame-small

As the months go by I feel the loss of the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog keenly. It shut down on December 16th of last year, firing all freelancers and halting production of new content. That included Jeff Somers’ monthly survey of the best genre books, which I’d grown to depend on to keep me reliably informed. Fortunately there are fine other resources for book junkies, like Cheryl Eddy’s monthly new book column at io9/Gizmodo. This month Cheryl looks at 43 new titles from Seanan McGuire, Alastair Reynolds, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Ken Liu, Ben Aaronovitch, Katharine Kerr, Gareth L. Powell, R.E. Stearns, C.L. Polk, Sarah Gailey, Melissa de la Cruz, Justina Ireland, Cate Glass, and many others.

Here’s a few of the highlights. First up is the sequel to The Lost Puzzler, Eyal Kless’ tale of a lowly scribe sent out in world full of puzzles, tattooed mutants, and warring guilds, which we covered last year.

The Puzzler’s War by Eyal Kless (Harper Voyager, 560 pages, $17.99 trade paperback/$11.99 digital, February 4, 2020)

This follow-up to sci-fi adventure The Lost Puzzler finds a variety of characters — including an assassin, a warlord, and a mercenary — tracking down a teenage boy who may the only person able to save the world by solving the ultimate puzzle.

My underground contacts tell me The Puzzler’s War is the second novel in what’s being called The Tarakan Chronicles.

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Every Nation Schemes its Master Stroke: Spies! by SPI

Sunday, February 23rd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

SPI board game Spies 3-small

When I moved to Urbana, Illinois in 1987 to start grad school, I left behind a lively game group in my home town in Ottawa, and I missed it.

Fortunately Urbana has its own thriving gaming community (or at least it did, 30 years ago), and it wasn’t long before I fell in with a group of students who also enjoyed gaming. We traded Amiga games, gathered around lab PCs to play Starflight, and got together on weekends to try more ambitious diversions. One of the highlights for me was SPI’s Spies!, a fascinating and historical game of life-and-death spycraft in the run-up to World War II.

Typical of SPI games of the era, it was both fun to play and educational, and it gave me a newfound appreciation for the complexities of politics in pre-war Europe, and the dangerous games of brinksmanship played out in public and behind the scenes. It also helped bring to life an historical era I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in, and sparked an interest in World War II that has lingered to this day. If you’ve got some friends or family members whom you’d like to interest in 20th Century European history, trust me, this game is the way to do it.

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SFWA Announces the 2019 Nebula Award Nominations

Saturday, February 22nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Ten Thousand Doors of January-small Gods of Jade and Shadow-small Gideon the Ninth-small

It’s nearly the end of February. And that means that the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) has finally put an end to all that suspense, and announced the nominees for the 2019 Nebula Awards, one of the most prestigious awards our industry has to offer.

This year’s nominees are:


Marque of Caine, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix E. Harrow (Redhook; Orbit UK)
A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine (Tor)
Gods of Jade and Shadow, Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Rey; Jo Fletcher)
Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir (Tor.com Publishing)
A Song for a New Day, Sarah Pinsker (Berkley)

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Rebecca Diem on The New Golden Age of the SFF Novella

Wednesday, February 12th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Lights Go Out in Lychford-small Riot Baby-small Prosper's Demon-small Upright Women Wanted-small

I complain frequently about modern publishing (where did mass market anthologies go, damn it!?) but  really, there’s a lot to like. One of the most positive recent trends has been the resurgence of the novella. We’ve spent a lot of time at Black Gate covering popular new novellas like Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s This Is How You Lose the Time War and Tor.com‘s exciting release schedule (in Intergalactic Wars, Ancient Gods, and Living Ships: New Novellas from Tor.com, among others), but we’re not the only ones who have noticed.

Over at Tor.com Rebecca Diem, author of the 4-volume Tales of the Captain Duke novella series, salutes the modern age of the novella. She touches on many truths in her article; here’s a small taste.

With a good novella, I’m able to dip my toes into an adventure, especially when a busy schedule prevents me from dedicating time to longer works. Short stories pair well with your morning coffee; novels are best for long stretches of uninterrupted time on evenings or weekends. Novellas fit nicely into a tote bag for your commute and all those spare moments collected over the course of the day, but can also be finished in a couple hours for a satisfying and immersive reading experience.

When I was researching market opportunities in 2014 after finishing my first novella, I stumbled on a lot of advice similar to this 2008 Writer’s Digest piece advising novella writers to “stick it in a drawer” or pad it out to a full-length work… But novellas are now being actively solicited by all major publishers, and early adopters of the trend toward shorter works (including Tor.com) are leading the field with awards and accolades.

The novella’s comeback can be attributed to the emergence and increasingly popularity of e-books, print-on-demand publishing, and alternative distribution models, making them a more attractive, lucrative option in the digital age. There are rich opportunities here for both writers and readers of concise, efficient storytelling.

Rebecca’s article is Long Live Short Fiction: The New Golden Age of the SFF Novella; it’s well worth the read. And while we’re on the topic, here’s a handful of Tor.com‘s upcoming releases that caught my eye, including Sarah Gailey’s “good old-fashioned horse opera for the 22nd century” (Charles Stross) Upright Women Wanted.

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The 2019 Locus Recommended Reading List

Sunday, February 9th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Twisted Ones-small The Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction-small The Best of Greg Egan-small Roy G. Krenkel Father of Heroic Fantasy - A Centennial Celebration-small

The annual Locus Recommended Reading List is probably your best one-stop reference for all that’s new and exciting in book releases. It’s compiled by the staff and editors of Locus magazine, plus the contributing columnists, outside reviewers, and “other professionals and critics of genre fiction and non-fiction” — folks like Jonathan Strahan, Liz Bourke, Carolyn Cushman, Paul Di Filippo, Paula Guran, Rich Horton, Russell Letson, Gary K. Wolfe, Mark R. Kelly, Cheryl Morgan, John Joseph Adams, Ellen Datlow, John DeNardo, Charles Payseur, Sean Wallace, and many, many others.

The 2019 list appeared in the February issue of Locus magazine, on sale now, and was also published in its entirety last week at the Locus Online website.

Be prepared to take notes. The list includes several hundred titles in a dozen categories, including Science Fiction Novels, Fantasy Novels, Horror Novels, Young Adult Novels, Collections, Anthologies, Non Fiction, Illustrated and Art Books, Novellas, Short Fiction, and others.

I’m a Locus subscriber, and have been for nearly three decades. The magazine is a tremendous resource for anyone who’s serious about science fiction. Each issue is packed with in-depth reviews, interviews, news, photos, convention reports, entertaining features, and a lot more. Why not check it out? Digital subscriptions start at just $4.99 a month. Do yourself a favor and buy a sample issue here.

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