John DeNardo on Terrific Science Fiction & Fantasy for Every Kind of Reader in March

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

A Memory Called Empire Arkady Martine-small The Near Witch V. E. Schwab-small Titanshade Dan Stout-small

I don’t know why I even try to keep up with all the new science fiction and fantasy every month. It’s literally an impossible task. Well, impossible unless you’re SF Signal founder and ace Kirkus reviewer John DeNardo. When he was a child John was bitten by a radioactive bookworm, and now he has literary superpowers. Probably. It’s the only explanation that makes sense, anyway.

Fortunately for mankind, John uses his awesome powers for good. Meaning he catalogs all the coolest science fiction and fantasy new releases every month, and summarizes them for eager readers in a handy format. Here’s the highlights for March.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Mahit Dzmare is the newly-assigned ambassador of an independent mining station. Her predecessor, she learns after the fact, was killed in a highly-suspicious accident. While Mahit maneuvers to keep the station from being absorbed by the ever-encroaching reach of the Teixcalaanli Empire, she must also find out who is behind the murder and save herself from the same fate.

WHY YOU MIGHT LIKE IT: High stakes political intrigue abounds in this fast-paced story.

A Memory Called Empire is Arkady Martine’s debut novel, and the opening volume in the Teixcalaan series. Black Gate author Martha Wells (The Murderbot Diaries) calls it “a murder mystery wrapped up in a political space opera, and deeply immerses the reader in a unique culture and society.” It is 464 pages, priced at $25.99 in hardcover/$13.99 digital; it will be published by Tor Books on March 26, 2019.

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Kelly Chiu Gives us 6 Reasons to Devour Ryōko Kui’s Delicious in Dungeon

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Delicious in Dungeon Volume One-small Delicious in Dungeon Volume Two-small Delicious in Dungeon Volume Three-small

Every few years I promise myself I’m going to do a better job keeping up with the latest fantasy manga, but I never really do. But last year I did manage to discover the delightful Delicious in Dungeon, written and illustrated by Ryōko Kui, and I consider that a major win.

Delicious in Dungeon is a Japanese fantasy comedy about a 6-member adventurer party very nearly wiped out in a Total Party Kill deep in a dungeon. In the last moments before she’s swallowed by a dragon, the magic-user Falin uses the last of her strength to teleport her brother Laios and the rest of the party to the surface. Defeated and demoralized, and faced with the loss of most of their coin and equipment, two members quit immediately, but Laios convinces the last two to join him in a desperate sprint back into the dungeon before his sister is digested and beyond the reach even of the most powerful healing magic. Famished and too penniless to provision, Laios concocts a foolhardy plan to eat the monsters they encounter on their way down.

That’s the basic set-up for a extremely imaginative and frequently hilarious dungeon romp featuring three hapless foodies in a gloriously elaborate monster haven. The setting in fact is a huge part of the charm of this series, and it will be warmly familiar to anyone who’s played D&D or a similar early RPG, with its crowded underground markets and well stocked trading outposts scarcely 50 yards from trap-infested monster gardens. The slimes, mushroom men, man-eating plants and other oddball creatures they come up against will also bring back fond memories of the classic dungeon delves of your youth. They’re delightfully wacky, just like the plans our heroes come up with to eat them.

Late last year Kelly Chiu at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog wrote a fine piece on the series, just before the English translation of the sixth volume arrived in stores. Kelly has a sharp sense for what makes the series so appealing to old school gamers and general comic fans alike, and in 6 Reasons to Devour Delicious in Dungeon she hit on many of the things I most enjoy about it. Here’s a few of her most on-target comments.

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Frazetta and Family: Ace Books House Ads, circa 1975

Saturday, February 23rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Ace Books House ad 1975-small

I bought a small collection of Mack Reynolds paperbacks on eBay last week, and they arrived yesterday. I settled in with them last night, and was surprised to find one of them, the 1975 title The Five Way Secret Agent and Mercenary From Tomorrow, which looked like a collection of two novellas from Analog, was actually an Ace Double. It didn’t have two covers in back-to-back dos-à-dos format, and the second book wasn’t printed upside down, but otherwise it was an Ace Double, with separate pagination for each novel and everything. It had the usual Ace house ads in the middle, which I normally flip past, but the double-page spread above brought me to a complete stop.

I mean, just look at this thing. Never mind the questionable tactic of trying to sell gloriously color Frazetta posters (for 3 bucks each) using muddy black & white images. Check out that house ad on the left: The number 1, formed from the names of the  most prominent authors in the Ace Books publishing family. And what a staggering list!

Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Brian Aldiss, Leigh Brackett, John Brunner, Edgar Rice Burroughs, John W. Campbell, Terry Carr, A. Bertram Chandler, Lester del Rey, Samuel R. Delany, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Philip Jose Farmer, Edmond Hamilton, Frank Herbert, Robert A. Heinlein, R.A. Lafferty, Damon Knight, Ursula K. Le Guin, Fritz Leiber, Stanislaw Lem, Andre Norton, Michael Moorcock, Barry Malzberg, Alexei Panshin, Frederik Pohl, Mack Reynolds, Joanna Russ, Bob Shaw, Clifford D. Simak, Robert Silverberg, Brian Stableford, Theodore Sturgeon, James Tiptree, Jr., EC Tubb, A.E. Van Vogt, Jack Vance, Jack Williamson, Roger Zelazny

It’s not just the amazing list of authors — which is, let’s face it, a nearly unprecedented line up of talent for a single SF publisher. It’s that fact that most of those authors are still revered today, and in fact more than a few — Philip Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, James Tiptree, and others — have achieved even greater fame in the intervening four decades.

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Weird and Wonderful and Frightening: An Interview with Fantasy Renaissance Man Howard Andrew Jones

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

For the Killing of Kings-smaller Howard Andrew Jones thinks big thoughts-small

Howard Andrew Jones is a true renaissance man of modern fantasy. He began writing short stories featuring his Arabian heroes Dabir & Asim for magazines and anthologies like Paradox, Sages & Swords, and Black Gate. He switched to novels with the widely acclaimed The Desert of Souls, one of the major works of fantasy of 2011. He followed that with a sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones (2011), and a 4-book sequence for Pathfinder Tales: Plague of Shadows, Stalking the Beast, Beyond the Pool of Stars, and Through the Gate in the Sea.

In addition to writing, he’s also a gifted editor. He edited eight volumes of the collected tales of Harold Lamb for Bison Books, rescuing the early short fiction of one of the greatest adventure writers of the 20th Century from the moldering pages of pulp magazines. He was Managing Editor for the early e-zine Flashing Swords from 2004-2006, and in 2006 accepted the position of Managing Editor of Black Gate. He is the founding editor of Goodman Games’ new sword & sorcery magazine Tales From the Magician’s Skull, which published two issues last year. And in late 2018 he became Executive Editor at Perilous Worlds, where he oversees the publication of new titles for some of most popular properties in fantasy, including John C. Hocking’s Conan and the Emerald Lotus and Conan and the Living Plague.

Though that keeps him plenty busy, he has not neglected his own writing. For the Killing of Kings, the first novel in a brand new series, The Ring-Sworn trilogy, arrives today from St. Martin’s Press. It’s the top pick of the month of March for Bookpage, and Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, saying it “will have readers laughing, crying, and cheering.” Somehow Howard found time to sit down with us for a lengthy interview about his writing process, his influences (including Zelazny, Raymond Chandler, and Leigh Brackett), and the fast-changing trends he sees from his catbird seat in the industry. Enjoy.

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A World of Puzzles, a Society Based on Beauty, and a Space Princess: The Latest from Harper Voyager

Saturday, February 16th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Lost Puzzler-small Fearless Sarah Tarkoff-small Polaris Rising-small

Last Saturday, during my bi-weekly trip to our local Barnes & Noble, I picked up a copy of Rachel Dunne’s The Shattered Sun, published by Harper Voyager. In a brief post that afternoon I noted that a single publisher had dominated my attention as I browsed the shelves.

One thing I noticed this week is that half the books that caught my eye, including The Shattered Sun, the debut fantasy The Lost Puzzler by Eyal Kless, and the space opera Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik, were from Harper Voyager. Man, Voyager is really firing on all cylinders this season. I need to find out who the editors are over there.

A few keystrokes revealed that there are four editors at Voyager: Angela Craft, David Pomerico, Kayleigh Webb, and Pam Jaffee. There’s a great intro to the talented crew at their Meet the Team page, and a good intro to their current and future line-up here.

The books that commanded my attention that morning included The Lost Puzzler, Eyal Kless’ tale of a lowly scribe sent out in world full of puzzles, tattooed mutants, and warring guilds, to discover the fate of a child who mysteriously disappeared over a decade ago; Sarah Tarkoff’s Fearless, the sequel to last year’s Sinless, set in a near future where morality is rewarded with beauty, and crime with ugliness; and a space opera featuring rival houses, a rebellion, and a princess fleeing an arranged marriage: Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik. Here’s the back covers for all three.

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Vintage Treasures: Classic Science Fiction: The First Golden Age, edited by Terry Carr

Sunday, February 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Classic Science Fiction The First Golden Age UK-small Classic Science Fiction The First Golden Age UK back-small

Terry Carr may be my all-time favorite editor. His Creatures From Beyond (1975) was one of the very first SF anthologies I read in Junior High, and the sixteen volumes of The Best Science Fiction of the Year he produced remain a high water mark for the genre. Carr died in 1987, at the too-young age of 50, but I still read his books with enormous pleasure today.

It may be a sign of age (mine, not Carr’s), but I usually associate him with modern science fiction. So I was a little surprised to discover his anthology Classic Science Fiction: The First Golden Age, which collects a dozen stories published in pulp magazines in 1940-41. This is not an easy book to find; it had a single hardcover printing from Harper & Row in 1978, a UK reprint from Robson a year later, and then promptly vanished. There’s been no paperback, no reprint since 1979, and no digital version. If I hadn’t stumbled on a copy on Amazon through blind luck back in 2011, I probably still wouldn’t know this book existed.

I love pulp SF, so it’s always nice to get a new selection of Golden Age tales, especially from an editor with Carr’s eye. Here he includes a handful of classics, like Asimov’s “Nightfall,” Kuttner’s “The Twonky,” and Heinlein’s “By His Bootstraps,” and “–And He Built a Crooked House–,” but also stories I’ve never seen before, like Lester del Rey’s “The Smallest God,” Ross Rocklynne’s “Into the Darkness,” and Leigh Brackett’s “Child of the Green Light.”

But even more interesting than that, at least for me, is Carr’s lengthy editorial material exploring the history of SF’s Golden Age, the major personalities involved, and the stories behind the fiction. Easily 20% of this book (some 90 pages) is written by Carr, and he draws from a great many sources, including a lot of personal correspondence and interviews, to tell some fascinating anecdotes and illuminate the surprising history of some of the greatest science fiction ever written. This is a book that belongs in every serious library of pulp SF, alongside The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Asimov’s Before the Golden Age, and Healy and McComas’ Adventures in Time and Space.

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A Rich Library of Modern Science Fiction: The SF Gateway Omnibus Editions

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

Heinlein The Past Through Tomorrow The SF Gateway Omnibus-small Gordon R Dickson SF Gateway Omnibus-small Connie Willis SF Gateway Omnibus-small
Heinlein The Past Through Tomorrow The SF Gateway Omnibus-back-small Gordon R Dickson SF Gateway Omnibus-back-small Connie Willis SF Gateway Omnibus-back-small

Yesterday I posted a brief article on Jack Vance, and as one of the header images I included a pic of the Jack Vance SF Gateway Omnibus, a massive volume from Orion Publishing/Gollancz containing three complete works: Big Planet, The Blue World, and the collection The Dragon Masters and Other Stories. I did it because I thought the book was very cool, and I wanted readers to know about it. And it paid off — in the comments section Glenn posted the following:

Just an aside John. Has anyone at Black Gate taken a look at the Gateway Omnibus series? I saw a whole bunch of them turn up at my local Half Price Books. The covers are weird but they seem dedicated to getting some lesser read classics out there in an inexpensive format.

Glenn read my mind. And in fact, he had the exact same experience I did. In April last year, while I was in Lombard, Illinois for the Windy City Pulp & Paper Show, I dropped into the local Half Price Books. I came out with a few interesting vintage paperbacks, but the real find was a handsome assortment of bright yellow oversized trade paperbacks with the Gateway Omnibus logo. All were brand new, and each volume contained a generous sampling of reprints from a well-known science fiction name. I’d never seen them before, but I was struck by both the eclectic mix of titles, and the wide range of authors: folks like Algis Budrys, C.L. Moore, Damon Knight, Clifford D. Simak, Edmond Hamilton, E.C. Tubb, Edgar Pangborn, John Brunner, Jack Williamson, Kate Wilhelm, James Blaylock, Joe Haldeman, Frank Herbert, Henry Kuttner, and many others. Best of all, the books were very reasonably priced — $7.99 each. I ended up taking four home with me that day (the Wilhelm, Kuttner, Williamson and Moore), and doing an online search to find just how many were out there.

What I discovered was an extremely impressive catalog of over 50 titles. All were originally published in the UK, so distribution in the US is spotty at best, but many are still widely available (and still reasonably priced). To give you an idea of the amazing scope of the collection, I’ve gathered 51 thumbnail images for you to browse below.

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Hector DeJean on Why Jack Vance Was Science Fiction’s Tightest Worldbuilder

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Jack Vance Gateway Omnibus-small The Jack Vance Treasury-small The Narrow Land-small

Jack Vance died in 2013, but his work continues to be avidly discussed and appreciated. New readers are still discovering his timeless SF adventures like Big Planet, and publishers like Subterranean have produced gorgeous collections like The Early Jack Vance (five volumes) and The Jack Vance Treasury. And his mass market paperbacks from DAW, Ace and others remain inexpensive and continue to circulate, winning him new readers.

I’ve quite enjoyed some of the more recent discussions of Vance, like Hector DeJean’s January 11 Tor.com article “A Lean, Mean, Writing Machine: Jack Vance Was Science Fiction’s Tightest Worldbuilder,” which looks at three of Vance’s early novels from a rather different perspective. Here’s the opening paragraphs.

I’m a big fan of concise stories. If a writer fills a three-volume science fiction epic with 2000 pages of detailed worldbuilding, intriguing speculative concepts, and captivating character arcs, that’s all well and good, but if that writer can get that down to 300 pages, that’s better. And if a writer goes further and nails it in 150 pages — well then, that writer can only be Jack Vance.

Vance produced well over 70 novels, novellas, and short story collections over the course of his writing career, creating fantasy stories and mysteries as well as science fiction, and even producing a substantial number of doorstoppers that would have impressed George R. R. Martin with their girth. Vance’s extensive oeuvre has its imperfections — especially glaring today is his near-complete lack of interesting female characters — but at their best the books set an excellent standard for the construction of strange new worlds. Three tales in particular, The Languages of Pao (1958), the Hugo Award-winning The Dragon Masters (1962), and The Last Castle (1966), squeeze artfully assembled civilizations into focused, tight paragraphs. Other authors might have used these worlds as settings for bloated trilogies, but Vance quickly builds each society, establishes his characters, delivers the action, and then is off to create something new. I can’t think of any other author who put together so many varied worlds with such efficiency.

I think DeJean has a fine point. Vance’s early experiences writing for the markets, and especially the painful and arduous task of substantially cutting his first novelBig Planet for publication in hardcover (and later at Ace), taught him the valuable skill of spinning a complex tale in a very small space.

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The Most Ambitious First Contact Saga in Science Fiction: The Foreigner Series by CJ Cherryh

Sunday, February 3rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

CJ Cherryh Foreigner 10th Anniversary Edition-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 2 Invader-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 3 Inheritor-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 4 Precursor-small
CJ Cherryh Foreigner 5 Defender-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 6 Explorer-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 7 Destroyer-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 8 Pretender-small
CJ Cherryh Foreigner 9 Deliverer-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 10 Conspirator-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 11 Deceiver-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 12 Betrayer-small
CJ Cherryh Foreigner 13 Intruder-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 14 Protector-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 15 Peacemaker-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 16 Tracker-small
CJ Cherryh Foreigner 17 Visitor-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 18 Convergence-small CJ Cherryh Foreigner 19 Emergence-small CJ Cherryh

Art by Michael Whelan (1,2,6,7), Dorian Vallejo (3), Stephen Youll (4,5), Donato Giancola (8,9), and Todd Lockwood (10-19)

I like to talk about SF and fantasy series here, and last week I dashed off a quick article about a 9-volume space opera that caught my eye, Lisanne Norman’s Sholan Alliance. The first two commenters, R.K. Robinson and Joe H, both compared her novels to the queen of modern space opera, C.J. Cherryh. That certainly got me thinking. Like Norman, Cherryh is published by DAW, and as I said last week,

For many years DAW’s bread and butter has been extended midlist SF and fantasy series that thrive chiefly by word of mouth… You won’t connect with them all of course, but when you find one you like they offer a literary feast like no other — a long, satisfying adventure series you can get lost in for months.

More than any other writer, Cherryh may be responsible for DAW’s success with space opera. She’s been associated with the publisher for over four decades, since her first two novels, Gate of Ivrel and Brothers of Earth, were purchased by founder Donald A. Wollheim in 1975. Cherryh has produced many of DAW’s top-selling series, including the popular Chanur novels, the Company War (including the Hugo Award-winning Downbelow Station), The Faded Sun trilogy, and especially the 19-volume Foreigner space opera, perhaps the most ambitious and epic first contact saga ever written.

C.J. Cherryh became a SFWA Grand Master in 2016, and the Foreigner books are perhaps her most celebrated achievement. The first, Foreigner, was published in 1994, and has remained in print for the last 25 years; the most recent, Emergence, arrived in hardcover last year, and was reprinted in paperback less than four weeks ago. Four of the books were shortlisted for the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, and all 19 titles remain in print today.

If you’re truly on the hunt for “a long, satisfying adventure series you can get lost in for months,” Foreigner — all 7,200 pages of it — may be the most important literary discovery you ever make.

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Reading for a Good Cause: 32 White Horses on a Vermillion Hill edited by Duane Pesice

Saturday, February 2nd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

32 White Horses on a Vermillion Hill-small 32 White Horses on a Vermillion Hill Volume 2-small

I’ve heard from several readers about a new charity anthology benefiting horror writer Christopher Ropes, 32 White Horses on a Vermillion Hill. Most recently Robert Adam Gilmour wrote, saying:

There are no shortage of writers going through difficult times and I imagine you might get quite a number of emails for funding them but this involves two anthologies and some writers you are familiar with. His situation is horrifying enough that it has stuck in my head and I just wanted to see if you’d feature it on Black Gate.

I’m informed about a lot of worthy fundraising efforts every year, but Robert is right — this one is of particular interest, as it involves dozens of writers of keen interest to Black Gate readers. Editor Duane Pesice has assembled two volumes of 32 White Horses on a Vermillion Hill, both of which contain 32 stories & poems generously donated from members of the weird fiction & horror communities, including Jonathan Maberry, Michael Wehunt, Ashley Dioses, K.A. Opperman, Marguerite Reed, Jon Padgett, Douglas Draa, John Linwood Grant, Jeffrey Thomas, Jason A. Wyckoff, Frank Coffman, and many others. All the profits from the books go towards helping Christopher cover the costs of some long-needed dental work (see the Go-Fund-Me page here).

Christopher’s work has been published in Vastarien (Grimscribe Press), Nightscript (Chthonic Matter), Ravenwood Quarterly (Electric Pentacle Press), and other fine publications, and it’s clear he has a lot of friends in the industry. If you’re active in fandom or on social media, you doubtless encounter calls for help on a regular basis. But I’ve never seen one quite like this. Pesice has assembled two anthologies that would look impressive under any circumstances. Copies are available at Amazon and directly from Planet X Publications. If you’re going to read some horror this month, why not read for a good cause?


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