Dark Cults and Alien Mysteries: Warhammer 40,000: The Magos by Dan Abnett

Thursday, November 21st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Magos Audiobook-big

I’ve gotten in the habit of listening to audiobooks as I take the train into Chicago every morning. Yes, it’s a little risky to be wearing headphones in the middle of that jostling crowd, completely caught up in tales spun by skilled narrators while blithely stepping out into traffic. Someday you may read a somber obituary that claims I was splatted by a fast-moving cab. But know that I died happy.

This morning I was enjoying the new Eisenhorn “novel” by Dan Abnett, The Magos, which is really a fat collection of short stories (plus a new novel). And I was completely and utterly caught up in Toby Longworth’s brilliant narration of “The Curiosity,” the short tale of a taxonomist who finds himself in a life-and-death hunt for an alien beast in the mist-crowded hills of a backward province. I found this brief review at Track of Words that let me know there are other tales featuring Valentin Drusher, magos biologis, and that makes me happy.

First published in 2003 in Inferno! magazine, Dan Abnett’s short story “The Curiosity” offers the first glimpse of Valentin Drusher, magos biologis… Dispatched to a bleak, distant province to investigate sightings of an unknown beast that’s left a trail of corpses behind it, it’s not long before he realises this is more than just an apex predator he somehow missed. Caught up in the hunt for the beast, Drusher is out of his league and in terrible danger…

Drusher may be an amateur sleuth rather than an inquisitor, but that just makes the situation that bit more dangerous. It’s a nicely self-contained story, complete with all the descriptive scene-setting and strong, effective characterisation that you’d expect from Abnett, and the slightly baffled, eccentric Drusher is instantly engaging. In the grand scheme of 40k the stakes are small, but away from the battlefields and in context of a simple, rural community there’s more than enough drama for this to be gripping and entirely satisfying.

The Magos is available in print and on audio, but you really haven’t experienced this story until you’ve listened to Longworth’s deep, resonant (and surprising versatile) voice bring it to life — preferably while watching Chicago slide by through a rain-slicked window. Highly recommended. The audio version is 20 hours, and sells for $22.90 on Audible.


Future Treasures: The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2019 edited by Paula Guran

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2019

Usually when I write a Future Treasures piece, it’s about a book that hasn’t been published yet. And that applies in this case. The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2019, the tenth volume in Paula Guran’s excellent anthology series, definitely ain’t out yet.

Now, the official publication date was yesterday, so this is a little frustrating. I look forward to this book every year. It’s the companion to my favorite Year’s Best volume, Rich Horton’s Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, and Paula is one of the most experienced editors in the business. She has a sharp eye for delightful and surprising fiction, and this year’s volume — with stories by Tim Powers, Jeffrey Ford, Simon Strantzas, Tim Lebbon, Naomi Kritzer, Mary Robinette Kowal, E. Lily Yu, Isabel Yap, Michael Wehunt, Steve Rasnic Tem, Brian Hodge, Robert Shearman, Angela Slatter, M. Rickert, and many others — looks like a terrific package. But despite having an official pub date of November 19, it’s listed as unavailable at every online outlet I’ve checked.

I assume this is something that the publisher, Prime Books, will sort out in the next few weeks (they usually do). In the meantime I shall wait patiently, as I look over the delicious Table of Contents with great anticipation. Here it is.

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Tor.com on Six-Guns and Strange Shooters

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

Territory Emma Bull-small Dust Devil Blu Ray-small Jonah Hex Face Ful of Violence-small

It’s been a very good year for science fiction, horror, and dark fantasy, and overall I am content. But, you know, I’m never totally content, because really, what’s the point of that? This year my crankiness originates from a near total lack of Weird Westerns. It’s like the genre dried up and blew away in the wind in 2019.

At least there are a few Weird West books, movies and comics to fall back on. Earlier this year at Tor.com Theresa DeLucci shared her picks of some of the best in Six-Guns and Strange Shooters: A Weird West Primer, and she managed to point out more than a few I haven’t tried yet, including Emma Bull’s fantasy retelling of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Territory, and the 1990 film Dust Devil. And she reminded me I need to read more Jonah Hex. Here’s what she said about everyone’s favorite creepy gunslinger.

Forget the terrible movie. (You know Josh Brolin wishes he could.) The original 1977 DC comic is considered one of the first popular representations of the Weird West. The bounty hunter marked by a demon’s brand seeks out the West’s worst and also, sometimes, less earthly quarry. He also sometimes time travels and gets into a gun-fight with a T-Rex. Jonah Hex‘s best and creepiest run was written by east Texan horror master Joe R. Lansdale and come highly recommended.

Theresa also showcases The Etched City by K.J. Bishop, the Golgotha novels by R. S. Belcher, the great Deadlands: Reloaded RPG, and much more. Check out her article here.

See all our coverage of the best of the Weird West here.


A Wide Range of Stories: John DeNardo on the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books in October

Wednesday, October 30th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Half Way Home by Hugh Howey-small How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse-small Salvation Lost Peter F. Hamilton-small

In his intro to his book roundup for October over at Kirkus Reviews, John DeNardo says:

I’m constantly surprised at the wide range of stories offered within the science fiction and fantasy genres. Just take a look at this month’s top science fiction and fantasy picks and you’ll see what I mean.

He’s certainly got a point. SF and fantasy fans are constantly making up new sub-genres and sub-sub-genres to categorize just what the hell we read every month (Weird Western, Urban Fantasy, Sword-and-Planet, Space Opera, Steampunk, Cyberpunk, Ghostpunk, Elfpunk…), and it still seems that half the new stuff is just flat-out uncategorizable.

October’s new SF & Fantasy is no different. Over at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog Jeff Somers catalogs 29 October titles by Tade Thompson, Cixin Liu, Tim Pratt, Theodora Goss, and our very own Derek Künsken, but John takes a different tack, narrowing his focus to The 7 Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books to Read This October. Here’s a few highlights from his suggestions.

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Intergalactic Wars, Ancient Gods, and Living Ships: New Novellas from Tor.com

Sunday, October 27th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Undefeated Una McCormack-small The Border Keeper-small Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday-small Sisters of the Vast Black-small

The last Tor.com novella I read was Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney, and it made me want to read a lot more. The prose (as one expects from Cooney) was delightful, but it was also the perfect length for a light-but-also-surprisingly-dark fae fantasy. It had exactly the right number of calories, and now I find myself looking around for something equally tasty and not too filling.

Fortunately the Tor.com back catalog is deep and gorgeous. They started their handsome novella line almost exactly four years ago, in September 2015, and have kept up a semi-weekly (sorta-kinda weekly, sometimes bi-weekly) release schedule ever since. I haven’t counted but there must around 150 by by now.

Tor.com’s editors have produced something for every taste over the past four years. Space opera, weird fantasy, horror, urban fantasy, comedy, military science fiction, dark fantasy, alternate history love stories, and a whole lot more. Like all great editors, they’ve published award-winning fiction from top names (Martha Wells, Nnedi Okorafor, Seanan McGuire) and also mixed it up with some terrific debuts from stellar new talents. Looking over their recent releases, it’s clear the quality and drive at Tor.com has not flagged at all. Here’s a look at some of their most interesting new titles.

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Analog Announces 90th Anniversary Reprint Series

Friday, October 25th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Analog Science Fiction November-December 2019-small Analog on running reprints in 2019-small

Analog Science Fiction and Fact, November-December 2019, and an excerpt from Trevor Quachri’s editorial

Gabe Dybing, who clearly gets his issues of Analog faster than I do, tipped me off that editor Trevor Quachri has something very interesting planned for the magazine’s upcoming 90th Anniversary year (90! Holy cats). Gabe sent me the above pic of Trevor’s editorial in the November-December issue, on sale this week. For those of you who don’t like to squint, here’s the relevant text.

As many of you may know, 2020 is going to be Astounding/Analog’s 90th anniversary year, and the January/February issue is the 90th anniversary of our very first issue. Something we’ll be doing that requires a little explanation is a series of limited retrospectives over the year: each issue we’re running a reprint from one of our past decades, with an introduction (in the editorial/guest-editorial space) talking about it either as a historical artifact, an overlooked gem, or just a personal favorite — a story that an editor or knowledagable (sic) author found interesting for whatever reason but didn’t have an appropriate venue in which to chat about it.

The goal is to cover the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, the thinking being that most of the material from the ’30s isn’t really reflective of the magazine’s later identity, and anything from 2000 on is too recent. We’re going to try to keep it to one story per decade, though the nature of the project (tracking down the rights to older material particularly) means that’s not entirely set in stone. Some of those decades had a lot of good stories! But we have to save some ideas for the centennial, after all.

This is great news for classic SF fans, and I look forward to seeing what Trevor chooses (and I hope some bright-eyed new readers will discover a few giants of the genre as a result).

But since I’m old, I also have to grouse a little… Trevor can’t find one pulp story from the 1930s worth a look?? In the 1930s, John W. Campbell and Astounding published stellar fiction by the best pulp writers of the era — including “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr, “Helen O’Loy” by Lester del Rey, “Black Destroyer” by A. E. van Vogt, “Life-Line” by Robert A. Heinlein, “Ether Breather” by Theodore Sturgeon, and many, many more. Maybe Trevor is just looking for suggestions. Shout yours out in the Comments.


The Boxed Set of the Year: American Science Fiction: Eight Classic Novels of the 1960s edited by Gary K. Wolfe

Sunday, October 20th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

American Science Fiction Eight Classic Novels of the 1960s-small

Cover by Paul Lehr

Gary K. Wolfe is one of my favorite Locus columnists. He also reviews science fiction for the Chicago Tribune and, with Jonathan Strahan, co-hosts the excellent Coode Street Podcast. But more and more these days I think of him as an editor. He edited the Philip Jose Farmer retrospective collection Up the Bright River (2011) and, even more significantly, American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s: A Library of America Boxed Set (2012), a massive 1,700-page, 2-volume omnibus collection of classic novels by Pohl & Kornbluth, Sturgeon, Brackett, Matheson, Heinlein, Bester, Blish, Budrys, and Leiber, all in gorgeous hardcover with acid-free paper, sewn binding, and full cloth covers.

So I was thrilled to hear that, seven long years later, Wolfe has fulfilled that promise of that first beautiful boxed set with a sequel: American Science Fiction: Eight Classic Novels of the 1960s. Like the first, it will be sold as two separate hardcovers, and also available in a handsome boxed set edition. It contains eight of the finest SF novels of the 60s:

The High Crusade, Poul Anderson (1960)
Way Station, Clifford D. Simak (1963)
Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes (1966)
…And Call Me Conrad (This Immortal), Roger Zelazny (1966)
Past Master, R. A. Lafferty (1968)
Picnic on Paradise, Joanna Russ (1968)
Nova, Samuel R. Delany (1968)
Emphyrio, Jack Vance (1969)

The whole package comes wrapped up in a boxed set featuring artwork from the brilliant Paul Lehr. It will be in bookstores on November 5th — and is available now at $15 below retail if you order direct from Library of America.

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Create Your Character Backstory with Style: Call to Adventure from Brotherwise

Saturday, October 12th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Call to Adventure-small

I attended Gen Con for the first time in roughly fifteen years this year, and let me tell you, it was an experience. Wandering the massive Exhibit Hall — which quite literally took me three full days  — drove home for the first time just how truly enormous the modern board game market is. 50,000 excited attendees packed the halls and pathways connecting over a thousand vendor booths, displaying thousands of new releases and tens of thousands of games. It was so packed it was sometimes impossible to move.

For a gamer whose very first gaming convention (CanGames in Ottawa in the late 70s) had maybe 250 attendees, it was a revelation. Fantasy gaming — like comics, role playing, and fantasy films — has gone mainstream in a big way. The tiny hobby I was once a part of is now a multibillion dollar business. Fantasy and Science Fiction were the dominant genres, but there were plenty of family games, wargames, and strange unclassifiable titles.

But it’s still about the games. I realized early that it would be impossible to take in every new title of interest, so instead I started at one end of the Exhibit Hall, taking pictures with my iPhone. I  made my way methodically up and down each aisle until I arrived, three days and many hundreds of photos later, at the far end, with a record of every new game of interest. I can’t cover them all of course, but I can discuss a few here on the blog. And I’ll start with one of the first games I ordered as soon as I returned from Indianapolis: Call to Adventure from Brotherwise Games.

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Giving People What They Want: James Nicoll on The Traveler in Black by John Brunner

Thursday, October 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Traveler in Black John Brunner-small The Traveler in Black John Brunner-back-small

The Traveler in Black (Ace Books, 1971). Cover by Diane Dillon and Leo Dillon

Outside of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and Michael Moorcock, the 20th Century didn’t produce a great many enduring Sword and Sorcery series. Which is why we cherish those we have, like John Brunner’s The Traveler in Black.

The Traveler in Black first appeared in a short story in Science Fantasy in 1960. He was a captivating and enigmatic figure, and he proved popular enough that Brunner returned to his creation four more times in the next two decades. The first four tales were collected in The Traveler in Black, a 1971 paperback original from Ace Books, part of Terry Carr’s famed Ace SF Special series. James Nicoll turned a fresh eye to them this summer, saying:

Chaos is losing its grip on reality. The Traveller in Black does his humble best to accelerate the process. In most cases he does this by using his power to warp reality to give people what they want — at which point they find they didn’t really want it after all…

There are parallels between the Traveller stories and Tanith Lee’s later Flat Earth books. While Brunner might have influenced Lee, I think it more likely that both are playing in a sub-genre of fantasy now unfashionable, in which fantastic worlds evolve towards the mundane.

Where Lee’s Flat Earth revels in decadence, the world of the Traveller in Black is one in which one finds a sardonic pleasure in watching people get their just desserts. The delight is redoubled in that one can predict a catastrophe, but one cannot predict just HOW foolish choices will backfire. If that’s the way your sense of humour rolls, you’ll enjoy this book.

It’s always great to read a thoughtful review of a nearly 50-year old S&S vintage paperback (and it’s especially great that we’re not the only ones writing them.)

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BookRiot on 30 Haunted House Books that will Give You the Creeps

Sunday, October 6th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Grip of It Jac Jemc-small THE WOMEN IN THE WALLS AMY LUKAVICS-small THE GOOD HOUSE TANANARIVE DUE-small

Ah, October. The month when I finally catch up on all the all the spooky reads I’ve been hoarding all year.

Back in July, Jessica Avery at Book Riot posted a fine survey of 30 Haunted House Books that will Give You the Creeps. Who wants to read haunted house novels in July? But now that the evenings are getting cold and leaves are starting to fall off the trees, a young man’s thoughts naturally turn to… creepy houses and buried family secrets. So I returned to Jessica’s piece, and it features some very intriguing titles indeed. Here’s the highlights.

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc (FSG Originals, 288 pages, $15 paperback/$2.99 digital, August 1, 2017)

This addition to the list was recommended to me as being just absolutely read-through-your-fingers frightening. In one of those plots familiar to many haunted house books, Julie and James need to get out of the city and end up settling in a house in the country. But what was supposed to be a fresh start for the troubled couple soon turns into a nightmare. As the house seems to misshape and decay before their eyes, Julie and James rush to discover its history before they follow suit.

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