I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it again (before this column dies the hero of Black Gate or lives long enough to become its villain): I love a novel that’s about conflict resolution through words.
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2020,
edited by Rich Horton (Prime Books, June 2021). Cover by Argus
The print version of Rich Horton’s 12th Year’s Best volume was delayed roughly six months by the pandemic, and it finally arrives next week. The delay was a little frustrating for those of us who look forward to this book every year, but considering how deeply the pandemic impacted the publishing world overall, I figure it could have been a lot worse. (The digital version has been available since December, but I remain stubbornly a print guy.)
Rich’s introductions to the early volumes belonged to the get-out-of-the-way-and let-the-fiction-do-the-talking school, but over the years they’ve loosened up a bit, and this year’s is one of his best, a lively and thoughtful look at the impact of this very eventful year on science fiction, and some thoughts on famous genre pandemic fiction. Here’s part of his comments on the tales within.
A Dead Jinn in Cairo (Tor.com, 2016), The Haunting of Tram Car 015 (Tor.com, 2019),
and A Master of Djinn (Tor.com, 2021). Cover art by Kevin Hong (left) and Stephan Martiniere (right two)
I get a lot of email from Black Gate readers. Stuff like, “Hey John, I’m boarding a five hour flight to LA , what should I put on my Kindle?” Seriously? Come on, people. I have a life. I don’t have time to drop everything to be your personal librarian.
Ha-ha-ha-ha. I know, right? Like I have a life, outside of being your personal librarian. So let’s get to this. Got five hours? Here’s what you do: You download P. Djèlí Clark’s novelette “A Dead Djinn in Cairo,” (originally published at Tor.com), and his Locus, Nebula, and Hugo-nominated novella The Haunting of Tram Car 015, set in the same alternate fantasy Cairo.
And then when you land, you can pre-order the next book in the series, Clark’s debut novel A Master of Djinn, on sale from Tor.com on Tuesday. Here’s the details.
Tim Pratt has been nominated for the Nebula, World Fantasy, Sturgeon, Stoker, and Mythopoeic Awards, and he won the Hugo Award for his short story “Impossible Dreams.” His latest — and most ambitious — work is the Axiom space opera trilogy, which Tor.com called “a witty, heartfelt sci-fi romp.” The first volume, The Wrong Stars, was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award; we covered the whole series back in 2019.
His latest is a collection of three previously unpublished novellas set in the Axiom universe, and they sound terrific. The Alien Stars and Other Novellas was originally funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, but the end result was successful enough that Angry Robot picked it up for reissue in paperback. Locus calls the collection a “Compelling, fun, explosive work of space opera pulp. It’s delightful,” and Publishers Weekly said,
With these three exciting novellas, Pratt explores and expands the lively pulp world of his Axiom space opera trilogy… “The Augmented Stars” finds cyborg engineer Ashok captaining his own wormhole generator–equipped vessel. He and his crew contend with ancient alien artifacts from Axiom facilities and cosplaying space pirates… In the epistolary title story, alien Lantern risks her life to prevent her own treacherous people from destroying humanity and save the human woman she loves… each of these tales delivers the buoyant humor and adventure of the Axiom novels.
The book arrives in paperback next week. Here’s the publisher’s description.
Alias Space and Other Stories
By Kelly Robson
Subterranean Press (400 pages, $40 hardcover/$4.99 eBook, April 30, 2021)
Cover by Lauren Saint-Onge
If there’s one thing that characterizes Kelly Robson’s stories, I think it’s the love and care that you can see in each one. It’s hard to describe in words, but it’s like I can see how she’s built each world around her characters in a way that either supports or challenges them, oftentimes both. Take Zhang Lei in “A Study in Oils,” surrounded by strangers he can’t trust but who are best placed to understand the pain he’s running from and his need to hide from an interconnected world, and to support him when he’s finally free. Or creche manager Jules, who has to face her past on Luna, no matter how much she wants to forget it, because of the choices everyone else makes around her in “Intervention.” Even fleeing a dragon in “La Vitesse” forces mother-daughter duo Bea and Rosie to understand each other better. Plus dragons!
Robert Silverberg is a Science Fiction Grand Master, a living legend of SF, and one of the most prolific and widely respected genre writers of the 20th Century. And here he is, 21 years into the 21st Century, still producing important books that command our attention.
Is Voyagers: Twelve Journeys through Space and Time an important book? Sure looks like it to me. It is, according to my count, his 50th collection, appearing almost exactly 60 years after his first, Next Stop the Stars, was published in 1962. It contains a dozen of his most celebrated stories, including tales of Spanish conquistadores who find the Fountain of Youth, a tourist in Mexico who makes a startling discovery, and spacefarers who find a nightmare world.
If you’re not familiar with Silverberg, this may be one of the most important and rewarding purchases you make this year. And if you are, you already know it’s an essential buy. It arrives in trade paperback from Three Rooms Press in two weeks. Here’s an excerpt from the enthusiastic Publisher’s Weekly review.
SFWA Grand Master Silverberg brings together 12 tension-filled speculative stories from throughout his long career in this impressive collection. Silverberg’s adventurous and melancholy tales are united in taking characters to vividly detailed settings, including a grisly ancient Egyptian embalming market in “Thebes of the Hundred Gates”; a “nightmare world” of “gaudy monsters” called Sidri Akrak in “Travelers”; and even the microscopic space between electrons in “Chip Runner.” Exploring themes of death and identity, the stories range from the bittersweet to the truly tragic, yet the collection never feels grim. These timeless topics also mean that even the decades-old stories still resonate… Readers will be won over by the immersive worldbuilding and clever plot twists of these thought-provoking stories.
Voyagers: Twelve Journeys through Space and Time will be published by Three Rooms Press on April 20, 2021. It is 448 pages, priced at $16 in trade paperback and $9.81 in digital formats. Get all the details at the publisher’s website.
See all our recent coverage of the best upcoming SF and fantasy here.
The Helm of Midnight (Tor Books, April 13, 2021)
There’s something about a well-rendered fantasy city that speaks to me of adventure. Maybe it’s the classic tales of Leiber’s Lankhmar, or Gygax’s Greyhawk, Ellen Kushner’s Riverside, Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork, or so many others. When I see a procedural detective novel in a fantastical city, I look forward to a tale of intrigue, action and surprises.
That’s what I’m expecting from The Helm of Midnight, the first novel in a new trilogy from Marina Lostetter, author of the popular Noumenon space opera series that wrapped up last year. It arrives in hardcover from Tor in three weeks. Here’s the description.
In a daring and deadly heist, thieves have made away with an artifact of terrible power—the death mask of Louis Charbon. Made by a master craftsman, it is imbued with the spirit of a monster from history, a serial murderer who terrorized the city.
Now Charbon is loose once more, killing from beyond the grave. But these murders are different from before, not simply random but the work of a deliberate mind probing for answers to a sinister question.
It is up to Krona Hirvath and her fellow Regulators to enter the mind of madness to stop this insatiable killer while facing the terrible truths left in his wake.
K. B. Wagers, author of the Farian War trilogy, calls it “An utterly enthralling mystery of magic, masks, and murder. Marina Lostetter weaves together three stories to a stunning conclusion.” Maybe that’s just a couple of space opera writers sticking together, but I’m willing to take the chance.
The Helm of Midnight will be published by Tor Books on April 13, 2021. It is 456 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover, $13.99 digital, and $27.99 in audio formats. Read a generous excerpt at Tor.com.
See all our recent coverage of the best upcoming SF and fantasy here.
Skyward Inn (Solaris, March 16, 2021)). Cover by Dominic Forbes
Aliya Whiteley is the author of The Beauty (which I described as “dystopian horror filled with cosmic weirdness, strange fungi, and terrifying tales told around post-apocalyptic campfires” three years ago), The Arrival of Missives, and Skein Island. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably noticed that Whiteley is accumulating a rep for SF on the weird side.
Her newest certainly fits that mold. SFX calls Skyward Inn “A melancholy and compellingly weird tale of identity in crisis,” and Publisher’s Weekly says it’s a “deeply weird story of missed chances, invasion, and assimilation.” I don’t know about you, but those sound like compelling endorsements to me. Here’s the publisher’s description.
Drink down the brew and dream of a better Earth.
Skyward Inn, within the high walls of the Western Protectorate, is a place of safety, where people come together to tell stories of the time before the war with Qita.
But safety from what? Qita surrendered without complaint when Earth invaded; Innkeepers Jem and Isley, veterans from either side, have regrets but few scars.
Their peace is disturbed when a visitor known to Isley comes to the Inn asking for help, bringing reminders of an unnerving past and triggering an uncertain future.
Did humanity really win the war?
Skyward Inn will be published by Solaris on March 16, 2021. It is 336 pages, priced at $24.99 in hardcover, $6.99 in digital format, and $24.99 for the audiobook. Read an excerpt at SciFiNow.
See all our coverage of the best upcoming SF and fantasy here.
We’re big fans of Robert V. S. Redick here at Black Gate. I’ve lost count of how many of his books our staff has enthusiastically reviewed over the years but… whew, it’s a lot. That’s why we’re so excited at the impending release of Sidewinders, the second volume in The Fire Sacraments series (following Master Assassins, which we covered — you know it! — right here back in 2018).
As if we weren’t excited enough already, Black Gate website editor emeritus C.S.E. Cooney sent us this blurb for the book and I have to tell you, it wound us up pretty good. Have a look.
Sidewinders. I love this book, goddamnit. Robert V. S. Redick gives a fantasy reader everything her fiendish heart craves: plagues, prophets, demonic possessions, a desperate dash through desert dunes, giant spiders, giant cats, creepy children, plenty of vulgarity and sex, and an all-too-brief glimpse of paradise. So sure, if you like that kind of thing, go for it. Read this book. It’s for you. But wait, there’s more. For your not-so-average fantasy reader, your not-so-run-of-the-mill genre-lover, I beg you, look to Sidewinders. For it will give you ambiguity and delicacy. It will not spare you of its irony — and, oh, such irony! Its pages will impart so profound and aching an empathy that it just might leap off the page and follow you into your daily life. There is such courage in Robert V. S. Redick’s Sidewinders — such courage and fury and passion and hope. Truly a breathtaking work.
—C.S.E. Cooney, author of the forthcoming Saint Death’s Daughter, on Sidewinders
Talos Press will be publishing Sidewinders on July 6, 2021. Wunderkind PR were kind enough to send us a high-resolution sneak peek of the cover to share with you — and also a tasty excerpt from Chapter One of the book.
Without further ado — check out the gorgeous cover, featuring artwork by Mack Sztaba!
Sarah Beth Durst has been nominated three times for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award and the Andre Norton Award. Her most recent work for adults is the 4-volume Queens of Renthia series, which opened with The Queen of Blood (2016).
Her latest, arriving from Harper Voyager next week, is a standalone epic fantasy in which a band of aging warriors have a second chance to defeat dark magic and avenge a haunting loss. This is one of my most highly-anticipated March releases, and I’m looking forward to finally having a copy in my hands.
Twenty-five years ago, five heroes risked their lives to defeat the bone maker Eklor — a corrupt magician who created an inhuman army using animal bones. But victory came at a tragic price. Only four of the heroes survived.
Since then, Kreya, the group’s leader, has exiled herself to a remote tower and devoted herself to one purpose: resurrecting her dead husband. But such a task requires both a cache of human bones and a sacrifice — for each day he lives, she will live one less.
She’d rather live one year with her husband than a hundred without him, but using human bones for magic is illegal in Vos. The dead are burned — as are any bone workers who violate the law. Yet Kreya knows where she can find the bones she needs: the battlefield where her husband and countless others lost their lives.
But defying the laws of the land exposes a terrible possibility. Maybe the dead don’t rest in peace after all.
Five warriors — one broken, one gone soft, one pursuing a simple life, one stuck in the past, and one who should dead. Their story should have been finished. But evil doesn’t stop just because someone once said, “the end.”
The Bone Maker will be published by Harper Voyager on March 9, 2021. It is 496 pages, priced at $17.99 in trade paperback, $10.99 digital, and $44.99 for the audio CD.
See all our recent coverage of the best upcoming SF and fantasy here.