Future Treasures: Unreconciled, Book 4 of Donovan by W. Michael Gear

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Pariah Donovan-small Unreconciled Donovan-small2

The Donovan series: Outpost, Abandoned, Pariah, and the forthcoming Unreconciled. Covers by Steve Stone.

W. Michael Gear knows his way around a science fiction series. He wrote the Way of Spider trilogy in the late 80s, the Forbidden Borders trilogy in the early 90s, and some, what, 20 novels in the First North Americans series, co-written with his wife Kathleen O’Neal Gear? This is a man who knows how to plot for the long haul.

His latest is the Donovan trilogy, which next week turns into the Donovan quartet with the arrival of the fourth novel, Unreconciled. The Dononvan trilogy (er, quartet) is a favorite here in the Black Gate offices. It opened with Outpost in 2018, which Brandon Crilly raved about right here.

I had a blast reading Outpost, the start of W. Michael Gear’s Donovan trilogy… The setting is very Deadwood meets Avatar, set on a frontier colony that hasn’t been resupplied in almost a decade, on a planet filled with bizarre creatures and plants ready to kill the careless or unfortunate. Add in a bunch of new arrivals when the next resupply ship finally shows up, and what you get is an immediate clash of cultures between the freedom-loving colonists and the representatives of the Corporation, which basically runs Earth back home (maybe there’s some Firefly in here, too). Overall, the running idea with a lot of the main characters is the possibility of either losing yourself or remaking yourself in the frontier, with arcs that are diverse and often surprising…

The world-building is amazing, there are echoes of contemporary political and economic conflicts, and an air of mystery that doesn’t take away from a story that feels complete. I really want to find out what’s going to happen on Donovan in Gear’s next book, which is slated for November 2018.

Mystery! Monsters! Freedom-lovin’ colonists! Killer plants! Evil corporations! An alien frontier! This series checks so many boxes it’s ridiculous. I may have to buy it twice.

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Future Treasures: Lake of Darkness by Scott Kenemore

Wednesday, April 29th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Lake of Darkness-smallIt’s always nice to read a book set in my hometown. Scott Kenemore’s Lake of Darkness, arriving next week in hardcover, has the added appeal of being set in lawless WWI-era Chicago, an era already rich with racial tension, drama, and larger-than-life characters. Layer in a creepy serial killer and a detective with a fascinating crew of magicians and mystics, and you’ve got all the elements of great tale.

Scott Kenemore’s previous books include the Zombie trilogy (Zombie, Ohio, Zombie, Illinois, and Zombie, Indiana) and The Grand Hotel, but his latest book is getting a lot more attention. Simon Strantzas says Lake of Darkness is a “Chicago tale as strange and bizarre as the twin murders at its heart… an exceptional read,” and Dean Jobb (Empire of Deception) calls it “a fast-paced tale of madness, murder, and a streetwise detective on the trail of a depraved serial killer… a stylish, clever whodunit.”

Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying:

This superb blend of noir and horror from Kenemore (Zombie, Ohio) centers on the search for a serial killer who targets twins in WWI-era Chicago, starting with two 10-year-old African-Americans, a brother and sister, whose heads are cut off and switched. Other murders follow in which black children’s heads are severed and then attached to their siblings’ torsos. Mayor Big Bill Thompson, who has eyes on the White House, is concerned that the killings could harm Chicago’s reputation and stem the migration of African-Americans from the South. Thompson gives Joe “Flip” Flippity, one of Chicago’s few black cops, carte blanche to solve the case. Flip is aided by such unusual allies as the Amazing Drextel Tark, a magician whose illusions employ his own twin brother, and elderly Ursula Green, who uses a crystal ball animated by a supernatural force “larger and stronger than herself.” Kenemore keeps the tension high throughout…

Lake of Darkness will be published by Talos on May 5, 2020. It is 264 pages, priced at $15.99 in paperback and $11.99 in digital formats. Get more details at the publisher’s website here.

See all our recent coverage of the best upcoming fantasy and horror here.


Future Treasures: Driving the Deep by Suzanne Palmer

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover art by Kekai Kotaki

Suzanne Palmer won a Hugo Award for her 2018 Clarkesworld novelette “The Secret Life of Bots,” and her 2019 debut novel Finder was widely praised. Kirkus Reviews called it “A nonstop SF thrill ride until the very last page,” and Maria Haskins at the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog sums it up as “a Ridiculously Fun Science Fiction Adventure… a rollicking ride from a hardscrabble space colony at the outer edge of the galaxy to the conflict-ridden settlements of colonized Mars and back again.”

The highly anticipated sequel Driving the Deep arrives in hardcover in two weeks, featuring the return of interstellar repo man and professional finder Fergus Ferguson in what sounds like a standalone adventure. Publishers Weekly seems to like it.

Palmer’s spaceborne repo man Fergus Ferguson returns in this lighthearted star-skipping adventure through a futuristic solar system… Fergus is on Earth for the first time in years when he learns that his friends, a team of engineers who man the shipyard on Pluto, have been kidnapped for their scientific expertise. He tracks them to Enceladus, a watery moon of Saturn, where they are being held hostage. Fergus goes undercover to gather intel, taking a job as the pilot of an underwater vessel and making many allies (and a handful of enemies) along the way…

We discussed Finder here. Driving the Deep will be published by DAW Books on May 5, 2020. It is 426 pages, priced at $27 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Kekai Kotaki. Read an excerpt from Chapter One of Finder at the Penguin Random House website.

See all our coverage of the best in upcoming SF and fantasy books here.


Network Effect is the First Full Novel in the Martha Wells’ Epic Murderbot Saga

Saturday, April 18th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

All Systems Red-small Artificial Condition-small Rogue Protocol-small
Exit Strategy-small Network Effect-small

Covers by Jaime Jones

Martha Wells exploded into the big time with Murderbot. Black Gate readers, of course, know and love Martha from her Ile-Rien tales “Holy Places,” “Houses of the Dead,” and “Reflections,” which originally appeared in the pages of our print magazine (and her Nebula-nominated novel The Death of the Necromancer, which we serialized online in its entirely here.) But the world at large didn’t truly know her the way we did until the first Murderbot tale All Systems Red appeared in 2017, sweeping all the awards — including the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus — and kicking off one of the most successful SF series of the 21st Century. Sequel Artificial Condition (2018) won the Hugo and Locus, and she declined the nominations that came her way for the third and fourth installments (there’s a tradition of Black Gate writers declining Hugo Awards, beginning with Matthew David Surridge, but that’s another story.)

Network Effect, the first full-length Murderbot novel, is one of the most anticipated books of 2020, and it arrives in less than three weeks. I’ve heard plenty of glowing reports from folks who received advance copies, but my favorite came from Martha’s fellow BG writer C.S.E. Cooney, who wrote:

Finished reading Martha Wells’ Murderbot 5 Network Effect aloud to Carlos and Sita.

From time to time, I’d come across a sentence that would make me — and then Carlos too, and then my mama, in solidarity — just yell out: “MAARRTHHAA!!!”

Anyway. That was my second read, and it just keeps getting better.

Network Effect will be published by Tor.com on May 5, 2020. It is 352 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Jaime Jones. Read Chapter One of All Systems Red at Tor.com.


Future Treasures: Shorefall, Book 2 of The Founders Trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett

Friday, April 17th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover design by Will Staehle

It’s a damn tough time to be publishing new books, with virtually every bookstore in the country closed and Amazon drastically increasing shipping times for books and other non-essential items. So I very much appreciate those authors and publishers who continue to do it. Lord knows I need good books more than ever these days.

Shorefall, the second volume in Robert Jackson Bennett’s Founders Trilogy, arrives next week from stalwart fantasy publishers Del Rey, and I’m very much looking forward to it. Writing in The New York Times Book Review, former Black Gate blogger Amal El-Mohtar called first volume Foundryside “Absolutely riveting… A magnificent, mind-blowing start to a series.” It was selected as one of the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of 2018 by The B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog; here’s what they said:

The author of the Divine Cities trilogy (a nominee for Best Series at the 2018 Hugo Awards) begins a new trilogy that’s as fun to read as its world is well-imagined. The city state of Tevanne runs on magic and pillage, as the four dominant merchant houses exploit the lands around them (not to mention the poor denizens who crouch outside their walls in a precarious shantytown known as Foundryside), as their scrivers create incredible machines and accomplish feats that look a lot like magic by way of intricate sigils that bend and break the laws of reality. Sancia Grado is a Foundryside thief who comes into possession of Clef, a sentient golden key — and is pursued by police captain Gregor Dandolo, reluctant scion of one of the richest houses. The unwitting Sancia falls into a scheme to destroy the power of the scrivers; putting a stop to it will bring her and Dandolo together as unlikely allies in the greatest theft theft in history, with the lives of everyone in Tevanne on the line. Read our review.

Robert Jackson Bennett is also the author of the BFA and Shirley Jackson Award winner Mr. Shivers, The Troupe, American Elsewhere, and Vigilance (as well as possibly being Chris Pratt in disguise). Here’s the publisher’s description for Shorefall.

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In 500 Words or Less Returns! Annihilation Aria by Michael R. Underwood

Tuesday, April 14th, 2020 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

Annihilation Aria-smallAnnihilation Aria (The Space Operas #1)
By Michael R. Underwood
Parvus Press (400 pages, $15.99 trade paperback, July 21, 2020)

I love a space fantasy adventure. Maybe I’m missing release announcements, but I feel like we’re not getting as many of those novels these days. Hyper-realistic far-future SF like The Expanse or hard science fiction like Alastair Reynolds’ work is great, but sometimes I want FTL and myriad aliens and whatnot, like Tanya Huff’s Confederation novels or, really, Star Wars.

But those elements aren’t enough, since anyone can slap together a Star Wars rip-off and call it a day. The most important thing is characters to root for, who are more nuanced than just being a Han Solo stand-in.

Maybe all of that’s a tall order. If it is, then even more kudos to Michael R. Underwood, for producing exactly that kind of novel.

(I missed these rambling, context-setting intros before I ever mention what I’m reviewing. I really did.)

Annihilation Aria is basically Star Wars, Star Trek and Serenity mixed together, but with a plot closer to The Mummy (or The Mummy’s plot with Rick and Evelyn already a couple). Max, Lahra and Wheel are delightful as a found family in how different they are, and that those differences are what makes them endearing to each other. Lahra was the character who shone the most for me; her solar-powered weaponry is a nice solarpunk touch, and her people’s ability to use songs to focus in battle and subtly manipulate their encounters is varied and well-utilized. Plus, I love how it’s never explained as anything more than basically magic. Max can’t find a rational explanation but knows it has more power than Lahra realizes – like how you can’t always hear how you speak while you’re speaking.

One of the other things that stands out is Arek, our principle antagonist within the Vsenk Imperium. You get the almost monolithic Big Bad Empire at first, but then learn that it’s rife with ongoing political feuds, with Arek’s faction representing a more moderate ideology. What I found particularly cool is that Arek is progressive for a Vsenk. He’d never consider giving the lesser races complete freedom, but he sees the practical value of things like speaking respectfully toward subordinates and the police not using excessive force. It makes him seem much more natural as a character, and oddly made me more sympathetic toward him, even though the Vsenk in general are brutal subjugators.

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Future Treasures: The Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence

Sunday, April 12th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Girl and the Stars-smallBack in 2011, just before his breakout novel Prince of Thorns arrived and catapulted him to the front ranks of modern fantasy, we published one of my favorite guest posts, an article by Mark Lawrence on the rejection letters he used to get from Black Gate. He’s come a long way since then, with multiple bestselling series, including a complete trilogy in rapidfire succession last year: One Word Kill, Limited Wish, and Dispel Illusion, on May 1, May 28, and November 14, 2019, respectively.

You’d think after that he’d need to take a few months off, maybe. But no. He’s hitting the shelves again next week, with the first installment of a new epic fantasy series which shares a setting with his Book of the Ancestor trilogy (Red Sister, Grey Sister, and Holy Sister), though taking place thousands of years earlier. When a young outcast is tossed into the Pit of the Missing by her people, she find herself in an ancient maze of tunnels under the ice. There she find a lost community of discarded people… and something much more dangerous, deep under the ice. Here’s the description.

In the ice, east of the Black Rock, there is a hole into which broken children are thrown. Yaz’s people call it the Pit of the Missing and now it is drawing her in as she has always known it would.

To resist the cold, to endure the months of night when even the air itself begins to freeze, requires a special breed. Variation is dangerous, difference is fatal. And Yaz is not the same.

Yaz’s difference tears her from the only life she’s ever known, away from her family, from the boy she thought she would spend her days with, and has to carve out a new path for herself in a world whose existence she never suspected. A world full of difference and mystery and danger.

Yaz learns that Abeth is older and stranger than she had ever imagined. She learns that her weaknesses are another kind of strength and that the cruel arithmetic of survival that has always governed her people can be challenged.

Our previous coverage of Mark Lawrence’s work includes Red Sister, The Red Queen’s War trilogy, and a 2014 interview with Howard Andrew Jones.

The Girl and the Stars will be published by Ace Books on April 21. It is 384 pages, priced at $27.00 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Bastien Lecouffe-Deharme. Reac an excerpt from Chapter One here.

See all our recent coverage of the best in upcoming fantasy here.


Future Treasures: Creatures of Charm and Hunger by Molly Tanzer

Monday, April 6th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Creatures of Will and Temper (2017 cover by Eduardo Recife), Creatures of Want and Ruin (2018, Eduardo Recife),
and Creatures of Charm and Hunger (2020, artist unknown)

When I sold The Robots of Gotham to John Joseph Adams, I learned a lot about the publishing biz, and some of it was weird. For example John taught me that, for various reasons, the acquisition announcement released by the publisher, which includes the title, release date, rights acquired, and a detailed description of the forthcoming book, was traditionally a single sentence. As you can imagine, that results in some pretty tortured sentences. Ever since then I’ve enjoyed dropping by John’s blog at John Joseph Adams Books to read the acquisition announcements, and I was delighted to see this artfully crafted sentence a year ago:

Molly Tanzer’s Creatures of Charm and Hunger, the third book in her series that began with Creatures of Will and Temper, WWII-era fantasy set in England where two teenage girls seek to become full members of an international society of diabolists, a quest that will nearly ruin their friendship and take them down dark paths when one girl learns her parents were taken to a concentration camp and the other summons a powerful and mysterious demon, to John Joseph Adams Books, for publication in Spring 2020…

The first novel in Molly’s series, Creatures of Will and Temper, was nominated for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, and Jeff VanderMeer called it “A delightful, dark, and entertaining romp.” The follow up, Creatures of Want & Ruin, was selected as a Barnes & Noble Best Science Fiction Fantasy Book of November 2018,” and the B&N Sci-Fi Blog said “Molly Tanzer does it all; from her debut novel, named best book of 2015 by i09, to the “thoughtful erotica” she edits at her magazine, Congress, she’s proven to be one of the most distinct voices in contemporary SFF.”

Creatures of Charm and Hunger rounds out the Diabolist’s Library trilogy, one of the most acclaimed fantasy series of recent memory. It arrives from John Joseph Adam Books on April 21. Here’s an excerpt from the starred review at Publishers Weekly.

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Rogue Blades Presents: It’s a Time for Heroes

Friday, April 3rd, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

the-lost-empire-of-sol-front-cover-smallIn a matter of weeks, months, it has become a different world. Even within the confines of speculative literature and what’s oft referred to as nerd or geek culture, there have been big changes. For instance, disappointing to those of us who had planned to attend this year, Howard Days in Cross Plains, Texas, has been canceled, as have hundreds of conventions and gatherings across the globe. Closer to home for me, a board member of Rogue Blades Foundation, a nonprofit publisher focusing on all things heroic, we have had to push back to 2021 publication of the book Robert E. Howard Changed My Life (though The Lost Empire of Sol is still expected to be published next month).

Now don’t think this is grousing, complaining. I’m merely pointing out how some of the world has changed of late. For that matter, some of the changes aren’t all bad.

As a writer and editor, I normally work from home, so all this isolation most of us are having to contend with of late isn’t new to me. What is new for me is that everybody else is home. Including all my online gaming buddies. And most of them don’t seem to be working at home. Which means they have lots of time for Dungeons & Dragons. Which means I have lots of time for Dungeons & Dragons. And other games. Which means I’m getting less work done than usual.

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Future Treasures: Vagabonds by Hao Jingfang

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Jacket design by Jonathan Bush

Hao Jingfang won the Hugo Award in 2016 for her novelette “Folding Beijing,” translated by Ken Liu and published in the January/February 2015 issue of Uncanny magazine (you can read the complete story at the Uncanny website here). Her debut novel is one of the most anticipated books of the year; it finally arrives in two weeks from Saga Press.

A century after the Martian war of independence, a group of children are selected to travel to Earth as delegates. Five years later they return to Mars, only to find themselves caught between two worlds and two cultures… and facing some difficult questions. Kirkus Reviews calls it “Social science fiction…. a thoughtful debut” in its online review:

The year is 2201. Just over a hundred years ago, the Martian colonies fought and won a war of independence against Earth, and since then, the two planets have diverged sociologically. In Hao’s incisive and all-too-plausible extrapolation, Earth embodies the triumph of Western laissez faire capitalism driven by the internet’s savagely competitive social media. Mars, technologically much more advanced and apparently utopian — and here the author treads more cautiously — persuasively represents what benevolent Chinese communo-capitalism might possibly evolve into. Consequently, mutual suspicion and resentment bordering on outright hostility dominate the Earth-Mars relationship….

A thoughtful debut with ample scope for reader engagement.

Read the complete review here.

Vagabonds is translated by Ken Liu, and will be published by Saga Press on April 14, 2020. It is 603 pages, priced at $27.99 in hardcover and $14.99 in digital formats. The cover design is by Jonathan Bush. Read a lengthy excerpt (the complete 16-page first chapter, titled The Ship) at the Simon & Schuster website. See all of our recent coverage of the best upcoming SF and fantasy here.


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