Interspecies Conflict in a Universe with More Aliens than the Star Wars Cantina: Sholan Alliance by Lisanne Norman

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Lisanne Norman Turning Point-small Lisanne Norman Fortune's Wheel-small Lisanne Norman Fire Margins-small
Lisanne Norman Razor's Edge-small Lisanne Norman Dark Nadir-small Lisanne Norman Stronghold Rising-small
Lisanne Norman Between Darkness and Light-small Lisanne Norman Shades of Gray-small Lisanne Norman Circle's End-small

Covers by Romas Kukalis, Jim Burns (#6) and Chris Moore (#8,9)

There haven’t been many times when it’s better to be a science fiction fan than right now. Big-budget SF is king at the box office and on the small screen, the shelves are groaning with new releases, and truly exciting new authors are appearing every year. But there are a few things I still miss. The humble paperback original (PBO) has become less and less common as more and more top-tier SF appears first in hardcover or trade paperback, and much of it never sees a mass market paperback reprint at all.

I like hardcovers just fine, but it was paperbacks that introduced me to SF, and it’s paperbacks — compact, accessible, and cheap — that still draw in young and casual readers and gradually turn them into fans. More publishers have been turning their backs on paperbacks, and the result is our field has less to offer curious young readers browsing the SF shelves for affordable and enticing titles. And thus, fewer young fans discovering science fiction at all.

But it wasn’t just paperbacks that made me a lifetime science fiction fan in my teens — it was great science fiction series, like Frank Herbert’s Dune, Asimov’s Foundation, Farmer’s Riverworld, Fred Pohl’s Heechee Saga, David Brin’s Uplift Saga, H. Beam Piper’s Fuzzy novels, and many, many more. DAW is one of few publishers willing to make a significant investment in PBO series, and it’s paid off well for them over the years, with now-established writers like C. J. Cherryh (the Alliance-Union Universe and the long-running Foreigner series), Julie E. Czerneda (the Trade Pact Universe), Gini Koch (the Kitty Katt novels), Jacey Bedford (Psi-Tech), and many others.

For many years DAW’s bread and butter has been extended midlist SF and fantasy series that thrive chiefly by word of mouth. I’m frequently drawn to them just by the sheer number of volumes. 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.

Lisanne Norman’s Sholan Alliance is a perfect example. It only recently caught my attention, after decades of patiently waiting on the shelves. It began with Turning Point way back in 1993, and recently wrapped up with the ninth volume, Circle’s End, in 2017. In between it quietly gathered a lot of accolades. B&N Explorations called it “fast-paced adventure… [with] more alien species than the Star Wars cantina!” And SF Chronicle labeled it “big, sprawling, convoluted… sure to appeal to fans of C.J. Cherryh and others who have made space adventure their territory.”

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New Treasures: For the Sake of the Game: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger

Friday, January 18th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

For the Sake of the Game-smallLaurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger have edited four popular Holmes-themed anthologies: A Study in Sherlock (2011), In the Company of Sherlock Holmes (2014), and Echoes of Sherlock Holmes (2016). Their newest features contributions from a stellar list of authors, including Peter S. Beagle, F. Paul Wilson, William Kotzwinkle and Joe Servello, Duane Swierczynski, and Gregg Hurwitz. Publishers Weekly says it presents a wide range of genres “from cozy to horror;” here’s a snippet from their full review.

The 14 selections include a poem, Peter S. Beagle’s “Dr. Watson’s Song,” which provides a deeper look at the doctor’s emotional life, and a comic, William Kotzwinkle and Joe Servello’s “The Case of the Naked Butterfly,” which continues the exploits of insects Inspector Mantis and Dr. Hopper. Fans of the BBC’s Sherlock will appreciate Alan Gordon’s take on Holmes’s relationship with Mycroft in “The Case of the Missing Case.” Reed Farrel Coleman weighs in with one of the more memorable contributions, the metaphysical “A Study in Absence,” in which a book editor asks for help tracing an author using the pseudonym of I.M. Knott. The best light entry is Harley Jane Kozak’s “The Walk-in,” featuring a Sherlockian British intelligence agent, which opens with the tantalizing line “It’s not every day that you walk into your apartment and find that your cat has turned into a dog.”

Here’s the description.

For the Sake of the Game is the latest volume in the award-winning series from New York Times bestselling editors Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, with stories of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and friends in a variety of eras and forms. King and Klinger have a simple formula: ask some of the world’s greatest writers ― regardless of genre ― to be inspired by the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle.

The results are surprising and joyous. Some tales are pastiches, featuring the recognizable figures of Holmes and Watson; others step away in time or place to describe characters and stories influenced by the Holmes world. Some of the authors spin whimsical tales of fancy; others tell hard-core thrillers or puzzling mysteries. One beloved author writes a song; two others craft a melancholy graphic tale of insectoid analysis.

This is not a volume for readers who crave a steady diet of stories about Holmes and Watson on Baker Street. Rather, it is for the generations of readers who were themselves inspired by the classic tales, and who are prepared to let their imaginations roam freely.

Leslie S. Klinger’s previous books include In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe and The Annotated Watchmen; Elizabeth Crowens interviewed him for Black Gate last year. For the Sake of the Game was published by Pegasus Books on December 4, 2018. It is 264 pages, priced at $25.95 in hardcover and $12.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Christine Van Bree.


The 2019 Philip K. Dick Nominees

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Alien Virus Love Disaster-small Time Was Ian McDonald-small THE BODY LIBRARY by Jeff Noon-small

The nominees for the 2019 Philip K. Dick Award, given each year for distinguished science fiction originally published in paperback in the United States, have been announced. They are (links will take you to our previous coverage):

Time Was by Ian McDonald (Tor.com)
The Body Library by Jeff Noon (Angry Robot)
84K by Claire North (Orbit)
Alien Virus Love Disaster: Stories by Abbey Mei Otis (Small Beer Press)
Theory of Bastards by Audrey Schulman (Europa Editions)
Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories by Vandana Singh (Small Beer Press)

Special shout-out to Small Beer Press for placing two fine collections on the ballot.

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Future Treasures: Fog Season, Book II of Tales of Port Saint Frey by Patrice Sarath

Monday, January 14th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Sisters Mederos Patrice Sarath-small Fog Season Patrice Sarath-small

I was proud to publish Patrice Sarath’s short story “A Prayer for Captain LaHire” in Black Gate 4, and see it reprinted in Year’s Best Fantasy 3 (2003). She turned to novels with the popular Gordath Wood trilogy (Gordath Wood, Red Gold Bridge, and The Crow God’s Girl). But her real breakthrough came last year with her first release from Angry Robot, The Sisters Mederos, the tale of a once-great family fallen on hard times, and the two sisters — one a masked bandit, and another with secret supernatural powers — who reverse their family’s downfall. Louisa Morgan (A Secret History of Witches) called it:

A colorful Dickensian fantasy that leads the reader on an unpredictable path of murder, intrigue, and mystery… It’s a tale of magic lost and recovered, fortunes made and squandered, and broken lives healed, all of it engineered by Yvienne and Tesara, two resourceful and delightful protagonists, in the company of some charming and often dangerous sidekicks.

Publishers Weekly gave it a rousing review saying,

The young women, newly returned from boarding school to a fantasy version of a preindustrial European port city, are determined to restore their family’s fortune and revenge themselves on the corrupt Merchant’s Guild, whose machinations lie behind House Mederos’s downfall. Yvienne, “the smartest girl in Port Saint Frey,” provokes through newspaper editorials, takes a governess job as an entrée into the houses of the powerful, and eventually discovers the excitement of committing armed robbery. Tesara, who conceals supernatural powers that she blames for the shipwreck that ruined her family, ingratiates herself with the upper classes at gambling tables… [The] heroines are entertaining company, and the dynamic between the two sisters — occasionally contentious, often secretive, always loving — is the most enjoyable part of this effervescent tale.

I’m delighted to see the sequel, Fog Season, scheduled to arrive February 5, less than a year after the release of the first, and I hope it’s the sign of more to come. Here’s the description.

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A Gritty Medieval Fantasy of Battles, Treachery, and Monsters: The Tales of Durand by David Keck

Sunday, January 13th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

In the Eye of Heaven-small In a Time of Treason-small A King in Cobwebs-small

The Christmas break, traditionally my longest reading holiday of the year, is over, and it’ll be a month or two at least before I can contemplate tackling another epic fantasy trilogy. But it’s not too early to start stacking by my bedside in preparation.

I’ve already picked out a promising series to start the new stack: David Keck’s Tales of Durand. Publishers Weekly praised the first book, In the Eye of Heaven (2006) as a “winning debut, a gritty medieval fantasy full of enchantment… deftly told,” and called the sequel, In a Time of Treason (2008) “grand-scale storytelling.” But they reserve their strongest praise for the long-awaited concluding volume A King in Cobwebs, saying

Keck concludes his Tales of Durand trilogy with this superlative fantasy epic, which sees the warrior Durand Col take his place among battles and treachery that threaten the kingdom of Errest the Old. Durand stands as champion to Abravanal, Duke of Gireth and holder of the Duchy of Yrlac. Although the Yrlacies are restless under Abravanal’s rule, the duke is commanded to ride with his household to the Fellwood Marches by his unhinged king, Ragnal. Yrlaci rebels harry the soldiers of Gireth on the road to the Fellwood, and, once there, they are chased by the inhuman host of maragrim, “hideous in their innumerable deformities.” … Keck sends the stalwart Durand through darkness and a lost land, facing terrors and beset by the dead. Human politics and dreadful foes are combined in this tale that stands with the very best fantasies.

A King in Cobwebs was published by Tor Books on December 4, 2018. It is 444 pages, priced at $28.99 in hardcover, $17.99 in trade paperback, and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by David Grove. Read an excerpt from In the Eye of Heaven here, and see all our recent coverage of the best in new fantasy series here.


New Treasures: Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

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

Occupy Me-smallTricia Sullivan is the author of Lethe (1995), a Locus Award nominee for Best First Novel, Someone to Watch Over Me (1997), and the Clarke Award-winning Dreaming in Smoke (1998). Her latest novel is something different — the tale of an angel on Earth who gets caught up in a tale of international intrigue, and much more. Here’s the description.

A woman with wings that exist in another dimension. A man trapped in his own body by a killer. A briefcase that is a door to hell. A conspiracy that reaches beyond our world. Breathtaking SF from a Clarke Award-winning author.

Tricia Sullivan has written an extraordinary, genre defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over.

And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.

It was Mahvesh Murad’s Tor.com review of the original Gollancz UK edition that first intrigued me. Here’s the money quote.

Occupy Me is full to bursting with intriguing ideas and concepts, philosophy and complex physics. It’s high concept and heady. It’s also got a lot of humour… Sullivan takes the whole ‘strong female protagonist’ to a literal level too, giving Pearl massive physical strength (she can lift a truck!), the ability to fly and pure, brute will to survive and make things right. She’s a likeable character, easy to relate to even though her origins are mysterious and shrouded.

Occupy Me is… clever and complex and forces you to think outside of your comfort zone. It’s a thriller, complete with international hijinks, corporate corruption and an evil megalomaniac. What it isn’t is a standard paranormal fantasy featuring angels — it’s much more compelling in its originality.

Occupy Me was published by Titan Books on September 4, 2018. It is 361 pages, priced at $14.95 in trade paperback and $8.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Sidonie Beresford-Browne. See all our recent New Treasures here.


The Silent Garden: A Journal of Esoteric Fabulism is a Beautiful New Fantasy Magazine

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

The Silent Garden-small The Silent Garden-back-small

I don’t usually buy books or magazines sight unseen. But I made an exception for the inaugural volume of The Silent Garden, a beautiful new “Journal of Esoteric Fabulism.”

Part of the reason was the publisher. Mike Kelly’s Undertow Publications has produced some of the most memorable dark fantasy and horror of the past few years, including the anthology Aickman’s Heirs, Simon Strantzas’s new collection Nothing is Everything, and five volumes of Year’s Best Weird Fiction. To be honest the list price, $50 for a deluxe full color hardcover on 70lb. paper, gave me sticker shock, but the list of contributors — V.H. Leslie, Nick Mamatas, Helen Marshall, Brian Evenson, D.P. Watt, and many more — and the discounted 4-volume “The Year in Weird” bundle pricing on their website eventually won me over.

I’m very glad it did. At 249 pages, there’s a whole lot of content crammed into this journal, including eleven short stories, poems, book reviews, articles, and a 24-page full-color gallery devoted to the work of Manchester artist David Whitlam. But just describing the contents doesn’t do it justice. The real strength of The Silent Garden is its top-notch design. It looks fantastic, and every piece is accompanied by at least one striking visual or full-color work of art. Here’s a few pics of the gorgeous interiors.

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Solving Crimes in a War-Torn Tokyo: Ninth Step Station, created by Malka Older

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Ninth Step Station-small

Serial Box is one of the most exciting new genre publishers to arrive on the scene in the past few years. They’ve brought a very old concept — serialized fiction — into the 21st Century, and attracted an incredible line-up of top-notch writers to give it new life. So how does it work? Serial Box offers multiple stories in a rich variety of genres, and they release new episodes every week. Each serial typically runs for a “season” of 10-16 weeks, and each is written by a team of talented writers. Just check out this list of contributors: Max Gladstone, Amal El-Mohtar, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Ian Tregillis, Michael Swanwick, Mary Robinette Kowal, Brenda Clough, Michael R. Underwood, Marie Brennan, Alyssa Wong, Paul Cornell, Paul Tremblay, Christopher Golden, Yoon Ha Lee, Becky Chambers, and many, many more. The stories are easy to jump into, individual episodes are standalone (but contribute to a larger story arc), and each episode is available in ebook and audio formats, and takes about 40 minutes to enjoy.

Their newest serial Ninth Step Station launches this week. Created by Malka Older and written by Older, Fran Wilde, Jacqueline Koyanagi, and Curtis C. Chen, Ninth Step Station is the tale of two unlikely partners in a future Tokyo who solve a series of murders. Here’s the description.

A local cop. A US Peacekeeper. A divided Tokyo.
In the future, two mismatched cops must work together to solve crimes in a divided Tokyo.

Years of disaster and conflict have left Tokyo split between great powers. In the city of drone-enforced borders, bodymod black markets, and desperate resistance movements, US peacekeeper Emma Higashi is assigned to partner with Tokyo Metropolitan Police Detective Miyako Koreda. Together, they must race to solve a series of murders that test their relationship and threaten to overturn the balance of global power. And amid the chaos, they each need to decide what they are willing to do for peace.

Ninth Step Station is only one of the many offerings from Serial Box. Here’s a few of the others.

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New Treasures: Figures Unseen by Steve Rasnic Tem

Monday, January 7th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Figures Unseen Steve Rasnic Tem-small Figures Unseen Steve Rasnic Tem-back-small

I’m still sorting through all the books I brought back from the World Fantasy Convention this year (which is kinda par for the course — it usually takes me 4-8 months to unpack from that con). Based on reading time and enjoyment over the past few months, my most productive period of the entire convention was the 10 minutes I spent in the Valancourt Booth.

I’ve already talked about several of the books I purchased there, including Michael McDowell’s The Complete Blackwater Saga and Harry Adam Knight’s The Fungus. But I haven’t yet mentioned Steve Rasnic Tem’s new book Figures Unseen, a fabulous collection of 35 of his best tales, as selected by the author.

In his long career Tem has received the World Fantasy, British Fantasy and Bram Stoker Awards. His novels include Excavation (1987), The Man on the Ceiling (2008, with Melanie Tem) and Blood Kin (2014), and his many collections include City Fishing (1999), The Far Side of the Lake (2001), Celestial Inventories (2013), and Out of the Dark (2016). Dan Simmons calls Tem “One of the finest and most productive writers of imaginative literature in North America,” and this collection is the perfect place to start if you want to sample some of his finest work. It includes many of my favorites — including the brilliant “City Fishing,” the tale of a father who takes his son on a very unusual fishing trip in the heart of an ancient city.

Figures Unseen also includes a fine introduction by Simon Strantzas, which I think explicates the effectiveness of Tem’s work better than anything else I’ve read. Here’s a small excerpt.

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Future Treasures: Shadow Captain by Alastair Reynolds

Friday, January 4th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Revenger-Alastair-Reynolds-medium Shadow Captain Reynolds-small

Alastair Reynolds’ Revenger was one of the most acclaimed SF novels of 2016. It was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award, and won the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book. SFX called it “By far the most enjoyable book Reynolds has ever written,” and The Guardian labeled it “”A swashbuckling thriller — Pirates of the Caribbean meets Firefly.” In his enthusiastic review for Black Gate, Brandon Crilly said:

Reynolds’ work is always fast-paced and interesting, weaving the detailed science with just enough of the fantastic to add that sense of wonder and a perfect balance of action and character work. Revenger, for example, has the pacing of Firefly or Star Wars, so that even as he’s explaining the steampunkiness (is that a word?) of the starships and personal technology in the novel, you’re never mired in an info-dump or bored by too much scientific description, just to understand how everything works.

Revenger is particularly good because it’s a very human story: it focuses on two sisters who want to escape their homeworld and sign on with a starship crew not for pure escapism like Luke Skywalker, but specifically to earn money to help their father’s struggling business. What begins as a story of adventure and wild-eyed wonder as these sisters get to know their very first crew becomes a dark and harrowing tale almost immediately, as Reynolds takes his protagonists through multiple twists and unexpected locales.

The long-awaited sequel Shadow Captain will be published by Orbit on January 15, 2019. It is 448 pages, priced at $15.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. Get more details and read the complete first chapter here.


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