New Treasures: The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume Four, edited by Neil Clarke

Friday, July 19th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best Science Fiction of the Year Volume Four-smallI always look forward to Neil Clarke’s Best Science Fiction of the Year, and Volume Four arrived right on time this week. This one is an important milestone in the series for two reasons.

First, it’s the first one to be available in hardcover. That may not seem like a big deal, but it is. It’s a step up in prestige for the series, and it’s great to finally have these books available in a permanent edition. Second, this volume is dedicated to Gardner Dozois, who died last year, and in his thoughtful introduction Neil makes it clear that he will be carrying on Gardner’s tradition of a lengthy annual summation.

I opened this year’s review of short fiction with an important dedication. Few people can be said to have shaped modern science fiction to the degree that Gardner Dozois did over the course of his career. He will most notably be remembered for his time as editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction and The Year’s Best Science Fiction series, but he was also a Nebula Award-winning author. Gardner also won the Hugo Award for Best Editor a record-setting fifteen times and edited dozens of Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Award-winning stories. He was also a friend and colleague, working for me as reprint editor of Clarkesworld for the last five years.

On my shelves lies a complete run of The Year’s Best Science Fiction, all thirty-five volumes plus his three Best of the Best volumes, and dozens of other anthologies he edited. While volumes one through three of my series were technically competing with his, he never once made me feel like that was the case. One of the best and more beautiful things most of you don’t know about this field is how collegial it is. Even when the stories were no longer new to me, I always preordered his next volume, simply for his annual summation of the field. For many of us, it was an important history of the field, one that spanned over thirty years and was yet another important part of his legacy.

No one can fill his shoes, but in his honor, I’m going to merge some of the short-fiction-oriented features of Gardner’s introductions into my own. It’s my way of noting that aspect of his work. It’s of personal value to me, and a desire to see that particular torch carried forward.

Neil is as good as his word, and this volume of The Best Science Fiction of the Year contains a lengthy look back at the year in short fiction (broken up into sections such as The Business Side of Things, Magazine Comings and Goings, The 2018 Scorecard — particularly appreciated by stats nerds like me! — The Most Interesting Development for Short Science Fiction, and In Memoriam. I miss Gardner’s idiosyncratic take on the field, of course, but I must say Neil acquits himself very well indeed. His new summation is informative, highly readable, and on-target. I think Gardner would have been proud.

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A Dark Picture of a World Overrun by Technology: Green Valley, by Louis Greenberg

Thursday, July 18th, 2019 | Posted by Caitlin McAllister

Green Valley Louis Greenberg-smallGreen Valley
By Louis Greenberg
Titan Books (336 pages, $14.95 trade paperback/$7.99 digital, June 11, 2019)

Green Valley follows Lucie Sterling, a detective in a near-future world where the use of technology has been banned by the governing body, Omega. After the “Turn,” those that wished to continue to live within a world manifested through virtual reality were confined to a concrete bunker spanning miles — a place called Green Valley.

Those on the outside, including Lucie, have no contact with those behind the concrete curtain until a series of murdered children with bio and nano tech coursing through their small bodies show up in Stanton. Lucie’s assigned the case but in a completely analog world, how is she supposed to crack it with no evidence other than the bodies left behind?

The case is further muddied by the fact that Lucie’s niece, Kira, is a resident of Green Valley. Worried for her safety, with nothing to go on, Lucie makes the unusual journey into Green Valley to uncover the truth.

Greenberg does a lot of world-building early on that draws the reader in and paints a dark, yet eerily familiar picture of a world overrun by technology. The tension created between the new world order and those that chose a life managed by virtual reality makes the book hard to put down.

For all the detail spent on the story and the characters early on, there’s a lack of balance to it at the end. I wish each character (human or virtual) had the same amount of care spent on wrapping up their own stories, rather than just the multi-faceted Lucie.

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This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

Sunday, July 14th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Case

This Is How You Lose the Time War-smallWhen I was younger I remember reading a short description of Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time when it was reissued for the Science Fiction Book Club and being fascinated by the idea of a time war. I still haven’t gotten around to reading Leiber’s exploration of that idea, so I can’t say for certain how closely Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone were informed by it in their new co-authored novel, This is How You Lose the Time War.

The general idea of a time war though is fairly straightforward and has been a recurring science fiction trope since Leiber’s work. However, the execution of one (and writing a narrative that follows the agents waging one) is anything but. The theme works like this: assuming two sides have different desired and opposing outcomes for the future and that any future is the outcome of a millions accumulated events, waging a time war means sending agents or soldiers into the past to change the outcome of these events so history flows one way or another. This could be changing the outcome of a historic battle, causing the assassination of a specific individual, or even things more subtle like influencing a particular political leader as she develops her ideas.

Now overlay all this with a love story. That is what El-Mohtar and Gladstone are about in this very gorgeous book. The two sides in their eponymous time war are diametrically opposed: one pushing history toward a technological utopia with forces overseen by the cool, calculating Commandant and the other toward a future in which everything — even the stars themselves — has become part of a vast organic hive-mind called Garden. The Commandant’s best agent is Red, and her opposite for Garden is known as Blue. It’s difficult to classify either agent, who are the dual protagonists of the story, as human. Both have been synthetically created by their respective side with immense power, in addition to time travel (the mechanics of which are kept vague throughout). Both identify as female, and both fall very much in love.

The structure of the book is crafted around a series of letters between Red and Blue as they strike up a dangerous, flirtatious rivalry that quickly grows into much more. Each short chapter (which read almost like vignettes or carefully crafted prose poems) follows either Blue or Red in a different period from Earth’s past to the far future as the one’s missions are foiled or obstructed by the other. Each chapter ends with one finding a letter left by the other. The imagery throughout, especially in the letters, is striking, bringing each new landscape to life, and consistent enough it’s hard to tell where one author’s writing ends and the other’s begins.

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New Treasures: On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

Friday, July 12th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

On a Sunbeam-small On a Sunbeam-back-small

I buy a lot of books. But there are so many I’m interested in — so many New Treasures, so many recommendations, so many carefully curated wish lists — that I actually keep a pretty tight budget, and most purchases are weighed and carefully planned. Sometimes I miss visits to the bookstore filled with nothing but impulse buys, and the delightful discoveries that come with unplanned readings.

On my last weekend trip to Barnes & Noble, I indulged myself with precisely one impulse buy: Tillie Walden’s massive science fiction romance On a Sunbeam, a 533-page graphic novel. It’s based on a 20-chapter web comic, and was a Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of 2018, one of The Washington Post‘s 10 Best Graphic Novels of 2018, an LA Times Festival of Books 2018 Book Prize Winner, a School Library Journal Best Book of 2018 — and a 2019 Hugo Award Nominee for Best Graphic Story. It caught my eye on a tabletop display, and after flipping through it for 60 seconds, I fell right into it.

I’ve already forgotten about the other books I brought home that day. But On a Sunbeam is at the top of my to-be-read pile for this weekend (on top of about 20 other recent comics — so it could be a great weekend. Let’s hope for rain so I get stuck indoors.) Here’s the publisher’s description, and a few samples interior pages.

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Happy Release Day to Mission Critical, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Mission Critical Jonathan Strahan-smallHappy release day to Mission Critical, the brand new anthology from Jonathan Strahan, editor of Engineering Infinity (2010), Drowned Worlds (2016), and thirteen volumes of The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year.

In a Facebook post announcing the release today, Jonathan said:

My new book is out in the world! With stories by by Peter F. Hamilton, Yoon Lee, Aliette de Bodard, Greg Egan, Linda Nagata, Gregory Feeley, John Barnes, Tobias Buckell, Jason Fischer & Sean Williams, Carolyn Ives Gilman, John Meaney, Dominica Phetteplace, Allen M. Steele, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Peter Watts, [it’s] a mix of great science fiction adventure all based on the idea that when things go wrong you have to do *something*!

I love the stories in the book and am really proud of it. If you’ve ever enjoyed one of my anthologies, if you liked stories like The Martian, if you just want to keep anthologies coming out, or if you just love good short fiction, consider ordering this one.

I’ll second that notion. Jonathan has become one of the most respected and successful anthologists in the field. Back in 2015 I talked about how his book Meeting Infinity was the Most Successful Anthology of the year, and just last year Todd McAulty (author of The Robots of Gotham) opined about How Science Fiction Was Saved by Solaris and Jonathan Strahan.

Todd’s point was that short fiction is still critically important to the field, and that prestige anthologies like Strahan’s Infinity project are still the most reliable way for readers to discover new authors. It’s a premise that a lot of Black Gate readers agree with.

If you enjoy short fiction, or science fiction at all, supporting books like Mission Critical — and the publishers who produce them — is important. I hope you’ll give it a try. And if you enjoy it, I hope you’ll spread the word far and wide. (And if you don’t, why not shut the hell up about it.)

Mission Critical was published in paperback by Solaris today. Here’s the publisher’s description.

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New Treasures: The Grand Dark by Richard Kadrey

Monday, July 8th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Grand Dark-small The Grand Dark-back-small

Richard Kadrey is the author of ten novels in the bestselling Sandman Slim dark fantasy series. His latest is a significant departure from those books, a standalone fantasy that looks like a breakout book, and it’s winning him new fans and getting a lot of attention. NPR calls The Grand Dark “the work of a major science fiction/fantasy creator,” and Kirkus says it’s “Wildly ambitious and inventive fantasy from an author who’s punching above his weight in terms of worldbuilding — and winning.” Here’s the publisher’s description.

The Great War is over. The city of Lower Proszawa celebrates the peace with a decadence and carefree spirit as intense as the war’s horrifying despair. But this newfound hedonism — drugs and sex and endless parties — distracts from strange realities of everyday life: Intelligent automata taking jobs. Genetically engineered creatures that serve as pets and beasts of war. A theater where gruesome murders happen twice a day. And a new plague that even the ceaseless euphoria can’t mask.

Unlike others who live strictly for fun, Largo is an addict with ambitions. A bike messenger who grew up in the slums, he knows the city’s streets and its secrets intimately. His life seems set. He has a beautiful girlfriend, drugs, a chance at a promotion — and maybe, an opportunity for complete transformation: a contact among the elite who will set him on the course to lift himself up out of the streets.

But dreams can be a dangerous thing in a city whose mood is turning dark and inward. Others have a vision of life very different from Largo’s, and they will use any methods to secure control. And in behind it all, beyond the frivolity and chaos, the threat of new war always looms.

The Grand Dark was published by Harper Voyager on June 11, 2019. It is 432 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $12.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Will Staehle. Listen to a 5-minute audio excerpt at the HarperCollins website.


A Tale of Two Covers: Sweet Dreams by Tricia Sullivan

Saturday, July 6th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Sweet Dreams Tricia Sullivan UK-small Sweet Dreams Tricia Sullivan Titan-small

Covers by Andrzej Kwolek (Gollancz, 2017) and Natasha Mackenzie (Titan, 2019)

Tricia Sullivan’s third novel Dreaming In Smoke won the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Her first, Lethe, was nominated for the Locus Award for Best First Novel in 1995; her most recent was Occupy Me, which we discussed earlier this year. She writes cyberpunk, space opera, and near-future satire, and has been shortlisted for the BSFA Award, the Tiptree Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

Titan is reprinting her 2017 near-future thriller Sweet Dreams later this month, with a brand new cover designed by Natasha Mackenzie (above right). It’s quite a departure from the Gollancz (UK) cover by Andrzej Kwolek (above left), which has a strong YA dystopian vibe; the Mackenzie version seems more reminiscent to me of Inception-style cyber-thrills and conspiracies. Tough to say which one I prefer… here’s the description; let me know which one you think is more appropriate in the comments.

Charlie is a dreamhacker, able to enter your dreams and mold their direction. Forget that recurring nightmare about being naked in an exam — Charlie will step into your dream, bring you a dressing gown and give you the answers. In London 2022 her skills are in demand, though they still only just pay the bills.

Hired by a celebrity whose nights are haunted by a masked figure who stalks her through a bewildering and sinister landscape, Charlie hopes her star is on the rise. Then her client sleepwalks straight off a tall building, and Charlie starts to realize that these horrors are not all just a dream…

Sweet Dreams will be published by Titan Books on July 23, 2019. It is 410 pages, priced at $14.95 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. Read the first 40 pages at Google Books, and check out our other Tales of Two Covers here.


Low-rate Mining Gigs, Warships, and the Power of Song: Tor.com on 7 Space Operas and Adventures

Saturday, July 6th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

All Systems Red Martha Wells-small Ancillary Justice Ann Leckie-small Space Opera Cat Valente-small

I’ve been saying for a while now that we’re in a space opera renaissance, and I’m not the only one to have noticed. There’s been plenty of discussion of some of the best new titles at many of our favorite sites.

Back in March I bought a copy of Arkady Martine’s Tor debut A Memory Called Empire, the tale of an independent mining station’s efforts to avoid being absorbed by the encroaching Teixcalaanli Empire, and as part of their promotional efforts at Tor.com Natalie Zutter assembled an interesting piece comparing the book to seven other recent space operas. Her list included books by Martha Wells, Ann Leckie, and Catherynne M. Valente, and I’ve found myself recommending it to people interested in modern tales of solar empires, intergalactic dynasties, and plucky space crews.

Any list that useful deserves to be shared. Here’s three of Natalie’s recommendations.

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New Treasures: Shadowblade by Anna Kashina

Thursday, July 4th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Shadowblade-small Shadowblade-back-small

Ah, Angry Robot. Is there any other publisher out there taking chances on new fantasy writers they way they are? They’ve certainly claimed more than their fair share of my recent book-buying dollars, anyway. Last week it was Shadowblade, the latest from Anna Kashina. In his feature interview with Kashina at Clarkesworld, Chris Urie summarized the novel nicely.

Most of us are prone to flights of fantasy. We imagine ourselves capable heroes of a mythical kingdom full of mystery, intrigue, swordplay, and magic. But fantasy stories are often shackled by shadows of elves, rings, and medieval knights. When a fantasy novel brings ideas both new and surprising, it’s worth celebrating.

Anna Kashina’s new novel Shadowblade seamlessly blends together adventure, romance, swordplay, and intrigue with a unique world. Naia dreams of becoming a Blademaster. After her training goes awry, she meets a stranger who rescued the sole survivor of a horrific massacre. This stranger wants to topple the line of imperial succession — and Naia finds herself at the vanguard of a plot that will change the world.

Anna Kashina is also the author of The Majat Code series, published from 2014-2016 by Angry Robot with moody covers by Alejandro Colucci. Check them out below.

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A Final Gift from Gardner: The Very Best of the Best: 35 Years of The Year’s Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Very Best of the Best 35 Years of The Year's Best Science Fiction-small The Very Best of the Best 35 Years of The Year's Best Science Fiction-back-small

We lost Gardner Dozois, one of the greatest editors the SF field has ever seen, in May of last year. As devastating as that was, many of us took some solace in the fact that he had a handful of very exciting books still in the pipeline, and we’d have the opportunity to celebrate and remember him a few times yet.

The first of those, the 35th and final volume in his legendary Year’s Best anthology series, was published last July, and the monumental The Book of Magic (companion to The Book of Swords) arrived in October. The third and final book from Gardner, The Very Best of the Best, was published by St. Martins’ in February. It’s a massive tome, with a Hwarhath novella by Eleanor Arnason, an India 2047 novella by Ian McDonald, a Mars novella from Kage Baker, a novella by Robert Reed, a Quiet War novelette by Paul J. McAuley, and stories by Yoon Ha Lee, Peter Watts, Nancy Kress, Rich Larson, Maureen F. McHugh, Charles Stross, Eleanor Arnason, Michael Swanwick, Carrie Vaughn, Lavie Tidhar, James S. A. Corey, Stephen Baxter, Alastair Reynolds, Greg Egan, and many others.

While the subtitle is 35 Years of The Year’s Best Science Fiction, implying that the stories are selected from all 35 years of Gardner’s Year’s Best, that’s not true. The earliest tale is from 2002, and the most recent from 2017, meaning it’s really a retrospective looking back at the fifteen years between 2002-2017. It’s a rather idiosyncratic book, neglecting many of the most acclaimed stories from those years in favor of the authors and tales that Gardner loved best. Nonetheless, it is one final gift from Gardner, and if this truly is his final book, it’s a magnificent capstone to his career.

I owe a pretty big debt to Gardner — and not just because (for reasons unknown to me) he included me in the acknowledgments of his Year’s Best anthologies for over a decade. He edited some of the best science fiction I’ve ever read, and discovered, promoted and championed many of my favorite writers — and helped me discover many, many more.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents for The Very Best of the Best.

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