Andrew Liptak on 15 New Science Fiction and Fantasy Books to Check Out in May

Friday, May 29th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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I don’t know where John DeNardo vanished to this month. Ever since The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog shut down, taking their excellent monthly summary with tbem, I’ve grown to rely on John’s monthly SF book survey at Kirkus Reviews pretty heavily. It didn’t appear in May — but fortunately Andrew Liptak at Polygon came through, so I don’t have to wrap up the month dangerously uninformed. What does Andrew recommend for us in May? Let’s have a look.

Westside Saints by W.M Akers (Harper Voyager, 304 pages, $27.99 hardcover/$14.99 digital, May 5, 2020)

W.M. Akers follows up his debut novel Westside with Westside Saints, a mystery set in an alternate, Jazz-era New York City. The city has been split into two zones, where the east side is a prosperous metropolis and the west an overgrown wasteland. In Westside, Akers introduced readers to Gilda Carr, a detective who specializes in “small mysteries,” and who ended up trying to solve the mystery of her missing father.

In this new adventure, Carr stumbles upon a new mystery when she’s hired by a group of street preachers from the Electric Church to recover the severed finger of a lost saint. They believe that this digit will bring about a resurrection, and Carr drawn in when her dead mother unexpectedly returns…

We covered the first book in the series, Westside, right here almost exactly a year ago. Read an excerpt from Westside Saints here.

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Magical Odes and Mysterious Trilogies: The Poet King by Ilana C. Myer

Wednesday, May 27th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Stephan Martiniere

Every time a fantasy trilogy wraps up, we bake a cake in the Black Gate offices. (As you can imagine, our diet consists of a lot of cake. Man, we need a gym.)

Ilana C. Myer’s new novel The Poet King brings to a close the trilogy that began with Last Song Before Night. One of the reasons I love this series is all the mystery. Like, what’s the trilogy called, exactly? Amazon refers to it as the Tower of the Winds series. Unless you’re buying the Kindle version, in which case it’s called The Harp and Ring Sequence. The Internet Science Fiction database clears the issue right up by calling it, definitively, Last Song Before Night / The Harp and the Ring, and then listing all the books in the wrong order.

Well, no one said the life of a science fiction book blogger would be easy. Let’s move on the the Publishers Weekly review, because at least that’s straightforward. Hopefully. Here’s an excerpt; you can judge for yourself.

Myer concludes the Harp and Ring Sequence (after Fire Dance) with this opulent, ambitious fantasy. Political upheaval in Kahishi leads to Elissan Diar declaring himself the land’s first Poet King, capable of weaving magic into his odes. Embittered Lady Rianna Gelvan plots to kill Elissan before he takes the throne… Myer’s intricately braided plot strands culminate in a clash of supernatural Otherworld powers. Those new to the series will have no trouble connecting with the well-drawn protagonists but may struggle to untangle the history of this rich universe which draws from a welter of world mythologies. Still, readers will be blown away by the lush, lyrical prose and epic scale of this novel.

We covered the previous books in the series here and here. The Poet King was published by Tor Books on March 24, 2020. It is 320 pages, priced at $29.99 in hardcover and $14.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Stephan Martiniere. Read Howard Andrew Jones’ feature interview with Ilana here.

See all our coverage of the best new fantasy series here.


New Treasures: The Aleph Extraction, Book II of The Galactic Cold War by Dan Moren

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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The Galactic Cold War novels, from Angry Robot.
Cover for The Aleph Extraction by Georgina Hewitt.

I met Helene Wecker at the World Fantasy Convention two years ago, at a reading for her novel The Golem and the Jinni, and she impressed me with her knowledge of (and passion for) the genre. Someone like that you pay attention to. So when she called the opening novel in Dan Moren’s Galactic Cold War series “Ocean’s Eleven in zero gravity,” it stuck in my mind.

She wasn’t the only one to notice. Publishers Weekly called The Bayern Agenda “one of the most entertaining genre mashups within an astronomical unit.” I hate being left out, so I bought a copy and wrote about it here, just so I could sound hip too.  The second in the series arrived right on time from Angry Robot this month; here’s the description.

Aboard a notorious criminal syndicate’s luxurious starliner, Commonwealth operative Simon Kovalic and his crew race to steal a mysterious artifact that could shift the balance of war…

Still reeling from a former teammate’s betrayal, Commonwealth operative Simon Kovalic and his band of misfit spies have no time to catch their breath before being sent on another impossible mission: to pull off the daring heist of a quasi-mythical alien artifact, right out from under the nose of the galaxy’s most ruthless crime lord.

But their cold war rivals, the Illyrican Empire, want the artifact for themselves. And Kovalic’s newest recruit, Specialist Addy Sayers, is a volatile ex-con with a mean hair-trigger who might put the whole mission at risk. Can Kovalic hold it all together, or will the team tear themselves apart before they can finish the job?

The Galactic Cold War series is definitely getting interesting quickly. The Aleph Extraction was published by Angry Robot on May 12. It is 418 pages, priced at $15.99 in trade paperback and $8.99 in digital formats. The cover art is uncredited.

See all our recent New Treasures here.


Sword & Sorcery from a Bygone Era: Tales of Attluma by David C. Smith

Sunday, May 17th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover art by Tom Barber

David C. Smith has written a number of articles for Black Gate, most recently a fine review of Brian Murphy’s history of Sword-and-Sorcery, Flame and Crimson. He’s also the author of twenty-six novels and collections, including Oron, The Fall of the First World trilogy, and Robert E. Howard: A Literary Biography. His newest is Tales of Attluma, a collection of classic S&S tales from Bob McLain’s Pulp Hero Press, most of which appeared in hard-to-find small press magazines like Gordon Linzner’s excellent Space & Time.

I asked Dave to tell us a little about his new book, and he obliged in fine style. Here’s what he said.

I’d wanted to pull these stories together into one collection for many years. Periodically, I went through them, off and on, during the past twenty-five years, tweaking them or reworking them. As I improved as a writer, I found ways to open up many of the stories or take them into new directions, so that’s what I did. A few of the later ones didn’t need much done to them, such as “Patience Serves,” or even a very early one, “Ithtidzik.” But most of those written when I was in my twenties, I was no longer happy with… So I’m glad I waited so long to pull them together. And that was only possible because of Bob McLain. I didn’t think there was a chance in hell of an oversized commercial publisher picking up Tales of Attluma, but Pulp Hero Press is ideal. They work closely with their authors, so what I had in mind and what Bob was going for dovetailed nicely. And it’s interesting to see how I matured as a writer. The early stories revolve around plots; as I got older, the stories became character-driven or dealt with ideas. And I feel the quality of my writing has improved, too. I like that.

Unfortunately Pulp Hero Press doesn’t have a website — but Dave Ritzlin of DMR Books comes through by providing a virtual website for the book, with all the essential details. Thanks, Dave.

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Visit a Post-Magical-Apocalypse Paris in the Dominion of the Fallen Trilogy by Aliette de Bodard

Saturday, May 16th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover art by Nekro

I missed the final volume of Aliette de Bodard’s epic of a ruined future Paris, The House of Sundering Flames, when it was released last September. But I suppose that’s one of the advantages of a nationwide lockdown… I can catch up on big reading projects.

I think part of the reason I missed it was because de Bodard switched publishers. The House of Shattered Wings and The House of Binding Thorns were both published in hardcover in the US by Ace… but Ace elected not to release the second volume in paperback, and for the third book de Bodard switched to the JABberwocky Literary Agency. JABberwocky kept the same cover artist, which I appreciate, but they don’t have the marketing reach in the US that Ace does.

Nonetheless, the final volume of the Dominion of the Fallen trilogy got a lot of great press. Here’s a snippet from Liz Bourke’s enthusiastic review at Locus.

On the list of books I can’t recommend highly enough: Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Sundering Flames, the latest – and for now final – novel-length instalment in the series… The powerful, magical Houses of de Bodard’s decayed, post-apocalyptic Paris are at peace, at least for now. House Silverspires, once in the first rank of the powerful, is much diminished; House Hawthorn is still strong, but its internal dynamics have changed since the dragon prince Thuan staked his claim on a true partnership… But the peace of Paris is blown apart when an explosion levels House Harrier, one of the more powerful – and more bigoted – Houses. Emmanu­elle, partner and lover of House Silverspires’ head, Selene, is caught in Harrier’s territory, forced to navigate the disaster and a civil war playing out in the ruins…

De Bodard’s prose is precise and elegant, and her characters are compelling and fascinating, even – especially – when they’re making terrible compromises and impossible choices. They’re very human – even the immortal and the dragon prince. Events mount with increasing tension, histories hinted at with terrible implication, until the revela­tions and resolutions of the climax. This is a clever book, and a nuanced one, and to me it feels like a tour-de-force of storytelling. I deeply enjoyed it, and I recommend it highly.

Aliette’s Dominion of the Fallen is the setting for some of her most acclaimed short fiction, including stories collected in In Morningstar’s Shadow and Of Books, and Earth, and Courtship (both published 2015).

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New Treasures: The Best of Jeffrey Ford

Friday, May 15th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Jeffrey Ford is the author of, wow, a whole bunch of stuff. Including The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, The Twilight Pariah, and the upcoming Tor.com novella Out of Body. I’ve lost count of how many times he’s won the World Fantasy Award — for the novels The Physiognomy (1998) and The Shadow Year (2009), the collections The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant (2003) and The Drowned Life (2009), and a few others I’m sure I’ve lost track of. His short fiction has won the Nebula Award, the World Fantasy, and — for his brilliant tale “Exo-Skeleton Town,” originally published the very first issue of Black Gate magazine — the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire.

Jeff’s has written over 130 short stories, gathered in half a dozen fine collections over the past two decades, but he’s never has a Best of. At least he didn’t, until PS Publishing produced the gorgeous artifact you see above: a massive 554-page career retrospective containing 25 reprints selected by Jeff himself, and a brand new tale, “Mr. Sacrobatus.” It also includes author notes on each story, and original sketches and a cover by Jeff’s son Derek Ford.

Copies of this beautiful book are still available, in a limited-run hardcover, but if you want a copy, I suggest you order quickly. Here’s the book description.

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New Treasures: Providence by Max Barry

Sunday, May 10th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Providence Max Barry-smallMax Barry is the author of Lexicon, the tale of a secret war between rival poet factions, which Time called “Unquestionably the year’s smartest thriller;” the New York Times Notable Book Jennifer Government; and Syrup, adapted as a 2013 film starring Amber Heard.

His latest is an interstellar thriller which Publishers Weekly calls “a terrific sci-fi thriller,” and which Paul Di Filippo describes as “a blend of Starship Troopers, UK cult TV show Red Dwarf and the cinematic Alien franchise, with Barry’s own unique slant and voice.” That sounds pretty compelling to me. Here’s an excerpt from Paul’s Locus Online review.

We are in a future era — say, fifty to one hundred years ahead of 2020…  this world has FTL travel, and pretty soon there’s a First Contact. The aliens, eventually dubbed “salamanders,” are inherently and implacably hostile… After witnessing the initial slaughter of kindly human ambassadors, we jump ahead to a time when humanity seems to be winning the war against the salamanders. A fleet of enormous battle-ready starships, the Providence class, has taken the fight to the native territory of the aliens, who seem to occupy not planets, but artificial “hives,” located at various random points in interstellar space. The Providence ships, run by very clever but non-self-aware artificial intelligences, each have a crew of four humans, who are present mainly as operational backups — and also as media-friendly faces for humanity’s self-esteem.

Our focus is on the crew of the newest war vessel: Isiah “Gilly” Gilligan, the techie; Paul Anders, the warrior; Jolene Jackson, the captain; and Talia Beanfield, the life-support expert… However, two years into their intermittently deadly cruise (a section that occupies about the first third of the book, during which we learn all the important parameters of the war and the emotional mechanics of the crew interactions), after effortlessly wiping out all the salamanders they encounter, things start to go wrong. Anders begins to go screwy, as does the ship’s AI. And the salamanders exhibit new refinements of strategy that eventually pose a mortal threat to the crew and their ship. How the humans react in the face of these challenges forms the last two-thirds of the tale…

When the battle klaxon sounds, Barry shifts into suspenseful military-SF mode, delivering tense and suspenseful depictions of warfare. His speculative elements are top-notch, as is his technological gadgetry. And when we eventually get a peek into the salamander home world, his crafting of their ecology and culture surprises and astounds.

Providence was published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons on March 31, 2020. It is 320 pages, priced at $27 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The cover artist is uncredited. Read a lengthy excerpt here.

See all our recent coverage of the best new SF and fantasy here.


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

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

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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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New Treasures: Anthropocene Rag by Alex Irvine

Monday, May 4th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Anthropocene Rag-smallI first met Alex Irvine at a reading at the World Fantasy Convention around 14 years ago, where he read the short story “Wizard’s Six,” which was eventually collected in Jonathan Strahan’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Two (2008). It was memorable and strange, and I think that applies to most of Alex’s fiction I’ve encountered.

It seems like an apt description for his new shot novel Anthropocene Rag, anyway. Described as a “nanotech Western,” it’s the tale of Prospector Ed, an emergent AI who seeks to understand the people who made him, and who gathers a ragtag team to journey to the mythical Monument City. Jeffrey Ford calls it “a rare distillation of nanotech, apocalypse, and mythic Americana into a heady psychedelic brew.” And in a feature review and interview at The Chicago Review of Books, Amy Brady describes it this way:

Set in a future United States, Anthropocene Rag is told from a variety of perspectives, including adventurous, meaning-seeking humans and “nanoconstructs” designed by all-powerful AI — called the Boom — to look like archetypes plucked from a classic American Western.

Two such characters are Henry Dale, a God-worshiping human, and Prospector Ed, an AI-construct that wants to better under the intelligence that created him. They’re joined by a motley crew of other humans and constructs, and together, they set out to find Monument City, a mythical place where humans and AI have learned to live in harmony.

To get there, they traverse a planet that looks quite different than our own. Climate change has ravaged the land, and the Boom have developed capabilities to transform landscapes instantaneously and with a grand sense of absurdity. Early on we witness a children’s playground come to life; the animal-shaped rides and swing sets having been granted the ability to speak. The novel is awash in the tropes of westerns and science-fiction, while playing with the familiar arcs of American myth. And yet, very little is familiar in this stunningly innovative book.

Anthropocene Rag was published by Tor.com on March 31, 2020. It is 256 pages, priced at $14.99 in trade paperback and $4.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Drive Communications. Get all the details at the Tor.com website.

See all our recent coverage of the best new SF and Fantasy here.


Heroika II: Skirmishers – Heroism on the History: Fantasy Battlefront

Sunday, May 3rd, 2020 | Posted by SELindberg

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The Heroika anthology series is created by author and editor Janet Morris (known for her Heroes in HellSacred Band of Stepsons, Kerrion Empire, and Silistra Quartet series). The first volume Heroika I: Dragon Eaters featured seventeen stories from across the globe, from ancient to modern times arranged chronologically. Black Gate reviewer Fletcher Vredenburgh reported:

Too many anthologies pick a tone and then it doesn’t vary from story to story. Heroika avoids that. Connected by the themes of heroism and dragon-fighting, it allows room for varying styles of mythic tales and heroic fantasy as well as all-out pulp craziness.

Heroika II: Skirmishers follows suit, this time with twelve heroic tales spanning ancient history to modern times, arranged chronologically again.

Most authors have a historical fiction bent, so Skirmishers really is 50% historical fiction and 50% fantasy. Brief forwards provide context to each story. This post offers a brochure-like tour guide of these battlegrounds.

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