New Treasures: Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight by Aliette de Bodard

Tuesday, December 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Of Wars and Memories and Starlight-small Of Wars and Memories and Starlight-back-small

Cover by Maurizio Manzieri

I met Aliette de Bodard at the Nebulas weekend in 2015, on the way to a party in the Palmer House hotel, and we ended up chatting for about 20 minutes. She was charming, articulate, humble, and a very stylish dresser. And you know, that’s just not a combo you see very often, especially at a science fiction convention.

Anyway, she’s also won, like, ALL THE AWARDS. Her Universe of Xuya series may be the most honored SF story cycle of the last decade, with numerous Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and BSFA nominations and wins. John Clute’s entry for Aliette in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction reads in part:

Mostly comprising shorter works, the Universe of Xuya sequence – beginning with “The Lost Xuyan Bride” (December 2007 Interzone) and including On a Red Station, Drifting (2012), a short novel – is an Alternate History series in which China settles North America from the west, with complex consequences for earlier settlers like the Aztecs; some stories are set in space…

The Tea Master and the Detective… in the loose Xuya Universe sequence, is a Space Opera whose protagonists – Holmes and her shipmind Watson – are both female; it won a Nebula as best novelette.

Subterranean Press issued her first major collection on September 30 of this year. Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight contains 14 tales, including many award winners: 11 Xuya stories, a novelette in her acclaimed Dominion of the Fallen fantasy series, and an original novella, “Of Birthdays, and Fungus, and Kindness.”

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New Treasures: Down Among the Dead, Book 2 of The Farian War by K. B. Wagers

Monday, December 2nd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Lauren Panepinto and Stephan Martiniere

Down Among the Dead, the second novel in K. B. Wagers’ Farian War series, arrives from Orbit tomorrow, and it’s one of the most anticipated SF books of the month. It’s the sequel to the The Indranan War trilogy featuring gunrunner empress Hail Bristol, which put Wagers on the map for serious space opera fans. The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog said the opening novel, There Before the Chaos, was “”A perfect blend of political intrigue and realistically-conveyed action…. [with] Kick-butt women, space battles, complex relationships, and fiendish plots.” Publishers Weekly was even more enthusiastic:

Hailimi “Hail” Bristol, an Indranan princess turned selectively ruthless gunrunner, was forced to take her empire’s throne after conspirators murdered her family. She saved the empire, but now a war between Indrana’s centuries-long allies, the Farians, who can heal or kill with a touch, and the Farians’ ancient enemy, the Shen, threatens to spill over to all of humankind, with disastrous consequences… Wagers achieves a rare balance of action… tension, and quiet moments, keeping pages turning while deepening the portraits of Hail and the friends and foes around her. Fans of the original trilogy will welcome Hail’s return, and any space opera reader can easily jump in here.

We covered There Before the Chaos last November. Down Among the Dead will be published tomorrow by Orbit; it is 448 pages, priced at $16.99 in trade paperback and $11.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Stephan Martiniere.

Surprisingly (well surprising to me, anyway), The Farian War is not the only space opera series Wagers has on the go at the moment. Early next year she’s launching a brand new military science fiction series that looks extremely interesting. Check it out below.

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The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog on the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of November 2019

Sunday, December 1st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Fortuna by Kristyn Merbeth-small Made Things Adrian Tchaikovsky-small The Killing Light Myke Cole-small

It’s December already. Hard to believe, I know. But it’s true.

It’s many ways I’m not sad to have November in the rear view mirror. For one thing, the weather was terrible. More importantly, it brought disturbing changes to one of my favorite genre websites, the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, which fired all their freelancers on November 26th. I don’t know if the ongoing changes will also impact folks like founding editor Joel Cunningham, or Jeff Somers, who writes the top-notch book survey every month, but I really hope not. We’ve benefited greatly from their work here at Black Gate, and I hope it continues.

In particular, Jeff Somers’ monthly survey of the best genre books is something I always look forward to, and he never disappoints. His November column — with 25 titles by Neil Gaiman, Myke Cole, Walter Jon Williams, and many others — is a classic example. Packed in there with the blockbuster new books by E.E. Knight, Howard Andrew Jones, and Rebecca Roanhorse, are several genuine surprises. Here’s a look at the best unexpected books on the list.

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New Treasures: Starship Alchemon by Christopher Hinz

Thursday, November 28th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers: unknown (left) , and Francesca Corsini

Christopher Hinz’s 1987 SF classic Liege-Killer won the Compton Crook Award, and came in fourth for the Locus Award for Best First Novel. It’s part of the Paratwa Saga, which also includes Ash Ock (1989), The Paratwa (1991), and Binary Storm (2016). I picked up his latest novel Starship Alchemon on Saturday, only to discover it’s a rewrite of his second novel, Anachronisms, from 1988. Here’s an excerpt from the Strange Alliances review by Elaine Aldred, who is clearly better informed than I am.

The nine members of the crew of the Starship Alchemon are sent to investigate a mysterious anomaly on a distant planet. But the mission is far from straightforward and the crew are soon battling for their lives.

Starship Alchemon started life as Christopher Hinz’s 1980’s novel Anachronisms, but this version is not a simple rehash. It has an up-to-date feel and explores the characters in more depth, as well as tightening the whole worldbuilding experience. Each of the crew has their own particular skill set, with some possessing extraordinary abilities, like the character LeaMarsa de Host’s powerful psionic qualities. But there is careful attention paid to giving each of the characters a significant role in the story. The first half of the novel is slow, but the moment strange and ominous events begin to kick off, there is an Alien narrative in the sense of the crew just fighting to survive the escalating events.

Anachronisms could probably be thought of as being “of its time” however, put in the context of 1980’s science fiction, it still makes for an interesting read. Despite having been exposed to the novel in its first incarnation, I enjoyed this second outing, which can be thought of as having its own personality…

Despite being a rewrite of an older book, there’s a lot that appeals to me about Starship Alchemon — not the least of which is Aldred’s comparison to Alien. She’s not the only one to make that connection; keikii Eats Books on Reddit has the same idea.

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A Tale of Two Covers: Gunslinger Girl by Lyndsay Ely

Wednesday, November 27th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Mark Owen/Trevillion Images (left) and uncredited

While I was at Windycon here in Chicago last week, I stopped by Larry Smith’s booth in the Dealer’s Room and ended up buying a small pile of books from Sally Kobee. Gunslinger Girl by Lyndsay Ely was an impulse buy, but a good one, I think. It’s part of the James Patterson Presents line, and was an Amazon and B&N Best Book of the Month, and an Indie Next pick. It’s also the tale of a female sharpshooter in a dystopian near-future West, and I like the sound of that. Here’s the description.

Seventeen-year-old Serendipity “Pity” Jones inherited two things from her mother: a pair of six shooters and perfect aim. She’s been offered a life of fame and fortune in Cessation, a glittering city where lawlessness is a way of life. But the price she pays for her freedom may be too great….

In this extraordinary debut from Lyndsay Ely, the West is once again wild after a Second Civil War fractures the U.S. into a broken, dangerous land. Pity’s struggle against the dark and twisted underbelly of a corrupt city will haunt you long after the final bullet is shot.

My problem with the book is that I bought the trade paperback on the left, and when I was checking out the details online I discovered the mass market paperback edition on the right, with the gorgeously colorful cover. It was vividly different and inexpensive enough ($5.49) that I decided to get a copy of that one as well, this time as a gift for my daughter. I ordered it from Amazon… and promptly received a second copy of the book at left. Every edition Amazon lists online has the cover at right (including the audio, paperback and hardcover editions), but I don’t see any way to actually get one.

Well, I love a book challenge, and I’m not ready to give up yet. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Here’s the back cover of the trade edition.

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Happy Book Birthday to Starlight, Book 2 of Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson

Tuesday, November 26th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Charlie Bowater

Brandon Sanderson is one of the most ambitious fantasy authors at work today. (To give you some idea what I mean, he’s already 3,424 pages into his projected 10-volume Stormlight Archive series — and that just the first three books.) He has multiple series on the go at the moment, including Skyward, projected to reach four books.

Skyward is being marketed as Young Adult (unless you’re in the UK, where it’s being marketing as adult fiction — go figure.) Deana Whitney and Darci Cole at Tor.com call it a “girl and her starship” story, and that seems to be right on the money.  Here’s an excerpt from the Kirkus review of the first novel, Skyward.

Eager to prove herself, the daughter of a flier disgraced for cowardice hurls herself into fighter pilot training to join a losing war against aliens.

Plainly modeled as a cross between Katniss Everdeen and Conan the Barbarian (“I bathed in fires of destruction and reveled in the screams of the defeated. I didn’t get afraid”), Spensa “Spin” Nightshade leaves her previous occupation — spearing rats in the caverns of the colony planet Detritus for her widowed mother’s food stand — to wangle a coveted spot in the Defiant Defense Force’s flight school. Opportunities to exercise wild recklessness and growing skill begin at once, as the class is soon in the air, battling the mysterious Krell raiders who have driven people underground… Meanwhile, hints that all is not as it seems, either with the official story about her father or the whole Krell war in general, lead to startling revelations and stakes-raising implications by the end… Sanderson plainly had a ball with this nonstop, highflying opener, and readers will too.

The second volume Starlight was released today by Tor. It is 461 pages, priced at $19.99 in hardcover and $10.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Charlie Bowater. Read a huge excerpt from Skyward (the first 15 chapters) at Underlined and another one at i09.


A Game of Moons: Ian McDonald’s Luna Trilogy

Monday, November 25th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Luna New Moon-small Luna Wolf Moon-small Luna Moon Rising-small

Covers by Victor Mosquera

Ian McDonald has had a heck of a career, and I’ve managed to miss all of it. He won the Locus Award for Best First Novel for Desolation Road (1989), the Philip K. Dick Award for King of Morning, Queen of Day (1991), and has been nominated for a Hugo so many time I’ve lost count, including for his novels River of Gods (2005), Brasyl (2008), and The Dervish House (2011). I haven’t read any of those. I suck.

But redemption beckons. We’re heading into the holiday season, with its vacation days and reading time, and I’m casting around for a good, crunchy, science fiction epic. And McDonald just happens to have completed his widely acclaimed Luna series with Luna: Moon Rising in March of this year. The Guardian calls it “Splendid, space-age Game of Thrones-style entertainment. A Game of Moons, if you will. Play it to win, or die.” Boy, I like the sound of that. I just ordered the entire series, and I’m looking forward to long hours in my big green chair.

While I wait for the books to arrive, I’ve been heightening my anticipation by re-reading the reviews. Here’s a snippet from the full review by Adam Roberts.

McDonald’s world of lunar colonists is dog-eat-dog, or indeed dog-push-dog-out-of-airlock. Rival families compete to exploit lunar resources: the rich prosper and the majority poor go to the wall. Helium-3 is plentiful, and mining it provides cheap energy for Moon and Earth both. Five family-owned corporations, or “dragons”, dominate, and although they operate within the law, they are all mafia-style organisations… The story largely concerns the powerful Corta family, originally from Brazil, ruled by the fierce but dying matriarch Adriana Corta. Her first-born son and heir, Rafa Corta, is a hothead, the Sonny Corleone of the novel; his younger brother Lucas, calmer and a better tactician, is more Michael Corleone. The Cortas are effectively at war with the “Mackenzie Metals” family, originally from New Zealand. After somebody tries to assassinate Rafa with a cyberengineered fly, and when the Cortas snatch a lucrative new mining property from under the noses of the Mackenzies, matters heat up fast…

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New Treasures: The Monstrous Citadel by Mirah Bolender

Saturday, November 23rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover art by Tony Mauro

I found Mirah Bolender’s debut novel City of Broken Magic waiting for me when I got home from the World Fantasy Convention last year. I liked the premise quite a bit — a city in which a understaffed bomb squad must deal with leathly deadly weapons left over from a long-forgotten war. Liz Bourke at Tor.com summarized it nicely:

City of Broken Magic sets itself in a secondary fantasy world where humans live huddled into well-defended cities. Hundreds of years before the novel’s beginning, a colonised people tried to fight back against their colonisers by creating a weapon that ate magic. They succeeded a little too well, creating something that can hatch from broken or empty magical amulets and that can consume everything in its path. These infestations, as they’re known, are extremely dangerous and require specialised knowledge and equipment to combat. The people who do this job are known as “Sweepers,” and their mortality rate can be high…

The novel’s worldbuilding, in the form of infestations and the social response to it, is its big idea. City of Broken Magic is the story of an emergency response unit, and in narrative and stylistic terms, it feels one part thriller, one part procedural, and one part professional coming-of-age for its viewpoint character. Bolender writes action very well, building tension into every escalating encounter with infestations… City of Broken Magic is a fast-paced, exciting ride. And an entertaining one.

The book earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

Monsters are threatening to take over the city of Amicae. The government has convinced residents that the monsters can’t get in, but Clae and Laura know that isn’t true. They are Sweepers, the only people in the city qualified to fight the monsters… they take on mobsters, corrupt businessmen, and a deliberately skewed cultural narrative, culminating in a fight to protect their city from its own refusal to accept reality. Amicae’s strict caste system is expertly woven into the fast-paced plot that will keep readers turning pages until the very end.

The sequel, The Monstrous Citadel, the second novel in the Chronicles of Amicae, sees the Sweepers face new threats, including gangs, ungrateful bureaucrats, and the grasping ambition of Rex, the City of Kings, which breeds its own monsters. The Monstrous Citadel was published by Tor on November 5, 2019. It is 415 pages, priced at $18.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital versions. The cover art is by Tony Mauro. Read Chapter One of from City of Broken Magic here, and a lengthy excerpt at the Tor-Forge Blog. See all our recent New Treasures here.


Future Treasures: The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2019 edited by Paula Guran

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2019

Usually when I write a Future Treasures piece, it’s about a book that hasn’t been published yet. And that applies in this case. The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2019, the tenth volume in Paula Guran’s excellent anthology series, definitely ain’t out yet.

Now, the official publication date was yesterday, so this is a little frustrating. I look forward to this book every year. It’s the companion to my favorite Year’s Best volume, Rich Horton’s Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, and Paula is one of the most experienced editors in the business. She has a sharp eye for delightful and surprising fiction, and this year’s volume — with stories by Tim Powers, Jeffrey Ford, Simon Strantzas, Tim Lebbon, Naomi Kritzer, Mary Robinette Kowal, E. Lily Yu, Isabel Yap, Michael Wehunt, Steve Rasnic Tem, Brian Hodge, Robert Shearman, Angela Slatter, M. Rickert, and many others — looks like a terrific package. But despite having an official pub date of November 19, it’s listed as unavailable at every online outlet I’ve checked.

I assume this is something that the publisher, Prime Books, will sort out in the next few weeks (they usually do). In the meantime I shall wait patiently, as I look over the delicious Table of Contents with great anticipation. Here it is.

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New Treasures: Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender

Monday, November 18th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover design by Lisa Marie Pompilio

Even today, too much of the fantasy that arrives every month feels very familiar, especially in setting. So novels that explore non-European and non-American settings have a special appeal for me. Kacen Callender’s Queen of the Conquered, on sale last week from Orbit, is a Caribbean-inspired historical fantasy, and that alone makes it interesting in my book.

What else does it have going for it? A lot of positive early buzz, for one thing. Jason Heller at NPR says it has a “stunning, satisfying conclusion,” and Alex Brown at Tor.com tells us it’s “nothing short of remarkable… it absolutely must be read.” Here’s a snippet from the starred review at Kirkus.

In a grimly plausible political fantasy–turned–murder mystery, a young woman faces the bloody consequences of her choices. Centuries ago, the pale-skinned Fjern conquered a group of Caribbean-like islands and enslaved its dark-skinned inhabitants. The islander Sigourney Rose was the sole survivor of the slaughter of her family by Fjern conspirators resentful that her mother, Mirjam, a freed slave married to a wealthy landowner, was invited to join the king’s inner circle of advisers. Resolved to revenge herself and to seize the regency, Sigourney poisons her cousin for his political position and uses her “kraft,” magical psychic abilities, to manipulate the failing mind of an orchestrator of the conspiracy… But once Sigourney reaches the royal island of Hans Lollik Helle, where the king will make his choice, nothing is as it seems… A fascinating exploration of how power corrupts and drives a person toward self-betrayal.

Queen of the Conquered is the opening novel of Islands of Blood and Storm. It was published by Orbit on November 12, 2019. It is 359 pages, priced at $15.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Lisa Marie Pompilio. See all of our recent New Treasures here.


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