Romance and Ancient Magic: The Earthsinger Chronicles by L. Penelope

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Song of Blood & Stone-small Whispers of Shadow & Flame Song of Blood & Stone-paperback-small

One of the nasty little secrets of American fantasy is that for years virtually no major publisher would put non-white characters on a cover. The situation was so dire that even Ursula K. Le Guin, whose classic A Wizard of Earthsea featured a non-white cast, had to put up with having her hero Ged depicted as white on countless covers for decades. And as recently as this year, Nnedi Okorafor saw the skin tone of her heroine dramatically lightened for the US release of Akata Warrior (compare it to the UK version here.)

Fortunately the situation has been steadily — if slowly — improving, and it’s no longer quite so remarkable to see black characters on mainstream covers. Recent examples we’ve featured include Claire O’Dell’s A Study in Honor, and The High Ground by Melinda Snodgrass. But I can’t recall seeing a mainstream fantasy cover as black and as beautiful as Song of Blood & Stone by L. Penelope, which I think is one of the most gorgeous covers of the year. Publishers! More like this, please.

Song of Blood & Stone, Penelope’s debut novel, was self-published in 2015 through her Heartspell Media company (which designed the cover); it won the 2016 Self-Publishing eBook Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was soon picked up by St. Martin’s Press, which republished it in hardcover in May of this year (with the same cover). The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog listed it as part of the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of May.

According to Penelope’s website St. Martin’s will be republishing the entire Earthsinger Chronicles, including Whispers of Shadow and Flame (released by Heartspell in 2015 and now out of print), and the forthcoming Breath of Dust & Dawn (due Winter 2019). Song of Blood and Stone will also be reprinted in an expanded trade paperback next July with a brand new cover (above right).

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Conquerors, Betrayers, and Lovers: Not One of Us: Stories of Aliens on Earth, edited by Neil Clarke

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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I ran into Neil Clarke at the World Fantasy Convention two weeks ago and had the chance to catch up, however briefly, as we chatted in the Dealer’s Room. Since retiring from his day job Neil has become something of an editing dynamo. In addition to editing and publishing Clarkesworld every month, one of the most acclaimed magazines in the field, he’s also produced some of my favorite anthologies of the past two years, including Galactic Empires, The Final Frontier, and of course his annual Best Science Fiction of the Year books, the most recent of which was Volume Three.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to pick up his latest, the generously-sized reprint anthology Not One of Us: Stories of Aliens on Earth, which contains work by Nancy Kress, Steve Rasnic Tem, Robert Reed, Liu Cixin, Rich Larson, Kelly Robson, James Patrick Kelly, Molly Tanzer, Caroline M. Yoachim, Judith Berman, Ian McDonald, Paul McAuley, Ken Liu, Ted Chiang, and others. Publishers Weekly gave it a rave review; have a look.

Collecting 21 stories from the last two decades, this hefty and fascinating theme anthology focuses on one of SF’s major issues: If aliens aren’t just bug-eyed monsters with no more than rape and plunder on their minds, what else — who else — could they be?… The short stories frequently make good use of their length to shift perspectives abruptly, putting readers not just in the presence but inside the skins of aliens who might be conquerors, teachers, betrayers, or lovers — or some all-too-human combination. They also aren’t afraid to tackle contemporary political hot topics such as immigration, citizenship, and belonging. Outstanding works by Nancy Kress (“Laws of Survival”), Judith Berman (“The Fear Gun”), and Ted Chiang (“Story of Your Life”) are highlights, but there are no inferior pieces here. This is a fine, thoughtful book.

Read the complete review here. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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A Galaxy in its Scope: The Noumenon Series by Marina J. Lostetter

Monday, November 19th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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If you’ve been reading Black Gate for any length of time at all, you know I’m a fan of space opera. But space opera takes many forms, as demonstrated by Marina J. Lostetter’s tale of a generation ship manned by clones, Noumenon, the opening novel in an epic saga of exploration and adventure in deep space. Publishers Weekly called it “An ambitious and stunning debut… the lingering sense of wonder and discovery thoroughly justifies its title,” and it was selected as one of the Best Books of 2017 by Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog. Here’s a snippet from the starred review at Kirkus.

In Lostetter’s ambitious debut, the year is 2088, and humankind is finally ready to explore deep space, preparing to send convoys of clones on eons-long missions to investigate the outskirts of the galaxy.

Astrophysicist Reggie Straifer is convinced that something funny is going on with a distant star; there seems to be something surrounding it and obstructing its light. When Straifer convinces the organization building interstellar convoys to send one of its 12 missions to the mysterious LQ Pyxidis, he and hundreds of other brilliant experts are chosen to have their genes replicated into generations of clones who will staff the ships… So far removed from their home planet, are the clones doomed to repeat the flaws written in their DNA, or will they prove that people really can change, even if it takes a few lifetimes to get there? This spectacular epic examines everything from the nature of civilizations and societies to the tension between nature and nurture. Lostetter expertly balances the thrill of discovery with the interpersonal consequences of an isolated community. The tools of speculative fiction are deployed with heart-rending attention to emotional reality in this enthralling odyssey… A striking adventure story that could hold a galaxy in its scope, this is an expedition that delves as deep into the human thirst for purpose as it does into the wonders of the universe.

Noumenon was published last year; the sequel Noumenon Infinity arrived from Harper Voyager in August, and the publisher discounted the digital version of the first to just $1.99. Now’s your chance to check out one of the best SF debuts of last year for under $2. Here’s a look at the back covers.

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New Treasures: There Before the Chaos by K.B. Wagers

Sunday, November 18th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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I first noticed K.B. Wagers in 2016, with Behind the Throne, the first novel in The Indranan War trilogy, which Publishers Weekly called “An excellent addition to any SF collection.” Last month Orbit released There Before the Chaos, the opening volume of a new space opera trilogy featuring gunrunner empress Hail Bristol, who this time must set aside her gunrunning ways to navigate alien politics and deadly plots and prevent an interspecies war. Over at Liz Bourke give it an enthusiastic review… but beware that cliffhanger ending!

I’ve been thinking about how to review There Before The Chaos for weeks. K.B. Wagers’ fourth novel, the opening volume of a second trilogy about gunrunner-turned-empress Hail Bristol (star of Behind the Throne, After the Crown, and Beyond the Empire), it turned out to be the kind of character-driven, deftly-wrought, emotive space opera that I adore. And that I find difficult to discuss with any kind of measured distance or attempt at assessment. Does it live up to its predecessors? Does it succeed at what it sets out to do?

I’m not entirely sure I can tell, because it succeeds so well at being exactly the kind of book I wanted it to be. (Though I shake my fist at the cliffhanger ending! What a hook.)…

Wagers writes compelling space opera action, full of character and incident. She has a very deft touch with action — which is good, because There Before The Chaos has a bunch of it — and a brutal sense for where to leave her start-of-trilogy cliffhanger. That ending! I want to know what happens next this instant. Waiting a whole year will be torment.

The book includes a teaser chapter from the forthcoming sequel, Down Among the Dead, the second installment in The Farian War trilogy.

There Before the Chaos was published by Orbit on October 9, 2018. It is 465 pages, priced at $15.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Lauren Panepinto.

Future Treasures: The Salvager Series by Alex White

Friday, November 16th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Alex White’s Salvager series began with A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe, a book which has one of the most promising titles of the year at the very least. I snapped it up shortly after reading Corrina Lawson’s enthusiastic review over at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog:

To call this book fast-paced or action-packed is underselling it… It begins with Nilah, the best driver in the galactic version of the Grand Prix. These “cars” are a mix of galactic tech and magic, as is Nilah herself…. Soon, Nilah is being attacked on the track — something that should be impossible — and witnesses another racer being murdered before she accidentally teleports to an unknown location… the viewpoint shifts to Elizabeth “Boots” Ellsworth, who has her own problems… she’s a veteran of a war from the losing side, [and] she’s a failed media personality whose one big triumph exploring the legends of lost ships is long in the past.

Everything goes promptly sideways as Nilah, Boots, Cordell and the crew of the Capricious wander recklessly into a greater conspiracy that points them to yet another legendary lost ship — a very big ship, way out in the far reaches of space (at the edge of the universe, even)…

The crew of the Capricious are terrific, original creations, from the captain determined to protect the crew that is all he has left from the war, to the intense first officer, to the ship’s chef. (Orna, the cynical force of nature that is the ship’s quartermaster, steals every scene she’s in, alongside her robot battle suit, Ranger.)… It’s this crew up against the most powerful beings in the universe, and our rag-tag heroes will take those odds. This is fantastic stuff, in every sense of the word.

Corrina mentioned at the end of her review that more titles were forthcoming, and it looks like her sources were true. A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy arrives in trade paperback from Orbit next month, and the third title in the series, The Worst of All Possible Worlds, is promised for Summer 2019.

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New Treasures: Keepers by Brenda Cooper, Book Two of Project Earth

Thursday, November 15th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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We reported here on Tuesday the surprising news that Pyr has been sold to Start Publishing, a development that’s produced a lot of speculation in the industry. While there’s been plenty of dark conjecture, I think I can sum up the general mood as “cautious optimism” that the sale won’t hurt one of the most dynamic and exciting genre publishers of the last few decades.

It has caused me to look more closely at Pyr’s latest releases, and that’s not a bad thing. The one that has most interested me recently is Keepers, the second novel in Brenda Cooper’s Project Earth, set in a near-future Earth where “rewilding crews” work to remove all traces of civilization from vast tracks of terrain, returning the planet to its natural state. Gray Scott says the first novel Wilders was “A fantastic voyage into a beautifully intricate solarpunk future,” and Karl Schroeder called it “one of the best near-future adventures in years.”

We covered Wilders here; and Steven Silver’s Birthday Review of Cooper’s short story “Second Shift” appeared here in August. Here’s the description for Keepers.

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Dark Evil and Atlantean Gods: Stygian: A Dark-Hunter Novel by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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When I received a review copy of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s new novel Stygian, I noticed the subtitle A Dark Hunter Novel. I know Kenyon is the author of multiple ongoing series (including the Deadman’s Cross historical fantasies featuring curses, pirates, and a sentient ship on the Spanish Main), but I wasn’t prepared for the scale of this one.

Depending on how you count, this is the 22nd novel in the Dark Hunter series, a saga of dark evil and the Atlantean gods that began way back in 2002 with Fantasy Lover.

Kenyon has made a name for herself as a paranormal romance writer with a string of #1 New York Times bestsellers under her belt, but Stygian isn’t just the latest in a long running series. It picks up the tale of the Dark-Hunter leader Acheron and his twin brother Styxx, told in the #1 bestselling Acheron and Styxx, to tell the story of Urian, Styxx’s son. Here’s the description.

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A Tale of Alchemy and Magic in Gilded Age New York: The Last Magician Series by Lisa Maxwell

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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I received a review copy of The Devil’s Thief a few months ago. It’s the second volume in Last Magician series by Lisa Maxwell, and I didn’t have a copy of the first one, last year’s The Last Magician.

But The Devil’s Thief still managed to capture my attention. Man, I hate that.

We covered Lisa Maxwell’s previous book, the Peter Pan homage Unhooked, back in 2016. But it was The Last Magician that really put her on the map, becoming an instant New York Times bestseller. The tale of a girl who travels back in time to find a mysterious book that could save her future, The Last Magician was called a “twisty tale of alchemy and magic in Gilded Age New York” by Cinda Williams Chima.

How do I know all this? Because I shelled out for a copy, because I’m a sucker. Here’s the description.

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Sentient Starships, Cyborgs, and Eerie Horror: The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018 edited by N.K. Jemisin and John Joseph Adams

Monday, November 12th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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The Year’s Best season came to a close last month. It was a pretty spectacular year, with no less than 10 volumes from editors Rich Horton, Gardner Dozois, Neil Clarke, Jonathan Strahan, Paula Guran, Jane Yolen, Michael Kelly, David Afsharirad, and others. We’ve covered them all, and we close out 2018 with The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018. This is the fourth volume; the series is edited by John Joseph Adams with a different co-editor every year. His partner this year is N.K. Jemisin, who may be the most honored SF writer in the field at the moment, with three back-to-back-to-back Hugo wins under her belt.

This year’s volume received a rave review from Publishers Weekly. Here’s an excerpt.

An almost unheard-of diversity of tales absolutely sing in this superlative anthology of short speculative stories. Encompassing a wide range of styles and perspectives, the book swings gracefully from thoughtful superhero SF (“Destroy the City with Me Tonight” by Kate Alice Marshall) to nuanced horror based on Congolese mythology (“You will Always Have Family: A Triptych” by Kathleen Kayembe) to musings on the justice and the multiverse (“Justice Systems in Quantum Parallel Probabilities” by Lettie Prell) without a single sour note. A. Merc Rustad contributes “Brightened Star, Ascending Dawn,” a heartfelt piece about sentient spacecraft and found family, and Caroline M. Yoachim delves further into ideas of family and obligation with the windup characters of “Carnival Nine.” From the Chinese afterlife (“The Last Cheng Beng Gift” by Jaymee Goh) to a future of cyborgs run amok (“The Greatest One-Star Restaurant” by Rachael K. Jones), this anthology delivers.

As always, this volume contains 10 fantasy and 10 SF tales. This year’s contributors include Samuel R. Delany, Charlie Jane Anders, Carmen Maria Machado, Maureen F. McHugh, Caroline M. Yoachim, Peter Watts, Tobias S. Buckell, and two stories from Maria Dahvana Headley. Here’s the complete TOC.

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New Treasures: The Wastelanders by K.S. Merbeth

Sunday, November 11th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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I was picking up some books at Sally Kobee’s table at the World Fantasy Convention when I spotted K.S. Merbeth’s The Wastelanders, with the cover blurb “A full throttle, sand-in-your-eyes, no-holds-barred ride through a Mad Max-style wasteland” (from Delilah S. Dawson). That got my attention, sure enough.

But I was bringing back too many books from the con as it was, so I put it back reluctantly. I finally got a copy on Friday, and I’m glad I did. Turns out The Wastelanders is an omnibus edition of two Orbit paperbacks, Bite and Raid, which share a gritty post-apocalyptic setting. Booklist gave a rave review to the first when it first appeared; here’s a snippet.

Merbeth’s action-driven debut introduces us to Kid, a teenage girl who has known no world other than this postnuclear apocalyptic one. She’s barely surviving alone after the death of her father. Knowing she should not trust strangers but too tired and hungry to care, Kid gets in a car with two ominous figures, the large, dreadlocked Wolf and the bright-blue-haired Dolly. And so begins a fast-paced ride through a barren world in which food and water are scarce, “Raiders” and “Sharks” rule the trade routes, and cannibalism is a real survival option. The first-person narration will leave readers hanging on Kid’s every word as she falls in with Wolf and his gang. The first battle scene comes immediately and is closely followed by another and then another, constantly escalating… Filled with dark humor, wit, and a realistic dystopian setting, Bite plays with the idea of who the good guys are in such a harsh world. Think Carl Hiaasen thriller set in a Mad Max world, and you have an idea of what to expect.

We covered Bite after it first appeared last year (and I note that I was just as intrigued by that cover blurb back then… at least I’m consistent). But I somehow managed to totally miss the sequel Raid, so I’m grateful for the chance to rectify that oversight now.

The Wastelanders was published by Orbit on October 16, 2018. It is 595 pages (including 22 pages of sample chapters from two other Orbit releases, Lilith Saintcrow’s Afterwar and Nicholas Sansbury Smith’s The Extinction Cycle), priced at $16.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover was designed by Lisa Marie Pompilio.

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