Visit a Post-Apocalyptic South in Christopher Rowe’s Telling the Map

Monday, June 4th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Telling the Map Christopher Rowe-small Telling the Map Christopher Rowe back-small

I use a lot of resources — blogs, reviews, online bookstores, and more — to help me identify the books I should pay attention to every month. Most of them focus on novels though, and more and more often I’m finding that podcasts are the most reliable way to discover everything else. Case in point: last week, while re-listening the Gary Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan’s 2017 end-of-the-year wrap-up for the Coode Street Podcast, I learned I’ve somehow overlooked Christopher Rowe’s Telling the Map, which both Gary and Jonathan selected as the best collection of the year. I ordered a copy immediately, and I hope to dig into it this week. Here’s what they said.

Gary Wolfe: These are terrific stories. It’s a kind of southern, post-apocalyptic south, a part of the country that we don’t see often represented often in fiction at all. They’re very interesting, subtle fictions, and there was a major new long story… I discovered things in it that I didn’t know about.

Jonathan Strahan: I think there were two great collections this year, absolute stone cold classics… My favorite collection of the year as well, because it seems like we are clones, is Telling the Map: Stories by Christoper Rowe from Small Beer. Rowe has a wonderful writing voice, this sort of southern Kentuckian kind of writing voice that he brings to his stories, and he has a very localized, community kind of storytelling. His stories are very intimate, and they deal with average-seeming people dealing with average-seeming experiences in extraordinary circumstances… The major new novella that’s in the book, “The Border State,” which is the sequel to “The Voluntary State,” is without a doubt one of the finest novellas of the year… I loved that book very much.

“The Voluntary State,” which appeared in Sci Fiction in May 2004, was nominated for the Sturgeon, Hugo, Locus, and Nebula awards for Best Novelette. Listen to the complete podcast — which is crammed with tons of great recs for best novel, novella, anthology, and non-fiction book of 2017 — here.

The Dread Lurking Beneath the Surface: The Planetfall Trilogy by Emma Newman

Sunday, June 3rd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Planetfall Emma Newman-small After Atlas Emma Newman-small Before Mars Emma Newman-small

I read Emma Newman’s novella Brother’s Ruin (March 2017) on a plane last year, and quite enjoyed it. It’s the tale of a young woman who uses her hidden — and considerable — powers to help her brother masquerade as a mage, in an alternate Victorian era Britain where the all-powerful Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts snaps up anyone with magical gifts. The setting was nicely thought-out and deserved a follow-up, and indeed there is at least one more novella (Weaver’s Lament, October 2017) in what’s now being called the Industrial Magic series.

All that has made me keenly interested in her science fiction trilogy, which began with Planetfall in 2015. The first book was nominated for the Locus Award for Best SF Novel, and The New York Times called it “Transcendent.” After Atlas (2016) was a Publishers Weekly Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Book of the Year, and was shortlisted for the Clarke Award. The third book, Before Mars, was published in April; the LA Times calls it “A psychological thriller wearing the cloak of a gripping sci-fi story.”

But what are they about? Mystery, murder, the power of myth, and more. Over at Robert H. Bedford reviewed the first book, saying:

Planetfall is at once a fascinating character study through Ren’s first person narrative and a novel that examines how secrets, no matter how deeply buried they are, can be extremely damaging things… especially in a small colony in a seeming utopia. Ren spends much of her day as the colony’s printer, responsible for overseeing an advanced 3-D printer which is used to repair damaged items or create new items when necessary. Any items. Ren’s obsession with repairing things is a mask for trying to repair the damages left in the wake of Lee’s disappearance, and an attempt to bury her own guilt in the tragic events which transpired nearly two decades ago…

I was very much reminded of C.J. Cherryh, especially her first Foreigner novel… In other ways, I was reminded of Mary Doria Russell’s powerful novel The Sparrow, and its sequel Children of God, in the way that science and religion are at odds with each other and how they work together to drive parts of the plot.

Newman’s prose has a haunting effect that hints at dread lurking beneath the surface, waiting to rear its disturbing head. When this prose is conveyed through Ren’s voice it makes for a compulsive, powerful read that is difficult to set aside… Beautifully and heartbreakingly wrought, Planetfall is a genius novel that is far more than its exterior belies; a distressing, harrowing novel that left a deep mark on me. It isn’t an easy, cheerful read, but it is a captivating story that can be very aptly be described as a must read.

All three novels are still in print from Ace. Read Chapter One of Planetfall at

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog on the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of May 2018

Thursday, May 31st, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Black Helicopters-small Song of Blood and Stone-small The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn-small

We’ve reached the end of May already. I don’t know about you, but I thought I’d have a lot more reading done by now. Well, that’s why there’s always next month.

But before we bring down the curtain entirely on May, let’s make sure we haven’t overlooked anything interesting. Over at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, Jeff Somers tells us all about their selections for the top release for the month. Here’s a few highlights.

Black Helicopters, by Caitlin R. Kiernan (Tor Books, 208 pages, $14.99 paperback/$.99 digital, May 1)

An expanded version of a novella previously nominated for a World Fantasy Award, Black Helicopters is set in a world where logic and the laws of nature seem to be decaying. Off the coast of Maine, huge monstrosities appear, and head inland. Forces assemble to hold back the darkness, among them Sixty-Six, the scion of a CIA experiment, while across the ocean in Dublin, an immortal secret agent tracks down twin sisters with incredible powers to recruit them for the cause. As the world descends into paranoia and chaos, buried connections come to light that change everything. As a companion piece to the fungal horror of 2016’s Agents of Dreamland, this novella doesn’t disappoint.

We covered Agents of Dreamland just last year.

Read More »

New Treasures: Places in the Darkness by Chris Brookmyre

Thursday, May 31st, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Places in the Darkness-small Places in the Darkness-back-small

Murder in orbit seems to be the latest hot literary trend. Police procedurals on alien planets, tense mysteries on far-future space stations, spy thrillers in the cold vacuum of space… that’s a whole lot of genre blending. Just in the last few months I’ve written about a cargohold full of futuristic noir, including:

The Man in the Tree by Sage Walker – a police procedural murder mystery on a generation starship, by the author of the Locus Award-winning Whiteout
Outer Earth by Rob Boffard — A thriller set on an overcrowded space station, from the author of the upcoming Adrift
The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts — Death, disappearances, and secret revolution on a far-future construction ship
Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis C. Chen — A covert agent in the near-future forced to go on vacation to Mars
The Chaos of Luck by Catherine Cerveny — A Brazilian tarot card reader and a Russian crime lord race to stop a conspiracy on Mars
Blood Orbit by K.R. Richardson — The murder here isn’t really in orbit (it’s on an alien planet) but this one gets points for being extra-noir
The Central Corps trilogy by Elizabeth Bonesteel — SFF World called the opening novel, The Cold Between, a “taut, space-based science fiction mystery”

I heartily approve of this new trend towards SF noir. I’m not the only one to have noticed — the Murder & Mayhem blog did a great piece on Rusted Chrome: 14 Sci-Fi Noir Books for Blade Runner Fans, just as an example.

The reason I bring this up today is because I recently bought another example in the same category, and it looks very promising indeed. Chris Brookmyre is a Scottish writer with some 20 mystery and thriller novels under his belt, including Dead Girl Walking and Where the Bodies Are Buried. His first SF novel, Places in the Darkness, is a tale of mystery and murder on a vast orbital platform.

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Wrestling with Genre: Robert V. S. Redick on Master Assassins

Friday, May 25th, 2018 | Posted by C.S.E. Cooney

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I think I stumbled on my first Robert V. S. Redick book in the Westerly Public Library. Oh, those Halcyon days where I wandered at whim through the SFF stacks, idly selecting titles and reading first pages. If they happened to catch my interest, well then! Together we went to the Self-Checkout, and thence for home — and blissful, blissful book-chomping time.

Is this how Red Wolf Conspiracy came to my hand? I seem to remember thinking, for whatever reason: “Probably not for me!”… and then, like two seconds later, it’s dawn of the third day, and my eyeballs are twitching, and I’ve just finished it.

At which point, knowing me, I probably friended him on Facebook.

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io9 on 28 New Sci-fi and Fantasy Books to Add to Your Shelves in May

Thursday, May 24th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Glory of the Empress-small Compulsory Games-small Wrath of Empire-small

Cheryl Eddy at io9 has a gift for you folks who’ve run out of things to read already this month (Seriously, how does that happen?? Whatever, we don’t judge.) A tidy list of 28 New Sci-fi and Fantasy Books to Add to Your Shelves.

28! How does she do that, and with astonishingly little overlap with John DeNardo’s list of the Best Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror in May? I have no idea, but perhaps dark magics were involved, and maybe we shouldn’t question it. Let’s just dive into the list, and see what grabs us.

The Glory of the Empress by Sean Danker (Ace, 352 pages, $4.99 digital, May 1, 2018)

Amid a raging interstellar war, a group of soldiers develops a new weapon they hope will turn the tide in their side’s favor — not realizing their test runs in a far-off pocket of the galaxy will have unexpectedly towering consequences.

The Glory of the Empress is the third book in the series that began with Admiral (2016), which was selected by Amazon as one of the Best Books of 2016, and continued with Free Space (2017). While the first two were published in print and digital formats, this one is only available digitally.

Eeep! Is that a thing now? Hope that doesn’t frustrate too many old school readers… I’m frustrated, and I haven’t even read the first one yet.

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When Long-Sheathed Knives are Drawn Again: The Waking Land by Callie Bates

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Waking Land-small The Memory of Fire-small

When Callie Bates’ fantasy novel The Waking Land appeared last June, it was called “A wonderfully stunning debut” by RT Book Reviews, and Terry Brooks said “She is clearly a writer of real talent.” I remember being very intrigued when I picked it up in the bookstore. Here’s the description.

Lady Elanna is fiercely devoted to the king who raised her like a daughter. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Elanna is accused of his murder — and must flee for her life.

Returning to the homeland of magical legends she has forsaken, Elanna is forced to reckon with her despised, estranged father, branded a traitor long ago. Feeling a strange, deep connection to the natural world, she also must face the truth about the forces she has always denied or disdained as superstition — powers that suddenly stir within her.

But an all-too-human threat is drawing near, determined to exact vengeance. Now Elanna has no choice but to lead a rebellion against the kingdom to which she once gave her allegiance. Trapped between divided loyalties, she must summon the courage to confront a destiny that could tear her apart.

I was pleased to see the sequel, The Memory of Fire, will be published early next month. Del Rey reprinted the first volume in trade paperback in January, so there’s plenty of time to grab a copy before the second volume arrives. Here’s all the details, and links to tasty sample chapters.

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New Treasures: Wonderblood by Julia Whicker

Monday, May 21st, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Wonderblood-smallThere have been a lot of intriguing fantasy debuts already in 2018, and to really stand out you need to do something different. Julia Whicker’s Wonderblood, set in a post-apocalyptic America where magic is openly practiced, sounds like it will fit the bill nicely.

Margot Livesey calls it “A stunning debut… Julia Whicker evokes an apocalyptic America where medicine is illegal, everyone is searching for portents and only a severed head can offer protection.” That’s plenty different, anyway. Wonderblood was published in hardcover last month by St. Martin’s Press.

Set 500 years in the future, a mad cow-like disease called “Bent Head” has killed off most of the U.S. population. Those remaining turn to magic and sacrifice to cleanse the Earth.

Wonderblood is Julia Whicker’s fascinating literary debut, set in a barren United States, an apocalyptic wasteland where warring factions compete for control of the land in strange and dangerous carnivals. A mad cow-like disease called “Bent Head” has killed off millions. Those who remain worship the ruins of NASA’s space shuttles, and Cape Canaveral is their Mecca. Medicine and science have been rejected in favor of magic, prophecy, and blood sacrifice.

When traveling marauders led by the bloodthirsty Mr. Capulatio invade her camp, a young girl named Aurora is taken captive as his bride and forced to join his band on their journey to Cape Canaveral. As war nears, she must decide if she is willing to become her captor’s queen. But then other queens emerge, some grotesque and others aggrieved, and not all are pleased with the girl’s ascent. Politics and survival are at the centre of this ravishing novel.

Wonderblood was published by St. Martin’s Press on April 3, 2018. It is 304 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The cover was designed by Ervin Serrano.

In 500 Words or Less: Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis C. Chen

Friday, May 18th, 2018 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

Waypoint Kangaroo-small Kangaroo Too-small

Waypoint Kangaroo
By Curtis C. Chen
St. Martin’s Press (320 pages, $25.99 hardcover, $13.99 eBook, June 2016)

I met Curtis C. Chen at my first time out to the Nebulas (about this time last year), and I remember chatting with him in the con suite about Waypoint Kangaroo and its sequel, Kangaroo Too. The premise alone was enough for me to add it to my reading list right away: a covert agent in the near-future forced to go on vacation to Mars, but who can’t seem to avoid trouble. Oh, and he can open a window to a pocket dimension at will, which is why he’s so valuable – because otherwise, he’s a bit of a screw-up. But you know how reading lists get; they’re huge, and I never quite got to reading Waypoint, and felt like a jerk when I hung out with Curtis again at Can*Con and still hadn’t picked it up.

Now that I finally have, I feel even more like a jerk. Why?

Because the next time I write a science fiction adventure novel, I want to do it like Curtis C. Chen.

Read More »

New Treasures: Verdigris Deep by Frances Hardinge

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Verdigris Deep-small Verdigris Deep-back-small

Frances Hardinge has twice been nominated for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, for her novels Cuckoo Song and The Lie Tree. Verdigris Deep has previously been published in the US under the title Well Witched (2008), and was nominated for the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book. Amulet has now released it under its original title as part of a set of matching editions with Fly By Night, Fly Trap, and others. Farah Mendlesohn at Strange Horizons said:

Verdigris Deep confirms what I already suspected: Frances Hardinge is the best new fantasy writer for children since Diana Wynne Jones. There is simply no one to match her…

Three children, Josh, Ryan, and Chelle… steal money from an old wishing well. Initially, nothing much happens: then Ryan looks in a mirror and sees water running from his eyes, and passes a poster on which a woman comes alive, her eyes streaming like a fountain. The woman commands him to fulfil the wishes attached to each coin they stole. When Ryan contacts Chelle and Josh he discovers that each of them has acquired “powers” to aid this directive: Josh can now affect electricity and any item that can carry current, while Chelle has become a radio receiver for the wishers—in their vicinity she spills their every thought. Ryan’s “power” remains hidden for a while, mere warts on his hand; but as things proceed the warts develop into eyes which can see the wishes people make as long smoky threads emerging from the chest.

Serving the spirit in the well begins as empowering fun: Ryan, Chelle, and Josh help a young man to win a Harley Davidson, and facilitate a young woman none of them like in finding her true love, but as the story develops it darkens: wishes become more worrying, some of them are out of date and no longer accord with people’s desires yet must still be fulfilled, others are downright nasty or require nastiness to achieve… As the book rolls on to its crescendo, water and emotions flood the page. The ending is deeply satisfying: it is incomplete, problematic, and flows off the edge of the page.

Verdigris Deep was published by Amulet on April 10, 2018. It is 287 pages, priced at $10.99 in hardcover and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Vincent Chong.

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