New Treasures: Hella by David Gerrold

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Hella by David Gerrold-smallDavid Gerrold is the author of some three dozen novels and collections, including When Harlie Was One (1972), the Star Wolf novels, Jumping Off the Planet (2000), and the as-yet unfinished War Against the Chtorr series. Not to mention his acclaimed non-fiction books on Star Trek, including the classic The World of Star Trek (1973).

I first heard about his new SF novel Hella at Tammy Sparks review blog Books, Bones, & Buffy, where she wrote,

I loved the idea of a group of colonists living on a planet where everything is huge… Gerrold does a great job of setting the stage and presenting a cool idea.

I wasn’t even aware that there was a new book by Gerrold, but I’m excited to see it. And like Tammy, I’m very intrigued by the premise. (Are there alien dinosaurs?? Please let there be alien dinosaurs.) It received a starred review at Publishers Weekly, and you know what that means — it must contain dinosaurs. Here’s a peek at the review.

Hugo and Nebula Award–winner Gerrold (The Martian Child) showcases his powerful storytelling skills with this outstanding tale of interstellar intrigue. Hella is a planet of extremes, so named because its oxygen-rich atmosphere causes everything from the trees to the leviathans that inhabit it to grow “hella big.” The barely self-sufficient human colonists who call Hella home flee its blistering summers and harsh arctic winters in a biannual migration. Among these colonists is Kyle, a neuroatypical 13-year-old with a chip implant meant to regulate his emotions…

The worldbuilding is masterful, with hard scientific explanations for Hella’s many abnormalities and rich descriptions sure to keep the attention of even the most casual reader. The effortlessly diverse cast, complex political machinations, and heartfelt coming-of-age themes combine to create a fleshed-out vision of the future that is intense, emotional, and immersive while still maintaining a sense of rollicking fun. Sci-fi readers should snap this up.

Hella was published by DAW on June 16, 2020. It is 448 pages, priced at $26 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The jacket is designed by Leo Nickolls. Read a lengthy excerpt here.

See all our recent New Treasures here.


New Treasures: Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Escaping Exodus-small Escaping Exodus-back-small

Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden. Harper Voy­ager, October 2019. Cover by Courtney ‘Seage’ Howlett

I missed Nicky Drayden’s Escaping Exodus when it was published late last year. Seems I wasn’t the only one — the book has only 19 reviews on Amazon, far fewer than her debut The Prey of Gods, which won the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel, and has over 100 Amazon reviews.

It’s a pity it hasn’t connected with more readers yet, as Escaping Exodus is generating good critical buzz. Kirkus praised its “top-notch worldbuilding and sharp characterization,” and Tom Whitmore at Locus Online was even more enthusiastic, saying “it’s got a breakneck pace: I wanted to take just a little longer to be with these people as they grow.” Here’s an excerpt from his review.

On a generation ship, two young people from different classes meet and fall in love. One rises, one falls, and their complex and forbidden rela­tionship causes a major rupture in the society. This is a classic SF trope: Drayden takes it to new places.

In Escaping Exodus, people use a pod of space whales as generation ships to escape an (unnamed) catastrophe on Earth. The people “ter­raform” the interior of the beasts, exploiting both the beasts’ internal systems and the biota that have adapted to live inside them; as those systems are exhausted, the society has to move from one beast to another. There are ten different groups, each with a different social system… Nicky Drayden’s new novel builds on the amaz­ing strengths she’s shown before. If you can imag­ine a feminist, Afro-centric, queer Heinlein juve­nile, with a strong discussion of class politics, then you might get close to what she’s doing here. I don’t think I could have imagined such a book be­fore reading this one. This is something I’ve been missing.

The sequel, Escaping Exodus: Symbiosis, is scheduled to be released next January. Here’s a sneak peek at the cover.

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New Treasures: The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso

Friday, June 12th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Obsidian Tower-smallMelissa Caruso is the author of Swords and Fire, a 4-book fantasy trilogy (there’s more of those than you think). I don’t know much about it, so that doesn’t tell me anything — although I note that the first book, The Tethered Mage, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Morningstar Award in 2017, and that’s definitely an asset in my book.

Her latest is The Obsidian Tower, the opening volume in a new series, and it’s been warmly received. Publisher Weekly calls it “no-holds-barred epic fantasy,” and James Tivendale at GrimDark magazine raves, saying:

Like Caruso’s previous trilogy, The Obsidian Tower is set in the world of Eruvia. The action takes place at least 150 years after the events of Swords and Fire… Ryx is a vivomancer but her magic is flawed and so twisted that it is dangerous. Anyone she touches dies, which, to her dismay, has happened a few times. At twenty-one years old, her role is to look after the castle in Gloamingard and at the beginning of the narrative, she is hosting a conference with neighbouring Alevar and the Serene Empire. Her castle is full of nooks, crannies, and secret passages, many of which seem only known to Ryx, as well as being host to a mysterious tower with a magical door which must not be unsealed….

Caruso is a terrific writer who weaves fascinating and intricate fantasy tales that are heavily focused on magic and politics. In The Obsidian Tower Caruso also introduces mystery elements to the mix which fit perfectly with her style…. [it’s] is brimming with many well-crafted and colourful characters… My personal favourites were the formidable ruler of Morgrain The Lady of Owls, the mysterious Severin, the envoy from the neighbouring Alevar, the talking fox-like Chimera and castle guardian Whisper, and the loveable oddballs that make up the Rookery….

The Obsidian Tower is an entertaining, well-written, and expertly-paced novel with incredible magic schemes and a great cast of characters.

The Obsidian Tower was published by Orbit on June 2, 2020. It is 528 pages, priced at $16.99 in paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Peter Bollinger. Read a lengthy excerpt here.

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


A Superior Confection: Robert A. Heinlein’s The Pursuit of the Pankera

Wednesday, June 10th, 2020 | Posted by Damien Broderick

The Pursuit of the Pankera-smallThe Pursuit of the Pankera
By Robert A. Heinlein
Caezik (503 pages, $29.99 hardcover, $9.99 digital, March 2020)
Cover by Scott Grimando

It’s almost impossible to discuss Robert A. Heinlein’s The Pursuit of the Pankera: A Parallel Novel about Parallel Universes without revealing and thus spoiling the plot devices of it and its 1980 prequel/sequel, The Number of the Beast—. Heinlein, first Grand Master of the SFWA, for decades acclaimed as the Dean of sf, no longer pleases everyone. Some readers, especially academic critics, have denounced both books as grossly self-indulgent and even worthless. Others, like the brilliant Marxist professor H. Bruce Franklin (in his important 1980 study Robert A. Heinlein: America as Science Fiction) catch the feel of Beast: “a cotton-candy apocalypse — frothy, sweet, airy, mellow, light, festive, whimsical, insubstantial” (199).

That final word is unjust, since many pages are devoted to an investigation of lifeboat rules, and what Algis Budrys termed “protocol,” capable of mutual acceptance by four genius-level libertarians, two of them women, one the daughter of crusty and irritable Professor Jake Burroughs used to having his own way. Oh, plus an increasingly intelligent and willful computer in the younger man’s flying car, uplifted to true personhood during a visit to… The Land of Oz. This jolly and quite necessary absurdity is a side effect of their discovery that the world is built of myth, of fictons, yielding a kind of “pantheistic multiperson solipsism” occasioned by the dreams, terrors and wishes (as it were) of writers and readers. (Regrettably, Heinlein’s term ficton is “corrected” to fiction in Pankera.)

Robert Heinlein, it follows, is the god (or demon) of the universes the four learn how to visit in Jake’s continua craft. Some of these worlds he had written himself (especially the history of near-immortal Lazarus Long and his incestuous mother and clone daughters, or would write later. Others are the creations of other major writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan, John Carter of Mars), L. Frank Baum (Oz), Heinlein’s older friend E.E. “Doc” Smith, whose inaugural space opera sequence tracks the psionic Lenses gained by eugenic human warrior-saints, chess pawns in a cosmic war between aliens billions of years older than humankind.

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Epic Fantasy on a Reliable Schedule: A Chorus of Dragons by Jenn Lyons

Tuesday, June 9th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Ruin of Kings-small The Name of all Things-small The Memory of Souls-small

Covers by Lars Grant-West

Bestselling fantasy dominates modern bookshelves in a way I could only dream about as a young reader. George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle are the two biggest examples in recent memory. Of course, both are also unfinished, and the latest installments are both long overdue. Makes you wonder what they could have accomplished if the publishing magic that fueled them had also included a reliable schedule.

Tor is trying something impressive with their latest big-budget epic fantasy. If things unfold as scheduled, Jenn Lyons’ ambitious 5-volume series A Chorus of Dragons will be released in rapidfire sequence. Here’s what Lyons said on her website last year.

The series is on a nine month release schedule. That means that, should everything go to plan, Tor will be releasing a book in the series every nine months or so. Two this year, one next year, two the year after that (again, if all goes to plan.) Is this stunningly ambitious? Yes. Is this going to kill me? Quite possibly…

So far, Jenn (and Tor) have hit the deadlines. The Ruin of Kings was published in February 2019, The Name of All Things in October, and Book 3, The Memory of Souls, is now scheduled to arrive on August 25, 2020.

The series has been a critical hit as well as a commercial one; the first novel scored a rare publishing quadruple crown, with starred reviews from Library Journal (“Stunning”), Booklist (“Dazzling”), Publishers Weekly (“intricate epic fantasy”) and Kirkus Reviews (“Un-put-down-able”). Tor has been leaking news about the third book since October. I’ll be very curious to see if the buzz built up after the release of the first two volumes continues once the third arrives.

Read the complete first chapter of The Ruin of Kings at Tor.com, and see all our recent New Treasures here.


New Treasures: Red Noise by John P. Murphy

Sunday, June 7th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Red Noise John P Murphy-smallIt’s too early to be certain of course, but it seems to me that publishing is starting to get back to normal after the shock to the system that was the Covid-19 pandemic.

June, at least, has a healthy number of new releases, including plenty that perk my interest. Like John P. Murphy’s debut novel, a space western that Publishers Weekly calls “fast, fun… pure entertainment.” Here’s an excerpt from the PW review.

Murphy skillfully transports spaghetti western tropes to a lawless space station in this action-packed debut. The reclusive, unnamed heroine, an asteroid miner, docks at dilapidated Station 35 hoping to sell her ore, restock her supplies, and interact with as few people as possible. But Station 35 is a violent, unsavory place controlled by a corrupt, all-powerful corporation, and its inhabitants prove intent on cheating and exploiting her. So the Miner, a former intelligence-corps officer of mysterious, dark repute, sets about cleaning up the station by any means necessary — gathering allies, securing resources, and using the already-raging turf war between rival gangs and crooked cops to her advantage…. snappy dialogue and plenty of dry humor keep the pages turning.

SciFiNow has a worthwhile interview with Murphy that dives into his inspirations for the book, and I think Black Gate readers will find them interesting. I know I did.

I took a class in Japanese cinema. We watched and discussed several samurai movies, including Kurosawa’s brilliant film Yojimbo that was loosely based on the Dashiell Hammett novel Red Harvest. I watched the remakes of it: one of Clint Eastwood’s earliest films, Fistful Of Dollars, and Last Man Standing with Bruce Willis…

I became fascinated by how a very small kernel of story could be strong enough to power many very different books and films over the years, beyond that handful and in its precursors going back to Shakespeare. It wasn’t until the last few years though, when my thinking about current events crystallised with that old kernel, that I finally had a story of my own that I needed to tell.

The digital version of Red Noise will be published Angry Robot on June 9, 2020. The print edition lands on July 14. It is 448 pages, priced at $14.99 in trade paperback and $8.99 in digital formats. Read an interview with Murphy in the June issue of Clarkesworld magazine.

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


New Treasures: The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

Monday, June 1st, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea-smallMay was a tough month for new releases.  Many were pushed to the fall as a result of bookstore closure across the country — and the fact that Amazon dramatically slowed down shipping on all non-essential items.

But a few brave publishers stuck to the schedule, and virtual bookstore shelves weren’t empty last month. I think it’s all the more important to celebrate those books, and especially the ones that deserve special attention. Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s debut novel The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea is definitely one of them. Kirkus calls it “Absolutely enthralling,” and Alex Brown at Tor.com says “Every single character is as deeply compelling as the world they live in… a remarkable novel and hands down one of the best of the year.” Here’s the description.

In a world divided by colonialism and threaded with magic, a desperate orphan turned pirate and a rebellious imperial lady find a connection on the high seas.

The pirate Florian, born Flora, has always done whatever it takes to survive — including sailing under false flag on the Dove as a marauder, thief, and worse. Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, a highborn Imperial daughter, is on board as well — accompanied by her own casket. But Evelyn’s one-way voyage to an arranged marriage in the Floating Islands is interrupted when the captain and crew show their true colors and enslave their wealthy passengers.

Both Florian and Evelyn have lived their lives by the rules, and whims, of others. But when they fall in love, they decide to take fate into their own hands — no matter the cost.

Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s sweeping fantasy debut, full of stolen memories, illicit mermaid’s blood, double agents, and haunting mythical creatures conjures an extraordinary cast of characters and the unforgettable story of a couple striving to stay together in the face of myriad forces wishing to control their identities and destinies.

The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea was published by Candlewick Press on May 5, 2020. It is 371 pages, priced at $18.99 in hardcover and $5 in digital formats.

See all our latest New Releases here.


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

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

Westside Saints-small Out of Body Jeffrey Ford-small Sea Change Nancy Kress-small

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

Last Song Before Night-smaller Fire Dance Ilana Myer-small The Poet King-small

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

The Bayern Agenda-small The Aleph Extraction-small

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.


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