On to Khatovar: Shadow Games by Glen Cook

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_193232fSIKM2J0If the previous book, The Silver Spike, told of endings, Shadow Games (1989) is about beginnings.

Picking up at the end of The White Rose (and taking place at the same time as The Silver Spike), Croaker, newly elected captain of the Black Company, decided he and any remaining members would return to Khatovar. With only six soldiers and Lady, it’s the only thing Croaker can think of doing: return the Company to its home. Unfortunately, neither Croaker nor anybody else knows precisely where Khatovar is (other than two continents away to the south) nor what it is. The Company’s annals describe it as one of the Free Companies of Khatovar, but the volumes from the first of the Company’s four centuries of existence were lost somewhere along the way. Trouble magnet that it is, and with a lost history brimming with evil deeds, the Black Company is certain to have a difficult path to Khatovar.

Shadow Games is the fifth of The Black Company books I’ve revisited, and so far my favorite. I suspect some will cry “Heretic!” So be it. Again be warned, there be spoilers below.

Even more than in the earlier books, Croaker is the lead character. As Captain, it’s he who is now responsible for the Company’s actions. Before, he was only an observer of the goings on of great men and women, now he is one of them. Cook presents him as the same snarky romantic from the previous volumes, but now he’s constrained by his position as the face and brains of the Company. The reader also gets to see the various levels of military preparation, only alluded to before, that go on in the Black Company.

As given to introspection as he’s always been, several of Croaker’s ruminations are deeper, and underline his separation from the world beyond the Company.

I ordered a day of rest at the vast caravan camp outside the city wall, along the westward road, while I went into town and indulged myself, walking streets I had run as a kid. Like Otto said about Rebosa, the same and yet dramatically changed. The difference, of course, was inside me.

I stalked through the old neighborhood, past the old tenement. I saw no one I knew — unless a woman glimpsed briefly, who looked like my grandmother, was my sister. I did not confront her, nor ask. To those people I am dead.

A return as imperial legate would not change that.

Something Croaker has mentioned several times over the series is that the Company is constantly changing. At one point in past centuries, the men of the Black Company were actually all black. By the time of the original trilogy, the only such member is One-Eye. As Croaker and friends go south, they slowly enroll new members. The greatest find are the Nar in the city of Gea-Xle. They are the descendants of members of the original Company who put the city’s reigning dynasty in power and stayed on as a hereditary caste of warriors. Croaker describes their leader, Mogaba, as the “the best pure soldier” he ever met. Gradually, Croaker builds on his pitiful remnant and something resembling a real fighting force, able to at least protect itself from the dangers of the road, is reborn.

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Steampunk Critical Mass: The Signal Airship Novels by Robyn Bennis

Sunday, June 17th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Guns Above-small By Fire Above-small

Last year Tor published The Guns Above, the first installment in Robyn Bennis’ Signal Airship military fantasy series, and Ann Aguirre called it “Marvelous, witty and action-packed steampunk… she honest to God made me believe you could build an airship from spare parts.” I’ve gotten pretty jaded towards author blurbs over the years, but I gotta admit that one piqued my interest.

It was hardly the only good press the book received. Liz Bourke at Tor.com labeled it “immensely entertaining, fast-paced adventure,” and Patricia Briggs said it was “full of sass and terrific characters.” That all sounded pretty compelling, but I’m a guy who likes to have a couple of installments at hand before I dive into a new adventure series. So I was pleased to see By Fire Above arrive right on time last month. Here’s the description.

“All’s fair in love and war,” according to airship captain Josette Dupre, until her hometown of Durum becomes occupied by the enemy and her mother a prisoner of war. Then it becomes, “Nothing’s fair except bombing those Vins to high hell.”

Before she can rescue her town, however, Josette must maneuver her way through the nest of overstuffed vipers that make up Garnia’s military and royal leaders in order to drum up support. The foppish and mostly tolerated Mistral crew member Lord Bernat steps in to advise her, along with his very attractive older brother.

Between noble scheming, under-trained recruits, and supply shortages, Josette and the crew of the Mistral figure out a way to return to Durum ― only to discover that when the homefront turns into the frontlines, things are more dangerous than they seem.

Now that the series has reached critical mass (well, two books), it has a lot more appeal, and I’ll clear away some time this summer to give it a try. By Fire Above was published by Tor Books on May 15, 2018. It is 368 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $13.99 for the digital version. We covered The Guns Above here.

Future Treasures: A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White

Thursday, June 14th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe-smallAlex White is the author of the ghostly mystery Every Mountain Made Low (Solaris, 2016) and Alien: The Cold Forge (Titan, 2018). His latest is a space opera romp that sounds like it might appeal to the role players in the audience. Publishers Weekly called it,

An entertaining throwback with some fun worldbuilding and two great lead characters. In the distant future, well after space has been colonized, almost all humans have magic powers, conveniently divided into RPG-like classes (machinists are great with tech, fatalists are perfect shots, etc.)

Here’s the description.

Furious and fun, the first book in this bold, new science fiction adventure series follows a crew of outcasts as they try to find a legendary ship that just might be the key to saving themselves — and the universe.

Boots Elsworth was a famous treasure hunter in another life, but now she’s washed up. She makes her meager living faking salvage legends and selling them to the highest bidder, but this time she got something real — the story of the Harrow, a famous warship, capable of untold destruction.

Nilah Brio is the top driver in the Pan Galactic Racing Federation and the darling of the racing world — until she witnesses Mother murder a fellow racer. Framed for the murder and on the hunt to clear her name, Nilah has only one lead: the killer also hunts Boots.

On the wrong side of the law, the two women board a smuggler’s ship that will take them on a quest for fame, for riches, and for justice.

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe is Book 1 of The Salvagers series. Book 2, A Bad Deal For the Whole Galaxy, has already been announced; it arrives on December 11th, 2018. Book 3 will be titled The Worst of All Possible Worlds.

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe will be published by Orbit on June 26, 2018. It is 480 pages, priced at $15.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. Read Chapter One at Quiet Earth.

Experience Poul Anderson’s Complete Psychotechnic League from Baen Books

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Complete Psychotechnic League Volume 1-small The Complete Psychotechnic League Volume 2-small The Complete Psychotechnic League Volume 3-small

Art by Kurt Miller

When I learned last September that Baen Books was reprinting Poul Anderson’s classic Psychotechnic League stories, I wrote a brief history of the series. Here’s what I said, in part.

The Psychotechnic League began as a Future History, a popular beast among short SF writers of the 40s and 50s. Anderson published the first story, “Entity,” in the June 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, and set the opening of his series a decade in the future. The series continued for the next two decades, (appearing in Astounding, Planet Stories, Worlds Beyond, Science Fiction Quarterly, Cosmos, Fantastic Universe, and other fine magazines), eventually extending into the 60s. In the process, his “Future History” gradually became an “Alternate History,” as actual history trampled all over his carefully constructed fictional timeline.

That didn’t seem to bother readers though, and the tales of the Psychotechnic League remained popular well into the 80s. The series included some 21 stories, including three short novels: The Snows of Ganymede (1955), Star Ways (1956), and Virgin Planet (1957). The short stories and one of the novels were collected in a trilogy of handsome Tor paperbacks in 1981/82, with covers by Vincent DiFate. Now Baen books is reprinting the entire sequence in a series of deluxe trade paperbacks, starting with The Complete Psychotechnic League, Volume 1, on sale next month.

Volume 1 was released right on schedule last October, and Volume 2 followed in February. The third and final book will be released next month.

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An End to the End: The Silver Spike by Glen Cook

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_11558360wYZzXP1And so we come to end of the line for several of the main characters of the Black Company trilogy. The end of the third book, The White Rose, saw the storied mercenary company whittled down to a handful of survivors. The group — five veterans, the empire’s erstwhile ruler the Lady, and Croaker in the lead — decided to travel south and find Khatovar, the fabled home city of the Black Company.

Darling, otherwise known as the rebel leader the White Rose, chose to remain in the North rather than accompany Croaker and the rest of her friends. The wizard Silent, in love with with Darling, chose to remain with her despite her not having reciprocal feelings. Raven, also in love with Darling, stayed behind too, but rejected, went off with Case, the young imperial soldier he’d befriended.

Published four years after The White Rose, The Silver Spike (1989) is a sort of odd book that attempts to tie up several loose ends. It covers a lot of ground, constantly bouncing between several narratives and the better part of two continents. Concerned as much with giving ends to a host of characters as he is with the aftermath of the rebellion, Cook doesn’t tell a totally cohesive story.

Over here, several characters are chasing down a revived enemy only to be suddenly yanked away to face a different threat. Another storyline follows a new set of characters as they commit an act of great stupidity that leads to many deaths and horrendous destruction. There’re lots of very cool bits of business, but The Silver Spike feels like several books jammed together rather inelegantly. Perhaps if Cook had written a giant, sprawling work, like one of today’s thousand-page tomes, he could have made it come together better. But at only 313 pages, there’s little space for the rambling the book is given to.

The Silver Spike begins with Philodendron Case introducing and explaining himself. A minor character in The White Rose who found himself attached to Raven, now he’s a primary character.

This here journal is Raven’s idea but I got me a feeling he won’t be so proud of it if he ever gets to reading it because most of the time I’m going to tell the truth. Even if he is my best buddy.

Talk about your feet of clay. He’s got them run all the way up to his noogies, and then some. But he’s a right guy even if he is a homicidal, suicidal maniac half the time. Raven decides he’s your friend you got a friend for life, with a knife in all three hands.

My name is Case. Philodendron Case. Thanks to my Ma. I’ve never even told Raven about that. That’s why I joined the army. To get away from the kind of potato diggers that would stick a name like that on a kid. I had seven sisters and four brothers last time I got a head count. Every one is named after some damned flower.

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Future Treasures: The Thousand Year Beach by TOBI Hirotaka

Monday, June 11th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Thousand Year Beach-smallJim Killen, the science fiction and fantasy book buyer for Barnes & Noble, shares his curated list of the month’s best science fiction & fantasy books at Tor.com and the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog.

There’s several things on his June list that caught my eye — starting with The Thousand Year Beach, by Tobi Hirotaka, a novel that contains virtual reality, a far future resort, and an apocalyptic battle between killer arachnids and a small band of artificial intelligences. It’s not your usual SF adventure, that’s for sure.

The Thousand Year Beach is book one of the Angel of the Ruins series. Here’s Jim’s take.

The first novel in translation from Japan’s Tobi Hirotaka, a three-time winner of the Seiun Award (often referred to as “the Japanese Hugo”). Costa del Número is a virtual resort, divided into several zones, including the Realm of Summer. Humanity used to find release and rest from a chaotic world among the artificial intelligences in the Realm, but no human has visited in a thousand years. The AIs there have continued to exist in their endless summer, however — until one day, an army of hungry spiders arrives and decimates the Realm in short order. As night falls, the few surviving AIs prepare for a final, hopeless battle against the invaders, uncertain of what’s happening in the real world beyond their virtual one.

Nick Mamatas (I Am Providence) is the editor of Tradebooks, Viz’s line of non-manga titles. His main focus is Haikasoru, a new imprint of Japanese science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels and stories in translation.

Nick tells us “The Thousand Year Beach presents an idyllic virtual world, still running long after having been abandoned by humans, that suddenly finds itself invaded by an impossible force.”

The Thousand Year Beach will be published by Haikasoru on June 19, 2018. It is 336 pages, priced at $16.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. Read more details at The Outerhaven.

New Treasures: The Rise of the Terran Federation, edited by John F. Carr

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Rise of the Terran Federation-back-small The Rise of the Terran Federation-small

H. Beam Piper was one of my earliest discoveries, and he quickly became one of my favorite SF writers. I snapped up every book with his name on it in the mid-70s, all Ace paperback editions with gorgeous Michael Whelan covers.

Piper committed suicide a few months after I was born, in November 1964. But his work has endured, and as recently as 2011 John Scalzi published Fuzzy Nation, a retelling of Piper’s most famous novel Little Fuzzy. Last year editor John F. Carr assembled an anthology of a handful of Piper’s Federation and Paratime Police tales, and invited Wolfgang Diehr, David Johnson, and Jonathan Crocker to contribute fiction set in Piper’s universe. He added a pair of essays by John A. Anderson, The Early History of the Terran Federation and Chartered Companies of the Terran Federation, and his own preface, The Terro-human Future History, and the result was The Rise of the Terran Federation, published in hardcover by Pequod Press. Here’s the description.

The Rise of the Terran Federation is new collection of new and old stories chronicling the rise of H. Beam Piper’s Terran Federation. With story introductions and essays on the establishment of the Federation, this book is the ultimate overview of the beginning of Piper’s crowning creation, the Terro-Human Future History. This collection will include some of Piper’s early Federation stories, like “Edge of the Knife” and Omnilingual.”

This collection also contains new stories about the aftermath of the Third and Fourth World Wars, the Thorans and life on Baldur. The Rise of the Terran Federation is an essential work for fans of Piper’s future history and his unique view of what lies ahead for mankind.

There are precious few SF writers whose work has endured five decades. Piper didn’t live long enough to see it, but his stories have entertained three generations of SF fans, and I expect them to still be in print 50 years from today.

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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 Tor.com 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 Tor.com 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 Tor.com.

Mack Reynolds: Science Fiction Author and… African Explorer?

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


On a recent writing retreat in Tangier, Morocco, I was going through back issues of the Tangier Gazette, an English-language newspaper from the International Zone era. During this time, which lasted from 1924–1956, Tangier was run by several different European nations plus the United States. The governments gave people a free hand, and Tangier became notorious for allowing things that were illegal everywhere else — drugs, homosexuality, and prostitution. That attracted writers such as William S. Burroughs, Paul and Jane Bowles, and many others.

The April 6, 1956, edition of the Gazette has this little tidbit about Mack Reynolds, a prominent science fiction author of his day. His career got started shortly after World War Two in the detective pulps, and he soon branched out to write science fiction. Reynolds had a taste for travel and moved to Mexico in 1953. He and his wife soon pulled up stakes and set off on an epic ten-year trip through Europe, North Africa, and the Far East, supported by his science fiction and travel writing. The trip finally ended with their return to Mexico.

During his time in Morocco, he and his wife struck out into what is now Mali to visit Gao and Timbuktu. This is not an easy trip now, and back then it was an epic journey few attempted. Just look at what happened to Kit Moresby in The Sheltering Sky.

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The Final Battle Comes: The White Rose by Glen Cook

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_2935357GGMS7DGhWith The White Rose (1985), Glen Cook brought the original Black Company trilogy to an end. Taking place six years after the escape of the Black Company’s survivors in Shadows LingerTWR contains three distinct stories. The foremost is Croaker’s account of the final days of the rebellion led by the White Rose against the Empire of the Lady. The second concerns the mysterious Corbie’s efforts to uncover what is happening in the Barrowlands where the Dominator, the North’s erstwhile Dark Lord and husband of the Lady, remains trapped. Finally, jumping back in time nearly a century, Cook presents the story of Bomanz, the wizard who released the Lady and her servitors from their shackles in the first place.

Under the leadership of Darling — revealed at the end of The Black Company to be the foretold champion, the White Rose — the rebellion consists mostly of spies scattered across the empire and a few dozen veterans holed up in caves in the middle of the Plain of Fear. The plain is an exotically magic-infused region where menhirs talk and move on their own and giant manta-like beasts fly from their roosts on the backs of thousand-foot-long windwhales. Those and lots of other strange things all bow down to the voiceless direction of Old Father Tree.

Sagey scents trickled across my nostrils. Air chuckled and whispered and murmured and whistled in the coral. From farther away came the wind-chimes tinkle of Old Father Tree.

He is unique. First or last of his kind, I do not know. There he stands, twenty feet tall and ten thick, brooding beside the creek, radiating something akin to dread, his roots planted on the geographical center of the Plain. Silent, Goblin, and One-Eye have all tried to unravel his significance. They have gotten nowhere. The scarce wild human tribesmen of the Plain worship him. They say he has been here since the dawn. He does have that timeless feel.

With the protection of the denizens of the Plain, the rebellion has survived. Now, though, even there its survival is in doubt. After two years of neglect, the Lady has ordered a massive assault on the Plain, surrounding it with five armies under the leadership of the Company’s greatest enemy, Limper. The only surviving member of the original Taken, victim of several plots led by the Company, and left for dead at the end of Shadows Linger, his hatred for them is boundless.

The only hope for the Company lies in discovering the Lady’s true name. Equipped with it, even the relatively minor wizards of the Black Company would be able to strip her of her powers. Long ago the Company captured — and lost — a cache of papers that might have contained that secret. Soon a race to recover those papers becomes central to any hope for the Company’s and the rebellion’s survival.

The account of Corbie’s detective work serves as the connector between the past and the present. Endeavoring to find out how the Dominator is attempting to free himself, Corbie must uncover the true nature of Bomanz’s own explorations. Secretly, he begins sending his findings to Croaker to help the Company.

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