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Exploring the Dark Underbelly of the 41st Millennium: Warhammer Crime From Black Library

Exploring the Dark Underbelly of the 41st Millennium: Warhammer Crime From Black Library


Three Warhammer Crime volumes: Bloodlines by Chris Wraight, Grim Repast
by Marc Collins, and the anthology Sanction & Sin (Black Library, 2020-21)

I flew to Tampa this spring, my first business trip of the year. Felt weird to be on a plane in a pandemic, even if we are at the tail end. Last thing I packed, as usual, was something to read.

My reading calendar for the month is always jammed up with books I’m covering for the blog, so I usually indulge myself in reading material on flights. I could have selected anything — the latest space opera, a magazine, some graphic novels, a Best of the Year collection. But what I brough instead was Sanction & Sin, a Warhammer Crime anthology, and it was a terrific choice.

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Vintage Treasures: Zelde M’Tana by F.M. Busby

Vintage Treasures: Zelde M’Tana by F.M. Busby


Zelde M’Tana (Dell, May 1980). Cover uncredited

F.M. Busby was a prolific SF writer in the 70s and 80s, with a number of popular series, including the Demu Trilogy and the Slow Freight trilogy. But his most ambitious sequence was Rissa Kerguelen, the tale of a young woman who leads a rebellion against a tyrannical Earth, which ran to eight volumes. It’s been out of print since the 80s. The book I want to talk about today is the final one in the sequence, a prequel of sorts, which focused on the origin of one of its most popular characters, Zelde M’Tana.

Zelde M’Tana is memorable for a lot of reasons. But the most obvious is that it featured a Black heroine on the cover, extremely unusual for a mass market paperback in 1980 (and, frankly, for the next 30 years). It’s one of the first times I can recall seeing a Black protagonist on a cover, and it certainty stuck out. I can’t recall exactly what I thought, but I’m reasonably sure that I took it as a marketing statement, a signal that the book was targeted for a Black audience, and I let it sit on the shelf while my eye wandered towards more comfortably familiar covers with white protagonists.

There’s a word in the English language for people like me, White folks who avoided books with Black people on the covers for reasons of simple unfamiliarity. That word is racist.

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Six Thousand Years of Galactic Empires, Space Pirates, and Fuzzies: H. Beam Piper’s Rich Future History

Six Thousand Years of Galactic Empires, Space Pirates, and Fuzzies: H. Beam Piper’s Rich Future History


H. Beam Piper’s Federation and Empire (Ace Books, February 1982 and May 1981). Covers by Michael Whelan

H. Beam Piper is an enduring favorite of mine. I love his SF adventure tales, including The Fuzzy Papers and the stories in his Paratime sequence. But I haven’t really dipped into his more ambitious work, the Future History that tied together most of his longer stories. The Zarthani website dedicated to Piper’s work summarizes it succinctly:

Piper’s Terro-human Future History is a future-historical science-fiction series which imagines the expansion of the human race from its origins on Earth (Terra) out into the galaxy. Consisting of the novels of Piper’s famous Fuzzy trilogy — Little Fuzzy (1962), Fuzzy Sapiens (…1964) — and Fuzzies and Other People (published posthumously in 1984), Piper’s novels Uller Uprising (1952), Four-Day Planet (1961), Junkyard Planet (1963) — also known as The Cosmic Computer, and Space Viking (1962), and eight Piper stories originally published in pulp science-fiction magazines between 1957 and 1962 (originally reissued, along with an additional, previously-unpublished story, in the Piper collections Federation and Empire edited by John F. Carr, and more recently in Carr’s The Rise of the Terran Federation), the Terro-human Future History spans over thirty millennia of future history.

Piper’s Future History has been much celebrated and discussed since his death, and we’re long overdue for a closer look here. Grab your beverage of choice, settle back in your favorite chair, and let’s dive in.

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African Folk Tales and Sword & Sorcery: Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James

African Folk Tales and Sword & Sorcery: Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James


Black Leopard, Red Wolf and Moon Witch, Spider King (Riverhead
Books, February 2019 and February 2022). Covers by Pablo Gerardo Camacho

The first novel I bought by Marlon James was A Brief History of Seven Killings, a fictionalized version of the true story of the attempted hit on Bob Marley by seven gunmen in the late 1970s — which isn’t even fantasy or SF, but what can I tell you, I just picked it up in Barnes & Noble and it sounded cool. It won the 2015 Man Booker Prize and vaulted the Jamaican author to international prominence.

He turned heads in our own little corner of the literary world in 2019 with Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the opening novel in The Dark Star Trilogy. It won the Locus Award for Best Horror Novel, and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Salman Rushdie said “Its imagination is all encompassing,” The New York Times called it “The literary equivalent of a Marvel Comics universe,” Entertainment Weekly proclaimed it “A revolutionary book,” and Time listed it as one of the 100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time.

The follow-up arrived two months ago, and it’s not a sequel in the traditional sense. Moon Witch, Spider King retells Black Leopard, Red Wolf — the tale of a mercenary hired to find a missing child in Africa — from a very different perspective. It was an instant New York Times bestseller, and Buzzfeed labeled it “Even more brilliant than the first.”

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Talking Terry Pratchett

Talking Terry Pratchett

It’s always a good time to talk about Terry Pratchett! He was, simply, brilliant. Pratchett, who passed away in 2015 from Alzheimer’s, wrote the terrific fantasy series, Discworld. He gets my vote as one of the great satirists of our time. And he used classical fantasy tropes to do it! Did I mention, ‘brilliant’?

I re-read (and listen to) Pratchett books throughout the year. I got in the mood again recently, and did a mini-binge. Discworld is fantasy world, with the entertainingly horrible city of Ankh-Morpork at its center. Parody, homage, satire – they are fantastic books. Pratchett pokes fun at our world (especially, society) though these books. If you Google search, ‘Terry Pratchett quotes.’ you will get some absolutely terrific ones. Most are from his books, but real-life ones can be pretty hilarious, too. The man was just incredibly funny. Add in being very observant, and a good writer, and you have the ingredients of a great author.

JINGO

It started when I decided to listen to a Pratchett audio book during the work day last week. I’ve read the series a couple times, and I can miss a bit here and there as I work. Jingo is one of the City Watch books. There are several ‘sub-series’ in the Discworld series, involving central characters. My favorite is the one with Sam Vimes and the City Watch. They are essentially very entertaining police procedurals, in a fantasy world. They’re a blast.

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A Whirlwind of Pirates, Treachery, & Witchcraft: The God-King Chronicles by Mike Brooks

A Whirlwind of Pirates, Treachery, & Witchcraft: The God-King Chronicles by Mike Brooks


The Black Coast and The Splinter King (Solaris, March and September 2021). Cover illustrations by Clare Stacey

It’s good to see the second book in a series get more acclaim than the first. Check out this rave for The Splinter King, second book in The God-King Chronicles from Mike Brooks.

An outstanding tale of honor, religion, politics, and crime… In East Harbour, capital of the island realm of Kiburu ce Alaba, street kid Jeya continues to help the last surviving child of the Splinter King, who has taken the name Bulang, to hide from the assassins who killed Bulang’s family — but now someone is targeting Jeya’s friends and allies… Brooks throws in pirates, treachery, witchcraft, combat, and dragons to create a whirlwind of drama and intrigue. Epic fantasy readers will find characters to cheer for and action to love in this excellent sequel.

That’s from the starred review at Publishers Weekly. Read the whole thing here.

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Spacefaring Nuns at the Heart of a Galactic Rebellion: Our Lady of Endless Worlds by Lina Rather

Spacefaring Nuns at the Heart of a Galactic Rebellion: Our Lady of Endless Worlds by Lina Rather


Sisters of the Vast Black and Sisters of the Forsaken Stars
(Tor.com, 2019 and 2022). Covers by Drive Communications and Emmanuel Shiu

I’m a huge fan of the sprawling space opera sub-genre, but my love is conflicted. All the best — from Peter Hamilton to Ann Leckie, Lois McMaster Bujold to Becky Chambers — comes packaged exclusively as multi-volume epics. If you want to enjoy space opera these days, you need to schedule a 4-week sabbatical first. And a lot of caffeine.

Thank God for Tor.com, which has kept up their weekly drumbeat of top notch novella releases — including Lina Rather’s Sisters of the Forsaken Stars, sequel to her debut Sisters of the Vast Black. It’s the tale of a heroic band of space-faring nuns, hunted and on the run, and yet still bound by their calling to provide help and mercy to those in need. And best of all, you can devour both volumes in an afternoon.

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Keeping Faith With the Rules of Writing: An Interview with K.D. Edwards

Keeping Faith With the Rules of Writing: An Interview with K.D. Edwards


The Tarot Sequence: The Last Sun, The Hanged Man, and The Hourglass Throne
(Pyr, 2018, 2019, and 2022). Covers by Micah Epstein

The last two years were pretty lousy for the world, but fairly good for reading! It was time to read some newer authors, and KD Edwards’ Tarot Sequence had been on my list for quite some time. Urban fantasy with a male protagonist, Tarot, and LGBTQ+ friendly? Published through Pyr — one of the more interesting mainstream publishers? Definitely a must-read for me. Plus, have you seen those gorgeous evocative covers?

I started reading book 1, The Last Sun, in mid-2020. Did I say reading? A more accurate statement would be devouring. Book 2, The Hanged Man swiftly followed, and then I felt bereft. The story clearly wasn’t over, but there wasn’t another book?

I reached out to KD on Twitter to inquire, and he let me know that not only was there a third book on the way — The Hourglass Throne, due out May 17th, 2022 from Pyr — but that there was free extra content (novellas!) available on his website.

I caught up with KD at Worldcon 2021 in DC, and he graciously agreed to answer a few questions.

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Taking Stock SF Ideas in New Directions: James Davis Nicoll on Alexis Gilliland’s The Rosinante Trilogy

Taking Stock SF Ideas in New Directions: James Davis Nicoll on Alexis Gilliland’s The Rosinante Trilogy

The Revolution from Rosinante (1981), Long Shot for Rosinante (1981), and The Pirates of Rosinante
(1982), all published by Del Rey. Covers by Chris Barbieri (book 1) and Rick Sternbach (2 and 3)

It’s good to know there are other writers out there who obsess over vintage paperbacks the way I do. Well, there’s Rich Horton and James Davis Nicoll, anyway. And I enjoyed James’ thoughtful Tor.com article this week on the long-forgotten Rosinante Trilogy by Alexis Gilliland, published in the early 80s by Del Rey. Here’s his take:

Gilliland also had a lot of fun drawing on stock SF ideas and taking them in directions other authors of the time did not. Cantrell is, among other things, a deconstruction of those marvelous old-time SF engineers who never saw a cool idea sketched on a napkin that they did immediately put into effect without ever considering the ramifications… I don’t know why these books were not more popular, why they are not better known, or why there has been no new Gilliland book since the 1990s. The books’ brevity might have worked against them. Only one is more than 200 pages and the other two are closer to 185. They’re also remarkably eventful books: there is about a thousand pages of plot crammed into less than 600… they were fun and innovative in many ways. For those interested in judging for themselves, at least they are back in print.

Read the whole thing at Tor.com.

A Band of Black Hearted Bastards in a Comic Romp: Articles of Faith by David Wragg

A Band of Black Hearted Bastards in a Comic Romp: Articles of Faith by David Wragg


The Black Hawks and The Righteous (HarperVoyager, October 2019 and September 2021).
Covers by Richard Anderson (left) and uncredited

I bought David Wragg’s debut fantasy The Black Hawks when it first appeared in 2019. It sounded right up my alley — the tale of a dysfunctional band of mercenaries drafted into a desperate conflict to protect a stranded prince.

I was delighted to see a second — and apparently, final — volume appear at the end of last year. The Righteous concludes the tales of the seasoned (and entertaining) mercenary band, and opens with them imprisoned and sentenced for execution for their part in the rebellion, alongside their employer, the knight Vedren Chel. A daring escape sends them on the run, and headlong into a brand new adventure.

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