Vintage Treasures: Davy by Edgar Pangborn

Thursday, May 16th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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1982 Ballantine paperback reprint; cover by Boris Vallejo

Edgar Pangborn died in 1976. His last book, the collection Still I Persist in Wondering, was published in 1978. The first Pangborn story I can recall reading was his splendid tale of the first landing on an alien world, and the majestic and deadly creatures found there, “The Red Hills of Summer,” in Gardner Dozois’ anthology Explorers (2000). It was enough to turn me into an instant fan.

I never read any Pangborn during my formative teen years, but he still managed to feature prominently in my early science fiction education. That’s chiefly because the reviewer I read most avidly at the time, Spider Robinson, was a late convert and a huge fan. In his column in the March 1976 Galaxy magazine, Spider raved:

I’ve only just discovered Edgar Pangborn. I haven’t been so delighted since (years ago, thank God) I discovered Theodore Sturgeon. In fact, the comparison is apt. I like Pangborn and Sturgeon for very similar reasons. Both are thoughtful, mature writers, and both remind me at times of [John] Brunner’s Chad Mulligan [the hero of Stand on Zanzibar], bitter drunk, crying at the world, “Goddammit, I love you all.” Both are bitterly disappointed in man’s evil, and both are hopelessly in love with man’s good. Both are addicted to creating and falling in love with warmly human, vibrantly alive characters, and making you love them too.

In the November 1976 issue of Galaxy, shortly after he learned of Pangborn’s death, Spider wrote a bitter rant of his own, lamenting the loss of a great writer and the fact that the world had stubbornly refused to acknowledge his achievements. He held up Pangborn’s 1964 novel Davy as a testament to what the field had lost. I’m not sure there’s a short story from 1976 that’s lived in my mind as vividly for the past four decades as Spider’s review of Davy. Here it is.

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Space Opera with Military Flair: A Chain Across the Dawn by Drew Williams

Tuesday, May 14th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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I’m still on a space opera kick, and Drew Williams’ The Stars Now Unclaimed was one of the books that got me started. It was published by Tor last August, and Liz Bourke at Tor.com called it “Superpowered Space Opera… a strikingly entertaining debut novel, an enjoyable space opera with military flair.” I’ve been keeping my eye open for the sequel, but it still managed to sneak up on me last week. Here’s the description.

Drew Williams continues the Universe After series with A Chain Across the Dawn, an epic space opera chase across the galaxy with witty banter, fantastical planets, and a seemingly unbeatable foe.

It’s been three years since Esa left her backwater planet to join the ranks of the Justified. Together, she and fellow agent Jane Kamali have been traveling across the known universe, searching for children who share Esa’s supernatural gifts.

On a visit to a particularly remote planet, they learn that they’re not the only ones searching for gifted children. They find themselves on the tail of a mysterious being with impossible powers who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the very children that Esa and Jane are trying to save.

With their latest recruit in tow ― a young Wulf boy named Sho ― Esa and Jane must track their strange foe across the galaxy in search of answers. But the more they learn, the clearer it becomes ― their enemy may be harder to defeat than they ever could have imagined.

We covered the first volume here. A Chain Across the Dawn was published by Tor Books on May 7, 2019. It is 317 pages, priced at $18.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Fred Gambino. See all our recent coverage of the best new SF and Fantasy series titles here.


Kay Kenyon Wraps Up the Dark Talents Trilogy with Nest of the Monarch

Saturday, May 4th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Mike Heath

At the 2016 World Fantasy Convention I enjoyed a bunch of terrific readings, but my favorite — by a wide margin — was Kay Kenyon, who read from her  WWII spy novel At the Table of Wolves, the tale of a young English woman with superhuman abilities who stumbles on a chilling Nazi plan to invade England using superhuman agents. The sequel Serpent in the Heather arrived last year, and just last month the concluding volume in the trilogy, Nest of the Monarch, was published in hardcover by Saga Press. Kay’s Amazon bio has a nice summary of the entire series; here it is.

My trilogy, The Dark Talents novels finished in spring of 2019 with the publication of Nest of the Monarch. The series features Kim Tavistock, who deals with dark Talents, Nazi conspiracies, and espionage in 1936 England and Europe. Both Nest of the Monarch and At the Table of Wolves received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly.

In Book two, Serpent in the Heather, Kim must track down the Nazi assassin who is systematically killing young people with Talents. Kirkus called it “A unique concept that is superbly executed.” Book three brings Kim undercover in Berlin… I was inspired to write this series by the stories of the many women spies, radio operators and resistance fighters in the world wars. See my blog series, “Women spies in the World Wars” at www.KayKenyon.com.

Kay offers a great teaser for the closing volume at her website.

I wanted to pull out all the stops for what Kim Tavistock is capable of, and place the events of the book in the scariest environment I could imagine, at least for a spy: 1936 Berlin and a secret SS outpost. The result is my richest story yet, I’m thinking

Here’s the full description for Nest of the Monarch.

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Future Treasures: Nexus, Book 2 of The Androma Saga by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings

Tuesday, April 30th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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When I parked myself in the sprawling Young Adult section at Barnes & Noble last December, I decided to take home the single book that appealed to me the most. I ended up choosing Zenith, the first book in The Androma Saga by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings. This is why:

The book that won out over all the others was an instant New York Times bestseller by two popular YA writers, a tale of an all-girl crew of space privateers getting caught up in “a dark and complex sci-fi drama” (Library Journal), and it just screamed fun.

Publishers Weekly said the first volume “features plentiful action, complex politics, and a rich mythology,” and Buzzfeed went much further, saying:

This sci-fi novel follows Andi, also known as the Bloody Baroness, and her fearless all-female crew of space pirates. When someone of high importance proposes a mission that Andi cannot refuse, she finds herself and her crew partnered with Dex — a bounty hunter who has a not-so-pleasant past with Andy. They must work together to complete a nearly impossible mission. But what they don’t know is that the ruler of the planet Xen Ptera is planning to extract revenge on the galaxy, threatening all who inhabit it. Zenith is an spectacularly stunning, whirlwind adventure with a race-against-the-clock plot and strong as hell female characters.

The next book in the series, Nexus, arrives in hardcover next week, and it continues the saga in high fashion. Here’s the description.

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Warhammer Chronicles: The Gotrek & Felix Novels by William King and Nathan Long are Back in Print

Monday, April 29th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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I became a fan of Warhammer through Relic’s Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War series of computer games, and eventually became a huge fan of their audiobooks. But people I respect have been telling me for years that their fiction is worth reading. Howard Andrew Jones in particular recommended Clint Werner’s Brunner novels and Nathan Long’s Blackhearts volumes as fine examples of modern sword & sorcery.

But the series I’ve heard the most about is the long-running Gotrek and Felix, which currently stands at no less than 17 volumes, written by William King, Nathan Long, Josh Reynolds, and David Guymer. King is the originator of the series and he wrote the first seven volumes, which I’ve heard described as “the reference series for Warhammer fantasy.”

The early editions are long out of print, and in fact the original omnibus reprints, which collected three novels each and were issued in 2003-2004, are out as print as well. They’re expensive collectors editions today. So are the second batch of reprints, published by Black Library in 2006-2013, which gathered the first 12 novels.

So I was pleased to see Games Workshop issue a third edition of this classic adventure fantasy series, and bought the first volume as soon as it became available. The second volume arrived in February. and the third is due in June. Here’s the details.

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When Earth is a Graveyard of Gods: Edges by Linda Nagata

Saturday, April 27th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Case

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The Fermi Paradox is relatively simple. It asks, considering the immense expanse of time, the apparent plentitude of planets in our galaxy, and thus the likelihood of intelligent life somewhere else — why don’t we see it? Why is the sky so resolutely silent? Answering this question has become something of a hobby among science fiction writers, with responses ranging from the transcendental to the sobering. Maybe life evolves quickly beyond the physical. Or maybe life is out there but quietly watching and waiting. Linda Nagata’s work offers a more straightforward answer: intelligent life is hunted.

In Nagata’s universe, Chenzeme coursers are living alien weapons: biomechanical vessels coated in hulls of intelligent “philosopher cells.” The ships are programmed to systematically hunt down technological civilizations and sterilize entire worlds. In her previous series, humanity’s spread into the frontier was halted by encounters with these vessels. The coursers were only one prong though in an ancient assault that had long outlasted the ship’s original creators. The other was an ancient virus, which bypassed the frontier worlds and affected the original core planets of humanity’s origins, including Earth, subsuming entire planetary populations into huge group-minds that went on to construct immense Dyson spheres enclosing their stars.

I fell into this universe through a paperback copy of the final book in her previous series, Vast (1998), and was immediately entranced (I reviewed Vast for Black Gate here). Nagata has a way of making the incredible distances, both in space and time, of galactic travel real. Humans are tenuous here, following divergent evolutionary roads, clinging to disparate worlds in the night. Vast followed an expedition from the planet Deception Well to find the source of the Chenzeme coursers and spun out from there into a stunning novel that was at its core a centuries-long chase sequence but managed to explore the characters and the biomechanical and technological realities of life aboard the exploratory ship.

All this to say I was thrilled when I learned that Nagata, after nearly two decades, was returning to this universe with a follow-up series called Inverted Frontier. The first book in this series, Edges, was released this spring and Nagata was kind enough to send me a pre-print for review.

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L. E. Modesitt Jr. wraps up The Imager Portfolio with Endgames

Saturday, April 20th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover art for all 12 volumes by Donato Giancola

Every time a trilogy wraps up, we bake a cake at the Black Gate rooftop headquarters. Strangely, we don’t have a protocol for when a 12-book cycle completes, but we’re working on it.

L. E. Modesitt Jr.’s Imager Portfolio series opened with Imager in 2009, and around about book 8, Rex Regis, Tor started referring to it as “The New York Times Bestselling Imager Portfolio.” Modesitt has hit those rarefied heights before — the 20 books in his Saga of Recluse have sold over three million copies — but it was good to see him with another major success.

The final volume in the series, Endgames, arrived in February. This time the publisher refers to it as “the third book in the story arc that began with Madness in Solidar through Treachery’s Tools and Assassin’s Price” and, despite having counted several times, I make Endgames the fourth book in that sequence, but hey, whatever. You count any way you want Tor, and don’t let ’em give you any grief.

However you count his books, L.E. Modesitt deserves some serious respect. He’s produced more than seventy novels, including two science fiction series, the Ghost Books and Ecolitan Matter, four fantasy series, the Imager Portfolio, the Saga of Recluce, the Spellsong Cycle and the Corean Chronicles, and many popular standalone titles such as Solar Express, which Arin Komins at Starfarer’s Despatch calls utterly wonderful. All 12 volumes in the Imager Portfolio series are still in print, which is no mean feat. Here’s the description for the first one.

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Dragons and Gardeners in a Pan-Galactic Imperium: Abyss Surrounding by Eva L. Elasigue

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019 | Posted by Damien Moore

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There are many stories in Abyss Surrounding, the sequel to Fire on All Sides (which I reviewed in 2016), and the second book in Eva L. Elasigue’s Bones Of Starlight series. Entirely as complex, multilayered, and compelling as the first, Abyss Surrounding offers daring new concepts along with enticing new situations holding familiar characters in their clutches.

We have the Princess Soleil, now a rebel living apart from the status her Imperium affords her, and instead mingling with intrepid voyagers of an unknown universe. We have Derringer, a spy in search of the Princess whom you will fondly recall from the first book as a splash of nostalgic hijinks. And we have our villain, Sturlusson, whose journey in the second installment needs to be experienced without the benefit of a critic’s retrospection. Read the book; you’ll get what I mean.

I was entranced by the inclusion of Dragons, mythical beings who play a vital role in the workings of Elasigue’s universe. Her deft use of distinctive neutral pronouns for each Dragon endeared me to their importance in her world; this is also a testament to her fluidity in addressing gender neutrality, worthy of a review all on its own.

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Future Treasures: A Time of Blood, Book 2 of Of Blood and Bone, by John Gwynne

Monday, April 8th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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John Gwynne won the David Gemmell Morningstar for Malice, the opening novel in his 4-book series The Faithful and the Fallen. That series has enthusiastic fans all over the world, and when word spread that Gwynne was preparing a sequel series, Of Blood and Bone, it generated plenty of interest. In his review of the first volume of that new series at The Fantasy Hive, A Time of Dread (2018), Charlie Hopkins wrote:

Wrath was an awe-inspiring, frenetic finale to one of the all-time great fantasy series – The Faithful and the Fallen – and I’d just finished reading it when I heard John Gwynne’s new project would also be set in the Banished Lands, but a few generations into the future… If you’ve not read the first series, don’t hesitate to start here with this one and then go back later to read the “prequel.’ A Time of Dread is going to be on every ‘Best of’ list, and you’d be daft not to move it to the top of your ‘must read’ pile.

A Time of Dread was well received when it first appeared. Here’s part of the Publishers Weekly review:

Nice guys finish alive, and not always last, in this gritty but not grimdark fantasy of battling supernatural forces, set in a fantasy world where humans battle the demonic Kadoshim with the assistance of the Ben-Elim, a winged race of warriors from the ethereal Otherworld. Bleda, a human warrior-prince whose siblings are killed by a Ben-Elim they attacked, is taken hostage and raised by the Ben-Elim. When the supposedly defeated Kadoshim suddenly spring out of hiding with their own human allies and human-demon children, Bleda teams up with Riv, a fellow denizen of the Ben-Elim citadel, to take them on. Riv finds that the angels she knows often fight and scheme among themselves, their conflict instigated by the issue of “improper” human–Ben-Elim relationships. Separately, Sig, a bear-riding giant familiar from Gwynne’s The Faithful and the Fallen series, embarks on a solo quest to eradicate the Kadoshim… [Gwynne] avoids much of the cynicism that reduces epic struggles to mere realpolitik.

A Time of Blood, Book 2 of Of Blood and Bone, arrives next week from Macmillan (UK) and Orbit (US). It is 474 pages, priced at $16.99 in trade paperback and $11.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Paul Young. Read a lengthy excerpt from A Time of Dread here.


Hither Came Conan: Fred Adams on “The Black Stranger”

Monday, April 8th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Gary Gianni

Gary Gianni

Welcome back to the latest installment of Hither Came Conan, where a leading Robert E. Howard expert examines one of the original Conan stories each week, highlighting what’s best. Fred Adams talks about “The Black Stranger.” Which was a story that Howard failed to get published, was rewritten without Conan, and still rejected. Fred takes a brand new look at the story. Read on!

Conan as Picaro in “The Black Stranger”

There are days when I ask myself whether Robert E. Howard didn’t sneak away for four years and earn a degree in English Letters when I encounter his facility with literary tropes and conventions. Many would suggest that the influence of the great western writers rubbed off on him from his omnivorous reading, others simply that he labored past mediocrity to instinctively hone his considerable skills at writing, recognizing what worked and what did not.

Whichever the case, he made good use of a variety of literary conventions and techniques, as David C. Smith elaborates in his Robert E. Howard: A Literary Biography. One that I have noticed specifically is his use of the picaresque mode of the novel. A good example is his experimentation with the form in the Conan story “The Black Stranger.”

Harmon and Holman’s A Handbook to Literature, Seventh Edition defines “Picaresque Novel” at great length:

“A chronicle, usually autobiographical, presenting the life story of a rascal of low degree engaged in menial tasks and making his living more through his wits than his industry. The picaresque novel tends to be episodic and structureless. The picaro, or central figure, through various pranks and predicaments and by his associations with people of varying degree, affords the author an opportunity for satire of the social classes. Romantic in the sense of being an adventure story, the picaresque novel nevertheless is strongly marked by realism in petty detail and by uninhibited expression.” (389)

To call Conan a “rascal of low degree” is mild at best, but to say that he lives “more through his wits than his industry” seems close to his nature. Conan is a barbarian with no social standing whatsoever who lives by his wits as a thief, a reaver, and a warrior. True to the form, he begins the story in a loincloth running for his life from a tribe of savages. By the time the tale ends, Conan has attained the kingly position of leader of the Red Brotherhood, and possessed of enough wealth that he gives a bag of rubies worth a fortune to Belesa saying, “What are a handful of gems to me, when all the loot of the southern seas will be mine for the grasping?”

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