What I’ve Been Reading Lately: January 2020

Monday, January 20th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Garrett_SweetsilverEDITED“Say, Bob, it’s been an ENTIRE month since you told us what you’ve been reading lately. The suspense is keeping me up at night.” OK – so nobody said that to me. I’ll tell you some of the stuff I’ve taken off of the shelves lately, anyways.


I’ve already written about Glen Cook’s terrific hardboiled, fantasy PI series featuring Garrett. It combines Raymond Chandler, Nero Wolfe, and Terry Pratchett in a terrific fashion. I have a hard time imagining a better series. I’ve talked to a couple fellow Black Gaters about a round-robin look at several books in the series: So many ideas, so little time.

I’m working on this essay on Sunday evening, mere hours ahead of deadline, because I spent a couple hours yesterday re-reading book one, Sweet Silver Blues, instead of sitting at the keyboard and writing. I like it quite a bit, but it’s in book two, Bitter Gold Hearts, that the series really settles in. I’ve read most of the series at least twice before over the years. A few of my friends didn’t care for 2013’s Wicked Bronze Ambition, the last (but hopefully not final) book. It’s definitely not one of my favorites, but it’s still Garrett, and I hope there will be at least one more.

This is one of my favorite series’ in both the fantasy and private eye genres. HIGHLY recommended. And I’m also a huge fan of Cook’s The Black Company, which is light years away in tone and style. He’s simply a very good writer. Black Gate buddy Fletcher Vredenburgh did a fantastic walk-through of the entire series last year.


John MacD has been my favorite author for about three decades now. I enjoy his standalones, his short stories, and his Travis McGee books. I’ve written about him several times, and if all I did was write for Black Gate (sadly, I need to pay my bills and other such nonsense), you’d be reading a LOT about him here.

Earlier this month, after holding off for over twenty-five years, I finally watched the 1970 adaptation of Darker ThanAmber, with Rod Taylor as Travis McGee. Then, I went and re-read the book over the next couple of days. Taylor grew on me as the movie progressed, and they followed the book fairly faithfully. The final fight scene between McGee and Terry was really something to see.

I think this is a better version of a McGee novel than the 1983 film starring Sam Elliot (why in the world would you transplant McGee to California?!).

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A Cyberpunk Video Game Between Two Covers: The Cry Pilot Trilogy by Joel Dane

Sunday, January 19th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Matt Griffin

“Joel Dane” is the pseudonym of an author of over 20 novels who launched an intriguing new military SF trilogy in August. The opening novel Cry Pilot followed a recruit with a secret drawn into a desperate war against lampreys, biological horrors created by the terra fixing process remaking a ruined Earth. Publishers Weekly raved, summing it up as “Riveting action paired with a sharp psychoemotional landscape.. the explosive launch of a futuristic trilogy.” In a review titled “The Closest Thing to an Immersive Cyberpunk FPS Video Game Between Two Covers,” S. Qiouyi Lu at The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog said:

Terrafixing gives abandoned machines and technology a new life, turning them into violent creatures that are both organic and inorganic — a fusion of weapon and mutated animal. After proving himself as a cry pilot, Kaytu becomes part of a squad training to defend against the latest of these threats (not to mention the most dire to date) — mysterious, ruthless creatures called lampreys hell-bent on destruction. With no known weaknesses and a casualty count mounting higher and higher, the pressure is on Kaytu and his squad to keep their reflexes quick and use all their training to fight against this seemingly unbeatable foe…

Cry Pilot… is a vivid, immersive novel that leans strongly into its military science fiction identity. Its main asset is its voice: Kaytu’s strong personality and first-person narration creates an intimate reading experience… Cry Pilot feels like a high-definition cyberpunk first-person shooter video game, with sleek, polished graphics and tons of lore to explore. If that’s your thing, suit up and dive in — this book will take you for a hell of a ride.

Hot on the heels of Cry Pilot comes Burn Cycle, with the third volume Kill Orbit already in the pipeline for July 2020. Here’s all the details.

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An Alien Mystery in the Heart of an Ancient Space Object: The Embers of War Trilogy by Gareth L. Powell

Saturday, January 18th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Julia Lloyd

Gareth L. Powell is the author of the popular Ack-Ack Macaque series, and two short story collections, The Last Reef (2008) and Entropic Angel and Other Stories (2017). His new space opera trilogy began with Embers of War (Titan Books, 2018), and folks took notice immediately. Here’s Joel Cunningham at The Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

Gareth L. Powell’s Embers of War is a space opera that does everything right: it’s expansive in scope, but character-focused. It nods to genre tropes, but interrogates them too, considering the real-world ramifications of the lasting trauma of war. Oh, also: it has a great sentient starship. It quickly became a favorite of ours — not to mention the voters who handed it this year’s British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel — and our enthusiasm was not at all muted by the recent release of the just-as-good sequel Fleet of Knives.

Powell’s series is one of the more popular space operas on the market (and you all know how I feel about space opera). I was intrigued by the first two books immediately, but hesitant to jump in until the third one arrived. So this week I was delighted to receive a review copy of Light of Impossible Stars, the third installment in Embers of War, which formally goes on sale February 18 from Titan.

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Vintage Treasures: A Woman of the Iron People by Eleanor Arnason

Friday, January 17th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Gary Ruddell

Eleanor Arnason is the author of five novels, including The Sword Smith (1978), To the Resurrection Station (1986), Daughter of the Bear King (1987), and Ring of Swords (1993), plus dozens of short stories, chiefly in her Hwarhath series, SF tales of mankind’s interactions with the sole other species we find able to travel among the stars. But her most famous book is the first contact novel A Woman of the Iron People, which won both the inaugural James Tiptree Jr. Award in 1991, and the 1992 Mythopoeic Award. Publishers Weekly called it “excellent, anthropologically oriented SF… an intelligent, provocative book,” and at Tor.com Jo Walton wrote:

It’s definitely Arnason’s masterpiece and I love it. A Woman of the Iron People is anthropological science fiction, in the tradition of The Left Hand of Darkness and Mary Gentle’s Golden Witchbreed and Janet Kagan’s Hellspark. Lixia has come on a spaceship through cold sleep to a new planet, one that has aliens…. A Woman of the Iron People also won the Tiptree Award, and this is easier to understand without any parables, because it really is a book with a focus on gender. The aliens live separately — the women live in usually nomadic villages, raising children. The men leave at puberty and live alone, fighting each other. They mate with the women in the spring. These are their accepted customs and their biological imperatives, but we see several edge cases…

Lixia travels with Nia, and later with the Voice of the Waterfall, a male oracle, and Derek, another human anthropologist. They travel through culture and landscape, learning them both. It’s great that these future humans are also strange and also bring problems of their own to the story… Unlike almost all the other anthropological SF out there, the end of the journey and connecting up with the main expedition raises more questions than it solves, and there’s a twist at the end of the book that I thought was wonderful.

Read Jo’s complete review here. A Woman of the Iron People was published in hardcover in 1991 by William Morrow, and broken into two volumes for AvoNova’s paperback reprint a year later. Here’s the back covers for the paperback editions.

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Future Treasures: The Bard’s Blade, Book I of The Sorcerer’s Song by Brian D. Anderson

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover art by Felix Ortiz

Brian D. Anderson is a self-published author who’s sold over half a million copies of his books worldwide — no mean feat. His bestselling series include The Godling Chronicles and Dragonvein. This month he makes the move to mainstream publishing with his first book for Tor, The Bard’s Blade. It’s the opening novel in The Sorcerer’s Song, which Publisher’s Weekly calls “an ambitious, enjoyable tale.” Here’s the description.

Mariyah enjoys a simple life in Vylari, a land magically sealed off from the outside world, where fear and hatred are all but unknown. There she’s a renowned wine maker and her betrothed, Lem, is a musician of rare talent. Their destiny has never been in question. Whatever life brings, they will face it together.

But destiny has a way of choosing its own path, and when a stranger crosses the wards into Vylari for the first time in centuries, the two are faced with a terrible prophecy. For beyond the borders, an ancient evil is returning, its age-old prison shattered.

The two must leave their home behind, and in doing so will face sorcerers and thieves, con-men and assassins, treachery and greed. How far down this path will they have to go to stop the rising darkness and save their home? And how much of themselves will they have to give up along the way?

The Bard’s Blade will be published by Tor Books on January 28, 2020. It is 430 pages, priced at $17.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Felix Ortiz. It will be followed A Chorus of Fire, coming in August. Read a brief excerpt at the Tor/Forge Blog, and see all of our recent coverage of the best upcoming science fiction and fantasy here.

One of the Most Richly Detailed Settings in Fantasy: The Maradaine Novels by Marshall Ryan Maresca

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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The Maradaine Constabulary trilogy by Marshall Ryan Maresca (DAW). Covers by Paul Young.

Marshall Ryan Maresca is one of the hardest working writers in fantasy.

It started in 2015 with his debut novel The Thorn of Dentonhill, which introduced Veranix Calbert, diligent college student by day and crime-fighting vigilante by night in the crime-ridden districts of the port city of Maradaine. The book was an unexpected hit, and was nominated for the Compton Crook award. I’ve quoted Library Journal‘s pithy review (“Veranix is Batman, if Batman were a teenager and magically talented”) a few times here, mostly because it’s the quote that first got my attention.

You’d expect a sequel or two to follow after that, but Maresca has delivered far more — he’s produced no less than eleven full novels set in what the Barnes & Noble Sci-fi and Fantasy Blog calls “One of the most richly detailed settings in fantasy… In one fast-paced, funny, highly readable novel after another, Maresca continues to build out every nook and alleyway of Maradaine.” All told the fast-growing Maradaine Universe has grown to three full trilogies, with a fourth underway.

While they share a setting, each series has a different focus and cast. The Maradaine trilogy follows the adventures of Veranix Calbert, struggling magic university student by day and armed vigilante by night; the Maradaine Constabulary books are gritty fantasy mysteries focused on Inspectors Satrine Rainey and Minox Welling in the city constabulary; The Streets of Maradaine are caper novels featuring Asti and Verci Rynax, former thieves attempting to go straight but dragged back into their old lives; and Maradaine Elite blends fantasy and political intrigue as it follows Dayne Heldrin and Jerinne Fendall, hopeful members of the Tarian Order.

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Future Treasures: A Longer Fall by Charlaine Harris

Monday, December 30th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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An Easy Death (October 2018) and A Longer Fall (January 2020), both from Saga Press. Covers by Colin Anderson

There aren’t enough Weird Westerns in the world, which is why I treasure them when I find ’em. Charlaine Harris (the Sookie Stackhouse novels) kicked off a promising series last year with An Easy Death, the first Gunnie Rose novel, which follows gunslinger Lizbeth Rose in the fractured countries and territories that were once the U.S. A Longer Fall, which arrives in hardcover in two weeks, sends Lizbeth to the southeast territory of Dixie on a dangerous mission. Here’s an excerpt from the enthusiastic review at Kirkus for An Easy Death.

In the opening novel of Harris’ new series, set in a dangerous and largely lawless alternate United States, a young gunslinger for hire hits the trail to track down a descendant of Rasputin.

Life isn’t easy and death is around every corner in Harris’ thrilling new adventure, in which the U.S. is a shadow of its former self. Franklin Roosevelt was assassinated before he could be sworn in, and the country was subsequently fractured: Mexico has reclaimed Texas, Canada has usurped a large swath of the northern states, and the Holy Russian Empire has taken over California… Nineteen-year-old Lizbeth Rose is a skilled gunslinger for hire, but a disastrous run-in with bandits has left her the sole survivor of her crew. After making it home, she’s approached by Paulina Coopersmith and Ilya “Eli” Savarov, two grigoris (aka wizards), who want her to help them find wizard Oleg Karkarov, who they think is a descendant of Rasputin and whose blood may be able to help their beloved czar. There’s a hitch: She tells them he’s dead but doesn’t mention that she’s the one who killed him… A refreshing and cinematic, weird Western starring a sharp-as-nails, can-do heroine. Harris’ many fans will surely follow Gunnie Rose anywhere.

A Longer Fall will be published by Saga Press on January 14, 2020. It is 304 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $12.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Colin Anderson. Read Chapter One (and details on the cover) at Paste Magazine.

Future Treasures: Stars Beyond, Book 2 of Stars Uncharted by S. K. Dunstall

Tuesday, December 24th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover art by John Harris and Fred Gambino

S. K. Dunstall has rapidly become one of my favorite science fiction writers.

OK, that’s not entirely accurate, but not because of any deficit in my admiration. It’s because “S. K. Dunstall” is actually two people, the sibling writing team of Sherylyn and Karen Dunstall. I wrote about their splendid Linesman Trilogy from Ace Books in 2016 (which I consumed in the audible version narrated by Brian Hutchison, and which I highly recommend), and last year I alerted you to the release of Stars Uncharted, the opening novel in a new series about a band of explorers who make the greatest find in the galaxy, which John DeNardo said “Combines the best parts of space action and space opera.” The sequel Stars Beyond arrives next month, and it’s one of my most anticipated books of 2020. Here’s what Everdeen Mason at The Washington Post said about Stars Uncharted in her list of the Best science fiction and fantasy books of August 2019.

Nika Rik Terri and Josune Arriola are two women on the run from corporate gangsters in a future where humans lay claim to multiple planets and colonies across the galaxy. Explorers and companies alike seek maps to long-lost worlds, where they hope to find precious resources. Nika is a body modifier who redesigns people into works of art, but she leaves all she’s built to escape from an abusive boyfriend and the company he works for. Josune is a crew member of the explorer ship Hassim and has infiltrated a rival explorer ship. But when she tries to return to the Hassim, Josune finds that the company has wiped out her crew, and now she’s a target…. This is a fun adventure novel with an irresistible ragtag crew.

Stars Beyond will be released by Ace Books on January 21, 2020. It is 407 pages, priced at $16 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Fred Gambino. Read the complete 15-page first chapter of Stars Uncharted here, and see all our recent coverage of the best upcoming SF and fantasy here.

Epic Science Fiction with a Spectacular Toolbox: Silver by Linda Nagata

Monday, December 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Steve Case

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Silver by Linda Nagata (Mythic Island Press, Nov 2019). Cover art by Sarah Anne Langton

Silver is the direct sequel to Edges, which is itself a continuation of Nagata’s Nanotech Succession series. In Edges, some of the heroes from Nagata’s earlier series decide to head back in from the frontier of human expansion in the Milky Way to the galactic region of Earth and its immediate environs. In this science fiction universe, the laws of physics are firm, and no one has figured out a way around the universal speed limit of light itself or the constraints of relativistic travel. This means distances and time spans are immense, and voyages are spread over centuries. It also means that as humanity spread itself into that emptiness, it became diffuse and attenuated and that the sharpest telescopes on the frontier give only clues but no answers about what has taken place in the intervening centuries on the cradle worlds of humanity.

Edges was the story of Urban’s ship and crew and what happened on their way home. As with most trips, things got complicated quickly. The expedition back to Earth ran afoul of an unwelcome passenger: Lezuri, a godlike intelligence that attempted to take over the ship and was only expelled at the apparent cost of Urban himself. Silver follows directly on the heels of this conflict. Urban has fled to a nearby world, to which Lezuri is bound as well. With limited resources, Urban has to find a way to both prepare for Lezuri’s eventual arrival and warn off his ship and crew, who assume he is dead.

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New Treasures: The Light of All That Falls, Book 3 of the Licanius Trilogy by James Islington

Sunday, December 22nd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Dominick Saponaro

Three long years ago, in November 2016, Jim Killen at the B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog shared his thoughts on The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of the month. Based on his rec I purchased the debut novel by James Islington, The Shadow of What Was Lost, volume one of what was to become the Licanius Trilogy at some nebulous point in the future.

Low and behold, the future is here. The second book, An Echo of Things to Come, arrived in August 2017, and now the final volume, The Light of All That Falls, appeared on December 10. Just in time to keep me company over my long Christmas break! What did Killen say all those years ago that got me so interested? I had to go look it up this morning:

The Shadow of What Was Lost feels old-fashioned in the best of ways, molding familiar genre traditions into something wholly unique. In a world where the magical class has been overthrown, hunted, and subjugated, the struggle cannot simply be divided between magic and mundane or human and divine. The evil that encroaches Andarra, the center of the action, is neither simple, singly focused, or, for that matter, definitively evil. It’s been 20 years since the Unseen War, which overthrew the Augurs, powerful and portentous demigods. Those who once feared and obeyed the them rose up, wiping out the leaders and binding those with lesser magical abilities, the Gifted, to Four Tenets that restrict the use of their powers. Davian, a student of the Gifted, struggles to wield Essence, the magic that should sustain and flow through him with ease, but can “read” people to determine whether they’re telling the truth, a power that once belonged only to the Augurs. That’s a dangerous association for one raised in a world endlessly suspicious of those with abilities outside the norm. But as forces long thought defeated descend from the North, Devian’s quest to understand who he is and what he can do takes on greater urgency than he can comprehend.

Here’s the complete publishing details for all three.

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