New Treasures: The Aleph Extraction, Book II of The Galactic Cold War by Dan Moren

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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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.

Visit a Post-Magical-Apocalypse Paris in the Dominion of the Fallen Trilogy by Aliette de Bodard

Saturday, May 16th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover art by Nekro

I missed the final volume of Aliette de Bodard’s epic of a ruined future Paris, The House of Sundering Flames, when it was released last September. But I suppose that’s one of the advantages of a nationwide lockdown… I can catch up on big reading projects.

I think part of the reason I missed it was because de Bodard switched publishers. The House of Shattered Wings and The House of Binding Thorns were both published in hardcover in the US by Ace… but Ace elected not to release the second volume in paperback, and for the third book de Bodard switched to the JABberwocky Literary Agency. JABberwocky kept the same cover artist, which I appreciate, but they don’t have the marketing reach in the US that Ace does.

Nonetheless, the final volume of the Dominion of the Fallen trilogy got a lot of great press. Here’s a snippet from Liz Bourke’s enthusiastic review at Locus.

On the list of books I can’t recommend highly enough: Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Sundering Flames, the latest – and for now final – novel-length instalment in the series… The powerful, magical Houses of de Bodard’s decayed, post-apocalyptic Paris are at peace, at least for now. House Silverspires, once in the first rank of the powerful, is much diminished; House Hawthorn is still strong, but its internal dynamics have changed since the dragon prince Thuan staked his claim on a true partnership… But the peace of Paris is blown apart when an explosion levels House Harrier, one of the more powerful – and more bigoted – Houses. Emmanu­elle, partner and lover of House Silverspires’ head, Selene, is caught in Harrier’s territory, forced to navigate the disaster and a civil war playing out in the ruins…

De Bodard’s prose is precise and elegant, and her characters are compelling and fascinating, even – especially – when they’re making terrible compromises and impossible choices. They’re very human – even the immortal and the dragon prince. Events mount with increasing tension, histories hinted at with terrible implication, until the revela­tions and resolutions of the climax. This is a clever book, and a nuanced one, and to me it feels like a tour-de-force of storytelling. I deeply enjoyed it, and I recommend it highly.

Aliette’s Dominion of the Fallen is the setting for some of her most acclaimed short fiction, including stories collected in In Morningstar’s Shadow and Of Books, and Earth, and Courtship (both published 2015).

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Future Treasures: Ballistic, Book 2 of The Palladium Wars by Marko Kloos

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Aftershocks and Ballistic, the first books in The Palladium Wars (47North). Cover design by Shasti O’Leary Soudant.

Marko Kloos is the author of six books in the Frontlines military SF series, starting with Terms of Enlistment (2013) and Lines of Departure (2014). His newest series is The Palladium Wars, a space opera trilogy which kicked off with Aftershocks last summer. In a far-ranging interview at The Verge, Kloos laid out the intriguing backdrop.

Aftershocks is set in the aftermath of that massive, system-wide conflict over resources — namely palladium — that saw its instigator, the planet Gretia, endure a major defeat and occupation by its enemies. One of the story’s central characters, Aden Robertson, was on the losing side, and he’s just been released from a POW camp where he’s had to contend with the atrocities that he witnessed during the war. Kloos explains that he wanted to deal with a character who had to come to terms with the collapse of a system he supported for two decades, and “how you find your identity after that.”

Kloos’s own German roots figure into the larger geopolitics of the series. “I totally cribbed from history,” he says. “The aggressors here are basically space Germany. It’s kind of like this cross between the end of World War I and the end of World War II. I kind of mashed it up a bit so that there’s a set of circumstances where it was a war of aggression, and they definitely are the bad guys, but also make the war logically understandable and consistent — a war for resources.”

Booklist called Aftershocks a “fast-moving combination of corporate machinations, police procedural, and interstellar naval combat.” The second volume Ballistic arrives from 47North on May 26, 2020, priced at $24.95 in hardcover, $14.95 in trade paperback, and $4.99 in digital formats. It is 318 pages. The cover was designed by Shasti O’Leary Soudant.

See all our recent Future Treasures here.

Vintage Treasures: The Fantastic Imagination Anthologies, edited by Robert H. Boyer and Kenneth J. Zahorski

Friday, May 8th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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The Fantastic Imagination, volumes I and II (Avon, February 1977 and December 1978).
Cover artist: unknown (left), Elizabeth Malczynski (right)

Robert H. Boyer and Kenneth J. Zahorski were quite the dynamic pair in the late 70s and early 80s. They edited five anthologies between 1977-81, all but one paperback originals from Avon, and a sixth a decade later, from Academy Chicago specialty press. All are fine volumes well worth your attention today.

The Fantastic Imagination (1977)
Dark Imaginings (1978)
The Fantastic Imagination II (1978)
The Phoenix Tree (1980)
Visions of Wonder: An Anthology of Christian Fantasy (1981)
Visions & Imaginings: Classic Fantasy Fiction (1992)

It may be giving them too much credit, but for me at least Boyer and Zahorski defined fantasy and its related genres for a generation. With their popular and highly readable paperback anthologies they helped new readers explore Gothic Fantasy (Dark Imaginings), Mythic Fantasy (The Phoenix Tree), and Christian Fantasy (Visions of Wonder).

And with The Fantastic Imagination volumes in particular, they drew clear boundaries around the particular sub-genre that more or less defined English fantasy until Tolkien upended things in the early 20th Century: the fairy-tale, and the High Fantasy genre that grew out of it, rich with fairies, elves, dwarves, kings, queens, and knights.

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Death Reigns and Danger Abounds: The Toll by Neal Shusterman

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

The Toll CoverNeal Shusterman’s masterful conclusion to the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, The Toll, takes place on a future Earth where humans are immortal. To keep the population from overrunning the globe, professional scythes “glean” a quota of victims in one of the only forms of death that still sticks. Most scythes end human life with care and sorrow. But sadist Robert Goddard and his “new order” scythes enjoy mass slaughter.

In The Toll‘s opening pages, Goddard amasses more and more power, becoming the High Blade of MidMerica and then Overblade of North America. Despite the old regime’s continued opposition, he removes the traditional limitations on scythes, unleashing the new order’s bloodiest appetites. People start avoiding any activity that requires them to assemble in groups, for fear of attracting a grim reaper.

The book follows three main sets of characters who strive to end Goddard’s brutal reign. The first concerns secret agent Greyson Tolliver, who has been leading a criminal lifestyle as a cover while acting on behalf of the Thunderhead, the artificial intelligence that oversees and manages the world. Greyson is now the only human on the planet who can communicate directly with the Thunderhead, since everyone else – including the Thunderhead’s more legitimate agents – has been labeled Unsavory. When the Thunderhead’s former agents discover that this gangster is their only remaining link to the entity they still want to serve, they kidnap him.

When Goddard finds out Greyson exists, he sends an assassin.

The second set of characters are our teenaged heroes Citra and Rowan. As the island of Endura sank at the end of Thunderhead, Scythe Curie locked them in the airtight Vault of Relics and Futures. Curie knew that asphyxiation would only render them deadish. Someday, she reasoned, their bodies would be found, and they would be revived. There was no such hope for everyone else, doomed to be consumed by circling sharks. But Goddard has declared a Perimeter of Reverence around Endura and forbidden ships from approaching. Citra and Rowan’s lifeless bodies lay in the Vault, which has tumbled into a deep oceanic trench, without rescue. Until a hermaphroditic ship’s captain pulls them from the deep under the cover of night.

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Future Treasures: Unreconciled, Book 4 of Donovan by W. Michael Gear

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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The Donovan series: Outpost, Abandoned, Pariah, and the forthcoming Unreconciled. Covers by Steve Stone.

W. Michael Gear knows his way around a science fiction series. He wrote the Way of Spider trilogy in the late 80s, the Forbidden Borders trilogy in the early 90s, and some, what, 20 novels in the First North Americans series, co-written with his wife Kathleen O’Neal Gear? This is a man who knows how to plot for the long haul.

His latest is the Donovan trilogy, which next week turns into the Donovan quartet with the arrival of the fourth novel, Unreconciled. The Dononvan trilogy (er, quartet) is a favorite here in the Black Gate offices. It opened with Outpost in 2018, which Brandon Crilly raved about right here.

I had a blast reading Outpost, the start of W. Michael Gear’s Donovan trilogy… The setting is very Deadwood meets Avatar, set on a frontier colony that hasn’t been resupplied in almost a decade, on a planet filled with bizarre creatures and plants ready to kill the careless or unfortunate. Add in a bunch of new arrivals when the next resupply ship finally shows up, and what you get is an immediate clash of cultures between the freedom-loving colonists and the representatives of the Corporation, which basically runs Earth back home (maybe there’s some Firefly in here, too). Overall, the running idea with a lot of the main characters is the possibility of either losing yourself or remaking yourself in the frontier, with arcs that are diverse and often surprising…

The world-building is amazing, there are echoes of contemporary political and economic conflicts, and an air of mystery that doesn’t take away from a story that feels complete. I really want to find out what’s going to happen on Donovan in Gear’s next book, which is slated for November 2018.

Mystery! Monsters! Freedom-lovin’ colonists! Killer plants! Evil corporations! An alien frontier! This series checks so many boxes it’s ridiculous. I may have to buy it twice.

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New Mysteries Around Every Corner: The Sibyl’s War Trilogy by Timothy Zahn

Saturday, April 25th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Stephen Youll

I’ve come to rely on Goodreads more and more often for unbiased book reviews. It started two years ago, while I was religiously checking the great feedback on my just-released The Robots of Gotham. Goodreads is filled with amateur reviewers, but I discovered many of them had spot-on critiques of my first novel. Always a pleasure to see those 4- and 5-star reviews of course, but in the end I found those readers able to articulate problems were far more valuable.

Yes, you’ll always find the occasional 1-star, 1-word review (“Unreadable’ was my favorite), but I was able to get something useful out of pretty much every other negative review, and quite a bit more than that from many. In fact, one of the best insights on my book came from a negative review by Goodreads member Jrubino, who wrote:

The complexity and depth of this novel is wonderful, yet its impact is greatly diminished by a video-game pacing… this formula is tiresome. That’s too bad as the world-building is unique and interesting.

I think that’s right on point, and it’s exactly the kind of thing I need to hear as I plunge into writing the second book. I’m fond of the way I set up The Robots of Gotham, with all my main characters trapped in a Chicago hotel in the middle of an unfolding robot apocalypse, but — as several readers have helpfully now pointed out — chapter after chapter, that constant “action and return” becomes repetitive, especially in a longer book. If I can fix that in The Ghosts of Navy Pier — and I’m pretty sure I can — I think it’ll be a much better book.

Goodreads has become enormously useful as a broad measure of public opinion, which is a darn useful thing for a writer trying hard to get better. And surprise, surprise… it’s also pretty useful when you’re looking for a good series to read, like Timothy Zahn’s Sibyl’s War trilogy, which wrapped up this month with the release of Queen.

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Future Treasures: Driving the Deep by Suzanne Palmer

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Cover art by Kekai Kotaki

Suzanne Palmer won a Hugo Award for her 2018 Clarkesworld novelette “The Secret Life of Bots,” and her 2019 debut novel Finder was widely praised. Kirkus Reviews called it “A nonstop SF thrill ride until the very last page,” and Maria Haskins at the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog sums it up as “a Ridiculously Fun Science Fiction Adventure… a rollicking ride from a hardscrabble space colony at the outer edge of the galaxy to the conflict-ridden settlements of colonized Mars and back again.”

The highly anticipated sequel Driving the Deep arrives in hardcover in two weeks, featuring the return of interstellar repo man and professional finder Fergus Ferguson in what sounds like a standalone adventure. Publishers Weekly seems to like it.

Palmer’s spaceborne repo man Fergus Ferguson returns in this lighthearted star-skipping adventure through a futuristic solar system… Fergus is on Earth for the first time in years when he learns that his friends, a team of engineers who man the shipyard on Pluto, have been kidnapped for their scientific expertise. He tracks them to Enceladus, a watery moon of Saturn, where they are being held hostage. Fergus goes undercover to gather intel, taking a job as the pilot of an underwater vessel and making many allies (and a handful of enemies) along the way…

We discussed Finder here. Driving the Deep will be published by DAW Books on May 5, 2020. It is 426 pages, priced at $27 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Kekai Kotaki. Read an excerpt from Chapter One of Finder at the Penguin Random House website.

See all our coverage of the best in upcoming SF and fantasy books here.

Network Effect is the First Full Novel in the Martha Wells’ Epic Murderbot Saga

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

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Covers by Jaime Jones

Martha Wells exploded into the big time with Murderbot. Black Gate readers, of course, know and love Martha from her Ile-Rien tales “Holy Places,” “Houses of the Dead,” and “Reflections,” which originally appeared in the pages of our print magazine (and her Nebula-nominated novel The Death of the Necromancer, which we serialized online in its entirely here.) But the world at large didn’t truly know her the way we did until the first Murderbot tale All Systems Red appeared in 2017, sweeping all the awards — including the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus — and kicking off one of the most successful SF series of the 21st Century. Sequel Artificial Condition (2018) won the Hugo and Locus, and she declined the nominations that came her way for the third and fourth installments (there’s a tradition of Black Gate writers declining Hugo Awards, beginning with Matthew David Surridge, but that’s another story.)

Network Effect, the first full-length Murderbot novel, is one of the most anticipated books of 2020, and it arrives in less than three weeks. I’ve heard plenty of glowing reports from folks who received advance copies, but my favorite came from Martha’s fellow BG writer C.S.E. Cooney, who wrote:

Finished reading Martha Wells’ Murderbot 5 Network Effect aloud to Carlos and Sita.

From time to time, I’d come across a sentence that would make me — and then Carlos too, and then my mama, in solidarity — just yell out: “MAARRTHHAA!!!”

Anyway. That was my second read, and it just keeps getting better.

Network Effect will be published by on May 5, 2020. It is 352 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $13.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Jaime Jones. Read Chapter One of All Systems Red at

Future Treasures: Shorefall, Book 2 of The Founders Trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett

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

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Cover design by Will Staehle

It’s a damn tough time to be publishing new books, with virtually every bookstore in the country closed and Amazon drastically increasing shipping times for books and other non-essential items. So I very much appreciate those authors and publishers who continue to do it. Lord knows I need good books more than ever these days.

Shorefall, the second volume in Robert Jackson Bennett’s Founders Trilogy, arrives next week from stalwart fantasy publishers Del Rey, and I’m very much looking forward to it. Writing in The New York Times Book Review, former Black Gate blogger Amal El-Mohtar called first volume Foundryside “Absolutely riveting… A magnificent, mind-blowing start to a series.” It was selected as one of the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of 2018 by The B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog; here’s what they said:

The author of the Divine Cities trilogy (a nominee for Best Series at the 2018 Hugo Awards) begins a new trilogy that’s as fun to read as its world is well-imagined. The city state of Tevanne runs on magic and pillage, as the four dominant merchant houses exploit the lands around them (not to mention the poor denizens who crouch outside their walls in a precarious shantytown known as Foundryside), as their scrivers create incredible machines and accomplish feats that look a lot like magic by way of intricate sigils that bend and break the laws of reality. Sancia Grado is a Foundryside thief who comes into possession of Clef, a sentient golden key — and is pursued by police captain Gregor Dandolo, reluctant scion of one of the richest houses. The unwitting Sancia falls into a scheme to destroy the power of the scrivers; putting a stop to it will bring her and Dandolo together as unlikely allies in the greatest theft theft in history, with the lives of everyone in Tevanne on the line. Read our review.

Robert Jackson Bennett is also the author of the BFA and Shirley Jackson Award winner Mr. Shivers, The Troupe, American Elsewhere, and Vigilance (as well as possibly being Chris Pratt in disguise). Here’s the publisher’s description for Shorefall.

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