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

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

Zenith The Androma Saga-small Nexus The Androma Saga-small

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

Gotrek and Felix Volume 1-small Gotrek & Felix The Second Omnibus-small Gotrek & Felix The Third Omnibus-small

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

Edges Linda Nagata-small Edges Linda Nagata-back-small

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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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Harpist in the Wind, by Patricia A. McKillip

Wednesday, April 24th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by MIchael Mariano

Cover by MIchael Mariano

Cover by Darrell K. Sweet

Cover by Darrell K. Sweet

Cover by Jack Woolhiser

Cover by Jack Woolhiser

The Locus Awards were established in 1972 and presented by Locus Magazine based on a poll of its readers. In more recent years, the poll has been opened up to on-line readers, although subscribers’ votes have been given extra weight. At various times the award has been presented at Westercon and, more recently, at a weekend sponsored by Locus at the Science Fiction Museum (now MoPop) in Seattle. The Best Fantasy Novel Award dates back to 1978, when it was won by J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. The award was not presented in 1979, and when it was reinstituted in 1980, this time permanently, Patricia A. McKillip won the award for Harpist in the Wind. In 1980. The Locus Poll received 854 responses.

The 1980 award season seems to have been a good year for final books in trilogies. Just as Dragondrums, the final volume of Anne MCCaffrey’s Harper Hall trilogy received the coveted Balrog Award, the final volume of Patricia A. McKillip’s Riddle-Master trilogy, Harpist in the Wind, won the Locus Poll for Best Fantasy Novel. Apparently, it was also the award season for musically-oriented fantasy novels. One of the biggest differences between Dragondrums and Harpist in the Wind is also what makes McCaffrey’s novel easier to read on its own.

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

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

Imager-small Imager's Challenge-small Imager's Intrigue-small Scholar Imager-small
Princeps Imager Portfolio-small Imager's Battalion-small Antiagon Fire-small Rex Regis-small
Madness in Solidar-small Treachery's Tools-small Assassin's Price-small Endgames Modesitt-small

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

Abyss Surrounding-small Abyss Surrounding-back-small

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

A Time of Dread-small A Time of Blood-small

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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A Pocketful of Lodestones, Book Two of The Time Traveler Professor by Elizabeth Crowens

Monday, April 1st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Silent Meridian A Pocketful of Lodestones

Elizabeth Crowens began writing for us two years ago, and she quickly became one of the most popular writers in the Black Gate community. She’s interviewed a host of fascinating subjects — including Martin Page, Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, Nancy Kilpatrick, Charlaine Harris, Gail Carriger, Jennifer Brozek, and many others — and collected her lengthy interviews in two highly readable volumes of The Poison Apple.

Many BG readers are unaware that Elizabeth is also a talented and successful fiction writer. Her first novel Silent Meridian, which James A. Moore (Seven Forges, Tides of War) called “fun, entertaining and delightfully different… a rollercoaster ride with a side of the sublime,” was published to wide acclaim in 2016. This summer A Pocketful of Lodestones, the second volume in The Time Traveler Professor, arrives from Atomic Alchemist Productions, and expectations are high among Crowens’ many fans.

The Time Traveler Professor is a game-changer of a series. Jonathan Maberry calls it “a delightful genre-twisting romp through time and possibilities,” and A Pocketful of Lodestones significantly ups the ante. This installment is fast-paced and exciting, and jumps into the action immediately. It introduces ghosts, a series of supernatural murders, and a strange and fascinating form of magic. Crowens expertly juggles a complex and engaging plot involving Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the outbreak of World World I, an enigmatic time traveler, and the mysterious red book that tantalized readers in the first volume, The Thief of Tales.

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Hither Came Conan: Keith West on “Beyond the Black River”

Monday, April 1st, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Gregory Manchess for Del Rey's 'The Conquering Sword of Conan'

Gregory Manchess for Del Rey’s ‘The Conquering Sword of Conan’

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. Keith West (love his Adventures Fantastic blog) landed one of my favorites, “Beyond the Black River.”

I. Introduction

“Beyond the Black River” is the best Conan story. There are several reasons why.  First, there is plenty of action.  It’s well choreographed and the pacing is superb.  Unlike some of the Conan stories, which are simply adventures stories (not that there’s anything wrong with simple adventure stories), this one contains quite a bit of philosophizing.  Finally, the structure of the story is such that not only do we see Conan through the eyes of the supporting cast, Howard gives us enough information to place the Conan of this story in the context of the rest of the stories. We’ll look at each of these strengths. And just so you know, there will be spoilers.

 

II. The Action

The story opens with a young man named Balthus heading through the region known as Conajohara towards a fort on the Black River.  He’s not sure if he wants to join the garrison there as a recruit or try to clear some land and build a cabin. Although a competent woodsman by the standards of the Bossonian Marches, he’s out of his league in the wilderness, as he soon learns. Conan saves his life from a Pict who’s been watching him.

Balthus was completely unaware of both Conan and the Pict. On their way back to the fort, they come across the headless body of a merchant. Hearing something in the forest, Conan throws his ax at it but misses. Conan tells Balthus that the commander of the fort had recently imprisoned a Pict sorcerer named Zogar Sag who had stolen some liquor and drank enough that he passed out before he made it back across the Black River. They should have either killed him or let him go with gifts since imprisoning a Pict is a mortal insult.

Now Zogar Sag has summoned some type of demon. It has been killing men one by one and removing their heads. Conan and Balthus reach the fort and learn that Zogar Sag has managed to unite the quarreling Pict into a massive army. He plans to wipe out all the Aquilonian settlements from the Black River all the way back to Thunder River and beyond. Conan leads a small group across the Black River to reconnoiter.  All but Conan and Balthus are wiped out.

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