Selected SF/F Previews for 03/2014

In an ongoing effort to discover more of what’s up in current SF/F, I’ve sampled all the available Amazon previews of new titles linked in SFSignal’s March round-up, and I’ve chosen a few to highlight.

  • Mark Smylie, The Barrow. Immediately upon reading this preview, I sent a bunch of my friends a one-line note: “Holy crap, it’s an Artesia novel!” At least three of us bought it instantly. Whatever its flaws may be, don’t mistake this first novel for a typical grim fantasy GRRM knock-off/D&D campaign journal. Smylie’s Artesia is easily the richest and most thoughtful sword & sorcery comic book I’ve ever read–the setting, plot, and characters are all amazing. The novel may be rougher. Certainly, there’s prolific cursing, and others’ reviews promise there are disturbing sex scenes, which I’d count as a negative. But Artesia was so good that it has bought Smylie an awful lot of latitude with me as a reader.
  • Brad Aiken, Small Doses of the Future: A Collection of Medical Science Fiction Stories. Aiken is a practicing physician, so these stories ought to be well-informed if nothing else. The preview seems well-written in a careful, precise sort of way. And I’m especially intrigued by the context, because this seems to be part of a relatively new series called Science and Fiction by Springer, a scientific publisher.
  • Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer, The Time Traveler’s Almanac. Like The Weird, this seems to be the VanderMeers’ attempt at a comprehensive anthology synopsizing a very large SF/F sub-genre, and looking at the table of contents, I think they may have been successful once again. The stuff included in the preview reminds me how many old time travel stories are a little too pat and almost silly. But then we get some Ursula Le Guin, and I’m hooked.
  • Menna van Praag, The House at the End of Hope Street. What a charming magical realist premise: a woman is given an opportunity to stay in a house where many famous women have figured out what to do with their lives and where, apparently, their portraits on the walls will talk her through the same problem. The preview seems warm and inviting itself.
  • Andrzej Sapkowski, Baptism of Fire. This is the third novel in Sapkowski’s Witcher Saga, and the preview seems typical. I can see why these books are so popular in Europe. They’re clear, straightforward sword & sorcery stories that put dark magic and difficult ethical dilemmas into the foreground. They’re what Warhammer Fantasy novels seem to aspire to be.
  • Chris Wooding, The Iron Jackal. I’m not sure this is new even in the US, but it’s new to me. It’s the third in a series that I’ve heard described as a “steampunk Firefly,” and the preview fits that description pretty well, which means I’m sold.
  • Leslye Walton, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. This is a young adult magical realist novel in which a girl is born with wings. I’m not sure I like how the preview spends so much time on the multi-generational backstory. Fortunately, it delivers the magic right up front very vividly, and the multi-generational part is written well enough that I remain hopeful about the return to the main character.