Selected SF/F Previews for 04/2014

As usual, I’ve sampled all the available Amazon previews linked via SFSignal’s monthly round-up of new SF/F, and I’ve chosen a few to highlight.

  • M. A. C. Farrant, The World Afloat: Miniatures. I’m not sure how these micro-fictions came to be labeled SF/F, but the ones in the preview are pretty good—quirky, amusing, and slightly surreal. I don’t know if I’d stick with these comparisons after reading more of the stories, but the first names that came to mind as reference points were Lydia Davis, Donald Barthelme, and Robert Walser.
  • Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity. The latest in Kowal’s Glamourist Histories begins with a really nice examination of an ancient work of glamour. I like this Regency fantasy series a lot, and I’m sure I’ll read this installment of it eventually.
  • Christopher Priest, The Islanders. One of two books by Priest listed this month (the other is The Adjacent, which gave me a sort of creeping feeling of paranoia), I guess The Islanders is just now coming out in paperback. I had not previewed it before and didn’t realize it had formal qualities reminiscent of the Dictionary of the Khazars or Invisible Cities, to which all I can say is yes.
  • Nathan Hawke (a.k.a. Stephen Deas), The Crimson Shield. I’ve enjoyed other work by Deas, and I’m surprised to see him working under a pen name—often the sign of a mid-list author looking to get renewed attention—because I thought he was reasonably popular. Anyway, here he has begun a sort of Viking-inspired trilogy that strikes me as moving into K. J. Parker’s territory: low-magic fantasies with snappy writing and robust characters living through episodes inspired by history.
  • Daryl Gregory, Afterparty. Neither SF about drugs nor SF about religion are even remotely things I go looking to read, but I have to admit the preview for this novel, which combines both themes, seems pretty well-written and engaging.
  • Lynn Flewelling, Shards of Time. I’ve long heard that Flewelling’s Nightrunner series was worth checking out, but I think this preview of the seventh book was the first thing I’ve actually read by her. It had a warmer, friendlier tone than I had expected of a book about a roguish fantasy duo (?), and after a few pages that reminded long-time readers about where the series stands, it quickly got down to the business of a reasonably intriguing adventure.
  • Sergei Lukyanenko, New Watch. I guess like most folks I first heard positive things about the Night Watch series when the first movie was released. It’s sort of a Russian urban fantasy thriller or polizei procedural (?). At least one other book in the series has been listed at SFSignal as a new release in the past 6-7 months, but I believe I skipped mentioning it because the preview didn’t show quite enough to convince me. Now, the fifth book’s preview is similarly oblique in some respects, but I’ve seen enough to be persuaded I should go back and try the first book or two in full.
  • Michael J. Ward, The Eye of Winter’s Fury. Choose-your-own-fantasy-adventure novels are often not well-written, so the bar for impressing me with one is set pretty low. The preview for this third book in the DestinyQuest series strikes me as not too bad, and I’m glad to see the form revitalized, so I’m sold. Apparently, only the first book is available from Amazon US, but perhaps Canadian or UK sources will work.
  • Katherine Addison (a.k.a. Sarah Monette), The Goblin Emperor. Monette is another fairly popular SF/F author whom I’m surprised to see taking on a pen name, but this book is getting a lot of positive attention, so maybe it helped. I’m afraid I had to read the first part of this preview twice to reboot my tolerance for the pronouns thou, thee, and thy in fantasy fiction, but once I got over it, everything else about the prose seemed reasonably fluid, allowing me to see what there is to like here: a fantasy story that begins exactly where it should and launches into matters of political intrigue immediately with none of the typical “ordinary world” introductions to the characters or the setting. Other reviewers say you should read the appendices about how names work pretty early on, though.
  • Robin Riopelle, Deadroads. Wikipedia says there are still 26,000 speakers of Louisiana French alive today, so I guess this novel’s frequent use of it in scenes set in the near past is plausible, but forgive me if I’m suspicious of whether a Canadian writer may have romanticized or exaggerated it a little. Anyway, this seems like a decent contemporary urban fantasy about siblings who have special powers or duties connected to dealing with ghosts and who have to track down a murderous one or something.
  • Jenna Helland, Theros: Godsend, Part I. I’ve never read a Magic: The Gathering novel, so I don’t know if this one is typical, but it did a pretty good job at what I would expect from one: leaping into very unrealistic but interesting fantasy situations as quickly as the imagery on the cards does. In this case, there was stuff right away about gods fighting in the sky that I took a while to try and picture for myself, and I liked a few other details that likewise featured the simple, colorful qualities of the game. Apparently, whatever edition of MtG this story is based on has a Greek mythology flavor to it, and that comes through strongly, but I think a number of things about it are original too. Anyhow, at two bucks and 124 pages, the cost of being wrong about this seems low.

Board game rank change report for 2014Q1

Every quarter, I compare the current board game rankings at BoardGameGeek with the rankings from three months ago to see what new games have appeared and what old games have enjoyed sudden surges in popularity. Games tend to climb the charts more slowly in the overall ‘Board games’ category, so I list them when I see a jump of +100 ranks, whereas in other categories I only note jumps of +200 ranks. Sometimes classic games are added to new categories and will jump up for probably no other reason. Also, I only keep track of the top 500 games in each category from quarter to quarter, so it’s theoretically possible for a game to gain ranks slowly and never show up. But with those caveats in mind, here are some lists of games that have popped up on the charts in the past quarter.

Fast, positive movers among 'Board games':
014 (+143) Caverna: The Cave Farmers
051 (+109) Nations
059 (+228) Eldritch Horror
060 (+160) Russian Railroads
194 (+161) Lewis & Clark
220 (+232) Concordia
274 (+226) Glass Road
281 (+106) Amerigo
297 (+203) Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia
318 (+167) Firefly: The Game
329 (+171) Advanced Squad Leader: Starter Kit #2
370 (+130) BattleLore (Second Edition)
373 (+127) Advanced Squad Leader: Starter Kit #3
378 (+122) Francis Drake
392 (+108) Bruxelles 1893
396 (+104) 1775: Rebellion
Fast, positive movers among 'Strategy games':
199 (+301) BattleLore (Second Edition)
223 (+277) BattleCON: Devastation of Indines
273 (+211) A Study in Emerald
Fast, positive movers among 'War games':
019 (+481) Advanced Squad Leader: Starter Kit #3
020 (+480) Advanced Squad Leader: Starter Kit #2
043 (+457) BattleLore (Second Edition)
067 (+255) The Hunters: German U-Boats at War, 1939-43
165 (+335) Diplomacy
256 (+244) Sails of Glory
Fast, positive movers among 'Family games':
055 (+445) Ingenious: Travel Edition
069 (+431) Mahjong
088 (+352) Steam Park
128 (+372) TurfMaster
151 (+349) Blueprints
222 (+278) Fantastiqa
287 (+213) Cinque Terre
Fast, positive movers among 'Collectible games':
012 (+488) Warhammer: Diskwars
016 (+484) Dungeon Command: Blood of Gruumsh
021 (+479) Star Realms
109 (+318) Huntik: Secrets and Seekers Trading Card Game
114 (+386) Xia: Legends of a Drift System
Fast, positive movers among 'Thematic games':
058 (+442) Zombicide Season 2: Prison Outbreak
098 (+402) Space Cadets: Dice Duel
117 (+383) TurfMaster
156 (+344) Police Precinct
185 (+315) Leader 1: Hell of the North
203 (+297) CV
216 (+284) Silent Death
227 (+273) Galaxy Defenders
229 (+271) HeroQuest Advanced Quest
276 (+224) Dark Moon
289 (+211) Super Fantasy: Ugly Snouts Assault