Selected SF/F Previews for 08/2014

Well, I’m pretty late, but I’ve sampled all the Amazon previews for the August releases mentioned in SFSignal’s usual roundup. I found a lot to like, and it was difficult to narrow the list down even to 15 selections.

  • Lev Grossman, The Magician’s Land. The preview for this evokes a sort of magical Ocean’s Eleven, which sounds fun if that’s the way it really goes. I liked the first book in this series quite a bit, in spite of the main character sometimes being kind of gross, but I didn’t like the sequel. What I thought was interesting in both, though, was the obvious effort to combine two different fantasy sub-genres in each novel. Book one was a ‘dark’ take on Harry Potter crossed with Narnia: a secret magical boarding school in our world plus a slightly whimsical yet actually dangerous portal fantasy world. Book two jumped back and forth between a hero’s journey plot and a coven fantasy like The Craft. So I’m at least interested in seeing what happens this time around.
  • Peter Watts, Echopraxia. I’ve heard about Watts’s novel Blindsight for years, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it, even though it’s available for free online. In particular, people always say there’s something innovative about the vampires in it. And they occupy center stage in the preview text for this sequel, so I finally know what’s unusual about them. I like the key idea, so I’ll have to go back and read the first book someday soon.
  • John Scalzi, Lock In. Scalzi usually writes lightly humorous and/or vaguely Heinlein-ish adventure SF, so this seems like new territory for him: in a near future where a ton of people are suffering from locked-in syndrome, there’s some sort of murder/scandal brewing that involves their virtual/waldo-enabled subculture (maybe the use of waldos counts as Heinlein-ish by itself). Reading the preview, it’s evident that Scalzi has as usual put an interesting idea into very clear easy-to-read prose, and whether or not it turns out to be great, I expect reading it will take no time at all.
  • Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, The House of the Four Winds. Upon reaching age 18, the eldest of twelve daughters agrees to leave her noble family and her vaguely Ruritanian principality to make her living by the sword. I’ve previewed other novels written or co-written by Mercedes Lackey, but this is the first one to really get my attention. The opening chapters had a light, charming quality to them, and I liked the basic idea of this character going off to become a swashbuckler of some kind.
  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia (ed.), Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse. The first story in this collection has one of the better titles I’ve encountered lately: “No Man is a Promontory.” And it’s a pretty good story. Maybe it lays the grimdark post-apocalypse stuff on a little thick, but the story-telling was surprisingly solid for a collection of lesser-known writers based around such a niche theme. And I liked the cinematic conceit with which the second story began. So I’m interested, even if this isn’t a theme I would normally engage with.
  • Lou Anders, Frostborn. Maybe it’s just the blogs I read, but this Norse-ish fantasy YA novel seems to be getting a lot of attention, and I thought the opening scenes read very quickly and showed some promise. I mean, it seems to have only modest ambitions, but telepathic wyverns and an overall plot that might have something to do with a board game sound OK, and the prose is simple and clean.
  • Kameron Hurley, The Mirror Empire. Hurley cleaned up at the Hugo Awards this year for her non-fiction blog articles, which I like well enough to recommend, so I was interested in what she would do in this new secondary world(s) fantasy novel. And there’s certainly a lot going on in terms of how the setting works, which was enough to keep me interested, even though the story often reaches for vivid/powerful imagery and sometimes winds up with imagery that’s simply unsubtle.
  • Edgar Cantero, The Supernatural Enhancements. This seems to be a modern-day Gothic novel told in fragments that include letters, partially-written exchanges between the main character and his mute companion, notebook entries, and ordinary first-person narration. I’m a sucker for the genre: a mysterious mansion, atypical narrative forms, hints at supernatural elements, etc. So I’m sold.
  • Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. This appears to be the story of how a Standard Murakami Viewpoint Character goes on a sort of quest to visit his old friends who have nicknames based on colors, because he wants to find out why they de-friended him at a certain point in the past. I’m not sure how it’s SF, but supposedly there’s a relationship to 1Q84 that might do it. And even if Murakami’s not doing anything really new here, the preview seems to float along well enough, and it offers the usual quiet, pensive strangeness amid everyday circumstances, which is something I’m up for from time to time.
  • Neal Asher, Hilldiggers. I’ve read several Polity books (more specifically, Agent Cormac and Spatterjay books set in the Polity universe), but I lost track of the series after Prador Moon. The Polity strikes me as a more violent, less thoughtful variation on Banks’s Culture, but I’m entirely OK with that. And the preview for this book features many common elements of a Polity novel: space opera stuff; some sort of secret agent diplomatic work; a Spatterjay reference; an AI manipulating everything; etc. It’s plainly not Proust, but I’ll take it.
  • Daniel Abraham, The Widow’s House. I’ve been meaning to try Abraham’s The Dagger and the Coin series, so I was glad to see this on SFSignal’s list, even if it’s the fourth book. In the preview, there’s a dragon doing dragon-y stuff, and then there’s some more standard fantasy stuff with different viewpoint characters. It’s not super well-distinguished from the near-infinite number of series like it, except it just flows reasonably well, and the thirteen kinds of humanity sound interesting. So I’d still like to go back and read book one at some point.
  • Daryl Gregory, We Are All Completely Fine. Just like Gregory’s unrelated novel Afterparty, this one begins with a therapy session, which is a pretty good schtick for introducing issues the story will resolve, because it immediately asks the main character(s) to sit down, answer questions, and react to new information. But unlike Afterparty, this book is evidently headed in a fairly creepy direction, because all the patients in the group therapy session are survivors of strange events. It’s a premise I’d like to see worked out, and it’s written well enough for me to be hopeful about it.
  • Samuel R. Delany, The American Shore: Meditations on a Tale of Science Fiction by Thomas M. Disch – “Angouleme”. Whoa, Delany apparently wrote this lengthy exegesis of a Disch short story (included in the book) with Barthes’s S/Z consciously in mind. I’m not actually fond of Disch’s fiction, but even an attempt to read it that carefully would be of interest to me.
  • Bram Stoker & Mort Castle, Dracula: Writer’s Digest Annotated Classics. Neat! This is an edition of Dracula with sidebars that provide a running commentary on how Stoker’s prose works (i.e. what things does a writer see in it and what lessons can it offer to other writers). That strikes me as a very enjoyable way to read classic novels. I also like editions of classics that supply a ton of background info, as in The New Annotated Dracula or the Norton edition, but having a writer’s opinionated reactions beside the text seems like a great idea.
  • Peter Curtis (Norah Lofts), The Witches. Another Gothic horror novel, this one was evidently published first in the 1960s and got made into a movie by Hammer Films, but I had never heard of it. It begins with a woman being interviewed for a job as headmistress at a rural private school in England. And again, I like the genre (something mysterious and possibly supernatural happening in a rural but wealthy locale), so it only needed to be well-written for me to want to know more.