Selected SF/F Previews for 09/2014

I waited until nearly the end of the month to begin reading the latest Amazon previews linked in SF Signal’s monthly round-up, but I’m a bit late in writing them up. Anyhow, here are the previews I’m glad to highlight.

  • Terry Pratchett, A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Nonfiction and Dragons at Crumbling Castle. Sir Pterry’s marginalia are more interesting than most writers’ primary works. In the first, there’s funny stuff like his account of a trip to Australia, plus serious statements on things like the right to die. The second collects some of his very early humorous fantasy stories written for children, and they’re still for children, but they seem neat nonetheless.
  • Jonathan Stroud, Lockwood & Co.: The Whispering Skull. SF Signal either missed this one or covered it sometime before its preview was available, but I happened to know it was coming out. I thought the first book in this series for middle-grade readers was pretty good, and the sequel looks fun too. I like the premise: people lose the ability to see ghosts when they get older, so when dangerous ghosts start popping up everywhere for some unknown reason, children are recruited to fight them. It’s all a little Scooby Doo, but it’s worked out well enough that I can imagine a good RPG based on the setting, and the writing is crisp.
  • Charlie N. Holmberg, The Paper Magician. A young woman is apprenticed to study perhaps her least favorite branch of magic, which has something to do with paper-folding. It’s a premise that suggests we’ll learn a lot about how an unusual magic system works, and the preview seems to back that up. This book has gotten a lot of attention on blogs I read, but the folks on Goodreads are giving it only a mediocre score, presumably over some issue other than the basic idea or the writing style itself, both of which seem reasonably entertaining.
  • Martha Wells, Stories of the Raksura: The Falling World & The Tale of Indigo and Cloud. The series that Wells began with The Cloud Roads has always been extremely popular with sources I follow, but I hadn’t tried it before. I found that the preview for these two novellas seemed to assume some knowledge of the characters, but it was still fairly engaging. I liked that it had to do with a non-human society and gave the characters completely non-human issues to worry about and yet felt like an easy and pleasant read.
  • Colin Adams, Zombies and Calculus. I’m not a fan of zombies as a genre, but I love the fact that this book exists. The preview seems readable, which is an accomplishment given the subject matter, and I can hope it eventually proves to be as awesome as that paragon of didactic fiction, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Either way, it’s an interesting cultural artifact, and I hope I’m wrong but I suspect it’s the only zombie novel that Princeton University Press will publish anytime soon.
  • Sean Wallace (ed.), The Mammoth Book of Warriors and Wizardry. This doesn’t actually come out in the US until November, but it’s something to look forward to. The editor evidently has a taste both for somewhat mannered sword and sorcery and for more conventional fantasy realism, and the collection includes many folks whose work I particularly admire: K. J. Parker, Yoon Ha Lee, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Mary Robinette Kowal, etc. It also includes one of my favorite fantasy stories of all time: “The Word of Azrael” by Matthew David Sturridge, which feels like a compendium of all the exploits of a series fantasy hero (e.g. Elric) condensed into one novella written in an archaic style (e.g. Dunsany’s or Cabell’s). Most importantly, for my purposes here, the stories in the preview were also enjoyable: Jay Lake’s is simple but effective, and Chris Willrich’s offers a quick look at Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone, the heroes of two of his novels.
  • Neal Asher, The Engineer ReConditioned. Just like last month, I’ve picked an upcoming re-issue of something by Neal Asher that I hadn’t really paid attention to when it first came out. The first story in this collection raised tons of questions in my mind about the setting (it’s a Polity story, I think, so it’s “New Space Opera,” but there were aspects of it I didn’t recall from the Polity books I’ve read). And I’m interested in knowing what will happen next.
  • Neil Clarke (ed.), Upgraded. This collection of original stories about cyborgs starts off with one by Yoon Ha Lee, whose imagination is so amazing I’d buy this for her work alone. It’s about some sort of science fictional “city” that adapts to the humans who discover it, and the conclusion is a little too pat, but I loved the strangeness of the general idea. Lee’s specialty seems to be weird fantasy made from SF elements, and I think that’s terrific. Anyway, the list of other contributors seems pretty great too, so I’m sold.
  • Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Stairs. The preview begins with a courtroom drama in a fantasy city, and it’s well-told, but apparently that’s just an introduction to the social/political issues at stake in this world, which have to do with some sort of large-scale territorial occupation and religious conflict that’s meaningful to the characters. It all seems pretty intriguing and complicated yet readable.
  • William Ritter, Jackaby. Reviewers on Goodreads say this has been billed as “Dr. Who crossed with Sherlock,” which is easy to imagine being likable, and they also say it’s written a bit like fanfic, which makes sense too. Anyway, this is a YA novel, obviously intended to be light and fun. I’m not sure when (or if) any Dr. Who aspects of it enter into the picture. Based on the preview, I’d have called it a Sherlockian urban fantasy, and I’m OK with that being a little simplistic or silly.