Selected SF/F Previews for 8/2015

Below are the titles I’ve chosen to highlight from SF Signal’s lists of books and comics released in August 2015.

  • Becky Chambers, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. I’ve heard a lot of buzz about this originally self-published space adventure novel, and the preview seems both readable and pleasant: classic space opera tropes but with a light, contemporary feel.
  • Terry Pratchett, The Shepherd’s Crown. Terry Pratchett’s last Discworld novel is pretty much by definition a gift to be treasured. I can’t imagine this is the best place for someone to begin the series, but to a fan, the opening scenes call to mind many warm and happy memories.
  • John Scalzi, The End of All Things. This is the latest in the Old Man’s War series, and as usual, it seems to be compulsively readable stuff.
  • Christopher Moore, Secondhand Souls. The sequel to Moore’s very funny Grim Reaper comedy, Dirty Job, this seems like fun too, though I’m sure the experience of reading the preview benefits from also having read the first book.
  • Tom Scioli, American Barbarian. This seems to be a parody of 80s cartoons like Thundarr the Barbarian, but with more than a hint of the 70s comic Kamandi to it as well. Like its source material, it appears to be delightfully unsophisticated yet strange.
  • Stefan Petrucha, Deadpool: Paws. Deadpool first appeared well after I’d stopped keeping track of the Marvel Universe, and I’ve been neither here nor there about the Deadpool comics I’ve read. But I did like a couple of the jokes in the opening chapters of this prose novel, e.g. the bit about “Goom hungers!”

Selected SF/F Previews for 7/2015

Here are the titles I’ve chosen to highlight from SF Signal’s round-ups of books and comics released in July 2015.

  • China MiĆ©ville, Three Moments of an Explosion. I wasn’t aware before this summer that MiĆ©ville had even written any short fiction (at least, not more than one story), but I was instantly interested in reading all of it. The preview offers a look at two stories. The first was strange, as expected, and I liked what I could read of the second one: a magical realist story about icebergs that suddenly appear in the air over London and mostly just float there.
  • Dennis Mahoney, Bell Weather. In a fantasy world loosely inspired by Earth’s 18th century, a woman with amnesia arrives in a small town by unusual means: drifting unconscious in the river’s annual flood of flowers. That and other enigmatic natural phenomena made this preview stand out for me.
  • Max Gladstone, Last First Snow. I’ve read the first book in this series, which combines the breezy tone of an urban fantasy novel with an intriguingly weird fantasy setting—one in which people manage bizarre gods via magic and (oddly enough) legal process. The preview for this fourth book in the series leaps right into that stuff, and I appreciate fantasy novels that put the fantastic elements front and center.
  • Jodi Taylor, No Time Like the Past. Judging from the preview of its fifth volume, The Chronicles of St. Mary’s seems to be a light, witty, and mildly absurd time travel series blending historical details with simple fun. In this episode, the historians from St. Mary’s visit their own institution during the English Civil War.
  • D.B. Jackson, Dead Man’s Reach. I’ve been meaning to try the Thieftaker Chronicles, which take place in a magic-infused colonial Boston on the verge of the Revolution. This is the fourth book, and I thought it started reasonably well by introducing numerous series characters without making too many assumptions while still getting into some plot issues quickly.
  • E.R. Eddison (trans.), Egil’s Saga. I had no idea fantasy fiction pioneer E.R. Eddison had translated Egil’s Saga, but much more interesting was the fact that he chose to maximize the use of vocabulary with Germanic rather than Latinate roots so that the translation would sound more like the original. Based on the preview, I don’t think the result is something I could read all the way through, but sampling it was interesting, and I’m glad someone tried it as an experiment.

Selected SF/F Previews for 6/2015

Here are the Amazon previews that I enjoyed out of those linked in SF Signal’s June round-ups of new SF/F books and comics.

  • Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology. The VanderMeers are responsible for several of the very best SF anthologies, and I’m delighted to see that they’ve assembled a collection of feminist SF that appears to include both classic and lesser-known but intriguing stories. Insta-buy.
  • Garth Nix, To Hold the Bridge. The major selling point for this collection of Nix’s short fiction seems to be that it has an Old Kingdom story, i.e. something set in the same world as his YA novels, and the preview for it seems decent. The collection doesn’t seem to have any Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz stories in it, though, which would interest me even more.
  • Taiyo Fujii, Gene Mapper. A blurb says this SF novel about GMOs, augmented reality, and other contemporary issues was a self-published hit in Japan. The preview’s breathless litany of science news imagery reminded me of Ramez Naam’s Nexus, which I also enjoyed.
  • Philip Zaleski & Carol Zaleski, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams. Tolkien and Lewis were a big part of my childhood, but I haven’t maintained the connection. What appeals to me just as much about this is its focus on literary friendships and its scholarly detail.
  • Matthew Meyer, The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits: An Encyclopedia of Mononoke and Magic. This is volume two of a guide to Japanese folklore. Evidently it was funded via Kickstarter, which may explain the high cost of the print edition. The electronic version, though, still seems pretty nice. Volume one is The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons: A Field Guide to Japanese Yokai.
  • Jon Morris, The League of Regrettable Superheroes: Half-Baked Heroes from Comic Book History. This encyclopedia of odd and mostly discarded superheroes appeals to me on many levels: it’s funny and informative, but it’s also easy to imagine a slightly alternate universe in which these heroes had more fans or better writers to help them gel into something more lasting.
  • Sebastien de Castell, Knight’s Shadow. This is the second book in the Greatcoats series, and I found its preview slightly more compelling than that of the first, though I had almost been persuaded to try the first one a while back. Anyway, it’s a musketeers-ish fantasy series that promises to deliver a lot of swashbuckling action.
  • Paul Tremblay, A Head Full of Ghosts. Contemporary horror novels are often not my thing, but the preview for this one seemed smoothly written and cleverly topical, in view of reality shows, Paranormal Activity, etc. Certainly it left me wondering what had happened and wanting to know more, so … success.
  • Andrew MacLean, ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times. This graphic novel about a girl and her cat companion poking around in a post-apocalyptic landscape seems light and well-illustrated, but I also liked that the writer would drop in the text of an aria in French and footnote it as if to say to non-speakers, “Look it up.”

Selected SF/F Previews for 5/2015

Here are the previews I enjoyed most from SF Signal’s May round-ups of new SF/F print media and new comics and graphic novels.

  • Naomi Novik, Uprooted. Novik’s first non-Temeraire novel is a treat: a fast-paced, character-driven fantasy full of engaging scenes and colorful magic. It will probably be on my Hugo ballot next year (or perhaps more importantly my Locus ballot).
  • Neal Stephenson, Seveneves. I’ve only read a few pages of this, but having the moon mysteriously blow up on line one is certainly an intriguing way to start an SF novel. And I’ve heard enough buzz about it to think I’m likely to read it eventually.
  • Hannu Rajaniemi, Collected Fiction. Rajaniemi writes some of the most interesting post-singularity short fiction in SF, full of strange ideas and strange imagery, so this was pretty much an insta-buy for me.
  • Noelle Stevenson, Nimona. Currently there’s no preview for this on Amazon, but I did pick this up based on some kind of preview somewhere when it came out, so close enough. Anyway, this is a charming graphic novel about a young woman shapeshifter who signs up to be the sidekick of a local fantasy villain. There’s a lot of cute humor to it but also some surprising emotional complexity.
  • I.N.J. Culbard, adapting The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers. This graphic novel adaptation does a great job capturing the feel of Chambers’s classic story cycle: so mysterious, eerie, pensive, etc.
  • Gwenda Bond, Fallout. A YA novel focusing on Lois Lane seems like a fun idea, and the writing on exhibit in the preview suggests it would be a fast, pleasant read as well.
  • Simon Leys, The Death of Napoleon. What if Napoleon was replaced by a double at St. Helena and escaped to see Europe again? It’s a stretch to call this SF/F or even alternate history, because the point of departure from our timeline doesn’t seem to have a significant impact. But I like the idea, and this seems well-written.

Selected SF/F Previews for 4/2015

I’m still catching up on SF/F previews. Here are the highlights I’ve selected from SF Signal’s April round-ups of new SF/F print media and new comics and graphic novels.

  • Mary Robinette Kowal, Of Noble Family. This is the final entry in Kowal’s Glamourist Histories, a Regency fantasy series about a couple from England and their use of magic to make art. I’ve enjoyed the preceding volumes in the series, and I heard about this one last year when two blog posts explained the lengths Kowal went to for accuracy in rendering Antiguan Creole English in the novel’s dialogue. Based on plot points in an earlier book, I could sort of guess how the protagonists would wind up in Antigua, and the preview confirmed it. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of all the historical research Kowal did for this book.
  • Kazuki Sakuraba, Red Girls: The Legend of the Akakuchibas. This seems to be a family saga with elements of magical realism and perhaps science fiction, because it extends to some time in the future. I see that the author primarily writes light novels (i.e. YA), and that may explain why the preview’s narration felt straightforward to me, uncomplicated in a way I associate more with YA than with magical realism written for adults. Or maybe it’s just a very clear translation. At any rate, the imagery was engaging.
  • Mira Grant (Seanan McGuire), Rolling in the Deep. When writing as Mira Grant, McGuire takes science fiction premises that strike me as slightly corny and blends them with the easy-going narration of an urban fantasy novel but also (most importantly) the plot developments that make it worthwhile. In this novella, the premise is that some cable channel has financed an expedition in search of mermaids, but we’re told from the very beginning that no one returns from the expedition. So what happened? I guess I only have to read 120 pages or so to find out.
  • Robert Charles Wilson, The Affinities. I wonder if Wilson’s latest might be an allegory about “taste tribes,” because it apparently has to do with society being transformed as people join scientifically-constructed voluntary associations of compatible personalities rather than sticking with their kin or school/workplace friendships. I don’t know, but regardless, the first chapter or so of this novel reads very smoothly, and although it’s no longer surprising in an RCW novel, one review promises some sort of twist.
  • adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha, Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements. The preview for this collection only offers glimpses of two stories, but I like how those stories venture into standard subgenres (zombie stories and superhero stories) with representational concerns that are not typically in the foreground. I think I might prefer non-fiction for insight into contemporary social issues, but I appreciate seeing the tropes of science fiction as such get a new lease on life through association with new points of view.
  • Ken Liu, The Grace of Kings. Liu has published several notable short stories in the past few years, but I think this is his first novel. It’s an intriguingly ornate epic fantasy, and the setting is certainly interesting, even if I can’t guess from the preview how well the characters and story fill out.

Selected SF/F Previews for 3/2015

SF Signal’s March 2015 roundup of new SF/F releases included 361 titles, and their roundup of comic / graphic novel releases included 188 more. That’s … a lot. I’ve been spending less and less time sampling titles in sub-genres that I’m unlikely to respond to well, but I’ve made an effort in each case, nonetheless. Anyway, here’s what I’d highlight from March.

  • Brandon Graham and Simon Roy, Prophet, v. 4: Joining. I had never heard of this science fiction comic before, but it looks amazing. The art is strange and Moebius-like, the characters are intriguing, and the story (at least in this volume) spans millennia. Poking around on the web a bit, I see a number of very positive reviews as well.
  • John Joseph Adams (ed.), Operation Arcana. This is a collection of original fantasy stories with military themes. The title is strongly reminiscent of Poul Anderson’s Operation Chaos / Operation Luna, a classic “magitech” series I always liked, and that’s basically what the first story here reminds me of too. However, looking ahead in the contents, contemporary magitech stories don’t seem to be the only focus (maybe not even the primary focus).
  • George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois (eds.), Old Venus. I’m fond of planetary romances and early SF set on Venus in general (e.g. Burrough’s Carson Napier of Venus, Lovecraft’s “In the Walls of Eryx,” Leigh Brackett’s Venusian stories, etc.), and that’s exactly what this anthology of new/original stories intends to bring back. Based only on the preview, I wasn’t as sure of its earlier companion volume, Old Mars, but I’m sold on that now too (both begin with stories by Allen Steele set in the same universe, so seeing them together supplies a better picture of what’s going on).
  • Daryl Gregory, Harrison Squared. This novel delves into the backstory of the key character from Gregory’s Nebula-nominated novella We Are All Completely Fine (which is being adapted for TV by Wes Craven). Based as much on reading the novella as sampling the novel, I expect a light, fast-paced horror/adventure story full of Lovecraftian themes.
  • Terry Pratchett, A Blink of the Screen: Collected Shorter Fiction. Pratchett didn’t write a lot of short fiction, but what he did write was delightful: no Discworld fan should miss this. I haven’t read much of his non-Discworld fiction, but what’s on preview at Amazon is essentially juvenilia of relatively mild interest.
  • Catherynne M. Valente, The Boy Who Lost Fairyland. Valente’s Fairyland novels are wonderfully imaginative, and now she appears to be changing them up a little. This fourth volume in the series introduces a new protagonist, and instead of being a human who goes to Fairyland, he’s a kid from Fairyland being raised in Chicago. I’d worry that it might be dull in comparison to the other books, but the preview is reassuringly strange.
  • Paul Kirkley, Space Helmet for a Cow: The Mad, True Story of Doctor Who (1963-1989). This book aims to be “as entertaining a history of Doctor Who as possible,” and based on the preview, it does seem to be a very light, readable, opinionated, and amusing overview of the classic years of the show.
  • Ian Tregillis, The Mechanical. A world dominated by a Dutch empire that exploits steampunk robots as labor? To me, that’s a pretty interesting start by itself, but the opening chapter of the book also tells a good story. I’ve enjoyed Tregillis’s earlier work, so I’m looking forward to this.
  • Rachel Hartman, Shadow Scale. This is the sequel to Seraphina, which I greatly enjoyed. But what I didn’t know until recently was that both books are sequels to Hartman’s minicomic Amy Unbounded, which was thoughtful and charming and awesome, but also very, very low key. So when I read reviews of Shadow Scale suggesting its pacing is a bit slow in parts, I remain hopeful that just means it’s more like Amy Unbounded than Seraphina.
  • Mark Teppo (ed.), Thirteen: Stories of Transformation. I’d never heard of this anthology or even its publisher before, but at least five of the contributors are familiar to me and make me feel optimistic about it. The theme of “transformation” seems very broad, so I’m not sure what it’s all about. But the first story offers a hint that it’s going to be sort of literary in its aspirations but for sure pretty weird.
  • Joanne Merriam (ed.), How to Live on Other Planets: A Handbook for Aspiring Aliens. This is a Kickstarter-funded collection of SF short stories about the immigrant experience. I recognize a ton of the contributors, and overall, the contents look great. In the preview, you only get to read a little of Ken Liu’s story, but it starts by explaining a short Lisp program to students from the very far future, which seems fun.
  • Paige McKenzie (with Alyssa B. Sheinmel ghost-writing most of the novel), The Haunting of Sunshine Girl. Sunshine Girl is evidently kind of a big deal. Here’s the New York Times business section discussing the publication of this novel, which is based on a YouTube channel with over 300k subscribers. I like ghost stories, print media, and keeping up with popular culture, so the novelization of the YouTube stuff sounds pretty good to me on the face of it. I don’t know if the preview would have caught my attention without this backstory to it, but it seems interesting enough.

Selected SF/F Previews for 2/2015

It’s been a while since I last posted about new releases in SF/F, but I haven’t given up. Here are the titles that stood out to me as I went through the available Amazon previews linked in SF Signal’s February round-up. In February, SF Signal began listing comics and graphic novels separately, and I went through those as well.

  • Victoria Schwab, A Darker Shade of Magic. A smoothly written story about multiple, magical, interconnected Londons, I can imagine breezing through this in an evening.
  • Joe Abercrombie, Half the World. This is the second volume in Abercrombie’s YA fantasy series, set in a world loosely based on the medieval Baltic Sea. What caught my attention was that it switched to a new POV character with a completely new set of problems.
  • Kate Elliott, The Very Best of Kate Elliott. Kate Elliott mostly writes novels, e.g. Cold Magic, and I wasn’t aware she wrote short fiction at all. So I was intrigued by the existence of this collection, which seems to include essays on gender and fantasy fiction too.
  • Steph Swainston, The Castle Omnibus. I’ve been hearing about Swainston’s weird fantasy “Fourlands” series for years, but I’ve never sampled it before. The setting seems to be a sort of medieval fantasy world at war with giant insects, and there’s also a gang of immortals, at least one of whom can travel to some other alternate reality with living dirigibles, turtle people, and shopping malls. There’s a lot of dialogue too, so I found it easy to imagine all that as a comic book or anime.
  • Neal Asher, Dark Intelligence. The start of a new subseries in the Polity universe, this appears to be a space opera revenge story about a war veteran and the AI that killed him. Just as noteworthy is the re-release of Asher’s The Gabble and Other Stories, in which grotesque alien biologies seem to be the focus.