I’m waaaaaay behind in commenting on SFSignal’s round-up of SF/F releases from October, but I didn’t give up on it! There were only 306 books to consider, so it should have been relatively easy, but there seemed to be an unusually large number of books that made the first cut, as well as the final cut. Anyway, here are the 14 books that I found most interesting.
- Ann Leckie, Ancillary Sword. The sequel to last year’s terrific, multiple-prize-winnning Ancillary Justice gets off to a good albeit typical start for a space opera: a captain readying her ship and crew for a new mission. The situations, observations, and character interactions in the preview are all nice, so I’m very hopeful about the whole.
- William Gibson, The Peripheral. I like it when Gibson focuses on technology and aesthetics, which is most of the time, so I was happy with this preview. There’s a steady stream of cultural/technological extrapolation here into the near future, and although I can’t say many of the earliest examples are really surprising, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic.
- Garth Nix, Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen. The fourth novel in Nix’s Abhorsen / Old Kingdom series, this one begins well, dropping plenty of intriguing offhand references to setting details into clean, engaging prose. I’ve never read this series, but I’ve certainly heard about it from sources I appreciate, and now I’m interested. I also enjoyed another piece by Nix this month: his story in Fearsome Magics, edited by Jonathan Strahan. It’s set in a different fantasy milieu that features Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz, a weird god-killing pair of mercenaries who seem pretty great, and I’m willing to pick it up on the strength of that story alone.
- John Twelve Hawks, Spark. This preview about a hired assassin suffering from Cotard’s syndrome (i.e. he thinks he’s already dead, or at least just a shell of a person) has a hard-boiled quality to it that I liked, but the idea that there’s still a “bright and pure and transcendent” spark inside the shell somewhere strikes me as very reminiscent of the divine spark concept associated with Gnosticism. It’s an interesting combination of possibilities, and I hope it pays off in the book.
- Steven Brust, Hawk. Yay! I see Vlad is back in Adrilankha again, and this story is rumored to finally move the overall arc forward again. I’ve been reading this series for … almost thirty years? Wow. Anyway, I had become convinced it would never move forward again, because it looked like Brust had settled into writing a pattern more commonly found in crime novels where a troubled but likable first-person narrator just gets presented in some new situation every year or so, gets beaten up, does some beating up, and that’s that. Fine as far as it goes, and I don’t blame anyone for liking it that way, but this series has questions and long-standing issues that really merit some resolution. I don’t imagine this will wrap everything up, or I think I’d have heard, but maybe it’s something.
- Patrick Rothfuss, The Slow Regard of Silent Things. This is apparently a 30,000 word vignette, focusing entirely on one character from Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle. I recall this character, Auri, having qualities perhaps justifying the MPDG tag I’ve heard her labeled with (minus being the love interest?). It’s been a while since I’ve read the book, but the M, P, D, and G characteristics each stick, I think. Anyway, as usual, Rothfuss’s prose glides along, and this seems to be a nice, atmospheric piece.
- R. S. Belcher, The Shotgun Arcana. This seems to be a grim, Clint Eastwood-style Western with dark magic infused into it, and I could easily envision the opening scenes on film. It’s connected to Belcher’s first book, The Six-Gun Tarot, which I heard praised last year, so I’ll have to go back and give that a closer look as well.
- Antal Szerb, Journey by Moonlight. This is a reprint of what is apparently a classic of Hungarian magical realism, but I’d never heard of it, and I was intrigued by the preview. The action has a strange, accidental quality to it, full of minor insights about mutual misunderstandings between ordinary people.
- Marie Lu, The Young Elites. I think this is the second or third time this year I’ve seen someone putting superheroes int a secondary world fantasy, but I’m all for it. Both are genres I enjoy, and it’s got to work eventually. The preview here is straightforward stuff for YA fantasy, but it’s very readable, so I’m sold.
- Richard K. Morgan, The Dark Defiles. I’ve read a couple of Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs SF novels, and they’re great, but I haven’t tried this grimdark fantasy series, A Land Fit for Heroes. This is the third book, and there’s a lot going on that is presumably based on earlier episodes, but not much exposition to catch the reader up. It seems to be more about character and action than setting stuff or big ideas, but I gather that mostly from all the characters’ just having fairly lively thoughts or interactions in the opening chapters. Incidentally, they’re profanity-laced thoughts and interactions, but Morgan reinforces them with stuff that better establishes the emotional stakes of what’s going on, if not the larger context. Anyway, I could see myself breezing through this contentedly.
- Ysabeau S. Wilce, Prophecies, Libels & Dreams: Stories of Califa. Wilce is well-known for her Flora novels, a series for middle-grade/early teen readers. These stories seem to be set in the same world, a sort of steampunk California with more Aztec influences than in our universe. The first one has more bombast and “falder-a-oo” to it than I’d normally like, but I appreciate it when writers push things a bit, and I also saw potential in the setting and the fictional afterword to the story.
- Tom Reynolds, The Second Wave. Only reading the preview, this strikes me as a straightforward, chatty superhero novel offering a first-person perspective on fairly archetypal superhero situations. And since I like superheroes and this seems pretty readable, I’m interested. It’s the sequel to Reynolds’s first novel, Meta, which I’ll have to check out further.
- Brian Ashcraft & Luke Plunkett, Cosplay World. I suspect good cosplay photos are among the very easiest of things to find on the web, but this book appears to collect a bunch of older examples, placing cosplay into the larger historical context of costuming in fandom, which is interesting.
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.
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.
This month’s round-up of SF/F releases at SFSignal lists an almost unmanageable 420 titles—nearly twice the normal number. As usual, I’ve sampled all their available Amazon previews to highlight a few of interest, but given the large number of possibilities, I’ve allowed myself to list 14 titles this time.
- Ben Winters, World of Trouble. I’m eager to read this, the third book in the Last Policeman series, because the first two were pretty great crime novels. The premise is that astronomers can see a planet-killing asteroid headed toward Earth, so civilization is falling apart, but the main character is a police detective still trying to do his job.
- Hannu Rajaniemi, The Causal Angel. I’ve heard a lot about the Jean le Flambeur series, and based on reading some of Rajaniemi’s short stories, I expected to like it. And indeed the preview had all the shiny far future stuff I’d have guessed it would, so even though this was the third book in the series and kind of hard to follow, I was sold.
- J. Kathleen Cheney, The Seat of Magic. This is the sequel to The Golden City, which I selected to comment on last fall but still haven’t gotten around to reading. Anyway, it’s an urban fantasy set in Lisbon in the early 1900s, which remains an interesting choice. The prose is solid, and the author’s blog has some nice articles about doing historical research for it.
- Andrei Bitov, The Symmetry Teacher. This seems to belong to the genre of playful novels that are themselves about novels/narration/writing. It’s got an absurdist/satirical feel that I’m not sure about. But I liked several images and turns of phrase in it, so I’m curious about the whole.
- Charles Stross, The Rhesus Chart. Either the preview for the fifth entry in the Laundry Files series benefits from comparison with several hundred other previews, or else I may have been too quick to judge the direction of the series based on an earlier volume, because this seemed very solid. And I’m delighted if I was wrong, because I love the idea of Lovecraftian urban fantasy. So now I’m interested in going back and completing the series from where I left off.
- Nick Harkaway, Tigerman. Out of all the books on SFSignal’s list this month, I think this is the one I had heard the most buzz about. Supposedly, it’s sort of like what if Graham Greene had invented Batman, and in the first couple of chapters, you’re introduced to a tropical island brimming with colonial/neocolonial froofrah and strange goings-on, so I guess I can see it. There’s something about the language and focus of it that kept me from getting as involved as I’d have liked, but I appreciated the dry wit and invention, so I remain hopeful about it.
- Anthony Ryan, Tower Lord. This is the sequel to Blood Song, which by number of positive reviews was one of the most successful fantasy novels of 2013, and the preview does take up an interesting point of view right from the start, even if the subject matter and occasionally the language both seem ordinary.
- Deborah Harkness, The Book of Life. I have basically no idea what’s going on at the beginning of this, the third book in the All Soul’s Trilogy, but it only takes a few pages to be persuaded that the series features clear prose and character-driven plotting. And that’s enough, given that it’s also hugely popular and that the author is a historian who teaches at USC, for me to be sure I’ll wind up reading it, so I didn’t want to be too spoiled by the plot details.
- Daniel Wallace, The Kings and Queens of Roam. This seems to be a novel about a blind girl trusting in her sister’s tall tales too much. If the preview is reasonably representative, the book wears its themes pretty openly, and it straight up tells you what one of the big plot developments will be. I haven’t seen Big Fish, which many other readers mention as something that attracted them to this author, but apparently that’s a good thing, because this book may not live up to people’s expectations. But what I see in it are a lot of fun stories within stories, and that could be plenty for me.
- Julia Cresswell, Charlemagne and the Paladins. This seems to be a succinct introduction to the very coolest medieval king (later emperor) enshrouded in legend. I’m not sure why it’s on SFSignal’s list, unless they’re expanding to cover all sorts of non-fiction about history, myths, legends, and fairy tales, but I’m not arguing.
- Zachary Jernigan, No Return. This seems to be a New Weird fantasy novel about a world manipulated by an actual living god of celestial proportions and how some folks resist him. Although there’s something very unsubtle and first-time-novelist about the prose on view in the excerpt, I actually kind of liked how pulpy it was.
- D. J. Molles, The Remaining: Refugees. I’m really suspicious about the politics of originally-self-published post-apocalyptic survival novels, and an opening question in this one (where are the zombie-ish women?) isn’t reassuring: this could go in a terrible direction. But the clean, readable action scenes did stand out as worthy of further consideration, so I might try the first book in the series eventually.
- Joe Abercrombie, Half a King. I’ve really enjoyed Joe Abercrombie’s last few novels. This is his first YA book, though, and his first book in a new setting, so it’s not an insta-buy for me. And after sampling the preview, I’m not sure it doesn’t come off as too simplistic. But it did read very quickly, and I felt some curiosity about the gods/religion of Gettland. And my trust in the author’s ability to create great characters through action over time still stands for now. So I may get around to reading this at some point.
- Kenneth Mark Hoover, Haxan. The preview for this only reveals it to be a western that happens to mention witchcraft. But based on the publisher and the book blurb, there must be actual fantasy elements to it. And even without any SF/F to it, it would stand out for having some pretty decent lines.
I’m a little late this month, but as usual, I’ve sampled the available Amazon previews linked in SFSignal’s monthly listing of new SF/F, selecting a few to highlight here.
Incidentally, I also did a little retrospective comparison with Tor.com’s Fiction Affliction column to see if it would be a better source for me than SFSignal. I like that Tor.com covers all the major releases well, includes blurbs, and breaks down their listings by sub-genre, but they omit an awful lot of small presses, UK releases, non-fiction, and re-issues of OOP titles. Looking over my past selections, those options evidently do matter to me, so I’ll stick with SFSignal.
- John James, Votan and Other Novels (Fantasy Masterworks). I had never heard of these historical novels before, but Neil Gaiman’s introduction compares the main character of two of them to George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman. And the preview reminded me of two of my very favorite books, the omnibus edition of Tom Holt’s The Walled Orchard and Frans Bengtsson’s The Long Ships. Anyway, the premise is that a Greek trader finds himself being worshipped as Odin. Historical comedy that fantasy fans will enjoy evidently ensues. I thought well of the writing too, so count me in.
- Alexey Pehov, Chasers of the Wind. First in a new trilogy by the “Russian George R. R. Martin”? OK, that’s not selling it, and the translation may have been too faithful, particularly with respect to colloquialisms that sometimes feel stiff or awkward. But by the time I was fifty pages into the preview, I realized I was pretty drawn in. It’s straightforward epic fantasy, but I liked the texture of it. Perhaps in part because of the awkwardness rather than in spite of it, it just has its own feel.
- Michael R. Underwood, Shield and Crocus. Right away, this had me wondering exactly what genre it’s in: fantasy? steampunk? magitech? science fantasy? It turns out it’s a New Weird fantasy novel about superheroes in a world unrelated to ours, which sounds awesome. The preview is also competently written and loaded with colorful details.
- Leigh Bardugo, Ruin and Rising. This is the final book in the Grisha Trilogy, and reading its preview reminded me that I did enjoy the first book in the series. It’s set in a sort of fantasy Russia where some people grow up to have very well-defined talents and roles within a ruling order of magic users, but the main character is special even among the special, and complications arise. Book three seems good too, so I ordered book two to catch up.
- Matthew Johnson, Irregular Verbs and Other Stories. I bought this instantly on the strength of the first story, which is about being a part of a society that develops new words and grammatical structures on a daily basis. In particular, it focuses on being part of a couple in that society that develops their own private language (actually, something more like Vygotskyan inner speech in terms of its personal resonances and non-shared memories being paramount). But the second story got off to a good start as well, so I’m pretty psyched about reading more.
- James S. A. Corey [Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck], Cibola Burn. I’ve been meaning to try this series, “The Expanse,” and the preview for the fourth book was encouraging. This seems like pretty decent space opera that focuses on action more than I knew.
- P. C. Hodgell, The Sea of Time. This is the seventh book in the 32-year-old Kencyrath saga, and the preview is sort of infodumpy, I guess because it has been a while since book six. But I loved the first three books in the series, and I’m delighted to be reminded of them. I don’t doubt I’ll catch up at some point, but I liked the earlier books so much that I really want to re-read the whole thing.
Finally, some re-issued classics I knew about but had never read also piqued my interest: Robert Aickman, Dark Entries; T. J. Bass, The Godwhale; and A. & B. Strugatsky, Hard to Be a God. I’m not certain I’ve been consistent about how I’ve noted things like that in the past, but not only are these not new to me, I’m also not sure it was their previews that got my attention as much as the simple fact that they’d been re-issued or in one case re-translated.
Once again, I’ve sampled all the available Amazon previews linked via SFSignal’s monthly listing of new SF/F, and I’ve chosen a few to highlight.
- Jeff VanderMeer, Authority. I greatly enjoyed Annihilation, the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy, just a couple of months ago, and the sequel looks good too. Apparently, it will give some insight into the mysterious organization that keeps sending explorers into Area X.
- Garry Kilworth, SF Gateway Omnibus of the Navigator Kings trilogy. I had never heard of this Polynesian fantasy series, which consists of The Roof of Voyaging, The Princely Flower, and Land-of-Mists, but the opening pages got my attention instantly. The giant head of a god swims around by itself near the shoreline, searching for victims? Sign me up for more of that kind of weirdness.
- Seanan McGuire, Sparrow Hill Road. I’ve had mixed reactions to this author’s stuff. Her work under the name Mira Grant isn’t for me, and I only sort of liked the first book in her InCryptid series. But a few weeks ago, I finished reading her Velveteen books, and I loved them so much that I am willing to try anything she writes for a long time to come. This seems to be an InCryptid spinoff told from an interesting point of view—a ghost’s story.
- Wu Ming-Yi, The Man with the Compound Eyes. I’m probably influenced by all the hype I’ve seen for this book, but the premise is interestingly complex, and it’s well-written. By coincidence, there’s Polynesian-inspired fantasy in this book too, and it initially strikes me as more problematic than Garry Kilworth’s, because it’s both less true to the actual details of any source material and yet also posited as being more attached to the real world, so it seems like a pure stereotype. But there seems to be enough going on in this book that I’m willing to play along.
- Catherynne Valente, Indistinguishable from Magic. This is a collection of Valente’s blog posts and whatnot on miscellaneous topics: pop culture, her own books, etc. I hadn’t read her non-fiction before, but I liked the preview of it and would be glad to read more, because it seems pleasantly light and insightful and because she happens to like things I like.
- Benny Lindelauf, Nine Open Arms. Based on the preview, this appears to be a warm and simple YA haunted house story, translated from Dutch. Given that translations basically have to succeed in getting published twice, I’m inclined positively toward them from the start, and I liked a number of images and foreshadowy hints of things to come in it.
- Chris Willrich, The Silk Map. A few months ago, I decided against reading the first book in this series, The Scroll of Years, because I thought it was a standard fantasy novel with a mishmash of Asian decorations and absurd plot points. On reading the preview of the sequel, I realized it might be something different: an absurd mishmash, maybe, but instead of a standard fantasy novel, more like something by Ernest Bramah or James Branch Cabell—gently humorous fantasy that intentionally pairs ornate imagery with silly events to make fun, mostly of itself. Honestly, I’m still not sure what this is, but now I have some hope for it.
- Robert Kroese, Starship Grifters. This seems to be humorous SF, more in the vein of Harry Harrison than Douglas Adams, but I’m willing to go along, because I like humorous SF.
- Gideon Defoe, Elite: Docking is Difficult. More humorous SF, this time associated with a video game I haven’t heard of. But the same author has written a series of humorous novels about The Pirates!, and I’m especially willing to give an established comedy writer a shot.
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.
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.
As part of my ongoing experiment to discover more of what’s up in SF/F as a whole, I’ve tried all the available Amazon previews of new titles linked in SFSignal’s February round-up, and I’ve chosen a few to highlight.
- Andy Weir, The Martian. A fairly gripping survival thriller about an astronaut stranded on Mars. Surprisingly, he’s pretty phlegmatic about it and intends to survive the four years it’ll take to get rescued.
- Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation. This appears to be a weird fiction take on Roadside Picnic. I have minor qualms about the prose, but I love the basic premise of explorers going into extremely mysterious and dangerous terrain that’s been mythologized because of past discoveries and extraordinary failures therein.
- Charles Adler, Wizards, Aliens, and Starships: Physics and Math in Fantasy and Science Fiction. This is sort of like a “physics of Star Trek” book, except it has a good bit more math in it and a much greater focus on written SF, making it more intriguing to me than most pop sci books about SF/F. I could definitely see this being used as a textbook in a “physics for poets” class.
- Sharon Lee, Carousel Sun. The sequel to Carousel Tides, which I have not read yet either. It’s sort of an urban fantasy set at a beach town in Maine and featuring a carousel owner who is also part dryad? OK, well, that’s unusual. It’s also smoothly written and warm in tone, which is typical for Sharon Lee.
- Daniel Price, The Flight of the Silvers. A very cinematic SF story about two sisters saved from death twice by some folks with strange powers. Somehow, I got sort of a Heroes or FlashForward vibe from it, but I may have imagined it—looking at the description, those shows may not reflect the direction the book goes in.
- Ian McDonald, Empress of the Sun. This seems to be an exaggerated and somewhat campy YA SF adventure novel combining steampunk, parallel Earths, and the discovery of an Alderson disk. The first in the series is Planesrunner.
- M. D. Waters, Archetype. A dystopic thriller about a woman whose memory and identity have been manipulated to make her an ideal wife in a society where women are scarce. I suspect the reader’s own experience of gender dynamics may be critical to appreciating it fully, but I can understand it having an audience.
- Tahereh Mafi, Ignite Me. Apparently, this is the conclusion to a YA series that’s kind of a big deal, although I had never heard of it. The prose is certainly distinctive, which is an accomplishment, but it’s pushed nearly to the point of self-parody. Still, part of what I’m doing here is learning about new things in SF/F, and when I went back and looked at the preview for the first book, Shatter Me, it became clear the series is at least noteworthy.
Continuing a little experiment, I’ve tried all the available Amazon previews of new SF/F linked in SFSignal’s January round-up, and I’ve chosen a few to highlight.
- Jo Walton, What Makes This Book So Great. I wasn’t fond of the same author’s novel Among Others in part because of the many unilluminating references to familiar books. But here, there are enough things to mentally praise or dispute as you read that it’s like shooting the breeze with an SF/F-loving friend.
- Simon Morden, Arcanum. Very neat insertion of grim fantasy action into an interesting and relatively unused corner of semi-historical Europe.
- Seanan McGuire, Indexing. I like the idea of a folklore index being especially meaningful in an urban fantasy world, and as usual, McGuire’s work is ultra-readable.
- Marko Kloos, Lines of Departure. This is actually the second novel in a series, and the first (Terms of Enlistment) was on the January list too. But I liked the preview of the sequel best. It begins the story at a more intriguing place, and it seems to stand alone.
- Joanna Wiebe, The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant. Maybe it’s just that I like boarding school novels and tend to read them less critically, but I read the 73-page preview (minus a few “not included” pages) without noticing the time passing.
- Karen Traviss, Halo: Mortal Dictata. The author’s Star Wars novels are extremely popular, and apparently, she’s doing well with Halo too, in spite of irritating a few fans with her treatment of one character. I have essentially no previous experience with the setting, but I liked the AI and alien characters here, and I’m persuaded there’s something interesting happening in Halo branded fiction in general (certainly the authors are famous: Greg Bear, William C. Dietz, Tobias Buckell, Eric Nylund, etc.).
- Brian Staveley, The Emperor’s Blades. The prologue and the character names didn’t instill much hope, but later chapters were pretty fun, and this seems to be the fat fantasy that a bunch of folks are excited about this month.