Selected SF/F Previews for 1/2015

Confirming my prior assumptions is the opposite of what I aim for when reading the available previews linked in SF Signal’s round-ups of new SF/F/H releases. However, as I worked through January, I only found two titles that appealed to me, and they were both related to things I had read before. I’m glad to know about them though.

  • Kristine Kathryn Rusch, A Murder of Clones. I read the novella that started the “Retrieval Artist” series at some point close to its original publication around 15 years ago, and I’m pleased to see it’s still chugging along. To me, it has the feel of 1960s SF. A space detective / space patrol series with a lot of random alien species would have been perfectly at home on the shelves with Retief, Sector General, Gil Hamilton, James Schmitz’s Zone Agents, etc. This is volume 10 and the third in a sub-series, so I guess it’s pretty far from being an introduction. But there was nothing hard to follow in the preview, and I liked that it just got a story going quickly.
  • Harry Connolly, The Way into Magic. It looks like SF Signal may have missed announcing the first volume of Connolly’s new epic fantasy series, “The Great Way,” but jumping straight into this, the second volume, probably helped me to see it as an eventful story with a lot of D&Dish magical stuff going on. I’ve read one volume of the same author’s urban fantasy series, “Twenty Palaces,” and I thought it was alright: certainly, it moved along, even if it stuck closely to familiar tropes of urban fantasy. If this new series achieves something similar within its genre, then it should find an audience.

Selected SF/F Previews for 12/2014

SFSignal’s December round-up of new releases seemed especially full of things I’d seen before (reprints of classics or things on the same list in previous months) combined with many, many titles with either no preview at Amazon or not enough of a preview. I can’t say I intentionally chose proportionally fewer titles to highlight, but that seems to have been the outcome.

  • Catherine Asaro, Undercity. Many years ago, I read and enjoyed the first few books in Asaro’s space-fantasy-romance series, the Saga of the Skolian Empire, and I was glad to read the preview of this (15th?) installment too. It’s chattier and more straightforward than I remember the other books being: perhaps my recollection is poor, but the main character’s voice reminded me more of an urban fantasy protagonist’s than one I associate with space opera. In any case, the breezy style and inverted gender dynamics seemed fun.
  • Jim C. Hines, Rise of the Spider Goddess: An Annotated Novel. Hines revisits his first, unpublished novel and provides snarky comments on all his writing mistakes. I have to say I like the idea of this book, even though I have doubts about reading the main part of the text. It’s not quite like the Writer’s Digest Annotated Classics series, because the comments are more amusing than instructive and because the main book is something less than a classic. What it reminds me of are Eye of Argon readings or Mark Reads Fanfiction occurring within the slightly kinder circumstance of self-critique.
  • John Dixon, Phoenix Island. Based on the preview, I have no idea how the SF elements of this YA novel will play out, but the characterization in the opening chapter about a court appearance by a juvenile offender with a background in boxing struck me as reasonably vivid and humanizing, and the author bio may have something to do with that (“former Golden Gloves boxer, youth services caseworker, prison tutor, and middle school English teacher”). I see the book itself being compared to Lord of the Flies, Battle Royale, Cool Hand Luke, and The Island of Dr. Moreau. That’s an impressive list of things to call to mind.
  • Liv Spector, The Beautiful and the Wicked. The premise of this novel seems to be that Lila Day, formerly a detective with Miami PD, has a billionaire acquaintance who has discovered the secret to time travel, and to solve cold cases (perhaps always involving the wealthy?), he keeps sending her back in time. Back to, like, the 90s. Or the mid 2000s. It’s a surprisingly prosaic thing to do with time travel, and I can’t tell whether any of the SFnal ramifications are worked out. But accepting this as sort of a TV show pitch, OK, and simply put, the preview reads quickly and leaves me wondering where it will go. The first book in the series is actually The Rich and the Dead.

Selected SF/F Previews for 11/2014

I’ve finally finished going through all the available Amazon previews from SFSignal’s monthly round-up from November 2014, and I found quite a few things to admire. But I’m going to try to be brief, because it’s almost Christmas!

  • C. D. Rose, The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure. Imaginary authors, humorously described. Reminds me of Stanislaw Lem’s Imaginary Magnitude (prefaces to imaginary books) and Segal & Mager (eds.), The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature (blurbs/reviews of imaginary books).
  • Jennifer Brozek, Robert Smith?, and Lars Pearson (eds.), Chicks Dig Gaming: A Celebration of All Things Gaming by the Women Who Love It. The latest in a popular series, frequently nominated for the related work Hugo award. This seems pretty great: numerous authors I like telling personal stories about their experiences with a hobby I also enjoy.
  • Brandon Sanderson, Legion: Skin Deep. I read the novella Legion some time ago, perhaps as part of a Hugo packet, and I thought the idea of a Holmesian consulting detective who sees imaginary people and listens to them to understand his own thoughts was maybe an idea that trivializes mental health issues, but it works well enough on a story-telling level as just a way to externalize the main character’s deeply embedded hunches. Anyway, it seemed reasonably fun in the preview of this second installment.
  • Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, Saga (Deluxe Edition HC, v. 1). A hardback collection of the hit space fantasy comic book series, which has won a Hugo and several Eisners. The preview at least shows off some of the weird imagery and the key development setting the story in motion.
  • Gavin Deas (a.k.a. Gavin Smith and Stephen Deas), Empires: Infiltration and Empires: Extraction. Two British SF/fantasy authors team up here to write a linked duology, telling the story of Earth’s invasion by aliens from different points of view. I liked the preview for Gavin Smith’s contribution quite a bit more than the other preview, but I’ve enjoyed Stephen Deas’s work in the past.
  • Delia Sherman, Young Woman in a Garden: Stories. In the preview story, Sherman writes a tiny bit of fantasy into the margins of art history, inventing a lesser-known French painter and poking around in a little museum devoted to his work for details about what inspired his paintings. At least one of the stories in this volume, “The Ghost of Cwmlech Manor,” is available in full online, but I don’t know about the others.
  • Nick Mamatas, The Nickronomicon. Mamatas typically writes Lovecraftian short stories with a contemporary aspect to them. The ones in the preview (as well as the one I’d read previously) are clever, though not as ornate or as cosmically weird as HPL’s own work.
  • Peter V. Brett, Messenger’s Legacy. Some reviews complain that this fantasy novella is too expensive, but I appreciated its preview as a small taste of Brett’s Demon Cycle, which I’ve heard people praise very highly. The story’s beginning was straightforward, but the prompt introduction of a creepy/dangerous monster lurking right outside the main character’s house seemed to speak volumes about what the series might be like.
  • Frank Herbert, The Collected Stories of Frank Herbert. Who knew Frank Herbert wrote so many short stories? I’ve read at least six of his novels, but I had no idea, maybe because I read them all as a teenager and then stopped investigating his oeuvre. The preview suggests many of these could have a strong 50s feel to them, but I’m OK with that.
  • Lexie Dunne, Superheroes Anonymous. I’m loving the superhero novel trend, and this one seems pretty fun. It’s a tongue-in-cheek story of a sort of Lois Lane-like character, under constant threat from supervillains, who acquires superpowers of her own.
  • Anonymous? [Malcolm C. Lyons (trans.)], Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange. It’s rare that I’ll choose to highlight a book for which the preview contains no sample matter from the main part of the text, but reading the introduction alone, I’m very intrigued by this new translation of a collection of Arabic folktales and legends that I’d never heard of. I’ve read the Signet Classics edition of the Thousand and One Nights, and I’m dimly aware of story collections like Hamadhani’s Maqamat and The Assemblies of Al Hariri, but this one was completely new to me. These articles make it sound like a blast, so I’m in.
  • Mike Carey, Linda Carey, and Louise Carey, The House of War and Witness. I’ve read some of Mike Carey’s work before and thought well of it, and I liked the premise of this book: an 18th C. military force holes up at a ghost-ridden estate on the Prussian border, and various mysteries unfold. The preview shows it to be very readable too, though like any ghost story it seems to be building up carefully.
  • Robin LaFevers, Mortal Heart. In 15th C. Brittany, young women join a convent where they’re trained to be assassins in the service of Saint Mortain, a god of death in a pantheon called The Nine. Well, why the heck not? Assassin fantasy is a very crowded subgenre, but this YA series aiming to add in a little romance and put a gender-balanced spin on the general idea seems pretty neat. So far as I could see them, I was OK with the alternate history elements just being sort of dropped into the world, and the writing seemed smooth. This is the third book in the series, though, so I’ll have to go back and try Grave Mercy first.

Selected SF/F Previews for 10/2014

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.

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.

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.

Selected SF/F Previews for 07/2014

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.