Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships March 24

Salutations and felicitations, my fellow SF/F fans!

If short stories are your bag (as I suspect they are, given how many of you clicked that flash fiction link last time), I have excellent news for you: Lightspeed magazine is offering a free three-month trial subscription to new folks, or a free three-month extension to existing subscribers. I’m a fan — their monthly issues regularly feature some of my favorite authors both established and newly minted, and they published the Queers Destroy Science Fiction and Women Destroy Science Fiction special issues. Nota bene: they are a digital-only publication.

We’ve been talking about fairytales on the regular here, so perhaps you will be as delighted with this round-up as I am: fairy- and folk-tale collections other than the Brothers Grimm! I need that “Beauty and the Beast” one ASAP.

I don’t usually have time for convincing people that genre fiction is worth their time (because obviously!?), but this piece of recs for those who think they only like genre-bending lit-fic is excellent. For anyone in your life who has ever wanted “genre but, you know, GOOD.” Assuming you have not already killed them with your brain.

Do you have a minute for outer space? Because scientists would like your help discovering exoplanets! (Side-note: the current administration would like to shut down the DSCOVER program, which could help us identify the climate of exoplanets; how is Elon Musk supposed to save humanity without that info, I would like to know?) (I jest.) (Kind of.)

Moving right along … You may recognize this week’s sci-fi pick as having popped up around the site before; I have fallen hard for this book. And if you have already read my second pick, could you please email back so we can gush about it? K thx.

Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfař

cover of Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav KalfarIn the Czech Republic, a scientist named Jakub Procházka boards a spaceship on a mission to collect and analyze cosmic dust from a mysterious intergalactic phenomenon. The eight-month mission, funded by corporate sponsors and made possible by political wheeling and dealing, is the pride and joy of the country and Procházka is a national hero. So far it sounds 100% plausible, right? Vast chunks of this book are in fact extremely possible, up to and including Jakub’s response to meeting a giant alien spider-thing that may or may not be a figment of his imagination.

Kalfař uses the lens of speculative fiction (magical scientific realism? Could that be a thing?) to dig deep into post-Soviet Union life in the Czech Republic, as well as the mysteries of Life, The Universe, and Everything. (My phrasing, not his, although I suspect Douglas Adams would approve.) Jakub has spent his life trying to atone for his father’s crimes under the Communist regime, and is struggling to understand his relationship with his wife Lenka — and also not die in outer space. He is not an extraordinary person, but rather a person in extraordinary circumstances. Whether he’s fighting for sanity, for survival, or for his marriage, he is deeply compelling. Like all good sci-fi, Spaceman of Bohemia asks big questions and gives us a great story in the process. This one is for lovers of near-future, thoughtful, and/or deeply weird novels.

The Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia, edited by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng

The Sea Is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast AsiaWhile the cover is not my favorite (I’m a photo-realism junkie, what can I say), the contents of this anthology are absolutely must-read, especially if you’re a fan of Nisi Shawl’s Everfair. The writers in this collection look not only at steam technology, strange beasties, and the occasional bustle, but at colonialism, empire, and often-overlooked countries.

This is a gorgeous example of what can happen when editors go in search of voices — particularly since, as they say in the introduction, “[O]ur anthology presents a range of authors and characters that is predominantly women, and hella queer.” And what a range of stories these writers produced! All of these pieces stand successfully on their own. I still find myself referencing “The Last Aswang”; “The Unmaking of the Cuadro Amoroso” and “On the Consequence of Sound” both deserve to be read right next to World Fantasy Award-winner The Chimes for their evocation of the power of music. Others are more “hijinks ensue” in style, but none are slight — each of these stories has a strongly-beating heart. Combined, they create a gorgeously textured alternative vision of our world. This collection is one of my favorites from the past year — there’s a story in here for any reader, and quite likely more than one.

This newsletter is sponsored by Unbound Worlds Cage Match 2017.

Enter for a chance to win a library of sci-fi and fantasy reads! Cage Match is back! Unbound Worlds is pitting science fiction characters against fantasy characters in a battle-to-the-death tournament, and you can win a collection of all 32 books featured in the competition. Enter now for your chance to win this library of sci-fi and fantasy titles!