Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships Aug 25

Happy Friday, cyborgs and centaurs! I’m writing this a week in advance as I prepare to go on a 10-day family vacation, so instead of news we’re focusing on reading lists! Today we’ve got a pair of teenage superheroes courtesy of Dreadnought and The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, mythological reads, Italian speculative fiction, and more.

cover of The Dire King by William RitterThis newsletter is sponsored by The Dire King by William Ritter.

In the epic conclusion to the bestselling Jackaby series, the Sherlockian detective of the supernatural and his indispensable assistant, Abigail Rook, face off against their most dangerous, bone-chilling foe ever. calls the series “fast-paced and full of intrigue.” The Dire King is filled with everything fans could hope for: new mythical creatures, page-turning action, surprising plot twists, romance, and an apocalyptic battle that will determine the fate of the world.

While you’re waiting for American Gods to come back, here are some other books based on gods and mythology to keep you occupied. I am delighted to cosign Hot as Hades, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Servant of the Underworld, and The Song of Achilles. (The others I just haven’t read yet — must get on that.)

For the internationally inclined, here’s some speculative fiction translated from Italian. 13th century Sardinia plus demons? DO WANT!

Also international: here’s a list of dystopias from around the world. I’ve read and loved both LoveStar and The Queue, if you’re looking for a starting point!

Why don’t fantasy characters ever get divorced? I hadn’t considered this question until I read this piece (which is odd when you consider that I myself am divorced). It’s a valid point — if we can have grimdark and fantasy noir, can’t we also bust up the “one true love” and “happily ever after” tropes?

We all need a LEGO BB-8.

How about some ebook deals?
– Go old-school: Hercules My Shipmate by Robert Graves, his magical retelling of the story of Jason and the Argonauts, is $1.99.
– Remember Silvia Moreno-Garcia, of “The Craft meets Mexico City meets the 80s” ? She’s got a vampire novel called Certain Dark Things and it’s on sale for $2.99!
– Finally ready to dive into Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy? Six of Crows is $2.99.

Since picking up Miles Morales I’ve been on a teen superhero kick, so that’s what you’re getting today. Sorry not sorry!

Dreadnought (Nemesis #1) by April Daniels

dreadnought by april daniels coverI picked up Dreadnought because of the blurb on the front cover, which reads:

“I didn’t know how much I needed this brave, thrilling book until it rocked my world. Dreadnought is the superhero adventure we all need right now.”―Charlie Jane Anders, author of All the Birds in the Sky

Having blazed through it in a day and a half, I could not agree more. Dreadnought is the hopeful, funny, sharp, insightful, occasionally devastating superhero story I didn’t know I needed.

Teenager Danny Tozer is hiding behind a mall, painting her toenails, when a superhero crash-lands and dies next to her. She’s hiding because no one can know she’s painting his toenails, and she’s painting her toenails because it’s the only way to express the truth: that Danny is a girl trapped in a male body. As the dying superhero’s mantle is passed on, it remakes Danny’s body. Along with super strength and super speed, Danny also is now finally, visibly, a young woman. It’s everything she’s been dreaming of! She wants nothing more than to use her powers for good and have everyone see her for who she really is.

But that’s not as easy as it should be. Her parents, particularly her emotionally abusive father, are not on board. The superhero organization in town turn out to be a bunch of jerks. Danny’s best friend does not deal with her transition well, to put it mildly. She doesn’t know how to handle her super powers or the varied and conflicting expectations of those who know she has them. And, of course, there’s a cyborg supervillain on the loose.

The action sequences are great; the emotional sequences are even better; the characters climbed right into my heart and brain. And the second book is out! Sovereign, here I come.

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by FC Yee

epic crush of genie lo coverMeet Genie Lo. She’s a Type A, hard-working high school student with her eye on the prize: a scholarship to a Top Tier college, then a job with lots of money. She’s got an admissions counselor, her extra curriculars, and a plan, and nothing is going to stand in her way. Except, of course, for this new guy who shows up, claims to be the reincarnation of the Monkey King from Chinese mythology, and tries to convince her that she has to help him fight demons.

This book is incredible amounts of fun. Genie’s a great protagonist, and her journey from disbelief and anger at this intrusion into her life into acceptance of her situation and her powers works on multiple levels. The demon battles are satisfying and well-paced, and Genie’s emotional struggles are believable and appropriately complex. Sun Wukong, the Monkey King and Genie’s irritating-but-also-attractive new crush, brings a trickster sense of humor leavened with the occasional gravitas one might expect from an ancient reincarnated being. Genie’s friends and family add depth both to her character and to the plot itself.

How many ways can I convince you to pick up this book? If you’re looking for great Asian-American representation in YA: pick it up. If you’re looking for an action-packed summer read with a no-nonsense heroine: pick it up. If you’re looking for a mythologically-inspired fantasy story: pick it up. If you’re looking for a reluctantly-romantic love story: pick it up! Seriously, pick it up.

And that’s my story for the day! If you’re interested in more science fiction and fantasy talk, you can catch me and my co-host Sharifah on the SFF Yeah! podcast. For many many more book recommendations you can find me on the Get Booked podcast with the inimitable Amanda.

May the odds be ever in your favor,

Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships Aug 18

Happy Friday! I hope you have all crushed this past week’s enemies and driven them before you. Today we’re talking about Trish Trash and The Stone Sky, plus the 2017 Hugo winners, Octavia Butler adaptation news, and more.

cover of In Other Lands by Sarah Rees BrennanThis newsletter is sponsored by In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Elliot is smart, just a tiny bit obnoxious (he is thirteen years old), and perhaps not the best person to cross into the Borderlands where there are elves, harpies, and — best of all as far as he’s concerned — mermaids. In Other Lands is an exhilarating a novel about surviving four years in the most unusual of schools, about friendship, falling in love, diplomacy, and finding your own place in the world — even if it means giving up your phone.

The 2017 Hugo Award winners have been announced! Congratulations to all the winners; obviously I am particularly thrilled about NK Jemisin, not only because she has now won it twice but also because TNT IS ADAPTING The Fifth Season!, excuse me while I run around screaming about my feelings!!!!!!

Also! Ava DuVernay is adapting Octavia Butler’s Dawn (Xenogenesis 1) and it is an actual dream come true. Given how excellent DuVernay’s work has been in the past and how great the trailer for A Wrinkle in Time looks, I am over the moon. Sometimes we can have nice things!

Forget passing the NEWTs at Hogwarts, can you pass a quiz about the NEWTs? I could not. No seriously, I only got two right.

Do you need more supernatural teenagers in your reading? This list of 100 inclusive YA SFF books is for you, then. Shout-out to Dreadnought by April Daniels, which you will be hearing more about next week!

Do you need more Game of Thrones chatter and analysis in your life? Vulture has a list of five podcasts that can help with that. My own vote has to go to A Storm of Spoilers, based entirely on name.

How about some ebook deals? This month there are a few that are perfect for completing your series collections, and each is less than $3!
– Lives of Tao series by Wesley Chu: Deaths of Tao (#2) and The Rebirths of Tao (#3)
– Worldbreaker Saga by Kameron Hurley: Empire Ascendant (#2)

For today’s reviews, we’ve got roller derby in space and earth magic!

Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars Volume 1 and Volume 2 by Jessica Abel

Please meet one of my favorite graphic novel series of the past trish trash volume 1 coveryear — which felt inevitable once I heard the “rollerderby on Mars” pitch. You might know Abel from her previous work (La Perdida, Out on the Wire, Life Sucks, to name just a few) but this is her first foray into outer space, and it’s worth joining her for the journey.

Trish lives on Mars with her aunt and uncle, helping out on their farm. She’s great at fixing things but her real dream is to become a hoverderby star, and when tryouts for the local team are held she thinks she’s that much closer. Too young to make the team, she takes an internship instead — much to her family’s dismay. Juggling school and work on the farm is hard enough, and then one day she discovers a wounded native Martian (largely considered mythical to the human inhabitants) and accidentally saves its life.

trish trash volume 2 coverAbel is tackling a lot in Trish Trash. The settlers of Mars are almost all indebted to the company that funded the initial exploration and settlement, and there are serious water shortages and little hope of a solution. Poverty and labor camps are widespread. Add to that the displaced native Martians, and you’ve got a lot of layers beneath the hoverderby track. But Abel manages the balance well. Rather than have characters infodump in conversation, each novel includes backmatter that lays out the history of Mars and its complicated present situation. And Trish and her friends and family bring all the hijinks and personality you could want. I’ll be keeping an eye out for Volume 3!

The Stone Sky by NK Jemisin (Broken Earth #3)

stone sky by NK Jemisin coverConsidering that The Obelisk Gate (Broken Earth #2) just won the 2017 Hugo Award for Best Novel, likely no one is surprised that I’m recommending The Stone Sky. Hot off the presses and newly released as of this past Tuesday, it’s the jaw-dropping conclusion (literally, my jaw dropped) to the Broken Earth series and it’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a third installment.

Mild spoilers for the series follow, so if you want zero plot discussion just go ahead and get yourself all three books and start reading!

The Obelisk Gate left Nassun and Essun finally aware of each other’s location and powers, but many miles apart. The stone eater factions have revealed their goals, and now the fate of the world is hanging in the balance. While The Stone Sky takes us forward to the moment of truth, it also takes us back in time and reveals more history of the Guardians, the obelisks, and the sundering of the Moon. If you’ve been wanting a deeper look at the history of this world, you will be delighted; Jemisin balances the plotline that began in The Fifth Season with a new past narrative that is just as compelling as any other thread we’ve had throughout the series — and there have been many. The conclusion had me white-knuckling my way through the final chapters, and devestated that the story has come to an end.

I’ll be rereading the whole series before long; for those of you who may have read The Obelisk Gate a while back I do recommend a reread. Jemisin does a solid job of providing context where she can without bogging down the narrative, but there were moments where I had to pause to try to remember certain previous characters and plot points. After all, it’s not as though a reread is a hardship. Jemisin’s best, most complex series to date, Broken Earth has reached the top five in my personal list of favorite series, and it will take a hell of a lot to dethrone it.

That’s it for this week! If you’re interested in more science fiction and fantasy talk, you can catch me and my co-host Sharifah on the SFF Yeah! podcast. For many many more book recommendations you can find me on the Get Booked podcast with the inimitable Amanda.

Your fellow booknerd,

Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships Aug 11

Happy Friday, slayers and spacefarers! Today we’re talking about the Mercy Thompson series and Miles Morales, plus action heroines, kids fantasy books, space colonization, and more.

Vanguard by Ann AguirreThis post is sponsored by Vanguard by Ann Aguirre.

Ann Aguirre’s bestselling Razorland saga continues with Vanguard!

Adventures almost never go according to plan, and when Tegan understands what her heart truly wants, it might change her life forever. . . .

We have an amazing new shirt celebrating four bad-ass ladies of science fiction and fantasy, and you could win one! That giveaway closes this Sunday, 8/13, so get clicking.

It’s not looking good for our future on Europa: icy planets like it might skip a habitable period altogether, even if there is increased heat available from their suns. Back to the space-colonization drawing board…

Vulture has declared the 11 most influential action heroines; how do we feel about this list? I can’t quite decide — it does have Ripley from Alien and Letty from The Fast and Furious, but where is Leia the Huttslayer?

In adaptation news, China Mieville’s The City and the City is coming to TV! BBC Two has adapted it into a four-part drama. I don’t know how to feel about David Morrissey as Borlú, but I am all about Mandheep Dillon for Corwi. Also, I need to reread it immediately.

Last week on SFF Yeah we talked about middle-grade fantasy and sci-fi, and this week has provided a 100 Best Middle-Grade Fantasy Books post as the perfect follow-up.

And of course, some whimsy: Powerpuff/Avengers mash-up perfection!

In today’s reviews, we’ve got urban fantasy and a superhero novel (which, come to think of it, is not that far from urban fantasy).

The Mercy Thompson series: Moon Called, Blood Bound, and Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs

cover of moon called by patricia briggsWhile I’m not a regular reader of urban fantasy, I am a diehard fan of a few series in particular. Kate Daniels what what! And there’s no way I can stop reading the Dresden Files now that we’re so close to the end. So it was with surprise I found I had been missing out on a great one: the Mercy Thompson books by Patricia Briggs. Thanks to the Insiders Forum, I have been shown the error of my ways.

Mercy Thompson is an auto mechanic with her own small shop, her ex-boss is some kind of gremlin, her neighbor is the Alpha of the local werewolf pack, one of her clients is a vampire, and she herself is a walker — she can turn into a coyote basically whenever she wants. Supernaturals represent! Humanity is only marginally aware of them, of course; while the Fae have gone public, werewolves and vampires are still undercover, and Mercy herself isn’t eager to share her magical nature with anyone, be it local law enforcement or other beings. She’s led a pretty low-key life since she left her adopted werewolf family, and she’s trying to keep it that way. (Good luck with that, Mercy.)

cover of blood bound by patricia briggsWhat immediately sets Mercy apart from many other UF hero/ines is her lack of grumpiness. I love me a good cranky protagonist, but it’s nice to have a change of pace from time to time. She’s pragmatic; she’s tough without being isolated or prickly; she’s got friends and, while family is complicated for her, she’s built her own found family. She’s stubborn and independent, but knows when to back off and when to rely on others for help. She’s got even got a sense of humor! If you can’t tell, I adore her.

cover of iron kissed by patricia briggsMoon Called is, as you might guess from the title, focused on werewolves; Blood Bound deals with vampires, and Iron Kissed with the Fae. While I could have used a heads-up about the rape sequence in Iron Kissed (consider yourselves warned!), on the whole I have enjoyed the Hel out of these books. The supporting characters are multidimensional, diverse, and important to the plot development; the ethnic representation is handled respectfully in as far as I am able to judge; and Mercy is the kick-ass heroine of my heart. While her path grows increasingly dark from book to book, and her life becomes more and more complex, she retains her spirit, her sense of humor, and her immense compassion and humanity. I just picked up Book 4 from the library, and look forward to continuing on.

Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds

cover of miles morales by jason reynoldsFor the record, I have never read a Miles Morales comic and am not a Spider-Man fan in general. The odds of me watching a Spider-Man movie or read a Spidey comic are very low. (Although I will admit that Tom Holland’s turn in Civil War made that fight scene an all-time favorite.) So why did I pick up this novel? Because I’ve read Jason Reynolds before, and was curious to see what this award-winning YA writer would do with a licensed character.

The answer is, what he does best! Miles, his family, and his friends are amazing: they are complicated, messy, real characters. Basically any chapter in which two people were having a real conversation was immediately my favorite scene, whether it was Miles and his parents, barbershop banter, roommate hijinks with Ganke, awkward flirting — it’s all there on the page, and all fantastic. Miles’s doubts and fears about his own role and abilities as a superhero feel genuine, and I would have loved to see this thread developed even further! Reynolds also takes a hard look at systemic racism, the prison industrial complex, and its affect on young people of color, which is not something you see every day (any day??) in comics.

If Miles Morales has a flaw it’s that Reynolds is new to writing about superheroes, and the action sequences show it. But for me, the characters were well worth the read.

And that’s all she wrote! If you’re interested in more science fiction and fantasy talk, you can catch me and my co-host Sharifah on the SFF Yeah! podcast. For many many more book recommendations (including the occasional book club question!) you can find me on the Get Booked podcast with the inimitable Amanda.

Live long and prosper,

Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships Aug 4

Greetings, Earthlings and visitors from other realms. This week we’re talking Want and Labyrinth Lost, plus adaptation news, a bunch of themed reading lists, and more.

cover of The Dark Net by Benjamin PercyThis newsletter is sponsored by The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy.

The Dark Net is real. An anonymous and often criminal arena that exists in the secret far reaches of the Web. And now an ancient darkness is gathering there as well. This force is threatening to spread virally into the real world unless it can be stopped by members of a ragtag crew. Set in present-day Portland, The Dark Net is a cracked-mirror version of the digital nightmare we already live in, a timely and wildly imaginative techno-thriller about the evil that lurks in real and virtual spaces, and the power of a united few to fight back.

Important adaptation news: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle is in development! It also just won Best Novella in the Shirley Jackson Awards, so there is no time like the present to read it.

What can corporations learn from sci-fi? There’s a whole company dedicated to the answer, “A lot actually.”  (I’ll be over here cackling about the kangaroo thing.)

Do you love Jane Austen and also love magic? Here are four fantasy novels that might be just what you’re looking for. Definitely read the comments (SHOCKING, I know) as there are lots of great additional sections there!

It turns out author Martha Wells loves a good magic/science combo as much as I do, and has written a list of eight books that do it well (and ditch most of the tropes!). Hardest of cosigns on JY Yang’s Tensorate books, GO PREORDER NOW.

Got a short attention span, a limited amount of reading time, or just really love short stories? Here are an actual hundred SF/F short story collections, including both single-author and multi-author collections.

I am generally restrained in the face of enamel pins, but these Harry Potter ones are VERY TEMPTING. (Luna’s glasses! Felix felicis!)

And now, on to our reviews: a quest in the future, and a quest that is out of this world.

Want by Cindy Pon

cover of Want by Cindy PonIn the Taiwan of Want‘s future, air pollution has gotten so bad that the wealthiest members of society go outside only in suits that filter their air, connect them to the network, regulate their temperature, and any other bells and whistles they can think up. For the rest of society, life expectancy is down to 40 and disease is rampant, and blue skies are just a story from the past. There are people trying to change things, but they’re up against corporate money — and corporate violence.

When his best friend’s mother is murdered for working to get environmental legislation passed, Zhou and his friends hatch a plan to take down Jin Corp, the sole maker of suits and the force behind her death. To take them down, someone will have to go undercover. From life as a mei (or have-not), Zhou will have to learn how to walk, talk, and act like a rich boy to infiltrate high society and get the access they need to execute their plan. If only he wasn’t falling for their primary target, Daiyu, daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO…

I was prepared to love this book, having read Cindy Pon before. What I wasn’t prepared for was how much! From simple, classic premises — star-crossed lovers, a grim ecological future — Pon creates a vibrant story with depth and heart. Zhou and his friends feel more mature than their years, having grown up too quickly in trying circumstances. The rich kids Zhou befriends as he goes undercover are more than just cardboard cut-outs of privilege (although some of them are as bad as you’d expect). And Daiyu is far from just another pretty girl. By taking the tropes of near-future YA and tweaking them in her own way, Pon has delivered a book I would recommend to every and any person looking for a good story, a realistic future scenario, and a touch of hope.

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

paperback edition of Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida CordovaThis is the underworld quest I didn’t know I was craving, and it’s newly out in paperback. Let the reading and rejoicing begin!

Labyrinth Lost follows the adventures of Alex, for whom magic is both everyday and hugely unwanted. Her family, who live in Brooklyn, are part of a magical community and her Deathday Celebration, when she is supposed to come fully into her magic, is approaching. But magic has brought her nothing but pain and terror, and all she wants is to get rid of it. So she decides to do her own spell — a spell to take away her magic.

Of course it backfires, and instead sends her entire family into Los Lagos, an in-between world full of supernatural creatures and terrors. Now she has to use her largely untested magic to try to defeat an enemy who has been plotting for generations. And while she finds some help along the way, nothing is what it seems.

Córdova has created a fully realized magical system and realm in this first installation of the Brooklyn Brujas series. Reminding me at various moments of The Princess Bride, The Odyssey, Alice in Wonderland, and other portal fantasies, it is ultimately all her own. If you’re ready to visit a new world and cheer on a heroine who has a lot to learn, but isn’t afraid to try, then you’re ready for Labyrinth Lost. Join me in waiting for the next installment! (Not out until April 2018, WOE IS US.)


That’s a wrap: Happy reading! If you’re interested in more science fiction and fantasy talk, you can catch me and my co-host Sharifah on the new SFF Yeah! podcast.

Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships Jul 28

Happy Friday, friends. We made it through another week; let us give thanks and be merry! Today we’re talking about The Water Knife and the Graceling Realm series, plus awards news, GRRM, a slew of TV adaptations, and more.

cover of Genius The GameThis newsletter is sponsored by Genius: The Game by Leopoldo Gout.

Trust no one. Every camera is an eye. Every microphone an ear. Find me and we can stop him together.
In Genius: The Game, an action-packed novel by Leopoldo Gout, three brilliant teens from around the world use their knowledge of hacking, engineering, espionage, and activism in a race to save the world.

The World Fantasy Awards nominees have been announced! Borderline and Obelisk Gate continue to make the awards rounds, A Taste of Honey is up for Long Fiction (by which I believe they mean novellas), The Paper Menagerie is up for Collection, and I am just delighted.

Speaking of awards, for those of you who want to catch up with nominees here are 100 shortlisted genre titles, ranging from YA to mystery to speculative fiction. I’ve read 38 of the 100 — not too shabby. So many more to go…

One more in award news: Underground Railroad has won the Arthur C. Clarke Award!

Westeros is coming. But not The Winds of Winter, at least not for a while yet. George R.R. Martin announced that there’s likely to be a Westeros book in 2018, part of his very own GRRMarillion (LOL).

There’s lots of TV adaptation news (thanks, SDCC!):

Are you caught up with The Magicians? If not do not click this link, major spoilers for S2! If you are, click away and enjoy the interview with Stella Maeve, Jason Ralph, and Olivia Dudley.

– Do you need more supernatural hijinks on your TV? Enter Midnight, Texas. I am hooked after the pilot; there was a nice balance of solid acting and production value (they really went for it with those corpses) with the hokiness and RED LIGHT OF DOOOOOM, etc., that I would expect from the concept.

– I managed to forget that the Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency show exists, but it is real and Season 2 is coming.

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut might be coming to TV, courtesy of Dan Harmon (??!?!??!!). Harmon plus Vonnegut actually sounds kind of perfect, and I will be keeping an eye this!

– And I’m sure you’ve already seen the Wrinkle in Time trailer but just in case you haven’t, or you want to watch it for the 4,000th time, here it is.

And for your Friday whimsy: Gucci put together a Star Trek-inspired campaign. Bedazzled fanny packs of the future!

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

cover of The Water KnifeSet in a possibly-not-that-distant future, The Water Knife takes place in and around Phoenix, AZ as the city crumbles due to lack of (you guessed it) water. While some are lucky enough to live in “arcs” complete with AC, state of the art water recycling, and all the comforts you could want, most are stuck waiting around Red Cross water pumps, recycling their own urine, and trying to avoid the gangs patrolling the neighborhoods. You might not expect a book that hinges on water rights to be as grim, violent, and fast-paced as The Water Knife is; you would be mistaken.

Did I mention this book is grim and violent? Characters get shot, tortured, coerced into sex, betrayed, you name it, and often a combination thereof. Lucy, a journalist who can’t bring herself to leave the struggling city, is finding out what her dark side looks like. Maria, a young woman trying to find her way from one pitfall to the next, and who experiences some of the most brutal violence in the book, reveals a pragmatic streak that turns the plot in new directions more than once. Angel, a scarred man who does wetwork (sorry) of various sorts for the woman running Vegas, turns out to be one of the most surprising characters in the book. Bacigalupi has been called a grimdark writer, and the shoe fits — which is why the moments of light and hope in this book are so potent.

The Water Knife is blood-soaked, but it’s also a meditation on the power of community. I was fascinated by the tech, much of which is already out there albeit in slightly different form. Having lived in Arizona, California, and Colorado, the geography was familiar enough to make me nostalgic. And his vision of the way society has shifted feels prescient in the way that the best sci-fi does. If you’re looking for another perspective on the potentially horrible future of the United States (because when aren’t we), pick it up.

The Graceling Realm series by Kristin Cashore

Kristin Cashore has a new book coming out this fall (Jane Unlimited, September 19 2017), which reminded me that I want to remind you all of just how good this series is! On the surface, it looks like your standard “swords and powers” YA fantasy, but it digs deeper than you might think.

cover of GracelingGraceling is our introduction to the Seven Kingdoms and to Katsa, a young woman with a Grace (or special power) for violence. Pressed into service as an enforcer by the king of the Middluns, she’s spent most of her life believing that all she can do is hurt people. But she’s started to reclaim her power, working with a secret council running underground rescue missions. Then she meets a Graced fighter who interferes with one of her missions; Po has the gall to be interesting and attractive as well as a skilled fighter, one who can match her. As we start to see the political workings of the Seven Kingdoms, we also see Katsa find her way to a life that offers more than just violence.

cover of FireFire, the second book published, is technically a prequel. I can’t describe the plot much without major spoilers for Graceling, but that’s fine because there’s so much more. Our main character Fire is literally the most beautiful woman in the world — which brings her nothing but misery and injury. In the hands of a less skilled writer this would be nothing but one cliché after another, but Cashore creates a woman who is isolated, dangerous, and striving to understand what it means to be something other than what people label her. This is the book in the series I reread the most, and it hits me in the feelings every time.

cover of BitterblueBitterblue is the most politically agile and complex of the three, following a young queen as she attempts to bring her country back from the destruction wrought by her father. Unlike Katsa and Fire, her journey to understanding is about her world rather than just herself. What lies do we tell ourselves, and why do we tell them? Can the truth actually set us free? What do you do when reconciliation is impossible? These are huge questions, and Cashore follows them into dark and difficult places.

If you need a series that’s solid distraction with romance, action, adventure, and a big beating heart, add this to your summer stack.

Happy reading! If you’re interested in more science fiction and fantasy talk, you can catch me and my co-host Sharifah on the new SFF Yeah! podcast.

Swords and Spaceships

Sword and Spaceships Jul 21

Happy Friday, redshirts and rogues. Today we’re talking about Roses and Rot and Kai Ashante Wilson’s novellas, plus sibling stories, dialect on the page, a new Charlaine Harris show, and more. Here be were-tigers.

This newsletter is sponsored by The Folio Society edition of American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

american gods folio society edition in slipcase For nearly 70 years, The Folio Society has been creating beautiful, illustrated, hardback books and the Folio collector’s edition of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is guaranteed to delight fans of this modern classic. It has been illustrated, at the author’s request, by long time collaborator Dave McKean with 12 original illustrations, 3 of which are double page spreads. Dave has also written an insightful introduction on the specific challenges of illustrating such an established and well-loved work. The text has been lauded by Neil as his preferred version and copies are available exclusively from

Do you need more siblings in your sff? We’ve got a post for that. This is always an odd thing for me to think about, because I tend not to notice siblings (absent or present) in novels, unless it is somehow super-important to the story. Or they are twins, because twins! I have two brothers, and was one of those kids who dreamed of only childhood or being whisked away by my REAL parents (my poor actual parents, sorry Mom and Dad). My sibling-blindness notwithstanding, there’s no doubt that family dynamics can be an excellent addition to a plot. In fact, we’ve got a sister story in the reviews today!

Let’s talk about heroines! We’ve got a list of heroines that will remind you of Wonder Woman, and a list for badass middle-aged heroines. I will take both, please and thanks! Especially the latter; it’s lovely to see women my own actual age on the page, as easy as it is to tap into my internal 16-year-old.

We’ve talked about naming conventions; now let’s talk about dialect! What does the future sound like? Brandon O’Brien has some thoughts. Personally, I’m a sucker for fictional slang and books written in patois, as we’ll talk about more below; the more voices, the merrier my brain is. (Although yes, agree, stop trying to make “schway” happen.)

Do you need more supernatural creatures with drama on your TV? Charlaine Harris’s other series Midnight, Texas has been made into a show and premieres next Monday, July 24. With Teen Wolf (the MTV one) ending, I am considering adding this to my rotation even though I never did watch True Blood. (Which I will get to some day, I swear.)

Bring on the cute: here is a book of highly adorable illustrations about the crew of Firefly and their adventures on Earth! I might need this for that cross-stitch pattern alone? Ahem.

Today we have no babies or parenting — instead, we have siblings and possibly-doomed love! That felt like it deserved an exclamation mark!

Roses and Rot by Kat Howard

Roses and Rot by Kat HowardHere is a fantasy novel about an artist retreat run by the Fae. Half of you are already sold, like I was — it seems so simple, so obvious! How is this the first time (at least to my knowledge) that someone has done this?! I am so glad Howard did, because this novel is a delight, and it’s newly out in paperback.

Sisters Imogen and Marin are both talented artists — Imogen is a writer and Marin a dancer — who come from a dysfunctional, abusive home. They’ve grown up and (mostly) put their past behind them, and now both have been accepted to a prestigious program that will give them the time, space, and mentors to hone their talents. But once they get to Melete, they find that it might actually be too good to be true, and the price for greatness beyond what they could have imagined.

Interweaving the wounds of their childhood with the uncanny nature of Melete, Roses and Rot looks at the art world, the bonds of sisterhood, and the universal struggle to know your own worth. Her Fae are strange and beautiful, her characters engaging and complex; if you’re well-steeped in Faerie stories, you’ll probably recognize some of her influences and refrences, but you don’t need them to enjoy it. This is one of my favorite modern fairytales from the past year.

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps & A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Novellas are a hard format for me; if they’re good it’s never enough, and if they’re not good then anything is too much. But I finally got my hands on both of Kai Ashante Wilson’s, thinking that perhaps that would be enough if I read them back to back. Readers, it was not. They were excellent and I need more immediately.

I read them in the order in which they were published, and while you really don’t need The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps to understand A Taste of Honey, Sorcerer teaches you more about the mechanics of the world they’re set in and it was knowledge I was glad to have running through the background. (Also, for the record: I would have used a map had there been one.)

cover of Sorcerer of the WildeepsThe Sorcerer of the Wildeeps follows Demane, a demigod masquerading as human and working for a merchant caravan. His fellow guards know he’s special, but not how special, and he’s careful to keep it under wraps. Also keeping secrets is the caravan’s Captain, a beautiful man with a past that casts long shadows. As if two not-humans keeping their identities and relationship on the down-low wasn’t enough, a strange monster is stalking the road to the Wildeeps, and their caravan isn’t safe.

I loved the interstitial snippets of letters, writings, and folklore between the chapters; the small glimpses of the grander world were fascinating. Wilson’s world-building is both fantastical and science fictional, a thing I am delighted to see more and more of, and he manages to provide clarity and context without ever descending into an infodump. On the last page, I was not ready for it to be over (and also I needed a tissue).

cover of A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante WilsonA Taste of Honey initially disappointed me in that it didn’t follow Demane, but then I got over it. Instead we meet Aqib, a beast-master, fourth son, and a bit of an outcast in his family, and Lucrio, a soldier with a visiting embassy. They meet, they fall in love — but nothing is simple. In Aqib’s country homosexuality is forbidden, and his older brother doesn’t scruple to use violence to send a message. Will Aqib leave his home and his family, who he loves regardless, for a soldier he’s known barely a week? When the twist comes in this book, it actually dropped my jaw.

Wilson has a talent for taking a seemingly small, private story and giving it opportunities to shoot light into the broader world of the books. You’ll notice hints of ancient Rome and Africa, but Wilson has taken those threads and made them his own. He’s also given his characters beautifully distinct voices and dialects — the different “accents” of the caravan guards in Sorcerer, or the playful lessons in grammar Aqib and Lucrio give each other in Honey, were just as important in fleshing out their world as any description of setting or culture or custom.

I am ready and waiting. Where’s the next one?

Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships Jun 14

Happy Friday, captains and courtiers. Today we’re talking Dexter Palmer’s Version Control and Sarah Beth Durst’s Queens of Renthia series, plus whimsy, fairy tales, series in translation, and more. Engage!

This newsletter is sponsored by Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero.

With raucous humor and brilliantly orchestrated mayhem, Meddling Kids subverts teen detective archetypes like Scooby-Doo and delivers a wickedly entertaining celebration of horror, love, friendship, and many-tentacled demon spawn.

The former members of the Blyton Summer Detective Club have grown up and apart, each haunted by disturbing memories of their final case. The time has come to get the team back together, face their fears, and find out what actually happened all those years ago at Sleepy Lake. It’s their only chance to end the nightmares and, perhaps, save the world. What if it wasn’t a guy in a mask?

Fetch me these immediately! I must have these six SFF series in translation. Well, everything except Night Watch, which I have already read and love. (Have you read those?! Bananas, in the best way, like most Russian speculative fiction.)

The B&N blog posted a Book Nerd’s Guide to Saving The World (with books, obviously), and their list of suggested reads has some great genre picks, as well as non-genre favorites, sprinkled through-out. You could build a very nice dystopia discussion in particular with their “Realize What Might Be” section!

I know it’s not an adaptation but I’ve been following the news about the forthcoming film Bright, which features Will Smith as a cop dealing with the supernatural. If you’re going to SDCC, click that link; they’re doing a sneak peek via Netflix alongside the Death Note adaptation. In the meantime I’ll be combing the web for leaked trailers — it’s been a while since we got a solid new fantasy flick (I am not counting Ritchie’s King Arthur for obvious reasons, even though I loved it).

Also for Californians! There is an Octavia Butler exhibit at The Huntington Library, displaying her personal papers, and I am so bummed that I cannot visit it. It’s up till August 7 — go visit for me, please?

Does your reading list need more whimsy? I feel sure that it does. has some picks to help you out with that, including Yoss and Kim & Kim, which I cosign.

Perhaps your reading list also needs more fairy tales — the grown-up kind? This list of throwbacks to the original transgressive, creepy-as-all-get-out vibe of fairy tales gave me all of the heart-eye-emoji feelings. (And a bunch of new books for my TBR.)

And now, for more sci-fi/fantasy about parenting! I told you this was a thing.

Version Control by Dexter Palmer

cover of Version Control by Dexter PalmerWhat if you were married to a brilliant researcher working on a causality violation device (don’t call it time travel)? What if you were nagged by a persistent sense that something is just not quite right, that things are not how they should be? What if a horrible car accident took your child from you and changed your life forever? Dexter Palmer’s main character Rebecca is facing these questions, as well as her own alcoholism and the creeping malaise of middle-age.

Version Control is a slow burn of a novel that never quite went where I thought it was going to go. The first half or so of the book is almost exclusively focused on Rebecca’s very pedestrian life: her husband’s research isn’t going well, her marriage is strained, her past choices haven’t been the best, her friendships are complicated. Most of the characters are barely likable if at all, and almost too real in their flaws. Things in the outer world are slightly weird, and there’s definitely a sense of tension building, but to where? Then the second half of the book arrives. I confess I almost bailed on this book, but I’m so glad I stuck it out — the final third in particular was worth every second of reading time.

The Queen of Blood & The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst

cover of The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth DurstCan I interest you in creepy forest spirits and magical powers? Are you convinced the woods are always watching? What if magical powers were more of a curse than a cure? Sarah Beth Durst’s Queens of Renthia series is (as you might guess from that first title) bloody, magical, and very satisfying.

In The Queen of Blood we’re introduced to Renthia, a world in which humans live in tree-houses, some girls are born with the powers to speak to the four types of elemental spirits, and a Queen rules the land. Sounds great! Except for that all the spirits want nothing more to destroy humanity just for existing, frequently rip people to tiny pieces, and the only thing holding them in check are the Queen’s powers. If a girl is born able to talk to only one or two types of spirits, she becomes a hedge-witch; if she can control all types, she is sent to an academy to train to become a future queen. It’s a terrible job, but someone has to do it. Daleina, our protagonist, is not a Chosen One — her powers aren’t exceptionally strong, she’s not amazingly smart, she’s not athletically gifted. What she is, is adaptable: she’s learned to use what she has to get by. And when she gets sucked into a complicated political situation, she’s going to need every ounce of those skills to survive.

The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth DurstIn The Reluctant Queen, Daleina is now ruling (that’s not really a spoiler, the titles of these books are pretty clear) but she’s fallen prey to an aggressive illness and is dying. And thanks to the events of The Queen of Blood, there are no candidates even close to ready to take over controlling the spirits. Ven, the man who trained Daleina, takes off to find someone they might have missed and discovers Naelin, a grown woman with a family and a quiet life who wants to keep it that way. But her powers are too strong to ignore, and she’s forced to go back to the capital with Ven to train. Here’s where the parenting comes in: the bargain includes bringing her young children with her. And rather than relegating them to the background, they become major characters within the story. I can think of other mothers in epic fantasy, but I can’t think of any who actually get to parent mid-quest, and Durst not only pulls it off but makes me want more.

Regardless of your feelings about motherhood and child characters, The Queens of Renthia series is great summer reading: fast-paced, lots of great and dimensional characters to engage with (Mistress Garnah, what what), and a new take on the classic “dark woods” trope.

And that’s a wrap. Happy reading! If you’re interested in more science fiction and fantasy talk, you can catch me and my co-host Sharifah on the new SFF Yeah! podcast. For many many more book recommendations across the board you can find me on the Get Booked podcast with the inimitable Amanda.

Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships Jul 7

Happy Friday, magicians and mecha warriors! Today we’re talking Archivist Wasp and The Djinn Falls In Love & Other Stories, plus adaptation wishlists, sci-fi audiobooks, space swag, and more.

Unraveling by Sara EllaThis newsletter is sponsored by Unraveling, book two in the Unblemished trilogy by Sara Ella.

The entire universe is unraveling. Can a young heroine stop the fray? Through her mastery of world-building and mind-bending plots, Sara Ella takes fantasy to a new level in Unraveling, the anxiously awaited continuation of the Unblemished Trilogy. As Eliyana continues her journey towards the throne, she tries to figure out her relationship with Ky and how it might be connected to the Callings. She needs answers before the Callings disappear altogether. Can El find a way to sever her connection to Ky and save the Reflections—and keep herself from falling for him in the process?

Been wondering how exactly 1984 took over the reading world yet again? We can help with that! Our newest podcast series, Annotated, is a documentary podcast series about books, and the first episode is a look at the strange and circuitous history of 1984. The next five episodes in the series will come out every other week, and you can subscribe to Annotated in Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or in your podcast player of choice.

Science needs science fiction, and the X Prize Foundation knows it. Their past prizes have gone to gadgets that make sci-fi a reality, but this year they want the stories! Heavy hitters like Margaret Atwood and Charlie Jane Anders are contributing pieces that detail “the future from the perspective of a different passenger on a plane that traveled through a wormhole 20 years into the future,” and anyone can submit a story about the person sitting in 14C. The winner will join their Science Fiction Advisory Council, and wouldn’t I love to be a fly on the wall during those meetings?

AJ has 8 SF/F series she wishes would be adapted. I am a hard cosign on Acacia and The Fifth Season, but I confess I am incredibly worried about the Imperial Radch adaptation. What’s on your list? What are you excited for/nervous about?

For your summer listening, how about some sci-fi audiobooks? One of our contributors needed recommendations for a road-trip with someone who isn’t a sci-fi geek, and the suggestions are ?.

I will take one of everything from this round-up of space-themed swag, please and thank you. And maybe five of those Hitchhikers hand-towels.

For when the world is just too hard, here are babies dressed up like Harry Potter. I officially cannot even.

Today’s reviews have no theme, I just love them A Whole Lot.

Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace

cover of Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-StaceA few times a year, if you’re lucky, you read a book that becomes part of your permanent recommendations list. These are the books that, when someone asks you what they should read next, are the first ones you throw into the conversation. “Have you read this one? What about this?” I read Archivist Wasp in 2015 and have been recommending it on the regular ever since.

In a world of dystopian YA with female leads who have to kill other teens, this one stands out to me for a few reasons. I fell for Wasp immediately. She’s caged by her circumstances and brutal by necessity, and the world she lives in has given her nothing to hope for — but she hangs onto hope for herself regardless. Her determination in the mind-bogglingly weird quest she finds herself on (ghost dimensions! Underworlds!) is based on nothing but her own willpower, and it’s glorious to watch.

That mind-boggling weirdness? That’s another reason. It’s clearly a post-crash world, one with horrible awful no good very bad traditions; it’s also a world in which ghosts are categorizable and the Underworld is an actual place you can go, if you have enough reasons. And then there are the ghosts with technology! Yep, I repeat: ghosts wielding fancy tech, with unfinished business that’s actually worth finishing.

Last but not least, rather than running on romantic tension, Archivist Wasp runs on trust issues. When the world has conspired against you and everyone is out for themselves, who can you trust and why would you bother? This is the question at the heart of this novel, and the answers Wasp finds are worth the read.

The Djinn Falls In Love & Other Stories, edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin

cover of The Djinn Falls in Love and Other StoriesI love me a solid short story collection, especially a very specifically themed one, and you can’t get more specific than a collection entirely about djinn. Or genies, or jinn — the spelling was left up to the authors. Not only is there a range of spelling, but each story is a different interpretation on the supernatural being in question. From lightly fabulist to historical to contemporary to religious to futuristic to deeply disturbing, and all possible combinations thereof, the authors in The Djinn Falls In Love have let their imaginations and pens run wild.

I have a few favorites, because of course I do. “The Congregation” by Kamila Shamsie is so quiet and so poignant that I had to just sit and stare at the table for a few minutes after finishing. “Glass Lights” by JY Yang (who you will be hearing more about in future newsletters) was deft and wry, while Amal El-Mohtar’s “A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds” was a clarion call and a challenge to the reader. “Bring Your Own Spoon” by Saad Z. Hossain will be haunting me (but what happens next???) for ages, as will “Message in a Bottle” by K.J. Parker. “The Righteous Guide of Arabsat” gave me nightmares; read during daylight hours. And there is so much more: Monica Byrne, Maria Dahvana Headley, Neil Gaiman, Nnedi Okorafor, the list of excellent contributors just goes on and on.

The editors set out to “showcase global storytelling,” as they put it in the introduction. I’m delighted to say that they succeeded, and I want to thank them in particular for starting with the poem that gave the book its title, “The Djinn Falls In Love” by Hermes. It was beautiful to see the poem in both English and Arabic, and to set the stage with such a stark and affecting vision. And then there’s that cover! You’re going to want this one for your shelf (and maybe an extra to lend to unsuspecting, lucky guests).

And that’s a wrap. Happy reading! If you’re interested in more science fiction and fantasy talk, you can catch me and my co-host Sharifah on the new SFF Yeah! podcast. For many many more book recommendations across the board you can find me on the Get Booked podcast with the inimitable Amanda.

Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships Jun 30

Happy Friday, nerd-friends and geek-pals! This week we’re looking at supernatural parenting a la The Changeling and The Stars Between Us, maps in fantasy novels, some queer SF/F to close out Pride month, and a few other items that tickled my fancy.

This newsletter is sponsored by Libby.

Libby graphic logoMeet Libby, a new app built with love for readers to discover and enjoy eBooks and audiobooks from your library. Created by OverDrive and inspired by library users, Libby was designed to get people reading as quickly and seamlessly as possible. Libby is a one-tap reading app for your library who is a good friend always ready to go to the library with you. One-tap to borrow, one-tap to read, and one-tap to return to your library or bookshelf to begin your next great book.

For my fellow Ninefox Gambit fans: What’s your Hexarchate faction? It might not be the next Hogwarts House quiz, but I’m pretty satisfied with my results. (Liozh, natch. Team Heresy!)

Are maps in fantasy novels necessary? One of our Book Riot folks doesn’t think so — or at least, not all the time. This is one of those moments where you realize how different every reader is, because Clay uses the maps in novels very differently from me. I tend to look at them to get an overall idea of the geography before I start reading, and to appreciate them as a piece of illustrative art; I don’t think I’ve ever gone back to trace a route.

We talk about LGBTQ+ SF/F pretty regularly here, but I am not one to pass up the opportunity of Pride month to talk about it more! Have a round-up, with remarkably minimal overlap and lots of personal favorites:
–  Queer SF/F favorites from Unbound Worlds
9 Influential LGBTQ SF/F Authors from The Portalist
LGBTQ+ Characters in YA SF/F from the Metropolitan Library
A thoughtful look at writing fantasy from the transgender perspective on Foreword Reviews

Want to support diversity in your favorite genres? There’s a scholarship you can help fund via the The Speculative Literature Foundation. The foundation supports “new and emerging writers from underrepresented and underprivileged groups,” and hopes to continue issuing grants over the next five years.

If you’re following the Star Trek: Discovery news, you’ll be delighted to hear that there is finally an air date: September 24. They’ll be showing the premiere on both CBS and CBS All Access, before it switches entirely to All Access. I am still telling myself that I’ll decide after I see the preview if I’m signing up or not, but it’s hard to resist a line-up that includes Michelle Yeoh, Sonequa Martin-Green, and Jason Isaacs.

There have been a recent spate of speculative novels that hinge around fertility and parenthood (with more on the way), and today we’re looking at two of them.

The Space Between The Stars by Anne Corlett

cover of Space Between the Stars by Anne CorlettVeterinarian Jamie Allenby has a quiet life on a remote colony planet called Solitaire, and that’s just the way she likes it. Then a virus sweeps from planet to planet — a virus projected to kill 99% of all humans who catch it. After the shock of survival, all she can think of is getting to the nearest planetary hub of civilization and then back to Earth, to her childhood home. She manages to find a few other survivors and a spaceship captain to get them off Solitaire — and that’s just the beginning of her story.

Procreation is a deeply embedded theme in this space adventure. Jamie ended up on Solitaire in the first place following a miscarriage, and the virus might also affect fertility — which means that not only is the human race decimated, but it might never recover. Corlett holds up a warped mirror to current issues of overpopulation, racism, class, and governance, and the reflection ain’t pretty. For all that, it’s also a remarkably quiet, slow novel; while there are a few action sequences, the novel primarily revolves around the internal life and small but pivotal choices of its characters. Think something like Station Eleven but in space and in one timeline. A deceptively straight-forward read, it will stay with you for longer than you might expect.

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

cover of The Changeling by Victor LaValleBefore I say anything else about this book, let me get it out of the way: I loved it. Now that I’ve declared that, I have to tell you that this is a very hard book to review because of one particular scene, and reviewers seem split on whether to describe it or not. I went into the book knowing absolutely nothing about the plot, which made it incredibly shocking and powerful, but I also believe in being prepared for things that might mess your brain up for the rest of the day (or week, or month…). It’s a conundrum, and a tough one. So I’m splitting the difference. If you want to go in with a clean slate, all you need to know is that this novel is a wickedly effective blend of horror and fantasy, in which a young Black couple discover that parenting is nothing like they thought it would be — and not for the usual reasons. (And you can stop reading this review now, spoilers/warnings hereafter!)

If you’d like details: The Changeling follows Apollo Kagwa, a book dealer trying to make ends meet. We learn just enough about his childhood to understand why being a dad is simultaneously so important and so difficult for him. He falls for a librarian named Emma, they get married and get pregnant, and everything seems to be going well enough — until the day that Emma shackles him to a chair, kills their baby, and then disappears. But that’s just the first third of the book; Apollo soon discovers that nothing is as it seems, and his quest through New York City takes him to places no parent ever wants to go. It’s bloody, it’s terrifying, and not just because of the monsters going bump in the night. Rather, not just because of the supernatural monsters; there are human monsters involved as well.

LaValle has always been good at going to the dark places in the human psyche and lacing in the fantastical. That skill is the reason I pick up each and every book he writes. In this book he’s pulling no punches, and his storytelling is top-notch. If you’re ready to dive into the deep end, pick it up ASAP.

Bonus: If you haven’t read him before, here’s a great piece on where to start.

And that’s a wrap. Happy reading! If you’re interested in more science fiction and fantasy talk, you can catch me and my co-host Sharifah on the new SFF Yeah! podcast. For many many more book recommendations across the board you can find me on the Get Booked podcast with the inimitable Amanda.

Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships Jun 23

Hello lawful, chaotic, and neutral readers! All alignments welcome. Today we’re talking Raven Stratagem, Beren and Lúthien, Octavia Butler Day, global warming in dystopias, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (SORRY/NOT SORRY.)

This newsletter is sponsored by The Evaporation of Sofi Snow by Mary Weber.

cover - The Evaporation of Sofi Snow WeberFrom award-winning author Mary Weber comes a story of video gaming, blood, and power. As an online gamer, Sofi Snow battles behind the scenes of Earth’s Fantasy Fighting arena. Her brother Shilo is forced to compete in a mix of real and virtual blood sport. When, a bomb shatters the arena, Sofi thinks Shilo’s been taken to an ice-planet – Delonese. Charming playboy Miguel is a Delonese Ambassador. He’s built a career on secrets and seduction. When the bomb explodes, the tables turn and he’s the target. The game is simple: Help the blackmailers, or lose more than Earth can afford.

Let’s get topical!

In honor of Octavia Butler’s birthday yesterday, we had a whole day of posts celebrating her work (including one by yours truly about how I discovered Butler via Betty Smith; true story.)

I love Rachel’s on-going round-ups of speculative fiction in translation, as you will have noticed because I keep linking to them! This month she’s looking at spec fic from from Israel, and I’ve already requested Isra-Isle from my library.

For my fellow data-nerds, here are some global warming projections a la The Hunger Games. I confess I had never bothered to look at a map of Panem before, or consider how plate tectonics work in combination with a rising coastline. A+ would learn again!

For your summer reading lists, we’ve got SF/F June book picks from Barnes & Noble booksellers and io9. While there is some overlap between the two, there are enough differences for it to be worth looking at each. I have already waxed poetic about my love for The Prey of Gods, definitely get that on your list.

We’re getting a Dracula TV show from the BBC’s Sherlock team. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss will be adapting the novel as a mini-series of feature-length episodes. I have very mixed feelings about this; Sherlock had some amazing episodes, but there are Known Issues with Moffat’s representation of women and minorities, and it’s hard to believe that the source material of Dracula will incline them to do any better. So: we’ll see, I guess? (But I must confess I am dying to know who the cast will be.)

And now, reviews!

Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee (The Machinery of Empires #2)

cover of Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha LeeOH BOY, YOU GUYS. This is an excellent sequel to Ninefox Gambit, a stellar Book 2 overall, and I need everyone to read it immediately so we can have feelings and thoughts and theories about it together.

Raven Stratagem picks up with General Kel Cheris, a.k.a. Jedao, taking over a fleet recently dispatched to deal with the invading Hafn forces. What are Jedao’s motives? What will happen to the fleet now under their command? What follows is an incredibly high-stakes game of political poker, made further complicated by the fact that we never get Jedao’s perspective. Instead, we’re forced to speculate along with the rest of the Hexarchate. This was both diabolical — I was half-convinced I had forgotten what actually happened at the end of Ninefox Gambit, and more than once yelled “BUT WAIT” at the pages in front of me — and genius, because it makes the book truly impossible to put down. It doesn’t hurt that the supporting characters are so well-drawn; watching General Khiruev struggle with Kel formation instinct, or Hexarch Mikodez manipulate literally everyone he ever encounters, was both engrossing and a delight. (Also I now want an onion deskplant.) I have a few favorites that I’m hoping will reappear in Book 3, and a few theories — @ me when you’re done and we’ll talk, ok?

As you might have noticed, this review reads like a whole lot of word soup if you haven’t read Ninefox Gambit. And while I’m usually all for picking things up mid-stream, the world-building here is complicated enough that I unequivocally recommend starting at the beginning. The twists and turns and tricks that Lee plays out in Raven Stratagem are masterful and deserve full appreciation. This series is well on its way to my Top 5 Favorites, and both books are in paperback. What are you waiting for?

Beren and Lúthien by J.R.R. Tolkien

cover of Beren and Luthien by JRR TolkienAre you a completist, a Middle-earth scholar, and/or a lover of epic poetry? Then Beren and Lúthien is 100% for you. Do you generally enjoy The Lord of the Rings and like the thought of knowing more about these characters in particular? Maybe get it from the library.

As noted in the announcement, this book is a collection of different iterations of the story that Tolkien the Elder was working on over the course of many years. Christopher Tolkien has arranged them, with extensive annotations and explanations, end to end in order to give the fullest possible look at where their story starts and ends. Some of it is in prose, some of it is in poetry, lots of names undergo changes, a few characters’ histories are rewritten entirely, and the plot points shift from version to version.

It doesn’t make for smooth reading; while some of the sections have a wonderful internal flow and structure, the annotations and framing necessarily interrupts every few pages. And since I struggled my way through The Silmarillion and never picked up any of the other books edited by Tolkien the Younger, I often was at a complete loss when he was working to establish the context of the story in the greater mythology of Middle-earth. That all being said, I remember Aragorn telling Frodo the tale (including a few actual lines from that rendition) in Fellowship of the Ring well enough that I stuck with it, and the story itself does not disappoint. No matter which version, Lúthien is the hero, and that’s a welcome (and much needed) addition to the canon.


And that’s a wrap! If you’re interested in more science fiction and fantasy talk, you can catch me and my co-host Sharifah on the new SFF Yeah! podcast. For many many more book recommendations (including the occasional book club question!) you can find me on the Get Booked podcast with the inimitable Amanda.