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Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships May 12

It’s time for a very speculative Friday, y’all! I am writing this from your past, and you are reading this in my future. Welcome back.

Who’s ready for a new Nick Harkaway novel??? (Answer: Me, I am, right here.) He answered 20 questions for the Times Literary Supplement and there’s a section in it about Gnomon, which is coming to the UK in October and the US in January (sob).

The adaptations roll on:
Wired feels some kind of way about The Dark Tower trailer and if that one’s on your list, this piece is worth a read.
– Game of Thrones is getting FOUR spin-offs (and here I just want one measly Jacqueline Carey adaptation).
– The Black Company series by Glen Cook has been optioned by Eliza Dushku’s production company (#TeamFaith). Guess I need to read these now!

“If we do not imagine the future, how can we invent (or prevent) it?” The healthcare industry in the UK wants your science-fictional ideas, and I love everything about this contest.

What do we think about the new design for the World Fantasy Awards? Does anyone else feel like that tree wants to talk to them, and not in a friendly way? Creepiness aside, this seems like a solid choice, both in terms of symbolism and in terms of picking something that is currently inclusive and can stay inclusive in meaning.

It’s Friday, we all deserve a beer! Alex has some pairings for you — speculative fiction and beer pairings, naturally.

For this week’s reviews, let’s have some astrophysics and some necromancy!

Astrophysics for People In a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson

cover of Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse TysonIf you are like me and often skim through the sciencier parts of science fiction, this book is for you! If you cannot get enough of NDT’s dad jokes, this book is also for you. If you are already an astrophysicist and/or a science-nerd, you probably know everything in it already.

Tyson is, as we know, great at breaking complex theory into digestible nuggets. And as the title suggests, that’s the goal here: to bring astrophysics to readers who otherwise don’t have time for it. (Hi Neil, it’s like you know me!) While I read this just to feel a little bit smarter — which I 100% did, upon finishing — I also found that it complimented the harder sci-fi reading I’ve done. Faster than light travel, dark matter, the origins of moons, exoplanets: these things all make sense now in ways they didn’t before, and I was deeply entertained by Tyson’s bons mots sprinkled throughout the actual explanations. In addition to being funny and informative it is less than 300 pages, and has an absolutely gorgeous cover.

So, to sum up: if you or someone you know has forgotten everything you learned in college physics (assuming you took it) and would like a powerhouse scientist and pop culture figure to explain it to you, look no further than Astrophysics For People In a Hurry.

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

The Bone Witch by Rin ChupecoBefore we talk about anything else, I have to warn you that this book is extremely Book 1 of a Series. The ending actually made me yell “WHAT!?!” to an empty room, and we’re going to have to wait till March of 2018 for the next installment. So if you’re not prepared to sequel-wait, put this towards the bottom of your TBR list — but definitely still put it there, if you’re a fan of necromancy, world-building, and/or female characters who refuse to play by the rules.

The Bone Witch follows Tea, who is born with the power to raise the dead and channel Dark magic. She doesn’t find this out until she accidentally resurrects her dead older brother at his funeral, of course. Awkward! In Tea’s world, “bone witches” or Dark asha are known and training is available, but they’re also looked on with suspicion and fear. The story alternates between the discovery of her powers in her early teens and subsequent training, and her at 17, on a beach and making some very dark choices indeed. This was my favorite part of the book — I love a complicated heroine, and when the heroine in question might burn down the world you have my full attention.

If I had to point to a flaw, it would be the lack of any plot resolution; no threads are tied up, and we’re left with far more questions than answers. But that’s part of what makes the story so urgent, and keeps the pages turning. It’s an origin story, an immersion into a beautifully-rendered and complex Asian-inspired new world, and a meditation on power: who can wield it, and what happens when it wields the user. For an excellent dive into that last in Bone Witch, see this piece on Tor.com (especially all the Buffy fans in the audience).

Magic and ritual, darkness and light, politics and passion: The Bone Witch has these all in spades. Consider me very ready for whatever comes next.


This newsletter is sponsored by Carry On by Rainbow Rowell.

cover of Carry On by Rainbow Rowell A #1 New York Times bestseller.

Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.

His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend dumped him, and there’s a monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz, his roommate and nemesis, would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and he hasn’t shown up.

Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, and a mystery. It has as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far more monsters.

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Swords and Spaceships

Swords & Spaceships May 5

Happy Friday, y’all!

Let’s start off with a bang: The Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist has been announced! The big surprise on here is Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which is sweeping the awards circuit — and for good reason. It’s an incredibly powerful book, as well as an alternate history of the Civil War that posits underground steam locomotives. Once you think about it as alternate history, you can see how it made the list, but I’d bet most folks weren’t expecting to see it pop up here. I’m also a huge fan of A Closed and Common Orbit and Ninefox Gambit. If I had to vote, it would be for Ninefox — I haven’t read a space opera that intricately built and plotted in a very long time and I’m dying to see it get some critical recognition, but there are no bad picks here.

How many different retellings of The Beauty and the Beast can you think of? I maxed out at five, but Amanda put together a list of literally 100 (!!).

This guy is building a wearable puppet version of K-2SO for Halloween. Apparently you just need a 3D printer, a bunch of PVC and sculpt-able foam, oh, and some killer construction skillz. And I thought my collapsible lightsaber was cool… (I still think it’s cool.)

For those who like hearing their stories: Tor is launching a new imprint called Tor Labs “emphasizing experimental approaches to genre publishing, beginning with original dramatic podcasts.” Which basically means we’re getting new story podcasts, starting with Steal the Stars which includes UFO-related hijinks.

Tak is a boardgame you could actually play, even if you don’t live in Patrick Rothfuss’s books. (Which possibly everyone on this list would prefer, perhaps?) More astonishing to me is that the Kickstarter collected over $1 million before it closed. A million dollars! That is some serious Kingkiller Chronicles love.

And finally, because I am writing this on May 4th, I require you all to read some Star Wars puns.

For this issue’s reviews, I am delighted to present to you: Zombies, two ways.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

While there are blood and guts aplenty, Zone One is more about the bureaucracy of the apocalypse than its monsters. Think of it as the literary baby of The Office and The Walking Dead. The main character, nicknamed Mark Spitz in an extended running joke, is part of the clean-up crew sweeping through lower Manhattan, trying to clear out zombies one building at a time. In this horrible future there are two kinds of zombies: skels, which will tackle, bite, and turn you if given half a chance; and stragglers, which return to one location and just … stand there. Creepy, sure, but not so hard to dispose of — in theory.

Our narrator, nicknamed Mark Spitz in an impressively long-running joke arc, has survived both the normal world and the apocalypse by being perfectly mediocre. When you’re the ultimate average, gliding through life looks a lot easier apparently! We get his own backstory of flight and survival, along with those of his crew; we also get the marketing ploys of the new provincial government, the vagaries of logistics for body-bags and ammunition, the promotionally-driven allowances for looting, the daily annoyances of “sweeper” duty, and the daydreams of times gone by. Mark Spitz was, among other brief careers, a social media manager, and one of the most-quoted passages of the book (at least in my circle) comes from his anecdotes about that job.

The narrative jumps back and forth in time from one chapter — often one page — to the next, lending to the surreal tone of the narrative. Whitehead deploys that surrealism to both hilarious and devastating effect. And just when you think you know the story, that’s when things get really interesting.

Hadriana in All My Dreams by René Depestre

hadrianaIf Gabriel Garcia Marquez were to write a zombie novel, it wouldn’t be this but you’d be in roughly the same ballpark. René Depestre’s amazing Hadriana in All My Dreams, originally published in 1988 and now reissued by Akashic Books, is a riotous, magical, raucous look at Vodou culture as well as an ode to Jacmel, Haiti.

Set in his own hometown, Jacmel, it follows the wedding-day zombification of a beautiful young French-Creole girl named Hadriana. About to wed her Haitian fiancé, she collapses immediately after giving her vows. But Hadriana is not dead — instead, she’s been drugged and transformed into a zombie by a man with nefarious purposes. The first half of the book is told by Patrick, her childhood friend and unrequited lover, and gives us a local’s view of the folklore, religion, spirituality, and racial politics that blend and clash in Jacmel.

This novel is both sensual and sexual; from succubus butterflies to Hadriana’s Carnival-influenced funeral to the enslavement of women via zombification, bodies are central to both the narrative and plot. Depestre is unabashed in his celebration of sexuality and unflinching in chronicling the ways it is abused. Refreshingly — and importantly to this reader — he also chronicles women’s agency in ways I was not expecting to see. This is a fever-dream of a book, a look into the origins and folklore of zombies, and a local’s-eye view of Haiti in the early 1900s, and it will change the way you think about zombies.


This newsletter is sponsored by 5 Worlds Book 1: The Sand Warrior.

The 5 Worlds are on the brink of extinction unless five ancient and mysterious beacons are lit. When war erupts, three unlikely heroes will discover there’s more to themselves than meets the eye. The clumsiest student at the Sand Dancer Academy, Oona Lee is a fighter with a big destiny. A boy from the poorest slums, An Tzu has a surprising gift and a knack for getting out of sticky situations. Star athlete Jax Amboy is beloved by an entire galaxy, but has no real friends. Can these three kids discover their talents in time to save the 5 Worlds?

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Swords and Spaceships

Swords & Spaceships Apr 28

Happy Friday, Padawans and paladins!

A bunch of exciting announcements have come out of Star Wars Celebration, but the one that produced actuals screams of glee from me is that Ken Liu is writing a Skywalker novel [insert confetti space-canon here]! If you haven’t been keeping track, he’s the author of The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories and The Dandelion Dynasty series, and I cannot wait to see what directions he takes our favorite space-cinnamon-roll Luke in. I should add that the only Star Wars novel I’ve read in the past decade was Bloodline (which was great, for the record); I am now officially cherry-picking their new offerings.

Does your TBR need some exploding? Liberty wrote a list of 100 must-read SFF debuts that should keep you busy for at least the next decade or so. Like she notes, it is so hard to believe that some of these were an author’s very first published book!

Do redshirts actually die more often on Star Trek? Well, it depends on how you do the math apparently. I do love it when people crunch fictional data — see also, this piece on braid-tugging and skirt-smoothing in the Wheel of Time.

This is a monster year for adaptations, what with The Handmaid’s Tale and American Gods both coming to screens, The Wheel of Time finally moving forward, and a bunch of others I’ve already lost track of. And we can add to the pile: China Mieville’s The City & The City is coming to TV.

Friday whimsy: Harry Potter books with cocktail pairings. Both for the drink recipes and the pairing notes (lolsob).

And now, for some recommendations!

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

Ascension by Jacqueline KoyanagiI wish I could remember who recommended this book to me; I’m sure I didn’t find it on my own. It’s been a long-term favorite of mine ever since I picked it up, and a Swiss army knife of a recommendation because it hits so many notes so well. It’s also one of my favorite books because it illustrates beautifully how one can write a “political” book — in that the main character is queer woman of color who has a chronic illness, and those identities are heavily politicized — that is 100% space opera adventure, for all those folks who “just want a good story.”

Alana Quick is a sky surgeon, meaning she fixes spaceship engines and is damn good at it. But she and her aunt, who run their own business, are barely keeping their business afloat. So when a cargo vessel swings by looking for her sister Nova, it’s the opportunity she’s been waiting for. She stows away on the ship, hoping to find herself a permanent spot as ship’s mechanic, and then finds out that she’s put herself in the middle of a tangles web of shifting alliances and dangerous missions, all surrounding her sister’s special abilities.

Action! Adventure! Romance! People who are not as they seem! Strange beings! Strange powers! Explosions! Space! Truly, this book is a delight. Here’s me crossing my fingers that we eventually get another book of Alana’s adventures, because I need more! Side note: Koyanagi contributed a task to this year’s Read Harder Challenge.

 

Kalpa Imperial by Angélica Gorodischer, translated by Ursula K. Le Guin

Kalpa Imperial by Angelica GorodischerIf you’re looking for speculative fiction in translation, classic fantasy, and/or South American authors, Angélica Gorodischer is the answer to all of the above. The book is translated by Le Guin (!!) and follows the rise and fall of an empire over many narrators, each with their own distinct style and story to tell.

Gorodischer manages a few amazing feats in this book. In a series of vignettes with incredibly disparate narrators, often with no clear connections between them, she manages to give shape and depth to a nameless empire. Her timeline is enormously long, but the chapters each feel personal and compelling. And while it lies firmly in the realms of fable, folklore, and fantasy, Kalpa Imperial nonetheless feels contemporary and familiar.

I had the happy experience of reading this in close proximity to both Sofia Samatar and NK Jemisin, both of whom have written beautifully about the ebb and flow of empire. Pair those three with the stories in Galactic Empire, and you’ve got a beautifully multi-faceted look at genre fiction’s obsession with the various manifestations of political structures. Of course, you might just also want a story beautifully told — and this is that, above all else.


This newsletter is sponsored by Elves, written by Jean-Luc Istin and illustrated by Kyko Duarte.

Elves Vol 1 coverVolume One of the critically-acclaimed and original dark fantasy saga Elves comes to US audiences for the first time this May.

The Blue Elves in a small port town have all been massacred. Lanawyn, a Blue Elf, and Turin, her human ally, set out to discover who is responsible. The trail they uncover together leads back to a warlike clan of humans who hate Elves.

Meanwhile, the Sylvan Elves have hidden themselves away from the world, jealously preserving their independence. Eysine, the City-State of the East, has always observed respect for the ancient pact between Elf and Man. But when a powerful army of Orks besiege the kingdom, Eysine must remind the Elves of the treaty that linked their two peoples.

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Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships Apr 21

Happy Friday, from the other end of a long series of tubes!

Before we dive into all the genre-specific goodness, I am delighted to announce that we’ve got a new subscription program called Book Riot Insiders! You can track new releases, listen to our dedicated Read Harder podcast, get a look at behind-the-scenes ops, and more, starting at $3/month. Check out the Insiders site for full details and to sign up!

Calling all Expanse fans: if you’re craving books with female characters like Naomi, Chrisjen, and Bobbie, we’ve got a reading list for you.

I’ve had this bookmarked forever and only finally just got to it: what is a utopia and how do we write about it? Ada Palmer, Malka Older, and Robert Charles Wilson had a very interesting conversation about this on Tor. It dovetails nicely with my musings post-Feminist Utopia Project, in case anyone is looking for another book (not strictly speculative) to add to their stack.

Soylent Green is (hopefully not) people! This piece on foods of the future is better than cannibalism, but I’m not sure how much better in certain cases. I hear you on the protein content of bugs, for example, but getting over the squick factor is gonna take some doing. (My theory is that Fear Factor ruined bugs for Americans of a certain age, even if you add ice cream.) However, sign me up for 3D printed food STAT!

More short stories for those pressed for time! This list of magical short story collections has two personal favorites on it — Kelly Link and Helen Oyeyemi, bestill my reader heart. These will certainly liven up your commute (and possibly make you miss a stop or two, fair warning).

Your Friday whimsy: I laughed so hard at Bad Lip Reading: Star Wars that I cried.

Readers, I fell hard for the below books, and I think you will too.

Spare & Found Parts, Sarah Maria Griffin

cover of Spare and Found Parts by Sarah Maria GriffinI didn’t know I wanted a YA revamp of Frankenstein until I read this book, which is fantastic. Nell Crane is young, awkward, and bad at people — not excluding her more bouyant best friend, Ruby, or the boy she cannot shake, Oliver. What she’s good at? Machines. She’s learned at the side of her father, an acclaimed inventor, and she’s plotting a project that will take her out of his shadow and earn her a reputation in her own right: a robot companion.

The problem with this plan is that Nell lives in a future in which machines are suspect, and computer technology has been outlawed. A plague in the past has decimated the population, society is still rebuilding, and coding is strictly taboo. In her search to realize her vision and build herself a friend who might just understand her, Nell finds herself in places in her community she had no idea existed.

Nell’s loneliness and personal struggles are heartbreaking, and there’s a reveal about her family history that actually made me gasp out loud. Griffin feeds in just enough whimsy, humor, and world-building to keep the story moving while still allowing for the story’s solid emotional weight. I devoured this book in a day, and cannot recommend enough that you take it to the park with you on the next sunny day.

Mama Day by Gloria Naylor

cover of Mama Day by Gloria NaylorI have been meaning to pick up Mama Day since Nisi Shawl recommended it in her Book Riot Live interview. The day I got it from the library was a good day; the day I finished it was even better. If you like magical realism; if you like generational stories; if you like Southern fiction; if you like stories in which the setting is a major character; if you like amazing writing — then grab a copy and buckle up.

Narrated in three distinct voices — two second-person, one third person, and somehow this works beautifully?! —  the novel follows Ophelia “Cocoa” Day, who has moved away from her hometown of Willow Springs to make it in New York City. She’s on the look-out for a job and a date, and meets engineer George Andrews during an interview. She doesn’t ultimately end up working for him; instead, she marries him and brings him home to Willow Springs to meet her great-aunt Miranda (the titular Mama Day) and grandmother Abigail. And then, everything goes off the rails. And no, I won’t be more specific, because spoilers.

It’s a simple plot on the surface, but to this girl-meets-boy set-up Gloria Naylor adds the history of the South and Emancipation, folk remedies and old powers, family secrets, touches of The Tempest, and a deep understanding of the twisted places love can take us. The second to last chapter of this book wrecked me — it’s a five-Kleenex read for sure. On top of all that Naylor has a gorgeously vivid writing style and is a master of structure. This book has earned a spot on my favorites shelf.


This newsletter is sponsored by Elves, written by Jean-Luc Istin and illustrated by Kyko Duarte.

Elves Vol 1 coverVolume One of the critically-acclaimed and original dark fantasy saga Elves comes to US audiences for the first time this May.

The Blue Elves in a small port town have all been massacred. Lanawyn, a Blue Elf, and Turin, her human ally, set out to discover who is responsible. The trail they uncover together leads back to a warlike clan of humans who hate Elves.

Meanwhile, the Sylvan Elves have hidden themselves away from the world, jealously preserving their independence. Eysine, the City-State of the East, has always observed respect for the ancient pact between Elf and Man. But when a powerful army of Orks besiege the kingdom, Eysine must remind the Elves of the treaty that linked their two peoples.

Categories
Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships Apr 14

Greetings, Earthlings and galactic visitors! There is absolutely no space-related gossip in today’s newsletter; this time, we’ve got our feet on the ground.

I have a burning question for you all: Do you follow authors across genres? This is on my mind because China Mieville has written a political history of Russia and it comes out next month. He’s already a bit of a genre-hopper, with fantasy, hard sci-fi, and more wibbly-wobbly-genre-bendey works like The City and the City under his belt, but nonfiction is much farther afield. It’s not particularly surprising if you know his political leanings and background, but it’s also not quite the same as grabbing, say, an Atwood essay collection. What do you think? Is your interest piqued?

Waaaaay back in our very first ever Swords and Spaceships, I noted that Guy Ritchie’s forthcoming King Arthur movie looks like a glorious mess. The latest trailer just confirms it; I can’t decide if it’s weirder that the elephants from Lord of the Rings movies have shown up, or that the sword apparently gives Arthur powers!? Did Vortigern summon the elephants from Middle Earth with his ill-gotten powers? Did someone enchant the sword? I have questions that can only be answered by seeing it in the theater, because I am a hopeless Arthurian junkie.

We talked about the Hugos, now let’s talk about the Nommo Awards! These are newly on my radar, and I am preetttty excited about them for two reasons: one is that these are mostly authors I’m not already hip to and I cannot wait to start reading them, and the second is that A. Igoni Barrett is on there and I adored his short story collection Love Is Power, Or Something Like That (which is not speculative in nature, but excellent regardless).

What do we talk about when we talk about dragons? Jessica has some thoughts. I have narrowed down my own first dragons to Smaug and/or Eustace (spoiler) from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which made Kazul from Dealing With Dragons an absolute delight.

And, for your regularly scheduled whimsy: Sci-fi mugs! I cannot decide which I need the most, which just means I need all of them. Right?

Let’s talk about your TBR pile; if it doesn’t have these two books on it, please reconsider immediately.

The Regional Office Is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales

The Regional Office Is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales coverHappy paperback publication week to The Regional Office; what better way to celebrate than to remind you that if you haven’t read this book yet, it is now cheaper to acquire!

I love this book a lot, not least because it meshes robotics and magic and there is just not enough of that in my life. On the one hand we have Rose, a teenage assassin with powers who has been recruited by a conspiracy within the Regional Office. She is a one-woman army and she is coming for the Director. Except that Sarah, a dedicated employee who may also be a cyborg, is standing in her way.

If you were to mash up an episode of Buffy with Die Hard (there are a lot of crawl-spaces in this book, y’all), you’d get something close to the plot. What you wouldn’t get is Gonzales’ delightfully wry and episodic style — in between stellar action sequences, he doles out background story bit by tantalizing bit. It’s an ass-kicking, action-packed novel, with a punch in the feels for good measure.

 

cover of Tender by Sofia SamatarTender by Sofia Samatar

Welcome to the Sofia Samatar Fan Club! I am your local chapter president Jenn Northington and I am delighted to tell you that her new short story collection is SO GREAT!

I am unsurprised; her novels A Stranger in Olondria and Winged Histories are two of my favorite fantasies of the past few years. And this collection is full of gems. Some have a scholarly feel, like “An Account of the Land of Witches” or “Ogres of East Africa”, in which Samatar is cataloguing wonders previously unseen. Some are funny and heartbreaking, like “Walkdog.” All of them are bursting at the seams with magic, and with Samatar’s deliberate and precise use of language. Her style is a moving target — sometimes ornate and sometimes spare, some times casual and sometimes formal — but it’s always deployed with purpose, and the results are spell-binding.

Like I said: president of the fan club, over here. Get this collection on your shelf and into your brain.

Note: The pub date is technically Monday, April 17, but physical copies are available now!


This newsletter is sponsored by Defy The Stars by Claudia Gray.

She’s a soldier.
He’s a machine.
Enemies in an interstellar war, they are forced to work together as they embark on a daring journey through the stars. Their efforts would end the fighting for good, but they’re not without sacrifice. The stakes are even higher than either of them first realized, and the more time they spend together, the more they’re forced to question everything they’d been taught was true.

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Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships Apr 7

Happy Friday, geek friends and nerd pals! I have been scouring the interwebs for interesting tidbits, and boy did I find some.

First and foremost: The Hugo Finalists are heeeeeeere! You will notice some repeats from the Nebulas, which is neither unusual nor unexpected in these cases (Obelisk Gate and All the Birds in the Sky, what what!). If you want a look at how the rules changes from last year may have affected this year’s nominations, our own Alex is happy to oblige.

There are always trend pieces making the rounds, but I happened to see three in a row. Things what are Hot Right Now: dystopiasspace opera, and killer flus. (Not mutually exclusive, let us note.) Dystopias always seem to be on-trend to me, but I welcome additions to the ranks. Space opera, on the other hand, does seem to be having its day in the Sun (heh); Wired and I have a lot of the same favorites, which means you should definitely read them. And killer flus are like little black dresses — perennial and inescapable. If that’s all a little heavy for you, have some talking cats too.

Speaking of space opera! There’s a gorgeous new cover for Ann Leckie’s forthcoming Provenance, which we will not get until October, argh. If you haven’t read the Ancillary trilogy, never fear: this is a new story, so you can jump right in. But you have several months between now and October, so you definitely could read them, I am just saying.

And last but not least, here is a sci-fi short film that I found delightful and eery as all get-out, plus it is only five minutes long: Strange Beasts.

 

Now for recommendations! Here’s something brand new and something old (because in publishing, 2015 was like a decade ago).

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey coverAmbiguous near-future astronaut stories are also hot right now! We just talked about Spaceman of Bohemia, which I read back to back with The Wanderers. Whereas Spaceman goes unabashedly surreal, Wanderers sticks hard to the science-possible. Three astronauts from around the world are hired by a private space-exploration company called Prime Space (it’s all very Elon Musk) and sent into a seventeen-month-long simulation to prove that not only is a landed mission to Mars possible, but they’re the right crew. As the story — told skillfully from multiple points of view — develops, astronauts Helen, Sergei, and Yoshi each develop a different view of what is actually going on.

There are comps to be made with The Martian; Howrey gives us technical action, company politics, and pencil-pushers as well as problem-solving and astronaut body-humor. But she also delves deeply into the emotional fault-lines of her characters, which gives us some of the funniest and most moving moments (occasionally at the same time!). Helen’s grown daughter Meeps, a struggling actress, absolutely steals every scene she is in, as does Yoshi’s wife Madoka. And Sergei’s sons, oof! My heart breaks. So, to wrap this up, my short recommendation is: come for the Hijinks Involving Space, stay for the incredible characters.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro coverIshiguro excels at writing books that are not at all about what they seem to be about, as you know if you’ve read Let Me Go. That one appears to be about boarding school and is actually about, ahem, medical ethics (I am resisting the urge to spoil it for you, you’re welcome). The Buried Giant does not actually have a giant in it — ogres yes, pixies yes, knights yes, dragons yes!, but not a giant to be found. For a while you’re pretty sure it’s just about two olde time British people who can’t remember anything, then it’s about King Arthur, and then you get to the ending and it’s about — Well, I don’t want to spoil it, but it wasn’t what I thought.

And yet despite all of this confusion and ambiguity (which ultimately does have a point), I couldn’t put it down. The Buried Giant is a dreamy walk through an ancient England that barely knows itself from one day to the next, and that contains surprises both wondrous and horrible around every turn. From the troubled relationship between the Saxons and the Britons, the role of the early Catholic church, the long-deferred quest of Sir Gawain (who I could not help picturing as a Monty Python-era John Cleese), to the perils facing an aging couple in a harsh world, Ishiguro balances a ton of depth with a deceptively simple style. A slow burn of a novel, this one is for Ishiguro fans, readers who enjoy open-ended plots, and my fellow Arthurian completists.


This newsletter is sponsored by Macmillan Teen.

We have a YA Science Fiction & Fantasy prize pack to give away! Click here to enter for a chance to win, or just click the image below:

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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!

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Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships March 10

Happy Friday, space cadets and armchair magicians!

In case you missed it amongst all the other headlines, two much-beloved authors are releasing much-belated sequels. Neil Gaiman has not only announced a sequel to Neverwhere, but also announced its title: The Seven Sisters. Gaiman was inspired to write the sequel by his work with refugees in past years, which sounds hugely promising to this reader. And Philip Pullman has more things to say about Dust! He’s not just writing a continuation, but a full companion trilogy for His Dark Materials. Called The Book of Dust, the trilogy will start with baby Lyra (!) and extend to a decade past The Amber Spyglass. While Gaiman is only a few chapters into Seven Sisters, the new Pullman is supposed to hit bookshelves in October of this year.

The much-anticipated Girl With All The Gifts is now available on your TV screen. Anyone watched it yet? I’m currently neck-deep in an X-Men re-watch before I go see Logan (which is the best worst idea I’ve had in a while), but the reviews have me curious. (Don’t click any of those if you don’t want spoilers!)

Eleven excellent authors wrote flash fiction inspired by the words “Nevertheless, she persisted” for International Women’s Day on Tor.com, and that line-up is all killer, no filler.

I don’t know about y’all, but it has been a pretty intense winter. So I was delighted to see not one, but two, highly entertaining just-for-funsies posts come across my dash. For your enjoyment, I give you:
– The best action figure photography in the history of ever, probably, courtesy of Instagram’s hotkenobi.
10 sci-fi curse words, so you can get around those pesky censors. (Seriously though, I am on board with Make Frak Happen 2017.)

And how about a freebie to top things off? There’s a give-away running for Rin Chupeco’s Bone Witch, and today is the very last day. Get thee to the entry form!

And now, for two very different books:

Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett

cover of Elysium by Jennifer Marie BrissettI was recently reminded by Nisi Shawl’s post that Elysium is essential reading for sci-fi fans, and so I’m adding my voice to hers to tell you to read it ASAP.

With its experimental structure, this is a novel that rewards readers who go along for the journey. It jumps characters and time frames, and puts its protagonists through life after life, apocalypse after apocalypse. Through this repetition, we start to see the world of Elysium take shape, and the struggles of humanity to survive and protect their loved ones at any cost.

Brissett’s genius is in pulling off the complex structure and by investing us wholely in the characters. We see them in different forms, different genders, different emotional configurations, but their personalities shine through in each chapter and keep us rooting for them, and desperate to know what happens next. It’s also a book I wanted to start over again as soon as I finished it, which is a rare book indeed. Elysium is a truly monumental book, especially when one considers that it’s a first novel. Give it your time and attention, and you will not be sorry.

Wintersong by S. Jae Jones

cover of Wintersong by S Jae JonesIf you have been craving a fairytale that includes elements of Labyrinth’s Goblin King, Goethe’s Der Erlkönig, and the story of Orpheus, all while telling a gorgeous story about sisterhood and the power of creativity, then you are going to love S. Jae Jones’ debut novel.

Liesl is a brilliant composer, but it doesn’t matter — she’s far too busy keeping her family together, running their inn, and supporting her younger brother’s budding career as a virtuoso violinist. She’s also a young woman in a time (I’m guesstimating 1800s) when women’s contributions to the arts were largely overlooked or disregarded. And, perhaps most importantly, she’s the target of a Goblin King who is looking for a new bride.

As the plot unfolds, Liesl must weave her way through a maze of obstacles to get at the heart of the Goblin King’s challenge, which is also the heart of her own story. Capricious and captivating by turns, the Erlking is both her tormentor and her best ally in unleashing the talents that Liesl has been suppressing. Jae-Jones packs so much story between the opening and closing pages of Wintersong that I felt like I had read at least two books by the time I was done, and was gripped by every page.

A reading suggestion: have some Mozart close to hand, at the very least. This book will make you want to listen to all the classical music, and made me wish I knew much more about it than I do!


This newsletter is sponsored by Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar.

Raised in the Czech countryside, Jakub Procházka has gone from small-time scientist to premier national astronaut. When a dangerous solo mission to Venus offers him a chance at heroism, he takes it, leaving behind his devoted wife Lenka, whose love, Jakub realizes too late, he has sacrificed.

Alone in space, Jakub finds a companion in a possibly imaginary alien spider. Over a series of philosophical conversations, the pair form an intense emotional bond. But will it be enough to see Jakub through a clash with secret Russian rivals and return him safely to Earth for a second chance with Lenka?

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Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships Feb 24

Happy Friday, nerd-friends and geek-pals.

First things first:
– A correction is called for; despite it being on the cover image and everything, I had Lara Elena Donnelly’s name wrong last issue. Mea culpa!
– And a MUPPET ARMS! The Nebula has announced the 2016 nominees and I cannot stand how excited I am about the list for Novel. I have read all but Borderline (must get on that) and could not agree more with their nominations! I am trying to ration exclamation marks but it’s not working!?!

For today’s issue, I have a book listicle spectacular for you. Ready, set, TBR:

I have no real feelings about 50 Shades of Grey but I do love this post about eight sci-fi/fantasy books sexier than it.

Here is a list of Middle-Eastern inspired SF/F and while it’s light on authors actually from the Middle East, I extremely cosign their recommendation of Alif the Unseen. Before she was the pen behind Ms. Marvel, G. Willow Wilson wrote a killer tech-punk action novel, plus genies! It’s also one of the few books out there that plays equally with technology and fantasy.

Want some comics that scratch the fantasy itch? Christine has five recs for you. Points of interest: Mike Carey is the same writer as M.R. Carey (The Girl With All The Gifts) and Marjorie Liu is the author of the Hunter Kiss urban fantasy series as well as Monstress. Multi-tasking!

Japanese speculative fiction in translation! I’ve been a fan of Japanese noir for some time, but haven’t delved much into speculative fiction yet, so this is exciting. I have my eye on Mr. Turtle in particular, as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were very important in my formative years.

And finally, how about some color on the silver screen? Jessica has a wish-list of diverse fantasies she’d love to see adapted.

Speaking of things I’d love to be adapted…

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

ninefox gambit by yoon ha leeWow, you guys. SERIOUSLY WOW. This space opera belongs on your shelf next to the works of China Mieville, Iain M. Banks, and Cixin Liu. The sequel The Raven Stratagem comes out in June and I will be counting down the days. (Bonus: just listed for the Nebula Award for 2016 Novel!)

Captain Kel Cheris has kept her head down and worked her way quietly through the ranks, but a battle with heretics that goes sideways draws the attention of the higher-ups to her mathematical talent. Her skills get her assigned to a mission that is all risk and little reward, and which requires her to be pseudo-possessed by the centuries-old ghost of a brilliant and insane tactician. (And this is me simplifying the plot!)

Lee has built an empire in space in which the mechanics of calendars are all-important, heresy not only disrupts governance but changes the way the universe works, and everyone’s motives are inscrutable and suspect. The action sequences are intense, the plotting is top-notch, the conspiracies are shocking, and the characters are fantastic. Truly, I do not have superlatives enough to tell you how much I enjoyed Ninefox Gambit.

 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprooted by naomi novikThis one made the rounds of favorites when it came out in 2015, but I recently ran into someone who hadn’t read it yet and it reminded me that some of you might need a push! Naomi Novik is best-known for the Temeraire series, which just recently came to an end (long live fussy dragons during the Napoleonic wars!), but this stand-alone novel is gorgeous.

Inspired by a Polish folktale, Uprooted follows a young woman named Agnieszka as, against all expectations, she is chosen by a wizard to be his … housekeeper? Kind of? In exchange for a village girl every ten years, the Dragon (title, not literal dragon) protects the village from the ravages of the very-angry forest on its borders. Agnieszka is not expecting to be taken since she’s neither the most beautiful nor graceful nor bravest nor, well, you get the idea. But what she has in spades is moxie, and is thus the perfect person to star in an epic adventure.

There are a bunch of twists and turns to this fairytale rewrite, which always makes me happy. Novik knows the tropes well and isn’t afraid to spin them around until they lead off in unexpected directions. Evil forest, terrifying wizard, plucky young heroine, royalty in peril: all are there, but none are what they seem. And while the ending is satisfying, I hope someday that I get to return to Agnieszka’s world. Maybe now that Novik is done with historical dragons, we’ll get a sequel?


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Swords and Spaceships

Swords and Spaceships Feb 10

Greetings and salutations, good readers.

As if we didn’t have enough bad news in our lives, physics students have done the math on the zombie apocalypse and we are all doomed. According to their initial calculations, it would only take 100 days before the human population would be unsustainably decimated. Why physics students are working on epidemiological models I cannot say, but I am delighted that these findings were presented for peer-review.

Last week I gave you some short fiction; to balance the scales, have some long series! You’re going to need to stock up on lengthy reading material for your zombie-apocalypse bunker, after all.

If the apocalypse arrives in 2017, it will be EXTRA ironic because then we’d miss Good Omens coming to a screen near us in 2018. The BBC are turning one of the funniest end-of-the-world novels of possibly ever into a six-part series, and I cosign the heck out of The Nerdist’s dreamcast.

Alright, some non-apocalypse news. I have refused to watch Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle for a variety of reasons (JK, it’s basically because I am a jerk-purist about this book), but I was delighted to see this reading list from Teresa — she covers books that are read-alikes, books inside the book/series, actual history, all the angles! It makes my History Major heart grow three sizes. (I am still not going to watch the show.)

The following reviews are certified zombie and/or apocalypse free. (FOR NOW.)

Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza

Empress of a Thousand SkiesThis is a book about a space princess on the run from a murderous conspiracy, and that is probably all some of you need to hear. For the rest of you, there’s a lot to love about Belleza’s debut. Following the aforementioned space princess Rhiannon “Rhee” Ta’an and soldier-turned-reality-star Aly, Empress introduces us to a galaxy in which a tenuous peace is about to be shattered. Rhee is the sole heir of her dynasty and is pretty sure her family was killed by the current Regent, so she’s spent the last ten years plotting revenge. Naturally! (This is where all those “Arya Stark in space” parallels come up.) Now that she’s turned 16, she’s ready to be crowned and to wreak her vengeance. But on the way to her coronation ceremony, everything goes to hell in a handbasket.

Poor Aly, the sidekick on a reality show about patrolling soldiers (I was initially skeptical of this future-TV spin, but it really grew on me as the plot developed), becomes the center of a new incident and is branded a traitor and murderer. And Aly is where the politics of Belleza’s galaxy really show up, as he’s the reluctant public face of a refugee population. His struggle to prove his innocence leads him into Rhee’s orbit. While they don’t actually meet in this first installment (who wrote that cover copy?), they’re definitely on a collision course.

The action is solid (spaceship fights! Hand-to-hand fights! Assassins! Religious cult archers! Deadly robots!), the world well-built, and the characters endearing. Belleza also neatly avoids a couple of my least-favorite YA tropes, although I’m not telling which because spoilers. For those looking for #ownvoices, this definitely qualifies and the main characters are clearly non-white. In conclusion, read this so we can yell at each other about the big twist, mmkay?

Amberlough by Lara Ellen Donnelly

Amberlough by Lara Ellen DonnellyI promised you cabaret last time, and cabaret you shall have! Donnelly has written a spy thriller set in an alternate world, and I absolutely devoured it. (Technically this is speculative fiction, folks, as there is no magic.) I’ve been trying to come up with my elevator pitch, and keep getting stuck somewhere around “It’s like if The Great Gatsby and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy went through a wormhole and then had a baby.” Baz Luhrmann would definitely be tempted to adapt this.

Cyril dePaul is a spy, and a louche one at that. His lover Aristide Makricosta is a smuggler, dealer, and cabaret emcee. Their arrangement involves them pretending they know nothing about each other’s real jobs while half-heartedly spying on each other, and also definitely not falling in love, not even a little. They live in Amberlough City, center of graft, whimsy, and liberalism. When Cyril falls into the hands of the conservative neighboring province’s spy forces, their relationship has to come to an end — but neither wants to let go. In the meantime, streetwise singer and small-time dealer Cordelia is just looking to keep herself in rent and food, but finds herself sucked into the darkest side of politics as the encroaching One State Party makes its move.

The plot is meticulously paced, as are the switches in POV (close third, in case that matters to you). The parallels to historical and current politics are obvious and, for some readers, perhaps a little on the nose. But what made this book such an incredible read for me were the character arcs. Cyril’s cynicism and self-interest; Aristide’s savvy and force of character; Cordelia’s political awakening; their interactions with the richly imagined and portrayed supporting cast, all held me from the first to the last page. Not to mention the ending! It hit me in the feelings place, I tell you what. This book is so vivid that a month after reading, I was still thinking about it enough to dreamcast it.

 


This newsletter is sponsored by Age of Order by Julian North.

Inequality is a science. Giant machines maintain order. All people are not created equal.

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