SF/Fantasy Reviews, October 15, 2011

In this Article
Debut of the Month
Mass Market Paperbacks of Note
Quotable

The Halloween season is upon us, and a plethora of horror novels and stories will go trick-or-treating onto the shelves of bookstores and libraries. Edward Lee’s Lucifer’s Lottery takes us on a grisly, guided tour of hell, while James A. Moore’s Blood Harvest returns to the town of Black Stone Bay for a tale of vampires and more. In Deadly Treats, 21 stories reflect the many facets of the season, from the horrific to the whimsical. [For more Halloween reads, see Neal Wyatt’s The Reader’s Shelf column, p. 115.‚ Ed.]

Both fantasy and sf make a strong showing this month. Piers Anthony, a veteran of both genres, tickles the funny bones of fantasy readers with his 35th Xanth adventure (Well-Tempered Clavicle). Comedy battles horror in Terry Richard Bazes’s Lizard World. Fantasy on a grand scale shines in novels by Chris Evans (Ashes of a Black Frost), N.K. Jemisin (The Kingdom of Gods), and Richard K. Morgan (The Cold Commands). Sf offerings include David Weber’s latest installment in his Safehold series (How Firm a Foundation), a new addition to Steve Stanton’s post-cyberpunk series (The Bloodlight Chronicles: Retribution), John C. Wright’s new space opera (Count to a Trillion), and military sf from Steve White (Wolf Among the Stars).

This month’s featured debut novel, Debris, presents a world in which fantasy and science combine and stars a failed architect as its embattled heroine. Urban fantasy dominates the mass market paperback scene with series that feature zombie PIs, spell-tracking hunters, FBI agents assigned to the supernatural, nonviolent vampires, and agents of the Fae.

Two additional short story collections‚ one by horror master Richard Matheson (Steel and Other Stories) and one by cyberpunk veteran Bruce Sterling (Gothic High-Tech)‚ round out the column, creating an Octoberfest for the imagination.

BACK IN PRINT

First published in 1953, Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants became a classic with its insight into a future dominated by business rather than government. Now revised and updated by Pohl, this farseeing novel enjoys a return to print in a trade paperback edition (Thomas Dunne, Dec. 2011. ISBN 9781250000156. $14.99).

CHECK THESE OUT

Anthony, Piers. Well-Tempered Clavicle. Tor. (Xanth, Vol. 35). Oct. 2011. c.320p. ISBN 9780765331342. $25.99. FANTASY
As they wander through Xanth searching for something worthwhile in which to take part, walking skeletons Picka Bones and his sister Joy’nt encounter a trio of former pets from Mundania‚ the nonmagical world outside Xanth‚ that are also looking for a way to pass the time. The siblings’ adventures with Tweeter the bird, Midrange the cat, and Woofer the dog include encounters with the Princesses Dawn and Eve, a confrontation with Attila the Pun, and the search for Pundora’s Box. Written during a difficult time in his life, the 35th installment of Anthony’s beloved fantasy series exudes his characteristic gusto for life and celebration of the silliness and verbal acrobatics found in the simple pun. VERDICT This whimsical fantasy should please Xanthophiles and fans of the author.

Bazes, Terry Richard. Lizard World. Livingston: Univ. of West Alabama. Oct. 2011. c.263p. ISBN 9781604890761. $33; pap. ISBN 9781604890778. $22. FANTASY
In 1742, Josiah Fludd, a penniless student and would-be surgeon, joins forces with a depraved English lord, the Earl of Griswold, to acquire cadavers and eventually lands in the Florida swamps, where a certain elixir that promises eternal life can be found. In 2007, Max Nathan Smedlow, a respectable dentist traveling through these swamps, falls into the hands of some of its strange residents, among them, Lemuel Lee Frobey, an aspiring writer with a fondness for lizards. As the 18th century clashes with the 21st century by means of a kidnapping, an elixir of youth, an old manuscript, several murders, and many grisly incidents, a macabre tale unfolds that leaves everyone changed. The eccentric author of Goldsmith’s Return presents a Florida gothic fable that both amuses and horrifies as its gruesome story takes shape. VERDICT Readers fond of dark comedy and the macabre may get a kick out of this oddly compelling (and sometimes disturbingly graphic) tale.

Evans, Chris. Ashes of a Black Frost. Gallery: S. & S. (Iron Elves, Bk. 3). Oct. 2011. c.448p. ISBN 9781439180662. $25.99. FANTASY
Having won a major victory for the Calahrian Empire against the dark forces that threaten it, Maj. Konowa Swift Dragon of the elite Iron Elves must now lead his troops into the dark tunnels beneath a black forest to find the Shadow Monarch and lift the curse that burdens his men. Set against a background that resembles Europe of the Napoleonic era, Evans’s latest installment (after A Darkness Forged in Fire and The Light of Burning Shadows) mixes magic and early 19th-century warfare and showcases intriguingly memorable characters. VERDICT Fans of Glen Cook’s Black Company novels, Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, and James Barclay’s Chronicles of the Raven will appreciate this well-detailed and intensely told story.

Jemisin, N.K. The Kingdom of Gods. Orbit: Hachette. (Inheritance Trilogy, Bk. 3). Oct. 2011. c.624p. ISBN 9780316043939. pap. $13.99. FANTASY
Finally freed from their enslavement by the ruling Arameri, the gods and godlings of the world still find themselves influenced by the shifting loyalties, loves, and hates of mortals. When Sieh, the god of childhood, gives his friendship to two Arameri children, Shahar and her brother Dekarta, his godhood slips from him and changes the course of the world forever. Jemisin’s brilliant conclusion to her award-winning trilogy (after The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms; The Broken Kingdom) explores the human desire for the divine as well as the gods’ need for the mortals who worship them. VERDICT Masterly storytelling and compelling characters make this a standout selection for fantasy lovers.

Lee, Edward. Lucifer’s Lottery. Cemetery Dance. Oct. 2011. c.280p.ISBN 9781587672545. $40. Horror
Theology student Hudson receives the unexpected news that he has won Satan’s lottery and is one of only 11 winners in human history since Lucifer’s expulsion from heaven. He stands to gain not only $6 million in his mortal lifetime but also an eternity as a member of hell’s most privileged elite. To help him decide whether to accept his prize, the soul of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft conducts Hudson on a guided tour of hell, a horrific vision that surpasses that of Dante’s Inferno in its gruesome carnage. In the meantime, hell’s engineers are at work on top-secret projects that have an impact on Earth’s integrity, while a rebel contingent fights for God to bring about hell’s overthrow. The latest work by the cofounder of the splatterpunk movement and author of Portrait of the Psychopath as a Young Woman continues to push the boundaries of graphic horror with his tale of temptation and moral quandaries. VERDICT Not for the squeamish or the easily offended, this is visceral and sexually explicit horror fantasy perfectly suited for fans of the genre.

Moore, James A. Blood Harvest. Earthling. Nov. 2011. c.336p. ISBN 9780983807100. $45. Horror
Five years ago, a vampire named Jason Soulis unleashed a plague of vampires upon the town of Black Stone Bay. Despite many deaths, the town survived‚ but now a new kind of monster, evolving from those that Soulis created, threatens Black Stone Bay. Detectives Danny Holdstedter and Richie Boyd realize that their best chance at stopping this new wave of violent murders is through Soulis himself. The sequel to Blood Red by Bram Stoker nominee Moore (Serenity Falls) combines strong storytelling and solid characters to produce a sometimes violent, sometimes eerily moody horror novel filled with vampire lore. VERDICT The author’s fans and lovers of vampire fiction will grab this tale of a town under siege.

Morgan, Richard K. The Cold Commands. Del Rey: Ballantine. “(A Land Fit for Heroes, Bk. 2). Oct. 2011. c.512p. ISBN 9780345493064. $26. FANTASY
Swordsman Ringil Eskiath and his companions Egar Dragonbane and Lady Archeth set out on a dangerous journey to a mysterious isle in search of the Illwrack Changeling, a human raised among a demonic race whose dark magic threatens the world. This sequel to The Steel Remains delves deeper into the psyches of its heroic trio, whose members conquer their inner demons even as they battle to save their world. Morgan brings a fresh approach to epic fantasy, giving his world a hard edge and blending in such sf elements as machine intelligences and extraterrestrial races. VERDICT Morgan’s protagonists, with their tough outward demeanor and lofty ethics, lend depth and seriousness of purpose to high fantasy and should appeal to fans of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series.

Stanton, Steve. The Bloodlight Chronicles: Retribution. ECW, dist. by IPG. Oct. 2011. c.280p. ISBN 9781550229899. pap. $14.95. SF
An alien virus given to select humans grants the power of continual rejuvenation‚ eternal life. After Mia and Zak Davis acquire the virus for their son, Mia is brutally murdered, leaving Zak despondent and determined to connect with her spirit. When Nico, the teenaged clone of Zak’s dead sister, receives the virus, she is kidnapped by vampires who seek to drain her blood for its market value. The sequel to The Bloodlight Chronicles: Reconciliation explores the repercussions of chemical immortality, the nature of religion, life beyond death, and the politics and ethics of revenge. VERDICT Set in a future where economic transactions are tied into virtual gaming, this elegantly written sf series features believable characters and powerful situations. Stanton wastes no words in his approach to language, creating a deceptively simple style that is both appealing and lucid.

Weber, David. How Firm a Foundation. Tor. (Safehold, Vol. 6). 2011. c.608p. ISBN 9780765321541. $27.99. SF
The island empire of Charis struggles for survival against the powerful Church of God Awaiting, unable to gain ground against the church’s superior numbers. At the heart of Charis’s effort is a secret known only to the Emperor Cayleb, the Empress Sharleyan, and Merlin Athrawes, the avatar of a woman killed a thousand years ago in a hopeless galactic war against an alien race intent on exterminating humans. Though the world of Safehold has remained hidden from the aliens by forswearing most forms of high technology, Cayleb and his companions know that the only way to survive their inevitable discovery is to acquire the technology necessary to defeat their enemy, despite the church’s brutal punishments for what they consider heresy. When Merlin finally makes a shattering discovery about what lies beneath the distant Temple in the church’s city of Zion, the war takes on an even more desperate significance. VERDICT With each installment in this epic sf/fantasy blend, Weber sharpens his storytelling skills. The sixth volume (after Out of the Dark) creates a unique world in which medieval trappings serve as a buffer against an alien threat and generations live in blissful ignorance of the danger than lurks beyond the stars. Series readers and the author’s wide fan base will want this.

White, Steve. Wolf Among the Stars. Baen, dist. by S. & S. Nov. 2011. c.256p. ISBN 9781451637540. $25. SF
Having freed itself from the alien Lokaran invaders and the totalitarian Earth First Party, Earth now finds itself embroiled in galactic warfare as enemies of the collapsing Lokaran Empire seek to use the planet as a new battleground. Capt. Andrew Roark, a veteran of the rebellion, joins forces with a Lokar who seeks to transform his race into a nonimperialistic society. Together, these former enemies must prevent the return of tyranny to the galaxy. VERDICT The sequel to Eagle Against the Stars is a strong tale of military sf featuring memorable characters and fast-paced action. Fans of David Weber and David Drake will like this action-packed story of war among the stars.

Wright, John C. Count to a Trillion. Tor. Dec. 2011. c.368p. ISBN 9780765329271. $25.99. SF
Menelaus Montrose, a duelist (hired gun), joins a space expedition, eager to decipher a cryptic extraterrestrial artifact called the Monument. After an attempt to bolster his intelligence through forbidden experimentation goes wrong, Montrose awakens from an enforced sleep many years in the future; he finds that his genius, having lifted him to superhuman status, reveals to him the dark meanings of the Monument’s inscriptions. The author of the Orphans of Chaos trilogy (Orphans of Chaos; Fugitives of Chaos; Titans of Chaos ) launches a new sf adventure series featuring an unusual and eccentric hero and a world in which economic collapse has led to an ostensibly peaceful utopia. VERDICT An elegant stylist and a true visionary, Wright will delight hard sf fans with his exuberance, while his characters and plot keep the action fast and furious.

ANTHOLOGIES & COLLECTIONS

Deadly Treats: Halloween Tales of Mystery, Magic and Mayhem. Nodin. Oct. 2011. c.192p. ed. by Anne Frasier.ISBN 9781935666189. pap. $15.95. FANTASY
A food critic visits an unusual and exclusive restaurant on Halloween in Mark Hull’s Friday Night Dining with Marianne. A nightly visitation by a stray cat sends a woman in search of a long-lost sister in Jason Evans’s She Came on the October Wind. Ranging in tone from eerily quirky to quietly horrific, the 21 stories in this Halloween-themed collection offer an entertaining homage to the witching season. VERDICT Including veteran and debut writers of suspense and horror, this is a pleasant choice for Halloween aficionados and an optional addition to library collections.

Matheson, Richard. Steel and Other Stories. Tor. Oct. 2011. c.256p. ISBN 9780765329424. pap. $14.99. HORROR
Matheson’s somber tale of the future of professional boxing and one man’s desire to win at all costs (Steel)‚ the basis for Real Steel, a major film starring Hugh Jackman‚ leads off this collection that features the SF Hall of Famer’s most imaginative and disturbing tales. Including two previously uncollected stories as well as the satirical fantasy The Splendid Source, this volume represents the mind of a creative and fearless writer and should be of interest to Matheson collectors as well as libraries in general.VERDICT Touching on creeping horror as well as broad satire, this collection showcases a rare and important talent.

Sterling, Bruce. Gothic High-Tech: Stories by Bruce Sterling. Subterranean. Dec. 2011. c.232p. ISBN 9781596064041. $25. SF
From a wry account of how a lowly kiosk transforms society even as it evolves into more than just a place to buy cheap items (Kiosk) to the story of a reporter embroiled in espionage and impossible romance (Black Swan), these 12 stories by a veteran of the cyberpunk movement bring the 21st century and its possibilities into focus with clarity and insight. Sterling (The Caryatids; Holy Fire) combines a brilliant visionary acumen with a strong command of language and a love for cutting-edge high-tech fiction to create stories that leave a lasting impression. VERDICT Previously published in magazines or print and online anthologies, these stories deserve a place in most sf collections.

additional SF & Fantasy

Costello, Matthew. Vacation. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2011. c.320p. ISBN 9780312680077. $24.99. HORROR
NYPD cop Jack Murphy spends his days protecting his city from Can Heads‚ cannibalistic creatures who feed on other humans. It’s not long before Jack suffers a near-fatal Can Head attack that leaves his partner dead. With his family living behind barbed wire fences in increasingly smaller protected areas of the city, Jack longs to take them to a safe place and get away from the chaos that has become their daily routine. Sounding like the ideal vacation spot is the Paterville Family Camp, which touts itself as a heavily protected and isolated compound in the mountains with plenty of real food, swimming, hiking, and outdoor family fun. But all is not what it seems in Paterville, and it soon becomes a race against time for Jack to get his family out alive. VERDICT Video games writer and novelist Costello (Rage ) is an expert at transforming mundane scenes into nail-biting suspense. His solid, fast-paced storytelling, laced with just the right amount of violence and gore, will appeal to zombie fiction aficionados as well as other fans of horror. [Library marketing.]‚ Amy M. Davis, Kent State Univ., Columbus, OH

Jordan, Michaele. Mirror Maze. Pyr: Prometheus. Oct. 2011. c.390p. ISBN 9781616145293. pap. $16. FANTASY
Jordan’s print debut (an earlier work, Blade Light, was serialized on an sf website) begins with Jacob Aldridge, a grieving widower who catches a glimpse of a woman who greatly resembles his late wife. Upon pursuit of the young woman, Jacob and his concerned sister, Cecily, are introduced to a wide array of new characters‚ all connected by a single curse. Although the publisher bills this novel as a Victorian ghost story, it is more appropriately defined as a Victorian saga of supernatural possession and witchcraft, with its incorporation of demons and pagan practices. The odd characters, while some are cliché, bring to mind Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The novel offers an appendix of reference notes for key phrases and obscure allusions mentioned, which at times jars the reader from the narrative. VERDICT Perfect for supernatural, historical, and/or Victorian fiction buffs who will enjoy the reference notes and attention to historical detail.‚ Rebecca Marrall, Washington Univ. Libs., Bellingham

Kent, Jasper. The Third Section: Russia, 1855. Pyr: Prometheus. (Danilov Quintet, Bk. 3.) Oct. 2011. c.480p. ISBN 9781616145316. pap. $16. FANTASY
Russian officer Dmitry Danilov leads his troops in the battle for Sevastopol. Even here in the midst of terrible carnage a new horror appears. The body of a soldier is found with his throat torn out and drained of blood. Only Dmitry understands the hideous truth behind this murder, but no one would believe him, of course. Voordalak (vampires) are only myth. Meanwhile, in Moscow lives Tamara Lavrova, a secret agent for the tsar’s Third Section, which has the mandate to investigate political crimes. The biological relationship between Alexi and Tamara becomes evident early on, but what will fascinate the reader is their link with Vasiliy Yudin, a ruthless scientist and sociopath with links to the voordalak and knowledge of the secret of the Romanov Betrayal. VERDICT Although the story lags a bit when the protagonists begin ruminating over their personal problems, Kent’s third series entry (after Twelve and Thirteen Years Later) still manages to weave military history and chilling, paranormal horror into an engaging tale.‚ Patricia Altner, BiblioInfo.com, Columbia, MD

Mann, George. The Immorality Engine: A Newbury & Hobbes Investigation. Tor. Oct. 2011. c.352p. ISBN 9780765327758. $24.99. SF
In this third series entry (after The Affinity Bridge and The Osiris Ritual), Sir Maurice Newbury, an agent of Queen Victoria and part-time opium addict, along with his secretary/love, Veronica Hobbes, faces an inexplicable mystery: how can Edwin Sykes‚ a thief with a distinctive MO‚ be committing crimes when his body is rotting in a London morgue? Mann’s latest steampunk adventure aims to explore more deeply the occult aspects of his alternate England, with even greater focus than previously on the supernatural realm of possibilities. The endeavor is successful partly because of the continuing cinematic style of the prose, conveying the action in precise‚ though often gruesome‚ detail, with intriguing metaphors. VERDICT Fans of the first two books will welcome this darkly suspenseful addition, but this particular title might appeal more to horror readers than those seeking steampunk-focused fiction. The book’s epilog hints of tales to come.‚ Sara Marie Schepis, East Fishkill Community Lib., Hopewell Jct., NY

Sanderson, Brandon. The Alloy of Law: A Mistborn Novel. Tor. Nov. 2011. c.336p. ISBN 9780765330420. $24.99. FANTASY
Sanderson sets his latest fantasy in the same world as his Mistborn trilogy (The Final Empire; The Well of Ascension; The Hero of Ages), but that world has changed. Three hundred years have passed, and technology has moved forward, bringing trains, limited electricity, and guns. Waxillium Ladrian, a Twinborn who has inherited powers of Allomancy and Feruchemy, returns to the city of Elendel after 20 years in the uncivilized Roughs only to find that civilization can be much more complicated and dangerous than he ever imagined. Sanderson has skillfully woven together an intricate plot with new complex, imperfect heroes. VERDICT Highly recommended for fantasy fans, especially followers of the original trilogy. This fantasy is not a stale visit to a fondly remembered setting. Rather, it offers a fresh view of how a world can grow, building new dimensions into the best of the old. Sanderson continues to show that he is one of the best authors in the genre. [See Prepub Alert, 6/13/11.]‚ William Baer, Georgia Inst. of Technology Lib., Atlanta



 SF/Fantasy Reviews, October 15, 2011Mass Market Paperbacks of Note

Chane, Lee Arthur. Magebane. DAW, dist. by Penguin. Oct. 2011. c.496p. ISBN 9780756406790. pap. $7.99. FANTASY
Banished from the world four centuries ago, the Mage Lords dwell behind a magical Barrier. Now the Barrier is weakening, and a world that turned to science may once again face a long-forgotten threat.

Duncan, J.N. The Vengeful Dead: A Deadworld Novel. Kensington. Oct. 2011. c.432p. ISBN 9780758255648. pap. $7.99. FANTASY
FBI agent Jackie Rutledge specializes in supernatural crimes, but when her partner dies, she must adjust to a new one and deal with a vicious murderer capable of possessing other people. This gritty sequel to Deadworld features a troubled heroine and lots of supernatural activity.

Hendee, Barb. In Memories We Fear: A Vampire Memories Novel. ROC: NAL. Oct. 2011. c.336p. ISBN 9780451464224. pap. $7.99. FANTASY
A combination of suspense and romance, this fourth installment in Hendee’s urban fantasies (Blood Memories; Hunting Memories; Memories of Envy) finds nonviolent vampire Eleisha Clevon and her companions traveling to London to investigate the appearance of a murderously feral vampire. The author co-writes the Noble Dead series with her husband, J.C. Hendee.

Monk, Devon. Magic on the Line: An Allie Beckstrom Novel. ROC: NAL. Nov. 2011. c.368p. ISBN 9780451464286. pap. $7.99. FANTASY
Allison Beckstrom works as a Hound, using her magic to track down old and often illegal spells, but the close-minded and heavy-handed Authority that controls magic’s use for Portland, OR, arouses in her almost as much resentment as those she hunts. When a plague of dark magic that revives dead mages spreads chaos throughout the city, Allison risks her life as well as her reputation to stop the forces of darkness. This seventh series entry (Magic at the Gate; Magic on the Hunt) will appeal to fans of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and Tanya Huff’s Victory Nelson series.

Petrucha, Stefan. Dead Mann Walking: A Hessius Mann Novel. ROC: NAL. Oct. 2011. c.352p. ISBN 9780451464217. pap. $7.99. FANTASY
Former police officer Hessius Mann was executed for murdering his wife, later found innocent, and revived as a zombie. Now, with most of his photographic memory intact, Mann tries to avoid turning feral as he tackles a new life as a PI.

Williams, Sandy. The Shadow Reader. Ace: Berkley. Nov. 2011. c.320p. ISBN 9781937007010. pap. $7.99. FANTASY
College student McKenzie Lewis, born with the ability to both see and track the fae, works for Kyol, sword-master of the king, to hunt down rebels seeking to overthrow the Realm. When she falls into the hands of rebel leader Aren, she begins to see the world of the fae as something very different from what she has previously known. Featuring a gutsy heroine and plenty of fay lore, this urban fantasy debut should appeal to fans of Seanan McGuire’s October Daye novels.


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