The variations on sf and fantasy genres appear limitless, as more permutations of familiar subgenres seize the imaginations of avid readers eager to expand their literary horizons. Steampunk with a distinctly pagan twist rises to the fore in Natania Barron’s Pilgrim of the Sky, while Catherynne M. Valente blends medieval allegory and parable to superb effect in The Folded World. Alternate history makes a showing in Robert Conroy’s Himmler’s War, a variation on the endless possibilities inherent in World War II.
Standard series fantasy, complete with heroic companions and a multitude of fantastic creatures, has ample representation this month in works by William King (Blood of Aenarion), Elizabeth Moon (Echoes of Betrayal), Robert Louis Smith (Antiquitas Lost), and Michelle West (Skirmish).
In the science fiction world, the prolific duo of Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson offer Sisterhood of Dune, in which they continue to explore the origins of many of the seminal organizations that make up the late Frank Herbert’s Duniverse. Space opera (Michael Flynn’s In the Lion’s Mouth), dystopian fiction (Amberle Husbands’s See Eads City), and sf noir (Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Anniversary Day) round out the sf offerings.
This month’s featured debut, Jason Stoddard’s Winning Mars, deserves kudos for its barbed take on the future of entertainment and the media and how we value life in an age when technology threatens to overshadow humanity.
Sarah Monette’s wonderful collection, Somewhere Beneath Those Waves, redefines the boundaries of the sf and fantasy short story, while a quartet of mass market paperbacks provide urban fantasy (M.L.N. Hanover’s Killing Rites; Sean McCabe’s The Cross), military sf (Brett Patton’s Mecha Corps), and epic fantasy (Benjamin Tate’s Leaves of Flame).
Finally, a salute to one of the genre’s most accomplished authors and a shoutout to 2011’s best sf/fantasy brings this month’s column‚ and the year‚ to an end.
DEBUT OF THE MONTH
Stoddard, Jason. Winning Mars. Prime. Dec. 2011. c.320p. ISBN 9781607012160. pap. $14.95. SF
In a future where the art of linear entertainment‚ better known as TV shows‚ is giving way to interactive, massive multiuser online gaming (MMOs), producer Jere Gutierrez conceives of a reality show set on yet-to-be-colonized Mars. Eleven players, divided into teams that are each assigned a different goal, travel to the Red Planet to compete in a $50 million contest while the world watches on a five-minute time delay. The risk: a high probability of death. VERDICT Stoddard’s highly original story draws on the latest trends in reality TV and tension over U.S. vs. Chinese control of space travel. Powerful storytelling, a minimalist prose style that does not diminish the three-dimensional characters, and a keen ear for dialog add to this novel’s many pleasures.
Herbert, Brian & Kevin J. Anderson. Sisterhood of Dune. Tor. Jan. 2012. c.496p. ISBN 9780765322739. $27.99. SF
In the aftermath of the Butlerian Jihad and the destruction of all thinking machines, human planetary governments reorganize themselves into the First Imperium under the leadership of Faykan Butler, now known as Corrino (after the decisive Battle of Corrin). Eight decades later, a number of schools have arisen to push the human mind to its highest levels. This includes the training of Mentats as human computers, the development of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood as practitioners of mental and social manipulation, and the bizarre transformation of men and women into mutated Navigators who use their minds to allow instantaneous interplanetary travel. Amid these changes, youthful members of disgraced House Harkonnen seek vengeance against the Atreides hero responsible for Harkonnen’s downfall, while the Butlerian movement under the leadership of zealot Manford Torondo seeks to root out every vestige of machine dependency. VERDICT With their usual fidelity to the vision of the late Frank Herbert, coauthors Herbert (Frank’s son) and Anderson (The Winds of Dune) continue to illuminate heretofore hidden areas of the Dune time line. Fully realized characters and intricate plotting will put this title high on fans’ to-read list. [See Prepub Alert, 8/1/11.]
Monette, Sarah. Somewhere Beneath Those Waves. Prime. 2011. c.288p. ISBN 9781607013051. pap. $14.95. FANTASY
In a world where vampires rule the night, a human insomniac makes a startling discovery in The World Without Sleep. A young woman visiting the maritime museum in a seaside town aids a local selkie and uncovers the secret behind a strange collection of ship figureheads in Somewhere Beneath Those Waves Was Her Home. These and 25 other tales and one poem make up this standout collection by one of fantasy’s most elegant and dazzling writers (Melusine), who pushes the boundaries of emotional content and modern storytelling. VERDICT Monette invites comparison with Tanith Lee, Storm Constantine, and Jacqueline Carey for her sensuously evocative prose and strong yet delicate storytelling.
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