With thoughts of the holidays and gift-giving on our minds, this month’s column has some selections that would make great presents for the sf/fantasy lover in your family. Two steampunk offerings come to mind: game designer and noir sf writer Frank Chadwick’s The Forever Engine and Mike Resnick’s latest installment in his Doc Holliday Weird West series, The Doctor and the Dinosaurs. Fans of disaster fiction will appreciate Harry Turtledove’s new installment in his Supervolcano series (Things Fall Apart), while zombie fans will line up for Ben Tripp’s Rise Again Below Zero. May your holiday season be bright, joyful and filled with wonder!
Chadwick, Frank. The Forever Engine. Baen. Jan. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9781451639407. pap. $15. SF
In the near future, Special Forces operator–turned–scholar Jack Fargo agrees to take a look at some curious artifacts, allegedly brought forward from the past by a group of scientists secretly experimenting with time travel. When a violent temporal accident sends Fargo to London in 1888, the soldier-scholar finds himself in a world very different from that of his historical knowledge. In a city rendered dark and toxic by the fumes of industrialization, floating wood, known as liftwood, enables the flight of great iron ships. Humans have colonized Mars, and in Eastern Europe, the Old Man of the Mountains is constructing a “Forever Engine” that could destroy more than one world. VERDICT The author of How Dark the World Becomes and designer of role-playing games has brought to life a darkly imaginative steampunk future populated by intriguing characters, including a lovely and brilliant spy for the French Commune and a British officer who seems to shirk his duties but who may be more than he appears. Alternate versions of historical characters mingle with Chadwick’s fictional personae in a brilliant sf adventure that will leave the reader hoping for further outings for Fargo and his companions.
Resnick, Mike. The Doctor and the Dinosaurs: A Weird West Tale. Pyr: Prometheus. Dec. 2013. 289p. ISBN 9781616148614. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9781616148621. FANTASY
Angry at the recently signed treaty between the Apache shaman Goyathlay, or Geronimo, and Theodore Roosevelt that now enables the expansion of the young United States beyond the Mississippi River, a group of Comanche medicine men seek to scuttle the agreement. When Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, feuding pioneers in the “new” science of paleontology, violate sacred burial grounds with their digs, the medicine men threaten to raise the strange, huge creatures whose bones lie buried in the earth. Enter Theodore Roosevelt; Doc Holliday, granted an extra year of life by Geronimo in exchange for his help; Thomas Edison; Ned Buntline; Cole Younger; and Buffalo Bill Cody to save the day—or the world—if they can. VERDICT The latest entry in Resnick’s steampunk series (The Doctor and the Rough Rider) featuring historical figures of America’s Old West continues to showcase the author’s grasp of the art of storytelling, particularly of the tall tale. Throw in some shamanic magic, zombies, and dinosaurs, and the result is a rollicking steampunk adventure for fans of American history and Westerns.
Tripp, Ben. Rise Again Below Zero. Gallery. Dec. 2013. 337p. ISBN 9781451668322. pap. $16. HORROR
The world is full of “zeros,” or zombies, and a few human survivors make their way through a broken landscape to “Happy Town,” where they can be free from the danger of the zeros. Sheriff Danielle Adelman leads her small tribe across the country, accompanied by her sister, Kelly, who is undead but who retains her ability to think and plan, as well as many of her memories. The zeros have developed their own hierarchy: moaners, hunters, and thinkers, who seem almost human in their ability to reason and communicate. Along with Danny travels the Silent Kid and his Boston terrier companion. As they approach their destination, Danny senses that something about Happy Town is not right and faces some of her most difficult decisions. VERDICT Picking up where Rise Again left off, Tripp’s sequel features well-drawn and believable characters. Especially nuanced is Kelly, who desperately struggles to hold on to her humanity. A standout among the current flood of “zombie” novels, Tripp’s latest effort sets a new bar for zombie fiction.
DEBUT OF THE MONTH
Gwynne, John. Malice. Orbit: Hachette. (Faithful & Fallen, Bk. 1). Dec. 2013. 450p. ISBN 9780316399739. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780316399715. FANTASY
Corban, the blacksmith’s son, hopes to join the army of King Brenin but knows that he must first learn how to use a sword. Veradis, whose brother rides with the army of the High King Aquilus, hopes to do the same but is elated to join the newly formed war band of Nathair, the king’s son. Evnis swears loyalty to the Queen of Cambren and to the dark god she serves. The fortunes of these and of other individuals come together when the High King calls a meeting of all the rulers of the Banished Lands to unite these kingdoms to withstand the dark forces he sees coming. VERDICT Gwynne’s debut epic fantasy launches a series that promises the same degree of complexity and depth found in Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” books and George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series. The author skillfully juggles many plot threads, and his worldbuilding is richly detailed and filled with characters who evoke the reader’s interest and sympathy.
MASS MARKET PAPERBACKS OF NOTE
Brennan, M.L. Iron Night: A Generation V Novel. Roc: Penguin. (Generation V, Bk. 2). Jan. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780451418418. pap. $7.99. FANTASY
Vampire Fortitude Scott waits tables and otherwise wastes his potential until the murder of his roommate sends him on the hunt for a killer in the sequel to Generation V.
Remic, Andy. The Iron Wolves. Angry Robot. (Rage of Kings, Bk. 1). Dec. 2013. 448p. ISBN 9780857663559. pap. $7.99. FANTASY
Thirty years ago, General Dalgoran tried to reunite the elite Iron Wolves for a new battle against the twisted forces of Orlana the Changer, but the years have taken their toll, and the Wolves are not what they used to be. This series opener recalls gritty fantasy in the style of Glen Cook’s The Black Company.
Shearin, Lisa. The Grendel Affair. Ace: Berkley. (SPI Files, Bk. 1). Dec. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780425266915. pap. $7.99. FANTASY
When a sickle-bearing serial killer descended from the monster Grendel stalks New York’s subway tunnels, agent Makenna Fraser, a seer for Supernatural Protection & Investigations, springs into action in this new urban fantasy series.
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Check These Out
Eder, Scott. Knight of Flame. Twilight Times. Dec. 2013. 316p. ISBN 9781606192931. pap. $19.95. FANTASY
Hall, Alexis. Iron & Velvet. Riptide. (Kate Kane, Paranormal Investigator, Bk. 1). Dec. 2013. 250p. ISBN 9781626490499. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781626490482. FANTASY
Morden, Simon. Arcanum. Orbit: Hachette. Jan. 2014. 450p. ISBN 9780316220101. pap. $17. FANTASY
Tregillis, Ian. Something More Than Night. Tor. Dec. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780765334329. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466810204. FANTASY
Turtledove, Harry. Supervolcano: Things Fall Apart. Roc: Penguin. Dec. 2013.
416p. ISBN 9780451465689. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101626566. SF
von Lowenkraft, Dina. Dragon Fire. Twilight Times. Dec. 2013. 340p. ISBN 9781606192917. pap. $21.95. FANTASY
“‘Well, it’s a cluster of superlatives,’ said Holliday.’What are you talking about, Doc?’ asked Roosevelt. ‘What we have here,’ explained Holliday, waving a hand at the camp. ‘The greatest shootist, the greatest scientist, and the greatest politician on the continent may all die trying to protect the two nastiest paleontologists from destroying each other and maybe the greatest medicine man as well.’ ‘I’m not the greatest politician,’ said Roosevelt. Suddenly he grinned. ‘Yet.’”—Mike Resnick. The Doctor and the Dinosaurs
Collections & Anthologies
Kicking It: All-New Tales of Murder, Magic, and Manolos. Roc: Penguin. Dec. 2013. 368p. ed. by Faith Hunter & Kalayna Price. ISBN 9780451419002. pap. $16. FANTASY
Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera for a New Age. Every Day. Dec. 2013. 360p. ed. by Bryan Thomas Schmidt. ISBN 9780988125759. $29; ISBN 9780988125766. pap. $17.95; ebk. ISBN 9780988125773. SF
Watts, Peter. Beyond the Rift. Tachyon. Jan. 2014. 240p. ISBN 9781616961251. pap. $14.95. SF
Weir, Andy. The Martian. Crown. Feb. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780804139021. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780804139038. SF
The untimely death in 2010 of sf/fantasy author Kage Baker left the sf community saddened by the loss of such a talented and creative writer. Now Tachyon Publications has released this month In the Company of Thieves (ISBN 9781616961299. pap. $15.95), which gathers six tales (including one previously uncollected) of the time-travelling members of the Company and their employer, Dr. Zeus, Incorporated. Honoring another sf icon, Jack Vance (1916–2013), Subterranean Books has been releasing his early stories, starting in 2010 with Hard Luck Diggings. The second volume, Dream Castles, was published in 2012, and Magic Highways, the third volume, appeared earlier this year. A fourth volume, Minding the Stars, is due out in March 2014.