Many readers are drawn to fantasy and sf for the chance to visit new worlds. While sf fans often prefer to travel to futuristic planets via spaceship (and they could hardly do better than to blast off with Rachel Bach’s incredible recent series finishing up with Heaven’s Queen), fantasy fans are often looking for a different kind of landscape. In last month’s column I talked about the continued popularity of urban fantasy, with its magically imbued real-world settings, but some readers want a more complete escape into imaginary kingdoms.
Traditional fantasy worlds used to follow a few standard prototypes, patterned heavily on European medieval history for its social structures, political systems, clothing, industry, and modes of speech. While these settings can still be found, a lot of today’s fantasy authors are dipping into other cultural wells for their worldbuilding, although they usually keep things preindustrial.
Some examples from this month’s books include Chris Willrich’s The Silk Map, which is a sword-and-sorcery fantasy with a pseudo-Asian setting. Steles of the Sky finishes Elizabeth Bear’s fantasy trilogy that features cultures modeled on ancient China, Mongolia, and Arabia. And Dead Man’s Hand is a fun anthology with settings in the American Old West that will transport readers to that rough-and-tumble time. While the castles and princes of traditional fantasy will probably always have a place in the genre, it’s great to see writers taking us to different worlds.
Two excellent urban fantasy series are getting fresh starts with new publishers. Jonathan Wood’s series featuring Arthur Wallace and MI37 got caught in Night Shade Books’ financial difficulties, but has found a new home with Titan Books, which is rereleasing No Hero (reviewed below), the first title in the series, and has committed to at least two more books. The “Night Watch” books by Sergei Lukyanenko were huge in Russia and had a cult following here when Miramax published the novels. Unfortunately, that publisher didn’t complete the series, and its U.S. editions have not been widely available for libraries for years. HarperCollins has picked up the rights for the series and rereleased Night Watch last December, followed by Day Watch in January, Twilight Watch in February, and the fifth book, New Watch (reviewed below), in April 2014 (for some reason book four, Last Watch, doesn’t seem to be getting a Harper release). Both of these series deserve their new starts, and libraries can happily restock as needed.
DEBUT OF THE MONTH
Davidson, Rjurik. Unwrapped Sky. Tor. Apr. 2014. 432p. ISBN 9780765329882. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429948388. FANTASY
In a society that has decayed from a centuries-past technological heyday, philosopher-assassin Kata is being used as a tool. She answers to Boris Autec, a minor officiate of House Technis, one of the three houses that control the city-state of Caeli-Amur. When he sends her undercover to the secret hideout of the city’s revolutionary labor protesters, Kata meets Maximilian, a seditionist with a thirst for the knowledge of lost technologies. Tensions bubble as the Houses and the seditionists head to a confrontation. VERDICT The publisher describes this novel as an example of the New Weird, and it does echo the imaginative scope of some of the best authors of that school, such as Jeff VanderMeer. Davidson (The Library of Forgotten Books) is an award-winning writer with a huge amount of talent, excelling at description and complex characters. Although the mix of high and low tech could be smoother, every aspect of his worldbuilding is exciting. This full-length debut marks Davidson as an author to watch.
Addison, Katherine. The Goblin Emperor. Tor. Apr. 2014. 448p. ISBN 9780765326997. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429946407. FANTASY
The assassination of Emperor Varenechibel and three of his sons was shocking to the people of Ethuveraz, but none was more shocked than 18-year-old Maia, the youngest son and almost forgotten heir to the Elfin throne. The half-elf, half-goblin Maia had lived in exile since his birth when his now-dead goblin mother was banished by the emperor soon after becoming pregnant. When he takes the throne, Maia must adjust not only to life at court but to the knowledge that there are many who don’t believe he should rule. VERDICT Court intrigue and politics are popular fodder for fantasy novels, but rarely have they been done better than in this fantastic new novel from Sarah Monette (writing as Addison). The writing is lovely, with characters who live and breathe. Maia, especially, will tug on the heartstrings of even the most hardened reader as he struggles to find kindness and allies in the imperial court.
Christopher, Adam. The Burning Dark. Tor. (Spider War). Mar. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780765335081. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466820869. SF
As his last assignment with the Fleet, Capt. Idaho Cleveland heads to the U-Star Coast City to assist with the space station’s decommissioning. Put in place as a science station around an unusual star known as Shadow, the Coast City also served as a defensive outpost against an implacable and technologically superior enemy known as the Spiders. From Cleveland’s arrival it’s obvious that things are not quite right on the station and the strange purple light from Shadow seems to be making the skeleton crew aggressive and paranoid. Isolated, resented, and bored, Cleveland builds a radio that somehow picks up a signal from across time and space that might be a message—or a warning. VERDICT This dark and chilling novel from the versatile Christopher (Seven Wonders; Hang Wire) builds tension expertly. Claustrophobic in mood but with the scope of great space opera, this is sf you will want to read with the light on. Although the ending arrives quickly, this is apparently the first book in a new series exploring more of the world of the Fleet and the Spiders.
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All Things discworld
Pratchett, Terry. Raising Steam. Doubleday. (Discworld, Bk. 40). Mar. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780385538268. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385538299. FANTASY
Pratchett, Terry & Stephen Briggs. Turtle Recall: The Discworld Companion…So Far. Harper. Mar. 2014. 464p. ISBN 9780062292551. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062292575. FANTASY
“Moist looked at the Patrician’s grey expression. He had articulated the term ‘rail way’ in something like the voice of an elderly duchess finding something unmentionable in her soup. It had total disdain floating in the air around it. But if you watched the weather of Lord Vetinari, and Moist was an expert in the Patrician’s meteorology, you would notice that sometimes a metaphysical cloudburst might very shortly turn into a lovely day in the park.”Raising Steam
Check These Out
Bach, Rachel. Heaven’s Queen. Orbit: Hachette. (Paradox, Bk. 3). Apr. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780316221122. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780316221139. sf
Bear, Elizabeth. Steles of the Sky. Tor. (Eternal Sky, Bk. 3). Apr. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780765327567. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429947688. FANTASY
Beckett, Chris. Dark Eden. Broadway: Crown. Apr. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780804138680. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780804138697. SF
Bova, Ben. Transhuman. Tor. Apr. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780765332936. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429965422. SF
Brackston, Paula. The Midnight Witch. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Mar. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9781250006080. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250022967. FANTASY
Carr, Scott Christian & Andrew Conry-Murray. Wasteland Blues. Dog Star: Raw Dog Screaming. Apr. 2014. 220p. ISBN 9781935738596. pap. $14.95. SF
Larke, Glenda. The Lascar’s Dagger. Orbit: Hachette. (Forsaken Lands, Bk. 1). Mar. 2014. 512p. ISBN 9780316399661. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780316399647. FANTASY
Lebbon, Tim. Coldbrook. Titan. Apr. 2014. 512p. ISBN 9781781168783. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781781168806. HORROR
Leigh, Stephen. Immortal Muse. DAW, dist. by Penguin. Mar. 2014. 544p. ISBN 9780756409562. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698140066. FANTASY
Lukyanenko, Sergei. New Watch. Harper. (Night Watch, Bk. 5). Apr. 2014. 384p. tr. from Russian by Andrew Bromfield. ISBN 9780062310071. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062310088. FANTASY
Marmell, Ari. Hot Lead, Cold Iron. Titan. May 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781781168226. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781781168233. FANTASY
Willrich, Chris. The Silk Map. Pyr: Prometheus. (Gaunt & Bone, Bk. 2). May 2014. 450p. ISBN 9781616148997. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616149000. FANTASY
Wood, Jonathan. No Hero. Titan. Mar. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9781781168066. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781781168134. FANTASY
Collections & Anthologies
The Book of Silverberg: Stories in Honor of Robert Silverberg. Subterranean. Apr. 2014. 288p. ed. by Gardner Dozois & William Schafer. ISBN 9781596066434. $35. SF
Dead Man’s Hand: An Anthology of the Weird West. Titan. May 2014. 416p. ed. by John Joseph Adams. ISBN 9781781164501. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781781164518. SF
Cargill, C. Robert. Queen of the Dark Things. Harper Voyager. May 2014. 448p. ISBN 9780062190451. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062190475. FANTASY
Malerman, Josh. Bird Box. Ecco: HarperCollins. May 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780062259653. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062259677. HORROR
Robot Uprisings. Vintage. Apr. 2014. 496p. ed. by Daniel H. Wilson & John Joseph Adams. ISBN 9780345803634. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780345803641. SF
Sanderson, Brandon. Words of Radiance. Tor. (Stormlight Archive, Bk. 2). Mar. 2014. 1088p. ISBN 9780765326362. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429949620. FANTASY
Simon & Schuster has announced another new speculative fiction imprint, not to be confused with Saga Press, the sf, fantasy, and horror imprint for adult and teen audiences announced several months ago. This new line, Simon 451, will be an adult imprint that will publish “speculative fiction, fantasy, apocalyptic fiction, and more” in both print and electronic format (including ebook originals). The first books from Simon 451 should be hitting shelves in October 2014, and early frontlist titles include the first book in an sf series cowritten by actress Gillian Anderson (X-Files). The name of the line comes from Ray Bradbury’s seminal sf classic Fahrenheit 451, which S. & S. published for the first time in ebook format in 2011.
AWARDs season is here
It is the time of year when short and long lists for many genre awards are announced. Although the Hugo (thehugoawards.org) and Nebula (sfwa.org/nebula-awards) are the big sf/fantasy awards, there are plenty of smaller prizes as well. Some awards, such as the Hugo are fan-nominated, and others are juried. These lists, especially for some of the more offbeat awards, can be a great place to find titles to add breadth and depth to your sf/fantasy shelves.
The Philip K. Dick Awards (www.philipkdickaward.org) are given to the best books published as paperback originals in the United States. Paperbacks remain an important part of the sf/fantasy landscape, and this group usually has some interesting, offbeat picks.
The Kitschies (thekitschies.com), from Britain, are relatively new. The categories include the Red Tentacle for Best Novel and the Golden Tentacle for Best First Novel (the sponsor is Kraken Rum). This year’s slate made news owing to the number of mainstream literary novels being considered.
The Bram Stoker Awards (http://horror.org/?p=5627), handed out by the Horror Writers of America, are the premier awards for the horror genre. Looking at the preliminary ballot is a good way to discover new small presses dedicated to horror fiction.
The Brits love their sf! BSFA (bsfa.co.uk) is the award given out by the British Science Fiction Association. Both this and the Arthur C. Clarke Award (clarkeaward.com) drew fire last year for their lack of female nominees, but from the short-list of the BSFA and the Clarkes release of a long-list of female writers submitted for the prize, it looks like women are well represented in both awards this year.