So much of speculative fiction is obsessed with ideas of time. Often the questions of sf are what the future might bring. Daryl Gregory’s Afterparty and Stephen Baker’s The Boost both look at near-future society and imagine how technological shifts both large and small might change us. The genre might also consider a world centuries or millennia from now. Michael J. Sullivan’s Hollow World leaps far ahead into our future but provides a 20th-century time-traveling protagonist to ease the way. Sf can even return to the past with alternate history like Jo Walton’s My Real Children or steampunk like Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris’s Dawn’s Early Light, each of which, in their own way, reflects how history could have unspooled differently.
In a very real way much of the literature of fantasy is a means of reimagining the past and how it might have looked if there was magic in the world. Lots of epic fantasy borrows heavily from Europe’s medieval times, but anthologies such as Long Hidden show us different slices of history. Felix Gilman’s The Revolutions takes a stab at creating what an enchanted Victorian age might have looked like. Mary Robinette Kowal has likewise reinvented the Regency period with a very specific kind of decorative magic in Valour and Vanity. Whether you look forward or back, what most of these novels try to illuminate is the ways that human nature is the same, no matter how human society has changed.
Butcher, Jim. Skin Game: A Novel of the Dresden Files. ROC: NAL. May 2014. 464p. ISBN 9780451464392. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698157897. FANTASY
Butcher (Cold Days) brings back wizard Harry Dresden for his 15th adventure fighting a rogue’s gallery of supernatural villains, but this time in a caper story. Harry has recently taken on the mantle of the Winter Knight, servant to Mab, the Faerie Queen of Air and Darkness, and she has a job for Harry. Mab has a debt to pay to Nicodemus Archleone, Knight of the Blackened Denarius, so she is loaning him Harry’s assistance. As holders of one of Judas’s pieces of silver imbued with a fallen angel, the Knights are very bad news. Worse for Harry is that the job Nicodemus plans is a raid on the vault of Hades, Lord of the Underworld. Dresden is no cream puff himself, but something of an amalgam of his own intelligence and cunning mixed with Harry Potter–like devotion to his friends and the cause of good. VERDICT This is urban fantasy par excellence, with magical action, moral dilemmas, and a wonderful cast. Series fans will love this, and there is enough backstory for newcomers.
Gregory, Daryl. Afterparty. Tor. Apr. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780765336927. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466829282. SF
In the near future, designer drugs can be produced by anyone with a chemjet printer. As the lead developer of a drug called Numinous, Lyda Rose knows the dangers of these new pharmaceuticals firsthand. Numinous was supposed to cure schizophrenia but instead caused uncontrollable visions taking the form of a very real, very personal manifestation of God. The hallucinations meant the drug was too dangerous to develop and also put Lyda in a mental hospital. When a girl on the ward with Lyda shows every sign of having taken Numinous, Lyda and her paranoid and usefully dangerous lover Olivia break out of the hospital to find and stop the other creators of the drugs. The tension grows as they get closer to the secret of who is producing Numinous, with the stakes made more real because of the amazing characters of Lyda and Olivia. VERDICT International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts (IAFA) William L. Crawford Fantasy Award winner Gregory (Pandemonium; Raising Stony Mayhall) takes on the pharmaceutical industry, drug dealers, religion, and the intricacies of how our brains work. The way the author combines the energy of a thriller with the ideas of sf is reminiscent of William Gibson’s best one-step-into-the-future novels like Pattern Recognition.
Harris, Charlaine. Midnight Crossroad: A Novel of Midnight, Texas. Ace. May 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780425263150. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101598795. FANTASY
From the author of the Sookie Stackhouse 2001–13 fantasy/mystery series (Dead Until Dark; Dead Ever After) comes the launch of a new trilogy about a small Texas town at the intersection of Witch Light Road and Davy Highway, where everybody has a past and a freaky side. The townsfolk also respect secrets, so as the story unfolds complexities abound. Life centers on a 24-hour pawn shop, the Antique Gallery and Nail Salon, the Gas N Go, and the Home Cookin Restaurant. These spots are populated by a witch, a vampire, a reverend, a new psychic in town, and their closer-to-normal friends. When the disappearance of a citizen turns out to be a murder, the characters delve into their backstories to solve the crime. VERDICT As intimate and deep as the Stackhouse novels, but with a lighter load of gore and death, Harris’s latest displays her skills at interweaving the lives of her characters. Recommended for those who prefer a mystery that perhaps calls for accepting the unbelievable and fantastical.
Debut of the Month
Paull, Laline. The Bees. Ecco: HarperCollins. May 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780062331151. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062331168. FANTASY
“Accept, Obey, and Serve.” This is the first commandment within the hive. Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, the lowest of all the castes. Yet from the moment she emerges from her cell into a community where variance is destroyed, Flora shows herself different. As her uniqueness proves useful in a time when the hive is at risk, Flora finds herself feeding newborns in the royal nursery, then foraging alone beyond the hive to bring back pollen, and even meeting the Queen, who shows Flora the beauty and sadness that exists in the bees’ past and present. Each new job brings Flora more joy, and more questions, for while she knows that obedience and sacrifice are instinctive within the hive mind, her individual traits bring her under the purview of the high priestesses and fertility police, who are striving to maintain the strict hierarchy of their society. When Flora breaks the ultimate law of the hive, challenging the Queen’s role as mother to all, her desire to protect her egg will lead the hive toward a future none expected. VERDICT Paull’s debut presents the intricate world of the honeybee hive, where devotion and service are sacred, and caste, politics, and power are as present as in any human royal court. A powerful story reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, in which one original and independent thinker can change the course of a whole society. [See Prepub Alert, 11/22/13; an “Editors’ Spring Pick,” LJ 2/15/14.]
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Check these out
Baker, Stephen. The Boost. Tor. May 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780765334374. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466810686. SF
Buettner, Robert. Balance Point. Baen. (Orphan’s Legacy, Bk. 3). Apr. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781476736440. pap. $15. SF
Canavan, Trudi. Thief’s Magic. Orbit: Hachette. (Millennium’s Rule, Bk. 1). May 2014. 560p. ISBN 9780316209274. $20; ebk. ISBN 9780316324984. FANTASY
DiLouie, Craig. Suffer the Children. Gallery. May 2014. 352p. ISBN 9781476739632. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781476739649. HORROR
Fletcher, Charlie. The Oversight. Orbit: Hachette. May 2014. 464p. ISBN 9780316279512. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780316279499. FANTASY
Gilman, Felix. The Revolutions. Tor. Apr. 2014. 416p. ISBN 9780765337177. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466831360. FANTASY
Kowal, Mary Robinette. Valour and Vanity. Tor. (Glamourist Histories, Bk. 4). May 2014. 416p. ISBN 9780765334169. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466808393. FANTASY
McClellan, Brian. The Crimson Campaign. Orbit: Hachette. (Powder Mage Trilogy, Bk. 2). May 2014. 608p. ISBN 9780316219082. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316219099. FANTASY
McIntosh, Will. Defenders. Orbit: Hachette. May 2014. 512p. ISBN 9780316217767. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780316217750. SF
Painter, Kristen. House of the Rising Sun. Orbit: Hachette. (Crescent City, Bk. 1). May 2014. 448p. ISBN 9780316278270. pap. $14; ebk. ISBN 9780316278287. FANTASY
Pettersson, Vicki. The Given. Harper Voyager. (Celestial Blues, Bk. 3). May 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780062066206. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062064141. FANTASY
Shea, Kieran. Koko Takes a Holiday. Titan. Jun. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9781781168608. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781781168615. SF
Sullivan, Michael J. Hollow World. Tachyon. Apr. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9781616961831.pap. $15.95. SF
Walton, Jo. My Real Children. Tor. May 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780765332653. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466800793. FANTASY
QUOTABLE “ ‘Confused today,’ they wrote on her notes. Confused. Less Confused. Very Confused. That last was written frequently, sometimes abbreviated by the nurses to just ‘VC,’ which made her smile, as if she were sufficiently confused to be given a medal for it.”—Jo Walton, My Real Children
Collections & Anthologies
Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. Crossed Genres. May 2014. 363p. ed. by Rose Fox & Daniel José Older. ISBN 9780991392100. pap. 19.95; ebk. ISBN 9780991392117. FANTASY
Nebula Awards Showcase 2014. Pyr: Prometheus. May 2014. 320p. ed. by Kij Johnson. ISBN 9781616149017. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9781616149024. SF
Doyle, Tom. American Craftsmen. Tor. May 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780765337511. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466834576. FANTASY
Mass Market Paperback of Note
Ballantine, Pip & Tee Morris. Dawn’s Early Light. Ace. (Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, Bk. 3). Apr. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780425267318. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101621455. FANTASY
Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences agents Eliza Braun and Wellington Books are out of favor and out of the country in the latest installment of this steampunk series (after 2013’s The Janus Affair). The pair team up with their American counterparts for a simple case involving missing airships off the Atlantic coast. But the mystery grows dangerous when it looks like Thomas Edison himself might be involved. VERDICT The romantic tension between Eliza and Wellington is given a nudge in this volume while retaining the bickering and humor that make this series a good bet for steampunk fans.