The short story has a long and rather glorious history in sf, fantasy, and horror. Well before these genres established a place in bookstores and libraries, they had a home in pulp magazines with irresistible names such as Amazing Stories, Weird Tales, and Astounding Stories. The short form can be a perfect vehicle for speculative fiction, allowing an author just enough time to posit one supercool sf tale of “what if,” give readers a glimpse of a fantasy world, or chill their audience with spooky atmospheric horror. While speculative fiction magazines still exist today (and there are new markets on the Internet as well), another way that fans can get minidoses of the genres is through anthologies and collections.
This month’s offerings include a wide range of short fiction collections such as single-author compilations from K.J. Parker, Tad Williams, and Ben Bova. In multiauthor collections, readers have choices such as the unthemed horror anthology Fearful Symmetries from the Hugo Award–winning editor Ellen Datlow or a themed anthology such as the outstanding Rogues, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. Dozois is also the editor of the longest running “best of” collection, The Year’s Best Science Fiction (the 31st edition is due out in July from Griffin St. Martin’s). When you can’t decide what big new novel to tackle next, why not cleanse the reading palate with some great short fiction?
Debut of the Month
de Castell, Sebastien. Traitor’s Blade. Jo Fletcher: Quercus. Jul. 2014. 370p. ISBN 9781623658090. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781623658106. FANTASY
The Greatcoats were once the king’s elite magistrates, traveling the realm administering justice. But the dukes overthrew the king and the Greatcoats were scattered and disgraced. Falcio, Kesti, and Brasti have gotten work with a caravan and are reviled both by the caravaners and by the local populace who see them as remnants of the losing side (and cowards who stood aside when the king was toppled). The trio are drawn into the vicious politics of a local duke when they rescue Aline, a young woman whose family was put to death. They will try to protect her while searching for a way to bring law back to the land and complete the final mission of their doomed leader. VERDICT This debut is a triumph of character, with every protagonist a fascination, especially Falcio, a tormented and ridiculously honorable man. Humor abounds, mostly in the sparkling dialog among our Three Musketeers–esque band of brothers, in this swashbuckling series launch that shows huge potential.
Kennedy, Jeffe. The Mark of the Tala. Kensington. (Twelve Kingdoms, Bk. 1). Jun. 2014. 338p. ISBN 9780758294432. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780758294449. FANTASY
As the middle daughter of the High King, Andi isn’t the warrior (that’s older sister Ursula) or the beautiful one (younger sister Amelia has that sewn up), but she does have a distinct tie to her mother’s people, the Tala, that might change the balance of power in the realm. No one in the Twelve Kingdoms speaks of the dead queen or the Tala, so when Andi, while out riding, meets the mysterious Rayfe, she is stunned to find out that he is king of the Tala and that she is destined to be his queen. VERDICT The fairy-tale setup only hints at the depth of worldbuilding at work in this debut series. What could be clichéd is instead moving as Andi is torn between duty to her father and the pull of Rayfe and his kingdom. Andi starts out passive, in the shadows, and insecure but experiences great growth as the story develops. This well-written and swooningly romantic fantasy will appeal to fans of Juliet Marillier’s “Sevenwaters” series or Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown.
Rogues. Bantam. Jun. 2014. 832p. ed. by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois. ISBN 9780345537263. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780804179607. SF
Everyone loves a scoundrel. As themes go, this outstanding collection has chosen one with a generous flexibility and a surefire appeal. Beyond the general setup of characters who are a little dangerous, a little nefarious, and very unpredictable, the stories unfold in a delightful number of directions. Contributions from well-known mystery and thriller writers, as well as offerings from those who are better known for sf and fantasy, are included. The table of contents alone will make fans from all genre aisles salivate, as it lists 21 new pieces from the likes of Gillian Flynn, Neil Gaiman, Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, Steven Saylor, and many more. VERDICT The wide array of styles and genres mean that this is easiest to dip in and out of rather than read cover to cover, but there is not a single bad story in the bunch. Perhaps inevitable owing to Martin’s coediting (with skilled anthologist Dozois), some of the most exquisitely written are the fantasy descriptions: Gaiman’s latest entry in his Neverwhere world, a brilliant tale from Patrick Rothfuss featuring Bast from the “Kingkiller Chronicles,” and Abercrombie’s entertaining roller-coaster fable of nonstop thievery. Last but not least is a story that offers us a slice of history from the world of Martin’s Game of Thrones. [A June 2014 LibraryReads Pick.—Ed.]
Mass-market paperback of note
Rowland, Diana. How the White Trash Zombie Got Her Groove Back. DAW. (White Trash Zombie, Bk. 4). Jul. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780756408220. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101608593. HORROR
Angel Crawford returns in another winning entry in this series (after 2013’s White Trash Zombie Apocalypse) that focuses on a group of Louisiana zombies battling an evil corporation intent on exploiting their kind. As usual, Angel struggles with her self-confidence and the legacy of her junkie past, trying to prove her usefulness to her zombie mentors. But her flaws only make her a stronger person, and when the head of the zombie group is kidnapped, Angel helps take the fight to the bad guys.
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Check These Out
Amsden, Christine. Mind Games. Twilight Times. (Cassie Scot, Bk. 3). Jun. 2014. 278p. ISBN 9781606192795. pap. $17.95. FANTASY
Anderson, Kevin J. The Dark Between the Stars. Tor. Jun. 2014. 672p. ISBN 9780765332998. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466856561. SF
Buckell, Tobias S. Hurricane Fever. Tor. Jul. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780765319227. $24.99; ebk. 9781429949286. SF
Grossman, Lev. The Magician’s Land. Viking. (Magicians, Bk. 3). Aug. 2014. 416p. ISBN 9780670015672. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101633533. FANTASY
Hearne, Kevin. Shattered. Del Rey: Ballantine. (Iron Druid Chronicles, Bk. 7). Jun. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780345548481. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780345548498. SF
Hickman, Tracy & Laura Hickman. Unwept. Tor. (Nightbirds, Bk. 1). Jul. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780765332035. $22.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429955928. FANTASY
Jackson, D.B. A Plunder of Souls. Tor. (Thieftaker Chronicles, Bk. 3). Jul. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780765338181. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466840782. FANTASY
Johansen, Erika. The Queen of the Tearling. Harper. Jul. 2014. 448p. ISBN 9780062290366. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062290373. Fantasy
Palmatier, Joshua. Shattering the Ley. DAW. Jul. 2014. 496p. ISBN 9780756409197. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698139800. FANTASY
Strugatsky, Arkady & Boris Strugatsky. Hard To Be a God. Chicago Review. (Rediscovered Classics). Jun. 2014. 256p. tr. from Russian by Olena Bormashenko. ISBN 9781613748282. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781613748312. SF
Wendland, Albert. The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes. Dog Star: Raw Dog Screaming. Jul. 2014. 236p. ISBN 9781935738619. pap. $14.95. SF
Winters, Ben H. World of Trouble. Quirk. (Last Policeman, Bk. 3). Jul. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781594746857. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781594746864. SF
QUOTABLE “It remains hard to fathom, hard to believe, that this is what the world has become. That this, of all possible worlds and times in which I could have been born, could have been a policeman, that this is the world and time that I got.”
Collections & Anthologies
Bova, Ben. New Frontiers. Tor. Jul. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780765376442. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466851368. SF
Fearful Symmetries. ChiZine. Jul. 2014. 400p. ed. by Ellen Datlow. ISBN 9781771481939. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781771481946. HORROR
Parker, K.J. Academic Exercises. Subterranean. Jul. 2014. 536p. ISBN 9781596066090. $40. FANTASY
Williams, Tad. The Very Best of Tad Williams. Tachyon. 2014. 432p. ISBN 9781616961374. pap. $15.95.
Hamilton, Laurell K. A Shiver of Light: A Merry Gentry Novel. Berkley. Jun. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780425255667. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698146631. FANTASY
Johansen, K.V. The Leopard. Pyr: Prometheus. (Marakand, Vol. 1). Jun. 2014. 370p. ISBN 9781616149031. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9781616149048. FANTASY