In recent years, it seems as if fewer books are being published that match the general public’s perception of sf: people flying around in spaceships meeting aliens. Often grouped under the umbrella of the subgenre space opera, these types of novels are usually long on adventure and action, with humanity struggling against extraterrestrial enemies out among the stars. The term might be seen as pejorative, calling back to both soap operas and “horse operas” (Westerns), but to some readers, this reviewer included, there is nothing more entertaining in sf.
The report of space opera’s death seems to have been greatly exaggerated, as 2013’s Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie was the most honored book of the year by critics and award judges (see Newsworthy below). The author’s excellent sequel to that blockbuster, Ancillary Sword, hits library shelves next month. Space opera comes in many shapes and sizes, from more serious works such as Leckie’s and the latest from Steven Barnes to military adventure, including Greg Bear’s War Dogs or the “Lost Stars” series by Jack Campbell. On the lighter side, consider escapades akin to Jody Lynn Nye’s Fortunes of the Imperium or pop culture parodies, such as Steven Erikson’s Willful Child.
With these new titles, as well as forthcoming books from Peter F. Hamilton and Catherine Asaro to be reviewed in upcoming columns, the future of sf in space seems secure.
Debut of the Month
Khanna, Rajan. Falling Sky. Pyr: Prometheus. Oct. 2014. 260p. ISBN 9781616149826. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781616149833. SF
Ben Gold flies salvage missions for an outpost of scientists, trying to help keep virologists such as Miranda safe from both raiders and ferals as she tries to come up with a cure for the Bug. His vehicle of choice is his dirigible, The Cherub, and it’s also his home, his legacy, and the only thing he really cares about. When raiders attack the scientists’ base and steal The Cherub, Ben will do anything to get it back, but somewhere along the line he discovers he has other things to live and fight for. VERDICT Postapocalyptic sf is a heavily traveled genre, as is steampunk, but debut novelist Khanna combines both quite well here, as the airships help to keep humanity safe from the infected ferals on the ground in a world where the action never stops, leaving room for more adventures. [Previewed in Eric Norton’s sf/fantasy feature, “A Multiplicity of Realms,” LJ 8/14.—Ed.].
Leckie, Ann. Ancillary Sword. Orbit: Hachette. (Imperial Radch, Bk. 2). Oct. 2014. 400p. ISBN . pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780316246644. SF
Newly appointed fleet captain Breq has been assigned a ship, the Mercy of Kalr, and sent by the Lord of the Radch to Athoek Station. Setting aside (for the most part) the brewing civil war in the Radch empire among clone factions of their leader, Breq has personal reasons for wanting to visit Athoek, which harken back to her final days as a ship ancillary and the events detailed in 2013’s Hugo Award–winning Ancillary Justice. But while the titular noun may have changed in this sequel, our antagonist is still very much obsessed with justice and with helping underdogs where she finds them. Breq is a beautiful creation, a former ancillary who functioned as a part of her (now destroyed) ship, still longing for the experience of being completely integrated with her crew even while she deplores the imperial policies that created ancillaries and stripped them of their humanity. VERDICT Few novels could match the bolt-out-of-the-sky originality of Leckie’s debut, but this follow-up builds on the world and characters that the author introduced in the first book and takes the story in new directions. There is much more to explore in Leckie’s universe, one of the most original in sf today. [See Q&A with Leckie, LJ 9/15/14, p. 54.—Ed.]
Ruckley, Brian. The Free. Orbit: Hachette. Oct. 2014. 496p. ISBN 9780316233491. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780316233514. FANTASY
Caught up in things far beyond his experience, 17-year-old Drenn has been drafted as a contract bearer to the Free mercenary company led by legendary Captain Yulan. Yulan’s small company of warriors and Clevered power users are the last of the Free, as the school that trains the Clever wants all those who can wield the powers known as Entelech to be under their control. War is coming between the remnants of the kingdom of the Hommetic and the empire, and Yulan and his friends might be the only thing standing in the way. VERDICT The bad guys are quite awful, the good guys are complicated, and the justice that Yulan seeks is hard to come by in the dark world created by Ruckley (The Edinburgh Dead). Deliberate pacing, complicated characters, and vivid descriptions elevate this far above run-of-the-mill epic fantasy. The magic system, involving powers tied to the seasons and aspects of nature, seems simple at first but is well thought through. Although the trend is for endless multivolume epics, this excellent fantasy seems to be that rare beast, a stand-alone novel.
QUOTABLE “Since I was surrounded nearly all the time by my close family, all of whom were of imperial blood, on beholding ordinary human beings, I sometimes found myself trying to urge their features into a more harmonious line by furtive movements of my shoulders or body, as one seeks to influence the arc of a ball one has already thrown. The action did no good in either case.”
So many sf, fantasy, and horror awards are given out during the year that it can be difficult to keep track. Some honors are well known, others more obscure, and many are even foreign! For selectors, the lists of finalists can be an excellent tool, especially since libraries probably already own the winner. After combing through all the major award nominations (with the help of the excellent Science Fiction Awards Database found at sfadb.com), here is a list of the most nominated books in the 2014 award season.
|Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie||Hugo (winner), Nebula (winner), Locus First Novel, John W. Campbell, Arthur C. Clarke, British Science Fiction Award (BSFA), Compton Crook, Tiptree, Kitschie First Novel|
|The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker||Locus First Novel, Nebula, Tiptree, Crawford, Mythopoeic, World Fantasy, American Library Association (ALA) Reading List|
|The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman||Gaiman Mythopoeic, British Fantasy (Holdstock)|
|A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar||Locus First Novel, Nebula, Crawford, World Fantasy, British Fantasy (Holdstock)|
|Nexus by Ramez Naam||Arthur C. Clarke, Endeavour, Prometheus, Kitschies First Novel|
|River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay||Locus Fantasy, Aurora, Sunburst|
|The Adjacent by Christopher Priest||John W. Campbell, Arthur C. Clarke, BSFA|
|Rupetta by N.A. Sulway||Tiptree, Crawford, Aurealis|
|Lexicon by Max Barry||John W. Campbell, Aurealis, ALA Reading List|
Mass-Market Paperback of Note
Lindsey, Erin. Bloodbound. Ace. (Bloodbound, Bk. 1). Oct. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780425272688. pap. $7.99. FANTASY
As a scout in the army of the King of Alden, Alix Black is horrified when the king’s brother abandons the field in the middle of a battle against invading Ordinian forces. Alix, always impetuous, rushes to the king’s side and saves his life. Named as his bodyguard, she now must help the king not only defeat the invading army but deal with a royal prince’s high treason. Alix will also have to confront her growing feelings for both a fellow scout and her king. VERDICT The complex and well-drawn political situation competes for plot attention with Alix’s romantic dilemma, but despite a late-breaking reveal that adds one more unneeded twist to Alix’s already fraught love life, the appealing characters of Alix and her suitors make both aspects of this series debut work.
Anderson, Kevin J. Slimy Underbelly. Kensington. (Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I., Bk. 4). Sept. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9781617731143. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781617731150. FANTASY
Dan Shamble (last seen in 2013’s Hair Raising) is the PI to call when there’s trouble in the Unnatural Quarter, and the zombie detective has his hands full with a new sewer-dwelling villain. Readers can get a sense of the humor of the series when they know that the bad guy’s name is Ah Chulhu. Gesundheit!
Barnett, David. Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon. Tor. (Gideon Smith, Bk. 2). Sept. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780765334251. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466809093. FANTASY
In this steampunk fantasy, Gideon Smith, hero of the Empire (after the events of 2013’s Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl), is chasing the Texas airship pirate who stole the mechanical girl Maria and a weapon known as the Brass Dragon.
Campbell, Jack. The Lost Stars: Imperfect Sword. Ace. (Lost Stars, Bk. 3). Oct. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780425272251. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698143326. SF
Picking up where 2013’s Perilous Shield left off, the civil war in the Syndicate has spread to even more worlds and the leaders of the Midway Star System will have to fight enemies without and within in this military adventure series.
Gould, Steven. Exo. Tor. (Jumper, Bk. 4). Sept. 2014. 464p. ISBN 9780765336545. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466828483. SF
Returning to the world of his popular novel Jumper (last seen in 2013’s Impulse), Gould again bridges teen and adult audiences for the story of Cent, who comes from a family of teleporters being sought by the government.
Jacka, Benedict. Hidden. Ace. (Alex Versus, Bk. 5). Sept. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780425264942. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101609439. FANTASY
The latest in this excellent London-set urban fantasy series (after 2013’s Chosen) delves into the past of mage Alex Versus as he confronts a powerful dark wizard when his apprentice Anne is kidnapped.
Strout, Anton. Incarnate. Ace. (Spellmason Chronicles, Bk. 3). Sept. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780425273555. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698151734. FANTASY
If you are tired of werewolves and vampires, why not try gargoyles? In this third entry (after 2013’s Stonecast) starring Alexandra Belarus, she is still trying to get a handle on her ability to breathe life into stone statues when a spell gone wrong unleashes thousands of gargoyles on Manhattan.
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Check These Out
Anderson, Gillian & Jeff Rovin. A Vision of Fire. Simon451: S. & S. (Earthend Saga, Bk. 1). Oct. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781476776521. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781476776545. SF
Baxter, Stephen. Proxima. Roc: NAL. Nov. 2014. 480p. ISBN 9780451467706. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698142954. SF
Bear, Greg. War Dogs. Orbit: Hachette. (War Dogs, Bk. 1). Oct. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780316072830. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780316335768. SF
Belcher, R.S. The Shotgun Arcana. Tor. (Golgotha, Bk. 2). Oct. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780765374585. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466842731. FANTASY
Brust, Steven. Hawk. Tor. (Vlad Taltos, Bk. 14). Oct. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780765324443. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429944823. FANTASY
Buehlman, Christopher. The Lesser Dead. Berkley. Oct. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780425272619. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698146327. HORROR
Carey, Jacqueline. Poison Fruit. Roc: NAL. (Agent of Hel, Bk. 3). Oct. 2014. 448p. ISBN 9780451465313. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698158634. FANTASY
Connolly, Tina. Silverblind. Tor. (Ironskin, Bk. 3). Oct. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780765375148. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466845404. FANTASY
Erikson, Steven. Willful Child. Tor. Nov. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780765374899. $24.99;
ebk. ISBN 9781466843615. SF
Kaufmann, Nicholas. Die and Stay Dead. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Sept. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9781250036124. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250036117. FANTASY
Kittredge, Caitlin. Black Dog. Harper Voyager. (Hellhound Chronicles, Bk. 1). Oct. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780062316912. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062316929. FANTASY
Maberry, Jonathan. Fall of Night. Griffin: St. Martin’s. (Dead of Night, Bk. 2). Sept. 2014.
416p. ISBN 9781250034946. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250034953. HORROR
Nye, Jody Lynn. Fortunes of the Imperium. Baen. (Imperium, Bk. 2). Sept. 2014. 480p. ISBN 9781476736723. pap. $15. SF
Armstrong, Kelley. Otherworld Nights. Plume. Oct. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780452298347. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780698173491 FANTASY
Bernobich, Beth. The Time Roads. Tor. Oct. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780765331250. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429952095. FANTASY
Monk, Devon. House Immortal. Roc: NAL. Sept. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780451467362. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698140226. FANTASY
Planck, M.C. Sword of the Bright Lady. Pyr: Prometheus. (World of Prime, Bk. 1). Sept. 2014. 403p. ISBN 9781616149888. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9781616149895. FANTASY
Zahn, Timothy. Soulminder. Open Road. Sept. 2014. 283p. ISBN 9781497646209. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781497646162. SF