You can travel to distant galaxies in sf. Some of the best works of space opera, such as Frank Herbert’s Dune or Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Vorkosigan Saga” novels don’t even mention our little ball of dirt. And others such as Iain M. Banks’s “Culture” books or Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series focus on the empires humanity builds far from our own galaxy. Lately, it seems there has been a boom in books set a little closer to home, novels that combine the wonder and adventure of space opera but keep things confined to our own solar system. A big success in this setting is James S.A. Corey’s “Expanse” novels, beginning with 2011’s Leviathan Wakes and up to Book 5 last month with Nemesis Games.
Having humanity still toddling on clumsy feet away from our home planet but not yet able to reach the stars is a gripping sf setup that seems more accessible to new readers than alien worlds orbiting unknown stars. These titles show human beings acting out their squabbles and rivalries but on a slightly bigger, yet still recognizable, stage. This month, there are some solid examples of solar system sf to try. Wesley Chu’s Time Salvager features an environmentally devastated Earth, a solar system controlled by powerful corporations, and a time-travel agency that sends agents to the past for the resources the future needs.
Humans have barely made their way into space when tech-enhanced assassin Peter Caswell’s mission goes off the map, and he finds himself on a faraway planet with eerie similarities to Earth in Jason M. Hough’s Zero World. Readers who were first introduced to Mars in Andy Weir’s The Martian or even Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic “Mars” trilogy will want to check out Brian W. Aldiss’s newest work about the first long-term colony on Mars, Finches of Mars.
Even closer to home, the moon is the main setting for David Nabhan’s The Pilots of Borealis, about a majestically beautiful city at the lunar north pole. Readers who prefer more fantastical settings should be pleased with Fran Wilde’s Updraft and Nathan Garrison’s Veiled Empire, two great debuts.
Debut of the Month
Wilde, Fran. Updraft. Tor. Sept. 2015. 368p. ISBN 9780765377838. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466858206. FANTASY
On the eve of the wing test that will finally allow her to take her place alongside her mother as a trader between the towers, Kirit Densira breaks tower law and attracts a skymouth. In a panic, she finds an unexpected skill: her voice can control the invisible predators that roam the skies around the towers. This talent brings her to the attention of the Singers, those in charge of enforcing tower laws and protecting the people. Forced to train with the Singers, Kirit soon uncovers secrets about her own family and about the Singers that could endanger the towers at risk. VERDICT The world of the towers grown from bone, where residents strap on wings and soar the air currents, is captivating. As a coming-of-age story, Kirit’s journey to find her place is satisfying, but the real draw is a world that readers will be anxious to revisit in future volumes of this exciting new series.
Garrison, Nathan. Veiled Empire. Harper Voyager. Jul. 2015. 560p. ISBN 9780062418241. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062418258. FANTASY
The Empire is locked inside a magical veil that prevents anyone from leaving or entering, a barrier that has not been pierced in over 2,000 years. Yet, somehow, an immortal from the defeated caste has not only broken in but is leading an uprising set to topple the entire government and end the rule of the Mierothi. Multiple narrative points of view, from Harridan, a magically enhanced solider, to Voren, the emperor’s pet captive, tell the complex story, lending depth and nuance to traditional epic fantasy tropes. VERDICT The involvement of semi-immortal beings makes for an easy comparison to N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and it’s justified. Written on an grand scale and set in an ancient world of humans, immortals, and other magical beings, this debut is an engaging and quick-moving story of love, revenge, and justice. Resembling the work of Joe Abercrombie and Michael Sullivan, it will be popular with a wide range of fantasy fans.
Hobb, Robin. Fool’s Quest. Del Rey: Ballantine. (Fitz & the Fool, Bk. 2). Aug. 2015. 768p. ISBN 9780553392920. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780553392937. FANTASY
Fitz has rushed his old friend, the Fool, back to Buckkeep for healing (immediately following the events of Fool’s Assassin), leaving his home at Withywoods undefended. The unthinkable happens, with Servants of the White Prophet attacking Withywoods and kidnapping Fitz’s small daughter, Bee. The Servants believe Bee is capable of prophecy, just like the Fool, and are determined to keep her under control at their distant school in Clerres. Fitz gets the news of the attack on the eve of what should have been his greatest happiness—he’s been acknowledged by the court and can finally step out of the shadows he’s dwelt in so long. Now all Fitz can think about is getting Bee back and helping the Fool get revenge on the White Servants. VERDICT Hobb finds a way to always show us more details of the universe she’s been building over the course of the four previous series set in the same world, going all the way back to the first book, Assassin’s Apprentice. The friendship of Fitz and the Fool brings danger to them both, but it’s one of the most touching in fantasy fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 2/9/15.]
QUOTABLE “Blood had always made him smile, but not today. The girl had ruined it for him.”
newsworthy On Saturday, June 6, at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) announced the winners of the 2014 Nebula Awards. Taking the prize for Best Novel was Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation (Farrar), the creepy first volume in his acclaimed “Southern Reach Trilogy.” Nancy Kress’s brief story of one family’s experience of an alien invasion, Yesterday’s Kin (Tachyon), was named Best Novella, and Alaya Dawn Johnson’s near-future tale Love Is the Drug received the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.
To mark SFWA’s 50th anniversary, the organization announced that it has partnered with Joe Monti, editorial director of Saga Press, and designer Michael McCartney to release all-new Nebula Award and Norton Award Nominee and Recipient Medals. These medals will be provided to the publishers and authors of all works nominated for the Nebula and Norton Awards, identifying the titles as nominees or recipients of the award. For a full list of the winners, see the SFWA website (sfwa.org/nebula-awards).
Clamp, Cathy. Forbidden. Tor. Jul. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9780765377203. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466854604. FANTASY
Popular urban fantasy author Clamp returns to the world of the Sazi in a new series sure to appeal to fans of Ilona Andrews and Patricia Briggs. Jumping ten years ahead after the events of Serpent Moon, which left the Sazi unable to shapeshift, this action-packed story is laced with a strong dose of romance. Its multiple YA characters made this a solid choice for crossover teen readers.
Doyle, Tom. The Left-Hand Way. Tor. (American Craftsmen, Bk. 2). Aug. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9780765337528. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466834583. FANTASY
Spy action and magic collide once again in this follow-up to American Craftsmen. Maj. Michael Endicott looks for a mole in the British Magical Ops, while an old enemy he thought dead has hired the Renfield family to assassinate him. The action hops from the United States to London, Tokyo, Istanbul and Kiev, with thrills, alchemy, and even a hint of a love story.
Goodkind, Terry. First Confessor. Tor. Jul. 2015. 608p. ISBN 9780765383068. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466890817. FANTASY
In this prequel to Goodkind’s popular “Richard and Kahlan” series (The Sword of Truth), Magda had a happy and successful life until the unexpected suicide of her husband. The novel explores Magda’s past and role as the First Confessor as she attempts to justify following her husband’s example. A strong starting volume for readers new to Goodkind’s massive epic. Suggest to fans of Mark Lawrence or Robert Jordan. [See Prepub Alert, 2/9/15.]
Hodder, Mark. Rise of the Automated Aristocrats: A Burton & Swinburne Adventure. Pyr: Prometheus. Jul. 2015. 370p. ISBN 9781633880528. pap. $13.50; ebk. ISBN 9781633880535. FANTASY
Hodder completes his steampunk series (The Return of the Discontinued Man) in an action-packed finale that delves deep into the backstory and personal history of heroes Burton and Swinburne as they explore alternate pasts and futures. As always it is up to the enterprising duo to save the Empire, but can they do it while also saving their past and future selves? The entire series will be welcomed by readers who also enjoy the adventures of Books and Braun in Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris’s “Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences” series.
Ryan, Anthony. Queen of Fire. Ace: Berkley. (Raven’s Shadow, Bk. 3). Jul. 2015. 656p. ISBN 9780425265642. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101612989. FANTASY
If she wants to gain freedom for the Unified Realm and defeat the Volarian invaders, Queen Lyrna will have to make some unpalatable alliances. This final volume of the series that began with Blood Song and Tower Lord again features Vaelin Al Sorna, now Battle Lord of the Realm, and the Unified Realm’s best hope to beat back an enemy that seemingly can’t be destroyed.
Shea, Kieran. Koko the Mighty. Titan. Jul. 2015. 400p. ISBN 9781781168622. pap. $11.95; ebk. ISBN 9781781168646. SF
Introduced in Koko Takes a Holiday, ex-mercenary and saloon madam Koko now has a price on her head and is rescued by an outlander cult. The series is set 500 years in the future, and Earth is only semirecognizable. Shea’s well-developed characters and nonstop action will appeal to fans of both sf and thrillers.
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Check These Out
Aldiss, Brian. Finches of Mars. Open Road. Jul. 2015. 202p. ISBN 9781504002134. pap. $12.99. ebk. ISBN 9781504005890. SF
Chu, Wesley. Time Salvager. Tor. Jul. 2015. 384p. ISBN 9780765377180. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466854543. SF
Hough, Jason M. Zero World. Del Rey: Ballantine. Jul. 2015. 592p. ISBN 9780553391268. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780553391275. SF
Nabhan, David. The Pilots of Borealis. Talos. Jul. 2015. 208p. ISBN 9781940456232. pap. $14.99. SF
Swanwick, Michael. Chasing the Phoenix. Tor. (Darger & Surplus, Bk. 2). Aug. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9780765380906. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466876064. SF
Wendig, Chuck. Zer0es. Harper Voyager. (Zer0es, Bk. 1). Aug. 2015. 432p. ISBN 9780062351555. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062351586. SF
Collections & Anthologies
Cooney, C.S.E. Bone Swans. Mythic Delirium. Jul. 2015. 222p. ISBN 9780988912441. pap. $15.95. FANTASY
Press Play To Start. Vintage. Aug. 2015. 544p. ed. by Daniel H. Wilson & John Joseph Adams. ISBN 9781101873304. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101873311. SF
Gilman, Carolyn Ives. Dark Orbit. Tor. Jul. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9780765336293. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466827691. SF
Mason, Rhonda. Empress Game. Titan. Jul. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9781783295241. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781783295265. SF DEBUT
Miéville, China. Three Moments of an Explosion. Del Rey: Ballantine. Aug. 2015. 400p. ISBN 9781101884720. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781101884737. sf