The sf/fantasy genres (and to a lesser extent horror) have a long history of not always taking themselves too seriously. From satires of the classics (such as John Scalzi’s take on Star Trek tropes, Redshirts) to the tension-releasing banter of urban fantasy protagonists battling monsters, there is a wide vein of out-of-this-world humor running through speculative fiction that offers a welcome relief from the sometimes weighty themes and stories.
For readers who enjoy laugh-out-loud fantasy adventure, there’s A. Lee Martinez’s The Last Adventure of Constance Verity. Mixing horror, urban fantasy, and lots of hilariously rude humor is Richard Kadrey’s latest “Sandman Slim” novel, The Perdition Score. Entertaining on the sf side of things, Curtis C. Chen’s Waypoint Kangaroo delivers a hero who never stops cracking wise. And those who miss the quirky, funny “Dirk Gently” sf/mysteries of Douglas Adams will want to pick up Robert Kroese’s The Big Sheep. It’s not all fun and games, of course, so those looking for a darker read should enjoy Nina Allan’s The Race, our Debut of the Month.
Debut of the Month
Allan, Nina. The Race. Titan. Jul. 2016. 448p. ISBN 9781785650369. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781785650383. SF
This first novel, consisting of four interlinked novellas, by the winner of the 2014 British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Short Fiction takes place in a future Britain ruined by fracking. Jenna Hoolman lives in the coastal town of Sapphire, making high-end gloves for runners who participate in illegal smart dog racing (involving greyhounds spliced with human DNA). Her brother Del has dreamed of becoming a runner since childhood, but a brain abnormality changes his life course, as does his drug dealing, which leads to the loss of someone dear to them both. Writer Christy lives in fear of her volatile brother Derek. She reaches out to Alex, a man who once dated her sister-in-law, in order to discover the truth of her fears, while Alex fights his own demons. Maree, a young woman crossing the Atlantic to work on a secret project, knows that her ability to speak the smart dogs’ language has ramifications for the future, but dealing with her past becomes paramount when she meets a mysterious man who both intrigues her and offers her a choice. VERDICT Allan’s dystopian journey compares to Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, weaving the alternate realities so tightly that when the final page is turned, readers will not know what is reality and what is not.
Hugo Awards It’s Hugo time again, and there is plenty of controversy over the nominees this year. (See Wilda Williams’s report “Set Your Phasers to Stunned” on last year’s dispute: ow.ly/fSZ9300LbIM). The relatively small number of ballots cast for some of the award categories make them distressingly open to manipulation by a concerted group such as those calling themselves “Rabid Puppies.” Led by fantasy writer Vox Day, the group believes that the Hugo Award doesn’t reflect the true fandom, but their arguments often sound like the rants of bigots and misogynists. The titles the campaign recommended to voters ranged from simply ideologically heavy-handed to ridiculous (one nominee for Best Short Story is “Space Raptor Butt Invasion”). Their slate dominated some award categories, such as Best Novelette, Short Story, and Related Work (full list of nominees can be found at ow.ly/wOH8300NBCX). If a rule change proposed at the last Worldcon is passed (as is expected), this is the final year that organizations such as Rabid Puppies will be able to put forward candidates whose main purpose seems to be to discredit the award. Despite the fighting, most will agree there are some worthy books up for the Best Novel category.
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Locus Awards If you are tired of the drama of the Hugos, the 2016 Locus Awards short list has also been announced. The nominees, chosen by readers of Locus magazine, are fabulous this year.
SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Nebula Award Winners In what could be considered a sharp rebuke to the racism and misogyny involved in the Hugo debate, a diverse range of female authors swept the fiction awards at the 2016 Nebula Awards banquet, held at the Chicago Palmer House Hilton on May 14. Naomi Novik’s acclaimed fairy tale–inspired fantasy Uprooted was named Best Novel; Nnedi Okorafor’s African-flavored space opera, Binti, took the Best Novella prize. Alyssa Wong became the first Filipina to win a Nebula for her short story, “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers,” and Sarah Pinsker’s “Our Lady of the Open Road” won in the Best Novelette. Also honored were Fran Wilde’s Updraft, winner of the Andre Norton Award for Best Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, and C.J. Cherryh, who received the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) Grand Master award in recognition of her contributions to the genre. The Nebulas are nominated and voted on by the members of SFWA.
Check These Out
Buehlman, Christopher. The Suicide Motor Club. Berkley. Jun. 2016. 368p. ISBN 9781101988732. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781101988749. HORROR
A mother’s nightmare comes true when Judith Lamb and her family meet a band of vampires who hunt on the highways of 1960s America. Her son is dragged from their car, and the undead force her off the road into a crash that kills her husband. Lost in grief, Jude turns to the Catholic Church, intending to become a nun. But there are others who have had run-ins with the same monsters and they seek Jude’s help in tracking them down and killing them. Buehlman (The Lesser Dead) knows how to create a scary creature, and his beings here were horrible humans before they turned, making them truly awful now. To add nuance, the author introduces Clayton Birch, a vampire who tries to help Jude. Muscle car enthusiasts will enjoy the car talk, but while the period autos add to the historical color, it sometimes comes across as Buehlman’s personal interest given an excessively long leash. VERDICT An entertaining read for vampire aficionados.
Chen, Curtis C. Waypoint Kangaroo. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Jun. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781250081780. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250081797. SF
As the spy agency he works for is being audited, Kangaroo is sent off planet for a vacation on a luxury spaceliner heading to Mars. He is a valuable asset to his handlers, not only because of his training and augmented senses but also owing to his unique and infinitely useful ability to open a portal to a pocket universe. Unfortunately Kangaroo doesn’t really know how to be a regular tourist, so he starts nosing around the ship. Much to his surprise, he uncovers a murder scene. Throwing himself into the investigation, he soon realizes this is not a simple homicide but the tip of a conspiracy that could endanger an entire planet. Zippy pacing and a hyperactive, wisecracking hero are two big reasons this space adventure succeeds. Kangaroo’s pocket portal is an unusual plot device that could have been gimmicky but gets used sparingly and to good effect. Furthermore, the hero’s constant disobeying of orders and recklessness are offset and humanized by his nonstop humor, his puppy-like enthusiasm, and a romantic relationship he develops with a crew member. VERDICT For those looking for a lively spy adventure in space, this is a fun debut.
Cogman, Genevieve. The Invisible Library. Roc: NAL. (Invisible Library, Bk. 1). Jun. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781101988640. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781101988657. FANTASY
Irene was born and raised in the Library and now works as a spy for this mysterious organization. Harvesting fiction from multiple realities that the Library has access to, she is sent on a mission to an alternate London to retrieve a dangerous book. Shackled with new assistant Kai and heading into a realm that is infested with chaos, supernatural creatures, and strange magic, Irene arrives to find that the tome has been stolen. Irene and Kai attempt to discover the mystery behind this enigmatic volume. However, they are not the only ones searching for the artifact, and Irene must untangle the secrets of this London, and of her unfamiliar associate. VERDICT Bibliophiles will go wild for this engaging debut, as Cogman hits all the high notes for enjoyable fantasy. Intriguing characters and fast-paced action are wrapped up in a spellbinding, well-built world.
Crouch, Blake. Dark Matter. Crown. Jul. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781101904220. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101904237. SF
With a beautiful wife, a great son, and a job teaching college physics, Jason Dessen is content with his life. Sure, he has a twinge of envy when he meets an old friend who has just won a prestigious science prize, but on the whole, he wouldn’t trade his situation. Which makes it all the more horrible when someone takes that existence from him, and worse when it turns out to be an alternate version of himself. This exciting technothriller hinges on the idea of multiple realities. Jason’s desperation to return home to his family and the struggles he goes through to figure out how to navigate the multiverse make this an irresistible read. Despite a few small missteps, including the introduction of a sidekick for Jason that peters out in a vaguely unsatisfying way, it is not hard to see why this title was preempted by Sony in a big bid for the movie rightsVERDICT While stories of the multiverse are not new, Crouch (“Wayward Pines” trilogy) brings a welcome intensity to the trope.
Dearborn, Kristin. Stolen Away. Raw Dog Screaming. Jul. 2016. 218p. ISBN 9781935738848. pap. $14.95. HORROR
When Trisha, a single mom of two and a former drug user, wakes up to her daughter screaming that a monster took her baby brother, she falls into a living nightmare. It turns out that her partner in the one-night stand—laden with seemingly drug-induced dreams of scales, horns, and rough sex—that conceived Brayden is DEMON, and while he may have done this many times before, Trisha is not the kind to abandon her child. With the help of ex-boyfriend Joel, Trisha hunts for the man who stole her son. DEMON will soon learn that Stephen King is right, “There is no bitch on earth like a mother frightened for her kids.” VERDICT Dearborn (The Woman in White) has written a dark and twisty tale about the strength of family love in the midst of horror.
Fine, Sarah. Reliquary. 47North: Amazon. (Reliquary, Bk. 1). Jun. 2016. 280p. ISBN 9781503935259. pap. $14.95. FANTASY
Mattie wakes up the morning after her engagement party to find her fiancé Ben gone, and only his pacemaker left behind, apparently ripped out of his chest. Frantic to find him, she follows a trail that leads to an underground world of alchemy and crime, one that Ben’s brother Asa appears to know quite well. Ben is a magic addict, and apparently deeply in debt to dangerous people. Despite the brothers’ estrangement, Asa reluctantly agrees to help Mattie, especially once he finds out that she has a rare talent of her own—the ability to store magic as a reliquary. Broody Asa is a good foil for Mattie, who is occasionally too innocent to be believed. The protagonists here might remind readers of Mac and Barrons from Karen Marie Moning’s “Fever” seriesVERDICT Mixing mystery with romance, Fine, author of the similarly genre-blended “Servants of Fate” books, has created an intriguing underworld, where those seeking an enchanting high slip easily into addiction and desperation.
Gribble, J.L. Steel Magic. Dog Star: Raw Dog Screaming. (Steel Empires, Bk. 2). Jul. 2016. 188p. ISBN 9781935738855. pap. $14.95. FANTASY
Newly graduated Toria Conor and Kane Nalamas discover they are the last warrior-mages in Limani after the strange death of one of their teachers. Yet they are set on becoming professional mercenaries after their 18 months as contracted journeymen. As a bonded pair, Toria and Kane understand their elemental powers work even better than most, but it does not solve the mystery of disappearing mages. Hired by a city elder to resolve the matter, they travel to New Angouleme with their elven friend Syri to investigate the local mage school. When Syri is kidnapped, Toria and Kane must find and save her as well as magic itself. In this excellent follow-up to Steel Warrior, Gribble brings the newest generation to the forefront with an adventure reminiscent of Tamora Pierce’s “Alanna” series. VERDICT Strong plotting and captivating characters will please fans of fantasy quests.
Hairston, Andrea. Will Do Magic for Small Change. Aqueduct. Jun. 2016. 472p. ISBN 9781619761018. $21; ebk. available. FANTASY
If 12-year-old Cinnamon Jones had her way, she would follow in her famous grandparents’ theatrical footsteps, but she knows her 180-pound physique does not lend itself to the stage world’s norms requiring performers to be delicate sylphs. Instead she determines to unravel some family secrets that might be in a book that her black-sheep brother Sekou gave her before he died. Alternate chapters present excerpts from The Chronicles of the Great Wanderer, which follows a Dahomean warrior woman and another alien throughout the centuries. Cinnamon is an appealing teen in flux, trying to achieve her dreams, while finding her true identity and the history of her heritage. VERDICT Tiptree Award–winning author Hairston (Redwood and Wildfire; Mindscape) celebrates West African stories and traditions in this strange, ethereal coming-of-age fantasy that will attract readers of Nalo Hopkinson and Octavia Butler.
Husberg, Christopher. Duskfall. Titan. (Chaos Queen, Bk. 1). Jun. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9781783299157. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781783299164. FANTASY
Tensions are high between humans and the elflike tiellans they once enslaved. But when human Knot, suffering from amnesia, is pulled from the freezing sea by tiellan fishermen, he settles down with them by marrying Winter, a tiellan girl. The wedding is disrupted when unknown men in robes attack Knot. Upon recognizing his own killing instinct, Knot abandons Winter, but she pursues him, only to fall in with a group that sense in her a gift that should be impossible for a tiellan to possess. The couple’s paths will intersect with religious dissident Jane and her sister Cinzia, a priestess of the Cantic religion. All seem to have an important role to play as darkness builds in a land across the mountains. While the pieces of this traditional fantasy debut—prophecies, magic squaring off against religion, political conflict, and even amnesiac heroes—are not particularly original, the storytelling is fresh and assured and the characters appealing. Winter is especially compelling, as her supernatural studies lead to a troublesome addiction. VERDICT This is a solid setup for a great new fantasy epic, perfect for fans of Daniel Abraham and Brandon Sanderson.
Kadrey, Richard. The Perdition Score. Harper Voyager. (Sandman Slim, Bk. 8). Jun. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9780062373267. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062373281. FANTASY
Frequent saver of the world and former holder of the title of Lucifer, James Stark (aka Sandman Slim) still struggles to earn a living in the mortal realm. He has a job on the council for the Los Angeles otherworldly community known as the sub rosa but can’t stop craving the excitement of hell. His boss, Thomas Abbot, asks Stark to help find a missing boy. The evidence points to Wormwood, a group of magic users working against the council who may be trafficking in a black liquid rumored to be the key to upsetting the balance in the war being waged in heaven. VERDICT For series newcomers, last year’s Killing Pretty is a better volume to start with, but for longtime fans, all the familiar faces are back, Stark has been showing some real growth, especially in the efforts he has put into his relationship with his girlfriend Candy. [See Prepub Alert, 1/4/16.]
Kroese, Robert. The Big Sheep. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Jul. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781250088444. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250088451. SF
Phenomenological inquisitor (don’t call him a private detective) Erasmus Keane and his assistant Blake Fowler operate in 2039 Los Angeles, roughly ten years after an event known as The Collapse left huge parts of the city a gang-dominated war zone. They have accepted a case from the secretive Esper Corporation, whose labs seem to have misplaced a very special sheep. The duo soon catch another investigation, this time from a beautiful actress who believes someone is trying to kill her. As unlikely as it may seem, the two incidents are connected. The title is a nod to Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and Philip K. Dick’s classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (and the film version, Blade Runner), but the noir is leavened with plenty of humor. Keane is a fairly unlikable genius, accompanied by a sidekick with whom readers can bond. The mystery seems to telegraph its direction early on but then takes a bizarre turn. Here’s to hoping these characters have more cases to solve in the futureVERDICT Fans of Sherlock Holmes and Douglas Adams’s “Dirk Gently” novels will find things to love in Kroese’s latest (after Starship Grifters).
Martinez, A. Lee. The Last Adventure of Constance Verity. Saga: S. & S. Jul. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9781481443517. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781481443531. FANTASY
While Constance Verity was still in her cradle, her fairy godmother bestowed upon her the blessing of an adventurous life. So it was, with Constance traversing the globe (and traveling through time occasionally), fighting evil, collecting artifacts, and in general becoming the most famous woman in the universe. By age 28, she’s had enough excitement and decides to track down her fairy godmother and have her take back her blessing. But even with Constance’s best friend Tia by her side, it will be an undertaking to stop taking on the risks. The deadpan snark, especially in exchanges between Constance and Tia, is nonstop and sure to keep readers giggling. Luckily, this is the first book in a planned trilogy. VERDICT Martinez (The Automatic Detective; Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain) delivers another witty, fast-paced fantasy for those who enjoyed his early work, as well as the books of Christopher Moore.
Power, Stephen S. The Dragon Round. S. & S. Jul. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9781501133206. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781476794617. FANTASY
Jeryon has been captain of the Comber for over a decade. When his ship is attacked by a dragon, the crew mutinies and offload Jeryon and Everlyn, the vessel’s apothecary, onto a small boat with no rudder or sail. The two wash up on an island and discover a baby dragon. If they can train the creature, they may be able to make their way home. As Jeryon finally heads back to civilization, he knows that what awaits him will not be justice or rules but political intrigue and revenge. VERDICT Power’s debut brings to mind Naomi Novik’s “Temeraire” series, with its dragons and maritime themes, and will keep readers engrossed as they follow his protagonist’s quest for survival and vengeance.
Saintcrow, Lilith. Wasteland King. Orbit: Hachette. (Gallow & Ragged, Bk. 3). Jun. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9780316277914. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316277907. FANTASY
The plague in the land of the Fae has been stopped, but dark undercurrents remain. Jeremiah Gallow has been tasked with a mission from the Unseelie King, even though the king wants him dead. No matter, as the Slaugh are also after Gallow. Robin Ragged is also on the run. Both Ragged and Gallow have the slimmest of chances to survive as the Slaugh, the Unseelie, and the Seelie Queen herself prove that treachery and deceit are easy for a people who cannot lie. To save himself and Ragged, Gallow must do what he never thought a half-blood could accomplish—become a king. VERDICT Saintcrow’s final book in her dark fantasy trilogy (Trailer Park Fae; Roadside Magic) brings the series to a satisfying close with tightly paced action and compelling characters.
Skovron, Jon. Hope and Red. Orbit: Hachette. (Empire of Storms, Bk. 1). Jun. 2016. 544p. ISBN 9780316268110. pap. $9.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316268134. FANTASY
Bleak Hope, the only survivor of her village’s massacre by the emperor’s mystical biomancers, is taken in and secretly trained by a Venchen warrior monk. Hope learns skills that will help her in her quest for vengeance. Another orphan, Red, is fostered by one of the biggest names in the criminal underworld. With the tools of a thief and a con artist, Red searches for power and the next thrilling con with his friends. When their worlds collide, Red and Hope join forces to hunt the biomancer that destroyed her home; in the process they uncover a secret that could destroy his. VERDICT YA author Skovron (Struts & Frets) makes his adult fantasy debut with this engaging series starter. His skillfully developed world, filled with swords and magic, is a perfect foil for his dynamic characters.
Cooper, Brenda. Spear of Light. Pyr: Prometheus. (Glittering Edge, Bk. 2). Jun. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9781633881341. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9781633881358. SF
In the first book of the series, Edge of Dark, the posthumans known as the Next were exiled but returned. Now, the residents of the planet Lym must deal with the Next, and the people are divided about whether they want to fight the invaders or become more like them.
de Castell, Sebastien. Saint’s Blood. Jo Fletcher: Quercus. (Greatcoats, Bk. 3). Jun. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9781681444895. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781681444208. FANTASY
The third volume in this exciting swashbuckling epic fantasy (Traitor’s Blade; Knight’s Shadow) has Greatcoats Falcio, Kest, and Brasti still trying to protect the realm. The dukes want to back out of their agreement to put Aline on the throne, while someone is targeting the Saints of Tristia.
Green, Simon R. Dr. DOA. Roc: NAL. (Secret Histories, Bk. 10). Jun. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9780451476937. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780698407428. fANTASY
In this latest series installment, James Bond–like fantasy hero Eddie Drood, last seen in From a Drood to a Kill, is poisoned by a master assassin known only as Dr. DOA. Eddie needs to track down the person who wants him dead.
Haydon, Elizabeth. The Weaver’s Lament. Tor. (Symphony of Ages, Bk. 9). Jun. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9780765320551. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429949224. FANTASY
After the events of The Hollow Queen, the Cymerian Alliance is on the brink of civil war. Here Rhapsody must choose between her husband and her two oldest friends. This final volume of the popular epic fantasy series promises to tie up some long-running story lines (and one hopes, resolving one long-burning unrequited love situation).
Lawrence, Mark. The Wheel of Osheim. Ace: Berkley. (Red Queen’s War, Bk. 3). Jun. 2016. 432p. ISBN 9780425268827. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781101630952. FANTASY
While Snorri is desperate to rescue his family from beyond death itself, Jalan wants back his life of privilege and excess. This series’s penultimate entry, The Liar’s Key, ended on a cliff-hanger, so fans will be eager for this final book.
Collections & Anthologies
McKillip, Patricia A. Dreams of Distant Shores. Tachyon. Jun. 2016. 288p. ISBN 9781616962180. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616962197. FANTASY
A young couple trade odd stories in a bathroom as something rages outside. An artist calls upon his muse, who answers him through an unfinished painting. A musical band of witches takes on a dark force during their bar performance. The seven ethereal tales (including three new ones), collected here touch on people’s dreams and desires. Also featured is McKillip’s 2002 essay on writing high fantasy and Peter S. Beagle’s afterword, “Dear Pat,” an appreciation of McKillip’s work. Verdict McKillip (Wonders of the Invisible World) once more enchants with this volume, which fantasy readers will devour as they are transported into multiple realities.
QUOTABLE “I ended up accompanying Keane during most of the investigation, and spent much of the next three days thoroughly documenting his unprofessionalism, lack of social propriety, neurotic behavior, inability to execute mundane tasks, and poor hygiene. He was like an idiot savant without the savant part.”