Another Halloween season is upon us, and you’ve probably already been stocking new book displays with some of the terrific horror titles we’ve reviewed in recent months (Keith Donohue’s The Motion of Puppets, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things, and Cherie Priest’s The Family Plot are but three LJ has recommended). This October brings a few more frightful treats, such as L.X. Cain’s Bloodwalker (it’s always the clowns) and S.L. Grey’s The Apartment. There is also the new anthology Nightmares, edited by Ellen Datlow, whose keen instinct for the genre has earned her five Bram Stoker Awards as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association.
Those who enjoy some edge to their fiction might also appreciate the dark fantasy of Den of Wolves, the latest “Blackthorn and Grim” novel from Juliet Marillier. Fans of the trope of things going horribly wrong in the lab will relish Dan Wells’s Extreme Makeover or Will McIntosh’s Faller. And check out Erika Johansen’s The Fate of the Tearling, the final book in a series that combines fantasy and sf and concludes with a dollop of dread.
Pick of the Month
Johansen, Erika. The Fate of the Tearling. Harper. (Queen of the Tearling, Bk. 3). Nov. 2016. 496p. ISBN . $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062290434. SF
At the end of The Invasion of the Tearling, Kelsea, Queen of the Tearling, turned herself and the sapphires she controls over to her enemy, the Red Queen of Mortmesne. She named the head of her guard, Mace, as regent in her absence and obtained a guarantee from the Red Queen that the Tear would be safe for three years. Even imprisoned and without the sapphires, Kelsea is still seeing visions of the past, this time through the eyes of Katie, a young woman living in the early days after the Crossing. In Kelsea’s time Mace works to recover Kelsea from the Red Queen’s dungeons, while in Katie’s time the seeds for the downfall of Tear’s utopian dream are sown. Johansen has consistently taken huge narrative risks with this series, which started as a traditional fantasy and then began incorporating glimpses of a dystopian alternate world. VERDICT With richly developed characters who are never boring black and white, and villains who are as fascinating as the heroes, the finale of this outstanding series will be talked about by readers. [See Prepub Alert, 11/30/15.]
Check These Out
Bonesteel, Elizabeth. Remnants of Trust. Harper Voyager. (Central Corps, Bk. 2). Nov. 2016. 544p. ISBN 9780062413673. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062413697. SF
After leaving her lover behind at the end of The Cold Between, Elena Shaw survived a court-martial and is back on the Galileo, working as chief of engineering and trying to repair her damaged friendship with the ship’s captain, Greg Foster. There are still forces within her own Central Corps government aiming to stir up trouble with the PSI, but Greg is striving to build good relations with local PSI ship Orunmila, hoping they will help when Syndicate raiders suddenly attack a Corps ship, kidnapping a prisoner with whom Elena and Greg have history. VERDICT While this second entry in her excellent new military space opera series doesn’t have the romance angle of the first book, Bonesteel still delivers compelling interpersonal relationships. Elena and Greg have a complicated dynamic of friendship and thwarted attraction, but they can still trust each other. They rely on this bedrock when it seems they are surrounded by treachery and secret plots.
Cain, L.X. Bloodwalker. Freedom Fox. Oct. 2016. 280p. ISBN 9781939844255. pap. $18.95. HORROR
The Zorka Circus delights spectators young and old, but when it moves on, the big tent is not the only thing that vanishes; children also disappear. Circus security chief Rurik believes the key to the missing children is with the performers, but they close ranks against the lightning-scarred strongman. Joining the troupe is a new act, the Skomori clan of bloodwalkers, despised as evil gravediggers. However, a wedding is to be performed by the famous bloodwalker Zora, wife of the Zorka Circus leader. But before bride Sylvie can marry, she discovers the mutilated body of a child. Alerting others will flout her clan’s code of silence and make her an outcast, yet as more corpses turn up, Rurik and Sylvie find their paths again colliding, and they will discover that the killer is far more horrible than they ever imagined. Verdict Cain’s (Soul Cutter) frightening tale about family relationships, whether by blood or by bond, with its multidimensional characters, eerie European setting, and an unpredictable plot, is bound to chill paranormal and horror readers alike.
Clarke, Cassandra Rose. The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. Saga: S. & S. Nov. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9781481474986. $26.99; pap. ISBN 9781481461689. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781481461696. SF
The mad scientist of the title is cybernetics engineer Daniel Novak, who brings home a one-of-a-kind advanced android named Finn and assigns him the role of tutor to his daughter Cat. At first Finn is Cat’s only friend, but as she matures their relationship changes. She grows to love him, even if she can’t quite admit her feelings. As time goes on, robots are increasingly granted civil rights, but Finn’s place in the world remains unsure. The futuristic setting is one where Earth has mostly recovered from a climate disaster and androids with truly human consciousness like Finn are an anomaly. The sf elements are always secondary to the relationships, however. Clarke does a great job with Cat, showing her careless in her affection for Finn until it is almost too late. VERDICT Cat’s lack of agency in her own life might be frustrating for readers at times, but her emotional journey rings true. An unusual love story, to say the least, from the author of Our Lady of the Ice.
Douglas, Ian. Altered Starscape. Harper Voyager. (Andromedan Dark, Bk. 1). Oct. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9780062379191. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062379214 .SF
In 2124, Earth ships met up with their first aliens, the Coadunation. Now, in 2162, the Tellus Ad Astra will make its way to the Galactic Core, ferrying nearly a million scientists and soldiers. Commander Grayson St. Clair is not looking forward to the mission, knowing that humanity is technologically way behind its proposed allies. As the ship jumps toward its final destination, it gets caught and sucked through a black hole. Dropped four billion years into the future, the Ad Astra and its crew work on trying to survive. With the fall, rise, and fall again of many civilizations, and Earth a distant memory, the soldiers search for allies to help their way. But this is not their time or space, and St. Clair fights not only the ship’s politicians and civilians but an enemy with inconceivable power. VERDICT Launching a terrific new space opera series, Douglas (“Star Carrier” series) immediately engages with a swiftly moving plot and intriguing characters—both human and AI.
Foster, Amy S. The Rift Uprising. Harper Voyager. (Rift Uprising Trilogy, Bk. 1). Oct. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9780062443120. $21.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062443151. SF
Ryn Whitaker appears to be a normal 17-year-old teenager—but she is also a member of a cybernetically enhanced group called Citadels, who help guard the 14 Rifts, which serve as openings to alternate Earths. The Citadels patrol and watch for any dangerous beings who slip through, such as the alien Karekins or old-world Vikings. Ryn understands that her conditioning and superhuman skills make her the ultimate soldier, but even soldiers are human. When Ezra, a young man, comes through the Rift, there’s an instant connection with Ryn, in spite of her training. Ezra is different, extremely intelligent, and asks many questions about the Rifts and their origins. The negative response from Ryn’s team and her commander raises doubts in Ryn, and she embarks on a search for answers that may lead to unexpected results. VERDICT High emotional stakes and an intriguing premise make this first entry in Foster’s (When Autumn Leaves) new trilogy a solid next read for those who enjoyed Pierce Brown’s Red Rising or Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” series.
Grey, S.L. The Apartment. Anchor/Blumhouse. Oct. 2016. 288p. ISBN 9781101972946. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781101972953. HORROR
In the aftermath of a home invasion, married South Africans Mark and Steph decide to leave their toddler with Steph’s parents and do a house swap with a Parisian couple. This is a chance for a real honeymoon, as there has been tension between the pair. But from the first moment in the unexpectedly dank, dirty Paris apartment, the trip is doomed. Mark begins seeing things that aren’t there and hearing the sound of a child crying, and the French couple never show up in Cape Town. Even after they return home, something dark has infected Mark and Steph’s lives. The fracture lines in both protagonists are apparent from the first page, which will have readers biting their nails as they nervously await for whatever will tip one or both of them over the edge. VERDICT This creepy read from veteran horror writer Sarah Lotz (The Three), here writing under the pseudonym Grey, will make you hesitate before planning your next vacation. [This title is copublished with Blumhouse Books, the imprint of horror movie studio Blumhouse Productions; film optioned by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment.—Ed.]
Itäranta, Emmi. The Weaver. Harper Voyager. Nov. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9780062326171. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062326195. SF
Eliana, a craftswoman at the House of Webs, discovers a wounded young woman and helps bring her back to the weaver compound. The woman has had her tongue cut out but has Eliana’s name tattooed on her hand. As the two become close, Eliana’s secrets are in danger of being exposed. She is a dreamer, and dreams are considered a disease in her world. The setting, a totalitarian island world ruled by a shadowy council, is well wrought but with a feeling more like fantasy than the author’s explicitly sf The Memory of Water. The pacing is slow, however, and there are many long descriptions of dreams and visions. VERDICT Finnish author Itäranta delivers another lyrical dystopian novel. Those willing to put in the time will get a nuanced heroine, a tender love story, and lovely prose.
Johnson, Suzanne. Belle Chasse. Tor. (Sentinels of New Orleans, Bk. 5). Nov. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780765376992. $31.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466852853. FANTASY
Former wizard sentinel DJ Jaco is on the run from the death sentence handed down by the Wizard Council of Elders. Hiding in the Beyond with undead pirate Jean Lafitte and his crew, DJ seeks to clear her name and prevent the wizard/elven treaty from falling apart. This is not easy, as DJ’s best friend Eugenie is pregnant with elven leader Quince Randolph’s child, and DJ is Rand’s bondmate. With Rand wanting control over Eugenie and their child, rival princes warring for the Faerie throne, and a truce about to crumble, DJ and her friends will be forced to take sides. The cost will be huge, for everyone. New Orleans is a vividly drawn setting in this series, headed by a caring and captivating female wizard. Verdict Award winner Johnson (Royal Street; River Road) populates her story with a wide array of paranormal species, keeping the action tight and fast throughout this lively urban fantasy.
Liu, Ken. The Wall of Storms. Saga: S. & S. (Dandelion Dynasty, Bk. 2). Oct. 2016. 880p. ISBN 9781481424301. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9781481424325. FANTASY
The Dandelion Empire is at peace, with Kuni Garu, now known as Emperor Ragin, ruling Dara with his wives, Empress Jia and Consort Risana, by his side and four children being educated to carry on his dynasty. But a rift grows between the military and the nobles with many of Kuni’s family and old friends lining up on opposing sides. Only scholar Luan Zya refuses to take part in the Imperial government, preferring to wander the world and record his observations. His travels inadvertently lead to disaster for Dara when a foreign force invades. While Liu’s Locus Award–winning The Grace of Kings was largely the story of the power struggle between two strong-willed men, this sequel paints a complicated picture of what happens after victory: the challenges of rule, the rivalries at court, the competing visions of what is right for Dara, and the unexpected plunge back into war. Women have more to do in this volume as well, with Empress Jia a fascinatingly ambitious figure as well as new character Zomi, a student of Luan who comes to the capital. VERDICT This absorbing fantasy, influenced by Chinese history yet utterly fresh, gets better as it marches along. Despite its length, fans of epic fantasy will devour this story and be clamoring for the next entry. [See Eric Norton’s SF Genre Spotlight, “Imagined Multiverses,” LJ 8/16.]
McIntosh, Will. Faller. Tor. Oct. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9780765383556. $25.99; pap. ISBN 9781466892460. SF
On Day One, people wake in a broken landscape with no memories of their previous lives or identities. The man who comes to be known as Faller holds several clues in his pocket, including a toy soldier with a parachute, a photo of him with a beautiful woman, and a map drawn in his own blood. To earn food Faller tries to gather a crowd with a full-scale version of his toy parachutist. But when he jumps off a building he ends up falling off the side of the world. Meanwhile, alternating chapters tell of a man named Peter Sandoval and the lab experiments that he hopes will yield an unlimited source of energy. As Faller and Peter tell their stories, it becomes clear they are the same man and the suspense builds as we learn what led to Faller’s fractured realm. VERDICT This new novel from McIntosh (Love Minus Eighty; Hitchers) appears to be marketed as hard sf, but the science (clones, minisingularities, severed islands of earth hanging in midair) never really make sense.
Marillier, Juliet. Den of Wolves. Roc: NAL. (Blackthorn & Grim, Bk. 3). Nov. 2016. 448p. ISBN 9780451467034. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780698139244. FANTASY
Grim, companion to wise woman Blackthorn, is asked to travel to nearby Wolf Glen to assist with a building project for Lord Tóla. He is rebuilding the ruin of a heartwood house—a special dwelling only one haunted, fey-touched man knows how to construct. As the project progresses, Tóla sends his daughter Cara to stay near Blackthorn in Winterfalls. Grim has been sworn to secrecy about the project, but his protective nature won’t let him stand by when Bardán, the wild man supervising the construction, is mistreated. Bardán, Tóla, and Cara all seem tied up in an old secret Tóla is desperate to keep. Meanwhile, Blackthorn’s sworn enemy might finally be brought to justice, leaving her with a difficult choice. VERDICT This is another emotionally powerful entry (after Tower of Thorns) in Marillier’s fantasy series set in ancient Ireland. The growing bond between Grim and Blackthorn is consistently a pleasure to follow in each book as they lean on each other to get through every challenge.
Sagara, Michelle. Cast in Flight. Mira: Harlequin. (Chronicles of Elantra, Bk. 12). Oct. 2016. 544p. ISBN 9780778319702. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781460396025. FANTASY
What’s one more roommate? Private Kaylin Neya’s household already includes Dragons and Barrani, not to mention Helen, the sentient building in which they live. But the new resident in question is an injured and flightless Aerian, Sgt. Moran dar Carafel. Yet as Kaylin and the sergeant head to the Halls of Law for work, a magical assassination attempt on Moran has Kaylin asking questions. Moran might not be forthcoming, but Kaylin knows how to dig out the secrets—along with the trouble that comes with them. Verdict In her 12th adventure (after Cast in Honor), Kaylin shows no signs of slowing down. The bright, sometimes sarcastic heroine remains the dynamic heart around which an enchanting story of magic and politics revolves.
Stone, Jamison. Rune of the Apprentice. Inkshares. (Rune Chronicles, Bk. 1). Nov. 2016. 415p. ISBN 9781941758915. $24.99. FANTASY
Power in Terra is found through the Runes, and those who control these objects have authority over everything that exists. Sixteen-year-old Aleksi, born with a Rune in the palm of his hand, resists Emperor Asura’s attempts to claim his power and journeys far from his home, meeting allies and enemies along the way. Dreams of an imprisoned priestess and secrets about his past also drive the young man’s path. As Aleksi goes on the run, he must fight against the forces that could tip him to either darkness or light. That is, if the Rune does not kill him first. VERDICT Debuter Stone’s epic coming-of-age tale about a young man’s quest for truth reveals the author’s skill in bringing a beautiful world to life, satisfying those who enjoy the setting as much as the story.
Wells, Dan. Extreme Makeover. Tor. Nov. 2016. 416p. ISBN 9780765385628. $27.99; pap. ISBN 9780765385635. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765385642. SF
In his work for NewYew cosmetics company, Lyle Fontanelle spends most days devising a new formulation for a hand lotion that he hopes might have additional uses that are beyond skin deep. In his efforts to design the product to rebuild cells for burn victims, he inadvertently invents a cream that overwrites DNA and creates clones. When focus group members testing the lotion suddenly start looking like Lyle, he realizes he has made a terrible mistake. His company, however, sees the possibility of enormous profits on the horizon. VERDICT The pursuit of youth and beauty takes a dark turn in this satirical novel from Wells (I Am Not a Serial Killer). The science is of the hand-waving variety that doesn’t bear close scrutiny, but it is an entertaining send-up of corporate greed and societal shallowness.
QUOTABLE “The Museum of Pure Sleep has always reminded me of a sea monster, the kind described in children’s tales. The statues standing on its roof rise tentacle-like against the sky, ready to reach and grab and pull down into the abyss anything that comes their way. The round windows gleam orange and blue, and sometimes shadows close to cover them like eyelids, to let the sleep in. But never the dreams.”
Anthony, Piers. Isis Orb. Open Road. (Xanth, Bk. 40). Oct. 2016. 300p. ISBN 9781504036313. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781504036283. FANTASY
It’s hard to believe that the “Xanth” series, which started in 1976 with A Spell for Chameleon, is still around, but this latest volume (after Five Portraits) proves that fans are still interested. This outing stars a young man named Hapless with a talent for conjuring musical instruments. Unfortunately, he can’t carry a tune.
Bowen, Lila. Conspiracy of Ravens. Orbit: Hachette. (Shadow, Bk. 2). Oct. 2016. 368p. ISBN 9780316302272. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780316264341. FANTASY
At the end of Wake of Vultures, Nettie Lonesome threw herself off a cliff and discovered that she is two-natured, turning into a giant bird when she needs to. After a brief reunion with the Rangers, Nettie (now known as Rhett) sets off on a mission to deal with a railroad boss who has been torturing his supernatural workers. Another great Weird West fantasy from Bowen, who also writes as Delilah Dawson.
Erikson, Steven. Willful Child: Wrath of Betty. Tor. (Willful Child, Bk. 2). Nov. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780765383907. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765383914. SF
We first met the crew of the starship Willful Child in 2014 in a fun, joke-filled Star Trek spoof. This adventure of Capt. Hadrian Sawback (an even more vain, cocksure, oversexed version of Star Trek’s Captain Kirk) has him and his crew under scrutiny from his superior officers, who are just waiting for Sawback to screw up again.
Collections & Anthologies
Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror. Tachyon. Nov. 2016. 432p. ed. by Ellen Datlow. ISBN 9781616962326. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781616962333. HORROR
Ten years of short horror fiction plucked from previous anthologies, plus some original works, come together in these 24 tales, in which “what goes bump in the night” ranges from ghosts to madmen to what lurks inside the human psyche. One actor’s last hope for reconstructive surgery resides within television itself. A horror writer creates a story come to life, only to get caught in the middle of it. Renowned authors such as Caitlin R. Kiernan, Robert Shearman, Garth Nix, and Kaaron Warren vividly capture the darkness, evil, and fear found in great horror fiction. VERDICT Noted anthologist Datlow (The Best Horror of the Year) once again draws upon her curating skills to highlight the best the genre has to offer. The variety of stories shines a light on the depth and breadth of this sometimes marginalized literary form.
The Hugo Awards were presented on August 20 at the Worldcon convention, MidAmeriCon II, in Kansas City, MO. While there were continued controversies over voting groups calling themselves the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies, their slates of nominees were largely defeated. (Even the hilarious Chuck Tingle, whose story “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” was nominated by the puppies groups as a joke, trolled the puppies unrelentingly for months.)
Here are the winners and short list for Best Novel:
The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (winner)
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Connie Willis on the Hugos
In 2015, sf author Connie Willis (most recently Crosstalk) declined to participate in the Hugos ceremony in protest. Here she offers her response to the puppies’ campaigns and this year’s winners.
I love sf, and it’s killed me to see the attempted hostile takeover by a group of people who obviously don’t care about it at all.
This year, even more than last year, it was clear to me that the Puppies weren’t trying to get a fair hearing for works that in their opinion had been overlooked, a viewpoint I could respect in spite of their tactics, but that they simply wanted to poke a stick in the eye of the sf establishment (as witness to their nominating SJWs [Social Justice Warriors] Always Lie in the Related Work category and a “My Little Pony” episode in the Short Dramatic Feature category) and by the fact that a puppy panelist brought pearls to a panel on “The State of Science Fiction” for “the politically correct to clutch”).
It’s also become clear to me that, in spite of all their protests to the contrary, that what they’re really against is women, LGBTQs, and writers of color. And that if they don’t succeed in taking over sf, they’d happily destroy it.
So obviously I’m against them and everything they stand for. But I also don’t understand what they’re talking about. They make the accusation that the Hugo Awards are political and that no writer who’s a conservative can win the award, which is provably false. Hugo winners have come from all over the political map, and most readers have no idea what political party the writers belong to. The puppies also say no one who isn’t just like the people already in the field is welcome, and I know from experience that that’s not true. Forty years ago, I was about as different as you could get from the average sf writer. Not only was I a Midwest housewife who sang in a church choir and went to Tupperware parties, but I was also writing stories well outside the norm. The community welcomed me with open arms, just as it has welcomed all sorts of other writers before and since. It’s a field that embraces all kinds of people, personalities, opinions, ideas, and possibilities.
Plus, I don’t understand what it is the puppies would like the genre to return to. The past they describe, when men were space heroes and aliens were monsters, and sf hadn’t been contaminated by women and assorted ethnic and gender groups, never existed. In the Golden Age they admire so much, C.L. Moore and Shirley Jackson were writing brilliant stories (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley invented the genre, for heaven’s sake!), Robert A. Heinlein’s space crews were multiethnic and included female astrogators and physicists, and James Blish, Theodore Sturgeon, and Philip K. Dick were writing sensitive and sophisticated stories.
And every new writer to come into the field since has only added to the traditions and scope of the field. Do they honestly think a science fiction without Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K. Le Guin, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ted Chiang would be better than the one we’ve got?