Fonda Lee’s Pick of the Month, Mira Grant, Nora Roberts, Josh Malerman, and More | SF/Fantasy Reviews

Space opera is one of the most iconic subgenres under the sf/fantasy umbrella. For many, it conjures up images of starships, ray guns, and space battles against alien enemies. But the modern version encompasses more than those iconic elements, often marrying the action and broad sweep of space with nuanced characterization and social commentary. This month, we have several exciting examples of the new space opera and its sister genre military sf. The concluding volume of K.B. Wagers’s “Indranan War” series, Beyond the Empire, continues to offer characters whom readers care deeply about while ensuring high-stakes action and battles. Richard Baker’s Valiant Dust kicks off a series with a space-age take on the legacies of colonial empires, while Jim Hines’s fun Terminal Alliance has a team of janitors fighting for the fate of the human race.

For those unfamiliar with space opera and military sf, there are two new anthologies to enjoy. Infinite Stars hits the shelves this month, serving as a wonderful introduction to some of the best-loved space operas being published today. And from Baen, one of the mainstay publishers of these subgenres, we get The Jim Baen Memorial Award: The First Decade, bringing together 16 award-winning short stories.—MM

Pick of the Month

redstarLee, Fonda. Jade City. Orbit: Hachette. (Green Bone Saga, Bk. 1). Nov. 2017. 600p. ISBN 9780316440868. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316440899. FANTASY

For centuries, the Green Bone warriors defended the island of Kekon from foreign invasion by using jade to enhance their physical and mental abilities. But now the peace is disintegrating as rival families compete to control Janloon, the capital city. Heading the No Peak clan are the Kauls. Eldest son Lan leads as Pillar, but he struggles with health issues and his grandfather’s efforts to seize control; sister Shae gave up her jade when she chose another path, but she has reluctantly been brought back into the family; youngest brother Hilo wields power as the Horn but is burdened by family issues. Yet as the Mountain clan, led by the notorious Ayt family, moves onto No Peak’s territory, and the Kauls try to stop their inevitable slide into clan war, the siblings discover much more is wrong beneath the surface tensions. VERDICT Making her adult fiction debut, YA author Lee (Zeroboxer) draws on her Chinese heritage, passion for gangster stories, and strong writing to launch a Godfather-inspired fantasy series that mixes bold martial-arts action and vivid worldbuilding. The result is terrific. [Previewed in Marlene Harris’s “Galaxy Quests” sf/fantasy preview, LJ 4/15/17.]—KC

Check These Out

Baker, Richard. Valiant Dust. Tor. (Breaker of Empires, Bk. 1). Nov. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780765390721. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765390745. SF

As a representative of his small home system of Kashmir, Sikander Singh North knows he will always have to prove himself. Royalty at home, he is simply the new gunnery officer on the Commonwealth starship ­Hector. When the ship is sent on a mission to the planet Gadira, he finds a kindred spirit in Ranya, the daughter of the ruling sultan. But Sikander and the rest of the ship’s crew get caught in the crossfire between a rebel uprising against the sultan and a conspiracy by outside forces to gain control of the planet. Author and game designer Baker (“Forgotten Realms” series), has a good feel for the military elements in this space opera series opener. Having a Sikh protagonist struggling with class and imperialism and a colonial planet that is largely exploited by greater powers of the galaxy adds interest to what is otherwise a fairly standard adventure. VERDICT A good choice for fans of Jack Campbell and Charles E. Gannon. [Previewed in Marlene ­Harris’s “Galaxy Quests” sf/fantasy preview, LJ 4/15/17.]—MM

Black, Levi. Black Goat Blues. Tor. (Mythos War, Bk. 2). Nov. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9780765382504. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466887619. Fantasy

Charlie Tristan Moore is on a mission to destroy The Man in Black, an Elder God who had brought her into the world of demons and monsters, and help her boyfriend Daniel recover from their last deadly battle. Having discovered her own power and wearing a magic coat created from the flayed skin of an angel and seized from her enemy, she sets out on a new quest for vengeance. Filled with Lovecraftian horror and dark emotion, Black’s fast-paced sequel to Red Right Hand does not flag, as Charlie relentlessly hunts her prey and struggles in her own emotional recovery against previous trauma. VERDICT Fans of dark fantasy and horror looking for a mix of gore and graphic violence featuring a damaged heroine and smart prose will find it all in this second series installment.—KC

Brooks, Mike. Dark Deeds. Saga: S. & S. (Keiko, Bk. 3). Oct. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781534405455. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781534405462. SF

The crew of the Keiko are back, and they are in the doghouse with powerful crime lord Sergei Orlov, who didn’t get what he wanted from them in their previous adventure (Dark Sky). To ensure that Capt. ­Ichabod Drift makes good on the debt ­Orlov believes is owed to him, he holds Drift’s partner Tamara Rourke for ransom. The crew have two months to come up with a large amount of cash. While siblings Jia and Kuai work with new recruit ­Muradov to rip off a dirty cop, Drift convinces the Keiko’s huge Maori crew member, Apirana, to enter a big-purse prize fight. Of course, Rourke doesn’t wait tamely to be rescued. In this entertaining space opera, Brooks explores further his characters and their interactions by splitting the Keiko crew into different teams. As there are limits to how many stories you can tell on a relatively small spaceship, this series is an example of space opera that broadens its scope by having the action mostly take place planetside. VERDICT A delight for series and space opera fans.—MM

redstarGrant, Mira. Into the Drowning Deep. Orbit: Hachette. Nov. 2017. 448p. ISBN 9780316379403. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316379380. HORROR

Seven years ago, the Atargatis sailed on a voyage to the Mariana Trench in the Pacific to film a mocumentary about the mythological mermaids said to live in the trench. Six weeks later, the ship was discovered adrift with no survivors. Now a new team sets out to seek answers. For young marine biologist ­Victoria ­Stewart, it is finally her chance to determine what happened to her sister on that previous doomed trip—and to avoid the same fate. VERDICT Grant’s (“Newsflesh” series) skillfully crafted story combines science, horror, and mystery into a gripping novel of terror on the sea. Readers will never look at mermaids in the same way again. [Previewed in Marlene Harris’s “Galaxy Quests” sf/fantasy preview, LJ 4/15/17.]—KC

redstarHines, Jim C. Terminal Alliance. DAW. (Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse, Bk. 1). Nov. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780756412746. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780756412760. SF

Decades after the alien Krakau rescued the last few thousand inhabitants of Earth from a plague that had turned humans into mindless savages, Marion “Mops” Adamopoulos considers herself lucky to have been restored to her humanity. Mops serves as a lieutenant on the Earth Mercenary Corps ship ­Pufferfish, where she heads up the sanitation and hygiene crew. Her ship is attacked by a bioweapon that kills the Krakau who direct operations and turns the human crew back into a feral state, but Mops and her small crew of janitors fortunately were in environmental suits to tackle a particularly noxious mess. They must find a way to save their crew until the Krakau can reverse the effects of the weapon, while trying to find out who is responsible. VERDICT Hines (Libromancer) delivers a fantastic space opera that doesn’t skimp on the action and excitement but pairs it with a hefty dose of slightly scatological humor. The author is especially clever in having Mops and her team leverage cleaning tools and a knowledge of spaceship plumbing to fight their enemies. [Previewed in Marlene ­Harris’s “Galaxy Quests” Sf/fantasy preview, LJ 4/15/17.]—MM

Malerman, Josh. Goblin: A Novel in Six Novellas. Earthling. Nov. 2017. 376p. ISBN 9780996211857. $50. HORROR

Goblin, MI, is a strange town where it rains constantly, the local cops are a bit off, and a witch supposedly inhabits the local woods. Malerman sets six novellas in Goblin, bookended by the tale of a truck driver making a mysterious delivery to the area with specific instructions. The first novella, “A Man in Slices,” tells of a man who fears that his childhood friend has done something awful to please his new girlfriend. A big game hunter obsesses over catching one of the huge owls that haunt Goblin’s woods in “Happy Birthday, Hunter!” The final entry, “The Hedges,” features an enormous hedge maze created by a man grieving over a terrible loss and the little girl who is the first to solve his creation. VERDICT Bram Stoker Award winner Malerman (Bird Box) delivers a chilling collection of tales about a place that’s likely to linger in the imagination, one that readers shouldn’t plan on visiting.—KC

Radford, Irene. A Spoonful of Magic. DAW. Nov. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780756412913. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780756412920. FANTASY

Daphne “Daffy” Deschants knew her husband, Gabriel “G,” was a bit mysterious and even magical in his own way, but proof of his infidelity was more than enough to ruin their anniversary. As she prepares to confront her spouse, G uses wizard magic to thwart a mugging attempt, revealing to Daffy his role as sheriff for the International Guild of Wizards and that her strange and wonderful children are coming into their own powers. She also too quickly discovers her own abilities as a kitchen witch. Yet with the magic comes danger, for G’s first wife is coming to claim the eyes of her son, the boy Daffy has raised as her own, to cure her blindness. VERDICT Radford (“Dragon Nimbus” series) launches an unusual urban fantasy that is more than a simple magic-infused cozy, with various threads involving religious conflicts and family dysfunction. The fully developed characters handle their own fantastical situations with heartfelt emotion and inner strength.—KC

redstarRoberts, Nora. Year One. St. Martin’s. (Chronicles of the One, Bk. 1). Dec. 2017. 432p. ISBN 9781250122957. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250122988. Fantasy

No one fully understands how the illness started, or how it spread so fast. But now more than half of the world’s population is gone. In the wake of science and technology’s failure to stop the plague, survivors begin to use magic. For those like Lana Bingham and her lover Max, it brings a peace few have known in this postapocalyptic world; for others, it unlocks their darker nature. As governmental factions hunt down those responsible for applying these paranormal powers, Lana and Max leave New York and search for Max’s brother and friends out west. Along the way, they meet other travelers, some seeking to thrive, others to destroy. But their ultimate purpose awaits as once the End arrives, the Beginning will follow. VERDICT Roberts’s full step into a modern fantasy series is long overdue. Fascinating characters and a well-built dystopia combine with a riveting plot that will attract a whole new group of readers. [See Prepub Alert, 6/26/17.]—KC

Tanzer, Molly. Creatures of Will and Temper. John Joseph Adams: Mariner. Nov. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9781328710260. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781328710369. FANTASY

Sisters Evadne and Dorina Gray are separated not only by age but also by their vastly different temperaments. Elder Evadne is socially awkward and obsessed with fencing, while 17-year-old Dorina is sexually precocious, her seductions of other young women in the neighborhood cause some trouble. Evadne is saddled with the task of chaperoning her sister on a summer trip to London to stay with their Uncle Basil, an artist with whom Dorina wants to study. Soon after their arrival, Dorina falls under the influence of Lady Henry, a friend of Basil who offers to show her the beauties of the city. While Evadne doesn’t trust Lady Henry, she could never guess that the small salon she hosts is really a circle for diabolists. VERDICT The Victorian era setting of Tanzer’s latest (after the marvelous Weird Western Vermilion) adds a formality that contrasts nicely with the dueling and demonic communion. At its center is a difficult sibling relationship and the Gray sisters’ parallel efforts to find somewhere to belong.—MM

redstarWagers, K.B. Beyond the Empire. Orbit: Hachette. (Indranan War, Bk. 3). Nov. 2017. 416p. ISBN 9780316308649. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316308656. SF

In her third and final outing, gunrunner-turned-empress Hail Bristol is dodging assassins from her own Indranan Empire who wish to eliminate the matriarchy, while at the same time dealing with invasion threats from the Saxons, who have been bombing Indranan planets. For Hail, the most pressing concern is finding Wilson, the man who killed her family and seems to be pulling the strings in these plots against her. Never one to shrink from a challenge, Hail embraces the royal role she never wanted in order to win the hearts of her people and secure her throne. VERDICT Coming to a satisfying conclusion, Wagers’s high-octane space opera trilogy (Behind the Throne; After the Crown) is particularly appealing for its relationships that Hail, who found difficulty in adjusting to her new life, has developed with her team of supporters and surrogate family of loyal bodyguards and servants.—MM

Collections & Anthologies

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017. Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. (Best American). Oct. 2017. 384p. ed. by Charles Yu & John Joseph Adams. ISBN 9780544973985. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780544980679. SF

In the third edition of this annually published volume, series editor Adams and 2017 guest editor Yu have selected 20 diverse sf and fantasy stories published in 2016. The authors are both established names and promising newcomers. Dale Bailey’s “Teenagers from Outer Space” takes on angst-filled humans and aliens in 1950s Ohio. “Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0” by Caroline M. Yoachim is a convoluted medical “Choose Your Own Adventure,” in which the ending is the same for all participants. The collection ends with story notes from contributors and a list of notable short stories not included in the volume. VERDICT The fresh and original perspectives and clever storytelling will draw both sf/fantasy fans and new readers interested in learning more about speculative fiction.—KC

Howey, Hugh. Machine Learning: New and Collected Stories. John Joseph Adams: Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781328767530. $28; pap. ISBN 9781328767523. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781328764331. SF

This debut short story collection from the author of Wool and Beacon 23 explores topics as vast as the universe and as focused as artificial intelligence. A number of these 21 selections have been previously published, such as “Glitch,” in which a contradiction in a robot’s programming may not mean it is actually broken. In “The Walk Up Nameless Ridge,” a failed climb up a mountain on an alien planet reveals hidden truths. Two brand-new tales were written exclusively for the collection, three more take readers back into the world of Wool, but all are deftly crafted as they delve into issues of overcommunication, online gaming between sexes, and the eternal personal struggle of the individual. Each story is followed by an author’s note explaining the background and ­origins of each tale. VERDICT These captivating short works will please Howey’s many fans as well as aficionados of thought-provoking sf. [See Prepub Alert, 4/10/17.]—KC

Infinite Stars: The Definitive Anthology of Space Opera and Military SF. Titan. Oct. 2017. 688p. ed. by Bryan Thomas Schmidt. ISBN 9781785654589. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781785655937. SF

Hugo Award­–nominated editor Schmidt has gathered 24 stories from some of the most popular authors in space opera and military sf. Many selections are reprints, such as the novella “Borders of Infinity” from Lois ­McMaster Bujold’s “Vorkosigan Saga,” Nnedi Okorafor’s marvelous novella “Binti,” or Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton’s final Stark story, “Stark and the Star Kings.” Others are original contributions, often filling in gaps in their author’s most popular series, including a “Skolian” story from Catherine Asaro, a “Dune” tale from Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, a “Revelation Space” entry from Alastair Reynolds, and Orson Scott Card’s “Renegat,” which features Ender Wiggins in his role as speaker for the dead. The preference of series entries over stand-alone stories guarantees that readers unfamiliar with these books will get a tantalizing taste of the introduced universes. VERDICT With the likes of David Weber, Jack Campbell, Anne McCaffrey, ­Elizabeth Moon, Charles Gannon, and Robert ­Silverberg, this is also a great anthology for those who want to sample the best authors in sf.—MM

The Jim Baen Memorial Award: The First Decade. Baen. Nov. 2017. 320p. ed. by William Ledbetter. ISBN 9781481482813. pap. $16. SF

For the past ten years, publisher Baen and the National Space Society have cosponsored the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award, which honors short fiction that focuses on space exploration in the near future. Now 16 of these winning tales have been collected in one volume. “Citizen-Astronaut” by ­David D. Levine (Arabella of Mars) discovers training for a Mars expedition is not the same as actually embarking on one. Hugo Award finalist Jennifer Brozek’s “To Lose the Stars” has a space miner on a final voyage confronting the reason 50 is the cut-off age for solo journeys. Each story cuts science into plausible portions of imagination, highlighting the reasons why people look to the stars with positivity and hope for the future. VERDICT The universe is limitless in this optimistic collection of near-future sf stories. Fans of the genre will be clamoring for a copy.—KC

Joe Ledger: Unstoppable. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2017. 416p. ed. by Jonathan Maberry & Bryan Thomas Schmidt. ISBN 9781250090805. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250090812. SF

Maberry’s series protagonist, ex-Baltimore cop Joe Ledger, is now a senior field agent for the Department of Military Sciences, a shadowy government agency that fights terrorists who threaten America with cutting-edge technology, along with a range of monsters, zombies, robots, and aliens. With this volume, Maberry and Schmidt recruited some of the best writers in speculative fiction to spin 20 tales that revolve around ­Ledger and his team. A revenge-bent woman confronts Ledger in “Target Acquired” by ­Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon. In “Vacation,” an excerpt from Scott Sigler’s novel Nocturnal, San Francisco cops Pookie Chang and Bryan Clauser give carte blanche to Ledger during a murder investigation. VERDICT Ledger fans will find plenty to enjoy in this anthology as their enigmatic hero goes from playing a central role to becoming a side character to finding himself in intriguing meet-ups with the contributors’ own series protagonists.—KC

QUOTABLE “The days of E.E. Smith and Edmond Hamilton are far behind us. But space opera lives on, however evolved and transformed it may now be, continuing to call forth the efforts of the best of our writers and to hold the attention of a multitude of readers who seek that wonder-laden view of the farthest galaxies and of the centuries to come that science fiction, and only science fiction, is capable of providing.”—Robert Silverberg, “Space Opera: An Introduction,” from Infinite Stars: The Definitive Anthology of Space Opera and Military SF

Megan M. McArdle is a Collection Specialist at the Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Kristi Chadwick is Advisor for the Massachusetts Library System. In addition to being a 2013 LJ Reviewer of the Year and 2014 Mover & Shaker, she was also a finalist judge for the 2015 LJ SELF-e Award in Fantasy

 

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