Smaill's Debut of the Month, Charlton, Griep, Kay, plus Nebula Awards News & More | SF/Fantasy Reviews, April 15, 2016

VISITING VIVIDLY IMAGINED worlds is a large reason so many readers enjoy sf and fantasy. The sights, sounds, rituals, and cultures all create a richly transporting experience.

Visiting vividly imagined worlds is a large reason so many readers enjoy sf and fantasy. The sights, sounds, rituals, and cultures all create a richly transporting experience. Sometimes it is a journey to alien universes of the far future, such as in Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning, or fractured dystopias found in debuter Anna Smaill’s The Chimes and Camille Griep’s New Charity Blues. Or, readers might be enticed by the urban fantasy domains that twist our realities, such as with Faith Hunter’s popular “Jane Yellowrock” series, back this month with Shadow Rites.

The near future and its technological marvels (and dangers) take us one jump away from today’s present condition. In this column, we look at Patrick Hemstreet’s The God Wave, a technothriller set in that day-after-tomorrow period, and Madeline Ashby’s ­Company Town, which features a near-future crime story. And if the past is a place you wish to visit in your speculative fiction, Guy Gavriel Kay reworks history into his ­fascinating realms (Children of Earth and Sky).—MM

Debut of the Month

redstarSmaill, Anna. The Chimes. Quercus. May 2016. 304p. ISBN . $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781681445335. SF

After an apocalyptic event known as the Allbreaking, chimes.jpg41416most survivors are left unable to hold on to long-term memories, instead centering their communication on music, which seems to help them remember. Simon has traveled from his home outside of London to the city after his mother’s death, carrying his memory objects in an old canvas sack. While given instructions on whom to talk to in London, Simon has forgotten the details and is left wandering near the Thames. There he meets and falls in with a gang of metal pickers, led by Lucien. Though blind, Lucien hears and sings the melodies that keep his crew safe. He also senses that Simon’s recall is special, and if he could only recollect enough, together they could change their world. The novel’s purposefully confusing beginning mirrors Simon’s bewilderment, and patient readers will be well rewarded as the reality of Simon’s world swims into focus and the story suddenly becomes gripping and impossible to put down. VERDICT One of a kind, both in its dystopian landscape and use of gorgeous language throughout (including clever musical terms), this debut takes time to digest but is worth the effort. Fans of the eloquence and imagery of Jeff ­VanderMeer’s “Southern Reach” trilogy and the spare desolation of Cormac ­McCarthy’s The Road will adore this original work.—MM

Check These Out

Adams, G. Derek. Asteroid Made of Dragons. Sword & Laser. Apr. 2016. 260p. ISBN 9781941758731. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781941758748. Fantasy

A goblin archaeologist, having made an alarming discovery, has trouble getting anyone to take her seriously. If her calculations are correct, an asteroid that is a flying prison for dragons is heading for her world. Meanwhile, in an effort to obtain an audience with the king, wild mage Rime and her guardian, Jonas, must run an obstacle course of dangers, including agents of the Hunt determined to put down any and all wild mages. VERDICT This is a tonal mixed bag that is not quite sure whether it wants to aspire to the tongue-in-cheek satire of Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” series or play it straight as an epic fantasy. Technically the third book to feature Rime and Jonas (Spell/Sword and The Riddle Box were self-published), this is one of the first Sword & Laser publications, a popular genre website that is partnering with the crowdfunded publisher Inkshares.—MM

Ashby, Madeline. Company Town. Tor. May 2016. 288p. ISBN 9780765382900. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466889859. SF

Times are hard on the floating oil rig community of New Arcadia. An explosion tanked the local economy and left an opening for the Lynch family to take over the Canadian rig. Hwa, bodyguard for the local union of sex workers, agrees to work for the family, protecting the chosen heir, Joel. Lynch has been receiving death threats from what appears to be an alternate future time line while a serial killer seems to be targeting some of Hwa’s former clients. Hwa is a rare thing in this postsingularity world: an unaugmented human. But that doesn’t mean she is defenseless. The big draw of this mystery-sf blend from Ashby (vN), Hwa is spread thin among various loyalties and makes the most of her skills as a martial artist and investigator, getting back up no matter how many times she’s knocked down. She even opens herself up emotionally for the first time with her security boss, Daniel Siofra. VERDICT The plotting is slightly uneven, with a few too many narrative threads thrown out but not woven in (or pulled at too abruptly). Still, fans of futuristic mysteries will find plenty to enjoy here.—MM

Brooks, Mike. Dark Run. Saga. (Keiko, Bk. 1). May 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781481459549. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781481459556. SF

Capt. Ichabod Drift’s rule has always been that his crew’s personal histories are their own business. But when he is blackmailed with events from his own past to take a job that goes horribly wrong, nobody’s information is safe. He and the staff of the Keiko will need to work together and share their secrets if they are going to move past Drift’s betrayal and survive. A cagey captain who skirts the law, his loyal female second-in-command, a brother and sister whose allegiance is first to each other—these elements will remind many of the short-lived but still mourned TV show Firefly. While this story line is not particularly new in space opera, Brooks turns in an enjoyable adventure that has all of the fast action and clever dialog fans of the genre look for, with well-drawn secondary characters who also have moments to shine. VERDICT Suggest this debut to enthusiasts of caper plots and stories such as Chris Wooding’s Ketty Jay novels, and, of course, Firefly.—MM

Carter, Matt. Almost Infamous. Talos. Apr. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781940456508. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781940456515. SF

almostinfamous.jpg41516The world has not seen a villain since the end of the War on Villainy in 1993. More than 20 years later, 18-year-old Aidan Salt knows that his telekinetic abilities could help him become a professional superhero, but he does not have the desire, the drive, or the patience for the mountain of paperwork that would be required. So, he decides the only way to achieve fame without tedium is to become the first supervillain in decades: Apex Strike. Aidan finds that some superheroes truly want him defeated, but others want to use him to stage fights to make their own influences relevant. The salary and status seem to be everything he dreamed of, but Aidan soon learns that wickedness was not eradicated with the supervillains and that a nightmare exists behind the masks. VERDICT Youthful protagonists, high-­octane action, and hard life lessons create an intriguing look at a superpowered world. Enthusiasts of Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” trilogy may find that the lighter tone of Carter’s (coauthor “Prospero Chronicles” series) first solo novel does not take away from its strength.—KC

Charlton, Blake. Spellbreaker. Tor. (Spellwright Trilogy, Bk. 3). Aug. 2016. 480p. ISBN. 9780765317292 $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429949576. Fantasy

As Warden of Ixos, Leandra Weal not only hunts the neodemons that plague her home, she tracks down godspells that may be used for nefarious purposes. A prophetic spell she recovers reveals that in the future, Leandra will either kill someone she loves or die herself. As she attempts to discover whom she will murder, personal, political, and religious issues turn her life into a battleground. With only one day to obtain the truth, Leandra and her family rush to understand a foretold demonic invasion and the language of spells, all the while trying not to kill one another in the process. VERDICT The final book of the “Spellwright” trilogy (after Spellbound) can be read as a stand-alone. The idea of the power of human language in magic runs through the story and is supported by the writing. Vivid characters, political intrigue, and family drama make this a solid, ­imaginative work.—KC

redstarGriep, Camille. New Charity Blues. 47North: Amazon. Apr. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781503951204. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781503961807. SF.

A plague has decimated the planet’s population. Former ballerina Cressyda resides in the City, a community of survivors that remains a collapsed ruin compared to New Charity. This society stands strong behind its wall, with a hydroelectric dam that ensures no one from the City can access that water. When Syd learns she has inherited her father’s New Charity ranch, she returns both to the family she left behind years ago and to her then best friend, Casandra. Cas, a seer and acolyte to the Spirit, knows that Syd wants to open the dam for everyone, whatever the cost to New Charity. The two women realize that the dam draws on strange magic that, if tampered with, could be dangerous. Syd must find a way that allows both settlements to survive, despite her unearthing of the depth of New Charity’s corruption—and the facts of her own father’s murder. VERDICT In a story of family and betrayal, community and survival, Griep (Letters to Zell) reimagines a post­apocalyptic Trojan War that brings new life to a classic epic.—KC

Grimes, Linda. All Fixed Up. Tor. (Ciel Halligan, Bk. 4). May 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780765376398. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466851276. fantasy

With the ability to take on another person’s appearance and mannerisms, aura adaptor Ciel Halligan is posing as a famous astronaut about to make an announcement when the photographer attending the event sees through her aura and nearly blows Ciel’s cover. Then Ciel’s elderly aunt is murdered in Central Park, with the same photographer showing up at the funeral. Soon other adaptors are killed, and Ciel struggles to figure out who is behind the deaths. Is she also a target? When Billy, her best friend and boyfriend, disappears unexpectedly, our protagonist has to turn to her not-quite-past crush, CIA agent Mark, for help. VERDICT Grimes’s fourth (after The Big Fix) outing featuring her “human chameleon” delivers all the humor of her past books. Keeping a fine balance between interludes of a more personal nature and fast-paced action, this urban fantasy will please readers who prefer their female leads on the rocks with a twist of wit.—KC

Hemstreet, Patrick. The God Wave. Harper Voyager. May 2016. 400p. ISBN 9780062419507. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062419545. SF

Neurologist Chuck Brenton studies the brain waves of subjects with his enhanced EEG machine, trying to understand what happens when creative thinkers spike gamma waves, a special state of consciousness. To determine if his subjects could harness that energy to move not only an EEG needle but to manipulate the world around them, he partners with Matt ­Streegman, a mathematician and engineer. The revolutionary breakthroughs soon attract a shadowy government agency that wants the technology for its own purposes. Matt is determined to secure their interest and ­ensure the company’s financial future, while Chuck is more wary of the organization’s motives. VERDICT This debut near-future technothriller has more than its share of villains, but characters such as Matt are given enough nuance to keep them intriguing, and Chuck’s altruistic voice balances his nature nicely. The government “men in black” are the typical bogeymen for this kind of suspense, but Hemstreet keeps his protagonists on the run and in peril.—MM

Hunter, Faith. Shadow Rites. Roc: NAL. (Jane Yellowrock, Bk. 10). Apr. 2016. 368p. ISBN 9780451465979. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101636251. Fantasy

When she’s awoken by a witch’s spell scanning her house, Jane Yellowrock believes it might be connected to the upcoming Witch Conclave, which is attempting to negotiate a peace between witches and vampires. Jane knows many would like to see the agreement go down in flames, and adding fuel to the fire is the discovery of a presumed-dead master vampire, now raving mad and chained in a pit. Jane and her crew have to work even faster to find the culprit before an all-out supernatural war explodes in New Orleans. VERDICT Yellowrock’s tenth outing (after Dark Heir) continues her development as a vampire hunter and supernatural security expert. Hunter’s eloquent prose brings life to the various characters, illuminating the sexy setting of the Crescent City.—KC

James, Elliott. In Shining Armor. Orbit: Hachette. (Pax Arcana, Bk. 4). Apr. 2016. 464p. ISBN 9780316302333. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316302340. FANTASY

As the last surviving family member of the Grandmaster of the Knights Templar, infant Constance Lamplighter’s life is already deemed precious. And with her kidnapping, the fragile alliance between werewolves and knights is threatened. Constance, however, has one ally that her abductors did not count on: her godfather, John Charming, a former knight who comes from a long line of monster hunters. When it is revealed that a deeper plan has taken root, one that affects the entire order, John must decide if his oath to the knights is worth keeping or if his freedom should come no matter the cost. Verdict This Prince Charming may not be royal, but he lives up to his name with his deeds and not a small bit of wry humor. James’s fourth book (after Timeless) continues the exploits of this knight-turned-werewolf. Fans of the works of Jim Butcher and Kevin Herne should find this an ­appealing addition to their bookshelves.—KC

redstarKay, Guy Gavriel. Children of Earth and Sky. NAL: Penguin. May 2016. 560p. ISBN . $27; ebk. ISBN 9780698183278. Fantasy

The fortified town of Senjan sends pirate raiding parties childrenofearthandsky.jpg41516against those of the Asharite faith at every opportunity. Considered by some to be a brave defender of the Jaddite religion and by others as a thorn in the side of global trade, this coastal community is just one of the fulcrums on which politics turn in Kay’s latest historical fantasy. There are also the schemes of the wealthy merchants in Seressa, the carefully husbanded neutrality of Dubrava, and a brother and sister standing on either side of a religious war. In a departure from the author’s recent expertly crafted fantasies set in a version of ancient China (Under Heaven; River of Stars), this title, as with many of Kay’s other books (Sailing to Sarantium; The Lions of Al-Rassan) takes place in a universe inspired by European ­Renaissance history. A bonus for longtime readers are the many references in this work to the places from those previous novels, especially ­Sarantium, fallen 25 years at the start of this story. VERDICT Kay triumphs at creating complex political landscapes and then populating them with characters who make the stakes important and the struggles real. Another magnificent ­history-that-never-was from a master.—MM

Miller, Heidi Ruby. Starrie. Dog Star. 2016. 186p. ISBN 9781935738794. pap. $14.95. SF

Assassin Naela Starrie has brutally dispatched serial rapist Liu Stavros when she encounters Ben Anslow, leader of an Armadan Special Ops team. Their fates are entwined as Naela’s ship is damaged, stranding her with Ben while her sadistic cousin hunts them both—a complicated start to what becomes a romantic relationship. The trope of enemies thrown together in a hostile environment then becoming lovers is not particularly fresh, but Miller (author of other books in the same universe, including 2013’s Greenshift) turns in a fine ­example reminiscent of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shards of Honor. VERDICT While the lead characters are captivating, the setting is not fleshed out enough to make it easy for new readers to follow, especially when political factions are dropped on the page without much ­context.—MM

Palmer, Ada. Too Like the Lightning. Tor. May 2016. 416p. ISBN 9780765378002. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466858749. SF

The year 2454 introduces an atmosphere that is entirely unlike our own: one in which technology and economics rule, gender and social norms are taboo, and religion is outlawed but spirituality is accepted. Carlyle Foster’s position as a sensayer allows him to counsel people in the ways that the world could be. However, arriving at his newest assignment, he encounters a child with living, bleeding, plastic toy soldiers, and a convict serving the family—Mycroft Canner. The existence of one young boy who can make his wishes come true could threaten this utopian system. As Mycroft narrates this story, he depicts a calm sense of reality, one that hides a deep, intense undercurrent that will spur a revolution among the realm’s inhabitants. Verdict Palmer’s debut novel examines the cohesive yet clashing connection between philosophical ideologies and advanced technology. Mycroft’s experience as a convict refreshes stale sf elements and offers a unique perspective on the birth of a future rebellion.—KC

Turtledove, Harry. The House of Daniel. Tor. Jun. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780765380005. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466871335. Fantasy

During the Great Depression, Jack Spivey flees his hometown of Enid, OK, and the wrath of a low-level criminal by joining a traveling semipro baseball team, known as The House of Daniel. For Jack, wearing a fake beard and a long-haired wig is a small price to pay for playing one of the best teams in the country. VERDICT While alternate-history king Turtledove (Bombs Away; In the Balance) unsurprisingly has a firm grasp of the tale’s time period (especially the baseball of the era), his incorporation of vampires, werewolves, and zombies fails to be integral to the story. In addition, the plot moves at such a leisurely pace that even those readers with a high tolerance for detailed descriptions of baseball games might lose ­patience.—MM

Collections & Anthologies

Arnason, Eleanor. Hwarhath Stories: Trangressive Tales by Aliens. Aqueduct. May 2016. 392p. ISBN 9781619760950. pap. $19. SF

The alien species Hwarhath is an intelligent population whose inhabitants share many similarities to, and differences from, humans. This collection by the James Tiptree Jr. Award–winning author Arnason (A Woman of the Iron People) details Hwarhath society from the perspective of a cultural anthropologist and translator. The first story, “Historical Romances,” details the differences in Hwarhath literature and popular fiction, showcasing the latter in “The Actors,” “Dapple,” and “The Potter of Bones.” Sexuality, its fluidity, and its defined gender roles in this extraterrestrial community are highlighted in the myth-based tale, “The Gauze Banner.” Delivered in a clear voice with scholarly touches, Arnason’s book brings a fantastic species to life. Verdict These stories mostly date back to the 1990s, but the intelligent tone and anthropological view is as impressive nearly two decades years later. Readers who favor robust cultural development in related speculative works will find this collection a joy to ­absorb.—KC

newsworthy

Nebula Short List Announced One of the most prestigious awards in genre fiction is the Nebula Award, presented each year by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA). Here are this year’s nominees for Best Novel:

Raising Caine, Charles E. Gannon; The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie; The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu Uprooted, Naomi Novik; Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, Lawrence M. Schoen Updraft, Fran Wilde

nebula.jpg41516The full list of nominations is available at the SFWA website (sfwa.org/nebula-awards), but I’d like to point out that Wilde’s Updraft, a candidate for best novel, was also nominated for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, highlighting how well this title appeals to multiple audiences.

One part of the Nebula Awards ceremony, held in May, is recognizing the newest Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master of sf and fantasy literature. This year’s new Grand Master is C.J. Cherryh. Born in 1942, Cherryh is the author of over 60 books, among them stand-alones and several long-running series. It can be hard to know where to start with such a prolific writer. While there is a new entry in her “Foreigner” books (Visitor, covered in Series Lineup below), most readers will want to start with the first title, Foreigner. Another extensive sf series is set in the far-future Union/Alliance universe, beginning with the 1982 Hugo Award–winning Downbelow Station, but another solid entry point is Cyteen (Cherryh’s other Hugo winner). If you want to try Cherryh’s fantasy novels, Fortress in the Eye of Time is a perfect place to jump in. A complete list of SFWA Grand Masters can be found here: sfwa.org/grandmaster.

SERIAL BOX COMING TO PRINT

 Sf/fantasy is, like many genres, experimenting with fresh ways of delivering stories. One experiment has been Serial Box (­serialbox.com), a digital publishing venture that models itself on television’s episodic nature. Each project has a team of writers, and every week the Serial Box website debuts a new episode. The current 16-episode run, written by Max Gladstone, Brian Francis Slattery, Mur Lafferty, and ­Margaret Dunlap, is an urban fantasy, Bookburners, about a magic-fighting team run by the Vatican. Simon & Schuster’s sf imprint, Saga Press, will be publishing the compiled episodes in fall 2016. Future projects include Tremontaine, a serial set in the Riverside world of Ellen Kushner’s fantasy novel Swordspoint to be released in spring 2017, and The Witch Who Came In from the Cold, a spy story set in Prague during the Cold War with a supernatural twist, coming summer 2017.—MM

QUOTABLE “If by ‘different,’ he meant ‘poor,’ then he was onto something. It wasn’t that Hwa had some moral or aesthetic commitment to living free of augmentation. But Sunny had never found money for that kind of thing. At least, not when it came to Hwa. Hwa was a bad investment.”—Madeline Ashby, Company Town

Series Lineup

Brennan, Marie. In the Labyrinth of Drakes. Tor. (Memoir by Lady Trent, Bk. 4). Apr. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9780765377630. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466856981. FANTASY

It is a pleasure to go on another adventure with Lady Trent, naturalist and dragon enthusiast, in a fantasy version of Victorian times. In this outing, she is asked to head up a dragon breeding program in the desert. There she again encounters archaeologist Suhail, whom readers will remember as a possible love interest from The Voyage of the Basilisk.—MM

jericho.jpg41516Cherryh, C.J. Visitor. DAW. (Foreigner, Bk. 17). Apr. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9780756409104. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780698164260. SF

Sf’s newest Grand Master returns to her long-running “Foreigner” series, which is arranged in trilogies that hold self-contained story arcs. This entry is in the middle of an arc, following 2015’s Tracker, which ended on a cliff-hanger.—MM

Gordon, Alex. Jericho. Harper Voyager. (Gideon, Bk. 2). Apr. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9780061687389. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062102331. FANTASY

Witch Lauren Reardon, last seen in Gideon, is tasked with healing places where evil can enter the world. There are legends of ghosts and spirits at an old Oregon logging camp called Jericho, and Lauren must face whatever darkness resides there.—MM

Jacka, Benedict. Burned. Ace: Berkley. (Alex Versus, Bk. 7). Apr. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780425275764. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698165083. FANTASY

The Council of Mages wants Alex Versus dead in this follow-up to Veiled. But since they also wish to kill his apprentices, Alex tries to put some distance between himself and his friends to keep them safe. He’ll need new allies if he is going to stay alive to face his old master, a dark mage with allies of his own.—MM

Additional SF/Fantasy

Invaders: 22 Tales from the Outer Limits of Literature. Tachyon. Jul. 2016. 384p. ed. by Jacob Weisman. ISBN 9781616962104. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616962258. SF

This anthology grew out of a question posed by the editor: Are stories really sf if they are written by nongenre writers? If not, what are they? Gathered here is speculative and fantastical short fiction by such acclaimed literary authors as Junot Diaz, Katherine Dunn, George Saunders, and Rifka ­Galchen. (Note: some of these selections contain graphic content intended for an adult audience.) The themes and settings of these stories vary enormously; one tale is terrifyingly successful at simulating a fugue state. Another depicts a future in which cars are illegal—or in which being a normally aging human is. There is the sad dignity of an alien who crashes on a woman’s sheep ranch, the enthusiasm of a bohemian inventor with his clothes ray, an aspiring squid, and two modern dysfunctional families juxtaposed with a space-time portal and a rocket launch. VERDICT This volume will be appreciated by readers who are interested in genre experiments (looking for the boundaries, as it were, of sf). Fans of The ­Secret ­History of Science ­Fiction, edited by James ­Patrick Kelly and John Kessel, will want this title.—Sara Schepis, ­Wappinger Falls, NY

Tremblay, Paul. Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. Morrow. Jun. 2016. 328p. ISBN 9780062363268. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062363282. HORROR

Thirteen-year-old Tommy Sanderson has vanished in a park near a large boulder named Split Rock, although an obscure local legend refers to it as Devil’s Rock. Tommy, along with his two best friends, Luis and Josh, were together at Josh’s house when they snuck out to the woods. Kate, Tommy’s younger sister, tries to help her mother, Elizabeth, cope; Elizabeth is puzzled by the vision of Tommy that she experienced the night he went missing. Adding to the mystery are pages from Tommy’s diary that suddenly surface, revealing his obsession with the occult. VERDICT The title may sound like a “Hardy Boys” novel, but this ain’t no Franklin W. Dixon story. Multiple Bram Stoker Award finalist Tremblay (A Head Full of Ghosts) succeeds brilliantly at scaring his audience in this latest novel. The characters are well drawn and believable, and the conversations among Tommy and his friends, recounted in journal excerpts and flashbacks, render authentic teenspeak. Recommended for fans of the author, Peter Straub, and Adam Nevill. [See Prepub Alert, 1/4/16.]—Jason L. Steagall, Gateway Technical Coll. Lib., ­Elkhorn, WI

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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