Windo's Debut of the Month, Baker's Latest "Aracadia" Entry, Newcomers Blum, McIntyre, Myers, Wilson | SF/Fantasy Reviews

This thought-provoking debut shines a speculative light on the subjects of connection, disconnection, and identity; Gratton’s engrossing and magical debut will attract fans of vivid epic fantasies; Wilson’s first story collection highlights imaginative works in which AIs and humans connect, for better or worse

Debut of the Month

redstarWindo, Nick Clark. The Feed. Morrow. Mar. 2018. 336p. ISBN 9780062651853. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062651884. SF

Welcome to the Feed, a global information network that links and enables people to live in a world of constant communication where they have the ability to know others’ thoughts and feelings. Tom and Kate are part of the Feed, but Tom resists becoming addicted, even though his father created the system. His reluctance eventually serves him and Kate on the fateful day when the Feed collapses after a horrible tragedy. What happens after everyone is cut off from technology and constant connectivity? Simple situations, like shopping for food, are now complex, even life-threatening, and when Tom and Kate’s six-year-old daughter Bea disappears, their struggle to find her will reveal more than they ever imagined. VERDICT This thought-provoking debut shines a speculative light on the subjects of connection, disconnection, and identity in a not-so-distant digital age. The fast pace and absorbing plot will keep readers racing to the end.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Check These Out

Baker, Mishell. Impostor Syndrome. Saga: S. & S. (Arcadia Project, Bk. 3). Mar. 2018. 480p. ISBN 9781481480185. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781481451956. FANTASY

Millie is not a hero, nor is she really a leader, but she has to take charge after her partner Tjuan is targeted in the first shot of a brewing civil war. The dispute pits two U.S. Arcadia Project offices in Los Angeles and New Orleans against the London branch after they denounce the Project’s leader, Dame Belinda Barker, for an atrocity she had committed. Millie knows the only way to sever Dame Belinda’s power is to go to London and set up a heist that will either defeat the powerful head of the Arcadia Project, or possibly destroy the project. Millie’s mental health issues are once again handled deftly, revealing a flawed protagonist pretending to know what she’s doing in a magically charged landscape. VERDICT Mixing humor with serious action, the final volume of B­aker’s trilogy (Borderline; Phantom Pains) wraps up a layered story line with a satisfying imperfect ending.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Barnes, Eric. The City Where We Once Lived. Arcade: Skyhorse. Mar. 2018. 244p. ISBN 9781628728835. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781628728842. SF

The sparse and deserted North End of the city was once an urban, bustling landscape. Budget cuts, extreme weather, and a governmental shift in focus to the South End led to the North End’s abandonment. People survive in this area because government-mandated electricity and water still run. Some people have set up shop on street corners. The garbage man takes tips. The hyper-­local-focused newspaper publishes hundreds of copies that people actually read. Scavengers clearing remaining buildings of raw materials always ask newcomers: “What is your capacity for violence?” A woman from the South End goes missing. A tornado causes massive damage. South End teens rob North End residents. Levees are breaking, threatening city-wide flooding. The metropolitan commission doesn’t care about the trouble because taxes aren’t being paid. So, North End residents decide to organize. VERDICT Barnes’s (Shimmer) violent, haunted, and creepy novel about failing societies will attract readers of dark, postapocalyptic fiction.— Michelle Gilbert Doshi, Lake Forest Lib., IL

Blum, Yoav. The Coincidence Makers. St. Martin’s. Mar. 2018. 304p. tr. from Hebrew by Ira Moskowitz. ISBN 9781250146113. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250146137. FANTASY

DEBUT What if these chance events in our lives are really being engineered by someone? That’s the premise of Israeli author Blum’s debut novel. Eric, Emily, and Guy are Coincidence Makers, recruited and trained by the General. Many times the incidents are of the matchmaking variety and that’s what Guy has specialized in the last few years. One day, he arrives for his assignment and finds that he is meeting with one of the Black Hats in coincidence making. These top-level guys create complex coincidences that lead to assassinations, coups, and other tragedies. Pierre needs Guy’s help at a lower level to pull off a coincidence involving a hit man. Guy had already been questioning how long he could do this work. This new assignment plus his feelings for a fellow coincidence maker could be the beginning of the end of his career. VERDICT Blum’s clever, original piece of speculative fiction may appeal to fans of Alice Hoffman and Paulo Coehlo. Readers who enjoy new ways of thinking and alternative approaches to life will find this an engaging read. [See Prepub Alert, 10/9/17.]— Robin Nesbitt, ­Columbus Metropolitan Lib., OH

Brust, Steven. Good Guys. Tor. Mar. 2018. 320p. ISBN 9780765396372. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765396389. FANTASY

Donovan, Marci, and Susan all work for the Foundation, using their magical powers to solve supernatural crimes and defend the innocent from attacks by the Mystici. Their latest case involves a series of increasingly violent murders carried out with the aid of mystical objects. The victims all had done despicable things, but it’s unclear what else they might have in common. Donovan’s team has a chance at stopping the killer, if only their penny-pinching supervisor would approve their expenses—because sometimes you need to take a pricey magical short-cut instead of flying commercial to get to the crime scene in time. In his first stand-alone in two decades, Brust (“Vlad Taltos” series) does a solid job of creating complex, likable characters and a world with consistent rules of magic. The rapidly changing points of view can be challenging to follow, but they add to the dramatic tension as the author builds his story. VERDICT Brust fans and admirers of Connie Willis and Jim Butcher will appreciate this twisty and clever urban fantasy.—Laurel Bliss, San Diego State Univ. Lib.

Casper, Susan. The Red Carnival. Fantastic. Feb. 2018. 246p. ISBN 9781515410331. pap. $14.99. HORROR

The Jim Dandy Traveling Amusement Fair may not be the best carnival in the world, but it is probably the most unusual, as its workers soon discover. Whenever the carnies arrive in a town and set up the booths and tents on land that holds a tragic past, the carnival takes on a life of its own—and starts taking lives. Facing down evil is not usually part of the agenda for carnies, and worse, the evil and dark forces are spreading into them. When your friends and lovers turn into beings trying to harm you, it is impossible to know whom and how to fight. And then a guardian dragon spirit shows up. VERDICT At times dark and unsettling, this previously unpublished novel by the late Casper (who died in 2017) holds the same wonderful prose and love of the uncanny as her published short fiction (Up the Rainbow: The Complete Short Fiction of Susan Casper).—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Dath, Dietmar. The Abolition of Species. DoppleHouse. May 2018. 384p. tr. from German by Samuel P. Willcocks. ISBN 9780998777092. pap. $17.95. FANTASY

Author Dath’s (Pulsarnacht) political allegory, rich with the sort of grandeur not seen since Russian science fiction of the mid-20th century, will test the mettle of readers accustomed to leaner, plot-driven novels. Shifting among Mars, Venus, and the final three cities left standing on Earth in the wake of genocidal war, the Gente (post-human telepaths who metamorphose into animals, alter their gender at will, and even manifest themselves as machine-like animations) know only relentless struggle. Observing and manipulating, even playing strings of history like music are a temporal adventuress and a composer with the ability to transform the new war into a mutation machine. The novel of big ideas isn’t dead, and German author Dath proves few things are more satisfying in sf with a literary bent than mingling high-brow cultural speculation with low-brow humor, cautioning the reader to remember that humanity (at least for now) is dominator of the only game in town. VERDICT Readers who favor the sensual detail and daring brilliance of Brian Aldiss, Samuel R. Delany, Carol Emshwiller, George R.R. Martin, and Frank Herbert will find much to enjoy in this dazzling translation of a writer little known in North America.—­William Grabowski, McMechen, WV

Gratton, Tessa. The Queens of Innis Lear. Tor. Mar. 2018. 544p. ISBN 9780765392466. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765392480. FANTASY

On the island of Innis Lear, the ruling king has become so besotted with the prophecies foretold from the stars and the language of trees that he loses his grip on his land—and his sanity. His three daughters should be bound together as family, but each has her own ambitions, loves, and choices to make. When the time comes for the next ruler to ascend, what will the fates say about the Queens of Innis Lear? Who will take the crown? Loosely based on Shakespeare’s King Lear, this medieval high fantasy offers richly drawn characters and a magical setting that lends its own voice to the story. The elegant prose keeps readers grounded amidst the possibly overwhelming multiple voices, flashbacks, and letters between characters. ­VERDICT YA author Gratton’s (“Gods of New Asgard” series) engrossing and magical adult debut will attract fans of vivid epic fantasies, especially lovers of Erika Johansen’s “Queen of the Tearling” trilogy and George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice & Fire” series.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Kress, Nancy. If Tomorrow Comes. Tor. (Yesterday’s Kin, Bk. 2). Mar. 2018. 266p. ISBN 9780765390325. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765390349. SF

It has been a decade since the aliens left Earth, and finally humans have succeeded in building a spaceship, Friendship, to travel to the aliens’ home planet, Kindred. Hoping to learn if the aliens have found a cure for the spore disease, the crew of scientists, diplomats, and military personnel find nothing of the advanced civilization they had expected. A time slip has occurred, and for the voyagers, far more than ten years have passed. With their ship destroyed and no way to get home, the scientists scramble to find a way to develop a cure before the deadly spores hit Kindred, while the military faction devises its own solution. Failure in either case could mean the death of everyone. VERDICT In this sequel to Tomorrow’s Kin, Kress keeps the multiple character viewpoints on track; her second volume in a trilogy that is based on her Nebula Award–winning novella, Yesterday’s Kin, offers fans of first-contact fiction a solid, strongly paced story.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

McIntyre, Angus. The Warrior Within. Mar. 2018. 180p. ISBN 9780765397102. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765397096. SF

DEBUT Karsman lives on a backwater planet under control of the Muljaddy, a quiet religious authority that trades prayers and devotions for the means to survive. Somehow, Karsman is the unofficial mayor of this place, most likely because of the different personas, each with a different set of skills, that live in his head. When three off-world mercenaries arrive in town, events spiral out of control. The trio are looking to kill a woman, who may or may not be there. But then their threats become more severe, as they separate men from women and force them into hard labor, and finally work to overthrow the Muljaddy. Karsman must find a way to protect his town and the woman who is in the mercenaries’ sights, by using the skills of his personas without losing himself. ­VERDICT Action filled, provocative, and with an intriguing protagonist, McIntyre’s debut will engage and entertain sf readers.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Moon, Elizabeth. Into the Fire. Del Rey: Ballantine. (Vatta’s Peace, Bk. 2). Feb. 2018. 480p. ISBN 9781101887349. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781101887356. SF

Former Admiral Kylara “Ky” Vatta has been rescued from her cold landing on Miksland and is resting on her home planet of Slotter Key with her fiancé, Rafe. However, the base that she and her crew uncovered on Miksland wasn’t meant to be found, and powerful Slatter Key families and their corporations are willing to do almost anything to keep the base a secret. Grace, Ky’s aunt, takes the brunt of the attacks, almost being killed by poisoners, but other surviving members of Ky’s crew are imprisoned and drugged. The strongest characters in this sequel to Cold Welcome are, refreshingly, the women, especially the matriarchal Vatta family members who act decisively in the most dangerous situations. VERDICT Longtime fans of Moon’s “Vatta’s War” series will delight at the return of familiar characters and in seeing how threads are woven in from previous books. Newbies, however, may be intimidated at being dropped into the long-running, complex series at this point. The ending sets the stage for the next volume.—Jennifer Mills, Shorewood-Troy Lib., IL

Mott, Jason. The Crossing. Park Row: Harlequin. May 2018. 336p. ISBN 9780778330738. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781488023521. SF

The Disease started by taking the elderly, who drifted off to sleep and never awoke. Panic set in as the age of victims decreased. Ten years later there is still no cure. The world is embroiled in an endless war, expending the lives of those who are young and Disease-free. Amid this chaos, 17-year-old twins Virginia and Tommy search for hope and try to avoid the draft. They journey to Florida to witness the Europa launch to Jupiter’s moon. Searching for the runaways is their foster father, Jim Gannon, who means to make them shoulder their responsibilities. This downer of a novel by the author of The Returned takes place in a future where people are desperate to survive yet impotent in their struggle to do so. Mott ignores for the most part what could be a fascinating exploration into the plague that’s killing everyone, and the main character is not that compelling despite having a rather unusual ability. VERDICT Only for fans of the author and of bleak dystopian fiction.— Karin Thogersen, Huntley Area P.L., IL

Myers, Tina LeCount. The Song of All. Night Shade. (Legacy of the Heavens, Bk. 1). Feb. 2018. 452p. ISBN 9781597809429. $25.99; pap. ISBN 9781597809238. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781597806237. FANTASY

DEBUT The immortal Japmea and the mortal Piijkij have been deadly enemies for generations. After many years of battle, ­Irjan is finally ready to stay home with his beloved wife, Sohja, and their newborn son. But, sadly, peace is short-lived when Sohja is killed by roving ­Japmea warriors and Irjan is forced to flee with his child. Early in his journey he comes across Aillun, a Japmea woman who has just lost her protector and is giving birth in the woods. Her death forces Irjan to assume responsibility for both infants until he is captured by the Japmea and his son is taken from him and returned to the Piijkij people. Slowly, irrevocably, the two children absorb the prejudices of their species. When they finally meet again, it is as bitter enemies. VERDICT Drawing on the traditions of Scandinavian indigenous cultures, Myers’s debut novel (and series launch) offers an intriguing premise but is burdened with far too many characters and deviating plotlines. However, if readers can wade through the first 200 pages, they will be rewarded by a story of a man who overcomes terrible losses and acquires a rare nobility of character.—Jane Henriksen Baird, formerly at Anchorage P.L., AK

Seiler, Mark Daniel. River’s Child. Homebound. Apr. 2018. 312p. ISBN 9781947003392. pap. $18.95. SF

Deep under Norway’s Svalbard mountain, the world’s plant seeds are preserved in a vault designed to withstand global crises, including the apocalypse. Biologist Mavin Cedarstrom, a long way from his home on the Zuni reservation in New Mexico, is the only human in the vault when that terrible day arrives. After he awakens from cryogenic sleep nearly a thousand years later, the world has changed dramatically. No trees grow taller than three feet, no written histories and technology from Mavin’s time remain, and there is widespread famine. But humanity has adapted. Mavin is rescued by Simone Kita, a warrior of a matriarchal society charged with returning seeds to her city in the south. While Simone feels a growing obligation to keep Mavin safe, he struggles with survivor’s guilt and a millennium of unanswered questions. Together, the duo travel south into a world of new myths, magic, and intrigue. VERDICT Winner of the publisher’s 2016 Landmark Prize for Fiction, Seller’s (Sighing Woman Tea) eco-novel is a thought-provoking dive into a future after the dystopia gives way to hope. Strong storytelling makes this a solid choice for book clubs interested in complex characters, environmental discussions, and gender issues.—Jennifer Beach, Longwood Univ. Lib., Farmville, VA

Collections & Anthologies

redstarBarnhill, Kelly. Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories. Algonquin. Feb. 2018. 304p. ISBN 9781616207977. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616208301. FANTASY

In “Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch,” sightings of the creature, along with several other unusual animals, begin right after Mrs. Sorensen’s husband dies. A young pirate witch faces execution as her life story is told in “Elegy to Gabrielle—Patron Saint of Healers, Whores, and Righteous Thieves.” In the titular tale, the power found in the imagination becomes a reality for four women. This collection of eight stories concludes with the World Fantasy Award–winning novella “The Unlicensed Magician,” in which a young girl once left for dead wields a strange magic. Barnhill’s exquisite prose leads readers down many fantastical roads through imaginative prose, while the themes of love, grief, power, and hope tie the individual stories together in a masterly way. VERDICT In her debut short story collection for adults, YA author Barnhill (The Girl Who Drank the Moon) highlights fantasy’s breadth with unusual settings and extraordinary characters living outside of the realm of reality. A magical volume for fans of the genre.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton

Wilson, Daniel H. Guardian Angels & Other Monsters: Stories. Vintage. Mar. 2018. 304p. ISBN 9781101972014. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101972021. SF

Here are 14 stories that intersect humanity and artificial intelligence, showcasing emotional connections developed by programming or human interaction. A robot, charged with protecting a young girl, will do whatever it takes to help “Miss Gloria,” no matter how many times he dies. The power of the mind, to remember and to forget, captures two people in moments of “God Mode.” Wilson also incorporates two stories connected to his novels The Clockwork Dynasty and Robopocalypse. Smart writing and intriguing characters lend themselves to these well-crafted tales about future technology. VERDICT Wilson’s first story collection highlights imaginative works in which AIs and humans connect, for better or worse. This is a boon to both Wilson’s fans and sf readers seeking high-quality short fiction.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton


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