Books You Can Read

This is a page where I’ve cc’d books (mainly SFFH books,) that I have mentioned on the blog. You can also access them by clicking on the SFF Novels to Check Out category, but this is somewhat more condensed and maybe a bit faster. We’ll see if this works:

RADIANT by Karina Sumner-Smith:

Radiant is the first book in Canadian author Sumner-Smith’s Towers trilogy, and the world is an imaginative one. Set in either a far future Earth or another world entirely, the civilization of her novel survived the long-ago mysterious apocalypse as two communities. In this world, the currency is light energy magically generated by people themselves. Those with lots of magical light live in towers floating above in the air called the City, powered by their inhabitants’ energy, rising and sinking in orbit or joining together depending on their success, with lots of resources and machines. Those without a lot of light energy and wealth, or who choose to hide from the City, live on the ground below the City in the ruins of skyscrapers and buildings past called the Lower City, scrapping out a living with little ability to grow crops in the blighted soil. At night, the inhabitants of the Lower City hide in buildings from roaming zombie-like attackers who come out after dark.

Xhea is an unallied orphan in the Lower City with no light magic at all, only a strange dark energy inside her that causes her to see in black and white. That darkness lets Xhea go down into the ruined subway tunnels and underground places that those with light magic cannot stand to enter, and retrieve old world artifacts to sell for food. It also allows her to see ghosts — the core remnants of dead people that sometimes haunt their loved ones, attached by a tether to their victims, which Xhea can help detach in return for temporary bits of light magic. A rich man from the City above comes down and pays Xhea to take on the tether of the ghost of a young woman. But the ghost, Shea, is a Radiant — a person who generates huge amounts of light energy, and her home Tower desperately wants her ghost back to put into a body. Trying to help Shea and keep herself alive causes Xhea to start learning some new things about her own form of magic and truths about the society that is in a state of flux.

If that sounds complicated, Sumner-Smith actually lays it out very clearly and with lots of high action sequences and good description. She mixes mystery, science fiction elements, horror, politics and action fantasy together into a nice blend. Xhea is an appealing heroine, traumatized but stubborn, and Shea is definitely an interesting twist on the concept of the princess fallen from the high tower. Some of the other characters are maybe a little bit under-cooked, but there’s clearly set-up for lots of exploration in the next two books, and the society itself is really fascinating. So I’m definitely going to read through this trilogy.

 

THE WARDED MAN by Peter Brett (Originally THE PAINTED MAN in the UK):

This is the first book in British author Peter Brett’s bestselling Demon Cycle series that started in 2008. Some folks see him as part of the grimdark lit movement while others don’t. Having read the first book, I’d say that he isn’t quite in grimdark territory and is closer to something like Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series. The world of the Demon Cycle is pretty grim, however. It’s been through the apocalypse, twice, in history and now human beings struggle to survive and hold on to what civilizations they’ve got because the apocalypse occurs every night when the sun sets. At that point, strange monsters with magical powers emerge from the ground/core of the planet (and another dimension,) and attack any living creature they can get ahold of, especially humans, until disappearing in the morning.

The monsters, called demons or corelings and deemed by many to be sent as punishment on humans, are intelligent, but they can be shielded from by means of wards, signs etched into stone or metal or drawn or burned into wood that create a magical barrier. The wards were designed long ago and passed down, but over time, the demons have been winning the war and no one has figured out how to more effectively stop them. The bulk of the remaining human population lives in cities with big warded walls and guard forces. Others live in villages that often get wiped out, vulnerable and largely cut off from one another, but critical for producing food supplies. Small caravans and messengers travel dangerously between them, using portable wards. This lets Brett put a neat twist on a sort of zombie apocalypse landscape, except his demons are much faster, more varied and really quite scary (some of them fly.)

The novel focuses on three main characters — Arlen, a driven young man who trains as a messenger and seeks to find the long lost combat wards that will allow humans to better fight the corelings rather than just defend against them; Leesha, a young woman who flees scandal and an abusive family by becoming a healer and learns that herbs have more uses than she thought; and Rojer, an orphan who is adopted by a bard-like entertainer and takes up that trade, and learns that his fiddling might have an unexpected effect on the corelings. Arlen is the protagonist and a fairly strong character who travels the most, exposing us to different communities. The novel might have been a little stronger if it had just been about him. Rojer is a wonderful character, though, and Leesha has a number of interesting aspects. However, she is the weakest of the three because Brett has some material that is just not really believable for female readers, in my opinion. His women characters overall tend to be a bit one-dimensional in a society very oppressive to women — because they need them to produce a lot of new babies — and Leesha’s village folk aren’t maybe as fascinating for me as Brett would like to make them.

But the writing overall is good and the world and its demons is fairly interesting, with some very emotional scenes. Further books in the series seem to branch out into that world, so I may be reading more in the series. I’m curious to see what else they learn about fighting the corelings and why and how they exist.

 

 

THE FIFTH SEASON by N.K. Jemisin: 

This is the first book in American author Jemisin’s new trilogy series, the Broken Earth, and it’s garnered the most attention of her career so far. The Fifth Season just won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, is nominated for the World Fantasy Award and was nominated for the Nebula Award. (In fact, it’s been running neck and neck with Naomi Novak’s Uprooted, which won the Nebula but lost the Hugo, through most of the major SFF awards.)

Do I consider that justified? Oh yes. It’s a lush, brutal, psychological adventure of a novel that uses different timelines that follow different types of stories, all connected. The world in it consists of one known massive continent that stretches from pole to pole. The land mass is full of volcanic and seismic activity that regularly causes natural disasters — boiling lava, tsunamis, etc. — that kill people off or wipe out settlements, so apocalypse is pretty much on-going. However, every few hundred years or so, a really big eruption/quake disaster happens, with ash fall blocking the sunlight and other deadly destruction that can last for years or even a decade, which they call a Fifth Season. So the human communities are sort of feudal with moderately rigid caste systems, but highly independent and ruthless, storing food and water for when a Season comes to their region, according to the stonelore — ancient texts on survival from past civilizations. Above them also float large magical metal obelisks, mysterious artifacts of long ago that sometimes move around.

The continent is mainly ruled by an Empire that solidified its hold over other nations during the various past fifth seasons and benefits from more stable areas near the equator, allowing it to have tarred highways and electricity. Part of the empire’s strength lies in its slaves, the orogenes, who magically have the ability to control, disperse and shape seismic forces by drawing from the heat in air, water, under the earth and all living things and sending it into the earth to do their bidding. Orogenes are blamed by the populace for the seismic instability of the world and are usually highly dangerous without training, so when one shows up in the gene pool outside of the capital, villages often kill the person in fear. Otherwise, young orogenes are taken to or bred in the capital city and then sent out on missions to keep things more stable or advance the empire. They are controlled from an early age by the Guardians, those who have the ability to still the powers of the orogenes.

A powerful cast of characters starts peeling back the facets and secrets of this world, which include the stone-eaters, a dangerous non-human species that are made of and travel through solid rock, and seem to have particular interest in the orogenes. All events lead towards a massive rent in the earth that may cause a Fifth Season that is going to be beyond anyone’s ability to survive.

Further along in her career, Jemisin’s writing is even more assured and sneaky. The world she paints is tragic and has obvious connections to our own (she got a lot of the disaster material directly from NASA.) But the story doesn’t wallow and is about the decision points where humans choose who they are going to be in extreme circumstances and what connections between them they are going to allow. It tackles themes of interest to Jemisin — the nature of identity, the dynamics of oppression, the connection of humans with their habitat, and notions of family and how they change. Plus people who can make or stop earthquakes and eruptions, etc. It’s a rich stew and I really enjoyed this one, though it may not be for you if dealing with serious trauma with superpowers is not your cup of tea. I will be getting to the next work, The Obelisk Gate, fairly soon, I think.

 

 

 

All three of the books above do sound pretty desolate with their apocalyptic wastelands at various stages, but they all also offer a lot of beauty in weird inventions and landscapes, complicated cultures, puzzling secrets to investigate and elements of genuine warmth and human resiliency. They are good representatives of what apocalyptic novels can explore and quite different from each other. (That being said, maybe don’t read them straight in a row.)

Here are three different but related visions of the future:

PERSONA by Genevieve Valentine 

I became a big fan of Valentine because of her first published novelMechanique, an absolutely beautifully written book that skillfully blended violent action, steampunk and suspense with meditations on art, love, loss and death. Persona has that Valentine touch but it’s a different type of story with a style that is more straightforward, less poetic, more brainy spy thriller. The novel is set in the near future when technology has advanced in various areas, notably surveillance, and global issues dominate. Countries, including some new ones on the scene, negotiate it out in a fishbowl of diplomats who are mostly just used as celebrities in the world reality show, called Faces. There are official journalists and black market journalists (snaps.) The novel centers on Suyana Sapaki, a third rate Face for the newer United Amazon Rainforest Confederation angling for a better deal for her struggling young country, and secondly on Daniel Park, a former journalist on the run, trying to become a snap, who happens to interrupt a mysterious assassination attempt on Sapaki. Everybody is hiding lots of secrets that are likely to get them killed by one group or another. The paranoia is ramped up to eleven, and it’s wonderful. It’s a crisp, punchy novel about a future that, while a few things might not fully hold up, has some scary parallels to what’s going on today and how they could be worse. I enjoyed it a lot and am looking forward to reading the sequel that came out this year, Icon.

ZEROES by Chuck Wendig

I’ve also been a fan of Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series, which are contemporary fantasy thrillers. (He is better known now as the guy who is doing the funky new Star Wars tie-in bestsellers.) In Zeroes he turns to science fiction in the contemporary to near future time range. In the novel, the tech involved is of the cyber variety and also has a lot of stuff about surveillance. Wendig sets up the classic hackers story: five disparate types of criminal hackers are grabbed by the U.S. government and forced to work at a secret complex as cyber spies to avoid federal prison for the rest of their lives. And of course there are conspiracies within conspiracies that the thrown together group are forced to deal with in order to survive. But from there, things get weirder and weirder, because that’s how Wendig rolls. He also has a brilliant ability to take a stereotype frame and play with it, turning them into buyable and fleshed out characters, and has interesting side characters as well. While I didn’t enjoy the novel as much as the Miriam Black books, I did very much like the combo of extrapolating where cybernetics might go with Dirty Dozen face-offs and chases. There is a sequel/spin-off that involves ants just out called Invasive. I don’t even want to think what Wendig might do with ants.

TERMS OF ENLISTMENT by Marko Kloos

Everybody started talking about newcomer Marko Kloos and so I got around to reading his first novel, the start of the Frontline series. The novel is set in a farther away future that is bleakly dystopian. The Earth is overpopulated, trashed and food shorted, with tons of poor folk kept trapped in giant city camps — pretty much a standard scenario. Some try to escape it by joining the military, with the hopes that if you survive service, you’ll get a pension and maybe the ability to settle on more breathable colonies out on other planets. That’s what the novel’s protagonist, Andrew Grayson, decides to do. The tech here is military, also involves methods of surveillance, and some of it is interesting. The novel is really two stories together. The first involves Grayson’s training and service on Earth where they put down “threats” both foreign and domestic as hated enforcers. The second part has Grayson going up into space on a military patrol vessel that encounters a totally new threat to humans. Kloos makes a bit of a first-timers mistake in the first part, for me, of believing that detailed descriptions of military training and procedures are both fascinating and totally unfamiliar to his reading audience. So the first part doesn’t move along quite as well as the second part, though it gets more exciting as it goes. The second part of the novel offers us more of a new world, better pacing and Kloos’ aliens are neat. Overall, it’s a bit of an uneven book that is nonetheless free of bombast, has lots of action and knows its military hardware. And has a protagonist who isn’t a total saint but does have a strong emotional core. So I’m interested to read the next one in the series and see what Kloos does with his wider landscape.

 

I read the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s The Truth in his Discworld series. This was just before he left us, which makes it a bit bittersweet. Discworld is one of the most amazing series out there, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s in the top twenty sellers in the world. It’s a satiric alternate world fantasy series of linked novels that spins satire both precise and broad, and always on point. The Truth manages to be relevant to the time and tech of when it was written, of the past back when Pratchett started as a journalist, and deeply relevant now, tackling the psychological concept of newspapers and the power of news. Pratchett makes good use of old characters and the new ones in the story are delightful. Pratchett’s writing is so amazingly constructed. It’s like an onion, it has layers. This is probably one of my favorites now of the vast series for its balance of slapstick humor with razor social commentary.

truth

 

I read Ben Aaronovitch’s Moon Over Soho, the second book in his contemporary fantasy series set in the U.K. about magician apprentice/police detective Peter Grant, which is getting more and more attention and has been optioned for British television. This one dealt with a magical crime crisis in the Soho area of London, natch, and involved jazz musicians, which brought Peter dealing more with his dad, a minorly known jazz musician. The book wasn’t quite as well crafted as the first one maybe, but it was a solid follow-up that expanded the magical world of the story in interesting ways. It was nice to get a better sense of Peter’s multiracial family and background, and the posse of jazz player aides he picked up were a lot of fun. The key with these types of series is the protagonist voice, and Peter is a good one for me — his relationships with the other characters are well done, as is most of the dialogue. I’ve generally been recommending this series to folks looking for a contemporary fantasy one. Aaronovitch is also well known as a former writer for Doctor Who and British television. The first book in the series is called The Rivers of London, (re-titled Midnight Riot in the U.S. because American publishers are sometimes stupid.)

I read Laura Resnick’s latest in her popular Esther Diamond series, Abracadaver. The series is broadly farcical contemporary fantasy about a working actress who helps out a kindly 350-year-old mage fight evil mysteries in NYC. Again, protagonist voice is the thing, especially for the humorous series, and I find Esther’s pragmatic do-gooder a lot of fun in Resnick’s experienced hands. Like Pratchett and Aaronovitch with his dialogue, the book has a few layers working that you can dig into or ignore, as you prefer. This one, unlike others in the series, takes up right after the somewhat cliffhanger ending of the last one, The Misfortune Cookie, and involves Esther’s gang of allies dealing with whether her sometime boyfriend, organized crime task force police detective Lopez, has a new partner who is not what he seems and may have something to do with reanimated corpses and demons. I liked this one having some nice digs at cop shows, with Esther back to work as an actress on one. It’s interesting that Esther is seeing the real costs to being part of a second world, balancing with the ordinary one, and Resnick has the ensemble of regulars down pat with the dialogue at this point. (The first book in the series is Disappearing Nightly.)

And along the same lines, I read the fourth book in Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie contemporary fantasy series, How the White Trash Zombie Got Her Groove Back. While the series is kind of satiric at points, it’s not a straight out satire series. This book I enjoyed for the character development of the protagonist, morgue worker and recovering addict Angel, who happens to be a zombie in Louisiana. A lot of new developments and discoveries came up about the zombieism of the series, which twists between SF and fantasy in its existence. This one was also fairly action packed, as it was a rescue mission when several members of the organized zombies in her area are snatched, traitors are suspected, and Angel and several of her comrades have to travel to NYC. This opened up Angel’s world and strengths further, but contemporary fantasy suspense, like regular suspense, is very much about sense of place, which meant losing that aspect — ruralish Louisiana and the morgue environment — in this series entry. So not my favorite of the series, but interesting, and again, a lot of good action with all the paramilitary/spy characters of the “Zombie Mafia” and there’s lots of disturbing set-up for the next one. (Rowland is a former cop, morgue attendant and CSI forensics investigator, so all her procedural stuff is spot-on. The first book in the series is called My Life as a White Trash Zombie. She also has a demon summoner cop contemporary fantasy series, the Kara Gillian series. I haven’t tried that one yet, but I would like to see Karen Gillan play Kara Gillian in a t.v. version. It would be better than her last t.v. series.)

I also read Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead, the first in his Craft Sequence series that got so much buzz. And it was deserved buzz, for me. It’s a secondary world fantasy with many different elements and cultural bits packed into the text (and a very subtle strain of dark satire as well.) In Gladstone’s mix of modern and archaic world-building, gods exist and power cities, magicians have abandoned the gods for a different type of magic that involves the legal courts, and everything is for hire, including vampire ship captains and necromancy. This book centers on Tara, a scrappy junior associate necromancer brought in to help resurrect into a new form a dead fire god, and Abelard, a junior priest of the fire god, who becomes Tara’s detecting partner when they discover the god has been murdered and a bigger conspiracy seems to be unfolding. One part legal thriller, one part action spy mission, and one part wondrous fantasy, it’s a nice launch. Gladstone’s subsequent books in the series reuse some characters but follow different wizards in different parts of his very complex world.

 

 

A Darkling Sea by James Cambias – SF: Humans encounter their first alien species underwater underneath miles of ice.Immortal Muse by Stephen Leigh – Historical Fantasy: An immortal muse survives on the creativity of the artists she inspires but must contend with another immortal who feeds off human pain in a story that ranges from the 1300’s to present day New York.Spider Wars: The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher — SF: A grand epic in the far future in which a disconsolate spaceman believes he hears space transmissions from the rumored lost Soviet cosmonauts of the past, indicating a danger of an alien nature.

Prospero’s War: Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells — Urban Fantasy: First in a new series in an alternate Earth where magic comes in the form of alchemy and drugs, and a female cop must help a federal task force with a case with connections to her troubled past.

Ancillary Justice  by Ann Leckie – SF: A female soldier who was once a massive starship linked to corpse solidiers via A.I. seeks vengeance on those who destroyed her.

1. White Trash Zombie Apocalypse by Diana Rowland

The third novel in Rowland’s contemporary fantasy series about Louisiana morgue attendant and zombie Angel. I read the first one of this series, My Life as a White Trash Zombie, and liked it, though I thought the ending seemed a little rushed and overly heightened. But then I got the second book, Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues, where Angel starts to find out a lot of info about being a zombie and the ending of the first novel made more sense from that. This third installment ups the action even more than the first two as Angel has to deal with a zombie film shoot, mysterious deaths, the local zombie syndicate, the return of various antagonists, rain and flood, taking the GED, etc. Rowland is great at combining her small town frame with Angel getting her life together, with essentially a spy thriller. This novel has a bit less humor than the first two, but also an increasingly confident Angel. My only complaint is that the heavier spy thriller aspects meant less cop and morgue time this go round. Rowland is a former cop and morgue worker, so she does that stuff very well, as well as a really interesting take on zombism and the strange mix of pathos and advantage therein.

2. Codex Born by Jim C. Hines

Moving on to the new titles I haven’t read yet, is the second novel in Hines’ new contemporary fantasy Magic Ex Libris series about a libromancer, Isaac, who can pull things from books and helps guard the world from magical threats. The second book focuses more on Lena, the dryad dragged from the pages of an old pulp fantasy novel, who is Isaac’s bodyguard and sometime lover. New enemies are after Lena’s powers, and that can mean some very bad things for everyone. The first novel, Libromancer, made quite a big splash, has a lot of humor and interesting stuff, and also let Hines bring in his fire spider from his Jig the Goblin novels, so I’m looking forward to this one.

3. Nysta: Duel at Grimwood Creek by Lucas Thorn

Continuing with the sequels is book two of Australian author Lucas Thorn’sNysta series, a secondary world western, D&D epic, satirical dark fantasy revenge quest mash-up of awesome cussing proportions. I featured the cover art for the first volume, Nysta: Revenge of the Elf, on my blog, by artist Amir Zand, then got the first book and featured the next two covers. The Nystabooks read exactly like westerns, except they are about elves, wizards, gods and magical forces in really interesting landscapes. The first book was violent, rough, slyly funny and quite moving all at the same time. Nysta, the central character, is an elven destroyer out to get the gang of elves who killed her husband. In the second book, she is closing in on the Bloody Nine but dealing with strong magical forces and monsters in the Deadlands. (I’m hoping that Thorn and Zand can get some sort of comic book spin-off going on this world sometime — great fun.)

4. Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Not a sequel, but a continuing world novel, and a western to boot, in this novel Abercrombie expands his First Law world by traveling to a new frontier land in which presumed dead Northern barbarian king, the legendary Logan Ninefingers, has been hiding out on a farm under the name Lamb. The central character is Shy, his stepdaughter, who sets off after her kidnapped brother and sister with Lamb/Logan in tow. Other characters from Abercrombie’s previous novels make appearances and probably there are clues to the mysterious past of wizard battles that seems to subtly affect everything in Abercrombie’s secondary world. You probably don’t have to read the First Law trilogy and standalones Best Served Cold and The Heroes first, but it would help to get the full effect. Abercrombie’s mix of brutal war, black humor, and fascinating mythology is a hoot but it’s his characters who sing — each has a distinct voice that lets him try out one type of story after another. Interesting to see what he will do with the western one.

5. The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

Lynch broke on the scene with the first book in this series, The Lies of Locke Lamora, to much acclaim. The satirical dark crime thriller fantasy about con artists in a remarkable city had a few minor plot issues for me, but the writing was lovely with its dual chronologies and the scenery sublime. The sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies, had some plot issues too, but expanded the world of the story in interesting ways, plus pirates! Lynch ran into some personal issues that delayed this third book in the series, and it may be the last, but I think it may also be the most interesting. A poisoned Locke has to become a pawn in a battle of mages that pits him against the long gone con-woman he loves — Sabetha, whom we finally get to see. So fun and I had to get.

6. Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

Wendig’s first book in this Miriam Black series, Blackbirds, was another book whose cover art first drew my attention to it. It’s a contemporary fantasy series about a sarcastic and desperate young woman who, when she touches someone, knows when and how they will die. In this sequel, Miriam is trying to do the settling down thing with her truck driver boyfriend and has achieved more control over her powers, but then she sees a death that may change everything. Wendig has a deft hand, a sensibility with looney and weird characters, and a central character with a great voice. It also has some genuine mystery to the suspense and interesting supernatural elements.

7. Feed by Mira Grant

I read Grant’s contemporary fantasy novel, Rosemary and Rue, written under her main name Seanan McGuire, and liked the writing (she’s a Campbell award winner,) but wasn’t quite as blown away by the world and focus of that story. So I decided to try her horror science fiction with this first book in herNewsflesh trilogy. Feed got a ton of attention and a Hugo nomination. It’s a near future zombie thriller that takes the mutated virus approach to zombies, with a dark satire of political campaigns and conspiracies, news media and blogging, horror films, medical research, etc. Grant has a very sharp eye, so I suspect I will like it.

8. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I am a huge Atkinson fan. She has occasionally dipped into fantasy, magic realism style, and her standalone bestselling novel Life After Life is a full out fantasy novel that has been nominated for the Orange Prize and probably will pick up quite a few of the major nominations for the year. The novel is about Ursula, who continually dies but in alternate overlapping universes lives as the world marches towards World War II and a fate that Ursula’s unique repeating life may affect. That’s going to be rich toffee, the way Atkinson writes, so I shall probably save it for a bit later when chaos declines a little, but I am looking forward to it, even though WWII is not my favorite era.

9. Shadow’s Sun by Jon Sprunk 

Technically this wasn’t a new goodie for the holidays, but it was a book temporarily misplaced in our move last year, so now I’ve got it recovered finally and can tackle it. It’s Sprunk’s debut secondary world fantasy novel, with divine cover art, about an assassin named Caim, who finds himself, as assassins frequently do, a pawn in a complicated and high stakes plot. But this particular assassin has some unusual aspects to his life — ever since he was a child damaged by tragedy, Caim can call shadows to cloak him, a magic that haunts him and he distrusts, and he has been visited by a ghostly, mercurial and mysterious spirit named Kit who sometimes helps him out. The writing style has a traditional, grand feel to it, but with bickering, a combination I think I’m going to like. It reminds me a bit of some of Glen Cook. Sprunk has started a new series, The Book of the Black Earth, which sounds interesting, so I will have to catch up over time. But I think I will enjoy Caim’s tale first.

First, the classic writers:

David Brin has been one of the most interesting writers in science fiction for some time, in my book. An astrophysicist, he is also excellent at characterization and creating action-packed suspense. One of his novels, The Postman, was made into a not very effective adaptation film for Kevin Costner. Better to read the book. His Uplift series is pretty much required reading if you want to have a basic understanding of SF canon. However, the man’s been kind of busy the last few years, and so we’ve had to go without new stuff until now. Brin’s new very large novel, Existence, is about a medium future Earth that has covered itself in trash. An orbital garbage collector stumbles upon an alien artifact that speaks of both attempts at communication and invasion. It’s one of the oldest ideas we have in SF, and in Brin’s hands, it’s going to be  incredibly complex, diverse and personal.  Definitely one to check out.

What Brin is to SF, British author Tom Holt is to satiric fantasy, and Holt is offering yet another bizarre and endearing novel, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages. This one is about magical multiple dimensions/realities, in which a real estate solicitor is confused by strange going-ons that involve a magical dimensional travel ring, pigs, and insanity.  Holt is very prolific, but I like the sound of this one especially and may check it out. My favorite of his that I’ve read so far is the famous Expecting Someone Taller, which involves Norse gods and yet more magical objects.  But really, any Holt title is likely to be fun.

Onto the newer authors who have caught my eye:

Kate Locke is debuting with the first book in her Immortal Empire series, an alternate timeline contemporary fantasy called God Save the Queen. In Locke’s version of the world, a gene altering plague virus of magic created a mutated, non-human species that live underground called goblins and the half-mutated vampires and werewolves, who make up the nobility, and then there are humans.  Queen Victoria has consequently ruled for a very long time over a still chugging if struggling British Empire. The main character is a noble’s illegitimate daughter infected by a goblin attack who is an enforcer for the Empire trying to find her sister. I sampled the first chapter and I liked the writing on this very much. The use of legends into a weird re-invention I thought created an interesting, crumbling world, mixing steampunk with modernity, and social commentary Dickens style.  Looks to have a fair amount of action, too.

Also on the contemporary fantasy front, Benedict Jacka has another entry in his Alex Verus suspense series about a mage with foresight powers. InCursed, Alex is up against a dark magic being used to suck the life force out of humans, mages and magical creatures. I like the idea of having a main character who everybody bothers about seeing into the future. I find main characters who are pestered are often the most interesting.  In this one, Alex also has to deal with a potential betrayer in the halls of power.

N.K. Jemisin has greatly impressed me — and everybody else — with her novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and following series.  Her new series, Dreamblood, though, is even more interesting to me from the sound of it. Starting with The Killing Moon, Jemisin introduced us to the city state of Gujaareh, ruled in peace by the priests of a soothing yet ruthless dream goddess who harvest the magic of dreams. In the newest entry, The Shadowed Sun, Gujaareh’s era of peace is past and a plague of nightmares is striking a populace ripe for further change.

And because I enjoy vampires, some more in Jaye Wells‘ contemporary fantasy Blue Blooded Vamp, the last entry in her highly successful Sabina Kane series. In Wells’ world, the biblical Cain is  the first vampire and his brother Abel is a powerful mage. Vampire hunter Kane has a chance to finally stop Cain and get revenge for her family’s deaths, but it depends on finding Abel in Rome, and he may not want to be found.

And more aliens — SFF authors Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham teamed up under the pen name of James S.A. Corey to write a rip-roaring military SF series, The Expanse, starting with Leviathan Wakes. The sequel isCaliban’s War. Everything is going to pieces on several planets and the crew of the policing ship Rocinante is finding itself at the critical position in a long-time alien invasion. I like that the SF authors are coming up with very sneaky ways to have an alien invasion. This series has gotten a lot of positive buzz and the bit of Abraham’s writing I’ve seen so far I liked a lot, so I’m planning to check this out.

Finally, another new entry in a much buzzed about series – Mira Grant‘sNewsflesh post-apocalypse zombie story. Grant (known as Seanan McGuirein the fantasy field,) has created a world with mammal zombies that still struggles to go on as a society and focuses on a pair of blog reporters. InBlackout, the last volume of the trilogy, they try to find the final truth about the virus that started everything and the secret political organizations who are — well, you know, usually trying to kill snoopy reporters. The fist book in the trilogy, Feed, got a ton of good buzz and it’s a short set for those for whom that’s an issue. I’ve read McGuire’s contempora

There are a lot of books out there. Some ones that may be interesting:

The Wall of  Night series by Helen Lowe         

Book One: The Heir of Night; Book Two:  The Gathering of the Lost (due out in April)

New Zealand author Lowe serves up a secondary world, multiverse tale of alien guardians against demonic monsters. When the guardians are overrun due to treachery, one young woman has to navigate a complicated land of rival clans and discover the secrets of her people to knit worlds back together. Multiverses and portal structures are coming back to secondary world fantasy with larger frequency in a number of ways, and this series combines a traditional hold against the dark idea with a wider universe that sounds a bit reminiscent of Robert Silverberg’s Lord Valentine’s Castle and is being compared to Barbara Hambly’s Darwarth trilogy.

Artic Rising by Tobias S. Buckell    

Science fiction author Buckell offers a highly relevant near future, hard SF environmental thriller.  With global warming in  full swing, changing the Artic landscape and global politics drastically, an Earth-saving solar invention that could be the deadliest weapon ever collides with an international  investigation into a stolen nuclear missile. Environmental crises have obviously become a subject of fascination to SF authors this last decade, and this looks to be a doozy in Nebula nominee Buckell’s very capable hands.

Royal Streetby Suzanne Johnson

Wide Openby Deborah Coates

Real world events are increasingly points on which contemporary fantasy mysteries are being hung, not unlike their non-SFF counterparts, and these are two in that mold that sound interesting. Johnson’s urban fantasy thriller posits an Earth in which wizards guard places from supernatural incursions and problems, a favorite of fantasy stories. An apprentice wizard in New Orleans hasn’t much to do, until Hurricane Katrina hits the city, ripping the boundaries between worlds, and her mentor, the city’s chief guardian, disappears.  Magazine writer Johnson is a long time New Orleans resident who helped in the rebuilding efforts, so this is a debut fantasy novel liable to ring true for a lot of people.

Deborah Coates also debuts with a ghost story about a sergeant stationed in Afghanistan who returns home on compassionate leave  to be greeted by her sister’s ghost, a suicide the woman then believes is really a murder. An investigation turns up more ghosts, sabotage, and an enemy possibly controlling an ancient power. Coates is well known for her short fiction, so this look at the fall out from the war mixed with a ghostly mystery could be interesting.

Faith by John Love 

Retired music industry exec Love debuts with a funky military SF tale of battling spaceships. In a far future where humans have spread out among  the stars, a giant alien ship nicknamed Faith once came and destroyed an empire.  Many years later, Faith has returned and the Commonwealth that has risen in the empire’s place is determined not to bear the same fate. A fleet of ships, built in secret, totally without law, and run by crews of convicts and psychopaths whose special talents fit the mission, begin a battle that will change human understanding of the universe they inhabit, particularly for the crew of one of the ships, the — wait for it — Charles Manson. Yes, he went there. The thriller definitely is drifting into Peter Watts territory with its themes and ideas and so I’m kind of intrigued. It’s definitely not your usual space opera battle saga.

 

 

 

John Levitt Interview:http://www.sffworld.com/interview/283p0.html

Carolyn Crane Interview: http://www.sffworld.com/interview/298p0.html

Tim Marquitz Interview:http://www.sffworld.com/interview/304p0.html

Lincoln Crisler Interview: http://www.sffworld.com/interview/305p0.html

Author Roundtable: Levitt, Crane and Pittshttp://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=32546

Author Roundtable: Marquitz, Crisler and Kenthttp://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=32632

 

 

Shiloh Walker, in a post for Tor.com, gave one of the best explanations of the compulsion of fiction writers I’ve encountered: “Because it’s shiny.” Here’s the link: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/07/because-its-shiny

Her newest paranormal romance title, Veil of Shadows, takes place in an alternate realm facing a war against demons and tells the story of a couple who may have found love amid war, or betrayal.

Anthony Huso‘s The Last Page is getting some good buzz. It’s a dark alternate world fantasy with a steampunk vision and a young king and sewer monsters. I always like sewer monsters.

John Dickenson, a British author, offers a chilling vision of the possible future in the SF thriller We, when a man must leave the interconnected Earth for a life mission to a distant and isolated  ice moon, and from there, he will begin to see what humanity has become.

Seanan McGuire just won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer at the 2010 Aussie WorldCon. An Artificial Night, the third novel in her contemporary fantasy series October Daye, is now out. Half-fae, half-human detective Toby Daye has to tackle the Wild Hunt to rescue kidnapped children, while dealing with omens of her own demise.

Catherine Jinks brings horror to space in the YA novel Living Hell, about a youth on a colonizing spaceship which begins an organic transformation that causes it to seek to expel the human passengers.

 

Jocelyn Drake – Pray For Dawn, Wait for Dusk – Books #4 and #5 of Drake’s increasingly popular vampire enforcer series.

C.L. Anderson – Bitter Angels – Anderson won the Phillip K. Dick Award for this well regarded tale of spies in space.

Carlos J. Cortes – The Prisoner – In a future, dystopian Earth, political prisoners escape into the sewers in this SF thriller.

Darryl Gregory – The Devil’s Alphabet – From the author of the acclaimedPandemonium, another bizarre horror story about a strange disease that turned folk in a small town into three strange races except for one teen who returns to the town later in adulthood to figure out its mystery.

 

1) Jonathan Barnes – The Domino Men — This new novel is a spin-off to Barnes’ best-selling Victorian historical fantasy, The Somnambulist. In it, Queen Victoria’s deal with a demon comes due and to thwart the destruction of London, the shadowy Directorate are going to have to deal with those schoolboy superpowered killers, the Domino Men. The Somnambulist was a nicely imagined thriller that got a little loose in the end but overall offered memorable characters and writing. My favorites probably were the Domino Men, so a novel dealing with them sounds pretty interesting.

2) Greg Egan – Zendegi – Australian SF writer Egan writes dense, complex stories with unnerving premises, which I don’t mind at all. I do sometimes though have problems getting into his characters, who seem a bit overwrought for my tastes. This new one, however, which deals with a journalist and a scientist involved with Iran and a virtual reality venture, sounds really fascinating. If anyone can do an accurate, plausible virtual reality story, it’s Egan.

3) Vicki Pettersson – Cheat the Grave (Sign of the Zodiac series)  — Anytime a contemporary fantasy thriller writer bubbles to the top these days, it’s worth noting. Pettersson has got herself on the New York Times bestseller list with this 5th book in her zodiac themed series, featuring Joanna Archer, a woman who has died, went to work for the army of the Light, and now is mortal again, and currently learning the truth of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, even if they were once an enemy. The first book in the series is The Scent of Shadows.

4) Sara Creasy – Song of Scarabaeus –Creasy has been making waves with comparisons made of her to everyone from Elizabeth Moon to Julie Czernada. In this new SF thriller, a terraformer is kidnapped by mercenaries and linked with another prisoner, The Transporter 3 style. Creasy gives that idea a new twist in how her main character attempts to escape on a dead planet.

5) Stacia Kane – Unholy Ghosts – I always enjoy post-apocalypse fantasy, and in this one, Kane creates a noir blend of ghosts, black magic and drugs in a near future gone horribly wrong, where the dead are a serious problem for the living.

1) Sarah Ash – Flight Into Darkness – In an alternate universe of multiple realms, including the land of the dead, a crisis requires the efforts of a spirit, a singer and an impulsive young man to prevent disaster.

2) Mark Teppo – Heartland, Book 2 in Codex of Souls series – A once banished magician has to root out the corruption of his old order in the magic underworld of contemporary Paris.

3) David J. Williams – The Machinery of Light, Autumn Rain trilogy – Near future space opera about World War III and the race off planet.

4) Carrie Ryan – The Forest of Hands and Teeth, The Dead-Tossed Waves – A YA alternate world fantasy series about a young girl who lives in a protected town surrounded by zombies.

5) F. Paul Wilson – Sims – Genetically altered chimpanzees are replacing humans as menial laborers, and the company that made them has secrets it will go to any lengths to protect.

1) Katharine Beutner – Alcestis – Historical fantasy tackling the Ancient Greek myth of Alcestis, who took her husband’s place in the underworld.

2) Stephen Deas – The Adamantine Palace – Alternate world fantasy in which dragons are controlled by alchemists, despite their danger to the world.

3) Teri Hall – The Line – YA SF – In the near future, after nuclear destruction, people live behind the Line to separate them from the Others who exist in the fall-out zone.

4) Kaaron Warren – Walking the Tree – Alternate world fantasy – A young woman must walk the tree at the center of their island world, but her journey will be different from those who have gone before.

5) David Louis Edelman – Geosynchron – The third novel in the cyberpunk SF Jump 225 series – Civil war breaks out as the Multireal technology goes offline, but a new strain may save the world or break it by allowing users to exist in multiple timelines.

 

6) Lauren Beukes – Zoo City – Near future fantasy – A woman adept at finding things and her animal familiar must find the truth to save herself.

 

1) Margaret Ronald – Spiral Hunt – Contemporary fantasy — A supernatural tracker must go into the mythic world beneath Boston’s streets.

2) Ian McDonald – Ares Express – SF – A woman journeys across a terra-formed Mars in this sequel to the author’s Desolation Road.

 

3) Ian Tregillis – Bitter Seeds – Alternate history fantasy – In World War II, magic users fight each other and Britain’s welfare may be up-ended by a mentally disturbed precognitive.

4) Heather Tomlinson – Toads and Diamonds – YA historical fantasy – A fairy tale set in India about two stepsisters and the dangers of curses.

5) James Knapp – State of Decay – SF thriller – In a rigidly controlled future, the dead can be voluntarily reanimated into servants and soldiers of the State, but a cop discovers the system has been corrupted.

6) N.K. Jemisin – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy) – Alternate world fantasy — A noblewoman in a kingdom devastated by the rulers who have brought peace and prosperity everywhere else must balance justice, revenge and destruction.

7) Adam Roberts – New Model Army – In the near future, Scotland fends off the invasion of a totalitarian England with a new kind of democratic hired army.

 

1) Kim Harrison – Black Magic Sanction (Rachel Morgan series)  – Contemporary fantasy — Bounty hunter and witch Rachel Morgan has to hunt down a witch for her enemies to save her own skin.

2) Alexey Pehov – Shadow Prowler, translated by Andrew Bromfield – A Russian alt world fantasy about a thief who becomes entangled in saving his kingdom from dark forces.

3) Joe Hill – Horns – Bestselling horror author tells the tale of a man, suspected of killing his dearest love, who finds himself turning into a devil and plans to use his powers to find the real killer.

4) Ian Douglas – Earth Strike: Star Carrier – military SF – Alien forces attempt to keep humans from becoming a major power.

5) Susan Beth Pfeffer – This World We Live In – YA SF — The main characters of the previous books in the series — Life as We Knew It, and The Dead and the Gone — come together in the after years of a global disaster caused by the moon’s changed orbit.

1) Robert V.S. Redick – The Ruling Sea – The next in the nautical alternate world series that started with The Red Wolf Conspiracy.

2) Allison Brennan – Original Sin – Best-selling contemporary fantasy/horror that goes the biblical route in a story of a woman searching for her sorceress mother, and the release of the seven deadly sins.

 

3) Patrick Lee – The Breach – Best-selling SF thriller – A former cop with a troubled past stumbles into government disaster involving terrorists and alien technology.

4) Ari Marmell – The Conqueror’s Shadow – A dark alternate world fantasy about a bloody warrior who cut a swath of terror in the name of justice who has to leave his peaceful hiding place and face his past to save his family.

5) Mario Acevedo – Werewolf Smackdown – Felix Gomez series – Best-selling satirical contemporary fantasy — Vampire hunter Felix has to deal with a cabal of werewolves.

 

1) Liz Williams – The Shadow Pavillion – #4 in the bestselling Snake Agentseries – Contemporary Fantasy – In near future Asia, paranormal cop Inspector Chen has to find his demon partner Zhu Irzh, searching through both Hell and India, while a demon lord seeks to take them both out. (This is one of my favorite series at the moment.)

2) Connie Willis – Blackout – Bestselling SF – Willis is an accomplished writer whose work I do like and who does time travel with brilliance. This book is the first in a duology, involving time travel scientists and World War II.

3) Graham Joyce – How to Make Friends with Demons – Joyce is a bestselling, quirky, iconic writer and this time out, he tells the dark, satirical fantasy tale of a hapless, loser government bureaucrat whose mystic past forces him to find a way to make friends with demons before his future completely falls apart.

4) Fiona McIntosh – Tyrant’s Blood – #2 in the Valisar Trilogy —Alternate World Fantasy —  McIntosh has made a splash in epic fantasy and this story concerns a  surviving prince who must find a way to avenge the slaughter of the royal family.

5) Elizabeth Bear – Chill – Best-selling  SF – Bear gives her unique spin on things in this story of a generational spaceship suffering from outside damage and inside rivalries that is fighting for survival.

 

 

One response to “Books You Can Read

  1. Pingback: Moving Things Around | The Open Window

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