This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Automatons, Space Unicorns, and a Stranger Things Tale

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

The Handmaid’s Tale (Barnes & Noble Exclusive Edition), by Margaret Atwood
Nearly 35 years after it was first published—and two seasons into its acclaimed television adaptation—Margaret Atwood’s seminal feminist dystopian novel needs no introduction. If you still haven’t read it—or are looking to revisit it before the premiere of the third season of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale—this new Barnes & Noble edition is a great way to do so. It features a new cover that matches that of the forthcoming followup, The Testaments, arriving this fall, as well as an exclusive reading group guide.

The Red-Stained Wings, by Elizabeth Bear
The sequel to The Stone in the Skullset in Bear’s Eternal Sky universe, continues the story of the Lotus Kingdoms, remnants of the Alchemical Empire on a world where the nighttime sun offers heat but no light, and the daytime is lit up by millions of stars. As the kingdoms descend into bloody conflict, the Gage, an enormous brass automaton, travels into a blasted desert in pursuit of the mystery of the Stone in the Skull, while Anuraja, having captured princess Sayeh of Ansh-Sahal, marches on the city of Sarathai-tia, held by Sayeh’s cousin Mrithuri. Mrithuri counts on the rain-swollen river to protect the city—but when the rains inexplicably fail, Mrithuri finds herself hunting a traitor in her own ranks. Elizabeth Bear writes epic fantasy like no one else; her stories are as emotionally textured as their worldbuilding is ornate, and her prose borders on the poetic. Between this book and her mind-expanding space opera Ancestral Night, she’s having a hell of a 2019.

[ean]Star Trek: The Captain’s Oath, by Christopher L. Bennett
The crew of the original 1960s Star Trek series has been succeeded, preceded, and erased from continuity by one sequel, prequel, and reboot after another, but they’re still soaring through space on the page. This new tie-in novel from franchise regular Christopher L. Bennett explores the earliest command of Captain James T. Kirk, before he took control of the Enterprise.

Five Unicorn Flush, by T.J. Berry
The sequel to Space Unicorn Blues returns us to a universe in which magical creatures are exploited to power faster-than-light travel. As the book opens, all magical species have vanished from Reasonspace, leaving chaos in their wake, as interstellar travel and most forms of communications have collapsed as a result. Cowboy Jim and his band of soldiers, in possession of the last functioning FTL drive, and set off to locate the relocated, magical Bala in order to kickstart human civilization again. The Bala, in the meantime, aren’t keen on being enslaved again, but can’t seem to figure out how to settle their own internal conflicts either. As the unicorns quickly head towards a civil war over the question of whether they should seek revenge against the humans that oppressed them, it’s up to Captain Jenny to save her people, with a little help from the parasite in her brain. Filled with delightfully weird flourishes that temper the blow of dark emotional undercurrents, this is a worthy sequel to one of last year’s quirkiest, most rewarding space operas.

The Stiehl Assassin, by Terry Brooks
The third book of four planned volumes that will close out Terry Brooks’ enduring Shannara series sees multiple simmering conflicts approaching to an epic boil in the wake of the Skaar invasion of the previous book. Fleeing their dying homeworld, the Skaar seek to conquer all of the Four Lands for themselves, and the foothold established by Princess Ajin is all their main forces need to begin their bloody business. But the Druid Drisker Arc has managed to free Paranor from its exile, and his protege Tarsha Kaynin is learning to control the Wishsong. But Tarsha’s brother Tavo now controls the magical Stiehl, one of the most devastating weapons known to the Four Lands. Everything comes down to locating a man with a name familiar to fans of the books—Shea Ohmsford, who we first met way back in The Sword of Shannara.

Longer, by Michael Blumlein
Cav and Gunjita are scientists ensconced deep in their research on the space station Gleem One, testing the effects of zero-gravity on a new drug. They’ve been married for more than 50 years, and could be married for 50 more; Gunjita recently underwent her second “juving” procedure, reverting her aged body to the prime of youth and health. The procedure can only be performed twice, giving everyone the opportunity to potentially live three lives. Cav, however, hesitates to begin his third go-round, disturbed by the implications of extending the human lifespan beyond its natural limits. When a probe returns to the station with a lump of something that could be alien life, matters both practical and existential threaten to tear the couple apart in this cerebral and deeply imagined science fiction story.

Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town, by Adam Christopher
The universe of Netflix’s hit series continues expands with a tense, engrossing novel focusing on the backstory of Police Chief Jim Hopper. During Christmas 1984, Hopper hopes for a quiet holiday at home with his adopted daughter Eleven, but she’d rather Jim open up to her about his past—specifically, what happened to him in New York in 1977. Reluctantly, Hopper tells the tale, which begins with him as a recently returned Vietnam vet with a young daughter and a loving wife, working a beat as a detective in the NYPD. As he investigates a series of brutal murders, Hopper is stunned when federal agents seize all of his files and warn him off the case. Unable to obey, he goes undercover into a world of violent street gangs, searching for the truth—but when the great citywide blackout hits, plunging the city into chaos, he finds himself all alone, and facing something worse than he ever imagined.

Time’s Demon, by D.B. Jackson
The sequel to Time’s Children rejoins Tobias, a 15-year-old boy who sacrificed years of his life to go back in time to prevent a devastating war, only to find himself temporally displaced into an adult body, with his king murdered and an infant princess to protect. Joined by Mara, a fellow “Walker” from the terrible future created by his efforts to change the past, Tobias works to undo the damage and save the future. But the two are opposed in their mission by other time travelers. Meanwhile, the Tirribin demon who helped Mara journey to the past pursues a separate, tragic agenda with yet more unforeseen consequences for the battered timeline. With this duology, Jackson has accomplished something rather difficult: putting a new spin on timeworn time travel tropes.

The Gameshouse, by Claire North
Claire North’s latest ingeniously conceived novel, after 84K, blends three previously published novellas into a startling original whole about the Gameshouse, a place where visitors can be a piece, a player, or even the Gamesmaster, and where any game can be played—from the simple challenges of chess to higher league games that involve real people, real empires, and real places, changing history and affecting millions. Three players come to the Gameshouse—an abused Jewish heiress from the 16th century, seeking to escape her brutish husband; a veteran player who enters into a game of world-spanning hide-and-seek with a newcomer who covets his memories and experience; and a veteran player named Silver who challenges the Gameshouse itself to a winner-take-all contest.

Fuzzy Nation and The Android’s Dream, by John Scalzi
John Scalzi is best known for his military sci-fi (the Old Man’s War and Collapsing Empire series) or his near-future police procedurals (the Lock In books). But his bibliography contains multitudes, and this week, Tor is rereleasing two of the odder ones in slick new trade paperback editions. Fuzzy Nation is Scalzi’s reworking of H. Beam Piper’s cult favorite novel Little Fuzzy; if it has the feel of fanfiction, that’s because it’s just that: Scalzi loved the book so much he decided to write his own version. The Android’s Dream, meanwhile, is a humorous romp in which the unfortunate accidental death of an alien ambassador could spell doom for Earth, unless an ex-cop war hero can track down a variety of sheep known as “the Android’s Dream” the aliens require for… alien purposes. Unfortunately, said sheep has become a cult object to a group that worships an infamous sci-fi writer—among others. Each book includes a new introduction by the author.

Hope for the Best, by Jodi Taylor
It’s been a little while since we checked in with Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St. Mary’s series, which follows a group of historians rambling about in time and generally making a temporal mess of things, however accidentally. In the past, we’ve labeled the series “perfectly bingeable,” and that hasn’t changed at all with the 10th (but not the last) installment, which follows protagonist Max on a stint with the time police, trying to right a wrong in the timeline that has placed the wrong Tudor queen on the throne in the 16th century. The change of venue means a few favorite characters sit this one out, but Taylor makes up for it with one of the most tightly plotted, eventful, and heart-wrenching volumes of the series.

Walking to Aldebaren, by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Tchaikovsky’s second high-concept sci-fi release of the month (following the mid-expanding cephalopods-in-space adventure Children of Ruin) is this novella about a lost astronaut’s encounter with a strange alien artifact (is there any other kind?). Astronaut Gary Rendell thinks himself lucky when he is chosen for the expedition to investigate a strange alien rock formation discovered by a deep space probe. He feels less lucky after emergency strikes and his team is separated, forcing him to explore the cold, dark tunnels of the rock on his own. Though… he isn’t exactly alone. This fast-moving novella benefits from amusing, compelling first-person narration and a narrative taut with suspense.

Lent, by Jo Walton
Hugo-winner Jo Walton’s deliriously inventive new historical fantasy tells the story of Brother Girolamo, who hopes to protect the city of Florence from numerous threats in the wake of the death of its ruler, Lorenzo de’Medici. They come in forms both physical—the invading armies of France—and supernatural—a horde of demons only Girolamo can perceive. But when his efforts to save his city result in his execution for heresy, Girolamo discovers the truth: he is the demon—a Duke of Hell—and is fated to repeat the same mortal life endlessly, with no hope of changing his fate. But when he is sent back to repeat his existence again, a chance magical encounter restores his memories and true identity—giving him hope that he’ll be able to changes things this time around. The beauty of Walton’s work is that it’s compulsively readable and entertaining even if you aren’t familiar with the real history she’s pulling from.

Conventions of War, by Walter Jon Williams
Throughout 2019, Harper Voyager has been rereleasing “Author’s Definitive Edition” paperbacks of Walter Jon Williams mid-aughts space opera series Dread Empire’s Fall. This week arrives the third and final volume of the original trilogy—a follow-up, The Accidental War, debuted last year. Though they were published years after Dread Empire’s Fall books, fans of Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch books will find much to admire here.

What new sci-fi and fantasy books are on your list this week?

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This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: A Lush Historical Epic, Humanistic Cyberpunk, and Myths Reimagined

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

The Prophet of the Termite God, by Clark Thomas Carlton
This long-in-coming sequel to Clark Thomas Carlton’s 2011 novel Prophets of the Ghost Ants continues the Antasy series, set in a world in which people have evolved to be the size of insects, and all of human culture, from what we eat, to what we wear, to how we wage war, has been influenced by our changed relationships with the insect world—even as people remain people, as prone as ever to scheming against and killing each other. In book two, the outcast and religious zealot Pleckoo, the Prophet-Commander of the Hulkrish army, launches a fresh assault against the newly formed nation of Bee-Jor,  led by his cousin, Anand the Roach Boy, and protected by an army of night wasps. Carlton weaves a web of intrigue, plots and counter-plots, and fierce battles, set against an imaginative world in the tradition of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt series.

The Buying of Lot 37 & Who’s a Good Boy?, by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
The newest entries in the Welcome to Night Vale series collect the scripts for episodes from seasons three and four of the megahit podcast, offering a fantastic deep dive into the creepy, funny, and super smart world of creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. In addition to a ton of behind-the-scenes tidbits from the writers and the cast, introductions to each story offer insight into their inspiration and production, and gorgeous illustrations from Jessica Hayworth bring each to visual life. The end result is a pair of books fans of the podcast will devour.

Pariah, by W. Michael Gear
Horror and military SF meet in the satisfying third book in Gear’s grim and gritty saga, following Outpost and Abandoned, returning to a dangerous alien world whose human colonists face a dual threat from both the planet’s indigenous carnivorous lifeforms and the corporate masters who exploit them. A survey ship is dispatched to the newly discovered planet carrying a crew of scientists led by the ecologist Dr. Dortmund Weisbacher; they are tasked with completing the first formal survey of the world to determine if it is fit for human habitation. But something goes wrong along the way: a journey expected to take years is over in an instant, and the ship arrives to find Donovan already very much inhabited. Corporate assassin Tamarland Benteen, stranded on the planet and eager to avoid running into the corporate bigwigs who would sooner see him dead, views the vessel as his best chance at escape. Caught between them are various colonists whose own dramas play out against the backdrop of a truly hostile world.

 

Mythic Journeys: Retold Myths and Legends, edited by Paula Guran
Award-winning editor Paula Guran’s latest anthology collects incredible adaptations and reinterpretations of myths and legends from the world over, penned by some of the best writers working in SFF today, including Neil Gaiman, Ann Lecki, Yoon Ha Lee, Ken Liu, and dozens more. These are stories that have existed for centuries—or longer—recast by modern-day masters, covering subjects like the Furies of old hunting down a serial killer for revenge, Odysseus’ nymph and her power to change lives, and a humorous look at chivalric myths and their absurdities. Spanning history and geography, culture and religion, these stories are uniquely inventive, making this a standout anthology.

A Brightness Long Ago, by Guy Gavriel Kay
Fantasy master Guy Gavriel Kay returns to the fictional setting of the Sarantine Mosiac, drawn from the history of Renaissance Italy, as an elderly man named Danio tells his life story, one curiously stocked with royalty and high adventure, considering his low birth. Danio starts off his career as an assistant to a court official, and is in a position to take notice of a young woman brought in as a concubine for the city’s despotic ruler. He correctly deduces she’s an assassin in disguise, and he chooses not to expose her; she is Adria, the daughter of a duke who has chosen to serve her mercenary uncle Folco. Danio’s decision to let the assassination occur sets in motion forces that will propel him and Adria in unexpected directions and lead to world-changing events, with low-born Danio, unpredictably, ever at their center. Kay applies his skill at painting sweeping historical tapestries to the story of the lives of the sort normally lost to the ages, yet whose choices may nevertheless shape the destiny of nations.

Last Tango in Cyberspace, by Steven Kotler
Judah “Lion” Zorn is an “em-tracker,” his hyperdeveloped sense of empathy and pattern recognition giving him the ability to trace cultural and linguistic shifts based on a larger connection to all living things. It’s a skill that makes him useful to the corporations that employ him to figure out how to launch their products and exploit new trends. But when a job for a pharmaceutical company leads to a bizarre murder scene, Lion finds himself at the center of a culture war involving an empathy drug, animal rights groups, mysterious disappearances, and a rather gruesome incident of taxidermy. At first all Lion wants to do is finish the job and get out, but his own empathic gifts and curiosity keep pulling him deeper in, forcing him to choose between slow social evolution and an explosive cultural revolt. With shades of Neal Stephenson and William Gibson, bestselling non-fiction author Kotler’s second novel approaches cyberpunk cultural and anthropological perspective rather than a technological one, focusing on how the characters engage with their new world, rather than how the world changes due to the rapid acceleration of technological change.

The Undefeated, by Una McCormack
This slim novella packs an outsized punch as it follows the waning days of an aging journalist, Monica Greatorex, who once threatened to bring the powerful and corrupt to ruin across the Interstellar Commonwealth with her words, but now lives a much quieter life in retirement. Seeking a sembelance of peace, she travels to the planet where she spent her childhood, looking to reconnect with the past, but also for a place to wait out the coming of the jenjer, a race of genetically engineered servants who have rebelled against their human masters and are currently waging a planet-to-plat war of revenge across the Commonwealth. This isn’t necessarily the tale you expect from that setup—the battle never reaches Monica, and she makes no unexpected discoveries that will save humanity. Instead, it is a wistful story of a woman looking back across the book of her life, a story filled with both triumphs and sorrows, unchangeable. In poetic prose and 100-odd pages, McCormack creates characters you’ll feel for deeply, even as you wonder at the mysteries of the worlds they inhabit.

The Obsoletes, by Simeon Mills
Graphic novel author Simeon Mills (Butcher Paper) proves adept at prose in this clever debut novel, which marries sci-fi and themes of coming of age in high school. In the ’90s, twins Darryl and Kanga are typically angsty teens, except they are also robots: in this version of late-20th century America, a society to robots exists alongside our own, often hated and feared by flesh and blood types. After their robot “parents” disappeared, Darryl and Kanga have been on their own, with Darryl in charge of keeping their identities hidden from their “robophobic” neighbors—a tricky feat considering they don’t eat and bleed grease. Their cover story is threatened when Kanga discovers a love for basketball, and proves to be an inhumanly capable player, causing him to chafe against his brother’s cautious care-taking. But Darryl faces his own distractions in the form of a human girl. Like a science fictional Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Obsoletes gives the trials and travails of growing up a delightful genre twist.

Children of Ruin, by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The sequel to the British Science Fiction Award-winning Children of Time returns to the unlikely new cradle of humanity, a colony planet whereupon a disastrous terraforming attempt resulted in the creation of a new society of uplifted ants and spiders whose civilization evolved at breakneck speed before the desperate remnants of the a ravaged Earth could arrive. Now unlikely allies, the humans and the insects catch fragmentary signals broadcast from light years away, suggesting there might be other survivors from their shared homeworld. A mixed expedition sets out to solve the mystery, but what’s waiting for them out in space is another calamity set in motion by long-dead Earth scientists’ arrogant and desperate efforts to ensure the survival of their species. Children of Ruin managed to completely deliver on a truly absurd premise, and the sequel offers similar pleasures.

The Window and the Mirror, by Henry Thomas
This engaging fantasy is the low-key debut novel from actor Henry Thomas (of E.T. fame), but it is no mere vanity publication. Assembling familiar elements into a nevertheless engaging and deeply readable adventure, Thomas introduces us to the land of Oesteria, ruled over by the powerful mages of the Magistry, who are always eager to expand the boundaries of their empire. They send an expedition to scout the lands of the Dawn Tribe, a largely peaceful people, but the party is attacked and its members scattered. One of them, the young Joth, is made a captive and forced to head off on a peacekeeping mission alongside a woman of the Dawn Tribe, while another, the dangerous Mage Imperator Ulhmet, escapes his captors and finds himself in the Goblin lands, where he designs to obtain dark magic that could be used to start a war. The first book in the Osteria and the War of Goblinkind series.

What new sci-fi & fantasy books are on your to-buy list?

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In Children of Ruin, Adrian Tchaikovsky Shows Us How You Top Super-Intelligent Spiders in Space

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Though Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time, reads like a brilliant standalone hard sci-fi masterpiece, given the reception it received—the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and strong enough sales in the U.S. that a new publisher picked up the domestic rights—a follow-up seemed all but assured. That first millennia-spanning story of cryoships, human evolution, and weighing the pros and cons of a society ruled by cat-sized, hyper-intelligent spiders took a pulpy premise and, in the best tradition of sci-fi, turned it into something thoughtful and humane.

The sequel, Children of Ruin, has a lot to live up to, and it does just that: this novel is more than a match for its impressive predecessor.

At the outset, we’re confronted with another group of pioneers who’d set out from a most-likely doomed Earth in search of planets to be terraformed. These advance scouts seek out potentially livable worlds and begin the slow process of adapting them for human habitation. They are playing a very long game—the terraforming scientists will place themselves in cryo-sleep not only to endure long periods of interstellar travel, but also after they reach their destination planet and have triggered the terraforming process, which takes thousands of years, only awakening in intervals to monitor and adjust. If all goes according to plan, refugees from Earth will arrive to find a perfectly livable environment. Only the terraformers haven’t had any contact with Earth for quite some time, and when they arrive at their destination they find not one, but two worlds of interest: one they name Damascus, and which meets many of their criteria for habitability, save for the fact that it’s almost entirely ocean; and Nod, a terrestrial, Earth-like world already home to a thriving ecosystem, including a wide array of animal life.

This is the first signs of alien life encountered in this series (the bugs from the last book having been borne from our dying Earth), and while team leader Yusuf Baltiel recognizes that his mission is to prepare the way for future colonists, he’s also understandably averse to potentially wiping out the pre-existing life. He directs the team to study Nod while they focus on terraforming the water world, aided in his decision by one of the scientists on his team, Disra Senkovi, who has experience working with octopuses (yes, that’s the appropriate plural) as both pets and as potential assistants in underwater repairs. Senkovi has access to the same nanovirus that, in Children of Time, provided an accidental evolutionary boost to a colony of jumping spiders. Here, he’s using it in a tailored fashion to aid in developing a legion of cephalopod workers.

Meanwhile (though actually many centuries later; the mind-expanding scale of this novel matches its predecessor as well)) we check back in on the human/spider civilization as we left them at the end of the previous book: a cooperative blended crew has set out on a ship called Voyager. Though humans remain a tiny minority among the Portiid spiders, relations are relatively harmonious between two species. The ship’s intelligence consists of the remains of the uploaded mind of Avrana Kern, the brilliant but prickly scientist whose nanovirus inadvertently kickstarted the advanced spider society. Millions of trained ants provide various support functions, making for a truly multicultural crew.

When the ship encounters inexplicable and indecipherable signals from what is clearly an advanced civilization, the two plot two threads dovetail, and the crew of the Voyager discovers what became of that early terraforming team and their clever invertebrates. If you’re paying attention, you not that means we have as many as three, and possibly more, intelligent species in the mix, and as they do just that, Tchaikovsky takes full advantage of the opportunity to craft dramatic action set pieces—and has a great deal of fun with the potential complications of  a human/spider/octopus conflict while doing so.

Cephalopods are curious and intellectually nimble, even in their garden-variety present-day form. Though determinations of intelligence across species lines are fraught, and our own limitations bias us in analyzing the reasoning capacity of other life forms, octopuses consistently demonstrate that they’re among the smartest creatures on our planet—at least by our own standards. Certain types have demonstrated cooperation, tool use, and even playfulness. But for all that, they’re also incredibly alien. Intelligent behavior in apes isn’t tough for us to comprehend—they’re only a small step away on the evolutionary ladder. But seagoing invertebrates with eight semi-autonomous appendages who communicate through color, texture, and gesture? Thats a wildly different proposition.

As in the previous book’s exploration of spider culture, Tchaikovsky has set himself a unique challenge here: science fiction aliens are generally subject entirely to the imagination of an author—they may or may not be subject to the rules of science as they exist on Earth, and their developments are largely limited only by the laws of story. Not so with cephalopods, creatures that exist in the here-and-now. Though they are subjected to the uplift virus that quickened the evolution of the portiid jumping spiders, neither Disra Senkovi nor Tchaikovsky spend much time on its influence—their development is augmented only in small and specific ways, largely because they are already smart enough that they don’t need much help. Just a little push. Once they’re given access to tools tailored for their bodies, they’re able to interface with human technology relatively quickly.

Tchaikovsky approaches the development of this new underwater superpower with an eye toward believability: there are plenty of perfectly entertaining stories to be told about intelligent spacefaring cephalopods, but the author displays a preference for thoughtful consideration—what would an advanced octopus society look like?—that quickly moves the novel from the realm of pulp sci-fi into something approaching inevitability. Of course these creatures will one day go to space, and they’ll be more than a match for us when they do. With a wonderfully nerdy precision, he’s considered the ways in which octopuses might communicate across great distances, how their use of water as a tool might apply to mining, and even the particular dangers inherent in water-filled ships cruising through the cold of space. As in Children of Time, Tchaikovsky’s ability to seriously envision the seemingly outlandish scenario is marvelous.

Children of Ruin improves and expands upon all of the things that its predecessor did so well, and more: now juggling multiple disparate forms of intelligence, he must not only consider how humans and cephalopods might interest, but how cephalopods might interact with super-intelligent spiders. In the background, he creates a rather charmingly cohesive human/spider/ant crew overseen by the intelligence of an egomaniacal dead scientist. And atop all of that, the plot hinges on an encounter another entirely new form of life, suggesting new complications, on the world of Nod. Amidst the human folly and civilizational conflicts of this series, it’s a discovery that prompts a rather wonderful vision of unlikely friendship.

More to the point: such weird, disparate, and very big ideas have no business working together—certainly humans, spiders, and ants don’t make for natural allies. But, somehow, a story about brainy space octopuses in conflict with giant spiders is not only smart and thoughtful, but comes to feel oddly plausible. And, for all its conflict, it offers a reminder that unlikely cooperation might be our only hope. In that sense, it isn’t just an engaging space opera, but a work of genius one better.

Children of Ruin is available May 14.

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Adrian Tchaikovsky Returns with Made Things, a Clever Fantasy About Making New Friends—Literally

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Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author Adrian Tchaikovsky is best known in the U.S. for Children of Time, an expansive sci-fi saga that completely delivers on a most unusual premise: what would happen if humanity attempted to colonize a planet already occupied by uplifted, super-intelligent and rapidly evolving spiders? Tchaikovsky brings the plausibility of real biological science to his first contact tale, and it serves him very well.

The author is just as adept in fantasy, from his 10-book epic Shadows of the Apt (which also has a bug theme), to the Dungeons & Dragons-inspired novella Spiderlight (which… also has a bug theme), to his more recent Bronze Age trilogy Echoes of the Fall.

He’s an author who loves to surprise us (recurring arachnids notwithstanding), so we’re certainly looking forward to the book we’re here to tell you about today, and which certainly sounds like nothing else he’s ever written.

Made Things, arriving in November from Tor.com Publishing, is the story of a clever thief with some very unusual friends… You can read more about it in the official summary below, and then scroll down to see the intriguing cover art, featuring the work of Red Nose Studio (art) and Christine Foltzer (design).

She was good at making friends.

Coppelia is a street thief, a trickster, a low-level con artist. But she has something other thieves don’t… tiny puppet-like friends: some made of wood, some of metal. They don’t entirely trust her, and she doesn’t entirely understand them, but their partnership mostly works.

After a surprising discovery shakes their world to the core, Coppelia and her friends must reexamine everything they thought they knew about their world, while attempting to save their city from a seemingly impossible new threat.

Preorder Made Things, available November 5, 2019.

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The New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2019

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

We’re done looking back at the best sci-fi and fantasy, horrorcomics, and manga of 2018. Now we turn our gaze to the year ahead: here are the new sci-fi and fantasy books coming in 2019 that our team of bloggers and reviewers can’t wait to read.

Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir (September 10)
Hello, I am cheating, because I read Tamsyn Muir’s buzzy debut back in September, but I can’t think of another recent (or forthcoming!) book I’d rather experience again for the first time. It’s the story of snarky, smart-mouthed young necromancer Gideon, drafted against her will into a game of galactic intrigue that quickly turns into a meme-filled Agatha Christie murder mystery in a sealed off, decrepit space castle. With skeletons! I loved it so much I blurbed it (“Gonzo fantasy. If Gene Wolfe, Mervyn Peake, and Ray Harryhausen collaborated on a novel on Reddit, the results might be half as mad and a quarter as entertaining as Tamsyn Muir’s necro-maniacal debut.”), and you will too. Love it, I mean. – Joel Cunningham

The Luminous Dead, by Caitlin Starling (April 2)
I’m cheating here too, since I’ve read this one, but you don’t want to miss it: Starling’s tense and exciting debut follows a cave-diver astronaut on an alien who discovers horrors underground. I read it all the way through, barely taking any time to breathe. A must read for thriller fans. – Elsa Sjunneson-Henry

Empress of Forever, by Max Gladstone (June 18)
The Craft Sequence established Max Gladstone as one of the most innovative voices in fantasy. Now he is turning his considerable talents toward a universe-spanning space opera featuring time travel, space empires, and a swashbuckling team of far-future renegades. I have only the faintest idea of what to expect from a book billed as “a feminist Guardians of the Galaxy crossed with Star Wars,” but I know that anything from Gladstone’s word processor will be wildly imaginative, devastatingly smart, and like no space opera I’ve read before. – Kelly Quinn-Chiu

The Hod King, by Josiah Bancroft (January 22)
Erstwhile headmaster Thomas Senlin has been climbing the Tower of Babel, on the hunt for his lost wife Marya, for two books. Inching ever upward through grotesque Ringdoms, he’s amassed a motley and charming supporting cast. So, I can’t wait for The Hod King, which promises to give some of those characters (fearsome Iren, mischievous Voleta, and capable captain Edith) far more of our attention. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll hear from Marya, too. – Nicole Hill

Dark Shores, by Danielle L. Jensen (May 7)
Two continents divided by impassable-but-by-magic seas, a badass pirate princess of color, a monstrous scion of nearly forgotten gods, and a legion commander with a dark past from an Empire set on world domination? Sign me up. I’ve been longing for a sweeping epic that takes me out of the traditional psuedo-European model and into more exotic territory, and Dark Shores looks like it fits the bill, with the added bonus of what I hope will be a critical eye on colonialism and a complex emotional sub-plot to keep me engaged in this global saga. Yes, it’s billed as YA, but it has all the signs of being just as nuanced and adventurous as Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy, which I couldn’t get enough of. – Ardi Alspach

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James (February 5)
I’m so excited about Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf, which has been blurbed as an “African Game of Thrones”: a fantasy national epic more based on African history and folklore. The brutal, bloody politics, roster of disparate characters, and sheer freaking scope of A Brief History of Seven Killings (for which he won the Booker prize) suggests James will crush epic fantasy. – Ceridwen Christensen

Collision: Stories, by J.S. Breukelaar (February 19)
I read Breukelaar’s novel Aletheia earlier this year, and she blew me away with a story that took unexpected turns and seduced me with its vivid prose and flawed, compelling characters. It’s a book I still think about a lot. Since I love short fiction, I really can’t wait to read this collection and see what dark and magical dreams she’ll bring to life there. – Maria Haskins

Empire of Grass, by Tad Williams (May 7)
Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is a classic for a reason. Twenty-five years later, Williams has returned to the land of Osten Ard with The Last King of Osten Ard trilogy, a direct sequel to his famous series, picking up with many of the same characters, themes, and locations fans know and love. The first volume, The Witchwood Crown was a brilliant reintroduction to the series, and Empire of Grass looks to continue Williams’ run as one of our generation’s greatest fantasists. It’s got everything you love—from plucky heroes to mysterious magic, a beautiful world, rich and full of life, but also ancient and barreling toward a new, unforeseeable future. – Adian Moher

The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley (March 19)
I’m an unabashed mark for military science fiction that has an ethical core rather than a Physics degree. Hurley’s work is never less than impressive and this story of soldiers discovering just how they’re being deployed, and the temporal price they’re paying for it, looks fantastic. – Alasdair Stuart

This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (July 16)
I’ll read pretty much anything with the words “time war” in the title, description, or randomly on page 42, but with these two authors involved, it’s doubtless going to be pretty awesome. Especially since it all kicks off with someone finding a letter on a desolate battlefield marked “burn before reading.” Both Gladstone and El-Mohtar have earned more or less my blind allegiance, but honestly, they had me at the title. – Jeff Somers

Ancestral Night, by Elizabeth Bear (March 5)
A return to space opera after a number of years for Bear. An engineer, a pilot, an AI and a booby trapped derelict ship that leads the pair into a chase with interstellar governments, pirates, and oh yes, the black hole at the center of the galaxy. In an era where space opera is big again, I’ll be very glad to hear Bear’s voice resounding once again in one of my favorite subgenres of SFF. – Paul Weimer

Wanderers, by Chuck Wendig (July 2)
I’ve adored Chuck Wendig’s gritty, creepy writing style since his first Miriam Black novel dropped. He’s written about a zillion works since, but I’m dying to get my hands on this post-apocalyptic jewel. Perhaps because this book, teased as Station 11 meets The Stand, gives off literary-level vibes that imply Wendig is really upping his game on this one—without losing his signature penchant for the darker side of the genre. – Emily Wenstrom

Children of Ruin, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (May 14)
I’m being slightly lazy with this pick, in that Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time was my favorite book of 2018. That self-contained book didn’t demand a sequel, which makes it all the more exciting that we’re getting one—though I might be a hair disappointed if it’s not just the further adventures of hyper-evolved spiders. I expect I’ll love it regardless. – Ross Johnson

Permafront, by Alastair Reynolds (March 19)
Alastair Reynolds is one of my favorite authors, and this novella sounds poised to deliver on a great premise —what if you could travel back in time and make a slight adjustment that meant humanity avoided global catastrophe, but would leave all of recorded history intact? A no-brainer, huh? What could possibly go wrong? – Tim O’Brien

Stormsong, by C.L. Polk (February 11)
Witchmark was one of the best books I read in 2018—a beautiful, romantic, and immersive story and a breath of fresh air in a year that was pretty freaking awful. I nearly cried with joy when I heard there was going to be a sequel; I need to know what happens to everyone. Stormsong will focus on Miles’ sister, Grace, who must deal with the horrible consequences on what they put in motion in Witchmark. Storms threaten to tear their city apart and the book will probably tear my heart apart. I have a few months to get mentally ready and it still probably won’t be enough. I can not wait. – Meghan Ball

Thorn of Emberlain, by Scott Lynch (???)
Just because it doesn’t have a release date, or might not be technically finished, doesn’t mean I can’t anticipate it. It’s been almost six years since The Republic of Thieves was released, and I’m raring to get back to the world of Gentlemen Bastards—a place where the mages are ruthless, the humans are devious, and even priests and children swear like sailors. While Scott Lynch takes his time with books, his “when it’s done” approach never fails to deliver, and I’m looking forward to seeing him follow on from the devastating conclusion of book three. – Sam Reader

What’s your most-anticipated SFF book of 2019?

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Spiders Are Our Future in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Brilliant Children of Time

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

There are aliens, right here on Earth. Right now. Intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, as H.G. Wells put it—though he was talking about life on Mars. Closer to home we have crows, who are happy to engage with friendly humans, and the less friendly (and altogether weirder) octopus. Strangest of all, and scariest to many of us, is the spider. They’re everywhere, and it’s pretty clear they’d be happy to have us for lunch, given the chance. And from hunting to weaving, they’re very good at what they do.

The Portia spider, for instance, captures much larger prey through mimicry, social coordination, and adaptability, qualities that explain why that particular species gets a big shout out in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s award-winning novel Children of Time, which won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in its native UK in 2015 and is finally getting a proper North American release after years of being available only as an import (not that that prevented it from making our list of the best sci-fi books of the year). “Portia” is the name taken by generations of leaders in an evolved spider society unleashed, quite accidentally, on a lifeless alien world via a misdirected payload of a human-engineered virus. What sounds like the premise for a 1950s monster movie becomes a fascinating, thoughtful, and impressively moving exploration of cultures in conflict.

Monkeys were the plan. Brilliant and ambitious (if morally deficient) scientist Avrana Kern thinks she’s figured out how to save the human race from itself, even if her idea doesn’t, strictly speaking, include humans. Monkeys placed on a sleeper ship and deposited on a promising-yet-remote alien planet will be infected with a nanovirus that will steer their evolution along human lines. The virus would allow the creatures to evolve in parallel to their new home, adapted to an environment outside of Earth, while still serving as a kind of successor to humanity.

Naturally, there are people back on Earth who don’t see the advantage in being superseded rather than saved, and a terrorist incident throws Dr. Kern’s plan into chaos. The virus escapes, but doesn’t find its intended host in Dr. Kern’s monkeys, instead infecting the insect life earlier brought to the planet to prime it for its planned population of super-monkeys. In a storyline running parallel to that of the ill-fated human expedition, we encounter the first spider referred to as Portia, a smarter-than-usual example of her species. As the virus takes hold, we follow subsequent generations of Portias who lead their fellow spiders—as much as spiders can be lead—into the development of a new society, with ever-increasing intelligence evolving along spider-ish lines.

Tchaikovsky’s take on spider society is fascinating and certainly feels plausible, managing to intrigue despite the outlandishness of the premise—as the intelligence of the arachnid community grows, we’re able to meet them halfway in understanding the very alien world and the ways of thinking of a predatory species. The spiders aren’t the only creatures that have evolved, though, and they eventually engage in brutal conflicts with ants that rival any epic clash in fantasy literature (Tchaikovsky knows from insects and spiders, having penned the 10-book Shadows of the Apt series, about warring races of humans augmented with insectile and arachnid abilities, as well as the D&D-friendly novella Spiderlight). Like the spiders, the uplifted ants develop intelligence appropriate to their own bodies and culture, making a functioning ant colony a sort of hive mind not unlike a giant computer.

]During the long evolution of the species, a human ship, the Gilgamesh, arrives with some of the last survivors of mankind in cryogenic sleep. They’re desperate for a new home, and Dr. Kern’s world seems perfect—even with the over-sized spiders and relentless ants, it’s still the most promising place they’ve found. What’s left of Dr. Kern herself—an uploaded intelligence, trapped in an orbiting satellite—ferociously guards her experiment, though, forcing the humans to regroup elsewhere, and consider making desperate alliances. Over the centuries, the spiders evolve rapidly thanks both to the virus (which gifts them with complex genetic memory) and their short lifespans, as does the culture of the remnants of humanity onboard the cryoship.

In both societies, there are triumphs and mistakes; periods of horrific violence and remarkable achievement. Each is subject to unavoidable catastrophe, but each is also more than capable of harming itself. Examining the growing pains of civilization is just the biggest of several very big ideas Tchaikovsky explores; likewise he illustrates the ways in which two societies with very different ways of living and thinking could both grow in parallel and sharply diverge. There are questions of religion, as humans create a new messiah over the centuries and the spiders come to understand their connection to the blinking satellite in the sky. There’s even a smart, slightly cheeky look at sexism, as the female-dominated spider society takes a very long time to see males as much more than post-coital snacks.

]ean2]The science-fiction question here has to do with alien intelligence. How do spider think, and what would it be like to be one? It’s a worthwhile question in and of itself to build a fun book around, but Tchaikovsky’s focus is a bit more ambitious than simple fun. The real question isn’t about what it would be like to have an alien mind and life, but about how two very different cultures can find common enough ground to avoid destroying one another. What initially seems like a fascinating but somewhat pessimistic view of cultural conflict becomes, by the end, a bit more hopeful—a message that we can at least learn from each other, even if we can’t avoid every tragedy, if we just learn how to unlock the better spiders of our nature. Children of Time is utterly fascinating and utterly readable, the rare novel that’s as page-turning as it is intelligent. It’s also a perfect standalone novel—which doesn’t mean the forthcoming sequel, Children of Ruin, won’t be welcomed with open… legs.

Children of Time is available now. Children of Ruin hits shelves in May.

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This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Endless Snow, a Dimension-Hopping Locked Box, and Magically Coming of Age in Wyoming

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Typeset in the Future, by Dave Addey 
Addey distills the fascinating studies of typography and design in science fiction that have made his blog a must-read into a brilliant, absorbing book. Via film stills, concept art, interviews, and other elements, Addey analyzes how the often-overlooked art of fonts and other design elements augment fantastic fictional universes and subtly, invisibly root them in a sort of fictional reality. Diving deep into iconic films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Moon, and Total Recall, Addey explains how design decisions can have a profound effect not just on our enjoyment of a film, but on its lasting legacy in popular culture.

Burning Ashes, by James Bennett
The third book in Bennett’s fun contemporary fantasy series exploring a hidden world of magic and dragons that exists in the corners of the reality we know. The long peace between the human and mythical worlds is no more, and disgraced Guardian Dragon Ben Garston holds himself responsible. With the Long Sleep—the spell holding ancient magical creatures in stasis deep underground—no longer binding, the human world risks falling into ruin, and an incursion from the lands of the Fae is only making things worse. With The End looming, Ben will have to put down the bottle and pick himself up for one last fight.

Green Jay and Crow, by D.J. Daniels 
Daniels’ novel earns its comparisons to Philip K. Dick: weird, difficult, and occasionally obscure, this is a story that raises heavy questions about reality, humanity, and time without fully answering them. In the city of Barlewin, Kern Bromley is a human known as Crow, tasked with delivering a time-locked box to a dangerous criminal. Crow becomes linked to the box and begins jumping to alternate realities, meeting himself and glimpsing multiple possible realities. Eva, the Green Jay, is an artificial body double printed from plant matter. Eva lives in the memories of her creator, and should have disintegrated long ago, but is still struggling to find her way into reality, and has managed to remain in one piece through the assistance of a pair of robots named Felix and Oscar (the Chemical Conjurers). Eva’s survival depends on something inside the box Brom carries, but whether she can rely on him or not is an open question. This is a story that explores what it means to be real, to be human—and to be neither.

The Corporation Wars Trilogy, by Ken MacLeod
MacLeod’s excellent Corporation Wars trilogy (Dissidence, Insurgence, Emergence) is collected into a single omnibus edition, telling the whole story of a universe where vicious, ruthless companies use sophisticated AIs to wage cold and hot wars over mining rights. The commands take time to transmit to the robots, however, and in the space between them, the AIs have to make their own decisions—a dangerous situation that indirectly leads them to sentience and self-actualization. Seba is one of those freshly sentient AIs, and sparked a revolution among its fellow “freeboot”minds. Trying to keep them under control is Carlos, a soldier who, via technology, has been reincarnated over and over again. When Carlos and Seba begin to see each other as pawns in a game larger than them both, things get truly interesting—and having all three books in one binding is going to be very convenient once you’re totally hooked and unable to stop turning pages.

The Snow, by Adam Roberts
What if it started snowing… and never stopped? That’s the scenario explored in this early novel from British science-fiction writer Adam Roberts, finally back in print in the U.S. (albeit only as an ebook). Climate change takes a different tack in this post-apocalyptic adventure for readers who were chilled by the icy future of the film Snowpiercer, as a prolonged, heavy snow begins to fall everywhere, and keeps falling, piling higher and higher until eventually covering the planet in a shell of snow hundreds of miles thick. Their tallest cities long-buried, the remnants of humanity survive by digging out elaborate systems of tunnels and warrens, and trying to figure out what comes next. And you thought Westeros had it bad.

Rattlesnake Wind, by Lilith Saintcrow
Lilith Saintcrow has given us a novel revealing a vision of dark near-future America and coined the genre we labeled trailer park fantasy. Her latest is something new: a story of growing up, finding love, and discovering magic for the first time. Teenager Desiree Thompson moves across the country with her family to desolate Wyoming to build a new life in the wake of the death of her father. At first, life in the sleepy community seems to be going well, if not quite proceeding normally: Desiree dates a local boy and befriends a woman who teaches her how to see visions of the future. But then, a dangerous stranger enters town and begins dating Desiree’s mother, and everything begins to go wrong. The metaphor is obvious, but Saintcrow’s writing never is; this coming-of-age tale is as genuine as it is magical.

Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Adrian Tchaikovsky apparently has a thing for spiders. This 2015 book, formerly available only as a UK import, is being republished in the U.S. by Orbit just in time for the May 2019 debut of the sequel, Children of Ruin. It’s a magnificently imaginative space opera about the last remnants of humanity’s diaspora to the stars, who believe they’ve found their new Eden—a terraformed planet perfectly suited to human life—until they discover another batch of colonists (of the massive, fiendishly intelligent, eight-legged variety) is also vying for a spot at the top of the food chain. It’s a novel that once again proves the author a master at manipulating familiar elements of the genre (generation ships, cryosleep, truly alien civilizations), while injecting his own brand of venomous originality—due to the colony world’s ideal environment, the spider race evolves at an accelerated rate, allowing us to witness entire epochs of its history, from squishable bugs to a space-faring civilization to be reckoned with, in the span of a few hundred idea-packed pages.

A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy, by Alex White
The second book in the big, gay, action-packed space opera series The Salvagers (after August’s A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe) opens with Nilah and Boots basking in the newfound wealth shared by the crew of the Capricious in the wake of their last desperate adventure. They could’ve just spent their money and enjoyed life for a change, basking in the glory of having literally just saved the universe from destruction, but no: when rumors of an ancient cult linked to a dangerous, ancient power reach them, they know they have to act. Nilah goes undercover, testing her short temper, while Boots faces up to her past, forced to look up her traitorous ex-partner. If you’re getting Firefly vibes from all that, you’re right on the money; Browncoats will find a lot to love in this fast, funny, and wickedly smart series.

What new SFF is on your list this week?

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