This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: A Revolution on Mars, Life on the Moon, and a Visual History of D&D

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Red Rising (B&N Exclusive Edition), by Pierce Brown
Return to the first volume of Brown’s revolutionary space opera trilogy with this special edition reissue of his bestselling debut. The Red Rising series has taken on the status of new genre classic, telling the story of a color-coded solar empire modeled on ancient Roman swagger and built on ruthless genetic manipulation. In this series-opener, Darrow, a laboring Red on Mars, grows weary of people treated like a tool to be used and thrown away by the ruthless, ruling Golds. Pulled into a vast conspiracy, he undergoes painful surgeries in order to pass as one of the aristocratic elites, and takes place in a deadly sort of gladiatorial games; winning them will position him to increase his status and take down the system from the inside. This exclusive B&N edition features an alternate cover and full-color endpapers, as well as a new preface by the author.

The Dream Gatherer, by Kristen Britain
Twenty years and five sequels ago, Kristen Britain launched a beloved epic fantasy series with The Green Rider, following the titular central heroes in a sort of postal service/spy network. The series draws on her own history as a former ranger with the National Parks service and her current life in the desert—as someone who has spent her life out in nature, her descriptions of her fantasy world feel rich and vibrant. The central heroes of the story, the Green Riders themselves, are a sort of combination of postal workers and spies. To celebrate the two-decade milestone (and ease the wait for the next full-length volume), Britain offers up the titular novella—featuring series faves the Berry Sisters—and two additional short stories, each featuring illustrations she created herself. It’s a must for fans.

Restless Lightning, by Richard Baker
The sequel to Valiant Dust and the second volume in the Breaker of Empires military sci-fi series. set in a 32nd century in which technologically advanced superpowers dominate older, backwards empires. Sikander North is a prince of Kashmir, vassal to the Commonwealth of Aquila, an interstellar power. He’s avoided a court martial for his actions defending the empire in the previous book, but is reassigned to a remote outpost of little import. Naturally, of course, that puts him on the front lines of a brewing alien revolt, and putting a stop to it will require him to break all the rules and defy orders once again. This is military science fiction adventure in the classic mold.

Cold Iron, by Miles Cameron
Under a variety of pen names, Cameron has written extensively in historical fiction and epic fantasy, including, most recently, the expansive Traitor Son Cycle. He credits the remarkable levels of verisimilitude he’s able to bring to these stories to his military service, his training as a historian, and his enthusiasm for historical reenactments, which force him to learn how to recreate the past and give him insight into how people interacted, dressed, and lived in ancient times. His new series, Masters & Mages, kicks off with Cold Iron, telling the story of a talented young mage named Arnathur, who finds himself compelled to train under a legendary sword master after revealing his surprising skill with a blade and begins questioning that path even as he’s drawn into the intrigue surrounding a growing revolt. Cameron brings an intimate knowledge of history and warfare to a remarkably complex, real-feeling work of epic fantasy.

Roar of Sky, by Beth Cato
With the Breath of Earth series, set in an alternate San Francisco that’s part of a Japan-USA super empire known as the United Pacific, and taking place before, during, and after the great earthquake of 1906, Cato has created a genre unto itself—one combining elements of historical fiction, alternate history, steampunk, and urban fantasy. In this concluding volume, a weakened but defiant geomancer named Ingrid Carmichael (whose father was discovered to have magically caused the earthquake in the first place) flees to Hawaii to seek out her roots and evade the insane grasp of Ambassador Blum, who wants to use her power to further her own nefarious ends. Cato’s historically grounded worldbuilding and fierce protagonist have made this series a highlight of the past three years; we’re sorry to see this series reach its ending—but what a climactic ending it is.

The Silver Scar, by Betsy Dornbusch
The author of the Seven Eyes series returns with a satisfying standalone volume that takes place in a post-apocalyptic future America that looks a lot like the setting for an medieval epic fantasy, riven by religious divisions and competition for scarce resources. Trinidad is the child of Wiccans who martyred themselves for their beliefs; he has devoted his life to the Christian parish in what was once Boulder, Colorado. A powerful bishop arrives bearing a scar she claims was given to her by an angel, but Trinidad recognizes its true origin: a graveyard he learned of as a child, which has the power to heal. The only other person who knows about the graveyard is Trinidad’s childhood friend Castile, who has fallen in with terrorists; they kidnap Trinidad, believing he told the bishop about the graveyard. Reunited under the worst of circumstances, the one-time friends must brave a hostile journey and dangerous enemies as they journey to confront the bishop—and Trinidad does whatever he has can quell a brewing religious war.

The Son of Black Thursday, by Alejandro Jodorowsky
Sci-fi fans might best know Jodorowsky as the man who utterly failed to get a 14-hour film version of Dune into production, but his career encompasses much more than that legendary debacle. He’s also written for comics and penned novels, and now, publisher Restless Books is translating some of his fantasy-autobiographical books into English for the first time. The Son of Black Thursday tells the story of Jodorowsky’s family’s move from Ukraine to Chile, and his early life there—but adds into the mix a healthy dose of surrealism and the sort of sci-fi flourishes that have always characterized his work. It’s not so much a memoir as a science fiction version of Jodorowsky’s epic life.

Thin Air, by Richard K. Morgan
Earlier this year, a whole new audience was introduced to Morgan’s work via the Netflix adaptation of hs debut, Altered Carbon, meaning the timing is perfect for this new story from the English writer. Thin Air is more of what Morgan does best: dark, gritty sci-fi noir. In the future, Mars has become a battleground for ruthless forces back on Earth, even as a native independence movement gains steam among the red planet’s permanent residents. Hakan Veil is a professional enforcer with body tech that makes him deadly, but he’s tired of being the heavy on Mars, and just wants to back to a planet with a breathable atmosphere. In classic noir tradition, he gets his chance via one last mission: protecting a visiting investigator for the Earth Oversight organization. The ensuing events threaten not just the balance of power on Mars, but the lives of Veil and his client; as Morgan’s regular readers will expect, things are going to get bloody fast.

Astounding, by Alec Nevala-Lee
Harvard-grad Lee has published three novels and several short stories, earning a reputation as one of the smartest young SFF writers out there. His first non-fiction work focuses on the Golden Age of Science Fiction, a period roughly between 1935 and 1950, when John W. Campbell and Astounding Science Fiction seemed to single-handedly define—and regularly redefine—the genre, with the able assistance of three of the era’s most important writers: Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard (yes, that L. Ron Hubbard). In this history-cum-narrative, Lee examines what made Campbell and his writers so important, and doesn’t flinch away from these icons’ later wanderings into the fringe. The end result is a welcome analysis of one of the most significant periods in science fiction’s history, explored by a talented writer with a clear love for the genre.

Red Moon, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Robinson leaves the waterlogged Big Apple of New York 2140 to explore humanity’s future off-planet in Red Moon, as a political conspiracy unfolds on Earth’s satellite in a novel that harkens back to his landmark Mars trilogy. In the near future, the moon has been colonized by both the United States and China. The uneasy peace between the two countries is threatened when American Fred Fredericks is somehow involved in the poisoning of Governor Chang of the Chinese colony. Fredericks finds himself fighting for his life as he and an illegally pregnant Chinese woman named Qi race to return to Earth. As always, Robinson employs careful research and exacting worldbuilding as he traces current events into an entirely plausible future—it’s a novel that considers, among many other things, what role blockchain might play in our lunar colonial future.

A Conspiracy of Truths, by Alexandra Rowland
Rowland’s major debut (she self-published the novel In the End in 2012) is a story about stories. Chant, a member of an order of wandering storytellers, finds himself arrested on baffling charges of espionage in the realm of Nuryevet, a country run by five elected rulers. A Conspiracy of Truths has a bifurcated tone: half-comic in the exaggerated grandiloquence of Chant’s stories and self-regard, and maybe more than half-tragic in the events that inevitably unfold. Our narrator knows the power of stories, and his weaving of them from the depths of his incarceration ends up being the seismic event that shakes the very foundations of Nuryevet.

Dungeons & Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History (B&N Exclusive Edition), by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, and Sam Witwer
Experienced players of the world’s most popular tabletop game, don’t miss this one: this official history is a deep dive into the visual development of Dungeons & Dragons, with more than 700 pieces of artwork drawn from all five editions, plus various supplements and side modules; licensed magazines; advertising and merchandise; and a whole lot more. The publisher bills it as “the most comprehensive collection of D&D imagery ever assembled,” and we’re inclined to agree: this thing is a beast. And the exclusive B&N edition includes even more to love, like a variant cover and six fold-out pages featuring additional maps and illustrations.

What’s new on your shelves this week?

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Reassessing 6 Works from an Astounding Era of Science Fiction

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Alec Nevala-Lee’s new book Astounding is a fascinating, essential history of the “Golden Age of Science Fiction” from the point of view of John W. Campbell, writer and, for decades, the editor of Astounding Science Fiction Magazine (read our full review here).

During his tenure as an editor, Campbell discovered and nurtured a group of writers who would go on to stand with the biggest names in the genre’s history. Men (and they were almost always men) like Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard were among Campbell’s inner circle. None of the works produced during the Campbell era were produced in a vacuum, but were created with at least some degree of collaboration with the legendary editor whose vision of the future, for better and worse, shapes our view of science fiction to this day.

Here are six key works that represent the Campbell era’s lasting influence on the genre.

Foundation, by Isaac Asimov
The title is apt, given the sheer volume of later work inspired by Asimov’s lynchpin series, the one-time Hugo winner for the best sci-fi series ever. Ultimately composed of seven novels published over more than fifty years, the saga began as a series of eight short stories and novellas published in Astounding beginning in 1942 (this structure remains in the books as we know them, with sections with distinct beginnings and endings that tie into an overall story, much like a serialized TV drama). Foundation tells the story of the titular future organization, established to preserve the best aspects of civilization following an inevitable collapse. Though the work is distinctly Asimov’s, it’s origins were decidedly collaborative, reflecting a time when John W. Campbell saw Isaac not as the science fiction superstar he became, but as a gifted student to be molded. The two collaborated on breaking out the initial story, but Campbell’s influence is most keenly felt in the idea of “psychohistory.” In the galaxy of Foundation, large-scale human behavior is predictable to a scientific certainty, even as the behavior of individuals remains subject to chance and whim. It ties into Campbell’s ideas about psychology and the perfectibility of the human mind—ideas that ultimately led him to work with L. Ron Hubbard.

Who Goes There?, by John W. Campbell
The “base under siege” mode of sci-fi storytelling has a long history, but few have done it better than Campbell did in this 1940 novella about a team of researchers in the Antarctic who accidentally thaw the alien pilot of a spacecraft that crashed into the ice many millions of years ago. The isolated crew is soon hunted by a shapeshifting “Thing” that can mimic the appearance of anyone on the team. If that all sounds familiar, it’s because the story was loosely adapted by Howard Hawks and company for the 1951 The Thing from Another World, and then later by John Carpenter in the surprisingly more faithful The Thing (and later still in the 2011 prequel). Campbell mostly gave up solo writing after taking over Astounding, but this story remains an influential standout among his limited output, perhaps suggested by his childhood dislike of his mother’s cold and distant twin sister.

“If This Goes On—”, by Robert Heinlein
Described by Astounding chronicler Nevala-Lee as Heinlein’s first great story, “If This Goes On—” is early Heinlein, a work that brings together a great many of the themes and ideas he’d continue to explore over the balance of his life, and evidences what became a customary fearlessness in his willingness to explore issues of politics and religion. Here, America is under the rule of Christian theocrats (the last free and open elections having occurred in 2012—make of that what you will) under President/Prophet Nehemiah Scudder. A devout army officer begins to question the arrangement when he witnesses the impact of sexual servitude on the women in the Prophet’s orbit. First serialized in Astounding in 1940, it announced Heinlein as a rising star and laid out a lot of the details for works in his interrelated “Future History” stories. It was collected as part of Revolt in 2100, a collection of Future History tales.

Final Blackout, by L. Ron Hubbard
Hubbard contributed work to several of the golden age pulps, writing across several genres. Though he’s best known today for science fiction tales like the Mission: Earth series and Battlefield Earth (well, maybe not best known) it wasn’t his primary focus in the era during which he was a part of John W. Campbell’s stable of writers. Still, he was generally seen as a reliable storyteller, and a purveyor of the type of action and fun that pulp readers frequently demanded. Final Blackout stands out among his work for its richly detailed portrait of a dystopian future in which the planet has been blighted by three decades of war. Into this world comes the Lieutenant, a statesman and leader who can help to put things right. It dovetails nicely with Campbell’s longstanding interest in the idea of humanity perfected: both Hubbard and the editor liked stories in which a noble, strong, smart, and virtuous man saves the future. That lofty vision was a direct influence on the development of Scientology, which both Hubbard and, initially, Campbell saw as a means of advancing the species one mind at a time.

Slan, by A.E. van Vogt
Though a relatively minor figure in Nevala-Lee’s book, van Vogt looms large in the history of science fiction. Though controversial for his style and politics (frequently relating to now-obscure debates over General Semantics and non-Aristotelian logic), his volume of output, if nothing else, ensures his place in the canon. Slan was serialized in Astounding in 1940, and represented something of a coup for Campbell: he’d promised readers that he’d introduce several new and talented voices, and van Vogt proved to be a get. The novel’s Slans are psychic, super-intelligent, highly evolved humans who find themselves hunted and feared by less-evolved world leaders. Its themes were wildly influential (cough X-Men cough), and the book became an early rally-point for fandom, as “Fans are slans!” became a slogan among those who felt that sci-fi readers were superior minds harassed by lesser intelligences. It’s unclear if any bullies were put off by the slogan. (But probably they were not.)

Nova, by Samuel R. Delany
Here is a novel significant in the history of sci-fi magazine publishing for having been rejected, despite the author having recently won a Hugo Award for Best Novel, because Campbell didn’t think his readers would relate to a story with a black protagonist. As Campbell grew older, his darker impulses came to the fore, and his ideas about human perfectibility became increasingly exclusionary. Though Astounding (which had, by then, been renamed Analog Science Fiction and Fact) had published works by women (C.L. Moore, Anne McCaffrey, and Leigh Brackett, among others), Campbell never seemed to consider their work particularly important, and writers of color were almost entirely left out, a fact that grew increasingly difficult to justify in the civil rights era and beyond. Black and queer writer Samuel R. Delany was one of the voices willing and entirely able to move the genre forward, and his Nova represents a moment, perhaps, when Campbell could have bridged the gap between his glorious—but very white—golden age and a more expansive future. But he said no, praising Delany’s skill while dismissing the potential of people of color to create transcendent SF. Though less experimental than Delany’s later output, this wildly entertaining space opera anticipated cyberpunk trends while paying tribute to earlier works; its ultimate publication as a novel remains a pivotal moment.

Alec Nevala-Lee’s Astounding is available now.

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