9 Modern SFF Rock Mythologies to Read at Max Volume

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Rock music has its own mythology. Whether it’s the true-crime theatrics of the European black metal scene, the wild lives and untimely deaths of generations’ worth of rock legends, or even the way an innovative artist can launch a whole new genre scene, rock is full of stories that start out strange and only get stranger. It only makes sense that fantasy and horror books that treat in the mythology of rock mythologies get stranger, too. There’s a eclectic mix of weird fiction about music out there, and this setlist of 9 books will get you started.

Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You, by Scotto Moore
It begins with an odd Bandcamp page that sends the narrator spiraling out of control, compulsively listening and relistening to a song called “Overture” by an unheralded band known as Beautiful Remorse. Contacted by the band, the blogger is chosen to be their “herald,” helping them to release one new track every day for 10 days. In a compact 100 pages, Moore charts the blogger’s attempts to figure out just who is behind the mysterious musical project, research that quickly ramps up from “curiousity” to “fanaticism” as each track seems to elicit stronger and stronger reactions from listeners—trancelike states, violent outbursts, self-harm, the opening of portals to a hell dimension, the usual. It’s been said that writing about sound in a soundless medium is difficult (one famous comedian likened it to “dancing about architecture”), but by focusing on the effects—both psychological and physical—of Beautiful Remorse’s strange music, Moore reproduces it almost clearly enough to hear. Everyone knows the joy of discovering a new favorite song and feeling the entire world open up just a little bit across those three to five glorious minutes. Just substitute joy with “dawning horror” and that’s this novella in a liner note.

We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix
Hendrix’s (HorrorstorMy Best Friend’s Exorcism) third horror novel begins with its main character, Kris, pushing herself as she works out the chords to “Iron Man,”  then lurches forward in time to the aftermath of her dreams of rock and roll stardom, post the breakup of her Dürt Wurk, which ended with her friend Terry’s betrayal by way of a literal deal with the devil. Hendrix intercuts each chapter with quotes from interviews and radio broadcasts that weave the history of the fictional band into the greater cultural framework of music history. Hendrix’s story of revenge, dark powers, and heavy metal is grounded in the music, from the way the former Dürt Würk members communicate using song lyrics, to Kris’s reawakening as she pushes herself to play a Slayer song before embarking on her quest, to even the importance the plot places on a concept album Kris and her friends recorded. We Sold Our Souls is a twisted, compulsively readable horror novel about the transcendent powers of rock—both light and dark.

Welcome To The Showcompiled by Matt Hayward
The Shantyman is a historic venue in San Francisco, a place that’s played host to the best and worst of humanity as well as some of the best and worst moments in rock history. In the hands of Matt Hayward and his talented collaborators, these includes a revenge curse from press-ganged victims of cannibalism, a psychedelic rock show that results in occult experiences, cursed soundtracks, literally satanic rock ‘n’ roll, human sacrifices, and all the other dangers of rock music those parental groups warned you about. Together, these stories use the music and the culture that grows up around it to create the soul of the Shantyman, a dark, twisted thing that shines through every tale; the place might change from act to act, but remains ever itself, inviting fans to enter and find ruin within, even as it tantalizes them with bright lights and awesome tunes. Standout Stories: “A Tongue Like Fire” by Rachel Autumn Deering, “In the Winter of No Love” by John Skipp

The Unnoticeables, by Robert Brockway
While Brockway’s novel splits its time between the gritty streets of 1977 New York and the parties and mansions of modern-day Los Angeles, a lot of the flavor and energy comes from ’70s-era clashes between Carey and his punk friends and a variety of terrifying monsters straight out of cosmic horror. Brockway works the era, music, and gritty feel into the book’s narrative—the heroes at first attribute the weird disappearances of their friends to the tune-in, drop-out culture of the time. Later, horrors unfold in a crowded rock club, and Carey beats up monsters with a mic stand. While the LA sections have their own distinct feel, it’s equally interesting to see Carey decades later, as a faded relic of that gritty era, a broke and broken remnant of a hard-rock past unsuccessfully trying to exist in the present, fighting the same evil alongside a new generation. Altogether, it amounts to a novel as propulsive, edgy, and hard-rocking as the music and culture at its heart.

The Fiveby Robert McCammon
On what appears to be their last tour, a rock band named The Five are slowly making their way through the Southwest with their manager when a deranged military veteran begins picking them off one by one, seemingly due to a comment the band made about the Iraq War. Once the killing begins, the FBI takes an interest, using the gigs as an excuse to draw the sniper out while possibly putting the band at risk. The media swoops in after the sniper takes out one of The Five, complicating matters further—but lurking beneath everything is a thread of the supernatural, suggesting that The Five share a grand destiny, and that there are powerful forces out there willing to corrupt and murder too keep them from fulfilling it. While McCammon builds tension from the word “go,” what’s just as interesting as the cat-and-mouse theatrics of the plot is the way he packs in so much odd detail about the life of a road musician—from the way the characters live out of their tour bus to the inspiration for new songs they find along the way.

Little Heroes, by Norman Spinrad
Glorianna O’Toole, a burnt-out former hippie known as “The Crazy Old Lady of Rock’n’Roll” is hired (okay, more like blackmailed) by Muzik Inc. to make them a new rock star with more of the old spirit and edge. With the aid of two young computer programmers and a weird hallucinogenic technology, Glorianna creates the perfect rock star to boost the fortunes of Muzik, Inc.—but as their new singer is adopted by an underground movement and personal tensions flare between the programmers, a war breaks out between artificial rockstars and corporations over the fate of reality itself. It’s a cyberpunk epic about the power and anti-authoritarian nature of rock, with Spinrad’s chaotic sense of humor and occasional insane flourishes (hallucinogenic software, an underground movement called the “Reality Liberation Front”) elevating it from being just another fable about the power of music.

Wylding Hallby Elizabeth Hand
In a house in the English countryside named Wylding Hall, a psychedelic folk outfit named Windhollow Faire records what will become their magnum opus, the titular album Wylding Hall.  In the process, their lead singer mysteriously disappears and is never heard from again. Decades later, a documentary attempts to piece together just what happened during those fateful recording sessions, revealing the twisted story behind a landmark album. The book tells its story in a manner similar to musical oral histories, with the different band members’ interviews woven together into a narrative of gothic horror and musical history. Hand has a clear love of music, and seems well-versed in both rock history and a certain, very English strain of horror; the result is a chilling reimagining of an acid-soaked musical era and an excellent riff on the mythologies behind classic albums.

War for the Oaks, by Emma Bull
One of the first modern-era works of dark urban fantasy, Bull’s novel follows Eddi, a struggling rock musician in Minneapolis, after she quits her band and breaks up with her boyfriend following a disastrous final set. Approached by an odd stranger who reveals himself as a shapeshifting phouka, Eddi finds herself swept up into a war between light and dark faerie, neither side exactly sociable to humans—even the ones they need to use as tools. As Eddi tries to juggle her mortal life (getting a new band together, dealing with her breakup, nosy landladies) and her duties as a kind of balance of power between immortal factions, things heat up, and she soon finds herself hunted by the Unseelie Queen of Air and Darkness. The disparate plotlines merge in an explosive rock duel with the fae queen. Bull, a real-life musician (she once belonged to a folk group made up of fantasy authors that called themselves Cats Laughing) blends the mythology of rock music, a deep love for her home city of Minneapolis, and elements of mythic fantasy into a dark but humorous, highly suspenseful read.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
Taking its cues from the glamour of Eurovision and the truly transformative power of pop music, Valente (no stranger to weird and wonderful premises) ramps up the conflict to intergalactic levels. After a brutal series of first contacts-gone-wrong known as the Sentience Wars rip the universe asunder, the various sapient species get together for a pop music contest called the Megagalactic Grand Prix. Rather than risk more interstellar strife, they agree to establish the rules of galactic governance as follows: all newly spacefaring (or just about) species are forced to choose a musical champion to compete in the Grand Prix, and if they come in last, their entire species is atomized. The book manages to match pop music’s air of the bubbly and absurd while keeping the subject matter deadly serious, presenting a story of getting the band back together and fighting for your art and your species, but overloading it with 11-foot-tall lobster creatures, flaming disco balls of armageddon, and a surprising number of Enrico Fermi jokes. It all holds together surprisingly well, and has certainly won Valente a new legion of fans (not to mention a Hugo Award nomination).

What SFF books get your toes tapping and your head banging?

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Catherynne Valente Is Writing a Sequel to Space Opera. Yes, it Is Called Space Oddity

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Photo by Greyson Joralemon on Unsplash

It was the book so preposterous, so frenetic, so wild and word-drunk, that only Catherynne M. Valente could’ve written it: Space Opera, the life-affirming, Eurovision-inspired ode to every broken soul ever soothed by the power of a heartfelt ballad, a kicking drum solo, a sweet guitar lick. The unlikely story of a washed-up glam rocker abducted by aliens and forced to sing for the Earth’s supper (not to mention its right to continue existing in an “unexploded by aliens” form) in an intergalactic battle of the bands, it is now a Hugo Award nominee—and, even more improbably, the first book in a series.

Yes, there will be a sequel to Space Opera. And yes, of course it is going to be called Space Oddity.

There’s no cover yet, and no back cover blurb. All we know for sure is the release date: Spring 2021.

Luckily, we were also able to wrangle a few minutes with the freshly Hugo-nominated author to find out a little bit more…

Space Opera (or should we say Hugo Award-nominee Space Opera?) is both a delightful and deeply odd work of sci-fi, rooted in your singular obsession with Eurovision, but it’s also deeply thoughtful, with a lot to say about how far humans are willing to go to push others away, and how profound is our need to connect. And, impossibly, readers fell for it in a big way. How did it feel to see people embrace such a deeply personal project?
It was such an amazing experience, seeing people respond to Space Opera. Reviews are reviews, and some will be positive and some will be negative, but the overwhelming love readers showed this book knocked me for a whole loop. It’s so very different than my other books, and of course I was worried about all the press comparing me to Douglas Adams backfiring in a big way. And to be quite frank, when you pour so much of your heart into a book, and your heart happens to be full of dumb puns and glitter and politics and more glitter, you just tend to worry about how people are going to handle your heart.

I’ve been flabbergasted. I never expected readers to embrace it like this. I’m not sure anyone did. I spent the first few weeks just slowly realizing that I’d done something okay. And when I started seeing handmade fan t-shirts and “Life is beautiful and life is stupid” signs waved by fans at Eurovision itself less than a month later (yeah, that happened), it finally started to sink in that Space Opera really meant something to a lot of people other than just dumb-pun-and-glitter me. Some of the things that have been said to me about this novel, by fans and by critics, have literally brought tears to my eyes. It was a hard book to write and I worked so hard on it, so to have it really grokked is breathtaking. It’s what you always hope for and rarely get.

But there’s something so terribly Space Opera about that. This underdog book that appeared out of nowhere with a cover like some lost ’80s concept album art became a hit against all odds. Decibel Jones would say of course that’s how it was, how could it have gone any other way?

The first book is loaded with Eurovision in-jokes, quirky cameos (Clippy!) and hidden references. Are there any Easter eggs readers have yet to discover? Which one is your favorite?
I’ve made no secret that the aliens, as well as their planet names and personal names, are all words taken from the languages of Eurovision-participating countries. Which is one of the best decisions I ever made—and I made it on a whim on day one. My office was covered in papers with lists of words I liked in forty different languages, and slowly, over the course of weeks, they went from being lists of random words to lists of my weird space-friends, familiar and beloved.

But I don’t think anyone has noticed the English one. Obviously, England is one of the big five Eurovision countries who contribute so much money to the thing that they’re guaranteed a final slot every year, so out of all the alien names, surely one is in bloody English.

It’s the Esca. An esca is the proper anatomical word for that little light-up probosicis thing that arcs over the head of an anglerfish. I thought that was rather neat.

So, we’re burying the lede here: You’re writing a sequel! When you wrote Space Opera, did you already know there could be a followup?
By the end, yes, absolutely. I wanted to write more in this universe. I love my alien species so much, and my bright broken rock stars, and I love writing in this style. The minute a time-traveling red panda wondered whether Decibel Jones would be interested in being a starship captain, the next book started waving cheekily from the corners of my mind. I’ve always loved the way Pratchett and Adams pulled off having many books in the same universe without having them be completely dependent on the other stories in the series. We’ll see how good I am at that, I suppose.

Besides, you always have to get the band back together for one more show.

What can readers expect from book two? Where do you go in the wake of an intergalactic singing competition?
These are the voyages of the Starship Glam. The further adventures of Dess and Mira and Oort, and introducing Marvin the half-human, half-Esca ingenue on drums. Earth is safe, for the moment, and taking its first steps into the greater galactic community—you know that won’t go well. Another Grand Prix is always right around the corner. And of course, other possibly-sentient species can emerge at any time…

It seems impossible for the book to be called anything other than Space Oddity. In fact, it’s so good, it practically justifies the book on its own. Were there ever any other contenders for the title?
Not a one.

Now, if there’s a third, I’m not sure where I’ll dig up another half as good as the first two, so I try not to think about that.

Does book two have a big hook akin to the singing competition?
Star Trek meets Live Aid! (Original Series, obviously.)

I can say that we’ll see the Metagalactic Grand Prix again, but from a very different perspective.

Can you sum up Space Oddity in a single Eurovision video? (Or song?)
How did no one ask me this for the first book???

If Space Opera was the literary equivalent of “Love Love Peace Peace,” the fantastic parody/tribute to all of Eurovision from the judging interval in 2015…

then Space Oddity is “Rise Like a Phoenix,” Austria 2014:

With a little bit of Dustin the Turkey thrown in.

Space Oddity will be published in 2021, but you can read Space Opera on repeat until then.

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Tomorrow’s Possible History Unfolds in A People’s Future of the United States

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

As anthologies go, A People’s Future of the United States packs a lot of literary power into its pages. It features 25 stories by some of the most acclaimed working writers of speculative fiction—award-winning bestsellers like N.K. Jemisin, Daniel José Older, Charlie Jane Anders, Tobias S. Buckell, Catherynne M. Valente, and Seanan McGuire. he behind the scenes talent is equally peerless: editing duties are credited to Victor LaValle (author of The Ballad of Black Tom and The Changeling) and John Joseph Adams (the mind behind the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy anthology series, as well the periodicals Nightmare and Lightspeed).

The authors were asked to contribute stories that “explore new forms of freedom, love, and justice” and “give us new futures to believe in.” (Said stories were also requested to be, and again I quote, “badass.”)

I am here to tell you that A People’s Future of the United States delivers on all counts, serving up a wide and varied selection of stories that are sometimes hopeful, occasionally cautionary, and often flat-out terrifying.

Like everything else, speculative fiction is shaped by the world and politics of its time. This anthology wears those influence like a badge of honor, treating in stories that deal with the social and political issues and tangible threats that define the present day: racism, climate change, government oppression, fake news, anti-science antagonism, efforts to curtail LGBTQ rights, and the everlasting war over a woman’s right to control her own body.

If all of that sounds a bit on the nose, politically, you’re absolutely right. But the stories in this collection can’t be brushed off as angry screeds or simplistic manifestos. These are what-if? tales filled with provocative ideas and complex characters, and each one burns with both purpose and imagination.

As much as this is an anthology about the future, the fictions here often feel disconcertingly close to our present. In G. Willow Wilson’s “ROME,” a group of students desperately try to finish their mandated language exams in a Seattle threatened by heat and wildfires. In A. Merc Rustad’s “Our Aim Is Not to Die,” constant government surveillance through our communication devices has become a tool of oppression, tailored to identify and punish those who are non-neurotypical or queer, or who otherwise deviate from the mandated “norm.” And in Violet Allen’s chilling “The Synapse Will Free Us From Ourselves,” virtual reality and the erasure of memories are tools used to “cure” those with “undesirable” sexual identities.

Similarly, considering the headlines darkening our everyday, the detention camps for Muslims described in Omar El Akkad’s story “Riverbed” and Justina Ireland’s vision of a society where contraceptives and abortion have been outlawed in the story “Calendar Girls” seem frighteningly possible.

True to its stated purpose, the anthology also offers hope—in each story, we encounter people who resist the corrupt powers that be in any way they can. In Lesley Nneka Arimah’s “The Referendum,” an underground Black Resistance strikes back against an America where the Civil Rights Act has been overturned and the country is voting on whether to reinstate slavery. The kickass mother-daughter team of Lottie and Nayima, featured in Tananrive Due’s “Attachment Disorder,” fight tooth and nail to hold on to whatever shreds of freedom they have attained. A scientist does her utmost to prevent her bio-engineering research from being used by the government in Daniel José Older’s “What Maya Found There.” And there’s the quieter resistance of Molly, who runs a bookstore that straddles the border between California and America—two separate government teetering on the edge of war—in Charlie Jane Anders’s “The Bookstore at the End of America.”

While most of these tales lean toward science fiction, fantasy and magic also come into play. In Maria Dahvana Headley’s profoundly moving and unsettling “Read After Burning,” the power of stories—of words written in ink on skin—literally fuels the resistance. In Lizz Huerta’s “The Wall,” ancient powers have awakened south of the new border-wall between Mexico and the US, and those fighting oppression wield both old magic and new technology.

There are stories imbued with a wicked sense of humor. In N.K. Jemisin’s “Give Me Cornbread or Give Me Death,” dragons, developed as a weapon by the government, are brought over to the side of the rebels, who offer them something tastier than human flesh to eat. In Catherynne M. Valente’s fabulous “The Sun in Exile,” a brutal and deluded ruler puts the sun itself on trial for its crimes. And in the time-looping “Now Wait for This Week,” Alice Sola Kim brilliantly, hilariously captures the intricacies of friendship and the despair of being caught out in a world where sexual harassment and assault trade off in a seemingly never-ending cycle.

There are no easily attainable Utopias on offer in A People’s Future of the United States, but we catch tantalizing glimpses of possible better tomorrows. The clearest example might be in Seanan McGuire’s “Harmony,” in which a gay couple unexpectedly stumbles upon a place where they believe they can build a better future for themselves and others. It’s a lovely, sharp-edged consideration of a new kind of American dream, and it glows with a sense of cautious, creative optimism.

The anthology’s title hearkens back to the A People’s History of the United States, a non-fiction tome written by the late Howard Zinn and first published in 1980. In that book, Zinn offers a rebuttal to the widely accepted version of American history—to what he called the “fundamental nationalist glorification of country.” That same spirit is very much present in the stories collected here, which focus on the struggles and triumphs of everyday people, the dispossessed and the oppressed, as they find ways to undermine the system and fight for a better world.

A People’s Future of the United States is a memorable and thought-provoking. Its writers paint vivid, often frightening visions of the futures we might be hurtling toward, and give us hope that the worst of them can be resisted, or at the very least, survived. To quote Maria Dahvana Headley’s “Read After Burning”: “This story is the prayer, or one of them. This story says you can live through anything and that when it is time to go, when the entire world goes dark, then you go together, holding on to one another’s hands, and you whisper the memory of birds and bees and the names of those you loved.”

A People’s Future of the United States is available now.

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This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Fox Tales, Sinister Doubles, and Mind-Altered Ex-Criminals

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Rewrite: Loops in the Timescape, by Gregory Benford
Nearly 40 years after the publication of his Nebula Award-winning time travel novel Timescape, veteran author Gregory Benford (who is also a winner of two Hugo Awards and a John W. Campbell Award, and is also a professor of physics and a noted academic) has penned a new book in the spirit of that landmark temporal adventure. In 2002, a history professor named Charlie is dealing with mid-life despair when he’s involved in a terrible car accident. He wakes up in 1968, in his own 16-year old body, and discovers he has somehow traveled back in time and been given the chance to do everything over again. Charlie does what anyone would—he uses what he knows about future history to game the system, and becomes a huge success in the world of motion pictures. When he dies again, he finds himself back in 1968—and realizes he’s not the only “reincarnate” living on a loop and able to change history. Charlie realizes his purpose isn’t to perfect his own life, but to alter the history of 1968 in a very specific way—and someone he knows is working against him to make sure he doesn’t succeed. A tense game of temporal chess breaks out as Charlie seeks to fulfill his ultimate destiny.

The Subjugate, by Amanda Bridgeman
Bridgeman made a splash in her native Australia with the Aurealis Award-nominated Aurora space opera series, and caught the eye of Angry Robot Books, which is releasing her newest novel worldwide. With a premise that mixes procedural tropes with plausible near-future tech, The Subjugate certainly seems poised to introduce a host of new readers to the prolific author. A series of brutal murders bring a pair of troubled detectives to a community dominated by The Children of Christ and served by Subjugates—violent criminals who have had their minds “edited” to transform them into calm, peaceful servants. The detectives’ own dark pasts travels with them into the tight-knit religious community, where they discover no shortage of repressed violence and potential motives for the killings in a town populated by supposedly reformed violent criminals.

Someone Like Me, by M.R. Carey
Mike “M.R.” Carey, comic book writer extraordinaire (X-Men and The Fantastic Four) and, under a pseudonym, the author of the smash hit The Girl with All the Gifts, delivers a twisty story that straddles the line between SFF and thriller. Liz Kendall is a divorced mother of two who knows she has a mysterious dark side—one so forceful, it’s almost a separate identity, ruthless and violent. One evening she is attacked by her ex-husband, and that other intelligence takes over her body and fights him off, allowing her to escape. Another woman, Fern Watts, has been on serious medication her whole life to combat hallucinations—and even so, she’s accompanied everywhere by her friend Jinx, an imaginary fox. One day Fern, goes to her psychiatrist’s office and encounters Liz—and is pretty certain Liz is her.

A Black Fox Running, by Brian Carter
This evocative fantasy novel, originally published in the UK in 1981 and out of print for years, is a story of animals caught up in the eternal conflict between man and nature that should sit proudly beside Watership Down. In the English countryside in 1946, Wulfgar is a fox, the leader of a pack long-hunted by a determined Trapper named Scoble and his murderous hunting dog, known as The Lurcher. The story is straightforward on the surface, following the trials and travails of Wulfgar and his pack as they attempt to survive a brutal winter and outwit those hunting them, made richly resonant—almost mythical—in the telling, with multiple chapters from the almost alien points-of-view of diffrent animals. A lost classic worth rediscovering.

An Agent of Utopia, by Andy Duncan
Andy Duncan is a writer’s SFF writer—his short fiction has earned him a Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Award, and three World Fantasy Awards and won him endless praise from genre giants like Gardner Dozois, Nancy Kress, Michael Swanwick, and Jonathan Strahan. Now, Small Beer press has assembled his most noteworthy stories—along with two new tales—into a wildly varied and consistently brilliant collection drawing from tall tales and legends of old, and featuring a Utopian assassin, an aging UFO contactee, a haunted Mohawk steelworker, a yam-eating zombie, Harry Houdini, Thomas Moore, and more.

Breach, by W.L. Goodwater
Stories mixing magic into the politics of the Cold War era have become something of a rend as of late, and W.L. Goodwater’s debut is a worthy addition to the subgenre. Karen O’Neil is a scientist and a magician who, despite a prejudice against the supernatural, eagerly volunteers when the State Department seeks her help investigating a breach in the Berlin Wall, which, in this alternate reality, is an arcane barrier that not a city but the entire world. As Karen hunts down the truth behind the wall’s construction and attempts to uncover its true purpose, she faces a wealth of opposition, both from run of the mill political maneuvering and spies, saboteurs, and maybe even magic itself working against her from the shadows.

Terminus, by Tristan Palmgren 
Tristan Palmgren wowed us earlier this year with his debut novel, Quietus, which told the story of a transdimensional anthropologist sent to our Earth’s middle ages to observe the Black Death, who meddled with the true course of history by saving a doomed man. The sequel finds that traveler’s transdimensional empire in collapse, with the planarship Ways and Means hiding in the middle ages after ending the plague and various agents of the old order scattered across our world like fallen embers, each pursuing their own agenda. As Ways and Means and its agent Osia continue to meddle in the past, the ripples of changed history become more and more prominent, and an Italian soldier named Fiametta raises an army in revolt against the powers that be that threatens to change everything.

Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence, by Michael Marshall Smith
This odd, lyrical all-ages fantasy story centers on a young girl named Hannah, sent to live with her grandfather in the hopes of saving her from the stress of  her parents’ divorce. But life with grandad turns out to be anything but peaceful, and the man happens to be in cahoots with the devil, and he’s constantly dragging her off on adventures into the countryside, where there are talking mushrooms and the devil might not actually be the bad guy you’d imagine. Like the best fairy tales, it is on one level a grand adventure—told through Hannah’s young, innocent point of view—and on another, a deeply resonant story of human frailties and finding redemption.

The Arrival of Missives, by Aliya Whiteley
Whiteley, twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, is best known for her short fiction, including the two novellas published in the single volume The Beauty in early 2018. The Arrival of Missives (originally released in England in 2016) is her third novel, and its arrival in the States only serves to prove the British writer is just as skilled working in a longer form. In a future England recovering from a horrific world war, Shirley Fearn is a girl on the verge of adulthood. Educated far beyond the norm for women in her village, she is all scorn and pride, and completely unaware of how trapped she is by the sexism and traditions she scoffs at. When a handsome new teacher, injured and broken in the war, catches her eye, she indulges in romantic fantasies until the true nature of his injury—and what’s keeping him alive—is fully revealed.

They Promised Me The Gun Wasn’t Loaded, by James Alan Gardner (November 6, Tor Books—Paperback)
Hugo and Nebula nominee James Alan Gardner delivers a terrific sequel to last year’s hilarious superhero romp All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault. The story is set just days after four college kids led by a woman named Jools gained extra-normal abilities in a world where Darklings—basically, monsters—have suddenly appeared. Jools and her friends are still arguing over what their superhero group’s name should be when they’re tasked with tracking down a doomsday weapon developed by a insane genius—despite the fact that no one’s quite sure what the weapon does. When she meets a group of super-powered Robin Hoods, Joola joins in with the merriment, but soon finds herself questioning the morality of supers in a mundane world.

The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The fictional universe of The Lord of the Rings got a little bit larger this year, a lasting testament to the power and influence of Tolkien’s epic. But even longtime fans may not be aware of Tolkien’s other works of fiction, many of which eventually folded into aspects of Middle-earth history and mythology—especially because some of it has been out of print for decades. Originally written in 1930 and published in 1945, The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun is inspired by the Celtic myths and legends Tolkien was working on in his early career. This edition, edited by the author’s son Christopher, includes additional poems and supporting reference material that seeks to place it into context in the elder Tolkien’s career. Now available in paperback, this volume offers a glimpse into the real-world inspirations that Tolkien synthesized into the most famous epic fantasy of all time—the story of a childless lord who makes a tragic deal with a witch in order to secure an heir, and is then forced to make a terrible choice.

Mass Effect Andromeda: Annihilation, by Catherynne M. Valente
Award-winning author Catherynne M. Valente has already wowed us this year with a Space Opera; and now she’s back with another sci-fi adventure, this one a tie-in set in the universe of the Mass Effect video games. The ark ship Keelah Si’yah is headed for the distant Andromeda galaxy with 20,000 colonists onboard, drawn from many worlds and species. Three decades from their destination, a ship’s scan reveals that some of the hibernating passengers have been killed by a pathogen that is loose on the ship—and mutating, putting other species at risk as well. All signs point to an intentional attack, which means whoever is responsible is somewhere onboard. As cincumstances worsen and panic sets in—not all of it triggered by the hallucinogenic efffects of the illness—the crew must race to find the culprit—and a cure—of their colonization mission will be over before it begins.

Static Ruin, by Corey J. White
In the final volume of Corey J. White’s dark space opera novella trilogy, renegade voidwitch Mars Xi decides that the only way to stop them from chasing you is to go back to the beginning. Having killed her former trainer, devastating a space fleet chasing her, and destroying the planet where she was imprisoned, Xi and her few remaining allies—a mutant cat and a boy whose mind is an uncontrollable weapon—must hunt down her “father,” who engineered her to be a killer. The journey will take them to the edge of the universe, and there’s no telling if they’ll make it—or if there’s a chance of return. This is space opera with a wickedly sharp edge.

What are you reading this week?

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