The Five (or More) Deaths of the X-Men’s Dark Phoenix

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The X-Men’s Jean Grey (the one-time Marvel Girl) has been defined for decades by her many deaths and resurrections. She’s the Phoenix, after all—it’s right in the name.

One of Jean’s deaths in particular—the one that serves as the climax of the legendary Dark Phoenix Saga—has haunted the character, and superhero comics in general, for more than 40 years. As a bit of comic book storytelling, it’s stellar stuff, but its legacy is complicated by the fact that as a character, Jean’s been punished for her actions in that arc ever since (a chapter in Cathrynne M. Valente’s incendiary women-in-comics clapback The Refrigerator Monologues offers a darkly satirical take on this eternally punished woman).

The Dark Phoenix Saga has been adapted several times, including in the new film Dark Phoenix—which is actually the second go at adapting this particular story within the X-Men film franchise. Will Jean finally break the cycle of death and rebirth? The comics suggest that it won’t be easy: here are the most significant deaths of the Phoenix.

Art by Dave Cockrum

Solar Flare

The first death of Jean Grey is among the briefest: it lasts for about a page. In Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum’s X-Men #100, the team finds itself on a damaged space shuttle with pilot Peter Corbeau, with an incoming solar flare about to fry the lot of them. Dr. Corbeau is the only one who knows how to fly the thing, but, being a normal human, he’s also the most susceptible to the incoming solar radiation—outside of the shuttle’s shielded cell, he’ll die within seconds. Without hesitation, Jean uses her mental powers to absorb Corbeau’s knowledge and disables Scott (aka Cyclops, her sometimes boyfriend) so that there’ll be no one to stop her from sacrificing herself—the best she can hope for is to survive long enough to get the ship safely to Earth’s atmosphere. She does, just barely, before being consumed by the radiation.

Luckily, she’s reborn from the shuttle debris, dramatically rising from the water with a new superhero name, Phoenix, and, in an all-time great example of a beloved comics trope, a stunning new costume. (Being resurrected in a tired old outfit is so basic.)

Within a few issues, she’s called upon to put her newly expanded powers to the test: the M’Kraan crystal, an object of Infinity Gauntlet-level power, is fractured. With a little help from her friends, Jean/Phoenix is the only one able to make the crystal whole again and save the universe. Which she does—otherwise we wouldn’t be here to talk about it, obviously.

Best Adaptation: The ’90s-era kids’ cartoon X-Men: The Animated Series adapted the story in  a five(!)-episode run during its third season, doing a fairly thorough job of it. No other adaption has even tried, though the second X-Men movie (technically X2) sees Famke Janssen’s Jean giving her life to save the team from a flood before a Phoenix-ish shape is glimpsed cruising beneath the waters.

Art by John Byrne

Blown Up on the Moon

The death that came next was, at the time, one of the most dramatic moments ever in superhero comics. Chris Claremont had by then been joined by artist John Byrne and inker Terry Austin, and together, the team had built an impressive world around the X-characters, telling elaborately serialized stories through carefully choreographed character beats. Uncanny X-Men was a superhero soap opera of the first order, and what came to be known as The Dark Phoenix Saga benefitted from all that build-up—and especially from those well-established relationships.

As with the earlier Phoenix storyline, there’s a lot going on alongside the headline events. The power-hungry Hellfire Club is introduced, as are Kitty Pryde, Dazzler, and future team leader/telepath/sex therapist Emma Frost. It all swirls around Jean, who is attacked by mind-manipulator Jason Wyngarde of the Hellfire Club, who seeks to control her and the vast power at her command. He’s briefly successful, but waaaaay underestimates her resiliency. She’s fairly quickly able to shake off his control and then drives him mad with his own delusions. Where he has succeeded, though, is in unleashing the full power of the Phoenix. Imbued with new and nigh-godlike abilities, Jean is no longer able view her old teammates objectively. Or, rather, she views them with perfect objectivity: like all living creatures, they’re specks—tiny, temporary things unworthy of her consideration. The same goes for the distant civilization that she destroys when she sucks the juice out of their sun on a galactic sight-seeing trip.

The alien empire of the Shi’ar (lead by Queen Lilandra, Professor X’s sometime space girlfriend) very quickly decides that Jean has to be put down. Which… good luck. Fortunately for everyone but Jean, she ultimately has the presence of mind to blow herself up before the Shi’ar can destroy the entire solar system to get to her.

Best Adaptation: We’ve yet to see the new Dark Phoenix film, so we’re giving the film adaptation nod to the the animated series by default—which isn’t to say the four-part storyline isn’t a good take on the material. There’s also a prose novelization from Stuart Moore that does an excellent job of faithfully retelling and expanding on the classic tale.

Art by Jim Starlin

Snapped by Thanos

According to Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, there were plenty of discussions between the creators and editorial at the time of The Dark Phoenix Saga’s publication about the extent to which Jean could ever be forgiven for what is, essentially, the genocide of at least one world. The exact status of Jean’s relationship with the Phoenix powers has always been a little fuzzy: early on, it certainly seems as though all of the darkness came from within her. Later on, the power became something of an external force, to varying degrees. After four decades of shifting continuity, it’s hard to know exactly where Jean ends and the Phoenix begins.

But here’s a wrinkle: when she’s resurrected for the first time, she’s 100 percent not guilty, as we learn that the Phoenix Force created a copy of Jean way back in X-Men #101, and it was the copy who cut loose on the galaxy—the real Jean was actually chilling out in a cocoon the whole time. Problem solved!

Jean 1.0 joined up with her original teammates to form the spin-off X-Factor team. And she lived happily ever after… at least until Thanos showed up. On the big screen, the X-Men were spared the effects of the Infinity Gauntlet by complex rights issues—but they weren’t so lucky in the original comics. Jean was one of the many characters wiped away by Thanos, though, as in the movies, it wasn’t permanent.

Best Adaptation: Of Infinity Gauntlet? You’re kidding, right?

Art by Phil Jimenez

Stabbed by Wolverine/Electrocuted by Magneto

Since these two deaths are related, and occur within just one issue of each other, it’s fitting to lump them together. Jean was a main character during Grant Morrison’s redefining run on New X-Men from 2001 to 2004, a time when Magneto rose once again to embrace true villainy. He manipulates events around the team to get them out of the way during the final phase of his plan, leaving Jean and Wolverine trapped aboard a space station moving ever closer to the sun. After sharing several tender moments toward the end, and with no hope of rescue, Logan tearfully stabs Jean in order to end her suffering. (Thanks?) It’s all for the good, though, as her death releases the Phoenix power within her, saving them both.

The two return to New York, where a wild-eyed, vengeful Magneto is wreaking havoc. She stops him, but not before he directs all of his accumulated power into Jean/Phoenix, causing her to suffer a lethal stroke.

Best Adaptation: It might not be the best X-Men movie, but X-Men: The Last Stand‘s take on the Dark Phoenix saga blends in several elements from the Grant Morrison run. In particular, Jean’s death in the movie is slightly more in line with how she goes out in Morrison’s version. (Please direct all of your angry comments resulting from this scant praise of Brett Ratner’s woeful X-film to my email spam filter.)

Art by Marc Silvestri

Erased Her Own Timeline

Grant Morrison gave Jean two deaths in quick succession, but there was one more on the horizon: immediately following the stroke that killed her in New York, we jump forward 150 years to a dark, dystopian future. In the previous storyline, and in the best X-tradition, there had been plenty of soap opera dramatics to go along with the superhero action. The prominence of Emma Frost on the team drove a wedge between Jean and her then-husband Scott “Cyclops” Summers. What at first seemed likely to devolve into a sadly typical fight between two women over a man is cut short by Jean’s growing maturity. She comes to realize that while she loves Scott, they’re probably not terribly well-suited as lovers. And it doesn’t matter much, as she soon dies (twice)—or it wouldn’t, except her death sends Scott spiraling into despair. Shortly after her death, he disbands the X-Men.

But in the dark future, the Phoenix is reborn, manipulated by dark forces. She eventually comes to realize that the whole timeline is pretty much a bust and needs to be eliminated, so uses her power to travel back in time to nudge a guilty and grieving Scott into the arms of Emma, giving her tacit blessing for him to move on with both the X-Men and his own life rather than letting it all dissolve.

Best Adaptation: There’s not really been one, though the Days of Future Past film does nod to some of the book’s imagery.

Art by Leinil Francis Yu & Joe Bennett

After this death, Phoenix was gone from the pages of the X-Men books for almost fifteen years, with a few exceptions: two miniseries—Phoenix: Endsong and Phoenix: Warsong—saw the Phoenix Force itself attempting to resurrect an entirely unwilling Jean Grey, and Avengers vs. X-Men saw something similar happening on a grander scale, as the Phoenix Force returned in search of a new host. Finally, All-New X-Men saw a time-displaced young Jean Grey brought to the present, where she was ultimately forced to reckon with the knowledge of her own twisted future.

Finally, Jean returns for good (?) in Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey, during which she literally and metaphorically casts off both the Phoenix and the fallout from that iconic storyline. She goes on to lead her own team in X-Men Red. The suggestion is that she’s broken the cycle for good, but time will tell—in Jean’s case, staying alive’s about the only thing she can’t do.

Will you see Dark Phoenix, or are you content with the comics?

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Space Opera Autor Catherynne Valente on the Out-of-this-World Appeal of Eurovision

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If you follow Catherynne M. Valente on Twitter, you’ve probably seen her Tweeting about something called “Eurovision.” Even if you haven’t, you might have heard a little something about her book Space Opera being “Eurovision in space.”

Today, she joins us to explain what Eurovision is, why she loves it—and why you might already too, even if this is the first time you’ve heard the word.

If you live in America, you may have had trouble watching the Eurovision Song Contest this year (tomorrow is the last day). For three years, it broadcast here, and Americans slowly started to wake up to the utterly amazing spectacle already in progress across the pond, but not so in 2019.

I hope you will find a way to catch the finale; it is not to be missed. I have spent many years now trying to enlighten my countrymen to the glories of this glam rock Super Bowl of the Soul.

I won’t make my pitch here, except to say: it’s The X-Factor meets Miss Universe meets WWI and it is, in all its highs and lows, camp and class, tawdriness and tears, a must for life on Planet Earth. You can find my many longer pleas and exhortations elsewhere, and most passionately, in my Eurovision-in-space novel Space Opera.

I will say that, even if you are just hearing the word for the first time, and even if you live in America, you probably already know more about Eurovision than you think.

Eurovision is an engine for a certain genre of European pop music, and thus it makes its way over the pond in trickles and drips. ABBA is the most famous example; they won the contest in 1974, launching them into global stardom. Celine Dion won in 1988.

These are names everyone knows—but I can usually blow minds with the fact that the song “Cottoneyed Joe,” an wedding music staple in America, was in fact written by a Swedish band called Rednex who were later thrown out of Eurovision (representing Romania) for performing a song not specifically written for the event.

Household names, even here among the purple mountains majesty, including Olivia Newton-John, Englebert Humperdinck, Katrina and the Waves, t.A.T.u, and Bonnie Tyler, have all sung for various nations in the contest—some starting their careers, some ending them, some reaching for a bit of former glory.

Recently, it’s less the music than the spectacle that has seeped into American culture. Stephen Colbert has poked fun at it on his show; Will Farrell is working on a feature length parody for Netflix as we speak. With the rise of drag as a mainstream art form (Eurovision has long been a welcoming space for LGBT art and artists), images of Conchita Wurst, in full beard and full gown, appeared everywhere for a brief moment, though often without context. Social media lights up with discussion of the fashion and staging, even if the songs don’t often chart in the U.S. American acts have begun to perform during the judging interval, notably Justin Timberlake in 2015 and Madonna this year.

Bit by bit, Eurovision slowly arrives on our shores. And as Australia and other countries not, strictly speaking, part of Europe begin to participate, and Eurovision Asia threatens to actually happen some year or another, the august song contest comes closer and closer to being a global phenomenon. I have never thought America should participate—the concept of not voting for your own country would rub many of us the wrong way, and despite someone trying to do a honky-tonk song nearly every year, I’m not sure our musical tastes would fit with the in-crowd. We have enough cultural hegemony. Not every event has to include us.

But damn, we should be watching it. It will fill you up with absurdity and glitter and weirdness, give you a little hope for humanity, and leave you humming songs no one at your office has ever heard of for weeks.

Eurovision is life, Eurovision is love. It was invented to unify a war-torn continent and allow everyone to put aside politics in favor of, if only for a moment, art both high and low. There’s nothing more human and divine than that, little more necessary right now than that, and however you can access it, I’d recommend gluing yourself to the screen for the finale this weekend.

Catherynne M. Valente is the author of Space Opera, a, er, space opera inspired by Eurovision. It’s just as wonderful as you might imagine (not to mention a 2019 Hugo Award nominee).

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The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Sequels Never Published (Yet)

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

The recent discovery of a heretofore unknown sequel to Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange is both exciting and dreadful.

On the one hand, considering all the high-profile epic fantasy sequels we’ve been waiting for oh so patiently, the revelation of a surprise sequel—no waiting!—to one of SFF’s most revered works is exciting stuff. On the other hand, there’s the fact that Burgess abandoned the newly-unearthed book—title: A Clockwork Condition—and considered it unsuccessful, which tempers enthusiasm.

But it also makes us think about all the other “lost” SFF sequels we’d love to see dropped unannounced like a Beyoncé album. Here are 10 more speculative fiction sequels that haven’t been published—yet anyway.

The Dark Remains, by V.E. Schwab
Schwab’s first published novel, The Near Witch received strong reviews but soft sales, leading planned sequel The Dark Remains to be canceled by her (then) publisher. Of course, Schwab famously landed on her feet (to say the least—last month she appeared on our list of the month’s bestselling SFF four freaking times), and The Near Witch was rereleased earlier this year in a fancy special edition by Titan books. It’s a happy ending, except… we would still kind of love to read The Dark Remains, which apparently exists in some form, though Schwab has stated unequivocally that she has zero intention of publishing it (her exact quote on the matter is as follows: “it sits in a drawer somewhere, and it always will”). While we respect an author’s right to put a painful publishing experience behind her, we’d still be there for the continuing adventures of Lexi and Cole, last seen saving one another from close-minded townsfolk and the ghostly vengeance of a wronged witch..

The Spindle of Necessity, by Catherynne M. Valente
Repeat Hugo Award nominee Catherynne Valente’s awesome alternate history saga that begins with The Habitation of the Blessed is predicated on the idea that a 12th century hoax letter reportedly penned by the legendary Christian monarch Prester John was 100 percent real. The series is richly inventive, emotionally and narrative complex—and it was intended to be a trilogy. Then in 2012, after the publication of the second book in the series, The Folded World, Valente announced she was splitting from her publisher (for the entirely fair reason that they owed her a good deal of money), and the rights to the first two books had reverted to her. The final book, The Spindle of Necessity, has been lost ever since. Last year Valente announced she hoped to launch a Kickstarter to finally get Spindle off the ground, but we’re still waiting. Granted, she’s delivered us plenty of joyful distraction in the meantime in the form of her Hugo-nominated 2018 novel Space Opera, which will receive its own sequel in 2021.

Damned Book Three, by Chuck Palahniuk
Palahniuk is obviously okay with long gestation periods for his sequels—this is his first of two entries on this list, and lest we forget, Fight Club 2 followed the publication of the original novel by no less than 19 years. But to get to the point: the novels Damned (2011) and Doomed (2013) tell the story of Madison Spencer, a 13-year old girl who finds herself in Hell after being killed in an… unpleasant accident involving her adopted brother. Madison goes on a tour of the afterlife and, thanks to her particular set of skills, slowly takes on the mantle of Hell’s princess. This is fantastic stuff,  peppered with plenty of Palahniuk’s signature perversity and erudition. After rejecting a chance to serve in Heaven, Maddy’s life and fate are clarified in Doomed when she is banished to purgatory (our own reality, which is the fundamental joke of the novel). She goes on to haunt her own life. Palahniuk promised a third and final book in the series, but followed with six years of radio silence on the subject, which might have something to do with the tempered response the first two novels received. Still, even if these aren’t among Palahniuk’s best books, Maddy’s story is sufficiently interesting to make us want to see how it all ends.

The sequel to Replay, by Ken Grimwood
Grimwood’s 1986 novel predates Groundhog Day by nearly a decade, and operates from the same general idea—a man dies of a heart attack in 1988 and wakes up in 1963 in his 18-year old body with a chance to live a better life the second time around. It happens over and over again—he always dies on the same day in 1988, no matter what he does with his live(s). Grimwood has a lot of fun with the concept as the “replayer” tries different approaches to his repeated lifetimes, slowly noticing that he “wakes” later and later in his timeline with each cycle, until eventually he’s repeating just the last moments of his life/death. Along the way, he falls into a romance with a fellow replayer, on the way to a surprising twist ending—but there’s no clear explanation for the how and why of it all, which might have come in the sequel Grimwood was working on when he died in 2003, oddly enough of a heart attack. We don’t know how far he got with it, but it would be awesome if there had been a complete manuscript lost in a stack of his papers.

The Rant sequel, by Chuck Palahniuk
Rant is a beautiful, flawed book that stands alone pretty well, but when it was initially published in 2007, Palahniuk made it clear he saw it as the first book of a trilogy. But it’s been 12 years, and books two and three have never surfaced. Palahniuk has occasionally commented on the sequel to this fascinating story of an alternate reality in which a disturbed serial killer’s life story is elevated into a scripture of sorts, noting that he has the story idea firmly in his head but is waiting until he can perfect the mechanics of it. Apparently he’s intending to use “a non-fiction form” to deliver the remainder of the narrative. Of course, even the Reddit AMA from which we gleaned that fact took place six years ago, and there’s been no word since. Our hopes of ever seeing this trilogy fulfilled are getting dimmer.

American Gods 2, by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman’s been talking about a sequel to his modern classic for years now—it was first announced way back when the television adaptation was in heavy development at HBO, before that project died an untimely death and the project moved over to Starz. But Gaiman is a busy guy, and makes no bones about the fact that this book is third or fourth on his to-do list. He recently noted that at the pace of storytelling involved with the TV adaptation, the sequel would pick up around the eventual season six, so he still has a few years to write the book and avoid getting into a Game of Thrones scenario, where the TV show has raced ahead of the books. The good news takeaway is that the sequel is apparently on Gaiman’s radar, which gives us hope. The bad news is that it’s unlikely the man’s going to be any less busy in the coming years. Another entry in the plus column? His current project is another long-awaited sequel, to his 1996 debut novel Neverwhere.

Splinter of the Mind’s Eye Sequel, by Alan Dean Foster
These days, Star Wars fans know well that Alan Dean Foster wrote the novelization of the first film before Lucas had totally finalized his ideas, leading to a book that doesn’t quite match the finished product. It’s also now legend )or Legends) that Foster also wrote a novel that was intended to be provide source material for a low-budget sequel in the event that the movie that was not yet called A New Hope stumbled at the box office. Foster’s marching orders included keeping the settings and special effects requirements at a minimum. The novel that resulted instantly became an outlier in the Star Wars universe—an non-canonical story in which Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader meet face-to-face long before their duel in The Empire Strikes Back, and in which Luke and Leia aren’t siblings and are definitely gonna hook up (Luke even creepily imagines kissing Leia as she sleeps, which… well, 1978 gonna 1978). Even more incredibly, Foster was contracted to write a sequel to Splinter, but it was canceled when Star Wars did a bit better than expected at the box office. Still, off-brand as it is, Splinter is a really good book, which is why it’s still in print; we’d love to read what Foster had in mind for the alternate future of a long time ago in that galaxy far, far away.

The Last Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
Ellison’s Dangerous Visions anthology series is legend, and the final, never-published installment even more so. (George R.R. Martin freely admits his story Meathouse Man was rejected twice for inclusion.) Ellison began work on the third anthology after the first (Dangerous Visions, 1967) and the second (Again, Dangerous Visions, 1972) became massive, influential hits that transformed how science fiction was perceived in the literary world. He expected to deliver The Last Dangerous Visions in 1974 or so, but proceeded to delay and equivocate and hold up the release of stories by some of the biggest authors in the field at the time. He passed away in 2018 with the project—and the nearly 150 short stories involved—still unrealized. The whole crazy saga is as complex and messy as Ellison himself, and many of the authors who submitted stories for the book have died since doing so, and we still have no idea if we’ll ever get to see some of them (others have leaked out in various forms over the years). Of course, if someone were to find an edited manuscript of the anthology in a file somewhere, the mess of trying to get it published might still delay it a few more years—but without Ellison around, who knows?

Maze, by Christopher Manson
Manson’s classic puzzle book continues to haunt and frustrate people decades after the end of the interactive contest it was designed around. The book is a sort of pick-your-path maze, with each page representing a room with doors leading to other pages/rooms; the combination of Manson’s creepy art and flair for devious puzzle design captures new adherents all the time, and it was a big enough hit back in the 1980s to inspire talk of a sequel that was much more ambitious. Manson described a book wherein the reader/puzzler would return to rooms several times to find details changed, as well as the inclusion of a monster of some sort that would inexorably follow the puzzler until it finally caught up with them. Other tantalizing ideas included a page that would be an infinite corridor… somehow. Manson had the brains and skill to make it happen, but the publisher suffered some problems and the project was set aside and eventually forgotten. You can catch a glimpse of it here.

668: The Neighbour of the Beast, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
This sequel to Good Omens, Gaiman and Pratchett’s beloved novel of the over-the-top apocalypse, reportedly went off the rails when Gaiman moved to the United States in the ’90s, leaving Pratchett to lament the logistics of working together on it. Of course, Sir Terry eventually was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and passed away in 2015, seeming to dash all hopes of a sequel—until Gaiman revealed that he’d had discussions with his co-author and that the two had actually done some plot work for the book. Some of that material will turn up in the eagerly anticipated television version of Good Omens, which will expand upon the original story and incorporates concepts that would have appeared in the second, including an expanded role for the angel Gabriel (played in the adaptation by by Jon Hamm which is … perfect, really).

Did we leave any legendary sequels off the list? (And don’t say The Winds of Winter.)

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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

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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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