5 Recent Novels That Blend Sci-Fi and Horror

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Horror and science fiction often go hand in hand. Fear of the unknown, encounters with the alien, life in a world that can be tipped upside down in a single moment: the two genres are often entwined, gifting a dose of fear to sci-fi and a dash of wonder to unknown horror. Below are five books and series that are made more effective by their blurring of the lines between the scary and the speculative.

The Luminous Dead, by Caitlin Starling
Caitlin Starling’s debut novel is set on an alien world, but its core of psychological horror comes less from the fear of the extraterrestrial monsters lurking in the dark than the all-too-human ones we carry around in our own minds. Caver Gyre Price has been hired to descend into one of the most dangerous underground systems on her colony world, guided only by a single handler, Em, who treats her with little respect and is actively keeping secrets from her. Though she is supposedly the only one active down below, Gyre’s grip on reality begins to fray as her mind unravels from too many hours spent alone in the blackness. As she encounters alien lifeforms, uncovers information about Em’s true mission, and begins seeing things, the facts of what is real and what is not are called into question. Starling keeps the tension high and reality slippery enough that you’ll be as in the dark as Gyre, right up until the end.

Annihilation (The Southern Reach trilogy), by Jeff VanderMeer
While the whole Southern Reach trilogy belongs on this list, the first book in VanderMeer’s incredible series sets the tone for the two that follow. Four woman are sent into the mysterious Area X, a bubble of land that has been touched by something alien; the previous expeditions have either never returned, or they’ve come back changed. Together, these four women must do their best to understand what Area X is,  what it wants, and how it’s changing them. VanderMeer’s work is delicate but unceasingly intense, only increasing the tension as we slowly learn what lies within Area X, and see the effects the place has on both the women exploring it and the land it encompasses. There is beauty in the horror, as we see first-hand the evolution of the familiar world into an alien landscape; by the end of the novel, your notions of what makes us human, who (or what) deserves dignity will be thoroughly tested.

The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders
Nebula-winner Charlie Jane Anders’s latest novel is a stunning, cleverly constructed journey across a tidally locked world unfit for the survival of humans, who have nevertheless done just that by gritting their teeth, innovating systems to keep themselves ordered and alive, and carving out an existence on a sliver of land that barely tolerates life at all. Xiosphant, one of the main cities on the planet of January, has no night or day; its time is regimented to the second, and all of its citizens must live by that established clock. Likewise, they must always be on constant guard against any number of terrifying creatures that exist outside its boundaries, called by all-too-friendly names any human from Earth would know (bison, crocodile), but exceedingly alien, and often exceedingly deadly. Gods help you if you wander to either side of the twilight, where you’ll either freeze to death in minutes on the one side or burst into flames on the other. Anders’s world is a hard and terrifying one, but her novel champions our ability to adapt and survive, even as it questions whether the systems we build to do so are worth the horrors they may encompass.

Spaceman of Bohemia, by Jaroslav Kalfar
Jakub Procházka is going to be the first Czech in space; not only that, but he’s going straight to Venus. Given the chance to escape the planet and possibly atone for the crimes of his father, Jakub leaps, and leaves behind his life on Earth—including Lenka, the woman of his dreams. However, on his solo mission, disasters crop up at every turn, starting with the massive alien spider named Hanus who stows away in his shuttle (the two soon become friends of a sort). Kalfar’s debut is a fascinating mixture of absurdism, humanity, and horror; soon after he sets off on his mission, Jakub grows increasingly unsure of whether he’s losing his mind or communicating with a higher or possibly extraterrestrial power. As the narrative moves back and forth between the past and the present, the horror—of isolation of being stuck in space, on a collision course with an uninhabitable planet, and partnered with a massive spider—only intensifies, and Kalfar milks it for all its worth. Jakub’s mission becomes one of survival, not just against the void of space, but his own mind.

The Centenal Cycle, by Malka Older
Let’s round out of list with an unconventional choice: while not specifically a work of horror, Malka Older’s Centenal Cycle trilogy does touch on chilling aspects of paranoia, fear, and the dangers of power being placed in the wrong hands. Across three books (Infomocracy, Null States, and State Tectonics), Older introduces us to a near future world order in which the majority of governments have splintered into smaller, manageable districts called centenals, whose citizens get to choose their governments exactly specified to their minutiae and preferences. All of this bureaucracy is overseen by Information, a worldwide data gathering service that not only monitors the massive communications server, but also helps facilitate the elections that determine which government will hold a Supermajority across all the centenals. While we’re firmly with the characters who could be considered the good guys throughout the books, Older doesn’t shy away from exploring the side effects of such an omnipresent, data-dense surveillance systems, forcing us to consider the terrifying implications of a quasi-utopian vision of the future.

What boundary pushing sci-fi/horror novels do you love?

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Blogging the Nebulas: Blackfish City Carries the Zeitgeist on the Back of a Whale

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Editor’s note: The Nebula Awards are often described as the Academy Awards of SFF literature. Like the Oscar, the Nebula is voted on by the professional peers of the award nominees—members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. There are six nominees in the best novel category this year; every two weeks between now and the awards ceremony on May 18, Ceridwen Christensen will be taking a look at each of them, and figuring their odds of taking home the prize.

The pitch:

As the title suggests, Sam J. Miller’s Blackfish City is as much about a place as it is about any given character. Its chapters cycle through four point-of-view characters: a messenger, a civil servant, a fighter, and a scion of great wealth. The perspective of the fifth character, the city of Qaanaaq, is told in chapters taken from “City Without a Map,” a mysteriously-sourced chronicle of a built city floating on open arctic water somewhere east of Greenland, north of Iceland.

As the book opens, we’re somewhere midway through a climactic apocalypse. Every nation you can think of has fallen (often several times), or changed irrevocably, or disappeared beneath the waves. Qaanaaq—a municipality run by artificial intelligence and owned by anonymous founders—gathers up the flotsam and jetsam of a drowning world.

While reading the first couple chapters, I did something I don’t usually do: I sketched a map of the floating city. It’s an eight-armed starfish of a place, and each numbered spoke has its own particular flavor: the wealthy enclaves of one and two; the slums of seven and eight; the docked ships off of five, where gangsters hold court. Each character pins themselves to the place—or places—they are from, or are going, or where they want to go. Qaanaaq is as callous and as kindly as any city, beholden to the tides of wealth and influence, but still carved out with shifting cultures that owe nothing to the systems of governance.

Qaanaaq’s fragile equilibrium is upset by the arrival of a woman on skiff. Alongside her vessel swims an orca; on the prow sits a polar bear in chains. She’s rumored to be many things, a figure of gossip and myth. Though everyone seems to have heard tell of the orcamancer, her exact location is hard to triangulate, her origins are mysterious, and her motives are opaque. Meanwhile, the city moves to its own rhythms: a young man learns he has a fatal, mentally withering disease; a zipline messenger makes a play for a different life; a brain-damaged fighter upsets his place in the criminal hierarchy; a woman tries to free her mother from a prison in everything but name.

Blackfish City is a peripatetic novel, ranging over the city of Qaanaaq—into its past, into the pasts of its characters, into the larger world and its complicated, strangling history. Its name is a palindrome, and we read it backward and forward in time.

Why it will win:

This may be an odd argument to make, but hear me out: I think Blackfish City is the novel that best encapsulates the zeitgeist of 2018.

It’s a cli-fi novel that isn’t preachy or (necessarily) a bummer, equally hard science-y and character driven. Though a lot of the overt action and submerged backstory is bleak, there’s a tremulous sense of optimism wending its way through the story. The fact of Qaanaaq—this impossible metal starfish clinging to place in the bitter north—makes it an object of wonder. So too is the orcamancer, though the repercussions of that wonder are harsh, if not fatal. Qaanaaq is a patchwork place, both made up of the histories of other places and the trauma of their fall. Like the novel that took home the Nebula in 2016, Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky, Sam J. Miller’s first novel for adults has an indefinable quality: it is a story that best encapsulated the weird right-now.

Moreover, the Nebula is an industry award, and Miller has the requisite chops—often a factor in who wins. Last year he picked up the Andre Norton Award for The Art of Starving. (Not too be too reductive, but the Andre Norton is akin to a Nebula for young adult science fiction and fantasy.)

Why it won’t win:

Per usual, I can take the reasons why I think this novel will win and read them backward as I argue why it might not. The novel I thought was the best finger on the pulse of 2017, Amberlough, didn’t take home the Nebula; the award went instead to N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky, the absolutely devastating conclusion of a juggernaut of a trilogy. Though Miller does have a well respected YA novel under his belt, Blackfish City is still only his second novel, and his first for adults. And though this may be a little outside the purview of this series, neither did Blackfish City pick up a Hugo nomination. While there is imperfect overlap between the Hugo and Nebula winners, the winners do tend to be taken from the pool of novels nominated for both.

Arguments aside, I fairly loved Blackfish City. Its themes and concerns are right smack in my wheelhouse. Any novel that starts me scribbling notes on a self-drawn map is one that has hit me hard. Reading through the nominees every year introduces me to books I would have otherwise missed. Even though this is a somewhat dippy thing to say, the nomination ends up being its own reward, for me anyway.

Follow along with this year’s Blogging the Nebulas series here. See previous years’ entries here.

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How 15 of Your Favorite Authors Might Finish George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

From the Spanish edition of The World of Ice and FIre

To paraphrase Douglas Adams: George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think The Lord of the Rings is big, but that’s just peanuts to ASoIaF.

It’s so big, it’s little wonder it’s been a challenge for one lone writer to finish it—even if that writer did originally plan to fit its story a tidy trilogy before discovering that his favorite thing in the world was inventing new characters and sending them down rabbit holes.

There would be no shame, then, if George R.R. Martin were to ask for a bit of help in finishing off his series—in fact, the results might be something remarkable. In a few weeks, HBO’s Game of Thrones adaptation will give us one ending for the story. Here’s how we imagine 15 other writers might finish off Martin’s revolutionary series (but make no mistake: there’s no substitute for the real thing, and we’re willing—if not entirely happy—to wait for GRRM to give us the real deal).

Stephen King
The Golden Company, the Unsulllied, the Night’s Watch, the Free Folk, and the Stark vassals are all gathered for the final battle. The armies of the dead arrive and take up position. Suddenly, in the distance, strange music. A looping, eerie riff echoes as the Night’s King flies in on the back of an Ice Dragon. It’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” The Night’s King lands and hops off. “Hi there,” he says, looking around. “Name’s Flagg. Randall Flagg.” Meanwhile, Bran has a strange experience, warging to find himself in control of a man named Stephen King, a resident of “New York City” in the year “1982.” Bran, as King, locates a young Brooklyn boy who never speaks and is obsessed with a handheld video game called The Doom of Valyria. They encounter a disgraced Olympic shotputter named Alison, and the trio returns together to Westeros, where the game is suddenly transformed into an ancient magical relic: the Doomglass. But the Night’s King is about to win the battle, and they are too far away. “I got this,” says Alison, who shotputs the Doomglass directly at the wintery fiend, who explodes in a mushroom-shaped cloud of fire as all his minions turn to ice and shatter.

J.K. Rowling
Jon Snow, Daenerys, and Samwell work together in the midst of an epic, raging battle—dragon duels, swarms of White Walkers clashing with the Golden Company, Bran just warging into everything—until Jamie Lannister winds up in a duel with the Night’s King himself. Jamie puts up a great fight but slowly loses ground—until Jon, Danny, and Sam arrive to plunge a dragonglass dagger into the Night’s King’s back, destroying him and his army. At the last second, however, the Night’s King turns and injures Sam, driving them back. Suddenly a mysterious figure in a cloak emerges from the boiling battlefield, retrieving the dagger. His hood flutters back and he’s revealed to be Petyr Baelish. “I did warn you not to trust me, you know,” he says with a smirk. Screaming “For Catelyn! Always!” Littlefinger charges at the Night’s King and sacrifices himself, winning the day for the living. Turns out, the bad guy was a hero all along!

Brandon Sanderson
After reviewing George R.R. Martin’s notes, Sanderson announces it will take not two but six more books to finish the story properly. After delivering four 1,000-page tomes, Sanderson himself passes away (buried under a pile of 3,500 manuscript pages for the ninth book in the Stormlight Archive) with the story still incomplete. It is the year 2049. The final two books are completed by Christopher Paolini, working from Sanderson’s notes on Martin’s outlines, and are beamed directly into people’s brains via the NookVR brain uplink.

Cormac McCarthy
The endless lines of undead stood implacable and numb not hungry or thirsty but wanting and haunted by the vague memories of life that still burned like minor coals within them. The ice dragon soared above shadow and claw and smashed into the warm fiery life of Daenerys’ remaining beasts of fire and rage. The White Walkers knew what she did not know the secret of the true hidden universe that they had sprung from the dark maw of a devouring universe. She thought she brought death with her flying in on thick leathery wings and fueled by her own rage her own will her own fate and family and legacy and doom. She did not know death. They knew death and they knew it to be ravenous and infinite and the destination that did not come in fire and blood but in the slow steady creep of snow and ice. From the North! Always from the North. And the North would become the world and the world would become the desolate perfect shining gem of ancient things.

Neil Gaiman
The entire final novel is from Samwell’s point of view as he writes the final volume of his history. He reveals that the Night’s King was actually Bran, who went into the past and became his own worst enemy. Bran was also the Mad King, and, in fact, also everyone else. Everyone was Bran. A complex braid of timelines involved Bran going into the past over and over again; Bran was even Samwell for a time, but found it terribly boring and abandoned him. Bran amused himself by directing the events of the War of the Five Kings and the White Walker invasion, and eventually controlled everyone in Westeros. He was finally defeated when Nymeria arrived at the head of the Dog Army, the only independent creatures left in Westeros. Sam’s final paragraphs reveal that Westeros abandoned the old religions and now worships dogs, and all is right in the world.

Chuck Palahniuk
The entire final book is narrated by Hot Pie, who is captured by a cult of insane worshipers of the Red God and imbued with the ability to come back from death. He dies multiple times, using his ability as a way of getting out of dangerous or simply embarrassing situations. As the story progresses, his deaths become increasingly bizarre and disturbing, and he realizes that every time he comes back he’s a little thinner; instead of his usual stout body, by the end of the story he’s skinny and frail. He changes his name to “Hot Pocket” and begins to repeat the phrase “A little less of me, a little more life.” He discovers that when he speaks it, someone else dies, and he gains a little weight back. The cultists follow him to the Wall, where the Night’s King is fighting a desperate battle for Westeros. Hot Pocket speaks his phrase to the Night’s King, and in a flash, the frozen army is gone, and Hot Pie (again) grows to an enormous size in an instant. He then dies of multiple organ failure.

Dan Brown
Riding on the back of Drogon, Danny and Jon frantically scan the desolate ruins of Valyria. “It’s not here!” Jon shouts. “That can’t be!” Danny shouts back. “The riddle in the ancient tome your Samwell brought back must have—” She stops suddenly. “Jon! We’ve misunderstood!” Jon Snow blinks in surprise. “Of course! Samwell mistranslated the riddle!” He looked back at the Night’s King pursuing them on the back of Viserion. The Night’s King grins in triumph. “We’ve led him right to the Stone Men!” They both look down in horror as legions of the greyscale-infected men and women line up, a fresh army the Night’s King could now use to invade from the south in a pincer movement. “We’ve been such fools!” Danny shouts as Drogon banks into a turn. “The riddle—the Doom of Valyria! It’s Tyrion—our cousin! You must capture Viserion—you can control him because you came back from the dead! You’re already part wight! We must get Tyrion on Rhaegal, because the dragon has three heads!”

Jeff VanderMeer
As the armies of undead from north breach the Wall into Westeros, the true savage reality of the Night’s King’s plan is revealed: the threat is not from his zombie hordes, but from the environmental devastation they leave in their wake (it’s kind of a metaphor). With disaster creeping toward King’s Landing, Jon sends a small band of warriors—Brienne of Tarth (The Soldier), Cersei (The Queen), Arya (The Assassin), and Sansa (The Diplomat)—to investigate a rumor that he hopes will prove to be their salvation: that the Tower of Joy is actually a tunnel (and either way, it is certainly not supposed to represent a penis—some things are not a metaphor). Unfortunately, their group is undone by distrust and infighting on the road to the tower/tunnel, their number shrinking due to attrition (Brienne is seduced away from the group by a massive flying bear who whisks her away into the sky) and accident (Cersei falls into a pit chasing a strangely mute double of Jamie). Eventually, only Sansa and Arya remain, but when they descend into the Tower Tunnel of Joy, they encounter only an endless staircase and walls covered in vines that form a string of nonsense High Valerian. When they reach the bottom, something happens. We’re not exactly sure what, but it is very evocative. Anyway, Sansa is the only one who emerges, and she finds the battle over. Westeros is now a blasted landscape. In the ruins, Bran Stark befriends a talking mushroom. All along, it turns out, the real Night’s King was climate change.

James Patterson
Jamie Lannister, sick and tired of his insane sister’s bloody rampage, lives up to his name and slays her. Contrary to expectations, the Golden Company pledges their loyalty to him and he leads them against the White Walkers. As a team, they then go on to star in a spin-off series, The Golden Murder Company, solving crimes throughout Westeros. Meanwhile, Jon and Danny race to stop the Night’s King, revealed to be Bran Stark (again), who traveled thousands of years into the past and went insane from the long wait for history to catch up. The whole story has been a secret plot engineered by Bran to gather the world’s dragonglass in one spot so he can use it to set off a magical chain reaction using a mixture of magic, greyscale infection vectors, and explosives that will turn every living thing in the world into an undead wight. The heroes burst into the Night’s King’s secret lair just as he is about to plunge the world into eternal winter. Jon and the Night’s King fight while Danny, mortally wounded, crawls to the dragonglass bomb and disables it just as Jon kills the king. Outside, the armies pause in wonder as winter melts away. Jon and Danny kiss.

Robin Hobb
In a sensational twist, after delivering the brilliant A Dream of Spring, Hobb reveals that she invented the persona of George R.R. Martin in 1963 and hired an actor to portray the writer in public, like JT LeRoy. In a second, unexpected twist, Martin crashes the press conference to claim the exact opposite: he invented Robin Hobb in 1980 and hired an actress to play her in public. Then Patrick Rothfuss shows up and claims he is actually 97 years old and has been both writers for decades. Megan Lindholm watches from the shadows.

Josiah Bancroft
Reeling from a permanent hangover that has plagued him steadily for months with no sign of lessening, Tyrion Lannister frantically flees a horde of wights. Suddenly a voice calls out to him. He spins to find Arya Stark beckoning. They scramble down an embankment, and Tyrion stops in shock: here is Drogon. “I thought all the dragons were killed!” Arya snorts. “No, he merely had his wings pulled off.” Tyrion looks again—Drogon is indeed wingless, and Arya has outfitted the creature with a large balloon, inflated by the dragon’s fiery breath, and a sail made from one of the Golden Company’s battle flags. They scramble aboard, and Arya flies about picking up survivors as the Night’s King overwhelms Westeros in triumph. Jamie scrambles up, his newly-mechanized hand giving him the power to steer their dragon-ship. Sansa is pulled aboard, as is Cersei, Jon, and Danny. Arya goes to the dragon’s head to plot their course. Westeros is lost, but she has heard rumor of other lands—richer, more dangerous lands. And as she takes off her face for the first time in years, she feels free to be herself again. To be the Waif.

Charlie Jane Anders
The final battle appears lost, and the Night’s King is glorying in his mad triumph. Suddenly, Arya appears before him, wielding Needle. The battles rages behind her; she is bloody and desperate. The Night’s King mocks her—what will one small girl do? Arya says she’s not alone—suddenly Danny stands next to her. Then Sansa, Melisandre, and Brienne appear. The women link hands and stare balefully at the Night’s King as Melisandre incants a spell. Their eyes begin to glow, and they lift off the ground a few inches, calling on the magic they’d all felt their whole lives, in their bones, hidden and secret, the magic that helped them find one another, pulling them together even as their broken pasts tried to push them apart. There is a flash of white light and the Night’s King is dissolved into a bone-white ash that drifts away on the wind, followed shortly by his wights. Behind the women, the warriors pause in confusion for a moment, then begin fighting each other just as desperately. Arya sighs and makes a pop culture reference, but it’s actually pretty timeless. The women turn around and link hands again.

Patrick Rothfuss


V.E. Schwab
Bran discovers that when he visits and sometimes affects the past, he is actually visiting and affecting alternate versions of Westeros—there are in fact many alternate worlds, separated by a thin veil of reality. As he moves between them, he discovers one where there is much more magic than in his version of Westeros. In Red Westeros (not red like blood, though we can see making that mistake), magic is everywhere, with a hearty dragon population and just about everyone using potions and amulets and cavorting with the Children of the Forest. There’s also a Gray Westeros with no magic at all, a grim, mechanized place where Cersei is the CEO of a corporation that produces perfumes and beauty products that kill you if you use them for too long. Bran opens up a portal to this horrible Westeros and the Night’s King and his army are forced into it. Arriving in the magic-less Westeros, they become lifeless statues. Back in Westeros Prime, the humans simply reorient their armies and get on with trying to kill each other, but for different reasons. Bran realizes he is living in Black Westeros. You don’t want to know about Black Westeros.

Sabaa Tahir
Surprisingly, the final battle between the armies of Westeros, the Golden Company, the Free Folk, the Night’s Watch, and the Night’s King is over very early in the final book. Cersei is deposed and Daenerys is acclaimed the new Queen, taking Jon Snow as her consort despite learning that they are related (it’s… actually kind of sexy?). However, as the armies disperse and move back south, they discover that a massive invasion force from Sothoryros has arrived and overrun King’s Landing and everything south of The Twins. The two forces clash, and the exhausted combined forces, now serving under Daenerys, are quickly defeated as the Sothoryrosi reveal incredibly advanced magical and technological capabilities. It’s evident they regard all of them as “northern barbarians.” A new age of peace and achievement dawns, and lasts for thousands of years.

If you were to choose an author to end A Song of Ice and Fire (beside George R.R. Martin of course), who would you nominate?

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Doctor Who, Fan Fiction, and a YouTube Documentary Headline This Year’s Hugo Awards Finalists


The nominees for the Hugo Awards are here, honoring the best in 2018's comics, movies, TV shows, and other works. We’ve got some staples in genre fiction, like Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, along with a few surprises—including the first time in Hugo history that a YouTube series has been…

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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.

The post Tomorrow’s Possible History Unfolds in A People’s Future of the United States appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.


The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of February 2019

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Black Leopard, Red Wolf cover detail; art by Pablo Gerardo Camacho

For two decades, Jim Killen has served as the science fiction and fantasy book buyer for Barnes & Noble. Every month on Tor.com and the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Jim shares his curated list of the month’s best science fiction & fantasy books.

A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers, edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams (February 5, One World—Paperback)
Twenty-five stories examining America’s many possible futures, written by some of the best and brightest in sci-fi and fantasy? Sign us up. Overseen by award-winning author Victor LaValle (The Ballad of Black Tom) and editor John Joseph Adams, and featuring contributions from N.K. Jemisin, Justina Ireland, A. Merc Rustad, Omar El Akkad, Charlie Jane Anders, Charles Yu, Lesley Nneka Arimah, and 18 others, this collection is packed with stories that extrapolate the realities our fraught present into fascinating, often dark visions of the future. From Americas where contraception is illegal, to ones in which the non-conforming are forcibly transformed to fit a biased “norm,” to more fantastical visions in which women learn to ride dragons. In one timely entry, a wall on the Mexican-American border results in a slew of unintentional consequences to Mexico’s benefit. These are tales that illustrate the power of speculative fiction—to combine imagination, storytelling, and social commentary in ways that tell us as much about where we’re going as where we are right now.

Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds (Barnes & Noble Exclusive Edition), by Gwenda Bond (February 5, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Netflix’s Stranger Things is a bona fide pop culture phenomenon, and YA regular Gwenda Bond earned the enviable task of bringing the ever-growing, ever-darker universe of the TV series to print. This prequel delves into the mysterious history of the woman who gave birth to waffle-loving telekinetic tween Eleven. The story travels back to 1969, when Terry Ives is a quiet college student who signs up for a government program code-named MKULTRA. As her involvement with this sinister experiment at the Hawking National Laboratory grows ever stranger, Terry begins investigating what’s really going on, recruiting her fellow test subjects for assistance—including a mysterious young girl with even more mysterious powers. A girl who doesn’t have a name, just a number: 008. This is a must for die-hard fans eager to explore all the secrets that won’t be revealed onscreen. The exclusive Barnes & Noble edition includes a two-sided poster featuring original artwork.

House of Assassins, by Larry Correia (February 5, Baen—Hardcover)
The second entry in Correia’s Saga of the Forgotten Warrior series returns to the story of Ashok Vadal, a former soldier in a fiercely secular, fiercely divided magical world. In a society stratified into castes, the lowest of the low are the casteless—the untouchables. After infiltrating a rebel group that sought to free the casteless—a mission that led him to the prophet Thera Vane—former Protector Ashok Vadal now wields his magical blade Angruvadal and leads the Sons of the Black Sword on a mission to free Thera from the wizard Sikasso. All the while, he is hunted by the vengeful Lord Protector Devedas. As Ashok deals with the revelation that he is casteless himself—and apparently a pawn in a game he doesn’t yet fully grasp—he finds himself forced to fight without Angruvadal for the first time, and questioning whether his fate really has fallen to the gods. With this series, Correia brings all of the grit and narrative propulsion of his popular Monster Hunter urban fantasy series into the realm of the epic.

Wild Life, by Molly Gloss (February 5, Saga Press—Paperback)
Saga Press continues its campaign to bring Molly Gloss back into prominence with the SFF crowd, reissuing her fourth novel, the winner of the James Tiptree Jr. Award (presented to a work that explores or expands notions of gender). It is presented as the unedited journal of Charlotte Bridger Drummond, a woman living in Washington State in the early 20th century, doing her best to get by with her five children after her husband abandoned her. Drummond supports herself by writing novels about fierce and attractive girls who go on adventures. When her housekeeper Melba’s daughter goes missing in the wilds, Charlotte decides to follow her characters’ lead and heads out to find her. Soon lost herself, Charlotte uses her journal to keep a record of her increasingly strange journey into an American wilderness far odder than she ever dreamed. In a metafictional touch, this narrative is interspersed with snippets of her fiction and her musings on the constrictions her gender places upon her. Because this is ostensibly a fantasy novel, we should also note that Charlotte’s journal purports that she survived her ordeal in part by joining up with a group of giants living in the mountains. Though the fantastical elements are presented with a shade of ambiguity, Charlotte inarguably proves herself more than able to fill a role that in 1905 (and, perhaps, 2019) would normally fall to a strapping male protagonist.

The Ingenious, by Darius Hinks (February 5, Angry Robot—Paperback)
The city of Athanor was set adrift long ago by alchemists called the Curious Men, moving through space and time and taking with it bits and pieces of every place it passes through along the way. Isten and her followers were one of among those bits and pieces, pulled into Athanor unwittingly. They are now stranded in the incredibly varied but dismally impoverished magical city. Isten’s people believe she is prophesied to set their homeland free, but Isten has succumbed to a terrible addiction, and she and her followers barely survive in the mean alleys of Athanor—until Isten meets Alzen, a member of the Elect. Alzen dreams of becoming the Ingenious, a master magic-user, and Alzen and Isten forge an unusual alliance, each determined to help the other fulfill their disparate disparate dreams in this impossible city. Darius Hinks is an award-winning writer of novels set in the Warhammer universe; The Ingenious is his first wholly original work, in every sense.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James (February 5, Riverhead—Hardcover)
The first book in an epic fantasy trilogy from Booker Prize-winner Marlon James is as impressive as the author’s pedigree would suggest. The Dark Star trilogy has been likened to an “African Game of Thrones,” and the comparison is both apt and overly simplistic—James is doing far more than gluing familiar tropes onto African folklore. This is a deeply literary work, bordering at times on the poetic in its imagery, but it is also enormously fun, with imaginative worldbuilding and a plot that is both measured and propulsive. The Black Leopard is a mercenary able to shape-shift into a jungle cat, and the Red Wolf, also called Tracker, is a hunter of lost folk, with an incredible sense of smell that enables him to hone in on his quarry from vast distances. Sometimes with Leopard and sometimes alone, Tracker works his way across Africa in search of a kidnapped boy, moving through a beautiful, densely detailed world of violence, storytelling, dark magic, giants, and inhuman entities. Tracker’s mission is complicated by the complex and ever-shifting politics of the many tribes he encounters, and furthered along by a growing entourage of followers and allies, from a giant, to a sword-wielding academic, to  a buffalo that understands (and sometimes obeys) human speech. It already feels like a classic, and it will be interesting to see how the fantasy connects with James’s literary audience, and vice versa.

The Ruin of Kings, by Jenn Lyons (February 5, Tor—Hardcover)
Jenn Lyons opens her planned five-book series with novel that defies traditional narrative structure. It begins as a conversation between the imprisoned Kihrin, awaiting what will certainly be a sentence of death, and his jailor Talon, a beautiful, demonic, shape-shifting assassin. As Kihrin tells a sad tale of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and earning the enmity of a cabal of sorcerers (raising more than a few questions about his real identity, and the true nature of a consequential necklace he claims was given to him by his mother)—Talon shares her own side of the story. The twin narratives slowly curl around each other (enriched by asides and often cheeky footnotes), illuminating different aspects of a world populated by incredible magic and a whole host of fantastic monsters and all manner of gods, demons, and men, all seemingly arrayed against Kihrin’s twisting journey to claim his legacy. The buzz for this series-starter has been building for months, and while the comparisons to APatrick Rothfuss and George R.R. Martin are apt, Jenn Lyons has also proven to have her own fascinating perspective on epic fantasy. A must-read.

Polaris Rising, by Jessie Mihalik (February 5, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
Jessie Mihalik’s first novel is a space opera with a healthy helping of sex and romance, telling the story of Ada von Hasenberg, fifth daughter of the influential House von Hasenberg. Two years ago, Ada fled an arranged marriage to Richard Rockhurst and has been racing to stay one step ahead of her father’s minions ever since. Luckily, she’s been the beneficiary of the standard von Hasenberg education, which ran the gamut from computer hacking to social engineering. When Ada is captured by bounty hunters, she makes an alliance with another prisoner, the notorious criminal and murderer Marcus Loch, possibly the most dangerous man in the universe. Together, the pair must break free from their captors and launch a desperate campaign to earn their freedom once and for all. Along the way, they’ll also need to learn to trust each other, and resist the undeniable attraction that has arisen between them. Fast, fun, and sexy, this debut offers a delightful escape into adventure.

Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You, by Scotto Moore (February 5, Tor.cm Publishing—Paperback)
Scotto Moore—the mind behind the darkly, strangely hilarious Lovecraftian Things That Cannot Save You Tumblr and the music blog Much Preferred Customers—writes a short, sharp debut novella that brings together both of his obsessions. It’s the story of a blogger who stumbles across most beautiful music he’s ever heard in his life—a song that mesmerizes him for hours, as if possessed of an arcane power. The band responsible, Beautiful Remorse, plans to release a new track every day for 10 days, and every subsequent tune proves to effect listeners and the world in increasingly powerful and devastating ways. As the blogger joins the band on tour and meets mysterious lead singer Airee Macpherson, he discovers the secret purpose behind the music. This quirky horror story is just as fun as the premise suggests.

Binti: The Complete Trilogy, by Nnedi Okorafor (February 5, DAW—Hardcover)
Nnedi Okorafor’s Hugo- and Nebula-winning trilogy is collected in one volume alongside a brand-new short story. Though originally published as three separate works, Binti’s story gains new resonance when read as a whole: it’s a moving coming-of-age tale, following a young girl’s journey from a rigid home life, out into the black of space and back. The lush worldbuilding takes us from Binti’s origins with the Namibian Himba tribe, to the intergalactic Oomza University, and on an interstellar journey during which she meets and forms a most unusual bond with the truly alien Medusae. Over the course of these stories, Binti grows and changes, taking on the burden of her people’s legacy and, perhaps, the fate of the whole universe. Filled with unusual technology, breathless adventure, and unexpected twists and turns, Okorafor’s latest works of adult science fiction (she is also the author of the YA novels Akata Witch and Akata Warrior, as well as the World Fantasy Award-winner Who Fears Death) is a true delight.

Sisters of the Fire, by Kim Wilkins (February 5, Del Rey—Hardcover)
The sequel to Daughters of the Storm continues the story of five sisters who set off to find a magical cure for their comatose father. the king. Five years later, Bluebell, the warrior among them, remains at home, the new heir to the throne. Ivy rules a prosperous port in a lonely marriage she’s taking terrible steps to end prematurely, Ash studies magic in the far-away wastelands; Rose lives in misery with her aunt, separated from her husband and child; and Willow hides a terrible secret that could destroy everything she and her sisters fought for—she holds the enchanted sword Grithbani, forged to kill her, and she is eager to use it. Bluebell is set upon by enemies both within and outside of her future kingdom even as her sisters pursue their individual and often tragic destinies.

The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders (February 12, Tor—Hardcover)
Charlie Jane Anders’ followup to the Nebula Award-winning All the Birds in the Sky seems, at first glance, a complete departure from that fitfully whimsical, apocalyptic bildungsroman, but both novels share a powerful emotional through line, examining the inner lives and grand destinies of outsiders in societies in which they are never sure they truly belong. It leaves Earth behind entirely, delivering us to the hostile planet January, a tidally locked world split between the frozen wastes on its dark side and the searing eternal day of its light side. In the small sliver between these two extremes, the city of Xiosphant barely supports a dwindling human population. Sophie, who comes from an unremarkable family, willingly takes the blame for a petty crime committed by her fellow student, best friend, shining star Bianca, and is condemned to death via exile into the frigid darkness as an example of the cost of even a small act of rebellion. Sophie is saved by one of the strange animal life forms native to the planet, and discovers that the so-called “crocodiles” are no simple beasts, but an advanced race of telepaths whose existence is threatened by the corrosive presence of human settlers in their midst. Sophie’s ultimate fate parallels not just that of Bianca and her fellow citizens of Xiosphant, but all life on January, and the very future of humanity. It’s a richly compassionate, thoughtful work, packing powerful messages of anti-violence, political theory, and environmentalism alongside a story of growing up and growing into yourself that never strikes a false note.

Doctor Who Meets Scratchman, by Tom Baker (February 12, Penguin—Paperback)
Fans of Doctor Who know Tom Baker best as the iconic Fourth Doctor, lover of Jelly Babies and very cool winter scarves. But did they know he also imagined himself an author of the Doctor’s exploits? In the 1970s, Baker and Ian Marter, who played Harry Sullivan, worked up a treatment for a Doctor Whofeature film—and at one point, it seemed like it might actually be made, with Vincent Price attached to star. But the script was lost in the shuffle, Baker regenerated into Peter Davison, and decades passed. Now, Baker has dusted off the idea and regenerated it into a novel, which sees The Doctor (along with Harry and Sarah Jane Smith) arriving at a remote Scottish island for a bit of a rest. Instead, they find the isolated village under attack by hideous scarecrows. The Doctor takes on the challenge of protecting the innocent, but it’s all an elaborate trap set by an otherworldly force known as the Scratchman—who might be the devil himself. For Who-vians, this is a glimpse into an alternate timeline where the Doctor became the next film franchise—or just another delightful Fourth Doctor romp.

Early Riser, by Jasper Fforde (February 12, Viking—Hardcover)
Jasper Fforde takes a break from the metafictional nuttiness of his Thursday Next novels to travel to an alternate future in which the entire population of England hibernates during the frigid, harsh winter months. Getting through four months of suspended animation isn’t guaranteed—although the rich, able to afford special drugs, fare better than the poor, who often wind up Dead in Sleep—but the Winter Consuls work hard to ensure that everyone makes it. Charlie Worthing has just joined this group of slightly unhinged guardians, and has been tasked with investigating a viral dream that’s been killing people in their sleep. Initially dubious, Charlie begins to believe when he starts experiencing the dreams too—and they start coming true. Fforde’s track record at wacky, wonky worldbuilding is second to none, and this standalone is both a fast-moving romp and a thoughtful slice of social commentary.

The Beast’s Heart: A Novel of Beauty and the Beast, by Leife Shallcross (February 12, Ace—Paperback)
In the tradition of John Gardner’s Grendel, Shallcross retells the story of Beauty and the Beast from the perspective of the titular monster—claws, horns, and all. Trapped under a curse for centuries, Julien Courseilles first glimpses the beautiful Isabeau de la Noue in a dream and realizes she might be able to free him from his lonely bondage. He lures her to his enchanted chateau, where she agrees to stay for a year in exchange for her father’s life. Julien spends those short months proposing marriage and spying on her and her family in an attempt to force a love affair to blossom, but as he comes to terms with the dark fairy tale that is his cursed life, he realizes that even if Isabeau agrees to marry him, that is only the first step on his unlikely journey to redemption. Shallcross’s debut reveals new facets of one of the most retold and best-loved stories of all time.

Where Oblivion Lives, by T. Frohock (February 19, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
Fans of Frohock’s Los Nefilim novellas will be thrilled with this full-length novel, which a deep dive into a historical fantasy world. In 1932, in an alt-history version of Spain and Germany, vying forces of angels and daimons are gearing up for a civil war that threatens humanity’s existence. Los Nefilim are the respective offspring of the warring species, able to either sing like the angles or hear like the daimons; they monitor the conflict and seek to avert disaster. Diago is special even among the Nefilim, born of both angel and daimon and thus able to both sing and hear. Tormented by the sound of his lost Stradivarius, Diago slips over the Rhine and searches for the source of the music that torments his demonic hearing. Along the way, he and his allies uncover evidence of terrible betrayals and a plot that would mean the end of Los Nefilim—and the world.

The Rising, by Mira Grant (February 19, Orbit—Paperback)
Seanan McGuire, writing as Mira Grant, delivered a pitch-perfect postmodern zombie story with her Newsflesh trilogy, combining a hard look at the dirty truth of politics with the shambling dread of the undead apocalypse. The Rising collects all three Hugo-nominated volumes of the trilogy, set decades after separate cures for cancer and the common cold mutated into a virus that turned carriers into zombies and changed the balance of power the world over. Though the contagion has been contained and the zombie threat is under control, the healthy must live in secured areas and stay ever-vigilant. Blogging journalists following the presidential campaign of a Republican senator slowly stumble (no pun intended) upon a grim conspiracy using the hordes of undead to manipulate public opinion and the upcoming election. It’s smart, fast-paced sci-fi horror, and now you can rip through the whole thing without stopping.

The Very Best of Caitlin R. Kiernan, by Caitlin R. Kiernan (February 19, Tachyon—Paperback)
Polymath Caitlin R. Kiernan is well established as one of SFF’s best short story writers, but until now, much of her work has only been available in print in limited-edition publications. Finally, here is a freely available collection of her best work: 20 incredible stories that will remind fans (and prove to new readers) just how unnaturally good she is at this. Her stories dive headlong into dark emotional currents, as when a daughter must close a gate to the past opened by her father; treat in doom and despair, as when a cult leader leads his followers into the ocean; and explore the uncanny, as when a film scholar reviews a disturbing movie about the most prolific female serial killer in history. Any one of them would alone be worth the cover price. It’s hard to imagine this collection won’t rank with the very best speculative books of 2019.

Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation, edited and translated by Ken Liu (February 19, Tor—Hardcover)
Anyone paying attention to science fiction trends in recent years knows that Chinese literature is becoming an increasingly vital part of the landscape in the English-speaking world, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Liu, who translated Cixin Liu’s Hugo-winning novel The Three-Body Problem, and edited the excellent anthology Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation. Now, he returns with a second anthology, another amazing collection of first-rate stories, featuring authors both familiar to attentive Western readers (including Hugo-winners Liu Cixin and Hao Jingfang) and newly imported but no less wonderful. With stories that treat in classic sci-fi tropes as filtered through the lenses of Chinese culture and history, and other that explore ideas that are entirely new, this is another essential exploration of an entire universe of speculative fiction heretofore inaccessible to many Western readers.

Gates of Stone, by Angus Macallan (February 19, Ace—Paperback)
The first book in Macallan’s Lord of the Islands series introduces the gritty, richly detailed world of the Laut Besar, where three lives are set on a collision course that might save—or destroy—a civilization. A princess is denied the throne solely because she’s a woman, and embarks on a violent quest to raise the money and power she’ll need to seize power by force. An arrogant prince is shocked into action when his kingdom is invaded by a sorcerer seeking one of seven powerful talismans that keep the Seven Hells at bay. If the sorcerer locates and possess all seven, all manner of chaos will be unleashed upon the world. Inspired by the overlapping cultures of China and India, this is a story filled with magic, epic battles, and complex characters.

The Outcast Hours, by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin (February 19, Solaris—Paperback)
A great anthology is more than the sum of its parts, and Murad and Shurin proved their ability to curate something truly special with their first effort, the delightful The Dijinn Falls in Love and Other Stories. Here they bring together more than two dozen stories centered on the portion of society that lives by night, bathed in neon and shrinking from the morning. In other words: the outcasts. It’s a rich vein from which to mine incredible and incredibly strange stories, and the stellar cast of contributing writers certainly delivers. The anthology features works by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Marina Warner, Sami Shah, and Jeffrey Alan Love, among many others (including China Miéville, who hasn’t been writing nearly enough fiction as of late, delivers a smattering of deeply weird page-long micro-fictions). For fans of surprising speculative fiction, it is sure to be a treat.

Fleet of Knives, by Gareth L. Powell (February 19, Titan—Paperback)
Powell continues the Embers of War series in fine space opera style, finding the crew of the sentient ex-warship Trouble Dog responding to a distress call in the midst of the fallout of the Archipelago War. Trouble Dog tracks down the abandoned ship Lucy’s Ghost only to find that its human crew took refuge on a centuries-old generation ship launched by an alien species. Their efforts to save the humans pits them against beings that appear to them as dangerous monsters. Meanwhile, war criminal Ona Sudak leads the ships of the Marble Armada in an effort to enforce the peace at all costs—and believing that the Trouble Dog is a danger to that peace, she quickly takes steps to eliminate them, trapping the vessel and its crew between two violent enemies. Embers of War was one of our favorite reads of 2018—a space opera foregrounding the emotional journeys of its protagonists (both human and machine) without sacrificing the action or suspense—and the sequel lives up to its predecessor, and then some.

The Very Best of the Best: 35 Years of The Year’s Best Science Fiction, edited by Gardner Dozois (February 26, St. Martin’s Press—Paperback)
Every serious sci-fi and fantasy fan knows the name of the late, great Gardner Dozois, who for 35 years edited one of the genres’ standout anthology series. His work assembling nearly three dozen volumes of The Year’s Best Science Fiction (from 1984 through 2018, the year of his death) was of course just one aspect of his amazing career in SFF, but a defining one. This remarkable volume—the last he completed in his lifetime—sees Dozois going back through a selection of those past volumes (the name is something of a misnomer; this volume follows two earlier Best of the Bests, and covers the years 2002 through 2017) to highlight 38 stories he thinks represent the cream of the crop from the last decade-and-a-half. The result is more than just a collection of remarkable stories; it’s also a snapshot of the genre’s recent history, highlighting the rise of new voices and diverse new ideas. Contributors include familiar names like Charles Stross, Pat Cadigan, Allen M. Steele, Elizabeth Bear and so, so many others. It’s a book built to satisfy SF readers of all sorts.

Circle of the Moon, by Faith Hunter (February 26, Ace—Paperback)
The fourth in Hunter’s Soulwood series, which takes place in the same universe as her Jane Yellowrock books, Circle of the Moon finds Nell receiving a distress call from Rick LaFleur, head agent at the Psy-Law Enforcement Division, a group charged with investigating paranormal crimes. LeFleur, who can shift into the form of a panther when the moon calls to him, has awoken by a river, naked, with no memory of how he got there. Next to him is a black cat that’s been sacrificed in a rite of black magic. It soon becomes clear that a blood-witch is on the rampage, but with their leader implicated in the growing list of crimes, Nell might not be able to hold her team of fellow PsyLED agents together.

The Raven Tower, by Ann Leckie (February 26, Orbit—Hardcover)
Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice is one of the most daring, most-awarded science fiction novels ever written. Now, she throws herself into the fantasy side of the genre fray with equal ambition. Her first epic fantasy delivers the same experimentation with form and her sharp ideas that made her a space opera game-changer. The story is told in varying first- and second-person by a god called the Strength and Patience of the Hill, who is speaking to Eolo, a transgender warrior in service to a prince named Mawat, recently cheated out of his throne. The Strength and the Hill mingles its own complex, ancient history with the account of Eolo’s attempts to defend and protect the prince, and reveals the waning power of Eolo and Mawat’s patron god, the Raven, and the rising incursions of foreign gods who seek to take advantage of that weakness. This is dense, challenging, affecting fantasy storytelling at its finest.

The Priory of the Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon (February 26, Bloomsbury—Hardcover)
The Bone Season author Samantha Shannon’s latest eschews the series format, packing an entire trilogy’s worth of story into a standalone epic following three remarkable women whose fate is bound to the survival of an entire world. Sabran IX is Queen of Inys, last of an ancient magical bloodline whose very existence binds the Nameless One, a terrible dragon that could end the world, at the bottom of the ocean. Ead Duryan is one of Sabran’s ladies-in-waiting—but she is actually a secret agent, serving a hidden cabal of mages protecting the queen with magic. And across the ocean, Tané is a dragonrider about to break a societal taboo, with unforeseen consequences that will reverberate all the back to Inys. As Sabran discovers she isn’t who she thinks she is, she must reckon with the fact that her family’s bloodline may not be what’s keeping the Nameless One slumbering after all.

What new SFF is on your must-read list in February?

The post The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of February 2019 appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.


37 New Science Fiction and Fantasy Books to Keep You Warm This February


February may be the shortest month, but it’s jam-packed with new sci-fi and fantasy books—including titles from big names like Marlon James, Ken Liu, and io9 co-founder Charlie Jane Anders! Plus: runaway space princesses, mythical monsters, post-apocalyptic survival stories, and tons more, including a few non-fiction…

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