Empress of Forever Is a Fiercely Feminist Space Opera

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

On the surface, the sprawling, bizarro space opera Empress of Forever marks a departure for Max Gladstone, author of the Hugo-nominated Craft Sequence, that uncategorizable city-based (but decidedly not urban fantasy) series in which the magic system is based on the binding, god-drawn power of contract law and lawyers stand in for sorcerers.

But scratch beyond the label and swap out a few genre tropes, and it’s clear that Empress provides plenty of room for the author to expand upon his greatest strength: letting smart characters be smart in a world that requires them to be so. Or, more specifically, letting smart women be smart in a universe that will kill them if they aren’t

This reality hit me within the first few pages, as Vivian Liao, billionaire tech titan, finds herself transported to a galaxy far from her own, an unwitting actor in an intergalactic drama. Stopped in the middle of her attempt to go off the grid and foil her enemies’ earthbound plots, she’s sucked through time and space by a mysterious glowing woman who touch leaves her with burned and blackened scars. When Vivian wakes, she finds herself a galaxy she doesn’t recognize and has, rather unfortunately, emerged in what seems to be a firefight between two forces entirely, pardon the pun, alien to her.

Does Viv panic? Not any more than is reasonable. Does she cower? Only when it’s strategic to do so. The part of her brain that built an earthly empire goes into hyperdrive analyzing the situation, assessing the odds, deriving plans A, B, and C. Her first reaction upon regaining consciousness, ensconced in a viscous green membrane, is to launch into a standard decision-making process: orient, observe, decide, and act.

It’s a beautiful display of competence amid an outrageous turn of events.

Perhaps Viv’s intelligence hit me so hard because of the timing: Empress arrives on shelves mere weeks after the ending of a certain high-fantasy television show that saw all of its cleverest characters devolve into mush-minded plot conveniences by the finale.

Or perhaps it’s so notable because it’s so entirely routine in Gladstone’s work. The Craft Sequence novels paint in intricate detail a world of necromancers and lawyers, fallen gods and boardrooms. Everyone’s smart, including, and maybe most especially, the women. Instead of being told repeatedly that characters are intelligent, Gladstone just shows us. Ruin of Angels, the latest entry in the series, has a near entirely female cast, including Kai, its inimitable transgender protagonist; their collective hunt for Kai’s fugitive sister is a showcase of various types of brilliance and talent, while still leaving room for necessary emotional struggle.

The same is true of Viv in Empress of Forever as she attempts to thwart the will of the green-skinned Empress who abducted her. It’s no easy feat, as the woman controls, well, everything through the Cloud, a souped-up version of our own ethereal datasphere.

Even in a foreign world, Viv doesn’t make stupid choices. Her mistakes and missteps—of which there are plenty—aren’t the result of her acting out-of-character. They’re the result of miscalculations or missing information. And none of that calculating diminishes Viv’s ability to feel or to respond to the feelings of others. (Though the brick wall she’s built to house her own emotions does.)

Along with her on the journey through space and time—on her journey, she hopes, to defeat the Empress and get home—is a ragtag collection of galactic hitchhikers. There is Hong, the loyal priest whose sect is determined to learn all there is about the Empress, and Xiara, a chief’s daughter from a planet long deprived of its destiny by the Empress’ actions. Gray, meanwhile, is a goo-bot demigod, built to serve the Empress but fallen from her graces, who had good intentions but a voracious appetite to consume matter and knowledge. And then there is Zanj, the one true challenger to the Empress’ power, an imprisoned warlord whose centuries in tortured isolation have stoked her fury to incalculable levels.

Together, they form a delightful, mismatched heist crew. The comparisons this novel has drawn to Guardians of the Galaxy are understandable and well-earned—you won’t soon read a book more overloaded with outlandishly imaginative and downright fun set-pieces, including a battle involving space vessels made of stained glass— but in Gladstone’s hands, the novel’s cast makes for a brainier, unapologetically feminist rendering that feels more in line with the present moment. The action still moves at a lightyear pace, but it rarely moves faster than Viv and company, who are endlessly orienting, observing, deciding, and acting.

It’s a chess game played out across the stars, with a fearsome matched set of queens and a collection of pawns who are unforgettable. It’s also proof Gladstone can write in any genre he so chooses. Luckily, we don’t have to wait long for his next foray into sci-fi: This Is How You Lose the Time War, a jagged time travel romance co-authored with Amal El-Mohtar, arrives in July. That should give your brain just long enough to reorient itself to all the rewiring Empress of Forever is about to inflict upon it.

Empress of Forever is available June 18.

The post Empress of Forever Is a Fiercely Feminist Space Opera appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.


The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of June 2019

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

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.

Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town (B&N Exclusive Edition), by Adam Christopher (May 28, Del Rey—Hardcover)
The universe of Netflix’s hit series continues expands with a tense, engrossing novel focusing on the backstory of Police Chief Jim Hopper (originally slated for release in June, it was pushed up to May, but we still want to highlight it here). It’s Christmas 1984. Hopper hopes to spend a quiet holiday at home with his adopted daughter Eleven, but she’d rather Jim open up to her about his past—specifically, what happened to him in New York in 1977. Reluctantly, Hopper tells the tale, which begins with him as a recently returned Vietnam vet with a young daughter and a loving wife, working a beat as a detective in the NYPD. As he investigates a series of brutal murders, Hopper is stunned when federal agents seize all of his files and warn him off the case. Unable to obey, he goes undercover into a world of violent street gangs, searching for the truth—but when the great citywide blackout hits, plunging the city into chaos, he finds himself all alone, facing something worse than he ever imagined. Author Adam Christopher satisfies, whether he’s writing a tie-in novel or something original (his Ray Electromatic mystery series is pure fun).

Fall; or, Dodge in Hell, by Neal Stephenson (June 4, William Morrow—Hardcover)
Neal Stephenson gives the near-future world of his 2011 techno-thriller Reamde a science-fantasy twist in a largely standalone followup that revisits the character of Richard “Dodge” Forthrast, the multi-billionaire founder of Corporation 9592 and creator of the MMORPG T’Rain. In his youth, Forthrast stipulated in his will that when he died his brain should be scanned and preserved by a company owned by the mysterious Elmo Shepherd. When a routine surgery goes wrong and he’s declared brain dead, that’s exactly what happens—if much earlier than he ever expected. Generations later, as the “Meatspace” world spirals into post-truth chaos, a technological breakthrough arrives that allows Forthrast’s brain to be “turned on” again in the virtual Bitworld. While existing as an immortal digital soul in a world without physical constraints sounds great, Forthrast soon finds himself in a desperate battle with Shepherd, also dead and uploaded. Forthrast explores this new phase of human existence and Stephenson ponders existential questions large and small as Dodge and the other denizens of Bitworld must determine how to live in a malleable reality limited only by their imaginations.

Magic for Liars: A Novel, by Sarah Gailey (June 4, Tor Books—Hardcover)
Ivy and Tabitha are sisters, estranged for years by the bitter divide between Tabitha’s magical abilities and Ivy’s complete lack of same. Tabitha went on to teach at the prestigious Osthorne Academy for Young Mages, while Ivy ekes out a living working as a private investigator. When a murder is committed at the Academy, Ivy’s desperate financial situation drives her to take the case despite her animosity toward her sister—and mages in general. At Osthorne, Ivy finds out that even magical academies have Mean Girls, Queen Bees, and popular kids—that is to say, no shortage of murder suspects. As she pretends to have magical powers in order to gain the trust and cooperation of the students and faculty, Ivy finds that to crack the case she’s going to have to face her own fears, her history with her sister, and pull off the most difficult trick of them all: forgiving herself. Regular B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog contributor Sarah Gailey delivers a gripping debut novel, equal parts hardboiled magical noir and gripping psychological drama.

Unraveling, by Karen Lord (June 4, DAW—Hardcover)
Award-winner Karen Lord’s new standalone fantasy (her first novel in four years) opens with forensic therapist Dr. Miranda Ecouvo triumphant; a killer responsible for seven murders is behind bars thanks to her work. But a harrowing near-death experience soon thrusts her into a whole other reality, where she meets the near-immortal Chance and Trickster, brothers who reveal the difficult truth—the entity truly responsible for the murders is seeking immortality, and it’s not done killing. The brothers guide her through the labyrinths of this hidden world, assuring her the killer can still be stopped, and it’s up to her to do it. As reality, memory, and dreams converge, Miranda and the brothers fight to bring true justice to two worlds.

Alphabet Squadron (B&N Exclusive Edition), by Alexander Freed (June 11, LucasBooks—Hardcover)
Star Wars: Battlefront author Alexander Freed returns to the galaxy far, far away for a new story set in the wake of the Rebel Alliance’s triumph in The Return of the Jedi. The Empire is in disarray and the New Republic is struggling to establish itself and finish the galactic civil war for once and for all. Yrica Quell is a defector from the Empire, recruited to be a pilot for the elite Alphabet Squadron (so named because it includes each of the Rebel’s iconic alphabetical ship designs, from A-Wing to X-). The squadron has been charged with locating and destroying Shadow Wing, an elite force of TIE fighters gone rogue, which has been inflicting lethal damage to New Republic forces. The Alphabet Squadron is like the burgeoning government itself—rough and ragged and internal and external threats that are always on the verge of destroying them without a single shot fired. But they’re also resourceful and dedicated—not to mention some of the greatest pilots in the galaxy.Freed recreates the balance of memorable characters and high-stakes action that typified the best of the now-Legends X-Wing novels, but that’s not the only reason to read:in an interesting publishing experiment, he flip side of the story is told in Marvel’s TIE Fighter comic, which views things from the perspective of the Imperial pilots of the Shadow Wing who are seeking to destroy the New Republic before it can even begin.

The Faded Sun Trilogy Omnibus, by C. J. Cherryh (June 11, DAW—Hardcover)
This classic trilogy from C.J. Cherryh, set in her larger Alliance-Union universe, takes place in the aftermath of a 40-year war between the alien Regul and the humans—who have proven to be the fiercest and most bafflingly violent enemy the Regul or their honor-bound mercenaries the Mri have ever faced. In fact, after thousands of years of service the Mri have been nearly wiped out by humanity’s ruthless warring, and as the story begins, their homeworld of Kesrith has been ceded to the humans as part of a peace settlement. When the extent of the Regul’s betrayal of the Mri becomes clear, one of their last warriors, Niun; his sister Melein, last priestess of the Sen; and a human traitor named Sten Duncan become determined to locate a relic that holds the key to the Mri’s survival. The trilogy—now available in one volume after years out of print—explores themes on genocide, cultural assimilation, and the brutal consequences of war, while expanding the worlds of one of the most complex and satisfying fictional universes ever created.

The Grand Dark, by Richard Kadrey (June 11, Harper Voyager—Hardcover)
Richard Kadrey takes a detour from his bestselling Sandman Slim series for a dark, gritty novel with shades of dystopian sci-fi and bizarre fantasy. In the aftermath of the Great War, Lower Proszawa is a city finally free to sink into endless hedonism and decadence. Largo Moorden has already been swallowed by the city—an addict, he works for a shadowy crime lord, navigating a world covered in mysterious “city dust,” inhabited by genetically engineered monsters, plagued by a ruthless disease known as The Drops, and crawling with artificially intelligent automata that are relentlessly replacing humans. Largo has a plan to get out of the slums and rub shoulders with the elites, but his ambitions run him smack into those of other forces, which share a much darker collective vision for the future of Lower Proszawa—and the world beyond. Even readers who might miss the more overt gallows humor of Kadrey’s other work will goggle at the scope of the imaginative worldbuilding on display here.

Green Valley, by Louis Greenberg (June 11, Titan—Paperback)
Louis Greenberg sets this Black Mirror-esque novel in Stanton, a city that has thoroughly rejected the surveillance state, banning all forms of intrusive digital tracking and data collection. Across from Stanton is the last holdout—Green Valley, a bunker where the inhabitants live in a permanent virtual-reality, offering up all the data they can generate. When dead kids with VR implants start turning up in Stanton, police consultant Lucie Sterling—whose niece Kira lives in Green Valley—is called in to take the case, which takes a desperate turn when Kira is abducted. Lucie will have to dive into the virtual world in order to save her and solve the mystery—but she quickly discovers the surface image of a perfect digital paradise Green Valley presents hides a much darker reality.

The Outside, by Ada Hoffmann (June 11, Angry Robot—Paperback)
In a universe where incredibly advanced AI are worshiped as gods and cyborg angels serve as their avatars, humanity’s last hope to break free lies with the space station The Pride of Jai, built entirely without gods’ help and powered by brilliant scientist Yasira Shien’s innovative reactor design. But when the reactor is powered up, disaster strikes—a singularity destroys the station and kills almost everyone on board. Yasira is brought before the gods and told that the disaster is part of a plot to warp reality itself, allowing for an invasion of terrifying monsters from outside our reality. The all-powerful AI believe the plot was engineered by Yasira’s own long-missing mentor Evianna Talirr, but as Yasira is transported to the edge of the galaxy to confront her former teacher, she finds herself questioning the divinity of the gods and the ruthless angels she has always obeyed without question. Hoffman’s debut is starkly original, and tinged with hints of horror fantasy—truly operatic stuff.

Recursion, by Blake Crouch (June 11, Crown—Hardcover)
At the start of Blake Crouch’s latest mind-bending high-concept sci-fi thriller, New York City detective Barry Sutton begins to encounter people suffering from False Memory Syndrome—a condition where they “remember” lives they never lived, and suffer emotionally due to tragedies they never actually experienced. A year earlier, a brilliant neuroscientist named Helena Smith accepts funding from a mega-wealthy sponsor in order to create a device that can preserve memories to be re-experienced whenever desired—but it also allows people to literally enter those memories, changing everything. As the disorder spreads throughout the city, reality itself is threatened; who can say what is real when you can’t trust your own memories? As Harry connects with Helena and they realize her research is destabilizing the world, the two join forces to find a way to save the human race from this threat from within.

The Sol Majestic, by Ferrett Steinmetz (June 11, Tor Books—Paperback)
This unusual SF romp from the author of the decidedly wacky Flex urban fantasy series centers on Kenna, a teenage member of a religious group called the Inevitable Philosophers. Followers like his parents once wielded great influence in the galaxy, but the religion has waned. One night, doubting Kenna arrives at the famous restaurant the Sol Majestic, where the rich and powerful wait years for a reservation and a nightly free meal is offered to the person who offers the best answer to the question “why do you love food?’” and wins the prize, endearing himself to the head chef, Paulius, who finds his religion intriguing. Kenna is brought into the restaurant’s  inner circle, and ersatz found family, and is introduced to the galaxy of great food. But as his Wisdom Ceremony approaches—even as his faith in the Inevitable Philosophies shrinks—Kenna must find his own truth, even as a villain emerges who threatens everything he’s come to suddenly find most dear.

Velocity Weapon, by Megan E. O’Keefe (June 11, Orbit—Paperback)
Megan O’Keefe (airship heist fantasy Steal the Sky) launches a new space opera series with the story of Sanda and Biran Greeve, a skilled pilot and politician respectively. Together they seek to defend their homeworld and deter an all-out war with its enemies. But when Sanda’s ship is attacked, she goes down—and wakes up more than two centuries later, missing a leg and marooned on an abandoned enemy warship. Her only company is the ship’s AI, the Light of Berossus, aka Bero, who informs her that both warring planets were destroyed long ago, and she might be the only human left in the universe. In the past, Biran struggles with the impact of war and a young thief named Jules plots a heist; in the present, another survivor arrives on Bero’s ship—an enemy combatant named Tomas. As the two timelines slowly converge, the twists come fast and furious, as Sanda must decide what it means to be human, and whether there is even room for humanity in a time of war. In a fantastic year for space opera (see below), this one shouldn’t be overlooked.

Empress of Forever, by Max Gladstone (June 18, Tor Books—Paperback)
The Hugo-nominated author of the Craft Sequence fantasy series makes a stunning shift to sci-fi with this splashy, wildly imaginative, utterly strange, and truly intergalactic standalone novel, the anti-hero’s journey of Vivian Lao, a brilliant, morally conflicted young tech billionaire on the verge of world domination—or total destruction at the hands of her many enemies. When she fakes her death and flees to a server farm at the center of the worldwide digital cloud, intending to hack in and make her checkmate move, she unwittingly trips an alarm, endangers a dear friend, and encounters a powerful glowing figure who transports her into an unknown realm that might be a distant galaxy, the far future of her own, or something else entirely. Viv finds herself in a time and place she doesn’t recognized, a universe ruled by the terrifying, emerald-skinned Empress, whose access to a far more advanced Cloud allows her monitor everything, and destroy any civilization that advances to a point that might attract the attention of the Bleed, a truly alien entity that devours reality itself. Viv wasn’t built for terror and passivity, though, and quickly assembles a rag-tag group of heretics, criminals, ex-warlords, and nanobot outcasts, and dedicates herself to breaking the Empress’ hold on the universe. Like Guardians of the Galaxy on mescaline, it’s space opera like you’ve never imagined it.

FKA USA, by Reed King (June 18, Flatiron Books—Hardcover)
Reed King (a pseudonym for a “New York Times bestselling author and screenwriter”) crafts a delirious vision of a terrible future. In 2085, Truckee Wallace lives in a part of the former United States called Crunch, United, working in a food processing plant. He has no particular enthusiasm for his life, but his humdrum days start looking better to him after the president of the company charges Truckee with transporting a talking goat named Barnaby across the country as part of an effort to stymie the nefarious plans of the inventor of a technology that links human brains with electronic devices. As Truckee travels with Barnaby across an environmentally blasted hellscape that was once these United States, he’s joined by a sentient android longing to be human and a lobotomized former prisoner, and struggles with his own ambivalence about whether or not the world he’s trying to save is worth saving at all.

Silver in the Wood, by Emily Tesh (June 18, Tor.com Publishing—Paperback)
This lush, gorgeously written novella from Emily Tesh puts a queer twist on the ancient story of the Green Man. Tobias Finch has spent centuries watching over Greenhollow Wood with only his cats and the dryads for company. One day a handsome young man named Henry shows up at Tobias’ door, dripping wet from misadventure. Tobias recognizes Henry as the new owner of the woods, and feels an instant attraction that Tobias initially resists. Fate soon brings the two back together, however, and Tobias discovers Henry has hidden depths—including an interest in collecting and preserving the local myths and legends. Henry begins to pursue the truth behind one of them, involving a wild man who roams the woods and abducts young men, putting himself in danger and pushing Tobias to a crisis point.

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, by Alexis Hall (June 18, Ace—Paperback)
Alexis Hall delivers what can best be described as a raucous, passionate, remarkable mashup of H.P. Lovecraft, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Robert W. Chambers. After fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham returns to his home city of Khelathra-Ven, a place where time and geography are fluid. He’s forced by circumstances to share rooms with Shaharazad Haas, a sorceress of legendary deductive abilities with a reputation for drug binges and darkness. When Haas is hired by socialite Lady Eirene Viola Delhali to investigate who is attempting to blackmail her out of following through on her marriage, Shaharazad quickly narrows the possible suspects—and enlists a reluctant Wyndham to travel through various trippy areas of the city in search clues. Along the way, he faces insane old gods and a prison cell in Carcosa, much to his dismay. The further they dig into the case, the more impossible it seems—even for a place like Khelathra-Ven.

The Brink: An Awakened Novel, by James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth (June 18, Harper Voyager—Hardcover)
The sequel to Awakened, in which a newly developed deep subway line championed by NYC mayor Tom Cafferty brought a wave of bloodthirsty monsters bubbling up from below, picks up in the stunned aftermath of what Cafferty and his allies learned was no accident, but a planned attack. The creatures have now spread across the globe, a massive cover-up is in effect, and a shadowy organization is using the secret of how to kill the creatures to blackmail desperate nations. Cafferty, ex-police officer Sarah Bowcut, and technical genius Diego Munoz realize that they may be the only people with the knowledge necessary to stave off the apocalypse—if they can make their move before it’s too late. “Ridiculously fun” isn’t often a phrase used to describe a horror novel, but we’re just going to call a C.H.U.D. and C.H.U.D. here.

The Girl in Red, by Christina Henry (June 18, Berkley—Paperback)
Retelling the story of Little Red Riding Hood in a post-apocalyptic setting, revisionist bestseller Christina Henry (Alice, Red Queen, Lost Boy)introduces Red, aka Cordelia, a young woman with a prosthetic leg trying to survive in a world gone mad. Three months before, the Crisis began—a terrifying plague that has killed most of the global population and led to the creation of horrifying monsters. Most of the survivors are huddled in quarantine camps, which have become a breeding ground for desperate acts of violence and terror. Red is determined to travel through the woods to her grandmother’s rural home to make sure she’s okay, but knows that even armed with an axe it’s going to be a dangerous journey—and not only because of the men she might encounter, who might view her gender and her missing limb as weaknesses that make her an easy target. But Red is determined, and no matter how grim her journey becomes, she refuses to give up, relying on her survival skills to guide her through a journey she has no guarantee of completing.

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind, by Jackson Ford (June 18, Orbit—Paperback)
Teagan Frost is special and not sure how she feels about it. As far as she knows, she’s the only telekinetic in the world. She’s struck a deal with a shadowy spook named Tanner: she completes impossible missions for him, and he ensures she doesn’t end up in a government lab being dissected by overeager scientists. Teagan would much rather be vegging out in front of Netflix, but does as she’s told. But when a dead body turns up at the site of her last mission, murdered in a way only a telekinetic could have accomplished, Teagan must prove her innocence within a day or lose Tanner’s protection. Meanwhile, a drifter named Jake is given three tasks to accomplish in order to gain information about his mysterious past, which might also hold answers for Teagan—and have implications for the fates of millions. Ford’s debut holds nothing back, delivering a sense of absurd fun and high-speed thrills that more than lives up to that amazing title.

The Lesson, by Cadwell Turnbull (June 18, Blackstone—Hardcover)
Five years ago, an alien spaceship appeared over the Virgin Islands, and the Ynaa arrived, claiming to be conducting a peaceful—but highly secret—research mission. The Ynaa offer benefits to their human hosts/hostages like incredible healing powers, but punish any form of aggression toward them with brutal violence. As a result, the relationship between the species is fraught, meaning Ynaa ambassador Mera and her human assistant Derrick have they work cut out for them: as the anniversary of the death of a child killed by the Ynaa comes around, tensions threaten to boil over into open conflict as a cycle of violent retribution is set in motion. Mera and Derrick are forced to choose sides in a war that has been five years in the making. Turnbull’s debut—which the publisher bills as one of the first speculative novels set in the Virgin Islands—explores themes of colonialism and prejudice with literary style, pairing nicely with similarly themed (and much praised) works like Tade Thompson’s Rosewater and Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2019 Edition, edited by Rich Horton (June 18, Prime Books—Paperback)
The latest volume of editor Rich Horton’s legendary anthology series offers up a murderer’s row of SFF talent. Stories include gems from Yoon Ha Lee (“The Starship and the Temple Cat”), Cadwell Turnbull (“Jump”), Ursula K. Le Guin (“Firelight”), Lavie Tidhar (“The Buried Giant”), and Nebula nominee Alix E. Harrow (“A Witch’s Guide to Escape”) as well as many others pulled from premier markets like Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, Lightspeed, and Tor.com. Horton pulls stories from a wide net both geographically and in terms of sources, offering a wide view of speculative fiction as it stands today.

War, by Michelle West (June 18, DAW—Hardcover)
An outgrowth of Michelle West’s Sun Sword series focusing on the character of Jewel Markess A’Terafin, the final book of the House War series (which was split into two when it metastasized in the writing; penultimate book Firstborn arrived in February) manages to pull everything together more or less perfectly. The Sleepers, long imprisoned by the gods, are beginning to wake—and the gods are no longer around to keep them in check—and they will only obey the Winter Queen. Jewel has one of the last saplings that could bring on a new Summer Age. She has no idea how to get to the Court of the Winter Queen, but she does have her powers of prophecy and a fierce determination to save her city and her people, no matter the personal cost. This is an outstanding final chapter of an expansive epic that stretches across 14 books.

The Iron Dragon’s Mother, by Michael Swanwick (June 25, Tor Books—Hardcover)
Michael Swanwick surprises with a direct sequel to his 1993 science fantasy classic The Iron Dragon’s Daughter. The followup tells the story of Caitlin of House Sans Merci, a half-human pilot of mechanical dragons. After completing her first mission, she finds she has a hitchhiker in her head named Helen—but before she can puzzle that out, she finds herself framed for a series of terrible crimes, including the murder of her brother. Believing he must still be alive, Caitlin flees into the lands of the industrialized faerie, and discovers a twisted society where changeling women are used as breeding stock and pilots are punished if they do not remain virgins. As she pursues the truth to prove her innocence, Caitlin finds herself working toward a greater goal than her own freedom, assembling a heroic group of friends to help her liberate those suffering under an oppressive society.

What new SFF will you be picking up in June?

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


8 Frelling Great Books for Fans of Farscape

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

It’s been 20 cycles since John Crichton fell through a wormhole and into an escape attempt by the sentient spaceship Moya, her complement of ex-prisoners, and one very cross Peacekeeper named Aeryn Sun. (Anyone else feel frellin’ old?) Over four seasons and a cliff-hanger resolving miniseries, Farscape followed John, Aeryn, and a range of deeply alien companions as they flee from an “insane military commander” and other agents of an oppressive government pursuing the knowledge of wormholes locked up in Crichton’s head.

Though technically an Australian-American co-production, the show was filmed in New South Wales and features an overwhelmingly Australian cast and crew—as a result, its sensibilities are slightly askew to those of an American audience less accustomed to having a vein of dark comedy shot through their sci-fi. Aussies are also accustomed to doing more with less in their TV, hence Farscape’s genuinely impressive look and feel, even given a “hefty for ’90s cable but relatively modest for TV” budget.

Also: Muppets. Well, OK, not technically Muppets—but the Jim Henson Company, under Brian Henson, served as a co-producer, and was charged with creating all the impressive lien makeup and prosthetics, including fully puppeteer-operated main characters Pilot and Rygel. If you’ve seen The Dark Crystal (and, if you haven’t, what are you doing?) you know exactly how much the Henson team can do when given free reign over a world of sci-fi and fantasy. In a way, Farscape is even more impressive: The Dark Crystal is set in a world managed entirely by puppeteers, while the creatures of Farscape need to interact believabl—and dramatically—with human characters. The easy joke about the Star Trek series is that every human in the galaxy seemed to be interchangeable save for their T-zones; especially at the time, it was incredibly rare to meet aliens who weren’t roughly human-actor shaped. The show still impresses in this regard too—the puppets have a solidity and presence that’s sometimes lost with modern CGI.

The series is also one-stop shopping for some of our favorite sci-fi tropes: sentient spaceships, space pirates, wormholes, time travel, etc.—but it ultimately works because of the weird, fully realized, and often morally ambiguous characters who populate the show’s cast. With that in mind, here are eight books that will speak to fans of Farscape.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers
One of Farscape‘s most impressive aspects is the affection it engenders for Moya, the sentient bio-mechanical “Leviathan” ship who is able to communicate only indirectly with her crew, but who still comes to feel like a fully fleshed-out character in her own right. In Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series, the ship itself isn’t sentient, precisely, but the AI that runs just about everything onboard it is. Lovelace, or Lovey as the crew affectionately calls her, was based on a standard, out-of-the-box AI program, but develops a distinct personality and eventually falls in love with the engineer who installed her (not a euphemism). The series features an appropriately rag-tag crew of distinct and diverse individuals, and is at least as sex-positive as Farscape while doing the show one better in terms of diversity and queer representation. Plus: wormholes!

(Though we chose the series for this list independently, Becky Chambers spoke to us shortly after the first book came out about Farscape as an inspiration. You can read her thoughts on the show here.)

Embers of War, by Gareth L. Powell
There’s a slightly ineffable element to Farscape’s success, and that’s to do with it’s wildly shifting tones. It can be dark, and weird, and funny—sometimes all at once—without ever losing the thread of deep humanity at its heart (defining “humanity” very broadly, since most of the crew is not strictly human). Gareth L. Powell manages a similar trick with his much-lauded, ongoing space opera series that began with Embers of War. In the aftermath of a brutal war and the horrific genocide that ended it, the sentient ship Trouble Dog and her captain, Sal Konstanz, are desperate to put the past behind them and make amends (to the extent that amends can be made). It all sounds very heavy, and it is, but Powell finds the heart in each member of Trouble Dog’s crew of loners and outcasts, not to mention the ship herself. He also manages to adeptly inject moments of humor into the proceedings—not surprising, given that this a book from the same writer who made a hero out of a fowl-mouthed, cigar-chomping monkey in the brilliant Ack-Ack Macaque trilogy.

Dark Run, by Mike Brooks
Captain Ichabod Drift swore off his pirate past in favor of life as a freelance cargo hauler on his ship, the Keiko. Given just that much background, you can probably guess how well it goes. Soon enough, he’s blackmailed by a former government minister into running a mysterious package to Earth as part of a complicated revenge scheme, during which Drift and his crew plot to turn the tables and get their own brand of payback. Like Farscape‘s, the universe in which Drift’s crew plys their trade is a complicated, dirty place, with a thriving criminal underworld. Similarly, the crew is diverse both in makeup and motives, as each member has their own varying agendas and, in many cases, adventures to pursue. Granted, it’s a different sort of diversity: in this all-human universe, the Keiko’s crew includes a Chinese brother/sister team and a Māori fighter among its criminals, hackers, and con-artists. There are three books in this series so far, and considering they only get better as they go, we sincerely hope there will be more.

Revenger, by Alastair Reynolds
By interfacing with the skulls of a long-dead species, Adrana and Fura Ness are useful to the legendary Captain Rackamore as Bone Readers. Joining his crew, they employ their telepathic gifts to hunt for treasure—until Adrana is captured by the most feared pirate in the system. What results (in this book and particularly in its sequel, Shadow Captain) are the exploits of a crew of underdogs thrown together on an outlaw ship under the command of the Ness sisters, hunted by just about everyone through no real fault of anyone on board. As on Farscape, each member of the crew has their own motivations, and trust is hard-won and easily lost. Like Moya’s crew, they too are outlaws by necessity rather than choice—living pirate lives only because they’ve got no real shot at living any other way.

Consider Phlebas, by Iain M. Banks
This is the kick-off to Banks’ long-running series of generally standalone works set in the Culture, a sort of techno-utopia whose members run into conflict when engaging with less technologically and morally developed civilizations. In Consider Phlebas, an agent of the Idiran Empire, at war with the Culture, is tasked with recovering a stray Mind—one of the Culture’s hyperintelligent sentient machines that run their massive ships. Along the way, he’s cast adrift and picked up by a pirate vessel. Making a place for himself among the crew, he goes on a few raids before ultimately rising to become master of the ship in a very pirate-like fashion. The morally ambiguous tone and population of intelligent starships makes the book a good fit for fans of the space opera elements of Farscape, but fair warning: while the show dabbles in darkness and scenes of torture, Banks goes considerably further over-the-top—which you’ll realize upon reading the first chapter, in which the protagonist is threatening with drowning in, er, let’s just say “sewage.”

Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor
In tone they’re rather different, but Nnedi Okorafor’s trilogy shares aspect in particular with Farscape: Third Fish, the living ship that transports the title character to the prestigious Oozma University. The series begins when Binti chooses to leave her home on Earth, against the will of her family, to go to school—the first human to do so. En route, the ship is attacked by the jellyfish-like Meduse, who are in a longstanding conflict with the Khoush, an ethnic group whose home neighbors that of Binti’s own Himba. As the young woman is able to communicate with the Meduse, she also makes contact with the ship. As with Moya in Farscape, Third Fish eventually has a child… one which growns up a bit better than Moya’s own Talyn.

The Empress of Forever, by Max Gladstone
Out this summer, the first standalone novel from Hugo-nominated author Max Gladstone (The Craft Sequence) is a sprawling space opera that seems to have Farscape baked right into its DNA (alongside a gab bag of anime series, comic books, and Japanese role playing games). The plot is a great parallel—American tech guru Vivian Liao is mysteriously thrown across space and time and into a distant galaxy, where she must immediately begin fleeing in earnest from powerful forces pursuing her for the galaxies-shattering knowledge buried deep within her head. Along the way, she assembles a strange crew of rarely human allies, anti-heroes, and frenemies—an enraged, nigh-unkillable warlord; a cloud of sentient, shape-shifting grey goo; a disillusioned monk forced to leave behind the others of his order and the stained glass starships they pilot through space—to either aide her mission or use her to further their own ends. The book is an awe-inspiring mashup of complex, big-idea SF plotting (a galactic travelogue that skips from planet to planet to space station, each location bursting with enough worldbuilding to power an entire book) and careful character work (each member of Viv’s crew—not to mention Viv herself—feels real enough to touch). Reading it is not unlike mainlining all four seasons of Farscape in one go. Highly recommended, even if the experience leaves you a little woozy.

Farscape Omnibus Volume 1, by Rockne S. O’Bannon, Keith R. A. DeCandido, Tommy Patterson, Will Sliney, and Caleb Cleveland
In looking for novels and stories in the style of Farscape, you could do far worse than to read something with Farscape on the cover. So last, but not least, is the Farscape comic series, co-written by series creator Rockne S. O’Bannon. The books pick up mere moments after the conclusion of The Peacekeeper Wars miniseries, with John and Aeryn trying to adjust to parenthood even as Rygel discovers that he’s the target of dangerous bounty hunters. The first arc sends Moya and the gang to Hyneria and into the middle of a civil war which they hope will see Rygel finally restored to the throne. The comics builds on the show’s mythology by digging into the backgrounds of D’Argo and Scorpius, in particular, ultimately concluding with an extended war for the uncharted territories. It’s an official continuation, all of it’s canon, and it just recently came back into print with a giant, 688-page omnibus collection that covers about half of the run.

What Farscape readalikes do you recommend?

The post 8 Frelling Great Books for Fans of Farscape appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.


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

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post The New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2019 appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.