This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Black Futures, Language and Dragons, and Delivering Dystopia via Drone

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

The Emperor’s Fist: A Blackhawk Novel, by Jay Allan
The latest from Jay Allan, military SF master, returns to the setting of his Far Stars novels. The imperial incursion has been turned back through the efforts of Astra Lucerne and her forces, but local warlords continue to vie for control. The emperor, down but not out, has a plan to strike back and eliminate Astra and her resistance. Meanwhile, her general, the former imperial Arkarin Blackhawk, bides his time—though his heart belongs to his commander, his conditioning makes him volatile. In order to help her save the Far Stars, he’ll have to put his self-control to the test.

Black from the Future: A Collection of Black Speculative Writing, edited by Stephanie Andrea Allen and Lauren Cherelle
Inspired by voices of writers like Octavia Butler, Jewelle Gomez, Nalo Hopkinson, and N.K. Jemisin, this anthology offers 22 weird and fantastical pieces of prose and poetry—spanning horror, science fiction, magical realism, and fantasy—that explore ideas of Afro- and African-futurism. With contributions from bold established and rising voices among Black women writers, there’s something for everyone among the diverse assortment of stories here.

The Cruel Stars, by John Birmingham
Centuries ago, a group of human genetic purists known as the Sturm waged a war to destroy any humans guilty of genetic manipulation or cybernetic augmentation. They came very close to destroying any human civilization that wasn’t “pure,” but were eventually defeated and driven into the distant reaches of the universe. Now they’re back, launching a devastating surprise attack that leaves humanity teetering on the brink. The only thing standing in their way is a rag-tag group: an untested military ship with a new captain, a bunch of low-down pirates, a princess, a criminal without a body, and a hero of the first war against the Sturm, as determined as ever to defeat his ancient foe. The gritty story of their survival is ideally pitched to fans of the character-focused realism of James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series.

Turning Darkness into Light, by Marie Brennan
This standalone novel set within the fantastically beastly world of Marie Brennan’s much-admired Memoir’s of Lady Trent series focuses on Audrey Camherst, Lady Trent’s granddaughter. Like her grandmother, Audrey is equally determined to push past the societal limits imposed on her gender, and is excited to translate several ancient Draconean tablets found by the shallow, ambitious Lord Gleinheigh. With the help of her childhood friend Kudhsayn, and under the watchful eye of Gleinheim’s niece Cora, Audrey’s work is told in a series of letters and journal entries, and via the translations themselves—work that will have a stunning effect on the world, as Audrey, Kudshayn, and Cora uncover evidence of a terrible conspiracy. It’s a welcome return to a world we thought we’d left behind.

Lies of Descent, by Troy Carrol Bucher
Troy Carrol Bucher’s debut epic fantasy focuses on the experience of two children, Riam and Nola. A thousand years ago, the Fallen Gods’ war brought an army across the ocean, leaving the continent of Draegora empty and abandoned. Since then, the occupying force has ruled their new world uncontested. When Riam and Nola are found to have Draegoran blood flowing through their veins, they are torn violently from their homes to be trained as warriors. Riam, whose home life was abusive and awful, welcomes this chance at seizing a measure of power, hoping to use it to protect others. Nola resents being taken from her happy life. But both will soon find their paths taking unexpected turns.

Parable of the Talents, by Octavia E. Butler
The second and final novel of the late, great Butler’s shockingly prescient, sadly truncated Earthseed saga gets a new edition. The novel tells the story of two generations of women: in 2032, a young woman of color has formed a community and family around outcasts in the face of persecution from the country’s new, ultra-conservative president (His slogan? “Make America great again.”) By her very existence, Lauren Olamina has become a target and a figurehead, the face of everything President Jarret opposes. Years later, Lauren’s daughter Asha Vere the diary of a mother she never knew, hoping to understand why the woman she needed while growing up dedicated her life to fighting battles on behalf of others. It’s a dystopian novel that manages to maintain a sense of hope, as Olamina’s faith and philosophy guide her family into an uncertain future.

Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories, edited by Ellen Datlow
Legendary editor Ellen Datlow collects a Murderer’s Row of authors for this collection of terrifying, haunting, unsettling, and wildly differing takes on the tradition of ghost stories. With twenty-nine tales on offer, there’s something for every ghost story fan. Contributors include Seanan McGuire (the spooky carnival tale “Must Be This Tall To Ride”), A.C. Wise (“The Ghost Sequences” is a walk though an art installation that only gets stranger the deeper in your proceed), and Pat Cadigan (“About the O’Dells” concerns a girl who is haunted by forgotten memories of a murder, and perhaps something more), alongside Richard Kadrey, Joyce Carol Oates, and Alice Hoffman, among many others. With Datlow at the helm, there’s little doubt about the quality of the fiction herein.

Last Ones Left Alive, by Sarah Davis-Goff
Orpen had an almost pastoral upbringing on an empty island on the west coast of Ireland with only her mam and Maeve—an idyllic life, save for her harsh training to prepare for incursions by the zombie-like skrake. When her mam dies and Maeve is bitten, Orpen embarks on a journey through a ruined mainland Ireland to find the mythic Phoenix City. With its vivid sense of place and introspective journey through the beautiful, terrible ruins of the modern world, Last One Left Alive invites comparisons to The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

Our War, by Craig DiLouie
In an alternate United States (one that less “alternate” with every passing day), the president sets off a brutal civil war by refusing to step down when his term ends. In Indianapolis, 10-year old Hannah is all alone, believing her brother Alex is dead. As the war rages, she takes up the Free Women militia seeking refuge and purpose; her experience with these brave women inspires her to want to join the fight directly. Unbeknownst to Hannah, Alex is alive and being forced to fight for the rebels, who will kill him if he refuses. Meanwhile, a coalition seeks to rescue the child soldiers from a war they had no part in starting, but which they suffer from disproportionately. DiLouie brings depth to his dark vision of America with a stories that draws parallels to the sad reality of conscripted children fighting in real wars around the world today.

Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples, by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran
When hearing Neil Gaiman has penned his take on the story of Snow White, faithful readers should know better than to expect the Disney-fied version of the fairy tale, especially given that the story’s roots run far deeper (and darker) than many sanitized, modern retellings would imply. Here, Gaiman and artist Colleen Doran shift the focus from stepdaughter Snow to the long-suffering stepmother, imagining the story from the point-of-view of the “villain,” a queen determined to save her kingdom from the young woman that she can only see as a monster. This graphic novel adaption of the short story is gorgeously, chillingly illustrated.

The Warehouse, by Rob Hart
Rob Hart, best known for the Ash McKenna series, offers up a chilling and plausible vision of our corporate-run future, lurking the logical end of our current drive towards deregulation and privatization. After taking over the Federal Aviation Administration from the government, a familiar mega-corporation known as Cloud dominates commerce and labor to a frightening extent. In essence, the world has been turned into a huge open-air mall… run by Cloud. It is in this future where three stories converge: that of Gibson Wells, the dying founder of the company, who defends his legacy; Paxton, a former competitor turned Cloud employee living and working at one of the company’s self-sustaining facilities; and Zinnia, a corporate spy who sees Paxton as an asset and uses his attraction to her in pursuit of her own ends. Detailed worldbuilding makes this one feel nightmarish and all too real, but the thrilling plot keeps you turning pages anyway.

Meet Me in the Future, by Kameron Hurley
Kameron Hurley has emerged as one of the best and brightest writers in modern SFF, winning a Hugo for her non-fiction and being shortlisted for the Hugo, Nebula, and plenty of other awards for her fiction. This new collection brings together 16 short stories that are as much about breaking rules and subverting tropes as entertaining the reader. Hurley tackles your assumptions about military SF (“The Red Secretary”), monster hunting (“The War of Heroes”), and identity (“The Fisherman and the Pig”) among many other things, all rendered with the author’s evident skill and grim imagination. (One of the stories, “Garda,” is a novelette that was first published on this blog.)

What new sci-fi & fantasy is on your to-read list this week?

The post This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Black Futures, Language and Dragons, and Delivering Dystopia via Drone appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

Neil Gaiman’s Take on Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast Fantasy Trilogy Finds a Home at Showtime


Game of Thrones is over, and every network and streaming service is currently trying to replicate the success of HBO’s hit by finding their own epic fantasy breakout. Showtime, which already has Kingkiller Chronicle in development, is doubling down with another genre title: Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy.

Read more…

18 Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels That Get Serious About Economics

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Speculative fiction often employs a deliberate vagueness when it comes to the economics of fictional universes. In fantasy novels, gold coins may serve as simple, flexible, generally ill-defined units of exchange, often found whenever convenient and obeying no known rules of economics. In science fiction, money is often handwaved or completely ignored (because building and maintaining a spaceship would otherwise be prohibitively expensive for the ragtag group of protagonists, probably). Sure, it’s not often you buy a novel because you’re hoping it contains several hundred pages of economic theory—but when an author manages to incorporate serious economic worldbuilding into an imagined story, it’s kind of amazing. Don’t believe us? Here are 18 fascinating speculative worlds in which economics plays a huge part in both the plot and worldbuilding.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson
Hearing that the protagonist of a new fantasy novel is essentially a renegade accountant might send you running, but Dickinson’s assured, confident debut novel’s main character, Baru Cormorant, is so much more than that—and so much more interesting than another anti-hero thief or sellsword. When her tiny island nation is conquered by the all-consuming Empire of Masks, Baru vows to destroy her enemy from within, assimilating outwardly and rising quickly to a position as Imperial Accountant in Aurdwynn, a troublesome out-of-the-limelight territory the empire is trying to bring to heel. Here, Baru sees her chance, and embarks on a program of economic manipulation and sabotage that sparks a revolt and sows chaos, forcing her to pick a side. The economy of the Empire of Masks is detailed and described in ways that make it seem as exciting as any magic system, setting this trilogy-launching book apart. (The fallout for Baru’s actions is explored in last year’s sequel The Monster Baru Cormorant).

The Dagger and the Coin series, by Daniel Abraham
Daniel Abraham was already known as a writer who considered economics an integral part of his fantasy worlds (the cotton trade, of all things, sparks generations of upheaval in The Long Price Quartet) when he launched The Dagger and the Coin quintet, in which he crafts a world with a deep history of civil strife (the titular Dragon’s Path); 13 specific races, each with its own socioeconomic place and culture; and plenty of warfare, battles, near-escapes, and thrills. It’s also a world where one of the five point-of-view characters runs a bank branch, and where banks are almost nations unto themselves, crossing borders and wielding incredible power. The story climaxes in an audit that is somehow as exciting as any sword fight. No one else makes realistic economics an essential part of an exciting story like Abraham.

King’s Shield, by Sherwood Smith
In King’s Shield (book three of the Inda series), there’s an oddly exciting moment of economics-as-plot-point: whereas most fantasies imagine kingdoms whose monarchs have more or less endless resources, Smith shows us one in which the kingdom absolutely broke, and the king is forced to explain that more gold won’t help, because the royal purse has nothing to do with gold—it’s all about men and horses and vital resources given to the crown by vassals, which in turn allow him to basically write IOUs. Gold is worthless because years of war have frozen trade and depressed markets. It’s a surprisingly complicated economic lecture in the middle of a fantasy series that brings the true crisis at the heart of the story into sharp focus.

The Dragonriders of Pern series, by Anne McCaffrey
Anne McCaffrey’s lengthy Pern series has a complex, if probably unworkable, economic system of “marks”—wooden coins issued by a Hold or a Hall with their identifying mark on one side and the value of the mark on the other. Interestingly, unlike gold, the marks themselves have zero intrinsic value; their value is solely in what they can be exchanged for at the issuing Hold or Hall. The value of a mark varies no matter what number is printed on one side, because the goods and services it can be exchanged for vary in perceived value—a 100-mark coin that gets you a bolt of silk is a lot less valuable than a 5-mark coin that will pay to heal a grievous injury. McCaffrey’s economics have some foundation in the real world and are fascinating in their complexity and imagination.

The Towers trilogy, by Karina Sumner-Smith
The phrase “born into money” is usually used insultingly. In Smith’s universe, people—well, most people—are born with magical powers of varying sorts. Magic can accomplish anything, provided you have the right power, and has become the only currency that matters. Smith’s detailed examination of an economy of personal ability—people literally “born into” their social and economic status—focuses on Xhea, a woman who initially seems to lack any magic whatsoever. Struggling to earn a living and survive when you literally have nothing the world wants is a fascinating way to explore the ins and outs of an economic system.

The Books of Babel, by Josiah Bancroft
Before we dig into this one, be warned: what follows functions as something of a minor worldbuilding spoiler for at least the first novel in Josiah Bancroft’s ingenious series, set almost entirely within a truly massive structure known as the Tower of Babel (but not that one). While it doesn’t give away any plot points, per se, it doesn’t reveal a detail about how the tower functions that some readers may prefer to discover on their own. Still here? OK. So, as we first begin to explore the tower in Senlin Ascends alongside our protagonist, a stuffy schoolteacher named Thomas Senlin who visits the edifice on his his honeymoon and soon finds himself minus one wife and plus a whole heap of problems, we find it is divided into separate “ringdoms” that operate seemingly independently of one another, each with its own bizarre rituals: the rabble in the market of the “skirts” at the tower’s base; the drunken revelers in the Basement who crowd onto foot-powered merry-go-rounds that reward their physical activity with a spray of cold beer; the actors in the pantomimes of the Parlor who are given roles to play and rules to follow, chief among them: stoke the fires in every room you enter; the Baths, with their artificial beaches and warm bathing pools. Senlin soon begins to suspect that the Tower, by design, is built of subterfuge and exploitation: each higher level is powered by the suffering and labor of the masses below (the heat of the Baths comes from the Parlor’s fires, and so on), who receive in return little more than temporary distraction. There is money in this world, too—Senlin generally doesn’t have enough of it, which causes him more trouble—and a thriving black market built on piracy, slavery, and murder. It’s not unlike a fantastical analogue to the real world, cut into slivers and stacked precariously high.

Neptune’s Brood, by Charles Stross
A good number of Charles Stross’ works could find a home on this list—consider the not-so-near-future economic crisis that drives Halting State, triggered by a conspiracy involving the theft of rare items within a massive multiplayer online role playing game that extends offline into the realms of stock market manipulation; he even has an entire science fantasy series known as The Merchant Princes that uses portal fantasy tropes to explore the influence modern goods and technology might have on the politics and economies of a feudal world. But we’d be loathe not to highlight Neptune’s Brood, the second book in a loosely connected series (after Saturn’s Children) exploring a far future galaxy in which “natural” humans are extinct and androids and meta-humans carry our legacy into the year 7000—including our tendency to muck up our economies in pursuit of greater wealth. The novel hinges on the idea of how an economy of deep space colonization could possibly function across such vast distances. Stross innovates the idea of “slow money,” a cryptocurrency system in which transactions can be verified no faster than at one-third speed of light—which isn’t all that fast when you’re popping into another solar system (more day-to-day needs are taken care of with, naturally, “fast” and “medium” money). The plot, which is ostensibly about a woman’s search for her missing clone sister, hinges on a financial conspiracy that unfolds across centures and light years. We’re pretty sure we understood it.

Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear
The economics of Bear’s Eternal Sky series isn’t a main focus of the books, so readers might not realize how much thought has gone into Cory it, but the author has clearly seriously considered how her pre-modern world functions. Her story focuses, after all, on trade routes and who controls them, because trade is how empires fill their coffers, and those coffers are what pay for armies, and armies are what keep empires whole. Bear’s Celedon Highway, a Silk Road analogue, demonstrates how manipulation of trade is imperative to the story of a Khan seeking to assert his rightful claim to the throne; without the bones of economic theory implanted in the narrative, much of the plot would fall apart.

Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow
Cory Doctorow is more interested in the underlying mechanisms of society than your average SFF writer, and his latest full-length novel serves as evidence enough of that fact. Set in a post-scarcity world where everything can be 3D-printed, the means of production are shared activity, with all the dangers and difficulties that come with it. The central story, involving people who use that lack of scarcity to simply step outside of society and attempt to build a true utopia—with unexpected consequences—is in itself a look at what an economy might look like when you can print your shoes and other sundries. Doctorow also gets into the effect that a reputation-based economy might have on society at large—an aspect of economics we’re just getting into today, with companies being shamed on Twitter and politically-motivated mass boycotts springing up in response.

Infomocracy, by Malka Older
Older’s debut novel—the first of a now-complete trilogy—imagines a world where the entire population is divided into groups of 100,000, known as centenals. Each centenal can vote for the government they wish to belong to—governments ranging from corporate-dominated PhilipMorris, to policy-based groups with names like Liberty, while a global organization called Information seeks to police elections and ensure that the many governments keep their promises and play by the rules. Older doesn’t skimp on the economic aspects of such a world, as each government has its own approach (including, of course, a government called Economix whose entire focus is economic policy), ranging from the economies-of-scale focus (AfricanUnity) to large-scale corporate interests (Heritage). While the economics aren’t the main focus of the story, they’re important to it, and the structure of the fictional universe allows for a lot of fascinating exploration of economic concepts.

Making Money, by Terry Pratchett
The 36th novel of Discworld is the second to feature former con man Moist von Lipwig (perhaps the greatest character name of all time), who finds himself forced into running the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork as well as the Royal Mint. This comes with a lot of disadvantages, including the fact that the chairman of the bank is a dog, and the production of coins (that no one uses) runs at a loss. Pratchett threads this in with a second story involving the retrieval of four golden golems of legend that turns out, due to translation error, to be four thousand golems, leading to the invention of fiat money in another of Discworld’s surprising leaps into the modern age. As with many of the Discworld novels, this one evidences a lot of serious and interesting thought laced into the fantasy setting, including a smart examination of the gold standard, paper money, inflation, and, of course, golems.

Gateway, by Frederick Pohl
Frederick Pohl’s most famous creation is showing some rust these days, but its central ideas still resonate—including the debate over universal healthcare and the inequities of a capitalist society, which Pohl somehow makes organic to the story. Pohl creates a believably terrible future for humanity and populates it with interestingly conflicted, often contemptible characters who slowly grow from exclusively self-interested to something greater, even as he constructs a fascinating mystery around them. Pohl explores a world facing a population crisis and a food shortage, relying on an insane sort of lottery involving the discovery of a mysterious alien station and the sacrifices of desperate souls willing to risk their lives to pilot one of the uncontrollable faster-than-light vessels it contains in exchange for a percentage of the profits derived from anything they discover (assuming they discover anything at all, or come back, for that matter). This is an examination of late-stage capitalism that combines wonder and adventure with misery and hopelessness; there’s a reason it won both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards.

The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey
The Expanse builds an intricate and sprawling universe, and the two minds behind James S.A. Corey—Ty Franck and the aforementioned Daniel Abraham—do an excellent job of leaning into that complexity, including the economics of a future where mankind has moved out into the solar system but remains chained down by classic physics (for a while, anyway). The Earth is bursting at the seams with 30 billion people, most of whom aren’t simply unemployed, but are what economists would call “not in the labor force” at all—they’re surviving on Basic Assistance and have zero interest in seeking work. While the exact reasons for this severely underemployed scenario aren’t closely examined, it’s easy to guess that once automation took jobs and pushed people onto Basic Assistance, requiring resources to be shifted from things like education and training to the Basic Assistance budget, thus pushing more people onto Basic Assistance—lather, rinse, repeat. And that’s just one aspect of this deeply-imagined setting, which also ventures into space to show us what life is like for the Mars colonists and asteroid-dwelling “Belters” who have never set foot on Earth at all—and then blows it all up when alien technology hands humans the keys to the wider galaxy and a galactic gold rush ensues.

The Craft Sequence, by Max Gladstone
Max Gladstone’s brilliant fantasy series gets a lot of notice for the way he maps real-world professions and markets—lawyers and corporations—onto a magic system. But dig a bit deeper and what you’ve really got is a wildly original economic system that adheres to basic principles. The Craftspeople in this new world need souls—or portions of souls known as soulstuff—to practice their magic, making souls the main currency (although it’s really more like barter than a true currency—imagine if you owned a battery and purchased things by letting people plug in and charge their devices on it). People can trade pieces of their souls for goods and services—but Craftspeople can produce their own magical energy from starlight, so the question of what happens when they no longer need to barter for souls is a fascinating one.

Distraction, by Bruce Sterling
This 1999 novel reads like it was written yesterday. It’s set in a world that has suffered a complete collapse of the information economy and a United States ruled by chaotic “emergency committees.” Sterling sees a future where most people don’t even bother participating in the economy—and those that do manage it by glomming onto the ultra-rich as part of their staff of hangers-on. Sterling foresaw a reputation economy years before the advent of social media, with nomads living outside society using stored reputation as currency. As with all Sterling novels, there is a lot going on, but his fictional economy is the engine that drives the motivations of his characters, making this a perfect example of the narrative possibilities opened up by treating money seriously in SFF.

Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz
Annalee Newitz, a science journalist, futurist, and the co-founder of io9, delivers seriously plausible—if chilling—examination of the future of medicine in her debut, set in a world in which pharma pirates reverse-engineer prohibitively expensive drugs (of both the life-saving and the recreational variety) in order to distribute their own versions the way people jailbreak software today. In this terrifyingly plausible post-climate change future, pharma hackers—both blackhat and white—are a vital part of the healthcare system in which “better living through chemistry” is taken to terrifying extremes. Along the way, Newitz gets into a pretty thorough exploration of intellectual property rights taken to the extreme, a reinvention of indentured servitude, and a host of other dark, unintended consequences of market forces gone awry.

Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenspon
Predicated on a massive economic collapse that leaves the quadrillion dollar note (a.k.a. a “gipper”) the smallest viable unit of currency, the world of Stephenson’s seminal 1992 cyberpunk thriller includes a form of cryptocurrency in its economic system, which powers a world that is best termed “anarcho-capitalist.” It’s a chaos of self-interest as a teeming multitude of forces compete with each other—often violently—for dwindling resources. Everything in this future is privately-owned by one corporate entity or another, even the federal government, and Stephenson paints it all to be precisely as terrible as you might imagine something called “anarcho-capitalism” would be. Much of Snow Crash hasn’t aged particularly well, vis a vis what the internet turned out to be, but its future economy seems more plausible every day.

The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
Not only does Paolo Bacigalupi’s debut novel explore fictional economics, it’s also a real-world lesson in economics: when released to critical acclaim and unexpectedly huge sales in 2009, the book single-handedly put theretofore under-the-radar publisher Night Shade Books on the map, moving so many copies that the company wound up expanding too fast, and subsequently fell into bankruptcy. As for the book, it combines a fantastic, fatalistic near-future, post-climate change, resource-strapped dystopian world with terrific sci-fi ideas—including an economy based on kinetic energy and trades of calories (ingested) for calories (burned), and the use of terror, murder, and other violence to open or otherwise control markets. If you think the economics of Bacigalupi’s book are fanciful, you might need to read a bit more about how war is used in real life to influence economic conditions. (See also: the harrowing resource wars of Bacigalupi’s followup, The Water Knife.)

What systems of speculative economics would you add to the list?

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15 Science Fiction & Fantasy Books That Take You on a World Tour

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

It’s nothing new to point out how much epic fantasy is based on a pretty narrow swath of human culture. Due partly to reverence for foundational texts like The Lord of the Rings, and partly the institutional dominance of white, Western writers, for a long time, the phrase “fantasy literature” was nigh-synonymous with invented worlds clearly drawn from Western European myths and history. This is not to say that, even decades ago, there weren’t many books—and many writers—creating fantasy drawing from non-Western traditions, but such works were definitely the exception when it came to mainstream success.

Times change. We’re finally seeing a many other cultural identities represented in fantasy and sci-fi literature, many of them written by people actually from those cultures. The result is that we’re living in one of the richest and most diverse era in the history of genre fiction, and it’s only getting richer. Without even leaving your seat, you can take a virtual tour of the world, encountering people who live their lives and share their stories in very different ways. Here are 15 relatively recent SFF books and series that truly take you places—just a small selection of many on the shelves (and we hope you’ll share your favorites in the comments).

Culture: Russia
Book: The Bear and the Nightingale (The Winternight Trilogy), by Katherine Arden
Katherine Arden’s just-completed trilogy represents an incredible achievement, fusing Russian folklore and history into a thoroughly modern fantasy saga exploring themes of belief, feminism, and magic. Vasilisa “Vasya” Petrovna is the beautiful daughter of a 13th century Russian noble, and granddaughter of a “wild” woman who was said to have the power to commune with the spirits of the natural world. Her father, conflicted because he blames Vasya for the death of her mother in childbirth, nonetheless seeks to protect her in the one way he believes he can: by marrying her into royalty. Vasya, however, prefers to commune with the spirits of wood, home, and water that lurk in the forests on her father’s estate—spirits who have protected the land for centuries. Disguising herself as a man and riding her mysterious horse Solovey, Vasya must flee her home after the death of her father, accompanied by the frost-demon Morozko, launching a grand adventure that leads to a supremely satisfying ending, all of its steeped in Russian mythology and traditions that most Western readers haven’t had a chance to savor.

Culture: China
Book: The Poppy War (The Poppy War trilogy), by R.F. Kuang
Nearly every aspect of R.F. Kuang’s impressive debut is inspired by some aspect of Chinese history, including a main character, Rin, whose tumultuous life is explicitly based on that of Mao Zedung, a central conflict modeled on the Opium Wars, and harrowing sequences drawing on the atrocities of the Rape of Nanking. While you certainly don’t need a degree in modern history to enjoy this wonderful series about a poor girl who gets the chance of a lifetime when her performance on a nationwide standardized test places her in an elite academy—and reveals her strength in mysterious and ancient magical powers—chances are you’ll have a new (or renewed) interest in discovering that history after seeing it through Kuang’s imaginative eye.

Culture: Middle Eastern
Book: The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy), by S.A. Chakraborty
In her debut trilogy, S.A. Chakraborty builds an entire fantasy world based on Middle Eastern traditions, beginning a rich and fascinating version of 18th century Cairo, and then the enchanting City of Brass, a realm where loyalty is a magical bond and grudges are measured in millennia. Both of these settings are navigated by Nahri, a young Egyptian con artist who unwittingly captures the attention of a djinn warrior with her powerful supernatural healing capabilities. Adrift in a confusing new world, Nahri becomes embroiled in the complex and violent politics of its magical residents, who are edging ever-closer toward a religious war.

Culture: A Multitude of African Traditions
Book: Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James
The first book in the Dark Star trilogy from Booker Prize-winner Marlon James has been likened to an “African Game of Thrones,’” a comparison both apt and overly simplistic—James is doing far more than gluing familiar tropes onto African folklore; like Tolkien and so many others did with European myths and history, he is creating something new and unique from the many different cultures and stories of Africa. 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, his mission is complicated by the complex and ever-shifting politics of the many tribes he encounters.

Culture: West African
Book: Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha trilogy), by Tomi Adeyemi
Inspired by and drawing from West African folklore and myth, Adeyemi’s debut tells the story of Zélie Adebola, whose community was once a place of magic in which people like her mother called forth the elements and spirits to enrich the soil and their lives. But the king ordered magic driven out of the land, and the maji were all killed—including Zélie’s mother. Yet magic remains, and as the king’s son marches in a final attempt to snuff out its flame forever, Zélie finds herself reckoning with her nascent abilities. Saying that not much mainstream SFF draws from West African myths and storytelling traditions is an understatement, but the phenomenal success of the first volume of this series proves there is certainly an appetite for it among readers.

Culture: Indian
Book: Markswoman (The Asiana series), by Rati Mehrotra
Set in a future where Asia—called Asiana—is a depopulated wasteland centuries after a Great War devastated the world, Mehrota weaves together various threads of Indian folklore, mythology, and culture to tell the story of Kyra, the lone survivor of an attack on her village by an outlaw gang. Kyra has risen to become a Markswoman, a psychic warrior charged with carrying out executions with her psychically-aware daggers—one example of many pieces of alien technology strewn around this postapocalyptic world. The mystery surrounding these alien artifacts forms a powerful counterpoint to the story’s violent, action-packed narrative, enriched with flashes of Indian culture.

Culture: Middle Eastern
Book: The Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed
Saladin Ahmed drew inspiration from One Thousand and One Nights and Middle Eastern legend as he built the world of his marvelous debut novel, which tells the story of an aging, prickly demon hunter roped into one last job. In a single book, Ahmed effortlessly crafts a fantasy universe, magic system, and central conflict that does for Middle Eastern cultures what countless other books for European traditions—mixing and matching and heightening them in service to an engrossing narrative. The mythical Baghdad of Arabian Nights becomes the city of Dhamsawaat, the Bedouins become the Badawi (the former being a Westernization of the latter word anyway), and instead of elves and dwarves there are ghouls and dervishes. We’re still hoping a sequel to this Nebula nominee will someday appear, though Ahmed has been keeping himself very busy as of late bringing diversity to the realms of superhero comics.

Culture: Caribbean
Book: Midnight Robber, by Nalo Hopkinson
The moment you learn that this novel is set on a planet colonized by a Caribbean culture you know you’re in for a treat. Toussaint is an entire world echoing with the traditions and mythology of the West Indies, and Hopkinson ups the ante by taking her characters from the technologically advanced world to an alternate alien world where the myths and legends of the culture seem terrifyingly real. Hopkinson employs creole and Caribbean-flavored English throughout, which is a welcome challenge for readers bored with the faux “King’s English” much of fantasy seems to favor. (Another entry in the Caribbean SF canon—Tobias S. Buckell’s Xenowealth trilogy—is coming back into print next year in reedited editions courtesy of Fireside Fiction Company, and we’re pretty pumped about it.)

Culture: Celtic
Book: Finn Mac Cool (Celtic World series), by Morgan Llywelyn
Morgan Llywelyn has set many of her books and stories in Ireland, but this retelling of the Fenian Cycle myths is a deep dive into the story of an Irish legend. We meet Finn as a helpless child who loses his parents in an attack by their ancient clan enemies, the Morna. Finn swears to become strong enough to never have to flee anything again, and in a purposeful Arthurian twist, as he grows more powerful, so does his army, the Fianna. This is an epic-scale story in which truth and loyalty always win, and betrayal and deception are doomed to failure—but not before damage is done and pain is inflicted. This one serves double duty as crackling entertainment and a quick primer on one of Ireland’s foundational myths.

Culture: Indigenous American
Book: Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World Series), by Rebecca Roanhorse
Rebecca Roanhorse describes her debut series as an “indigenous Mad Max.” It’s a genre-shattering urban fantasy set in a post-apocalyptic world drawn from the author’s Indigenous American heritage, set in a future devastated by rising sea levels. In this time, the Navajo Nation has been reborn as Dinétah—and with it have returned the old gods and monsters of Native American legend. Maggie Hoskie is a monster-hunter gifted with the power to fight these beasts, and so she does. On one level, it’s brisk, action-filled romp; on another, a moving portrait of a character suffering from past trauma; and on still another, an impressive exercise in subtle, expansive worldbuilding. Of course, there isn’t a monolithic “Indigenous American” culture; it’s a rich tapestry of nations, each with their own traditions and myths—but Roanhorse offers a genuine glimpse of that diversity via a unique and extremely well-rendered world.

Culture: Mexican
Book: Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This Mexican folklore-inspired epic tells the story of young Casiopea Tun, who slaves away keeping her wealthy grandfather’s house until she stumbles on a mysterious wooden box. When she opens it, she releases the Mayan god of death—a curiously charming entity who asks Casiopea to help him regain his throne from his treacherous brother. Casiopea knows the risk—failure means her death—but the rewards are too tempting to pass up as she accompanies the charismatic god to the Mayan underworld and beyond. Along the way, readers get an introduction to a culture and mythology long missing from Western fantasy literature.

Culture: Indigenous Australian
Book: The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, by Ambelin Kwaymullina
Australia has a thriving literary world that doesn’t consistently cross over into other markets—even English-speaking ones—so it’s little surprise that there isn’t a ton of SFF that explores the indigenous cultures of that country. That’s part of what makes Kwaymullina’s dystopian YA so interesting, as it draws heavily on that background and the aboriginal tale of the Dreamtime to tell a story of ecological collapse and human evolution. A generation of young people have developed powerful abilities and fled to the bush to live in harmony with a mutated and unfamiliar nature. They’re hunted and warred upon by the terrified and technologically-dependent government, leading to the capture of the tribe’s leader, the titular Ashala Wolf, whose imprisonment and interrogation via memory-ripping machine makes up the bulk of this powerful story.

Culture: Australian
Book: The Swan Book, by Alexis Wright
Wright’s lyrical and challenging book offers a wider view of Australia’s struggle to integrate Western and Aboriginal traditions. Set after brutal and devastating conflicts spurred by climate change, this is the story of a girl found inside a gum tree, the victim of a terrible attack. Given the name Oblivia Ethelyne, she’s taken to a polluted area called The Swamp, guarded by the army, where her adoptive mother tells her stories about swans. Oblivia goes on to become the First Lady of Australia when its first aboriginal president takes office, which makes her a virtual prisoner in a poisoned city located in a world where ancient myths are as real as modern-day ecological disaster.

Culture: Japanese
Book: Shadow of the Fox (The Shadow of the Fox series), by Julie Kagawa
Kagawa draws heavily on Japanese culture, especially its ancient myths and folklore, to tell the story of a half-kitsune woman named Yumeko who flees the brutal murder of her family with a piece of an ancient scroll that will grant a wish to whoever possesses it. She’s pursued by a veritable army of demons, and a samurai named Kage Tatsumi who has been ordered to locate all the pieces of the scroll. When Kage encounters Yumeko, she uses her powers of illusion to hide the scroll fragment from him and the two are forced into an unlikely alliance as the fate of the world rests on what happens next. Japanese culture is sometimes reduced to anime tropes in the Western world; this lush fantasy series offers an incredible alternative.

Culture: Finnish
Book: The Core of the Sun, by Johanna Sinisalo
Not all Western cultures get equal play in the speculative genres. The Core of the Sun offers a uniquely Finnish spin on alternate worlds: a future society where public health and the maintenance of social function takes precedence over everything else. This has led to the development of the horrific eloi, genetically-altered women who are designed to be submissive and purely sexual, used for providing pleasure and to bear children. Meanwhile, independent and willful women are sterilized and used as slave labor. Vanna is an eloi who hides her unusual intellect and has a penchant for the illegal chili peppers that have an addictive stimulant effect. Her search for her missing eloi sister leads her to rumor of The Core of the Sun, a chili whose hotness reputedly causes visions. (Hey, we said it was very Finnish.)

What other stops would you add on this SFF world tour?

The post 15 Science Fiction & Fantasy Books That Take You on a World Tour appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

The Castle of Cagliostro and the Power of Fantasy


A few weeks ago, a trailer for the new, incredible-looking 3D animated Lupin III movie came out. “It’s not really for io9,” I admitted to my editor and constantly-put-upon boss, Jill, as I frothed about how good it looked. “I love Lupin, but it’s not the kind of genre we cover.” Lupin III, of course, is about heists…

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Lucasfilm’s First Non-Star Wars or Indiana Jones Film in Years Is a Children of Blood and Bone Adaptation


Since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, the studio has been laser-focused on two of its biggest franchises: cycling up a whole deluge of Star Wars films, and getting going on a continuation of Indiana Jones. But now it’s working on a new project, wholly disconnected from supernatural treasure hunting or Jedi…

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This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Dragon Hunters, Dogs in Space, and a Bird’s Eye View of the Zombie Apocalypse

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Hollow Kingdom, by Kira Jane Buxton
Kira Jane Buxton’s debut puts a deliriously original spin on the viral zombie apocalypse as human civilization’s collapse is witnessed—and challenged—by S.T., a pet crow. S.T. may be a bird, but he loves many aspects of human culture, and he’s alarmed when his owner, Big Jim, begins to behave strangely and undergo physical changes. Realizing that something is terribly wrong, S.T. teams up with bloodhound Dennis and is soon tasked with saving as many pets as possible, even as humanity descends into chaos. It’s a darkly hilarious twist on the formula, proving again why the zombie novel subgenre is nigh-unkillable.

Reticence, by Gail Carriger
Gail Carriger’s steampunk fantasy-of-manners (and airships, and monsters) series the Custard Protocol reaches its delightful conclusion. The ragtag crew of the flying vessel Spotted Custard sets off to Japan to investigate reports of attacks by shapeshifters. They’ve brought along a new crew member, Dr. Arsenic Ruthven, who falls quickly into a proper romance with ship’s navigator Percy. Well, technically two new crew members, as Captain Prudence is also pregnant, though questions linger over whether her child will turn out to be entirely human, or something else altogether. These found family dramas play out against a backdrop of supernatural intrigue (and plenty of puns and lightly comedic set-pieces) in the capital city of Edo, where the game is definitely afoot. It will be hard to say goodbye to this entirely lovable series.

The Gossamer Mage, by Julie E. Czerneda
In the world of Tananen, mages can harness the forces of magic—but doing so costs them a bit of their life force, given up in sacrifice to the Deathless Goddess. Worse, sometimes they pay that price and still the spell goes awry, creating a strange creature known as a gossamer. Mal is a master mage who wants to end the goddess’ tyranny and allow mages to cast spells without killing themselves by degrees. He meets Kait, one of the goddesses’ disciples; she and her sisters have stopped hearing the deity’s  voice, so Kait has set out to find out why. Their quests turn out to be intrinsically linked, as together they discover that the goddess’s toll may be a necessary price to keep their world safe from yet darker forces. This dense, lyrical novel is a rare thing: an epic fantasy standalone.

Cry Pilot, by Joel Dane
Joel Dane, a pseudonym for a mysterious “full-time writer” who has published 20 novels and written for television, delivers the first installment in a new series set centuries in the future. With the environment ruined, humanity lives inside corporate-run compounds, waiting for the world outside to be slowly terraformed back to viability. Unfortunately, fallout from the process allows for the creation of rogue bioweapons. Maseo Kaytu is a man with secrets, but he hides them in order to volunteer as a “cry pilot”—a sort of human key needed to operate futuristic weapons—and join the infantry. Training is brutal, but Kaytu forms a true bond with his fellow troops—one that is quickly tested when they’re deployed against a new biological terror that has destroyed every other unit thrown against it.

Bursts of Fire, by Susan Forest
The first volume of the Addicted to Heaven series follows three magically gifted sisters, daughters of the imperial mage of the kingdom of Orumon. The sisters’ mother was once lauded for protecting her people though her communication with the gods using one of the rare prayer stones. But after war lays waste to the kingdom, a violent king determines to sever humanity’s connection to magic and the divine by destroying all of the stones, forcing the girls to flee into the wilds, where they will learn to master their powers and meet their destinies. Political scheming and the corrupting power of a dogmatic religion come together against the trio, who must grow into their roles—as a killer, a general, and a powerful mage—if they hope to reclaim what they’ve lost and bring peace to the land. Amid compelling family drama and well-rendered action, this first volume of a planned seven-book series deals with timely themes of fear and xenophobia.

Raging Storm, by Marcus Heitz
German author-in-translation Marcus Heitz returns with another installment of the internationally acclaimed fantasy series The Dwarves, delivering another double-fistful of fantasy action and in-depth worldbuilding. A great enemy has been defeated, and the Hidden Land—home to races of dwarves, elves, and men—bears the scars of victory against the marauding Älfar. Aiphatòn, the son of  emperor of the Älfar emperor, has turned against his own people, swearing to hunt down any remnants who would again stoke the fires of conflict. But when a new threat arises, the Älfar may turn out to be the only hope for the Hidden Land’s continued survival.

The Dragon Republic, by R.F. Kuang
R.F. Kuang’s followup to the bestselling, award-nominated debut The Poppy War opens on a world in tatters. The Third Poppy War has left Nikan shredded, and gifted magic-user Rin in hiding, addicted to opium and unable to silence the whispers of the Phoenix, whose power changed the course of the war. Betrayed by Empress Su Daji and burning for revenge, Rin and the Cike accept an alliance with the Dragon Warlord Yin Vaisra, who tells them to destroy the Empress. But Rin, wracked with guilt and already broken by all that she has seen and suffered, begins to see new possibilities that might lead to a wholly unexpected destiny.

Blood of an Exile, by Brian Naslund
Brian Naslund’s lushly written and compellingly plotted debut introduces Silas Bershad, called the Flawless Bershad. Once a powerful lord, he was accused of war crimes by the king and exiled. He was doomed to hunt dragons, a fate tantamount to a death sentence. But the Flawless Bershad has strange healing powers that allowed him to instead grow into a legendary dragon hunter—and to live long enough for a chance at redemption. The king’s daughter Kira has been kidnapped, and if Bershad can rescue her and defeat a mad emperor intent on slaughtering all the precious dragons in the world, he can return to his life and lands. (You know that’s going to take more than one book to accomplish; this is but the first in the Dragons of Terra series.)

First Cosmic Velocity, by Zach Powers
Zach Powers spins a story firmly rooted in the plausible in this darkly satirical Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers pick, imagining that the 1960s-era Soviet space program was only half successful—while they’ve sent five capsules into space, none have actually returned successfully. In order to hide this fact, the U.S.S.R. has been recruiting twins into its program, allowing them to stage triumphant return trips. The story follows the last of the twin sets, both named Leonid: while one is in orbit, the other is on tour and under tight control—but as the latter’s doubts about his role in the sham grow, the complications for the engineers threaten to spiral out of control when Premier Krushchev decides his own dog should be the first canine in space.

What are you reading this week?

The post This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Dragon Hunters, Dogs in Space, and a Bird’s Eye View of the Zombie Apocalypse appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

The Perfect Time to Catch Up on Die Is Literally Right This Instant


This week, Image will release Die #6, the first issue of a new arc in Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans’ subversive fantasy adventure that has been on hiatus since April. So right now is the perfect time if, like me, you had missed out on the series so far—because if you’re also like me and are immediately enchanted…

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